Breaking into the Music Agent Business
Start in the mailroom. That may seem like odd advice, but many a successful music agent started out working in the mailroom of a large talent agency like Creative Arts Agency, International Creative Management or the William Morris Agency. There they gained experience, showed enthusiasm and worked their way up to music booking agent.
Billionaire David Geffen, founder of Asylum Records, for example, started in the mailroom at William Morris and then moved up to the agency's talent agent trainee program. He became one of the first agents representing music groups only, and he was one of the first to see the big-business potential of rock. From there, he went on to run his own record labels, Asylum, with artists like the Eagles and Joni Mitchell, and Geffen Records with groups like Aerosmith and Guns N' Roses [source: Media Now].
Booking agent Max McAndrew started in International Creative Management's mailroom, or agent training program, after earning a college degree. He stocked refrigerators, made coffee, sorted mail and delivered packages. His break came when an assistant music agent who had also served in the mailroom was promoted to agent. The agent gave McAndrew a spot as assistant music agent, and he was later promoted to music agent for club department bookings in the southeast [source: StarPolish].
Getting a college degree in music management or a related field is valuable but not totally necessary to becoming a music agent. Having some background in business, particularly sales, can be valuable, as can a solid understanding of the music industry, including the complexities of legal contracts and copyright issues.
What counts more is your passion for music and ability to make and keep relationships within the industry. You'll also want to be skilled in:
- communications and marketing
- negotiations and bargaining
- research to keep up with industry developments
- patience and listening
- organization and administration
- good judgment, both of bands' talent and people's character
If you're looking for an agency where you can hone your skills, a college degree may be an advantage. Often schools can give you access to career centers and even internships or industry mentors. Also check out Pollstar, the trade publication for the concert industry. Besides listing classifieds in its publications, Pollstar sells annual directories,such as the one featuring booking agencies that includes agents' contact information.
Certain kinds of music probably attracts you more than others -- alternative, pop, classic, rock, hip hop, jazz or R&B. When you're looking for a place to start your career, search for agencies -- and agents -- who share your enthusiasm. Booking aging rockers probably won't help you make the contacts you need, if you're envisioning a career in hip hop.
While on the job, don't pass up opportunities to show what you can do or make contacts with assistant agents or agents who can help give you a hand in the industry. As they move up in their careers, they can bring you along, too.
Once you've soaked up all the knowledge you can from an agency, you may be ready to go out on your own. Let's see what it takes.