Talent is certainly part of the equation for success, but for most people not named W.A. Mozart it only goes so far. Breaking through in the music business takes hard work, years of practice, perseverance, and the grit to stick with it during the starving artist years.
Representation is also a factor in the formula for success. Agents, managers, and media teams are vital to increasing performers’ marketability and earning power, securing work, and making it big. The contribution they make is the reason why the winners at the Grammys and other award events always give their people a shout-out from the podium.
So, all you have to do to make it to the big stage and bright lights is hire a solid group of talent professionals, right? It’s not that easy. Even if you are the Next One, you’re competing with every other skilled performer seeking a top talent professional.
The most successful agents are picky. They earn a percentage of gross, and likely won’t give the time of day to a performer who (in their opinion) lacks the skill, sound, or the je ne sais quoi to break through. Pickiness diminishes as you move down the scale, but connecting with an agent is a competitive business at every level.
On the other hand, public relations professionals earn a set amount, usually in the form of a retainer, so as long as you have the money, they aren’t picky at all. Agents and managers fulfill different functions but there is crossover. If you’re interested in the distinctions, check out “5 Differences Between Agents and Managers” posted from Romano Law.
Finding “your people” is a challenge, but it’s not impossible.
- The Basics
Be prepared. If you want to connect with someone, make it as easy as possible for them.
- Digital business cards. There’s no telling when or where you’ll meet an agent or manager who is looking for someone like you. Digital business cards live on mobile devices and look like an app icon. Tap it to email, text, or scan. If you give that person a printed card, it will end up in a desk drawer or in the trash the minute you turn away. The digital versions go directly to where your new acquaintance keeps everything. You can get one made on a freelance site like Fiverr.
- Website. Wix or Squarespace make it easy to produce a professional website quickly and easily using templates. Those “click and build’ options are inexpensive, but if you have money to invest, the providers will design a one-off site for you. Feature (or embed links to) performance videos, calendar of upcoming performances, music resume, and contact information. Pro tip: Think creatively and critically about your URL. Your name and domain represent your brand so spend the nominal fee for a custom URL.
- Voicemail. It’s okay to make the message fun or creative, but you’re in business so avoid sarcasm or trite messages like “I’m probably taking a nap right now so catch you on the flip flop.” Talent professionals want to work with professionals, so polish up your voicemail introduction.
- Social Media
When you’re looking for an agent, you’re auditioning for someone who could help you achieve your career dreams. Upload your best stuff to your social media channels and treat the digital anthology as your demo reel. When you cross paths with a professional, forward a link to your personal Top 10.
Another thing to keep in mind about social media: What would a prospective agent think of a musician who has only 10 followers? How about one with 10,000 followers? The point is you should always be growing your viewer/subscriber base. Post regularly. Include performance updates and commentary and reply to people who post comments. This kind of attention shows responsiveness to your audience and commitment to marketing yourself. Talent professionals want to work with eager, enthusiastic performers. It makes you more marketable and their job easier!
Be sure to follow agencies and individual talent professionals on their social media channels as well. Don’t just “like” their posts. Comment on them. Get their attention. Stand out from your competition.
- Music Conferences & Events
Technology has changed everything about the music industry except the most important thing: It’s still a people business and networking is king. Or queen. As you prefer. Anyway, music-related conferences and events are ideal places to connect with talent pros. One of the most recognized conferences is SXSW held annually in Austin, Texas, but do some research online to find different events closer to home if extensive travel isn’t an option.
- Music Organizations
Another great way to connect with talent professionals is through organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and the Recording Academy. Again, talent professionals are often members and/or affiliated with these groups. Do some research and find out how you can become more involved, which may provide opportunities to work with these talent professionals directly.
- Web Power
If you haven’t been to Sonicbids or ReverbNation, take a look. Both offer free subscriptions (which lack features and benefits of paid plans) but they can simplify connecting directly with industry professionals.
A word to the wise: You’ll find just as much competition for attention on these sites as you will at the booking offices of highly desired venues. Avoid a “one and done” approach. Don’t just register and wait for the gigs to come. These sites are just another tool in your belt.
If you’re not performing, you really don’t need an agent, right? But are you performing at the right places, i.e., venues where talent pros go to prospect? Open mic nights provide a great opportunity to meet talent hunters. Another great place is fundraisers—contribute to charitable causes by offering to perform for free. While there’s no guarantee they’ll be in attendance, music industry professionals are often involved in charitable causes and the exposure could be beneficial. Worst case scenario—you help a worthy cause and paying it forward is a good business practice, not to mention personally rewarding.
Word of mouth is still the best and most cost-effective means of marketing yourself. Talk to other performers and find out who is representing them. If it seems like a good fit, ask for referrals. Remember that when someone refers you, they’re putting their own reputation on the line. Always be respective, professional, and gracious.
Note that if you find talent professionals quickly and easily, you either have lottery-winning luck or they may not be as professional as they’re leading on to be. Be aware of scammers, hustlers, and outright con artists. Always vet these people. Find out who their other clients are, ask for referrals, look them up online. Even if you’re introduced to a well-reputed agency—always ask questions to make sure your goals are aligned with the respective industry professional and vice-versa.
When you find an agent or manager and share a mutual interest, don’t put yourself in a position where you have to agree with everything the other person says. On the other hand, you are hiring someone to bring skills and abilities that you don’t have to the table. If you trust one another and are on the same page in terms of overall career objectives, then you may be in the early stages of a profitable, successful collaboration.