You have to grow into an agent, they aren't needed for hobbyists.
—Chris Frayer, Winnipeg Folk Festival artistic director
In the new economics of Canadian music, professional booking agents are becoming more and more indispensable to emerging and mid-career artists.
Where booking agents used to be subservient to (if not a function of) management, having a tour co-ordinator is now vital as live shows rise in importance and album sales diminish.
"Agents have taken on a greater role," says Chris Frayer, artistic director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival. "They can be like management now, growing an artist's career. In a live tour economy, booking you and getting you in front of an audience is 'development' and there's not a lot of managers who can do that."
Frayer estimates he looks at roughly 3,000 submissions a year for the festival and is candid about preferring to deal with agents over artists when it comes to signing deals.
"If you've got a connection to the festival through an agent, we know you and your reputation and those relationships exist," Frayer says. "The agents open the door. I'm more likely to listen to music an agent sends than an unsolicited email blast."
The Treble is a rising Manitoba pop/rock/folk group, due in no small part to connecting with touring agents at The Agency Group (Weakerthans, Barenaked Ladies) after performing at a showcase in L.A. Band member Mark Brusegard says there's no comparison between having a tour agent and doing it on your own.
"My claim to fame booking was getting free meals one night," Brusegard says. "We're all fairly big perfectionists, so we're always trying to have our hands in what's going on. But we're all very busy... We're trying to do as much as we can, so to have other people helping us out who really know what they're doing is a godsend."
JP Hoe (Joey Senft)
Singer/songwriter JP Hoe also inked a deal with The Agency Group this winter and is thrilled to have more time to focus on craft.
"Booking is so exhausting it's ridiculous," Hoe says. "What I'm excited about is the chance to write more music."
Andy Cole agrees. While his group Eagle Lake Owls have been lauded by critics (including CBC and The Guardian
), they have yet to land an agent to help plan their next tour.
"We're trying to get a booking agent," Cole says. "There's a few people in town who are busy or not taking on other people right now... We'll try again next time we're ready to hit the road."
"The times I'm not at work, especially since the start of the year, I've been working on booking the tour. Every moment I'm not working, when I get home, when I get up in the morning, I'm pouring that time into it," Cole says.
"The biggest difficulty is just getting through to the venues. A lot of them don't acknowledge they got your email. They're very busy people, understandably, but an email back saying, 'Hey, we don't have room for you,' is better than nothing."
At the West End Cultural Centre, artistic director Jason Hooper estimates 80 to 90 per cent of the artists he deals with have booking agents. He's noticed that artists who use agents are better prepared for soundchecks and shows, though it's not clear which quality proceeds the other.
He also doesn't give advice to emerging artists who haven't signed with a tour agency. "I leave that up to them and their own professional decision making and their management," Hooper says.
Frayer is also cautious about telling artists when to find a tour agent, though he says he sometimes points out rising talent to an agent looking for a new act.
"There is a time and a place when you need one," Frayer says. "It's when you've done a lot of the preliminary work on your own and have made some connections and can pass those on to your agent. You have to grow into an agent, they aren't needed for hobbyists. If you want to make a go of it - go at it. Down the road you'll get an agent."