On a January evening at Analog, the high tech venue in the Hutton Hotel on West End, Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association, welcomed a full house. He talked about booking shows, routing tours, getting advance press and radio promotion.
“Those four components of the music business are critical when you’re out there on a tour,” he said. “It’s one thing to get a gig, but how are you going to get (people) to come to the gig? So we created this initiative.”
That would be something called the Americana Tour Blueprint, first announced last Fall. So this show, the end of a 13-date run by singer songwriter Caitlin Canty and emerging harmonizing duo the Oshima Brothers was a kind of proof of concept.
“They’re the first artists to use the blueprint to put together a tour,” said Sarah Comardelle, the AMA’s director of marketing and research, who helped develop the tool. “So they’ve gone to radio stations along the way. They’ve used it to get to press outlets along the way. And they’ve been able to have this tour with a marketing component and know who to talk to in each place.”
It’s a members-only benefit, so step one of using the Blueprint is to join AMA as an artist for $35 a year. Then you can log into the private site, which shows venues, pre-screened as friendly to or exclusively based on Americana music, on a customized Google Map. Then you click and submit a press kit with musical links, says Mark Lourie of Skyline Artists Agency, the booking agent for Canty and the Oshimas.
“So it gets to the talent buyer at Jammin’ Java or wherever, and they promise to review it,” he says. “So it doesn’t guarantee a booking. That would be hard to ask from somebody. But it guarantees that they’ll be looked at and maybe it jumps them up in the pile a little bit.”
Also on the map is a curated list of record stores that do live appearances and radio stations that do interviews on air. There are, radio officials emphasize, no guarantees of airplay, in-studio engagement or even a reply, but the member artist would have a better chance for a connection than there has been, according to the logic of the program. AMA piloted the Blueprint on the eastern seaboard, with plans to roll out the whole nation this year.
Booking a tour – with consecutive shows in cities and towns that can be reached on an efficient route – has always been one of the most challenging yet essential parts of a music career. Lourie elaborates: “It’s harder than it’s ever been because it’s so crowded out there. It’s really tough to get things in a geographic straight line. You don’t know when you’re going to get (a show). I’m working on tours right now where I could be talking to people for dates in September and you go to venue and you’re not the first one that asked for that weekend.”
At that point, the agent requests a “second hold” or even a third, implying they’re stacked up on a wait list for that date. “So when I’m finally ready,” says Lourie, “And I’ve got offers from everybody where we want to go, I say we really want that date. And (the club will) challenge the people ahead of us – that’s the term that we use – and they have 24 hours or 48 hours to take it or not. I never know which ones are going to clear. So even though I lined it up the way I want it may not come out the way I want. It’s much harder than it used to be. It’s not perfect science. It’s a talent. It’s an art. And it’s a frustration.”
In related news, the AMA has just announced publication of How To Be A Successful Booking Agent, the third in a series of educational monographs. The promotional pitch says: “We spoke with industry professionals who book artists such as The Avett Brothers, Gretchen Peters and Darlingside, in addition to representatives from City Winery and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Plus, Kasey Chambers, Paul Thorn and more provided an artist's perspective.”