Originally, from Connecticut, the black hole for tours between New York City and Boston, Agent Bishop Booking Agency’s “Agent Bishop” moved to Boston in 2003 to attend Northeastern University and kick start his career in the music industry. While attending college, Agent Bishop bought himself a bass starter kit. Within 5 months, he knew he’d make more money selling the instrument than playing it, so he set his sights on booking instead. He explains, “I started booking national tours, then switched to [booking] locally, before settling on Boston alone.” Although they work with a number of venues in town, such as Harper’s Ferry and Great Scott, the Agent Bishop Booking Agency tends to book regularly at Café 939 and Church of Boston. Since he started his booking career, 75% of Agent Bishop’s concerts have either sold out or have had at least 200 people in attendance. This kind of track record has caused a number of publications to take notice, including The Weekly Dig, The Metro, Boston Band Crush, and Ryan’s Smashing Life, who have written up previews or reviews of Agent Bishop’s shows.
Agent Bishop managed to squeeze in a little time in between booking and promoting Boston’s finest bands, including This Blue Heaven, Sarah RabDAU, and Green Light Go’s own Neutral Uke Hotel and The Motion Sick, to tell us what it’s like to be on the other side:
Green Light Go: What is the day-to-day like as a booking agent?
Agent Bishop: I’ve taken a different approach to booking. I book one show a month, that’s it. I feel that bookers in the Boston area spread themselves too thin; they just grab bands and throw them together to [make a profit]. That may work at first, and the venues may love it, but how does that help the scene [evolve]?
I plan my shows months in advance. I pick bands that I would want to see together, bands that can help the club grow, bands I can learn from, and bands that will cause fans to say, “I can’t miss this show!” With a month to plan I can properly devote my time to promotion and marketing. What I’ve learned is that the more time I give press, the more likely I am to get coverage.
I send out my press releases and posters three weeks before a show and I’ll usually follow up via email (or personally) within a week or two of the shows. A personal touch has worked well for me. Whether a press contact gives the show coverage or not, they are on the list…that is my general rule.
GLG: Since Agent Bishop is based in Boston, is that your central market in terms of booking, or do you book national or international shows as well?
AB: I’ve had my taste of booking nationally and I’ve even managed tours while travelling internationally, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I should target a local scene. Boston is a growing market and I want Boston to be a target stop for agencies. I believe that it’s the market’s responsibility to build that confidence.
GLG: What are some of the most noteworthy artists you are currently working with or you've worked with in the past?
AB: Over the years I’ve worked with Jason Mraz, Head Automatica, O.A.R., My Chemical Romance, and The Futureheads, in terms of promotion and marketing. In terms of booking, I’ve worked with nationally touring acts HUMANWINE, Inoia, (Green Light Go's) The Motion Sick and Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling, and I even did a stint with The Warped Tour.
GLG: What is the best piece of advice you’d give a band that thinks they are ready to head out on the road for a tour?
AB: First, expect to lose money. Tours are money pits. Between renting a car and buying gas, food, and alcohol (we all know that’s part of the equation), a band has to expect to pay what they would for a vacation. A tour is just a vacation that requires you to work. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to ask friends, family, venues, or fans for a place to stay. If you want to save money, look for that third cousin, aunt, or college roommate you barely speak to anymore. Also, when negotiating shows, see if the venue is willing to put you up as part of the deal. Often times, booking agents are more than happy to offer you a place to crash. The same goes for fans.
A band also needs to map their route carefully, put in the work to promote their own shows, bring enough merch, and LOCK THE VAN! I can’t tell you how many of my colleagues have gone on tour and have had their gear stolen. Also, be aware of health coverage. Some bands have members with full-time jobs, but most don’t. If you’re injured on the road and don’t have coverage, that can be the end of the tour and the beginning of years of debt. There are websites designed to help musicians without health care, like Rock For Health, so read them.
Finally, document as much as you can. Every band expects to make it big, so packing up the van and hitting the road is the first step to realizing that dream. In the age where social media rules, fans want to experience life on the road along with the band (after all, they’re stuck behind a desk while you're out living the dream, right?). If a fan can relate to you, they’ll want to support you.
GLG: What is the best thing about booking shows? What challenges do you face as a booking agent?
AB: The best thing is seeing a show sell out, because that means I did my research and followed my instincts. When you believe in something strongly, the results will follow.
Even if a show hasn’t sold out, if I can look around the room and see people smile, or talk to someone afterward and hear them say, “That was an amazing show,” I go home happy. I also want to note that one of the reasons why I love booking all ages shows is because parents bring their kids. Kids have no inhibitions and they’re just as happy watching a show as they are running around in a circles dancing or pretending to be a ballerina. I could have 30 people at a show, and if I saw a group of kids loving the music they are listening to, I leave with a smile.
One of the challenges is finding the right mix of bands. I look for bands that people haven’t seen on stage together before, or bands that will make the fan look at the bill and say, “Wow, why hasn’t anyone put these guys together?!” The whole reason I started booking was because I thought clubs didn’t know who to put on a bill. It’s a delicate balance to find bands that fit together, but don’t sound exactly the same. When I can find that balance, everyone wins.
GLG: In addition to the bands you are working with, what current albums have you been listening to lately?
AB: I’ve been listening to Hey Marseilles’ To Travels and Trunks, Good Old War’s Only Way To Be Alone, Kingsley Flood’s Dust Windows, Aloud’s Exile, and Apollo Run’s Here Be Dragons. Volume 1.
The Other Side highlights the talented folks behind the scenes of the music we listen to. The Other Side features producers, engineers, booking agents, photographers, radio DJs, management teams, and label representatives.
This week’s The Other Side is brought to you by: Lauren Roberts