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How Booking Agents Work

Becoming a Booking Agent
There are many ways to start a career as a booking agent. Drummer Scott Lips of Days of the Snakes also works as the band's booking agent.
There are many ways to start a career as a booking agent. Drummer Scott Lips of Days of the Snakes also works as the band's booking agent.
© Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Becoming a successful booking agent starts with a passion for the work. If you're going to be a booking agent for bands, it helps if you have a deep interest in music and the music business. You'll work much harder and be much more satisfied by your work if you feel that you're part of something important: bringing good music to the masses.

The same goes for movie booking. It's the perfect job for a film buff. You spend all day researching upcoming films, digging cinematic gems out of the archives and working with distribution companies to get them on your client's screens. You can play a central role in the programming of an independent cinema or help provide popular entertainment for the whole community.

Like many jobs in the entertainment industry, there's no straight path to a career as a booking agent. A college education is always a plus, but don't go looking for "booking agent" among the list of majors. The best way to a career as either a band or movie booker is by getting experience in related entry-level jobs.

In the music industry, you could start in the mailroom of a large talent agency. Over time, perhaps you can work up to a position as an agent's assistant or even a junior agent. Eventually, you will be given a few of your own clients, mostly likely young bands who are just starting out like yourself. With a lot of hard work and a little luck, you'll prove that you can handle bigger acts or even an entire territory.

Another way to break into the industry is to start working at a local club or concert hall. You might have to start by mopping floors or stamping hands at the door, but you'll get an inside look of how a music venue operates. You'll get to know the promoter and the criteria he uses to choose bands. You'll talk to bookers as they make their rounds and see how they sell their clients to the promoter. Also, you'll meet tons of musicians, maybe even finding a young band with a hot sound that's looking for a booking agent, even an inexperienced one like yourself.

For movie booking, there are also many options for getting practical experience. You could start with an entry-level job at a movie distribution company. This would give you an inside look at how the movie studios approach the booking process. As you work your way up, you'd come in contact with hundreds of bookers from all over the country and start to learn what works and what doesn't when it comes to negotiating a good deal on a film.

On the other hand, you could work directly for a small theater. Many theaters don't have the budget to hire a full-time film booker. By watching tons of movies and working your way up from the candy counter, you can win the confidence of your bosses. Pretty soon you'll be researching the best new movies and negotiating exhibition contracts. Then you can decide whether you want to stick with the theater or break out on your own.

In either booking career you choose, you'll need very strong communication skills and the ability to network with all types of people in all levels of an organization. You'll need to be able to speak the seemingly incompatible languages of art and business. At the end of the day, success in either of these careers depends a lot on relationships. If you can establish trusting relationships with both your clients and the people you work with, you'll go far.

For lots more information on the music and film business, see the links on the next page.