Industry Profile: Nikki Solgot
Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Nikki Solgot, agent, Circle Talent Agency.
With electronic dance music continuing to soar in popularity globally, it was hardly surprising that Los Angeles-based Circle Talent Agency acquired Denver-based Ten In One Talent last month.
EDM--with its multiple subgenres of deep house, techno, dub step, and electroóhas not only hit the mainstream globally but, boosted by a wide field of EDM music festivals, and club events, as well by such internationally recognized superstars as Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Steve Aoki, TiŽsto, and deadmau5, it is arguably the music of the moment.
Even its harshest critics now freely admit that EDM has shifted from its early underground roots to becoming a prime force on big festival main stages; and that many of its DJs have become social media savvy celebrities within a lucrative scene that is providing opportunities for their own products, and consumer brands.
Circle Talent Agency, established in 1999 by Kevin Gimble and Steve Gordon remains headquartered in Los Angeles with a deep, impressive roster that includes Andy C, Borgeous, Carnage, Coone, Excision, Flux Pavilion, Yellow Claw, and others. Founded in 2007 by Nikki Solgot, Ten In One Talent had established itself as a formidable boutique talent agency representing a significant roster of EDM artists, DJs and producers.
Solgot has now opened a second Circle Talent Agency office in Denver, and is representing for bookings, Morgan Page, BT, Adam K, Oliver Smith, AU5, Electronic Opus, Maor Levi, Elle Morgan, 123XYZ, Evil Twin, and Mike Hawkins.
What led to the acquisition of your firm by the Circle Talent Agency?
I had been independent for about 7 years, and I was starting to hit a lot of roadblocks in regards to the next level that I needed to reach for my acts. That is what really pushed me in their direction. I had wanted to start reaching out to other agencies, and be able to offer opportunities to those clients.
What do you consider the next level?
A lot of my acts are going from the club level to coliseums, to hard ticket shows, and to wanting to have opportunities offered to them for endorsement deals and things like that.
Circle Talent certainly has developed a business template that will address that.
Absolutely, and it was very appealing to me because they are also still independent and boutique. It (the acquisition) enables me to stay in Colorado and build a department here, and expand their company as well.
The Denver office is just you and Dominic Boggeri?
Correct. Dominic came with me to Circle Talent, and is my assistant as well as the agent for AU5, Oliver Smith, and Evil Twin. We have two employees. We did have four. One was a full-time bookkeeper, which we no longer needed, and we had another agent, Brendan Covey, who went on to be a full-time assistant and tour manager for one of our clients, Morgan Page. He wanted to go off and do production so we made that opportunity happen for him. Iíve known Brendan for over 15 years. It was great to see him going off to do something that he wanted to do.
All of your Ten In One Talent clients came with you, and there are several roster additions.
Adam K, we had picked up prior to coming over. We didnít announce him until afterwards. Mike Hawkins was a Circle Talent artist that I took on.
The acquisition keeps your client roster intact. Will you get involved with Circle Talentís overall DJ and band roster?
In the grand scheme of things, potentially. However, itís more a pairing up of our acts together. Carnage and Morgan Page recently did some music together. So, hopefully, down the road weíll see a tour from that or something of that nature. One of the things to touch on is that Circle brought in a lot of relationships that I didnít have in regards to those larger act management firms. That was attractive to me as well.
Also Circle Talent is headquarted in Los Angeles, the epicenter of EDM in North America.
Yes. Right now it is.
It may be news to some but Denver has long been a hotbed for EDM with shows at places like the Beta Nightclub, and even at Red Rocks.
Donít discredit Denver. There are some great companies here. Thereís very successful festivals such as the Global Dance Festival, and Triad Dragons does a lot of very large events at the Bank One Centre. We have Beatport here, and we have Madison House, Red Light Management, and now Circle Talent based here as well.
You obviously have strong ties in Denverís music community.
I have been in the Denver music scene since 1998. I really feel that Denver is not to be discredited because it has a great music scene from punk to dance music. For my quality of life, I didnít want to move to LA. I had been talking to numerous agencies. Quite a few people wanted me to move, and it was not something that I wanted to do. At the end of the day, I want the opportunity to shut off if I can. Being in Denver allows me to do that.
While rock and pop remain strong, EDM has become a very popular genre that, unlike the others, thrives largely without major labels or radio support.
Itís funny because people laugh all of the time (about EDMís popularity). Last month. I was at a rodeo and Aviciiís ďWake Me UpĒ (with American soul singer Aloe Blacc) was the opening song of the rodeo. I put it out on Facebook that it made me so proud that dance music was opening probably one of the bigger country events out there. It was the National Western Stock Show (in Denver). Itís like the Super Bowl of rodeos next to the Vegas one (National Finals Rodeo). Avicii got played, and Martin Garrix got played. Thatís awesome. Yes Avicii has a very crossover sound with that song, but Martin Garrix doesnít. He was played in between (events) when the announcer was talking. I felt that this is so awesome because so many doors are going to eventually open up.
EDM is found in films, TV shows, games, and at every major festival you can name.
Absolutely. Itís funny, and awful all in one that we can sit back and say, ďYou guys are just catching on, but this has been around for a real long time.Ē But I am really excited by everything happening. Itís one of the reasons why I stayed in the genre
Many of its own fans see EDM as a genre beginning to lose its purity with so many outsiders jumping onto the bandwagon.
I feel that the people who jump into it, and capitalize off of it, weed themselves out pretty quickly. They have a hit, and they may be able to survive off of that for two to three years, but if they donít follow it up then they are going to gone.
An EDM network has developed over nearly 25 years with years of relationships being built. Like any other sector of the music industry, EDM is a business of relationships.
Absolutely. But I do think that there is always the attraction to the shiny new toy. The one thing that I have learned about EDM is that they are still trying to invent the wheel sometimes; not realizing that the music industry has been around for a long time. There are reasons why certain things are done in a standardized way (in the music industry). EDM has adopted some of those things. Thereís been a learning curve with some others. I came from a band and hard ticket world. Itís great that EDM is flourishing, and becoming so successful and (people) are kind of realizing that it can be a very sustainable genre.
Itís more than 25 years that EDM has existed. It's hard to pinpoint a date, and location for its birth. Germany, London, Detroit? You can trace EDM back to Can, and Kraftwerk in Germany in the Ď70s; Ritchie Hawtin and John Acquaviva in Windsor, Ontario in the Ď90s; and the commercial breakthroughs of Prodigy, and the Chemical Brothers in the Ď90s.
I feel that electronic music drew inspiration from industrial music with bands such as Front 242 and Yaz. I saw Front 242 for the first time, and I remember turning to my friend, and saying, ďI will be their agentĒ before I even started representing bands. A year later that dream came true. One of the first large concerts I attended was Front 242 with Carlos Correal, a promoter in Montreal at the time. He is now the head talent buyer at Insomniac (the EDM festival promoter founded by Pasquale Rotella in 1993). I was a fresh-started agent. He was like, ďWow. This is so cool. Three thousand people here and I have never done a show this good.Ē I solidified the signing of Front 242 at that event. They were not doing major 1,000, 1,500 or 2,000 or 3,000 rooms at the time. They were doing 600 capacity rooms, and I felt very fortunate to work with them. It was in the retirement era where they would do one tour every two to three years.
What is EDMís enduring appeal?
Yes. Thereís generally two performance modes: Providing an experience or highlighting a DJís performance.
I think that itís the combination of both. At least I would hope that it is. I also think that itís (EDM Is) fun. It is obviously dance-worthy, and makes people want to get up., go out, and have a great time. It is similar to punk rock in that it is unique, and it isnít cookie cutter poppy commercial music. Of course, there is a sub-genre of in EDM that crosses over to mainstream. There are the more commercial artists such as Calvin Harris or Avicii who write more traditional songs. Morgan Page is one of those acts.
EDMís commercial pop side has developed as the genre evolved.
Absolutely. There are artists who are perfectly content with being club artists, and are fine with hitting a ceiling, and just doing more of the underground scene and getting a vibe and an experience. Then there are the artists where the sky is the limit. They want to headline at Madison Square Garden. Itís a dream of theirs to headline Red Rocks, to headline The Hollywood Bowl etc.
They want to be rock stars.
Absolutely. Not discrediting the other acts that just want to stay smaller, but I want to represent those artists that do have dreams of grandeur. That want to come up with the next thing. I remember when I first started being an agent that one of the things that I would say (to an act) was, ďI see you playing Madison Square Garden.Ē It wasnít a sales pitch. I genuinely felt those artists could do that. Itís great to see all of the EDM acts that have done that. It takes a lot to get there. Itís a big venue. The credit that needs to come with that is really impressive. I really hope that one day I come to have a client of mine do that.
EDM has grown from a small, cult following into this global phenomenon. While many in the music industry didnít understand or accept it, many of those working in EDM were understandably defensive about the genre. Both worlds seem closer together today.
Part of the wall that we have to climb over is the stigmatization of our world. Thereís so many drugs associated with it (EDM), etc. You know what? Are you going to bitch about the amount of beer that is associated with a rock show? And drugs? Hair metal is horrible (with drugs). My parents were hippies. I know what drugs they did.
An aspect of EDM is that it travels well. There are large EDM-only festivals throughout Europe and in many international markets. Have you been working overseas?
I havenít and, maybe, itís an old school mentality of mine, but I really feel that those territories have their own representation. And should have their own representation. So I havenít really branched out much. I have started establishing relationships in Australia. That is primarily because the demand was there for my clients. Morgan Page has done great things there. I used to work with Kaskade. He is huge in Australia. A lot of the (international) talent buyers are actually located here. C3 does Big Day Out (in Australia), and we did Morgan Page with them two years ago. It was great, and he loved every minute of it.
As I said, EDM travels well.
It does. Itís an easy set-up, obviously. The equipment that is needed for a lot of these acts is ďcome in, plug in, and playĒ type of thing. Not push/play, but perform. The days of jumping in a van and doing all of the teeny little markets is no longer there or needed with EDM. Still it is something that I still try to get my clients to do because these small little markets are feeder markets for the majors.
What markets do you consider to be feeders?
Back in the day, I was pushing Kaskade to play in Birmingham, Alabama because I knew that that those kids in Alabama are only three hours away from Atlanta. The same goes for South Carolina, and the Southern markets. The Orange Counties. San Jose, Boulder, and Colorado Springs. They all have colleges, and those kids will all travel to Denver once they become a fan. So itís really important to play those markets. That is something that I have always personally worked on with my clients.
Is the college circuit a breakout market for EDM acts?
I donít know the answer to that. I wouldnít say that it is as much as the internet is. Colleges are more thatís where you go to see bands. Bands break more in the college scene than an EDM act does. I donít see a whole lot of EDM acts doing college tours except for the larger acts.
Most American EDM acts look to play big festivals.
Yeah. They try to get on the festival circuit, and break out that way. I think that (college bookings) need to be looked at. The college market is something that has been talked about with a number of my managers. I think that the EDM culture can sometime outprice itself from the college markets, and that people (managers) and agents feel that the college markets have bottomless pockets. Thatís not the case. Thereís a reason why the baby bands play there. Of course, most colleges do have their major concerts, but those shows are usually reserved for larger, more mainstream acts. The college market is something that I think needs to be explored more. But do I think itís the way that EDM acts break out? No I donít.
Social media has played a very big role in the growth of EDM. A DJ can make a new track, and then click, it's all over the world. When you began in the early Ď90s, EDM was underground in America. Many DJs didn't want outsiders to know about it.
When I first started in dance music, everybody was feeding off what Europe was doing. Now it feels like everybody is feeding off what the U.S. is doing. Of course, that is great for us but one of the fears that I have is that thereís a reason why Europe isnít doing as well right now with their club scene, and I wonder if we are heading in that direction as well.
There are numerous problems in Europe, including the economic climate as well the market being overgrown with EDM acts, and shows. Europe is having a tough time, economically; especially in Greece, Italy, and Spain. People arenít able to go out as much if they have little money.
My grandma used to say to me that during the depression that the number one thing that survived was alcohol and bars. When times are tough what do you do? You drink and party. So........
Back then you could see an artist for a nickel.
Are you telling me that my next tours need to be nickel parties? Iím on it. Maybe, $5 (tickets). I think weíd do well with that. Iíd love to see any artist go out and give back to the fans what they deserve.
When tickets are $100 for a show, and $300 and up for a festival weekend...
That makes people choose what they can go to. The problem is that if you are going to one festival that costs $300, specifically if you are under 25, you are saving up to go to that festival. One of the smartest things a promoter offers is the full layaway thing. Making (several) payments is enabling kids to still attend festivals, but not having to put down a whole lot of money, and they are able to keep that money sitting in their bank account. Itís a smart move by promoters in my opinion.
Still, even if they are saving up, those fans are probably not going to many other shows.
That hurts the club level.
It absolutely does. I love working with promoters who say, ďMy ticket price is $10. Your artist either wants to play or he doesnít.Ē Only clubs do that. Iíve never had a festival do that.
Are there EDM acts doing house parties?
Not that I know of. Thereís certainly the resurgence of a lot smaller underground clubs and new smaller (EDM) nights popping up everywhere. I just heard about a new house night at The Boiler Room in LA. Thereís a space in Hollywood called Gold Box with weekly Space Yacht nights there. I think these (venue events) are popping up more and more because the genre that is hot right now is deep house. That genre is more conducive to an underground, grimy, sweaty, ďdance-and-I-donít-care-what-anybody-thinks-of-me type of feel. We are getting away from weeding out the bottle service (the sale of liquor by the bottle in lounges and nightclubs). I think that it will always be here, but whether or not DJs will be playing it (those venues), I donít know yet. I havenít figured that out yet. They are just starting to separate from it. My clients feel that they are not connecting with those people, and they really want to connect with the fans on the dance floor. Not just to be there to be seen, and buy bottles.
Thatís more about the experience.
Do most of your clients have managers?
Having management is fairly new. Eight to 10 years ago that wasnít happening.
Eight to 10 years, yes. Five years, no. I felt the switchover about 5 years ago.
As more money came into the genre, DJs wanted to insure they werenít being ripped off, and many felt the need to start building new revenue sources.
I think it was more that they were having to keep up with the Joneses. Keep their social media and marketing running; keep their label in check; and make sure that everybody was doing their job. Thatís a lot of work for an artist to do in addition to producing. The managerís job is to keep all of us in line.
Where are you originally from?
I am originally from Colorado. From Evergreen.
What do your parents do?
My dad is a custom woodworker, and my mother is an interior designer/decorator. They have been in Evergreen for over 30 years. I grew up there.
What was it like growing up in such a small town?
A very small town. A beautiful little town. It was something that I didnít appreciate at the time but, in looking back, I would absolutely raise children there. Itís a small town environment, but itís so spread out that itís a big town. At the time I was there, there was only one high school. Now thereís three. You had to drive everywhere which was kind of a pain. Itís only a half-hour away from Denver. So once I was able to drive, it wasnít so bad. As a kid I remember going to my friendís house because she had cable and we didnít have cable yet, and we were able to watch MTV.
ďSouth ParkĒ co-creator Trey Parker graduated from Evergreen High School in 1988. He was Prom King.
That is where I went to school. He graduated before me. I graduated in í93.
John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, and who critically wounded press secretary James Brady in 1981, lived with his family in Evergreen.
Trey Parker and John Hinckley, Jr., two proud moments for Evergreen.
Willie Nelson owned a ranch in Evergreen for several years.
He did and he got arrested there by the IRS (for back taxes).
[Willie Nelson and his third wife, Connie, moved to Evergreen in 1977. They maintained a home situated on 116 acres there. In 1990, Willieís assets were seized by the Internal Revenue Service in a claim that he owed $32 million in back taxes, a figure first negotiated down to $16.7 million, and later to around $6 million. Among the assets seized was the Nelsonsí Evergreen home. During the liquidation process, the house was razed, and the land sold for development. Willie released an album, ďThe IRS Tapes: Whoíll Buy My Memories,Ē in 1992 under an agreement that he should share profits with the IRS to settle his debt.]
You went to the University of Alabama.
I did go to college in Alabama. I was in Bama from 1994 to 1998.
Studying event planning.
Yes. I wanted to be a wedding planner.
Are you kidding me?
You remain a lifetime Bama football fan.
You do not want to be a Facebook or Twitter friend with me during the football season. I have been known to choose a football game over going to a festival.
How did you get into the music business?
In college I worked for Nike as one of their campus reps. I did events on campus. I was a photographer on the side, and I started touring X Games basically during every Christmas, and summer break. I was driving across country to hit San Diego, and hit Telluride to shoot the X Games. I really fell in love with the industry of television and the lifestyle events. That led me into street promotions. So when I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1999, I started doing street promotions for some of the local people. I ended up picking up some pretty big clients like Microsoft. I did street promotions for Coachella when it was in its infancy state. Of course, all the local promoters had me doing street stuff as well. That eventually turned into an opportunity where I became a publicist/personal assistant for a DJ named Nigel Richards. He kind of took me on exclusively. Thatís when I refined my marketing skills, and started a publicity firm called FYI Media.
What took you to Phoenix?
A personal relationship. When I was working for Nigel, I was also working as a promoter for a crew called Groove Tribe. We were doing events at Freedom (the dance-music Mecca in Tempe, Arizona which closed in 2004). I was the artist relations (rep) there. They gave me my start. I really started establishing relationships within the EDM community, and I was approached by quite a few DJs saying, ďWhy donít you become an agent?Ē So I branched off FYI Media to create FYI Live and thatís when I started doing bookings. I took on clients like Front 242, and a bunch of bands because thatís where my personal interest lay. I did EDM bands like Deepsky, and Electric Skychurch.
Is Phoenix a good music town?
Yes, and itís growing. It likes to piggy-back off Los Angeles a lot I feel. Itís a market that is really run by the college. So it definitely has some down time when college is out. And itís obviously incredibly hot there so in the summer itís pretty hard to do events.
You then went to Brooklyn?
In 2004, I had a personal tragedy and Paul Morris, the owner of AM Only (in Brooklyn), came to my rescue. We decided it was the next step for me. So I dissolved my two companies, FYI Media and FYI Live, and moved and became an agent. I moved myself to Brooklyn, and worked there for two years. It was a great experience.
At the time, AM Onlyís roster included such emerging acts as TiŽsto, Tosca, Carl Cox, VNV Nation, BT, and the New Deal. Most of them major names today.
It is a big company now. It was actually really different then than it is now. Iím happy for what Paul has created. It was me and one other agent, and Paul in the office at the time. There was support staff but it was just me, Judith Ross, and Paul. We had our assistants.
Itís a different company today.
Yep, itís a huge company now. He has done really great things for himself. It was a really good learning experience for me.
Paul used to have a record store in East Village.
He worked out of a record store. He was really close friends with DB. Then DB and DJ Dan came to him and said, ďWe are getting a lot of bookings. Why donít you be our agent?Ē
Why did you leave AM Only in 2006?
My contract was up, and Paul and I kind of had different directions that we wanted to do. I was very independent, and I wanted to try it (booking) again on my own. So I did. Thatís when Ten in One Talent was created. It took about a year to get everything set up, and the roster established. But all of my artists left with me from AM Only, and came to Ten in One Talent. We operated out of New York for three years. I left New York in 2009. I had to move home for family issues. Unfortunately, my father fell ill. I needed to come home, and spend time with him. Fortunately, he is better.
In New York City were your working from an office or your house?
We had an office and a staff of 5 people. We had about 20 clients. We had a band agent Neil Rubenstein who was deep rooted in Long Islandís pop, punk and hardcore scene. We really ventured into doing bands, and we kept doing bands. I decided to step away from the band world when I moved to Denver because it was completely different from EDM, and I wanted to focus myself.
A booking agency is somewhat portable these days with the internet and cell phones. Twenty years ago, you may have been hampered in moving different places.
I have always said that as long as you have internet, and phone you can do this job anywhere. As long as you are willing to travel, and make sure that you have face time with everybody, I think that it is really possible to do this from anywhere.
Do you attend many industry conferences?
I do. I go to the Winter Music Conference every year. I also go to the EDM Biz Conference.
What benefit are the conferences?
It is primarily face time with the key industry players. Keeping up with the Joneses. Kissing babies, and shaking hands.
You are turning 40 this year. Does that bother you?
It doesnít. Iím still 39.
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 ďMusic From Far And Wide.Ē Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.