What is a Booking Agent?
by Sue Basko, esq.
The answer to this question differs from state to state, depending on the Talent Agency law of that state. In the two states in which I am licensed, California and Illinois, the laws are quite similar to each other, though California enforces and publicizes the law much more rigorously. California is much better at protecting actors, musicians, and other talent from unscrupulous people who claim to be agents or bookers.
A booking agent is a talent agent that works on behalf of venues to book talent for them. A booking agent is required to be licensed as a Talent Agent. To get such a license, a person must apply to the state and must meet requirements such as a background check, testing, insurance, an in-state place of business, and other requirements. It is not cheap or easy to become a talent agent.
The purpose of licensing of talent agents is to protect actors, musicians, and other entertainers, as well as the venues that book them. The talent agent is required to make sure the whole deal meets the requirements of the law so that people get paid and safety and decency laws are met. Working with a non-licensed talent agent or booking agent is terribly risky. Many people that call themselves booker or booking agents are actually operating without a license. Before doing business with them, you should ask if they are licensed and check it out.
There are two other types of people that might be booking talent for shows. One is called a Talent Buyer. A Talent Buyer is an employee of a venue or of a company that owns numerous venues. A Talent Buyer books talent for a venue and usually deals with the licensed agent that represents the talent, or with the manager or talent directly, if the talent has no agent. It will be the duty of the licensed Talent Agent to be sure the contract offered by the Talent Buyer meets the requirements of the law as well as the needs of the Talent.
The other type of person that might be booking a show is called a Producer. The producer is a person who takes financial and legal responsibility for creating a show. Like a Talent Buyer, a Producer will work with the licensed Talent Agent that represents the talent. If the talent does not have an agent, a lawyer should be engaged for and by the talent to be sure the contract and deal are acceptable.