Getting Inside the Mind of an International Jazz Promoter
by Matt Fripp
Whether you’re an artist manager/booking agent (like me), or an independent jazz musician, ‘getting gigs’ is usually pretty high on your list of priorities.
As part of an ongoing quest to book more (and better) gigs, I surveyed 43 international jazz club and festival promoters to get some insight into how they discover new artists.
Here are the results, along with a short look at what they mean for you…
No Agent? No Problem!
The #1 thing I hear from musicians who are struggling to book gigs for their project is this:
I can’t move onto the next level without a booking agent
Same for you?
You might be surprised, but on average, the promoters in this survey booked more than half of the artists at their venue or festival directly, with no agent involved.
I’m not trying to put myself out of a job – and of course having great representation can make a big impact on your career – but what this result hopefully does change is the belief that most festivals and venues are out of reach until you have an agent.
So, for sure, keep in touch with possible jazz agencies and send them your news to get them interested. But put the majority of your efforts into actually reaching out directly to promoters.
It’s how you play AND who you know…
Next up, I asked promoters how they discovered possible new artists for their club or festival. They could choose as many answers as they wanted, but the results were very clear:
Almost 80% of promoters said that personal ‘industry’ recommendations were key.
It makes sense: if you are receiving 100’s of emails and calls a week – on top of your own research – some outside references to speed up the process. Talking with journalists, agents, record labels and other promoters who you know personally (and whose artistic taste you trust) is very valuable.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, give our love of jazz, the 2nd most popular answer was ‘discovering bands live’ – either at festivals or showcases.
So, whatever stage you’re currently at, what can you start doing right now to improve these things?
- Make a list of all the industry people you already know and make sure you are updating them regularly on what you’re doing. It’s amazing how opportunities arise when you are in peoples’ minds…
- Consciously work to expand your network by asking for introductions and being present at more gigs and industry events.
- Seek out performance opportunities where industry people are likely to be and/or get into the habit of inviting important local promoters and journalists to these gigs.
No video, no gig?
It’s not easy being a musician, right?
Aside from actually practicing and performing (and possibly teaching), there’s a whole bunch of admin that needs taking care of to make progress with building your career and getting gigs.
As an agent, I’m always trying to figure out how to make this ‘booking time’ more efficient, which means focusing your time and effort in the right places.
So, I asked the promoters where they went first when they heard about a new band.
Almost half of promoters said that Youtube was their go-to place when checking out bands.
It certainly is mine, because being able to see and hear a project is so valuable.
The takeaway? If you don’t have convincing, high quality video content online, you’re missing the chance to impress a huge amount of promoters.
I think of it like a trade: if you want to work with professional concert promoters, you need to have professional promo materials.
(As an aside, the next most popular answer was ‘website’… If yours is not effective, you can download a free checklist here about what makes a great jazz musician website)
Professional promoters need professional content…
From personal experience, a great video has opened up so many great gigs to artists I work with.
I remember one new artist who I’d been pitching hard for a few months with little response. We then shot a great music video and I had FOUR festival offers within a week. The quality of his music hadn’t changed, but suddenly promoters could ‘get it’ and imagine how it would look on their stage – in 3 minutes.
I asked the promoters in the survey how important the quality of a video was when booking gigs and the results were pretty definitive:
60% of jazz promoters said that a high quality video was very important (4 or 5 stars) for a musician or band who were trying to get more jazz gigs.
So, if you want to be sure that you have the best chance with 60% of all festivals and venues you’re contacting, make sure yours is professional!
In their own words…
To finish off the survey, I gave the promoters a chance to give some advice – in their own words – to independent musicians looking for gigs.
There were so many great comments (which you can see on the full jazz promoter survey article) but I’ve just picked 2 personal favourites here:
“Do your homework. Instead of mass pitching to all the bookers in the world, find out who would be the most potential ones for your project and try to reach them.” – Matti Nives / We Jazz (Finland)
“Learn about the industry and build relationships with programmers… it will help in the long run” – Penang Island Jazz Festival (Malaysia)
Of course, building a career as a touring jazz musician is a long term process – but certainly one that you can turbo-charge by putting effort into the right areas.
Whether you’re a musician or a musician’s representative, I hope these answers have given a little extra insight into how you can keep building – whatever stage you’re at. You can find more free resources and info at www.jazzfuel.com
Based between London & Paris, Matt Fripp has spent the last 10 years working as a booking agent and manager for jazz musicians, booking more than 1,500 shows at festivals and venues around the world. Alongside this, he runs the online resource Jazzfuel which provides advice and articles for professional jazz musicians. You can discover more about this – and join the free newsletter – via www.jazzfuel.com