Industry Profile: Mike Snider
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Mike Snider, co-head/agent Paradigm Talent Agency Nashville.
When Paradigm Talent Agency snapped up Christian music booking entity Third Coast Artists Agency in 2009, TCAA’s co-owner Mike Snider knew the deal exactly fitted the pattern of Paradigm’s acquisition of Monterey Peninsula Artists and Little Big Man, a few years earlier.
Paradigm deftly incorporated TCAA’s roster and 10 employees into its Nashville office, and provided Snider, now co-head, with Curt Motley, and Greg Janese, with increased duties.
In 1999, Snider and his future wife Lisa Jones had purchased Vanguard Entertainment from Chuck Tilley, and launched Third Coast Entertainment.
After just two years, signing the likes of MercyMe, Jeremy Camp, and Bebo Norman, TCAA went from being a boutique shop to one of the premier booking agencies in America.
Meanwhile, TCAA’s sister company Third Coast Sports had developed Faith Nights, popular with hundreds of sports teams around the country. In 2001, Snider had approached the Nashville Sounds about taking its church night, and building the event around a Christian recording artist. This was the foundation of Faith Nights. With three years of success with the Nashville Sounds under its belt, Third Coast Sports took Faith Nights national in 2005.
Snider grew up as a star football, basketball and baseball player in Portland, Oregon. In high school, he won the Oregon State Football Championship as a quarterback while earning all-league honors that earned him a football scholarship to Oregon State University.
Following college, Snider continued in his father’s footsteps, and worked in construction as a contractor. In 1996, he came to Nashville to manage the career of younger sibling, singer/songwriter Todd Snider.
Paradigm was formed in 1992 by chairman Sam Gores as an independent film, TV and literary agency after the Gores/Fields Agency merged with STE Representations, Robinson, Weintraub, Gross & Associates, and Shorr, Stille & Associates.
Over the past decade, Paradigm has expanded through a series of strategic acquisitions, starting with its 2004 purchases of two boutique literary agencies, Genesis and Writers & Artists Group International.
Paradigm significantly boosted its music division with several key deals, particularly the purchase of Monterey Peninsula Artists; its buy-out of Little Big Man Booking; and signing up Matt Galle and Andrew Ellis, both principals in Ellis Industries, to work out of Paradigm's New York office.
Today, with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Monterey, and Nashville, Paradigm provides representation to clients across its motion picture, television, music, comedy, personal appearances, theater, books, new media, commercial and physical production departments.
As the Christian/gospel genre copes with the same sales challenges as the broader music market, a greater focus on touring and nontraditional promotional platforms has enabled Paradigm’s artists, including Red, Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary, to impact in the mainstream pop market, and to land appearances on NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," and Conan O'Brien's late-night talk show on TBS.
Paradigm now has a significant lead in the Christian/gospel market with the immense popularity of the artists above as well as such artists as Francesca Battistelli, MercyMe, Thousand Foot Krutch, Committed and others.
The Paradigm Nashville office also books Toby Keith, Gillian Welch, the Eli Young Band, Mike Farris, Jack Ingram, Nanci Griffith, Junior Brown, Kasey Chambers, Sixpence None the Richer, Jeff Foxworthy, Carter’s Chord, Bucky Covington, Radney Foster, and others.
Under Snider, Paradigm Nashville has signed former Trick Pony frontwoman Heidi Newfield, rising country singer JT Hodges, and Canadian country act Emerson Drive for booking representation.
Was the reason for the merger with Paradigm because it would offer TCAA clients greater services? Was that a factor?
Without question. The fair business that we do with our Christian clients right now, it has quadruped. We didn’t do a lot of fairs (at TCAA). I had been able to have performing arts tours booked for MercyMe, but I didn’t have those (fair) connections at the time. I don’t even book them (now). The New York office does, and they are excited to have it. So yeah, that was a factor.
Not only that, but on the general market side, I had lost bands like Skillet and Thousand Krutch. Lisa and I built Skillet. They were doing over 1,000 seats (venues) when they left. They left because they had a general market partner, and they needed general market help. I lost Thousand Foot Krutch. They went to CAA (Creative Artists Agency) and they came back. They came back because of this relationship. We took them up for nothing, but they were active rock and they were fearful that we couldn’t do the job. I understood it. I don’t run in those worlds. Now, I’ve partnered them with Larry Webman out of our New York office. He and I are doing Thousand Foot Krutch now.
[Skillet has had an enormous year. Its album "Awake" has remained on the Billboard 200 for over a year. It has had success with such singles as "Forgiven," "Awake & Alive," and "Hero"—the last of which was used on "Sunday Night Football," in NFL Kickoff Weekend promos, and for ESPN's college sports coverage.]
You had also been impressed with Paradigm’s purchase of Monterey Peninsula in 2005?
When Lisa and I decided to do Third Coast, we said, “What do we want to be like?” It was clear that the agency that we wanted to be like in the Christian market was Monterey. We felt that it was really an organic and smart business (with) artist development, and being artist friendly, and tour based. So we kind copied Fred and Dan (Monterey Peninsula founders Dan Weiner, and Fred Bohlander. They were our heroes. I had known them for a long time. They had booked my brother (Todd Snider), and I really liked the way that they did things.
Paradigm wasn’t the only big agency to knock on your door.
CAA and The Agency Group came after us and, one time prior, Paradigm came after us, it just didn’t work. When they came back the second time, it was just the right thing to do because they were like us.
Who came after you from Paradigm?
(Paradigm agent) Steve Dahl called and said that Fred Bohlander was coming to town, and he wanted me to take a meeting. Of course, I knew who Fred was. I had never met him. I said that I would be glad to. He’s one of my heroes from afar, so it started there. And then, I did have a meeting with Curt Motley (co-head of Paradigm's Nashville office) Steve, and Fred the first time.
Fred and you could relate to each other, given the merger of his agency with Paradigm.
What I liked most about Paradigm is that they acquired this amazing agency of self-starting entrepreneurs with artist-friendly rosters including Monterey with Dan Weiner and Fred Bohlander, with Marty (Diamond) and Larry (Webman) with Little Big Man Booking, and even Ellis Industries.
Paradigm needed each of them and vice versa.
Yes, they needed each other. (The other agencies) needed TV and film (that Paradigm had). All the things that I didn’t have—that Fred and Dan didn’t have. And a lot of the reasons why (the boutique agencies) did what they did were that they didn’t want to lose any more clients that were being enticed away because of TV and film placements. They knew how to grow a business. I can now call any of them on the phone, at anytime. It’s not this hierarchy of craziness here. These are guys that have built companies. These are reputable great guys that care of their artists, and think like I do.
Who do you report to?
I report to Fred Bohlander. At the end of last year, (Paradigm) made me a co-head of this (Nashville) office and put me in charge of kind of running the office. The other heads are Curt Motley and Greg Janese. It’s kind of a three-headed monster.
What is your mandate?
My mandate is to grow the Nashville division. It’s a priority in Paradigm right now. The (immediate) goal is to grow the contemporary top 40 country (sector). We have to sign and build acts. We have to get more in that game; where it’s a William Morris (Endeavor)/CAA town. The majority of the relationships with the managers and labels are with CAA and William Morris. My mandate is to change that.
In country music, we dominate with the non-commercial stuff. With (agents) Bobby Cudd and Jeffery Hasson here (booking) Gillian Welch, Ricky Skaggs and Old Crowd Medicine Show, we do really well in that non-commercial world. We also book Garrison Keillor.
We do really well in the Texas world with (agent) Brian Hill and a lot of his acts, including Kevin Fowler, the Eli Young Band, Jack Ingram, and Roger Creager—all of these guys. They just own Texas. We pull a lot of money out of there. It’s a world of its own. It’s been fun to watch Eli and Jack break out.
But the mandate is to get out and sign (country) artists like JT Hodges, Dean Alexander, and bring Heidi (Newfield) over from another agency. We also signed Emerson Drive.
Have you raided acts or agents from Nashville’s big dogs, CAA and William Morris Endeavor?
Not yet. So far they are fighting with each other. I think that if any artist left one of those two agencies they would be happy if they didn’t go to the other one and came here. It excites me what we’re doing here. I like to be the go-to guy. I’m a team builder guy. I’m a builder guy. I like to make things.
Of course, you have a great staff of Christian and gospel agents, and a great roster in that genre.
We were able to expand more into gospel with Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary and Committed. We have some of the top gospel acts.
Given that Red, Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary each released albums this year that enjoyed top 10 debuts on the Billboard 200, these are acts can now be pitched to major TV and film contacts.
That right. And, I could never have signed Kirk Franklin at Third Coast, but Paradigm is so heavy on the branding side, and on the TV and film side. We already have Kirk a movie deal (on a project with) with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah, and we have a book deal for him. (For the film), I got an email from the New York office saying, “We’re looking for a guy who fits this description.” I’m like, “That’s Kirk Franklin. Let’s go get it.” And we went and got it. I could never have done that before. The fact that Kirk Franklin in eight weeks sold 225,000 copies (of "Hello Fear") is crazy. Nobody is doing that anymore. He is really hot right now.
[Franklin's "Hello Fear" debuted in March at #5 on the Billboard 200, and spent four consecutive weeks at #1 on the Gospel Albums chart, helped in part by his Gospel Comedy tour with comedian Steve Harvey.]
Mary Mary is now sitting down and working with our branding department on tour sponsorships and things like that.
Are those opportunities the norm in Christian and gospel?
In the Christian world, with corporations and getting on things like “Oprah” and things like that, (they) won’t do it. But you bring Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin in from the gospel world, and it’s not taboo at all. It’s just accepted as a lifestyle for that community.
Who do you mean won’t do work with Christian acts?
The media and the corporations won’t do it. The Targets don’t want to talk to MercyMe. It’s too polarizing, and scary (for them). But they will talk to Kirk Franklin because, even though he’s a gospel act singing about Jesus, he’s culturally relevant in that world. That why there’s a McDonald's Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour every year. It’s not taboo to them.
Christian music may be mainstream, but a stigma remains with some media and advertisers. It’s a bit puzzling.
It’s really strange to me too. They are just people, and their audience is watching Jay Leno. Fortunately, MercyMe, Red, Mary Mary and others have been on those (night) shows. It’s changing a little, but it’s still scary for a lot of those folks in the media. But it has changed considerably. Amy Grant and those people hit it pretty hard years ago. They were huge.
Paradigm had a terrific night at the Dove Awards in April.
We did really well. We took a lot. I just found out that Francesca Battistelli, who is the hottest female in Christian music right now, is the first female to win a Dove Awards for Artist of the Year since Amy Grant 19 years ago. Blows my mind. She’s on fire, and we love her. She could be the next crossover. Everybody is aware of her at our agency. She potentially could break through, and cross over in the next 18 months.
[Francesca Battistelli took home three Dove Awards this year, winning artist of the year, best female vocalist, and pop/contemporary recorded song of the year for "Beautiful, Beautiful." The track appeared on her 2008 album, "My Paper Heart," which has sold 440,000 units in the U.S. Her latest album, "Hundred More Years," debuted at #16 on the Billboard 200 in March, 2011, racking up first-week sales of 70,000 units].
There’s a danger of crossing over and losing…
Your core Christian base. But that has changed a lot. Peoples’ minds have opened up to where it’s not as bad as it used to be. The lines are a little grayer. They have got to where they will sometimes root for artists. Christians are rooting for Red. They want them out there. I think that will happen with Francesca. They (Christian artists) are not going to change who they are. A lot of them want (crossover) but not as bad as they used to. If it happens, it happens.
The attitudes toward Christian artists in the live music industry have changed too.
We are getting calls from clubs and performing arts centers looking for other avenues to make dollars (with Christian music). They are coming after us because they see the numbers that we are doing. They are not as scared of (Christian artists) as they were. Their attitude is, ”It’s okay that there’s a little niche we can go after, and fill our rooms up.”
With tougher economic times, there are increased opportunities for Christian artists at secondary and tertiary markets.
Well, without question there are. I know that we get responses back from the street shows in these little communities. They will bring in Jeremy Camp or MercyMe and the numbers that they do are comparable to when they bring in one of these huge country acts that they have to pay $150,000 for, when they can pay $50,000 for one of ours, and the numbers are the same.
Without question, (promoters) are looking at us being an opportunity. As far as the tertiary markets, we really have targeted that marketplace. Those folks don’t get a lot, and they come out of the woodworks to see these artists that don’t often come through there. So we are trying to be smart about working in those markets, but we obviously aren’t the only ones doing it. Country is trying to do that too. But we have made a living of going to Davenport, Iowa, and places like that, where people are like, “MercyMe is coming to Davenport, Iowa? Wow.” It’s a big deal, and the guys can make good money there, and broaden their fan base as well.
How do you develop a Christian act when there’s such limited radio and TV support?
It goes back to why I was so intrigued with Monterey in the first place. They had a lot of acts that didn’t have huge radio success. They were touring acts like Phish. I loved that. So (at TCAA), we stole a lot of those things—how you repeat markets—being specific when you are coming, and when you are going to play.
Of course, we all want to go to the major radio markets, but there are not a lot of them there (for Christian music). We are not waiting around for the single to hit so we can go to work. We have to work a little bit cheaper at first, and we have to great managers, and have a plan in place when we go to places. Having smart bands and smart managers and people willing to work to a long term plan.
You have put your own tours together.
We will send a bunch of rock bands out; and put out all of the posters, radio spots and fliers. We will send what we call “promoter in the box” (packages) to promoters. So when our little bands pull into a 500 or 1,000 seat room, their fliers and posters are all over town. We have to get guerilla. But people are excited to see us when we come in. We make a bigger deal out of (playing there) than it is, because we don’t have radio. It always helps to have radio. When those bands get radio, it just fuels it. They are already so far along.
With shrinking CD sales, all acts want to be on the road more.
It really has crowded the marketplace. Where bands used to make money off publishing and record sales, now they are not making the money they once made. So everybody wants to work more now. Third Coast was a touring based agency. We were the only ones out there working all of the time, and building careers. Now everybody is trying to do that, so it has really glutted up the market. Everybody is out working the market. We have to be really careful about where we are going, and when we are going (with our Christians acts). You just can’t do 10 shows in Nashville a month or six shows a month in Nashville with Christian artists.
Do you book territorially or non-territorially?
It’s different. I am a big fan of the territorial (approach), and I know some people aren’t. Most agencies are run that way. We’re mixed throughout our agency. And that’s partly by acquiring different people.
A lot of what we are trying to figure out is because we have three (former) agencies. And we book so much of everybody else’s roster out of this office. We are set up in territories here. Marty and those (New York) guys are not. Marty and those guys are so used to having their own stable of artists that they book. We don’t do it that way here. The Monterey office is kind of half and half. Some of the bookings, they will handle on their own.
It would be difficult for the other Paradigm offices to book some of the Christian and gospel artists.
It’s hard. They just couldn’t do it. But with the fairs, that’s easy. We just give them what it is. The same with performing artists centers. If there’s a Christmas tour, they can do it, but they couldn’t book (the acts) all of the time. It just would be too hard and, honestly, I have what I feel are the best agents on the Christian side here. I also believe I have the best agents on the country side.
With country, you prefer working territorially?
It’s better to build a team, and book in territories. I like signing things together as a team, and working things together as a team. I am just not a big fan of, ”Hey guys, guess who I signed today? Book it.” I’d rather say, “Guess who I signed today? And I’m going to go and book it.” The honky tonks, and the country rooms are different than what Marty and those guys are booking. It’s a lot more specific. So I like to have a guy in the south east who knows all of those country rooms, has relationships with those guys, and has won and lost with those guys—built a trust with those guys. If I’m booking Heidi Newfield, there’s a sense of trust and knowing (with the promoter). It is just not a random guy guying saying, “I have this artist coming through. You don’t know them.” Then, (promoters) are calling around to check on the artist.
You excelled in sports in your younger years. Did you think you were going to be a professional athlete?
I did. I really did. And just like every artist who comes in here and sits down and thinks they are going to be in an arena some day, I thought I had a real shot. I realized really quickly at Oregon State (University) that I didn’t have the chops for the next level. I got in, and it was so much faster.
You dominate in high school where everything moves really slowly. You get up on next level...
I remember the first snap that I took, I just freaked out. I didn’t freak out like anybody could see, but it was, “Oh my gosh. These guys are huge, and they are coming at me.” The “pop” from the first snap was just unbelievable. So I knew that I would give (football) a shot, but I also knew that (my dreams) were dashed. Even to think about going up to the pros now. To think about the percentage of kids who go from college to pros and how much better the level of play that must be... Those guys in the N.F.L. are just unbelievable athletes.
Was not going to the pros a hard pill to swallow?
Yes. I had invested so much of my life in (sports). It was a hard pill to swallow that I wasn’t as good as maybe I thought I was. I had pretty much invested my whole childhood in that. I thought that was probably my ticket. It is something that I speak (about with) my son Levi now who is 12. He talks about sports, football and baseball. He is now also immersed in music because of what I do, and because of his uncle. He really wants to be in a band. He talks about being an actor and being in a band. “Teach me how to play guitar, dad.” Hopefully, he’s going to be more grounded than I was. Although, he’s a good athlete. “Dad, I want to play football in college. Do you think I could play pros?” He’s talking like that. Hopefully, I can guide him through all of that, and say, “Well those are good things, but we need to be well-rounded.”
What things in sports were you able to bring into your life in entertainment?
Wow, good question. So much that I learned...I was a jock. I grew up a jock. That was my world, but I was always into music. The friends that I ran around with in high school were into music as well. We weren’t listening to what the other kids were. It wasn’t traditional Top 40 stuff. We were way into Southern rock, and some cool rock stuff—getting into the (Grateful) Dead, and the Who. Todd was also way into music too. But I was a jock. A lot of the things that I learned were from coaches—about building a business and just being competitive—really, leadership roles. I was quarterback for most of my time (in sports). I played basketball and baseball, but I was a football guy, so I thrive on the pressure. I thrive on the leadership side of things. I like to be in control, although I don’t consider myself a control freak.
C’mon you’re a control freak. You were a quarterback.
Oh, I might be. But I am a little bit competitive, and I like to be in charge. Not necessarily controlling, but in charge. I thrive that way. Hopefully, I learn to make decisions, and make decisions quickly. Little things that I learned from coaches. You want to be the athlete that when you are playing shortstop, it’s the bottom of the ninth with three guys on (base) with a full count, and you are saying, “Hit the ball to me. Hit the ball to me.” That’s what I learned from sports. Not, “Don’t hit the ball to me.”
The importance of teamwork is key to both sports and what you are doing today.
Very much so. For sure, building a team, building camaraderie in a team, getting people to believe in themselves. I can say that’s been a huge part of my motivation for being here, and building the agency that we built—the agency that I built with my wife. Things that came from sports. That was what I did. I was an okay student, and I was a good athlete. I really thrived on (sports). I am still into sports.
Your sports background gives you the ability to see deeper into celebrityism. You came from a world where athletes only have so many years.
(Success) is very temporal. You’ve got a shot. You’ve got a moment, and it won’t be there forever. (As an agent,) you always step back, and try and figure out the (artists) that can make it for the long haul. (As an artist), you have to be thoughtful of the decisions you make today; and how they are effective three, five or 10 years down the road. Man, if you can make it as an artist for 10 years, you’ve got it made. When I wanted to be in a band, there was no shot for a jock in Oregon. What Todd did was amazing, but he did it a bit later in life, and he’s making a living doing it. I just think he’s the most talented singer/songwriter in entertainment.
I am drawn to toward that kind of (long-term) artist. When I got into music, I was really passionate about drawing from some of the things that I had learned from athletics and trying to work with these artists and help them to do (music) for the long haul, knowing that it is short-lived.
Before coming to Nashville, you worked in construction, which was your father’s trade.
I gave it a shot for a couple of years, but it just never felt right for me. It got extended because my father passed away. It was a hard time. Todd was starting to do his thing. My father had (earlier) moved to Austin. When I left Oregon, I had moved to San Marcos, Texas to really just jack around. San Marcos is a little party town. I played rugby there. I wasn’t even enrolled in school, but I got another kid’s I.D., and played rugby there for a couple of years.
Todd graduated high school, spent a minute at a junior college in California, moved in with me, and started learning how to play guitar there. After my dad moved to Memphis, I followed him there. I was broke, and I was a kid.
You were trying to figure out what you were going to do for a living?
Dad had this (construction) business, so I started doing that. He was a boomtown guy. He was developing some property in Biloxi, Mississippi following the casinos down there. When he passed away in ’94, he had a couple of projects that were ongoing. So I moved down there. When he passed away, it was just before Todd’s first record came out. It was a really hard time for me and the family.
My dad was just such a powerful part of our family. Good and bad. Your father is such a big part of your life. Consequently, when he died, It was almost an inspiring thing where I was set free to be my own man. I realized that, “I don’t have to do this.” I did go down and finish his developments for him, which was an experience. He had some developments. One on a golf course and another, kind of in the middle of nowhere. I built all of those homes, and finished that up. Then, I had a decision to make. At that point, Todd had gone through a couple of managers. We got to talking. I said, "If I ever am going to do this (work in music), now is the time." So, Todd hired me to manage part of his career. He hadn’t put out a second record yet. I moved to Nashville, and I managed Todd out of the Margaritaville Records’ office. He was signed to Margaritaville (in 1994) so they gave me a space in there. I got here and met some people and did all of that. I spent a lot of time on the road.
What is the difference in age between you and Todd?
I’m two years older. He sometimes looks a little older than me. He’s a little more road-worn than me. I get to sleep more in my bed than he does. I just could not do (the road) like he does.
[Todd Snider was also a jock as a kid. His song "Ballad of the Kingsmen" has references to a rock star being "tired of getting beat up by the pulling guard." In a blog, he explained the football reference. “i played with ex-NFL star Anthony Newman in high school, and i wasn’t bad. My family was very into sports, but i never liked practicing and wasn’t ever really [going to] go to a good college like my brother. i kinda rebelled against scoreboards and sports for a while but then learned the joys of drinking and gambling and now enjoy sports more than ever. watching them that is.”]
How did it first feel working in Nashville?
I was a kid. I wasn’t even 30. I felt like I was starting all over, but I felt good about it. It felt right. It was a total zig from anything I had done.
How did you come to work at Vanguard Entertainment?
I was in a house right down from the street from Monterey’s office, which booked Todd. I started talking to Steve Haver, who was Todd’s agent at the time at Monterey. I said, “I’d really be interested in becoming an agent, and getting more into it” I was doing a lot of booking. Besides Todd, I was managing the Bottle Rockets out of St. Louis, and a little band called Mount Pilot out of Chicago, which is no longer a band. So I was just trying to figure it all out. Making money off of when people worked kind of sucked. It was like, “We’re going to take the summer off.” For me it was, “That is kind of going to suck for me.” And, “Okay, how do I make my money?” I didn’t really have any established acts; I had working acts and that included Todd.
I’m a Christian guy, and I had started to hear about this Christian music business, and I was really intrigued by with the Christian stuff. Steve said, “You need to call (Vanguard Entertainment owner) Chuck Tilley.” There was sort of a handshake deal between Vanguard and Monterey (in booking Christian artists). “Go out and meet with him.” So I reached out to Chuck. I also signed a Christian artist Nancy Allen Kane, who had a record on Pioneer Records. I walked into Vanguard’s office, and Lisa was this girl’s agent. That’s how I met her.
Eventually, you moved into Vanguard’s offices.
This is how I got started into booking. But I didn’t work for Chuck. They had an extra office there, and I rented that space, and managed clients, non-Christian stuff, except for Nancy Allen. Then one of their agents left to work at another agency. They asked me if I would help out. We had become friends, so I did. It was one of those moments of, “I will make some extra cash. I will get on the phone for you.” I didn’t know anything about what I was doing as far as that (Christian) marketplace. Calling pastors—the terminology was different. They were asking, “What’s the honorarium?” I’m like, “Why would you call it an honorarium?” They just called things different, and I had to call and talk to them.
The Christian market is a tough field to learn about booking.
It was not easy, but I really enjoyed it, I did really well at it. And they (the agency) were paying me. I cut a deal for what they would have to pay me (part-time) and, instantly, they regretted it, because I started kicking ass. They thought they were paying me too much.
In 1998, Chuck Tilley decided to sell Vanguard Entertainment.
I probably wasn’t doing this (booking job) for three months, honestly, when Lisa came to me and asked, “Would you consider being an agent full-time? Chuck is selling his company. I will be the president, and I will need another agent. Would you consider it?" I said that I would. I cut my deal with the new folks. The day (the sale) was supposed to close (the buyers) backed out. Lisa wouldn’t sign a non-compete (clause); and I wouldn’t either. So they backed out at the last minute. Lisa called, and said, “Well it all fell through.” I said, “Let’s buy it.”
You and Lisa bought the company and changed its name to Third Coast Artist Agency.
We borrowed some money and took whatever little we had lying around and we bought the company, changed the name, moved down to the Convent (Place) Building in Nashville and set up this great shop. Took some doors from the basement, cleaned them up and made desks out of them. Got an intern from MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro) and used his school discount to buy our computers.
Were you and Lisa married by then?
No, we were not married. It was probably a year into owning the business when we started to date. It was inevitable. There was connection. Then we stopped dating. We thought, “We are starting to do really well here. We don’t want to mess this up.” So we stopped. I have some employees that still work here, and they laugh about it. The whole relationship in the office thing, and the courting. It was difficult at times, so we stopped. We just really worked well together. We were a really good team, and we were really scared that (the relationship) would screw it all up. But it was just inevitable that it was going to happen. We were in love, and we got married.
Lisa had the background in the Christian world; you had experience with clubs.
I was the club guy, and I had a (specific) approach to booking and working with clients. I added something that the artists really dug. I was able to go in and sign artists and talk to artists. Because of growing up with my brother I knew the personalities of artists, I learned that from being with him. I knew how to talk to them. I knew what they wanted. I knew the ins and outs (of their lives). The neurotic side and the talented side from the practical side. I could really relate to them. Plus, I had a different approach. I came from a different world. Something that they weren’t used to. They really liked that. I was able to befriend and sign these artists. So I was successful right away.
[Today, Lisa Jones Snider is home schooling and has a side business called Otis and Ettie. She makes barn wood frames, and sells exclusively in two shops, one in Franklin and one in Brentwood.]
In 1999, you launched Third Coast Sports, and started the Faith Nights with Brent…
With Brent High. I wanted to start going to the (Nashville Sounds) baseball games. It was before Brent was there (as VP of sales). The first year that we did it, I set up a meeting, and I said, “Have you considered doing church nights?” They said they did do them. They sent out a fax to the churches. I said that I had done this a couple of times with bands. I suggested that we do these Faith Nights where we get a band to perform, and that I would walk them through the promotions. That went pretty well the first year. Then Brent High and I amped it up. We got to where we were doing seven Faith Nights at the Nashville Sounds games. Of the seven, I think that five of them in the first couple years were the highest attended games of the year. The crowds that came were great, and pretty well behaved.
All you wanted out of it originally was free seats.
I said, I just wanted tickets. So they gave me four tickets for I don’t know for how many years. I had the best tickets in the ball park.
There was a huge gap in the market for those families being raised with Christian values.
Without question. It just took off. The teams were way into it, and the crowds that they we were able to draw were huge. It was a niche that was wanted. It works so well for the teams because they are able to further attract the church, which is mom and pop Christian values, to go to the ball park. It fits perfectly with the ballparks.
The hookup with sports also provides much needed work for Christian artists.
What we struggle with in Christian music is that we don’t really have much to do in the summer like they do in country and other genres. There are the major Christian festivals but other than that, there’s not much. Youth groups are inactive in the summertime; and vacations are in the summer.
For Third Coast Artists, it was an opportunity to take one of our bands and put them out a 30-city tour carrying a stage around. We would have all of these major festivals on the weekends, and I could actually route them to do the Fort Wayne Tin Caps on a Tuesday night on their way to a festival in Chicago. I was able to keep them on the road in the summer where there wasn’t work.
On the major league side, I am able to find some of the bigger acts pay days in big venues. If there’s 25 festivals between late May and September, this is a lot of work spread between our whole industry. So there isn’t a lot there. So it actually filled a void for my artists too. Artists were attracted to me as an agency, because we were creative and we were creating opportunities for artists outside of just what was there. It was a win for everybody.
Though you are at Paradigm, you are still running Third Coast Sports?
I am. The Paradigm guys allowed me to keep that company. We don’t do as much as we did, but we’ll hit eight or ten major baseball games, and six or seven minor league games with our artists this year.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he 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, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide: Celebrating 40 Years Of The Juno Awards.