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Stuff that gives agents a bad name?

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Clients frequently choose to scout for bands directly rather than consider contacting an agent and it isn’t always just because it works out slightly cheaper going direct. The problem with dealing directly with bands is that they’re often not the most organised or reliable people to deal with and as there’s rarely an official contract, the band could pull out at short notice and without any consequence (i.e. if they get offered a better paid gig or a tour comes up or thy get offered a block booking at a holiday park, for example).

The truth is, a good agent really can be an asset and totally worth a little extra expense. Just like a really good wedding planner or an event organiser, they provide added assurance that the entertainment you book is perfectly suited to your taste, that all the logistical issues have been considered and that the band can work seamlessly (behind the scenes) with your schedule to avoid any disruptions. A good agent will thoroughly vet all their bands and artists to ensure they meet all the professional criteria. They will consider the standard of musicianship, their experience and the level of professionalism and they will also check that the artists carry all the correct paperwork (up to date PAT documentation, the correct Public Liability Insurance and, where appropriate, the necessary risk assessment paperwork).

Additionally, you get a much better level of protection when dealing with an agent because artists are far less likely to cancel a booking where an agent is involved. They know that, unless it genuinely couldn’t be avoided, they would be risking damaging their relationship with the agent and potentially losing a lot of future work as a result.

The problem is, how do you pick the right agent? A nice looking website, or the sheer volume of acts they represent, is no indication of how large the agency is or how professional they might be or whether they follow sound ethical business practices. The truth is, we can expect an agent to have a good working knowledge of a few dozen or so acts but unless they have a detailed, criteria based, website search tool that functions effectively, then it’s just not possible for them to recall even a few basic details for the many thousands of artists that they have on their websites.

To limit competition, many agents now employ exclusivity agreements. An exclusivity agreement prevents a band or artist from working with other agents or taking direct bookings and, in return, the agent promises the band a full diary. The agent can then charge a premium fee for these acts. What’s worse is that when you ask these agents to recommend a band or artist, they will always recommend their exclusive artists first, even though there may be other, more suitable, non-exclusive artists.

Below is a list of hints and tips to help you navigate around some obvious pitfalls and also some pointers on what you should be looking out for when dealing with an agent….

  1. When searching on the agents website, if you notice that some of the bands and artists keep coming up at the top of the search results, in-spite of the fact that you might be searching for bands in specific locations, then this is a good indicator that these acts will be exclusive to this agent.
  2. Many of the bands and artists you see at the top of the search results lists won’t actually be located in the county that you’re searching under. This is because the search tool has been modified to list all the bands that are prepared to travel to that county instead. As their exclusive bands are all happy to travel UK wide, they will typically pop up in every county. This is clearly not in the best interest of the client because the further a band has to travel the more they’re going to charge.
  3. Unfortunately, some agency search tools are also rigged to priorities their exclusive bands so, just watch out for the familiar faces. If you notice that some bands keep coming up near the top of the search results under different locations (even though the agent has thousands of bands on their website) then it’s a pretty safe bet that they are getting preferential treatment. 
  4. When viewing a bands/artists profile page, you sometimes see a ‘similar artists’ section as well. This can be very useful if used for the purpose it was intended because it should give clients a short list of very similar bands or artists for them to consider but, unfortunately, some agents will also use this to promote their exclusive bands. Again, just watch out for those familiar faces.
  5. Some websites do have on-line diaries for their artists but the truth is that these dairies are often not maintained because the agent relies on the artists to maintain their own diaries and the vast majority of will struggle to keep on top of this. Consequently, the website might suggest a act is available but often, when the agent checks directly with the artist they find the date has already gone. However, agents do maintain diaries for exclusive artists and this allows them to recommend their more expensive, exclusive, artists if the act you selected wasn’t available. 
  6. When you talk to an agent, ask yourself if the agent is taking the necessary time to discuss your requirements in detail and are they asking the appropriate questions or do they just seem to be rushing through the call and guiding the conversation. Are they really interested in what you’re telling them or have they already started to recommend acts, before they’ve fully taken on board what you’re trying to tell them?
  7. Is the agent demonstrating any knowledge of event organisation? Bands come in all sizes and have different requirements (floor space, power, how long it take to set up their equipment etc), so your agent should be asking you questions about the venue (what the access is like for loading in equipment, the available floor space for the band to set up in, the proximity and number of power sockets near to the stage area for example (or if there’s a generator involved) and also about your schedule for the day because a good agent will need this information in order to determine the most convenient time for the band to arrive to set up and sound check their equipment and also to avoid any clashes with other service providers and maybe even to recommend some set timings that would work better with your planned schedule.

You’ll be pleased to know, Act Sharp have now been trading for over 8 years and we’re extremely proud to say that we’ve never offered and nor would we ever offer exclusivity contracts to our artists. Maintaining client trust and being able to offer impartial advice on our artists is of paramount importance to us. We believe that exclusivity agreements are completely unethical and undermine that trust.  We also understand the importance of giving clients the freedom of choice to pick the band or artist that best suits their needs and we believe that a fully functional advanced search tool can deliver this. A modified search tool, on the other hand, is completely ineffective at delivering a genuine, unbiased, list of choices. So choose choice folks! Choose to work with agents that can clearly demonstrate that they have ethical business practices and your best interests at heart.

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