Artist Manager Nell Mulderry shares insights on crafting a performance contract – plus booking agents, tour managers, and your music career
When it comes to building a music career and keeping the gigs coming, Nell Mulderry knows how the game is played. A former head of market development for Blue Note Records, the New York-based music business veteran owns the artist management and marketing company Boss Sounds. Her projects have included managing master jazz bassist Ron Carter’s Great Big Band project, managing the career of rising artist Suzanna Choffel, and serving as point woman with Sony Legacy on its worldwide Miles Davis catalog releases.
Here’s what Mulderry had to say when it comes to getting the music gigs you want and building the music career your talent deserves.
What are the basics that an up-and-coming indie artist should keep in mind when it comes to getting quality music gigs?
I heard that the great drummer Art Blakey once said about being an artist, “if you’re not appearing, you’re disappearing.” That’s the bottom line. The way the music business is structured, the live end is all-important to most artists. The talent buyers at venues are in the business of booking talent. Typically, and ideally, artists go through dedicated booking agents. That is the goal then, to ultimately attract a booking agent to represent you.
So this conversation is to cover the interim for artists striving to attain that level and become a draw. As a manager, I want to develop the artist to where we can land a committed booking agent, and the right fit. They’re doing this all day every day, whereas I’m into every aspect of the artist’s overall career, so agents are key players when building a team around any artist.
How should aspiring artists go about scouting established venues and getting a foot in the door?
Well-known venues usually book three or more months out, so you have to stay in front of the calendar. It’s competitive and it’s a supply and demand proposition. There are thousands of artists and not nearly that many venues. Go with your relationships. Where are your fellow musicians playing? Can they put in a good word for you? If you’ve got the chops, word of mouth is going to get you well on your way. Once you’ve established a connection to some venues and you fix a date and time, then you’re ready to handle the ins and outs of getting some dates on your calendar.
So you’ve nailed down a date and venue. What are the basics of a performance contract?
You want to establish the expectations on both sides. My attorney taught me that the most important thing about a contract is when you get paid, and that goes for any music contract where you’re providing services. It sounds so simple, but it’s so important! Work backwards from that. Don’t over-complicate an agreement, but think things through and communicate on the basics. Once you do, you’ll be in artist mode and able to focus on the music, which is the realm of artists and where you really want to be.
Specifically, what are some of the basics that should be in a performance contract?
What other artists are on the bill? What’s your set length? Is it a co-bill? If you’re headlining, do you have the right to approve support? What’s your band personnel? Have your stage plot and input list ready to include if you need to. Also, be sure to work out who’s responsible for what tech and gear requirements. Are you responsible for bringing all your own backline? Is the venue equipped with proper sound and lights, monitors, a sound person, and are they covering all those costs?
What about payment to you as the artist?
What’s your fee? Are you playing for a flat guarantee, or a guarantee plus backend over a certain threshold — or is it a percentage of ticket sales? This ties into the venue capacity, ticket price. Basically, you’re establishing which party will absorb the risk of the performance. When and how will you get paid? Can you get a deposit ahead of the date, and then the balance at the gig, and do you get paid before or after you play, in cash or by check?
And marketing the show?
Are you expected to promote, and in what ways? Through your own social media channels? Tour press? It’s always a good idea to coordinate with the venue, since they have an incentive to sell tickets. Ideally, the venue is the presenter and you’ve earned the support of their marketing and promotion efforts.
Are there other things an artist can ask for? Will the venue or promoter offer to cover lodging, and maybe travel costs? What about hospitality — will they feed you? If they do, it offsets your overhead. Also, find out if merch sales are allowed. Will the venue take a cut, or will they cut you a break and let you keep 100 percent of your venue sales? Little things like that all add up.
Any tips for keeping your time on the road as smooth as possible?
Get a tour manager! Seriously, tour managers run the show on the road. Let’s face it — problems crop up. If you don’t have the luxury of a tour manager, you have to think on your feet. You know, improvise! It’s the same concept as playing. Touring is a detail-oriented business and the last thing you want to do is cancel a gig. The reliability factor is critical in this business. The more you can compartmentalize the logistical stuff, the better.
Any final words of wisdom?
Always remember, as a musician you want to devote your energy to making great music, and the business will take care of itself.
Image via ShutterStock.com.
Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive — there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download now through iTunes, jam along with the new JamBandit app, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.
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