Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How and When to Contact an Agent

Agents get calls and emails from entertainers every day looking for work. Almost all of them make a horrible impression. It's cliché, but so true that you only get one chance to make a great first impression. So before you cut your own legs out from under you, make sure you've followed these simple guidelines.

Make sure you have an act

Take the time to build up your act before contacting a booking agent. If you're a band, you can get pretty good rehearsing in the garage. But you still need to get up on stage to practice your craft in front of a live audience. And comedians? Don't even think about contacting an agent if you're just starting out.

But don't some clubs have emcees and opening acts, and don't some agencies book those slots?

Yes, excellent point! So make sure the agency you're contacting handles acts just starting out. But don't call and ask them. Do your homework ahead of time (see "Research the agency" below).

It's tough getting started in stand-up comedy. But an agent is not the place to turn for advice and nurturing.

Get your materials together

Let's suppose you have a killer act and you've been slaying audiences in your hometown. Time to contact an agent, right? Not so fast. Make sure you have some equally killer promotional materials.

Here's a little secret for you... Agents don't book comedians. Agents book video clips.
And to a lesser extent agents book photos, testimonials, and reviews. See what I'm saying? It doesn't matter how great your act is live. You have to capture it on videotape - professionally. The video must feature a live performance that exactly reflects what the end client will be buying. Don't bother contacting an agent until you have a professional-quality video of your act. And if you're not sure if your videotape is professional-quality, then it probably isn't.

Post your video online. YouTube is an excellent place to start.

Your video should get right to the funny. Agents don't want to sit through an introduction, musical montage, client list, graphics, or testimonials. Avoid lots of cuts and edits.

You're also going to need professional photos. You know, photos taken by professional photographers. Not ones taken by your friend with a digital camera.

And write a 250-400 word spirited bio. Highlight your experience and accomplishments, without it sounding like a history lesson. Describe your show, what makes you unique, and why a presenter should hire you.

If you really want to look professional, make sure you have a website. It doesn't have to be elaborate, just make sure it's hosted on your own domain and not MySpace.

Research the agency

Would you call a company looking for a job if you knew nothing about the company? Of course you wouldn't. So why call an entertainment agency without knowing anything about the agency?

What is the agency's specialty (clean comedians, keynote speakers, etc.)? What geographic region do they cover? What markets do they focus on (colleges, corporate, Christian, festivals, fairs, etc.)?

Here's another insider secret: you can typically find this information on the agency's website. Before you pick up the phone or dash off an email, be sure to thoroughly review the agency's website. If you ask a question that is clearly answered on the website, you're getting off to a very bad start.

Ask about their submission policy

You're almost ready to contact the agency, but there's one last step... find out if the agency has an existing submission policy. Again, you can usually find this information on their website. If they have a clear guideline established for submitting acts, follow it to the letter.

Sample email for an agency without a clear submissions policy:
Hi Agent, I've been following your company for years. I recently worked with [name drop agency act] Fantastic Frank at the Comedy Conundrum. He raved about your agency and recommended that I contact you. I've been performing for five years and have 45-60 minutes of solid, clean comedy suitable for general audiences. Frank knows you like to offer new acts to your cruise ship clients, and thinks I'd be a great asset to your agency. When you get a chance, please let me know your submission policy. I look forward to hearing from you soon. 
Awesome Tom
(919) 555-1212
p.s. I love your recent website redesign. The new video player is really impressive!

BONUS ADVICE: Tips for Submitting to Christian Comedy Acts

  • Their specialty is squeaky clean comedy. If you can't do a church show, you're not what they are looking for.
  • They don't typically list acts on the site who can't easily headline a 60-minute show on their own.
  • Don't mail unsolicited materials. They will go directly into the trash can.
  • Go to the Christian Comedy Acts website, click on the Contact page, and follow the link to Submit Your Act.
  • Do not call with questions.
  • Super-important insider tip: If you really want to be listed, get a personal referral from an act already listed on the site. This is your number one piece of advice. If you want to get attention, have an agency's existing act put their own reputation on the line for you.
Got advice or funny stories about contacting an entertainment agency? Please share it in the comments section.


Anonymous said...

Larry knows what he's talking about. This is priceless info for aspiring entertainers!

Karen Robertson said...

Larry is a straight forward guy. I met him at the Christian Comedy Association Conference and he taught a whole session on how to get an agent. He made it very clear that if you want to do business with him, you'd better abide by the rules he has laid out on this very informative website. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and he isn't going to waste his! I appreciated his honesty. I wish I was ready to go through the process to be considered by him.