Interview | A day in the life of a booking agent
"I try to avoid phone calls"
Erin Coleman, Amande Dagod and Sebastian Hoffmann are all successful booking agents. In this interview, they let us get a peek at their work.
Goethe Institut (GI): What does a day in your life, the life of a booking agent, look like?
Erin Coleman: Just emails. That’s about all I do.
GI: Any phone calls?
EC laughs: No, I try to avoid the phone calls. The process of booking bands goes: I come up with a huge strategy of ideas for a tour. That’s about six months before I want it to happen. The first thing I do is get partners in different territories e.g. the Netherlands, France, Spain or wherever I want the bands to go to – all lined up without giving them any specifics. I just tell them: This is when the album comes out. This is when I want the tour to be, if you’re interested I'll get back to you soon with dates. After that I send emails to festivals and special events that I think would fit with the band and try to get one or two lined up in a certain period. Once there is interest from a few special events, I already have a much better idea of where they should be when and how long they should be on tour. From there I make a rough draft called routing which is where you put which countries and which cities you ideally want them to go to when. So this can be kind of arbitrary, like: Oh, there’s a festival interested in Amsterdam, what’s near Amsterdam. Ok, Paris is near Amsterdam, Brussels is near Amsterdam, Rotterdam is near Amsterdam, London, or you can head to Germany. Usually, I have a lot of options. I choose one and make a whole two or three week round. Once I have that, I go back to the partners that I have already lined up and give them the dates that I want. And then, I give them a couple of days to respond to me and see if those dates work.
GI: Do you write a lot of follow-up emails in case people don’t respond?
EC: Yes, there are a lot of slow people, lots of people on holidays. When I am working with ten partners or more for each band, there’s a lot of influx. I really have to be logistical and organised about it and make sure I stay aware of where everybody is at all times in the booking process. This whole process can be going on at different rates for five different bands. Project management is the main part of it. Often I feel more like a travel agent because I try to figure out where someone goes in a few hours. I need to figure out which days can work next to each other and if the band wants to play a show in Paris or Amsterdam, but they only offer them a week apart, then I have to figure out how to make those two dates work or give one up.
AD: Don’t just think about which territories and dates, you also have to consider where the band is from. For example, if they are from the US, where should the tour start? If you already know that they want to hire a van and tour manager, you might want it to start and end at the same place.
GI: What is specific about booking shows in Germany, the UK and Italy in comparison to the rest of Europe?
Sebastian Hoffmann (SeHo): The German market is a little bit different compared to other European countries, because Germany is not a very centralised country. It’s more federalised, like the United States. The capital Berlin isn’t actually that important, it’s geographically located quite far from the rest, it’s very far north, very far east, not very accessible, and important institutions and industry sectors are located in different cities. So, for example the publishing industry is in Hamburg or Cologne, most of the financial sector is in Frankfurt am Main, and the car industry is in southern Germany. So this is really different compared to cities like Paris or London where everything is concentrated. It makes sense to plan longer tours in Germany as opposed to other European countries like for example the UK, where some bands only play in London, and then maybe Manchester and Glasgow, but that's it. In Germany, you have to play at least ten or twelve cities because they are all important as regional capitals and have their own kind of broadcasting and promotional networks.
EC: The UK has no funding which means you can track how much money promoters spend on the show and how much you’re getting from them, whereas in Europe that’s much harder to trace because there’s funding coming from different directions. Sometimes it’s for the venues, sometimes it’s for the band, and they don’t disclose their costs because of that. The UK is less hospitable, not people-wise, but with their deals. You get a hot meal like for dinner most often, but you never get accommodation and, whereas on European mainland, you almost always do.
AD: There are not really agents for the UK. Most other European booking agents would work with national or local promoters for each show, e.g. at Puschen, when we are responsible for Germany, we find the local promoters in different cities. That doesn’t happen in the UK. For countries like Germany, Italy and Spain you would most likely look for a local partner there who takes care of his territory. Smaller promoters in Italy don’t really speak good English or don’t answer in English. So, you would need someone there who is responsible for the whole of Italy.
GI: How do you split the money between you and the national promoter?
EC: Before you offer it to me, you would already take out your fee, and I don’t really know what your fee is, so that’s the interesting part of booking, because if I know my bands can sell out Lido [a Berlin based club], which is 500 people, and they are only offering me 500 Euros, I know that they are making a lot of money out of this show and I can ask for more. I can probably ask for 1500 Euros or a break-even price.
AD: If you are the national promoter you are producing the show. So you make an offer to the European booking agent, if you’re a sub-agent usually you take 10%. You get it on top.
GI: Are there any fees you need to keep in mind as a booking agent?
SeHo: Yes, Ausländersteuer is the term for the income tax on performing artists who don’t perform in their home country. This is a system that is supposed to prevent tax evasion. So that artists who live in countries where there is no income tax, such as Monaco, still have to pay income tax where they actually perform and not where they live. In Germany, the system works like this: The promoter of an event has to pay this income tax on behalf of the artists, if artists make more than 250 € per person and per performance. In other European countries that works differently. There are countries like Austria and Switzerland, where this threshold is not per person or per show but per year, and there are also some countries like the Netherlands and Ireland and Denmark that have abolished the system altogether. So it’s really crucial when you negotiate a fee for a concert that you check in with the local promoter if they have to pay this local income tax, or if your fee is below the national threshold. There is a difference between the gross and the net fee, and sometimes local taxes will be deducted from the gross fee. It is always important to ask if you get a hundred percent of the fee that you negotiate, or if there are any of these local income taxes being deducted.
GI: At what point is it good to have a booking agent?
EC: I think after you have some history playing concerts. So you know how you play shows. You know you already have a live set and live tracks that you can share. And hopefully there is some promo and you’re available. Then, it might make sense to have an agent when things are picking up so much that you really don’t have time to deal with all the logistics. I think it’s good to start off on your own. Maybe get some relationships with promoters, figure out where your shows go well. That’s really helpful to know for the booking agent and that’s when you can start talking to one.
AD: It is really important for a band to gather a team around you. Maybe a booking agent isn’t something that you would look for from the start, but maybe a label – it doesn’t have to be a major label, it can be a small one. Someone who is doing promo for you, maybe management, if you can. And then, play shows. You need to create your network. Get people involved.
GI: What advice would you give to booking agents?
SeHo: First of all, treat every territory the same. It’s unfair to treat countries and cities differently than others, although the market says one territory is more important than the other. There can also be other rewards in touring or playing in places that are not considered the most important. Second of all, if it’s somehow possible, give your artist time to also explore the places that you send them to. Include a few more off days, so that an artist gets to know the region.
About Erin Coleman, Amande Dagod and Sebastian Hoffmann:
Erin Coleman, originally from Chicago, works as a booking agent at Paper and Iron Booking Co, an independent booking agency based in Berlin. She represents international artists for concerts in Europe.
Amande Dagot works as a booking agent for Europe and does concert production at Puschen. She has previously worked at European booking agency Julie Tippex and organised shows for her band Tendre Biche.
Sebastian Hoffmann has been promoting shows in Berlin since 2005, and currently co-curates the annual Down by the River Festival. He works as a consultant for the Touring Artists help desk on questions revolving around artists’ international mobility.