Bluegrass Music Artists and Agents and Respect

Bob_Cherry wrote: on Sep. 20, 2003:
I was reading some material from one of my favorite artist representatives recently and was reflecting on what she had to say. Cash Edwards who ran Under The Hat Productions was one of the most professional agents I have ever met. She handled many bluegrass artists and was always willing to help. There are others but she had a sincerity and positive attitude that was just addicting and unmatched. When you worked with Cash, you felt that there were no problems that couldn't be overcome. There was always a way to make an event work. Bluegrass music owes a lot to Cash and Under The Hat Productions.

Sadly, a few years ago, she closed the doors on her business. There were many reasons but it was probably the lack of money and respect that were the primary causes. Here is a person who gave so much of her time for the enjoyment by others of the music we love. It was sad to see her go but I think I understand why, after years of a successful run, she had to do it.
She wrote the following article that we carried on Cybergrass in 1996. When I reread the article, I found that not much has changed in 7 years. Here is the article again...
The original article was comprised of two installments which have been combined for this reprint article. This article is reprinted with permission of of the author, Cash Edwards.

Booking Communications
By Cash Edwards
Under The Hat Productions

I think after perusing my own posting yesterday that I am going to start talking about booking. The letter a couple of months ago from an artist trying to book themselves has been often on my mind and my heartfelt sympathies went out to him.

First off let my state that an agent is hired by the artist to represent the artist and as such it is their job to look out for the artist's best interest. I did not say the agent was looking out for the artist's best interest to the detriment of the promoter. As an agent I want those promoters to be there, active and growing when I call them back a second time and third and...

Being a booking agent in Bluegrass means "there is never a lot of money" and I find that most problems stem from this. Being the booking agent means that you are in the center of "there's never a lot of money". The promoter thinks you are trying to get more than the artist deserves and the artists thinks you're not getting enough so that they can make a living.

When I start to set up a tour (we're talking venues not festivals) I try a lot to send out bands on "two weekends and the week in-between" length tours. The chief reason being that Mon - Wed are very difficult to book and eat away the band's money in food, lodging, van rental, etc. So just trying to book one set of Mon, Tue, Wed is enough!

I take a look at the region my band and I have mutually decided to tour in during a certain time period and start calling all the venues to see who is interested in that band and if they are interested during the hoped for time period. I talk, Email, fax the promoters and begin to put together the routing based on how far things are away from each other and on which days those venues book. I try to keep my bands from driving further than 4-6 hours on any day they are also doing a performance.

From my 10 years experience I have a good idea about how much it takes for a band to go out for 10 days. If you don't, then you need to sit down and estimate: transportation costs, hotel costs, food costs, phone, fax, email costs, and publicity costs (photos, press & recordings). Remember that the band leader incurs expenses setting up the tour for the band and that has to be figured in.

Once I find promoters who are interested then the work begins as to how much they can afford to pay given their capacity, usual ticket ranges, cost to put on a performance (sound, hall rent, advertising, etc.) It is very important to take the time to figure out what the promoter can do (notice I did not say what he WILL do but what he CAN do). The difference between these two depends on who the artist is and the financial stability of the venue.

Often I find a promoter who will do something immediately, one that has to wait for a board meeting, one that has a day but not the day I need for best routing, and the tour becomes a jigsaw puzzle. This becomes a wonderful challenge or a pain in the you know what depending on if it all finally works out.

When one promoter says yes and the agent says okay this will work for us pending the other gigs coming through then the agent needs to establish when the promoters deadline for confirming the gig is.

Communication problems can often arise at this point if the promoter does not firmly understand the "pending the other gigs coming through." This needs to be made perfectly clear. Over the years I have found this lack of clear communication to be a common complaint against the booking agent. I.E. "She said they would come for a mutually agreed on deal, then called back a month later to say it was off" or "She said they would come for a mutually agreed on deal, then called back a month later to say the band was going elsewhere because the money didn't work out." The promoter needs to realize that it didn't work out not because of the negotiations between the agent and that promoter, but because of the negotiations between the agent and the other promoters on the hoped for tour.

Please remember when an agent spends time money and emotional desires on working out a deal they want it to come through. Nothing is more expensive for an agent than a tour not working out that they have spent hours on putting together. The promoter is disappointed, the artist is disappointed, the agent is broke and the music does not get out there. The latter being the whole reason in the first place for anything.

Well Installment no 2 on booking communication is to think about what you're saying and who is receiving the communication.

Our world is based on talking to promoters and artists and booking agents who have been in the business anywhere from one day to many years. All these people have desires and clear communication can fall short if the experience level of both the buyer and the agent is not assessed.

It is very important as a agent to find out how much a promoter actually knows about what they are doing. There is a huge difference between smart people having a great idea and being able to think it through and the actual practice of making it happen. We can all read books that tell us about the process, but accomplishing the process is a different matter. Does this promoter have actual experience and can he pull off what he just offered you? Questions of how long the organization has been going on and what average attendance's do they get for who (whom?) are perfectly good questions. How much advertising, and what kind do they do? - more good questions. After you feel confident about the level of experience with which the promoter is working then you can "hear" what he is offering you with better understanding. This is not to say that an agent won't work with an inexperienced buyer, this is just to say that now the agent knows she's dealing with an inexperienced buyer.

If a promoter really wants an artist and explains the deal he can do to the booking agent and the booking agent says OKAY what does that okay mean?

That okay can mean "I understand," that okay can mean "let's do the deal as you described it," that okay can mean "I'll take the offer to the artist," that okay can mean "the deal's confirmed," that okay can mean "fine, that's what you can offer but there's no way you're getting the artist you want for that!"

Carefully choosing those your words can but lead to a quicker understanding and closing of the sale. The agent must get used to plain, clear and concise speaking which is often translated by others to be "rude" or "mean" in our society. Agents build buffers to normal societal rules about polite behavior because we are trying to be polite about making sure the buyer understands what's happening without ambiguities.

First case: That "okay" can mean I understand. - After the "okay" word it's important to finish the sentence with "I understand this is what you want to happen" - then continue on with: What is your club's capacity? What do you normally charge in ticket prices for an artist of this stature? Is it possible to be flexible on any of the points you just mentioned. Can you help with food, lodging, transportation?

Second case: that "okay" can mean "let's do the deal as you described it." As mentioned in my previous posting I can get an offer that is perfectly reasonable but needs to be put together with other offers to make it financially feasible. So this 2nd case is a particular point to be careful with. As an agent saying "okay let's do the deal as you described it". Are you, the agent, actually closing and confirming the deal or are you saying to the promoter "this could work if I can put the rest of the tour together?"

Third case: that "okay" can mean "I'll take the offer to the artist." In almost every situation a booking agent needs to take the offer to the artist (or manager if there's one of those). Then the artist needs to check into the fixed costs of doing gig and if they can or want to do it or not. The booking agent is the broker between the artist and the promoter not the deity that decides what she will allow the artist to do. I take every money offer I receive to my artists, no matter how big or small. That's my job as defined between my artists and myself. Other agent/artists relationships might be different, i.e. don't bring me any offers under $X,XXX.xx

Fourth case: that "okay" can mean "the deal's confirmed." If this is the case then all points of the deal should at that point be gone over. Times, places, promo needed and a small closing conversation where the agent says "I'll issue the contract and get it in the mail to you by the end of the day, week, whatever. There is no question here, no doubt - it's a done deal. I will often end the conversation with "This is a confirmed verbal agreement you may feel free to start your advertising" This is based on US law that a verbal agreement will stand up in court until a written one supersedes it.

Fifth case: that "okay" can mean "fine that's what you can offer but there's no way you're getting the artist you want for that!" Sorry, sometimes we just have to figure out a way to be polite!!! The rest of the sentence following the "okay" will usually follow with "for the artist you want we would normally need about..." and agents try to gently describe why the "no way." Agents will at this point get a lot of people mad. Buyers don't want to hear what you are saying - they just want that artist. They feel they are doing the best they can and if they are doing the best they can then that should be good enough and they get their feelings hurt by the agents plain speaking.

Then rampant rumors about the agents become:

"That agent wouldn't even consider my offer - the x#@%!"
"That agent has no understanding of what the roots music world is about"
"That agent won't work with us"

Let me say that an agent's income is based on getting as many deals closed as fast as possible and moving on to the next tour. Since in our world we do not get enough commission off any one deal to support ourselves, sales volume is what makes the income. i.e. the more gigs - the more money and maybe enough to make a living. To close deals every day is our desire. That is the way the most music gets out to the world!

I've spoken with other reps in the small genre world and I've spoken with many bands. I think, to a large part, there is a big disconnect and misinterpretation of what the rep business is all about. The rep is a middle-man between the artist and a performance. The rep does a LOT more than just schedule the event and then go away.

Many artists think of the Hollywood and big-stars when they think of agents. The agents are there to take their percentage of 10% to 15% or more and basically the agent is nothing more than a public relations agent. In Bluegrass, folk, acoustic, roots, and other small genres, the agent's duties are significantly different.

True, the agent tries to get work for the artist. The agent also tries to insure the artist has a place to sleep, food to eat, other near-by gigs and, whenever possible other gigs within a day or two. The rep many times provides the promotional material to the venue and offers guidance and assistance as may be required. If an artist is very popular, the agent tries to arrange shows so that the artists isn't constantly criss-crossing the country going from one gig to another. They try to make the schedule flow in a meaningful way.

The artist's agent doesn't make a lot of money. They can't at maybe $500-$1500 per show. If they make enough to live on, it would be surprising. These agents have a love of the music and a love of the business or they wouldn't be doing what they do. Agents like Mike Drudge with Class Act Entertainment, Keith Case and Associates, and a few others are the primary agents for bluegrass. These agents work hard and require a large client list to be both effective and adequately rewarded. One or two top-name artists are not enough to pay a staff and run a business.

Most artists start small in their own community and promote themselves. If they become popular, the task can become overwhelming. This is when they need an agent. But, it is essential that the agent and the artist communicate effectively, often and well. They need to work together as a well coordinated team. If they can do this, then both will be successful. If, however, the artist and agent don't have a common set of expectations, then that relationship may very well fail.

How does his happen? Often it can be by the talent buyer who's intentions are good but misdirected. If a talent buyer is trying to avoid commissions or trying to negotiate directly with the artist, then friction can come into play. The artist should tell the talent buyer that "I'm represented by abc agency and that the buyer should call the agency to arrange for bookings." This is a professional and proper response to this situation and a good talent buyer will do just that. If the buyer is serious about wanting the artist to perform for their event, they will contact the agent.

There are many artists out there who can rep themselves and there are many who need a good rep. The successful artists are the ones who work closely with their rep in total business harmony. It should be a win-win-win situation for every event.

I still remember Cash Edwards and her company and I still remember many of her words of wisdom. I appreciate what the agents do and have a greater appreciation for them. They work very hard behind the scenes and deserve our admiration and respect. Cash Edwards was an asset to the music. Her legacy is remembered and greatly appreciated.

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