Booking Agents 101

Do you believe that getting a booking agent is all you need to move your career forward? Have you tried getting the attention of a booking agency to no avail?

In this interview, Chip Austin, founder of the Chip Austin Agency, answers, in great detail, some important questions about small booking agencies that work with independent artists. He covers what they do (and don’t do), how they choose who they will represent, what they expect from the acts they book, and what an act can and should expect from them. [private_member]

Chip founded his Agency in 2009 after spending a couple of years going to writers’ nights at various clubs around Nashville, making friends with the musicians and wondering why so many great singer/songwriters were not being heard outside of the city limits of Nashville.

IC: Which acts does your agency represent?

Chip: I started representing performers who played part-time, playing around Nashville. They wanted to expand to doing weekend gigs within a days drive from Nashville and some gigs farther away while on vacation. I met Laurie McClain, who tours full-time, and started representing her. Through her I met more independent Americana artists who not only needed representation for booking, but also needed help promoting themselves, including press kits, both physical and electronic.

I started learning more about the business of music mostly from attending Indie Connect meetings and reading all the articles I could on-line, especially those that were offered on the Indie Connect web site. I learned how to build and write press kits, press releases, performance contracts, etc.

I found that I had to represent only full-time or mostly full-time performers who have at least one CD to sell at gigs in order to make bookings that were profitable for both the performer and me. My roster has grown to include many well-know, full-time touring musicians such as David Olney, Tori Sparks, hit-songwriter Craig Bickardt, Kristi Rose & Fats Kaplin. Renee Wahl is my assistant as well as an artist in her own right. She knows and handles the Country music side of the business. We enjoy working with both established and emerging artists.

IC: How do you select the artists you want to work with?

Chip: Of course I prefer that they already have some notoriety, though that is not mandatory. I can work with someone who is willing to work hard. In addition:

  • They must have a least one CD/EP to sell at gigs
  • They must be working full-time in music. That can include recording, touring, teaching, etc. but they must be available to be on the road for a week or two at a time. I prefer to set up complete tours of a region for them.
  • They must be able and willing to tour – not just work weekends.
  • They must understand that touring is an investment for emerging artists & may not be profitable for a while.
  • I prefer a single act or a duo vs. a larger group. The expenses for a group, such as rooms, meals, per diem, transportation can be prohibitive.
  • They must ‘show-up’. In other words, they should be plugged into the business, networking, meeting new people whenever possible etc.
  • They must be always ready and willing to promote themselves (business cards, email list, CDs etc.) They should know how to be persistent but not annoying.
  • They must have a strong online/social network presence and know how to work it.

As far as an artist’s performances go, I look for:

  • Talent – Of course this is subjective, but I need to enjoy them enough to sell them.
  • A great attitude.
  • The music must be a good quality.
  • I like original acts, but covers are not a deterrent. I just ask myself, “Can I book that kind of music?”
  • They must be prepared and ready right now. No gig is a dress rehearsal, because you never know who is going to be there in the audience.
  • They must have confidence on stage and know how to control the room.
  • They must be entertaining. They should put on a good show, not just sing a collection of songs. They should have strong, well-planned song transitions.
  • They must have a professional look.
  • The artist should know how he wants to sound and can help the sound tech get that sound (volume levels, tone etc).

Off stage, I look for:

  • They must interact with the audience and with their fans.
  • Again, they must have a strong social media presence.
  • They should have an email/fan list with zip codes and send out a regular newsletter.
  • They must be experienced playing in clubs and are serious.
  • I find the artists that I work with most successfully are those that have no career plans other than doing music–they have no ‘plan B’. They are in it for the long term.

IC: So what exactly do you do as an agent?

Chip: I prepare everything necessary to promote my artists.

  • I build their physical press kits:
  • Folder
  • Bios
  • One-sheets on both the artist and the CD (with descriptions of each song for disc jockeys)
  • Reviews/press
  • Press release for the venues to send to the local press
  • Pictures/posters
  • CD(s)
  • A DVD if appropriate

Venues want to know how the artist is going to market himself for the performance at the venue.

In addition, I:

  • Help develop an EPK (electronic press kit – similar to the physical kit, but available online).
  • Help with their web page as well as set up a page for them on my website.
  • Put together a ‘song sampler’ CD with several songs. This needs to represent exactly what the buyer is going to get. In other words, if the artist is performing acoustically, I prefer to give them songs recorded that way, not fully produced.
  • Work directly with and coordinate activities with the artist’s manager, publicist, radio promoter, social media administrator etc. to insure that everyone is on the same page.
  • Plan regions and routing with the artist, also consulting with their manager if applicable.
  • Create a ‘pitch email’ and customize each one for the specific contact. That includes:
    • Introduction
    • Opening paragraph with buyer’s name, venue name, specific date(s) we would like to play and any “local” tie ins we might have.
    • Short description of music/show, short bio, reviews, picture
    • Links to online sites, videos, EPKs, etc.

I also help to find venues. Since most of my acts are not big-names with huge fan bases, I look for venues that are responsible for the attendance, such as:

  • Festivals/fairs/casinos
  • Wineries
  • House concerts
  • Private functions

I look at venues that require the artist to bring in some fans, such as:

  • Listening rooms
  • Coffee houses
  • Clubs/bars

I also work with other venues such as:

  • Performing arts centers
  • Promoted shows
  • Opening acts
  • Colleges

Some of my other duties include:

  • I make sure the date and location of a gig routes well with gigs booked before and after it.
  • I check non-compete clauses. Some clubs will not allow you to perform within a certain time period and within a specific mile radius of the gig (e.g. no performing within 50 miles of the gig within 4 weeks before and after the date.)
  • I sell the act and negotiate the price. Whenever possible I try to get the venue to provide food and sleeping accommodations for the act.
  • I draw up and confirm the contract, and I explain the rider if necessary.
  • I then coordinate everything with the act and/or the manager.
  • I stay in touch with the buyer and confirm the gig 2 weeks before the scheduled date.
  • I follow up with buyer after the show and try to re-book it for a future date.

IC: What are the advantages of having a booking agent?

Chip: There are several key advantages:

  • Most agents have a venue database.
  • Being sold by a 3rd party, especially a reputable one, can add credibility.
  • Some festivals, large clubs and other venues prefer to work exclusively through an agent.
  • Booking gigs takes a lot of effort and is very time-consuming.

IC: What are the typical fees and procedures involved?

Chip: Personally, I am a non-exclusive agent. That means that my acts have every right to supplement the gigs I book them by booking their own or by using another agent. I charge 15% of the gross paid for the act. That includes the guarantee, the door and tips. It’s important to understand that you are paying for my contacts, the relationships I have formed and cultivated traveling to conferences, going to networking events etc. I usually do not take a percentage of merchandise sales.

I have negotiated a minimum booking fee with some artists. With some artists I have negotiated a ‘sunset clause’, which means that if you return to a venue that I originally booked for you without using me to re-book it, you still owe me my commissions. The hard work comes in making the original sale, not in re-booking the gig after you’ve proven yourself.

IC: What are some of the dos and don’ts that an artist should know about regarding working with an agent?

Chip: Do…

  • Include your booking agent in any and all band news, such as new recordings, press coverage, stations playing your music — things you would tell other members of your band.
  • Work together with your agent to block out dates for performances in certain areas.
  • Let your booking agent know where you can book gigs or house concerts yourself and where you can stay with friends for free.
  • Let your booking agent know when you have booked a gig ASAP; work together to get more dates in the same area.
  • Let your booking agent know when you are NOT available to play!
  • Share a calendar, such as Google Calendar, that you both can update.


  • Expect your booking agent to be your publicist or to arrange interviews.
  • Expect your booking agent to be your marketing arm.
  • Compete with your booking agent for dates.
  • Attempt to re-book a venue on your own and by-pass the booking agent.
  • Let a venue make an end-run around your booking agent. Insist that they re-book dates through your agent.
  • Expect your booking agent to get you gigs opening for major artists unless they specifically tell you that they can do that.

IC: Are you looking for new acts to work with?

Chip: I always keep my ears open for new talent and I listen to all CDs I get (and I occasionally find a gem like Kari Hilpert). I’ve found that I have to say ‘no’ to a lot of people nowadays, especially if 1) I don’t work in their genre, 2) they aren’t doing music full-time, and 3) they don’t have a CD.

I really prefer not to get phone calls initially. Anyone who is interested can send me a CD and their press kit.

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.