music morsels The Band Mates Network Sept 2007

MUSIC CAREER MANEUVERS - Deb Dumais - Booking agent/owner of Milestone Agency
Strategies to maneuver your career path from the people with the know-how
by Mark E. Waterbury

An “Air Force brat” who lived in several locations throughout the U.S. before settling in the Dallas, TX area, Deb Dumais is a lifetime music fan. After working as a manager in a doctor's office, Deb dabbled in music publicity interning for N2N network out of New York. Finding out that this was not her forte, she attended Northwood University where she obtained a Business Administration degree. While attending Northwood, she interned at a booking agency based in Athens, Georgia. She gained a lot of insight into booking bands while at the agency, which unfortunately shut down right about the same time that she left it. Deb decided to start her own agency, dubbing it Milestone Agency. Starting with several of the clients from the agency in Athens, Deb built herself a solid reputation as a booking agent, and soon was having no problem maintaining a roster of bands to book. Her current roster includes indie buzz bands such as Bad Fathers, Days Difference, Four Way Free, and Brown Shoe. While she thoroughly enjoys booking bands and feels she has found her niche in the industry, she is thinking about getting into band management as well at some point.

MM: What qualities do you have that you feel make you a good booking agent?

DD: When I was trying to get that internship in Athens, he got very interested in me because I kept contacting him and emailing him. He said he liked my aggressive attitude and that is a necessity in this business. Plus (Band booking) is something that clicked with me and you have to have that feeling.

MM: Do you feel it is important to work with music that you like and specialize in that?

DD: Early on in my career, I realized I wanted to work with developing bands in the rock genre. I tried to work with country artists and hip-hop artists, and it just didn’t click. Working with developing rock bands is more in my niche.

MM: What sort of challenges can bands expect to meet when they get out on the road the first time?

DD: One thing that I have found is that when I work with a band that has never played outside their home state, once they get out there and do it, they realize that they can’t do it. Band members start dropping. They find out that it’s too expensive. They just don’t have the drive that it needs to stay out on the road. The majority of the bands end up being like that. They just want to be regional bands and don’t want to try to break out and expand more. They just want to do their home state, which is fine and that’s OK for them. I would prefer to work with bands who want to break beyond their regions and expand to the whole U.S..

MM: What sort of mistakes do you find that bands make when they are touring and performing?

DD: I had one band whose van broke down and I had to cancel shows a few days out because of that. I am still trying to do damage control at some venues because of that. I terminated that band's contract and they are no longer on my roster because bands don’t realize that booking can be a very difficult job. I takes a lot of work and persistance, and then you finally get a show and the band ends up not doing it. Then you have to go and do the damage control with the venue and hope you didn’t harm your relationship with them. Bands just don’t realize that when you cancel a show, it causes a domino effect, and it not only effects the band’s reputation, but it effects the agent’s reputation as well just because the band had their van break down or decided they wanted to go to the beach that weekend instead of playing out. Bands like that are not dedicated and don’t have the drive necessary to get out on the road.

MM: So one of your biggest pieces of advice for bands is don’t cancel gigs?

DD: Definitely. I tell them if I have to drive there and pick them up and take them to the show, they are doing that show. I tell them all specifically - do-not-cancel-shows! The only reason someone should have to cancel a show is if (God forbid) a family member dies.
MM: What do you feel is the most important way to become a successful booking agent?

DD: Get good bands. Bands who are dedicated, that’s number one. You don’t want to commit to a band who does not want to get on the road or realize what it will be like getting out on the road, because you have to make a lot of sacrifices to go out on the road. I try to make them understand what it will take if they go out on the road. Unfortunately, if they have a family, then the family will have to come second. If music is what the bands want to do and have the passion for, then it has to be number one. Sometimes that is going to piss off a lot of wives or girlfriends, and I just had a band where a member had to leave the band because his fiance said it was either her or the band. So he left the band and he had been with them for six years. She was tired of him being out on the road and not being there, and this is one of the things they have to deal with. Sometimes it is like I have to be their psychiatrist, because they will come to me with this problem, like they want to be in the band, but their wife is telling them  if they don’t start staying home more, then they are not going to have a wife to come home to. So I basically sit there and listen to them and I try not to offer a lot of advice, but I listen and let them work it out themselves and figure out how to handle it while they are talking to me.  They are going to make the final decision on what they are going to do. A lot of bands break up after they get out on the road because of wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, etc..

MM: What else would you consider to be a “good band?”

DD: First of all I love working with bands because they are so creative and so passionate about what they do. The bands who are driven are the bands who I really love working with because they do whatever it takes. They don’t cancel shows. They promote the crap out of the shows when I do get them for them, and I don’t have to worry about these bands. The bands that I have to chase when I do get them the show, and it takes them two weeks to tell me if they want to do the show; that sort of attitude tells me they are not driven. They are not going to take the time to tell me if they do or do not want to do a show, and they are wasting my time. If they wait that long to respond, usually we are going to most likely lose the show.

MM: You mentioned wanting to possibly manage bands in the future. Tt almost seems like you have already done that in some ways.

DD: Yeah, I worked with one band who had a new demo CD, and they wanted to send it to me and have me listen to it and critique it. So I did that and then they wanted to know what I suggested to be the order of the material on the CD. So I gave them my suggestions and at first the band didn’t want to have one song on the CD. The singer told them that I had suggested it and it ended up on the CD. I have also played a sort of psychiatrist as I previously said, and sometimes I play record label.

MM: Do you feel because there are so few bands really getting out on the road and doing what it takes that you have to go through a lot of bands first to find those few “needles in a haystack"?

DD: There are probably a few hundred thousand indie bands in the U.S.. Of those, maybe one percent is going to make it somewhat big. That translates over to booking agents, as we may go through around a hundred bands before we find ten that are committed, driven, and getting out on the road. They are trying to be successful and they may not have national success yet with a major label, and I don’t believe a major label is necessary any longer. But they are successful because they are on the road, making money, and people are starting to know who they are. 

MM: What other problems do you run into with booking bands and how do you overcome them?

DD: Sometimes it is tough to get ahold of club bookers. A lot of them hide behind email these days. They are not usually going to tell you if for example a date you are asking for may already be booked. They will probably assume that you will assume that if you don’t hear from them they are not interested. So it is good to always check their web calendar before you pitch. That can save you some time. 

MM: Do you ever run into problems with bands because they usually only get offered door percentages the first time they go into another market?

Yes. That is another thing that I tell bands right up front at the beginning - that they are going to make very little money on their first tour. I give all my bands a questionnaire at the beginning, and one of the questions is, do you have enough funds to go tour for a week if you don’t make any money at the shows? Of course, they bemoan paying my commission and paying gas to get to the shows and everything else, and then they say, 'what happens if we only make twenty bucks at the show?' Then they need to make it up in merch. That’s their gas money, their food money, their hotel money...they really need to push the merch. That is what is going to sustain them doing these tours where no one knows who they are and they are performing for a door percentage.

MM: Would you agree that bands also have to look at any show where they make new fans as a victory?

Yes, but making bands understand that logic that they are going to play some pretty crappy venues and not make a lot of money at first and they gotta keep doing it, is not that easy to do. Some still think they can get paid a guarantee right off, and they just can’t do it. A lot of markets have pay-for-play, reverse guarantees, and situations where you have to buy tickets from the club and then sell them to make the money. More and more clubs are starting to catch on to this, but you still have bands saying, 'no, we want a couple hundred dollars guaranteed'. Then they aren’t going to play that market. Even after the first time a band plays a club it is doubtful they are going to get a guarantee when they go back, yet you have these bands then demanding a guarantee to go back somewhere where the previously drew about five people. They aren’t going to get back in to that market at that rate. What I tell bands is that when they look at all these bands who are now popular and play at fifty-thousand seat stadiums and are now on the radio, those bands started right at the beginning, too - playing in front of five people at a club, not making any money because no one knew who they were. But they hung in there and kept doing it and doing it and doing it. If a band ends up selling fifty to a hundred thousand of their CDs on their own, believe me, the major labels are going to come find them. They will find them if they are creating that much buzz on their own, because bands have to realize that the majors are no longer developing artists. They want artists that are already developed. The bottom line is, if you are not out touring, they are not going to know who you are. You could be the greatest band in the world, but if no one knows who you are, it doesn’t matter.

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