Getting the gig. The better gig!
When I began booking shows things seemed a lot different. To begin with I was about 14 years old and my target shows were children’s parties. It has been a long time since I booked a kid’s show, but believe me I would do it again tomorrow if the price and location were right.
I suspect the majority of paying shows in the magic community are still kid’s shows. Magic has always been largely considered an entertainment for children. Even casinos and cruise ships, two other major markets for magicians, are really just playgrounds for adults with disposable income, they only occasionally where silly paper hats though.
The general rule of thumb when I was booking those early dates in my career was to run a short classified advert in the local paper and then bedazzle the potential client when they phoned you in response to it. You usually had a glossy brochure that you could mail them to ‘seal the deal.’ I suspect this approach still does work rather nicely if you replace the brochure with a promotional video of some kind and throw a website into the mix.
Back in the 60s, when I was booking these kind of dates the second line of attack was less proactive but even more effective—you did the very best show you could, priced it carefully and then waited for word of mouth to increase your workload with more dates. It was simple and seemed to work very well.
Being a magician and raised on stories of Houdini, and his great publicity stunts, you probably also dreamed and strove to emulate his success by engineering some kind of publicity stunt to make your name better known through that curious beast known as ‘exposure.’ If you could pull of some great feat, which got your name mentioned in the local newspaper for free—then the bookings would flood in. Right. Hmmmm.
Eventually if you wanted to expand your source of work you entered the scary world of agents. These were mysterious beings that seem to offer access to more clients, but at the cost of removing your personal access to the actual individuals who wrote the checks. Not only were you suspicious of the process but first you also had to find one!
This step tended to stop a lot of performers who somehow felt that the agent was a person who actually somehow stood in the way of you getting the gig. It didn’t matter if you never even knew the booking existed. The main reason for this mistrust was because the agent represented several clients and one of their other acts might be more suitable and get the gig instead of you. That is the trade-off, if you don’t like it tough—go back to the classified ads.
The important part about working with a legitimate agent is to realize that this variety of clients and performers is what they bring to the table. It’s how they earn their rather modest fee. They really don’t care who gets the gig (unlike you, the performer involved) but they do have a very vested interest in making sure that the gig works out for the buyer. The client, make no mistake, is the booker who writes the check for the gig. If it is a success then that buyer might become a client for the agent.
Of course you don’t need an agent to work, but he doesn’t need you either, so let me pass on four simple guidelines that help when dealing with an agent.
1 He/She is not ‘the enemy’ or a necessary evil, he is part of the route you need to become a more highly paid and fully booked performer. I hear many ‘somewhat professional’ performers rant about agents, when maybe they should look at their own acts and ethics more closely.
2 To steal a client from an agent is immoral, incorrect and foolish. If he gets a new buyer to purchase your services—then he deserves his percentage of any future booking made from his booking. Take a bunch of his/her cards to the gig and hand them out—not your own.
3 Do not expect an agent to care as much about you as he does himself or his revenue inducing contacts. Why should he? You work for the agent and not him for you. This isn’t Broadway Danny Rose. Get real and stay there!
4 Give him the best publicity material you can and don’t promise more than you can deliver. The first act will help you get the gig and the second action will screw it up if you do get the gig. Always remember you may lose that agent a long-term client and a steady source of income by a foolish promise or boast.
I’m going to stop here, if you follow these basic steps you are already streets ahead of most of those strange creatures that describe themselves in the non-reality term ‘semi-pros…’