Dave Shapiro (Sound Talent Group) on Being a Booking Agent

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Here at Get Sad Y'all, we thought it would be a great idea to interview numerous people in various aspects of the music industry to serve as guides for those that might want to pursue a career. Those interviews can be found here.

If there's anyone you'd like us to interview, give us a shout.

Below, we chatted with Dave Shapiro (Sound Talent Group) about life as a booking agent.

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Who are you and what do you do?
DS: I am Dave Shapiro. I guess I am an entrepreneur, I own and work in a number of different businesses, but my main focus is owning and running a talent agency booking bands (Sound Talent Group).
How long have you been a booking agent?
DS: I've been booking about 16 years now.
Who are some of the your current clients?
DS: We have a wide range of artists, everything from Run-D.M.C. to Lamb of God to Steve Vai to Hanson, you name it, it's really all over the place. I personally handle a lot of our rock and metal and heavier stuff like that. I handle bands like Parkway Drive, Pierce the Veil, The Wonder Years, Circa Survive, August Burns Red, Beartooth, Sum 41, Streetlight Manifesto, The Devil Wears Prada, I Prevail, Less Than Jake, and so on.
What's your day-to-day look like?
DS: The one thing that is probably most interesting about this job is that every day is very different. I can't say there's necessarily a stock answer to that question, but what I can say is that generally speaking, my day is physically booking the tours, but also dealing with artists and managers to discuss strategy and what we're gonna do on future tours, why we would or would not look at certain opportunities, and plotting out how we get a band from point A to point B from the perspective of touring.
How did you get on the path to becoming a booking agent? What made you want to become one?
DS: I never really planned to, it wasn't a conscious decision. I played in a band (Count the Stars) that toured and we were signed to Victory Records. Did that for a number of years. We only had a manager for literally the last month we were a band, prior to that I was really kind of the business guy in the band, so when my band broke up, I just kind of gravitated towards this. The other guys were like "oh, maybe I'll do another band" and some of the guys actually did do that. Everyone was focusing on different things, but for me, I instantly went into business but I didn't really know what that meant. I tried a number of different things: I promoted shows for a little bit with a local promoter who was a buddy of mine back where I was from in Albany, NY, I tour managed, I drum-tech'd, I worked at labels. But then I finally fell into booking and gave that a go and that's when I realized that "oh, this is it, this is what I've been looking for." Been doing that ever since.
What is something you've learned about booking over time that you wish you had known from the start?
DS: That's a really good question, I don't think I've ever been asked that. One thing that I think took me a very long time to learn is that working with the right people, and good people, is more important than chasing bands that make money and things like that. I think that if you learn early on that if you make decisions for the right reasons, the money follows and you will make a living doing this. But if you're just working with difficult people affecting your quality of life - because there a lot of those people in this business - then it can be soul-sucking and you won't do your job as well. So something that if I could have learned earlier that would've been better for me was if I had learned that it's okay to walk away from difficult people - you don't have to be a jerk about it - but there's nothing wrong with saying "I just don't want to work with you." Surround yourself with the right people and if you do that, I really think that everything else will fall into place.
Where should someone looking to become a booking agent start their career path?
DS: If someone is looking to get into booking, I think the best thing they can do is seek out some sort of internship. Get into an agency and see what it is and how people work. The job is a lot different that I think people think it is on the surface... it's a great job and it's fun and you get to listen to a lot of great bands, there's a lot of perks. But there's also a lot of things about it that I think people get into it and are like "this isn't what I signed up for." As a result, you really need to experience it before you dive in to see what it's actually all about.
What are three key things that someone looking to become a booking agent should know?
DS: You should know that you are going to have to give up a large part of your personal life. It's a job that you have you have to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That is something you have to learn very quickly and accept and I think that's the one, most important thing to understand is that this is all-encompassing, you have to give your life to it to make it work. Another thing is that a lot of people may expect that it is just a lot of fun and partying and going to shows... it's an office job. All that other stuff is part of it, but it's an office job. You are at a computer all day, everyday. That's something that I think is important to point out and know going in. It's great, I mean it's a lot more fun booking shows for bands than it is crunching numbers or something like that, but it's important to know. The last thing is that having a career as an agent can have ups and downs and you need to put your time in. It's going to be very tough financially, very hard to make a living doing it at first when you're booking much smaller bands and you're just trying to get by. I remember those first couple years for myself, every month it was "am I gonna make rent this month?" and it was tough, it took a long time. You finally get over that hump and have a couple bands that have some success - as agents, we get paid 10%, so as a band grows, your 10% grows. So I think that's important to know and come to terms with going in as well is that I'm gonna have to pay my dues here for a couple years and just make it work.

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