My career path has been fairly diverse, and as a result, my skill set is pretty broad. My first taste of the business was as the head of concert programming at my college, the University of Delaware. I did a summer internship at a small agency called Cricket — which repped Haircut One Hundred, Bauhaus, OMD, Teardrop Explodes and Madness — where I helped with contracts and immigration. Following graduation, I booked shows at the Ritz in NYC and learned a little (maybe a lot) about the seedy underbelly of the biz. I also worked for Bill Graham in New York; a highlight was working with him on Live Aid. Following that, I did a bit of corporate ladder climbing at a few record companies, including working at Polygram as a product manager and Arista as head of artist development.
After being bored to tears by Kenny G, Whitney Houston and a host of other artists, I went back to the live side of the business, where I helped in the marketing of shows for an international talent group. I then started to sign a few clients, such as The Verve and David Gray. From there, I decided it was time to strike out on my own with my tour-booking and publicity company, Little Big Man. It's now more than 11 years later, and there is no looking back.
What is an effective way to contact a booking agent?
The years have afforded me the ability to form great relationships with managers, lawyers, label execs and artists. My roster at this point also reflects the diverse relationships and tastes that my staff has, too. The one thing that we emphasize to bands is to build a following — or get a heartbeat — in their hometown or region. It is also important that bands actually learn to book themselves to have an understanding of the process. The best way to get my attention is to build a great team and get a story started, and last but not least, make great music.
What should and shouldn't people say when pitching an agency?
The process has changed so much, and it is a lot easier to get wider attention now. Actions speak louder than words. There is no need to regurgitate facts and figures. We all know if something is happening. A clear, concise one-sheet is very helpful. Oftentimes, I get packages that are filled with too much fluff (and even confetti), and as we are all under time deadlines/constraints, it is much better if it is boiled down to really pertinent details like some sales figures, key touring history and a few press comments. I am a firm believer that this is a business of seduction. If people are constantly pushing, it is a total turnoff. Because I have no assistant and return most, if not all, of the calls I get, it is very possible to get through to me. The real issue is that whoever calls is focused. The key is to keep it simple; if someone is expecting to run through a tour schedule, run through a discography or sell me, I am not interested. I have actually been accused of being too honest or blunt about my thoughts, so there is usually little confusion.
Do you have any advice for artists on building up a buzz without looking like hustlers?
I think there is a big difference between hustling and being a hustler. Hustling is out there doing it and not just talking about it. I have seen artists (and their teams) who have gone out and turned over every stone to make things happen, and I have heard people who talk about it, but when it comes down to crunch time, they've done nothing. I have a client who recently played the free Monday-night residency at Spaceland in L.A. for a month. The guys and their manager killed for it every night, and every night was packed. That is hustling, and as a result, they were offered a proper-paying show.
How can a booking agency help a band plan a tour that will make sense, financially? And how can you negotiate guarantees in cities outside of your hometown?
Touring can be quite costly — that it why it is important to build a strong local or regional base. That base will afford you the ability to tether it out farther and farther. It is not really an issue of quantity of dates but moreso quality.
Sometimes you can't bargain with club bookers, and sometimes you need to reinvest in yourselves to get the neighboring markets to click. Some of the best deals I get are percentage-of-the-door deals. Hopefully, after a few times through a city, it starts to connect. If it doesn't, then it might not be the right market, or the market has not been primed right (street teams, radio, press and so on).
The key to a great agency/artist relationship is a plan and patience; it cannot be just about chasing support slots. One act that I am quite proud of is Matt Pond PA. He is out headlining small clubs right now. We set a goal to come out of a four- to six-week tour with 10 to 12 solid markets that we can build on. We are surpassing that goal. As a result, we are also on the radar screen of bigger acts to support because the music is great, and the perception is that he is worth some tickets. The relationship has not been, “Where is the support slot?” but, “Let's build it up so people want us on their tours or back in their venues.”
What is a mistake bands make that you'd like to see them avoid?
This is about lifelong careers. It is not a sprint; it is a marathon. I see more young bands that want it faster, sooner, now!