Industry Profile: Tom Windish
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Tom Windish, owner of The Windish Agency
In the fiercely competitive American music booking agency market, many boutique firms are facing mounting competition for new acts while struggling to keep existing ones
Chicago-based Tom Windish, owner of The Windish Agency, doesnít sweat the competition sweepstakes; heís too focused on trying to do a better job for his clients.
Meanwhile, offers for him to join or merge his business with larger agencies pile up.
Windish, 37, opened The Windish Agency in 2004 with the uncomplicated strategy of signing the finest independent bands he could find.
Windish, who later bought a four-story building in Chicago where the agency now occupies two floors, has since built a fine roster of more than 300 acts.
This includes Animal Collective, Girl Talk, Matt & Kim, Low, Hot Chip, Aphex Twin, Chromeo, Justice, Cut Copy, Deerhunter, Friendly Fires, the xx, Miike Snow, Crystal Castles, and Jose Gonzalez.
In February (2010), The Windish Agency expanded to New York, opening an office in Manhattan's SoHo district. Windish also hired agent Mike Mori, formerly of the Agency Group, who brought with him such clients as Ra Ra Riot, the Antlers, Cloud Cult, Lenka, Michael Showalter, Jedi Mind Tricks and We Are Scientists.
Also in the New York offices is agent Steve Goodgold, who has been with Windish since 2008, after coming from Chaotica/Vital Talent in New York.
Windish launched The Windish Agency following a 7 year stint as an agent at The Billions Corporation in Chicago. Windish had previously operated his own Bug Booking agency in New York and Chicago. It handled such indie bands as Hum, Smog, New Radiant Storm King, and Ass Ponys.
Windish, who grew up in Schenectady, New York, has always been interested in music. While a freshman at the State University of New York (aka SUNY Binghamton), he worked at the collegeís "free format" radio station. The station put on a few concerts a year; and Windish took over the concert program when a friend dropped out of school. By his junior year, Windish was the director of all concerts on the campus.
The college usually booked only one big free show per year. Windish, however, booked considerably more showsómany of them free programs in the center of the student union as part of a lunch time concert series--with the likes of Sonic Youth, Cypress Hill, Dinosaur Jr., Yo La Tengo, Ice Cube, the Feelies and Superchunk.
Meanwhile, Windish got a summer internship in the music department of the William Morris Agency in New York. It was there that he decided that he wanted to be a music booking agent. He started booking tours for bands while still a senior at the university.
Windish also briefly worked at The Knitting Factory in New York. Co-owner Michael Dorf had launched Knitting Factory Records, and brought in Windish to book its bands. Windish was also given permission to book his own acts on the side.
The Windish Agency started in Windishís Chicago apartment with about 50 artists and one assistant. Eventually, he had two people working for him out of his apartment. Then he moved the company into an office; then bought a building as his agency continued growing.
One of Windishís goals was to book artists in different situations and at varied venues. While his clients perform at Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Pitchfork, as well as such venues as the Fillmore and the Bowery Ballroom, they also perform at smaller municipal festivals throughout the U.S., and at such unique places as the Guggenheim Museum and the Getty Museum.
Windish has also had considerable success in exploring new touring markets, including Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara, all strong markets for his roster in Mexico.
What makes Chicago a great town to work from?
Everybody plays here. The cost of living is probably a big thing. There is a great independent music scene, which is one of the reasons why I moved here.
How many people now work in your Chicago office?
You arenít a boutique agency anymore.
I know, I know. If you had asked me six years ago where I thought Iíd be, I probably would have said, ďMaybe 10 people or so.Ē When I first started my agency I was running it out of the second bedroom of my apartment, with one employee and 50 artists. I was too conservative to want to pay rent on an office space. I realized almost immediately that I needed more space and that, financially, I could afford an office.
Why open a New York office? You already had Steve Goodgold working there since 2008
I brought in Steve because heís a great agent with a great roster. Iíve known him for a long time. It made sense to bring him into the company. Then, Jen (Van Eynde), one of my employees from Chicago moved there. She deals with immigration and taxation for Canada and visas for other countries. They were both working from home (there). When I started talking to Mike (Mori), I realized that we were going to need another administrator to help deal with contracts. We started talking about his assistant. Once I knew that we were going to have (at least) four people, it just didnít make any sense to have everybody working from home.
Were you nervous opening up in New York?
Not really. People made a bigger deal out of it than I was thinking. The rent isnít that expensive. We have two great agents there. Hopefully, there are some other agents that live in New York that want to come and work with us.
You also picked up two other Chicago-based agencies.
Yeah, I absorbed a couple of agencies. I brought in Derek Becker who had his own company (Satellite Booking), and I brought in Bojan (Jovanovic) who had this agency called Noise Problem.
The next Tom Windish is now working from a basement somewhere.
Iím excited when I think of those people. I think I can provide them with some great tools so that they can do much better; book much better tours; and find more promising acts, whatever it may be. We work together as a team really well here. Everybody is really supportive of each other. We share a lot of information with each other.
Where do you think your company will be in five years?
Oh man. Itís really hard for me to predict. I donít have a business plan.
Your accountant must be aghast.
Our accountant is probably baffled by how well we are doing.
You donít have a business plan at all?
Not really. Iíd like to bring in more agents, if they are good agents. Good people that have a good ear for music, and who work really hard. I have a lot of people here; they wake up and they start checking their email. They donít stop doing that until they go to sleep. I imagine that there are more people like that out there.
Do you have regular meetings?
Sorta. Not really. But we communicate with each other by email or by phone all of the time.
A few years ago you bought an office building to house the agency. Why buy a building?
Well, I had the opportunity to buy a pretty big building, and the cost of real estate was down. I canít imagine that we are ever going to outgrow this building. We rent out half of it. It is really comfortable for us. Weíve got two kitchens. We barbeque almost every day (outside). Our old office building was great. We rented it, but we had to get out because they were going to make it into a hotel.
Have the bigger agencies come knocking at your door seeking to buy you out?
Iíve talked to all of them. As soon as I left Billions some people called. They keep calling. They all want me to know that if I ever want to do something that they are interested in talking. But Iím pretty happy.
Selling isnít tempting?
No. Iím really satisfied. Iíve got a great group of people working with me. The company has gone way better than I could ever dream. I donít have someone telling me what I have to book or how I have to book. Whenever I see a need within the company, I can address it or hire someone (to address it). Thereís not a bureaucracy here that controls me.
Does your roster often get raided by bigger agencies?
Poaching is the nastiest part of our business. Thereís a constant threat. Itís like swimming with sharks.
Poaching is more rampant because the bigger agencies have broadened their rosters..
Itís been bad for awhile. That is one of the most depressing sides of the business to me, the fact that I have to worry about that at all. I try not to. Boy, itís really frustrating. Attempts at poaching are bigger and stronger than ever. If these guys are doing this to me, I canít imagine what some of the bigger agencies are going throughólike Billions Corporation, High Road Touring, and Paradigm.
Years ago, poaching wasnít much of an issue.
If you had an act, they were your act. But these days, agents just feel itís free rein to call up all of my clients that sell tickets, and tell them, ďHey, weíd love to book you.Ē And tell them all about their services, and all about their film divisions and all of this stuff. You canít spend time worrying about it. You have to do the best job you can for the client. If they want to go, let them go and move on.
When you moved to Chicago, there was a healthy local indie scene, including Corey Ruskís Touch and Go Records.
Yeah, Touch and Go Records, Bloodshot Records, Drag City Records, and Thrill Jockey Records. I was living in New York City beforehand. I had my own agency (Bug Booking) there and I felt very competitive, almost in a negative way. I came out to Chicago, performed at the Empty Bottle, and met up with a lot of people I had been doing business with over the phone.
I know you were in a group with your sister.
I played solo that night. Hum also played. I played for a few years.
Were you any good?
No. I quickly decided that the stage was better reserved for people that were more talented than me.
What impressed you about Chicagoís music scene?
People just had a different attitude. They were supportive. They were excited about someone like me booking a bunch of bands that werenít well known. In New York, Iíd go to clubs and see bands and I just felt bad. I would be surrounded by other agents looking at me, thinking, ďThis guy doesnít book anybody. Heís not worth anything.Ē
New York is a very competitive market.
Itís definitely a lot different now than when I got there. I was booking bands that were making $100 to $300 a night and the cost of living was high in New York. It was a lot cheaper in Chicago.
You were operating Bug Booking when you moved to Chicago?
Yeah. I lived above this club Lounge Ax, which is like the CBGBís of Chicago. I really liked it. My rent was practically free. I worked at the club and saw bands there all of the time. That was kind of in the clubís heyday.
[Lounge Ax, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, shuttered its doors following a reunion of the defunct lounge band the Coctails, with Dianogah and M.O.T.O. opening, on January 15, 2000. For 12 years the club hosted just about every indie act of consequence, including Tortoise, Pavement, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, and Wilco. Lounge Ax was featured prominently in the 2000 film ďHigh FidelityĒ starring John Cusack.]
Why did you then work with David (ďBocheĒ) Viecelli at The Billions Corporation?
It was a great opportunity. He was way more advanced. He was an agent who I looked up to immensely. When we started working together, it was like a dream come true. I didnít think that an opportunity like that would ever have presented itself. The company was still small. I was the second employee that he had. But he had Pavement, the Blues Explosion, and the Jesus Lizard. A lot of great bands. Things were definitely beginning to happen there, and had been (happening) for awhile.
What did you learn working at Billions?
I really developed my roster a lot. I learned how to book better tours. My relationships with promoters improved greatly.
Why did you leave?
A lot of (my leaving) had to do with that I thought there were (structural) things I could do where I would serve my clients better. The things that my administrative staff needed to do for clients would be done better if they worked for me.
You did have some autonomy at Billions?
I had quite a bit of autonomy to sign what I wanted. However, one of the big things was that Iíd be calling the day before a tour started to get contracts sent back. I would be putting the tour book together or filling in the missing pieces to it. I would be doing the ticket counts myself or filling in the missing pieces of that stuff. I would be calling about the deposits. I just thought, ďIf I had somebody help me do this, I could spend more time booking.Ē There were people there that were supposed to be doing all of this, but they were busy.
Did you leave on good terms with Boche?
No. We havenít talked since. We email a little bit. Iím thinking about reaching out to him one of these days. Heís doing great.
What bands did you open your agency with?
Boy, I had a lot. I took my roster. I had about 50 artists. Clinic, Autechre, all of these electronic artists that I brought in. Also Low.
Your musical taste is pretty wide.
Yeah. I like all sorts of music.
You mostly have indie bands that donít rely on radio or other traditional industry resources. Will you sign an indie band that is unsigned?
There are good and bad things about labels. Labels can make things happen pretty quickly sometimes. Like getting songs played on the radio; and spending money on digital marketing. A lot of our bands -- certainly the independent ones -- donít have a lot of money behind them. So we are really depending on that grassroots word-of-mouth spreading about the quality of the music. I hope that my clients have a decent team behind them to help promote themówhether itís marketing or press people.
Is that something you look at when considering an act to work with?
Not really. I find that agents have to be in there so early these days. If we like it, (the act is) going to have those people in place at some time. Maybe it wonít be on the first record. That doesnít mean I donít want to be involved and help them get off the ground.
So if you like an act, you are interested in working with them?
Are promoters hurting this year?
Weíre not. It seems that Live Nation is. I donít really pay attention to the side of the business that is arena or amphitheatre driven. People are excited about seeing a lot of our bands. I hope more of them get popular. That would be great.
Whatís hurting the live business overall?
Itís a combination of things. The price (of shows), and the surcharges; I think thatís what is souring people the most. They are ridiculous.
Most of your roster works with cheaper ticket prices.
Yeah, I would say that most work in the $15 to $20 range before service charges are applied which are very high.
Creative Artists Agency, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and others have become more interested in pursuing independent bands.
These days, it is so difficult (for a band) to get a record contract, especially early on. A lot of the (managers) CAA or William Morris are working with have bands that donít have record deals in place. But, there is a good amount you can do without a record company these days. You can hire a good publicist. You can release (music) yourself. You can go through Topspin (Topspin Media) and other sources. Maybe, you get the record deal on the next record; or (the current album) is re-released or something like that.
We have been able to put together a strong roster of live artists that make a living; and that are comfortable doing what they love doing. Iím excited about that.
There are so many acts available today.
I think itís amazing that a band can make a record for a very little amount of money, and then can become popular and develop a touring career and a fan base. Those (traditional) filters are not in place anymore. In the old days, you had to get a lawyer; you had to get a record contract with a certain amount of money (for an advance). Then, the people who gave that money decided if they were going to push the band or not.
There arenít as many people deciding now.
You donít need to have people control purse strings or talk about spending money on radio or something. You can get popular on your own through the internet.
When management comes to you with an emerging band on a first album cycle, what, generally, do they want?
They are looking for an agent, probably more so than ever, that is going to help them develop that (live) side of the business for them. They want us to put together the best opportunities as possible. Whether that means getting a great opening slot; or just playing great shows at good venues; or at things like at Millennium Park (in Chicago); or corporate events. They want us to deliver money to them because thatís where they make their living.
New acts tend to want to play festivals, which they may not get early on.
I had a brand new band email me a couple of years ago saying, ďThe next year we are going to get Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and ďAustin City LimitsĒ and we will fill in some dates around them.Ē I wrote back, ďYou better give me a call because we arenít going to get any of that stuff. Youíre just not ready.Ē They couldnít believe it. I was like, ďDo you know how many bands are trying to get on these things, and how many fans you have? You have to go out there and hit clubs for awhile and get people talking about you before I can get a festival for you. And, if you get all of these festivals, what are you going to do the next year?Ē
How about the more experienced bands?
What are they looking for? They want to feel confident that we are delivering the best possible live scenario for them. That we are doing a better job than anybody else could be doing for them.
Your agency books all kinds of different venues.
One of the problems with the concert business is that so many agents have gotten used to calling up one person in each city and booking every act on their roster with that one person. It has gotten so formulaic. Things need to change. There are so many more music fans than there used to be and there are a lot of different ways of hitting them.
There are so many bills that just donít work.
You look at a lot of bills and you realize that they are put together by a record company, agency or management politics. We do a lot of (match-ups), but we do it with the full support of the (headlining) artist. I think we put things together that make a lot of sense.
If an act isnít booked by the big festivals, there are other avenues to expose them.
People need to realize that there are more festivals than just the six big names. There are thousands of festivals. In Chicago, there are festivals almost every weekend. In New York, there are all sorts of events. I really like it when my artists play in front of unconverted fans, ideally a lot of them. Not people who have decided that they are going to spend $10 to see this band. There are a lot of opportunities for that out there.
Why do you like that?
If they have music to back them up, I want them to go out there, and play in front of people. There are a lot of different levels of fans for artists these days. There are ones that will pay for the record. There are ones that wonít pay for the record, but they will pay for a ticket. Then there are a lot of other ones that have heard four songs in MySpace, Pandora or Pitchfork. I want those people to be converted into people that will pay for a ticket. There are a lot of ways to do that besides opening for a bigger act and getting paid $100.
What other ways?
Doing other festivals that arenít as well known is a really good way to (gain fans). Also, playing non-traditional places, and non-traditional events is a great way to do it. In Chicago, thereís a series at Millennium Park. Itís free; itís on Monday nights. They have two or three bands play all throughout the summer. We have had a lot of bands play Millennium Park. There will be 5,000 to 10,000 people there every Monday night. Itís fantastic.
If a band doesnít land a festival, it can work within a region and explore opportunities.
Thatís a good way to do it, too. Thatís kind of an old school way of doing it. We have a lot of bands, especially foreign bands, that will come here and focus on New York for a week. Then, they go home to France or the U.K. and keep playing where they live. Then they come back here, play New York more, add in L.A. and, maybe, add in Toronto. Then they will go back and work in Europe again. The buzz that is generated in Europe will trickle over here pretty much immediately.
Is it hard to get a buzz in New York and L.A.?
There are a lot of early adopters there. A lot more than in say, Portland, Oregon.
How can new bands compete at music industry showcase events like South By Southwest when there might be 1,900 bands playing? Do they need to have a buzz beforehand?
It really helps to have a buzz going into it. We can only do so much to deliver the buzz. Every year we have some bands come out of it with a really good boost. Others leave without one.
We donít encourage or discourage artists going to South By Southwest. I think South By is a different beast than all of the other (Industry events). If the artist wants to go there, weíll do as much as we can to book them as many good shows that they want to play. We have relationships with everybody who does a day party there, and with just about everybody doing something at night. We also do a lot of our own things there.
It was easier to be noticed at South By Southwest a decade ago.
Itís harder now for a number of reasons. There are more bands and there are a lot of different places there to play now. Also bands want to play more there. We will have bands play 10 times at South By Southwest. You can get a really good boost out of it. I havenít seen many bands play CMW (Canadian Music Week in Toronto) and get the type of boost that they can get from South By. They just get so much attention nationally and internationally there.
CMJ Music Marathon is a smaller version of South By Southwest.
We do a lot of things there. CMJ seems a bit silly to me. Thereís always so much going on in New York anyway. If a band asks me to play CMJ, I tell them that they can play New York any night of the year, and you will get a lot out of it.
Tell me about being a congressional page in Washington, D.C., when you were in high school.
That was great. My uncle lived in Washington, D.C. and he worked for the Jimmy Carter administration. When I was about 12 years old, he told me about the program (The United States House of Representatives Page Program) and said, ďYou should do this, youíd like it.Ē So I started writing to my congressmen. They would write back and say, ďSorry, the deadline is past.Ē I said, ďNo. I want to do this in about two-and-half years.Ē
There are 66 pages for the House of Representatives, and about 30 for the Senate. The senior most congressional people get a page. Luckily, my congressman, Sam Stratton, had been in office for a really long time (Stratton, also living in Schenectady, was reelected to the House 14 times. He represented New York from 1959-1989). He was the senior person on the Armed Services Committee. So I applied, and I got it. I moved (to Washington) for about five months. I lived in Capitol Hill in a dorm about two blocks from the Capitol. It was a dorm for the pages.
[Congressional pages have served within the U.S. House of Representatives for almost 180 years. Pages are used as a messaging service for the four main House Office Buildings (Rayburn, Longworth, Cannon, and Ford) as well as inside of the Capitol. Other page responsibilities include: taking statements from members of congress after speeches (for the Congressional Record), printing and delivering vote reports to various offices, tending members' personal needs while on the floor of the House, managing phones in the cloakrooms, and ringing the bells for votes. Among those who have been a page is Bill Gates founder/CEO of Microsoft who served in 1973.]
You were still in high school.
Yeah. I was 15, a junior at high school. I attended congressional page school in the Library of Congress. The classes were small, maybe 5 or 6 people. You got really good attention for the teachers so I didnít fall behind. It was an amazing experience. If I hadnít done that, I donít think that I would have been nearly as confident to go out on my own and start an agency.
[House pages serving during the school year attend the House Page School, located on the attic floor of the Jefferson, or main building of the Library of Congress.]
What were your duties?
My job basically entailed sitting on the floor of the House of Representatives every day when the House was in session waiting for (congressmen) to say certain things. That would trigger me to do something like hand a bill to congressmen that are coming in or ring the bell for voting. Thereís this electronic bell system that goes through the whole house office complex. It indicates that a vote is taking place or a quorum (is needed) or something.
This was when George (Herbert Walker) Bush was president.
Bush was elected when I was there. I worked at the inauguration.
When you attended SUNY Binghamton (The State University of New York) you began to promote shows?
I was a sociology major, but I started putting on concerts when I was a sophomore. I liked that a lot more than I did my school work.
Did you graduate?
No. I was the concert director there. I was putting on one or two shows a week, and doing everything. Booking the acts; making sure the right forms were filled out; getting the checks cut; helping to design the poster; making sure that they were hung up; getting the hospitality rider fulfilled; making sure that the sound was there; getting there when the band loaded in; and selling tickets. Everything. There was no concert board or anything. There was one guy that I reported to and he gave me a pretty long leash. I had a couple of people who helped me out, once in awhile, like a hospitality person or sound guy.
You were well situated to pick up acts that were coming through the area.
Exactly. Binghamton is three hours west from New York. I would book bands that played New York City the night before. They would stop in Binghamton and play a free show at lunch; and then keep going to Cleveland or Toronto. I wouldnít pay them much. I mostly directly dealt with agents. I didnít like dealing with middle agents. I did a lot of business with the William Morris Agency. A lot with (agent) Cara Lewis, especially. I did a Cypress Hill show, an Ice Cube show, and some other hip hop stuff with her.
You worked at William Morris in New York.
I interned there for a summer. I had also worked with Steve Martin there a bunch. So, when I applied for the internship, a bunch of the agents there put in a good word for me and I got it.
Jon Podell was at William Morris as well asÖ
There was Cara Lewis, Jon Podell, and Steve Martin. Mike Donovan was Steve Martinís assistant; and Ken Fermaglich was Jon Podellís assistant. Jonathan Levine, and Nick Caris were also there.
While you were at university did you spend much time in New York.
Definitely. I started going to shows down there. I started going into the Twin Towers (Touring) offices. I would book a lot of shows with those guys like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and Lemonheads. Every time I would go to New York, which was pretty oftenóonce a month or soóIíd stop in the office and hang around, say hello, ask for CDs, and posters.
[In 1994, International Creative Management acquired Twin Towers Touring, the New York-based music agency that represented such cutting-edge acts as the Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney, the Dead Milkmen and Redd Kross. The deal expanded ICM's music roster and put it in business with a company renowned for cultivating hot young bands. Bill Elson, then executive VP/music division head, called Twin Towers the "pre-eminent independent agency.Ē With the acquisition, Twin Towersí executives put out a statement that began, "Yes, it is true. We sold out."]
Many of us started in the business to get free music.
I was in awe when I was in (Twin Towersí) office. Iíd be so excited. Bob Lawton booked all of these great bands and on his desk he had a model car of a Galaxie 500 still in the box. It was for the band Galaxie 500, who I liked. I remember seeing this model car sitting there, and thinking, ďThis guy books Galaxie 500. Heís got the car there. Thatís crazy. Thatís the coolest thing ever.Ē
I would be speechless when I would go in their office. Iíd be afraid of Bob. Steve Kaul was also there. I booked a lot of stuff for him. Bob Lawton and Steve Kaul were the main agents, Jim Romeo was the assistant, and he later became an agent. Eric Dimenstein had a short tenure there. They were awesome. I think, at its peak, (the agency) was three agents and one assistant. They had one computer to share amongst everyone in the office.
You worked for The Knitting Factory.
It didnít last very long. I was basically working for Knitting Factory Records. I had booked a couple of shows for some jazz guys from Michael Dorf up at Binghamton. I worked out a deal with him where he gave me a phone and a desk and I booked some bands for him. He also let me book some bands of my own.
Let me guess. Your bands were working and his werenít.
Exactly. So I didnít last very long. I had these calendars up on a bulletin board and the bands that I brought in, the calendars would be full. The bands that he had me working on would have one or two things in pencil in each month.
In those days, the business was all phone calls and personal relationships.
I am a huge advocate of building relationships. Iíve spent a lot of time and effort going around the world, and meeting people one on one. I have done that in London, L.A. and New York. I will make a list of who Iíd like to meet. Not necessarily thinking of people that I want to do business with immediately. Maybe never. I will meet with a lot of people that I have a lot of respect for. I like to hear where they came from, and how they did it (became successful). Our business is made up of a bunch of entrepreneurs. A lot of them fell into (the industry) or found their own path. I did the same thing, so itís interesting to me to hear those stories.
Your agency doesnít do much business in Europe.
Very little. I go to Europe a lot. I book a lot of artists from Europe. The question comes up constantly about when are we going to open up (an office) in the U.K. or in Europe. I donít know the answer to that, yet. I donít know if Iíll ever want to do something over there. Still, I find London to be the most inspiring place in the world for new music. Thereís so much going on there. You can find some great new artists there constantly. I spend a lot of time there.
Mexico and Australia have become strong territories for your agency.
We book Mexico, South America, Asia and we do quite a lot in Australia. A lot of the bands that we send to those countries, they are not openers. They go down there, and they are headliners or they go down and they play festivals right away. Boy, there are a lot of festivals in Australia.
Mexico is a fantastic place to tour, financially. Record sales are practically non-existent. You canít tell how many records youíve sold; you donít get any radio; but an act can play in front of twice as many people as it can in New York City.
What acts on your roster play Mexico?
Justice, Hot Chip, Girl Talk, the Friendly Fires, and Peter Bjorn and John. All sorts of people.
Is there a reliable promoter system there for indie acts?
There are hundreds of promoters (there), and itís easier today to figure out which ones are legit. Iíve gone down there a few times, and met with a couple dozen promoters and gone to events. But, you can check, and find who they have booked before, and check with those agents to see how it went.
South America has opened up as well for you?
We do a lot there. One of my employees, Amy Davidman is living in Chile for one year. Sheís in Santiago. She went down there because her partner got some kind of scholarship. Sheís still booking tours in America, but she has also traveled around South America and met promoters. She has been helping us out a lot there.
Promoters book a lot of American rap and hip hop in South America.
And electronic music.
What is your opinion of the rumor that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan will be investigating festival promoters over antitrust concerns relating to radius clauses?
Radius clauses really are not a factor. Our clients, they want to play these festivals. The exclusivity clauses, especially with Lollapalooza, I find to be really flexible. If I go and tell them that I want the band to play in Chicago in May or something, they will normally say itís okay. I canít think of a time when they said it wasnít (okay).
Radius clauses are primarily designed to keep the bigger, expensive acts "clean" in a given market.
Exactly. Coachella has some really intense radius clauses. They donít want bands playing San Diego, Costa Mesa, L.A. or anywhere in the area for a pretty long time. And, they are really strict about it. They donít want bands doing any after parties at these festivals whereas Lollapalooza, we have a lot of bands playing after parties. Bonnaroo, I also find to be pretty strict with the exclusivity.
With the recession in full swing and competition for concert dollars stiff, festivals are become more popular in the U.S.
I hope that the festival culture grows, and gets ingrained in more people here. It seems to be going great nowadays. When I go to places like Australia or Europe, going to a festival is a much more common thing. People are planning out what festivals they are going to go to for the whole summer. People donít have that mind-set here. But they are starting to. A lot of festival lineups Iíve seen for Australia are really creative, really diverse. I look at the lineup, and think, ďIíd like to go to that.Ē
Are festivals primarily events with the acts a secondary draw?
I donít know what the draw of festivals is to fans. I find them pretty grueling. I canít imagine going to them without having backstage access. Being out in the hot sun for 9 hours. I was just at Pitchfork (Pitchfork Music Festival), and itís a great festival. Thereís a lot of shade, but it was really hot. They had this air-conditioned Greyhound bus you could sit in to cool down. There was a huge line to sit in this Greyhound bus. It just reminded me how lucky I am. If I had to cool down by waiting in line for an hour to sit on a Greyhound bus for 10 minutes, I wouldnít want to be there.
Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.