This interview is with Joshua Dick of The Agency Group, one of the world’s leading booking agencies, home to 50 agents with a combined roster of over 1,000 artists.
GR: How do you go about finding new talent?
Josh: Generally, the days of stopping into a local club and just seeing a band you think is amazing are few and far between. Buzz is a big part of it. Something needs to be developing more than just, “Hey, this is a great band that nobody knows about except people that come to my garage”. There are different ways to measure it, sometimes as simple as a couple of people coming to you and mentioning the band.
Other times, I look for a presence developing online. I don’t really like Myspace stats because you can cook those. It depends on the band and genre. For hipster bands, blogs like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan help a lot. You’ll look at those and if a band pops up there it means they’re on a certain level.
There are new ways too, with a television show like Zrock or Flight of the Concords. These bands go from playing smaller venues to larger ones pretty quickly.
These are just a few examples of different things that come into play now that really can affect a career. Keep in mind that it’s very tough to get anywhere just by blindly sending a CD to somebody without anybody to speak and vouch for you.
GR: What do you look for in new talent? Is buzz really it, or is there something else as well?
Josh: Obviously, talent should always come first, but unfortunately there are graveyards littered with the remains of amazing bands that unfortunately never caught the right break. It doesn’t have to be buzz, but there has to be something developing that has a hook. Think about it from the standpoint of how many bands are out there right now vying for the same thing; the same support slots, the same tours, the same spots on radio. I wish it always came down to listening to every single thing that gets submitted, and the decision makers pick the one they really love, but there’s a lot of other factors that come into it.
GR: I’m sure you have a lot of bands call you that maybe don’t have a hook. At what point do you want to hear from them, and at what point do you take them seriously?
Josh: Well, it’s tough. There really is no right answer to that. The most important thing a band can and should be doing on their own is developing their regional markets. That’s always a strong indicator that there’s something tangible going on here. If you’re from New York, and you’ve been a band for a couple of years, and you’re still doing fifty people a night and it’s all your friends, then there’s something wrong there. A band that can hustle on their own and make friends and relationships and is working with other bands, and next thing you know, they’re developing a fan base in Philly, one in Boston, and in DC; that’s great. Basically, you’re trying to expand a circle. But you have to start in your home base so when you can come to me and say, “Look, we’re a band and we need you to listen to the record. We’re selling out this 400 capacity room in our hometown now”. That’s how you get on people’s radar.
You’re in the age where promoters are just as important. If you’re a local act and the promoters at the higher venues have heard of you and like you, you’ll be the first one they go to when they have the opportunity to put a local on a bill. In fact, a promoter might be the one to tell me, “Listen, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this band but they’re doing really well in my market, I think you should check them out”. And that’s somebody vouching for you.
GR: What specifically can an act expect from you? In other words what’s fair and what are some unfair expectations you’ve seen put upon you by a newer act?
Josh: An unfair expectation is: “Can you get us on the Coldplay tour?” Immediately they think that because they have an agent, they’ve got an immediate channel into all these major arena acts. And even at this point, you’d be surprised, even the 500 capacity club acts are extremely difficult tours to get on. I think that all you can really expect from your agent is to be passionate and to fight for you. Also, to be straight with you and tell you what you’re doing that’s right and tell you what you’re doing that you’re being foolish about, and really manage your expectations. You have to figure out what the game plan is together and as long as you’re aware of what is doable, and what isn’t doable, it can go smoothly. If you’re expecting that once you have an agent your money is going to go up, and your profile is going to go up, it doesn’t always happen that way. It’s going to take a lot of work.
GR: So in other words, the work doesn’t stop just when you have the agent.
Josh: If there’s a band who feels, “Alright, we’ve been hustling for three years, we’ve got an agent – we’re gonna stop.” Sure, you can stop in terms of trying to get yourself on a date at the local club. But, the hustle that the band and the manager have is also a very important part to this machine as well. Everybody’s got to be doing something for this band to rise above the thread. The agents can only do so much.
GR: Any advice specifically for people who are in the band rather than a solo situation?
Josh: My advice is what I was saying before about trying to really develop regionally. There has to be a game plan. Whatever market you’re in, how are you going to make your fans double each time you go out? How are you going to start off at 50, next time they bring a friend it’s 100, and the third time they all bring a friend it’s 200? You have to do that.
You need to look at every medium that exists out there and say, “How can we get our name out into that medium? How do we increase our internet profile? How do we increase our fan base? How do we develop our mailing list? How do we get our demo out? How do we….” There are so many different things that need to be done to get the word out. For example, every city has its own local papers. That’s how it all grows; you want to be seen and heard and get the proper press. Then all of a sudden people say “You know, if this is a Voice Choice, then this is something I need to check out.” Not just everything makes the Village Voice Choice.
Also, there are certain situations that you have to push yourself to get into, which requires making relationships, a lot of them. The more shows you play, the more opportunities you have to play on nights where there are three or four bands, and one of those bands starts to take off and then they’re doing that next level of clubs and they need a support act. They remember playing with you and you guys developed a friendship and then all of a sudden they want their friends to open for them. Bands bring their friends on the road with them. That’s just another example of stuff that people need to be doing. Essentially, when you’re a band, you’re running for mayor.
GR: Someone once told me that promoting a band is like a political campaign that never ends.
Josh: You’re running for mayor, then governor, then president. I’m sure there are introverted artists that are amazingly talented, and they don’t ever have to do that. Somehow the way their career mapped out, they didn’t have to play that game. I think there are many methods available while no labels or agents are banging down your door. There is stuff that you can do to be self resourceful, and usually what will happen is, if you do it well enough, then these people that I’m mentioning – the agents, the labels, the managers of the world – will come knocking.
GR: Is there anything else you think we should know?
Josh: For any type of band you just kind of have to keep working and building. An agent here gave me great advice when I started here nine years ago. He said, “Every time I book a show, I’m not thinking of that show, I’m thinking of the next show. What are we setting up for?” Whether you’re on a label, whether you get dropped, whether you’re on radio, whether radio is not supporting you, we want you to build and develop and keep fans for your career. This is something on the live end you can always go out and do and you can always have that fan base.
I think whether it’s us guiding it or you’re out on your own as an indie band, you have to be setting up every play thinking, “What is my next play after this? How many months am I going to do this in between? What is the best thing I can do with my resources?” There are always clubs you can start at and once you start getting those numbers, you can call up the higher room and say, “Look, you can check with the owner, we did 150 paid, the time before that we did 100 paid. This is growing, we got this article in AM New York, this is a really developing thing.” I think that’s a great way to do this and you’ll see opportunities come up where somebody says, “Look, I know this guy who knows this manager. He’s going to listen to your CD. He also manages this band.” There are certain things – again it goes back to what we were saying, that it’s all in the politics – but they are all things you can be doing and eventually the agent part will come around.