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The Booking Agent: Matt Fripp of Jazzfuel

The Booking Agent: Matt Fripp of Jazzfuel

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What does limit artists without an agent is either not having a plan for their bookings or not following through with it consistently.
—Matt Fripp
So many jazz musicians often face the same cruel task: doing their own booking. It can be a frustrating and discouraging endeavor, but it's necessary to maintain a career. I've had a lot of experience with it and discuss the basics in my column, Mind Your Business: Booking 101, but it's important to get advice from a professional booker. They'll mention things you already know and may need reminding of, but they're also going to review basic principles that can easily be overlooked.

Nobody seems to have made a science of booking more than London-based Matt Fripp. As both a manager and booking agent, his mission is to learn from industry folks of all disciplines. He shares his knowledge through a course and online community called Jazzfuel.

About Matt Fripp

Matt Fripp has worked with jazz musicians for more than ten years, booking over 2,000 club and festival shows across Europe, North America and Asia. He also hosts the website jazzfuel.com, which helps musicians around the world build their careers and get more gigs.

All About Jazz: You began as a musician. How did you get into booking and management?

Matt Fripp: By accident! I was studying jazz saxophone at one of the conservatories in London and somehow ended up booking gigs for myself and my friends, then organizing a small festival. At some point, I realized I was probably better at doing that than competing with all the brilliant musicians on the scene. So, when I got offered a job at one of the main jazz agencies in the UK, I took it.

AAJ: Do you miss not playing anymore?

MF: Not really. I spend hours every day listening to some of the best musicians who have ever lived, so I don't really feel outside of that world. Maybe one day I'll start again.

AAJ: What's a typical workday like?

MF: There's not really a typical day, but I generally split my agency time between preparing to pitch (researching venues, writing emails, working on the database); calling or emailing promoters to update them on specific artists; and admin (flights, schedules, tax forms, VISAs, invoicing). I have help with a lot of the admin, but it still takes a bunch of time.

Alongside this booking work, I run the website jazzfuel.com, which involves work on content for the blog, social media, and newsletter. As part of that, I host an online course and a membership group, so I'm also actively involved with giving one-on-one feedback in a private forum and filming video lessons and sessions for those members.

AAJ: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job?

MF: My favorite part is finally convincing a club or festival to book an artist after months (or even years) of trying to connect with them.
My least favorite would be applying for VISAs and tax certificates.

AAJ: You're both a booking agent and manager for some of your artists. Is there a clear distinction in those two duties, or is there overlap?

MF: If you describe both roles, there's a clear distinction. But in jazz, they are often mixed up—mainly out of necessity. More often than not, an agent is working with an artist that has no manager, so they'll end up doing a bunch of stuff that is not technically in their remit.

AAJ: You run an online community for musicians called Jazzfuel. What made you want to start this website, and what have you learned from running it?

MF: Like all agents, I get a lot of emails from musicians looking for representation. The vast majority of them play great, but often are not taking care of all the other "non-playing" things that make a big impact. So, the site started out as a simple way to try to help fill in some of those gaps when I couldn't actually get involved directly.

Most learning probably comes from the interview articles I host: asking questions to promoters, journalists, other agents, etc. to get their best advice for booking gigs and promoting a project. I think that's what everyone should be doing: taking advice from as many different people as possible and then figuring out which bits work best for you.

It has also taught me the importance of regular contact in building a relationship. Whether that's an artist with a promoter, a label with a journalist, or me with the Jazzfuel subscribers, good things come when you take the time to build relationships with people (even digitally).

AAJ: What aspects of an artist make you want to add them to your roster?

MF: That's a hard question, because it's rarely a decision that comes about in a vacuum. As an agent, you want to have a balanced roster so you're not offering too much of the same type of thing to promoters.

Aside from playing great music—which we have to assume is a given—I look for great performers: not just making brilliant music, but connecting with an audience. That could take many different forms, but when you see a gig and everyone is completely spellbound by it, that's something special.

I also look for awareness of the music business. As a musician, regardless of how many people you have on your team, that initial drive and understanding of your project has to come from you. I am much more interested in an artist who already has a grasp of how their audience connects with them and how to market themselves than a musician who just plays great and wants someone else to join the dots for them. Consistency is also important. Again, while an agent or manager can make a positive impact on an artist's career, it is a long-term game, and it's important to see that the musician has been working at it and already making steady progress.

Finally, I look for nice people. Agents are in a fortunate position to have so much choice, so I can't imagine taking on an artist that didn't seem like a genuinely nice person and would be a pleasure to work with.

AAJ: Does not having a booking agent limit an artist?

MF: I did a jazz promoter survey last year, and one of the biggest takeaways was that on average promoters are booking more than 50 percent of artists directly—no agent involved. That backs up my belief that the majority of promoters will not have a problem with it.

What does limit artists without an agent is either not having a plan for their bookings or not following through with it consistently. I can think of a ton of bands out there with no agent who are getting lots of great gigs, because they've given that side of things the dedication it requires and get the results.

So if you can't find an agent, learn how to work like one!

AAJ: What's the best advice you could give artists who do their own booking?

MF: It's going to sound boring, but following through week after week with a realistic strategy and plan is key. Committing to find ten new festival contacts a month and sending ten emails a week (either new pitches or follow-ups) sounds pretty simple, but it would put you ahead of 95 percent of musicians out there over the course of a year.

Also, no reply doesn't mean "no." There are lots of reasons why promoters don't get back to your emails, and the key is to keep going.

AAJ: What's your prognosis of the current state of live jazz, and how do you foresee its future?

MF: No matter how advanced technology gets, you can't replicate the excitement of a live gig. So, I think the opportunities for touring will continue to grow. That said, the bands who are most savvy about building a fanbase and really thinking about how to deliver an experience at a gig will benefit most from it.

AAJ: What was your worst booking experience?

MF: I'm not sure about "worst," but this one was certainly my most stressful.

I had an artist booked to play at the beautiful Belém Cultural Center in Lisbon, Portugal. Something like 1,100 seats were sold out. Five minutes before the artist was due on stage, there was a power failure in the hall. The lights were fine, but the PA and electricity onstage wouldn't work. After 75 minutes (!) of the venue trying to sort it out and the audience chatting amongst themselves, we agreed that we would have to cancel the show...then, suddenly, everything started working again!

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