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Barbara Gaither has found a new challenge while filling a niche by helping book music for hill country clubs and concerts. Photo by Phil Houseal


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Contact Barbara Gaither at Big Time Entertainment via email: barbarag@ktc.com.

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Agents

by Phil Houseal
Feb 6, 2008

"You could take an agent's heart and fit it into a gnat's navel, and there would still be room for his brain."

That's how I remember a comment Johnny Carson made years ago. Some agents I've worked with came close to fitting that description, but the reality is that when agents do their work right, everyone wins.

I am encouraged to see more use of booking agents and managers in the hill country, where a lot of music business has involved a handshake and a tip jar.

Barbara Gaither, who has a full time job working for a foundation, began taking on music acts this summer as a sideline. She has learned a lot in a short time.

"I got in over my head rather quickly!" she laughed.

Her unexpected career started over a year ago when Harry and the Hightones hired her to manage the group. Soon other groups started calling, and she had several acts working in clubs. Everyone was happy.

And that is the ideal outcome for every agent, according to Austin-based agent Bill Penn.

"I keep saying this has to be a win-win-win situation between all three parties," he said. "To be asked back, you have to have a good working relationship with everybody."

Penn, who has a background in technology corporations, got started in the business by helping Don Walser get bookings in the Austin area. Penn now works full time booking "everything from Celtic to country." He is currently providing acts for the Gillespie County Historical Society's popular Roots Music concerts.

Penn has shared pointers with Gaither as she added clients and formed Big Time Entertainment. She learned to look for minimal standards before taking on a band. Those include having a press kit, a web presence, and a CD demo.

"Those are the basics they need for an agent to help sell them," she pointed out. "Because an agent cannot just say here's their fiddle player and he can play hoedowns - you can't sell like that. You need brochures, pictures, history, and newspaper articles."

There is a difference between agents and managers. Agents book bands for clubs and events. A manager goes a step further and may handle finances and travel, and give advice on the band's image (Gaither says she "tells them where to be, when to be there, and how to dress."). Compensation usually comes as a percentage of the band's revenue.

So what about the reputation agents have of being greedy and needy? Both Gaither and Penn insist that is not a fair assessment.

"It kind of has to be about the money, because it's what I do for a living," Penn said. "But, yes... you have to love what you do, you have to respect everybody. I think another key to this thing is you try to surround yourself with nice people, and there are a lot of nice people in this industry. If I can sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy talking with a potential client, I probably can work with them - it's that one-to-one relationship. You need a lot of trust."

Even in Gaither's limited experience as an agent, she recognizes what satisfies her most.

"I followed up with a purchaser, and she could not say enough good things about the band we booked. It was just the pleasure of satisfying the needs of the purchaser. I'm enjoying that part of it - satisfying their needs and wants. If you don't feel that, you can't do it."