This can destroy a booking, ruin a relationship between promoter and agency as well as ruin a relationship between promoter and artist. There are many agencies, or agents, that are horrible to work with. The worst ones are impossible to reach, they change deals you agreed upon, they try to sneak things past you, they think you are stupid, the contracts are poorly written, and they just generally try to take advantage of you, among many other things. Agencies can potentially be the single most frustrating element to deal with as a promoter, especially because the agency's job as the middle man is to make the promoter/artist relationship flow smoothly. Let me tell you a little story...
About a year ago, I reached my boiling point. I absolutely had it with a certain agency, and refused to be fucked over by them anymore. They had repeatedly been just awful to deal with, screwed us over multiple times, and after they stole money from us, it was the last straw. I won't go into every detail leading up to the final straw, only the last booking interaction that we had with them.
It was November 22nd, 2011 and we had booked an artist of theirs from Orange County for an $800 booking fee, plus a $150 flight, $100 hotel, $20 dinner and $30 cab fare to the venue. So that's $1100 right off the bat for only one artist, to play a $5 party (that is free before 10pm), in the middle of the week on December 29th (2 days before New Years Eve, which is a hard night). Not to mention, our original agreement over the phone was $800 all in, which means $800 total, not $800 plus accommodations, so we were already pissed from the start that they changed our deal in the first place.
$1,100 was a bit high for us back then. We didn't really have the budget to pay for just one DJ who was an unknown name, especially since we'd need to pay for a decent supporting lineup to counteract his lack of popularity, but we decided to let it slide. We now had to penny pinch on this night or we'd be in the hole. We still had to pay for the other DJs, the door person, and photographer, so we were looking at almost $2,000 just for an average night, not even a huge one.
The agency asked for a 50% deposit so they could confirm the booking and book the flight. It was their policy to book flights on their own, and I responded that the deposit would be in their account the following morning, and I would confirm when completed. I made the $400 deposit the next day on November 23rd, messaged them confirmation, and asked them to please book the flights as soon as possible because they increase in price every day, especially around the holidays.
Two weeks go by with no response, so I contact them again on Dec 6th, with still no reply. Another week goes by and I finally get a single response on Dec 13th, asking If I made the deposit yet. I politely say yes and they send me a flight invoice the next day for $300. You could see here that $300 is double the price of what the airfare from OC should have been. This flight increase pushed our buttons one too many times, and we had enough.
I replied with: "This flight should have been booked in late November, or we would have just booked it ourselves. We should not be held responsible for a $300 flight that should have been half of that."
They ignored us and said: "Can you please advise of the payment status?"
After a week of accomplishing nothing, the flights went up to $350. A higher power at the agency then steps into the email conversation on Dec 20th with: "If you are not going to pay the flight invoice our only option is cancel the show and reschedule, or we can cut ties and move on."
Dec 21st I reply with: "I personally don't see a reason to sever ties. I do however feel like we get tossed around by your agency a bit. We have established ourselves as a reliable crew with nearly a hundred shows under our belts at this point, yet it is extremely difficult getting in touch with your agency at times. I understand that you guys are the big dogs, and we are considered small fish in your eyes, but if we are a customer, then it should be a bit easier for us to communicate to make both of our businesses flourish."
"If we had the invoice in November, flights would be cheaper and we easily would have paid it. We are not a $20 dollar party so we are on a budget at all times. I'm sure many of the promoters you work with have no problem dishing out an extra $200, but it is a large number for our budget. It would be a stubborn move for the two of us to not negotiate seeing as how you are the major powerhouse in booking major dubstep artists, and we are the largest dubstep weekly on the West Coast and many DJs want to play our event. You mentioned that a rescheduling option was available. If you are ok with a rescheduling, we have Feb 2nd or March 1st available."
The agency replies the next day with: "We have been trying to email and communicate with you guys and we get delayed responses. A deposit was made which we were never informed about and when we were finally notified and verified the deposit flights began to rise. The past week we have tried to resolve this matter and again we received delayed responses and no results which leads us to where we are now. I am not sure how it is difficult to get in touch with us, I always returned any email I received. It was a stubborn move for you to drag this out as long as it was. We can look at May."
I reply immediately with: "I have to disagree that we delay our responses. Attached is a screenshot of our entire email thread and you can clearly see that we have swiftly responded to each email the same day, or at the latest the very next day. We let you know on Nov 22nd that the deposit would be made the following afternoon, and on Nov 23rd we sent a confirmation that the deposit was indeed made. We received no response, so we sent another email on Dec 6th checking on the status of flights. Yet again, no response. It wasn't until 3 weeks later on Dec 13th that we finally heard back. On Dec 14th we voiced our concerns twice, about the late booking of the flight, but our concerns were never addressed until a week later on Dec 20th. Please explain to me how we are the ones delaying responses, and not informing you about deposits when the proof is right here that we are not in the wrong. May is too far down the line for us."
The agency replies with: "At this point the only option that the artist is willing to do is drive up there. We can do $200 gas money, they will save all the receipts in case it is more, but that should cover it."
After their response, I start to get even more pissed because they are still trying to fuck us, and I had already had enough of their bullshit. So I reply with some numbers: "I don't see why it should be $200 in gas. That seems a bit high. 840 miles roundtrip from OC to SF, divided by an average of 25 freeway miles per gallon (if it's an older car), times roughly $4 per gallon (California average is $3.89), comes out to only $135, which is still a rather high estimation. Why don't we do $150 in gas money which is what we were saying flights should have been in the first place."
This is when shit starts to get nasty and the agent replies with: "If you really want to argue over $50 to solve this problem lets just cancel the show. They are willing to drive 6 hours each way to make this show happen and requested $200 for gas."
Again I reply with: "Well it's not our fault that this mistake was made and we have paid our dues in this scene to not be stepped on. It is less about the money and more about principal. As a big agency you are the ones less affected by a mere 50 bucks then we are. We never want to cancel a booking, and never have cancelled a booking, but if you refuse to acknowledge fault and be fair, then we have no choice. Our deposit can be refunded by check to our business address."
The agent responds: "We are trying to work with you on resolving the situation. Im not sure why you think any of this is effecting our agency. This effects the artist 100%. Unfortunately the deposits are not refundable. I will let them know the show is cancelled."
This is when I lost my shit and had to lay it down:
"Are you really trying to go down this route and not refund our money after your mistakes? Seriously (name here), put the pride aside for a second and be human. We got fucked royally in August with the (DJ name here) cancellation and asked to be reimbursed for deposits and flight cancellation, since the show was a Friday one-off party, and his rates were out of our range for the weekly Thursday budget. Yet we still agreed to your terms anyhow and re-booked him on a Thursday in Dec at the same cost, which greatly affected our finances on that night and we lost money. To top it off, we treated him like a prince when he was in town. Just ask him. Another thing, when (a different DJ name here) was the last minute replacement for that show, he had a full blown melt down on stage and lost his marbles and was not keeping calm while the sound guy tried to solve the issue. He slammed the mic down, walked off stage and never even played a single song. I didn't mention a word about it, didn't complain, didn't ask for a refund or anything. Now after all this, this is how it's going to be?"
Four days go by with no response and it is Dec 27th, 2 days before the event, and I have no other choice but to contact the artist directly. After emailing the artist about our concerns, he says he will try to sort everything out. Eventually we get the final email from the agency: "I want to make sure everyone is clear, Due to the airfare not being paid for and no agreement for gas money, management has pulled the show, This gig is 100% cancelled. Please do not contact the artist, and address all issues and dealings with myself."
So that was how it ended. We lost $400 from them and made a vow to never book another artist on their agency, and we haven't since. Maybe we will work with them in the future, but there is no reason to bother at this point. They are strong enough to be just fine, and we are doing great ourselves, but it was a bad business move on their part. We have grown in numbers since then, with much bigger budgets, and have thrown at least 60 shows since then, including Emissions, a 3 day festival with dozens of big name artists.
The night of Dec 29th actually ended up being an amazing event for us because we ended up getting Helicopter Showdown to give us a killer deal when they heard our dilemma. They are friends of ours and they pretty much saved our ass that night, and since they were at least 3 times more popular than the previously confirmed headliner, we ended up coming out on top.