Peter Schwartz: Hip-Hop’s Booking Agent [OUTTAKES FROM JUNE 2011 ISSUE]
**THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARS IN THE JUNE 2011 ISSUE OF XXL, ON STANDS NOW**
In an era when music is predominantly downloadable (and free), hitting the road is how most artists make a living. Enter Peter Schwartz.
As a vice president at The Agency Group, in New York—one of the world’s leading booking agencies, with a roster of more than 1,000 artists—Schwartz is the booking agent for acts like Mac Miller, Big K.R.I.T., Big Boi and Method Man. With nearly two decades of experience representing hip-hop, Schwartz has earned a reputation as someone who plays an integral role in developing new talent in the music industry—booking 12 to 15 major tours a year. Within 16 months, Schwartz went from booking his breakout client Wiz Khalifa in venues holding 300 people to planning a full-fledged world tour.
XXL caught up with the VP, who spoke on the importance of live touring and finding new talent. —Nicole LoPresti
XXL: I heard you started as an intern at MTV.
Peter Schwartz: Yes, I was studying TV and radio. And I worked summers at MTV as an intern. My first real job when I got out of school was working at this music video company. I was an agent for directors trying to shop their videos to record labels. I hit up my friend in the concert biz saying what kind of work can you give me and he led me to someone at The William Morris Agency.
And then you started at William Morris Agency?
Yes. I started in the mailroom.
How was it working in the mailroom?
I dressed the part and delivered mail. Sometimes you would take something to an actor or actress or sometimes you would pick up a company car. Those were the more glamorous things. One day, it was funny, I was working at the desk for someone in the music department and of course that day someone asked me to go pick up the head of the company who’s having lunch with Brooke Shields. Thank God another agent had a blazer in his closet.
How long did you work in the mailroom for?
I worked in the mailroom for about 6 months then I gravitated to the desk of Cara Lewis at William Morris Agency because she represented all hip-hop acts.
Were you into hip-hop during college?
Yes and at the time, I was fresh from college and was really into hip-hop. I even had my own hip-hop crew called the J’s. Cara represented Public Enemy and lots of Def Jam acts and that was the desk I really connected with because it was close to me personally.
So you started working with Cara?
Yes, I found a desk that worked and I was there about 2 years. Worked with her roster. Was apart of the team and ultimately The Agency Group approached me about working with them. They were originally an international company based in Europe. The Agency Group was started in Europe and wanted to open an office in the US.
They made you an agent?
Yes. I was leaving a huge company and came to a small agency with zero clients. But I decided to make that move. Came over with no roster and started hustling. I went out and tried to sign clients. At the time, the industry was really different. It was more of a time when groups would blow up from their single. Like House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” Where one song became massive and it was more about chasing after one song than it was more about club shows. I pretty much just started tracking what songs were taking off and approached those groups. I made a lot of contacts from when I was going out to clubs. Amazingly, it’s an on going story that is still happening now. I’ve been with the company 18 years. At this point, I’m the longest standing person that is still here. We represent over a thousand artists. From Nickelback to Dolly Parton to everything I have.
Who do you have?
Notable names on my roster right now…Wiz Khalifa is obviously doing incredible things right now. Mac Miller. Big Sean. Big Boi. Big K.R.I.T. I mentioned that some of the groups I worked with in the past that I’ve worked with for a very longtime. De La Soul, Method Man, Red Man, Raekwon. These are all people I still rep.
What’s a day in your work life like?
I think it’s insane. A lot of computer time. It’s not extremely glamorous. Its not all power lunches and whirlwind travel. It’s a lot of booking and hard work. My day is spent routing tours, and making deals on the shows around those tours. Fielding immense inquiries about the artists. We do everything soup to nuts. Let’s say Wiz is planning a summer tour. We’ll be looking at marketing plans regarding the show. Doing VIP ticketing. Monitoring sales of the show. From artwork to building production for the artists. In terms of what kind of show they are going to have and be presented. Of course at the same time I’m doing A&Ring and listening to music. Trying to sign the next great client.
You mentioned the Internet, how has that changed your job?
Just the volume of requests and the amount of emails. I’m now tracking and receiving 500 emails a day. If you’re the type of promoter that sends me an email saying, ”yo, how much for him?” and you don’t specify who “he” is, then I’m deleting your email. I can’t spark a dialogue with someone like that because it’s too time consuming. They definitely aren’t a pro if they do something like that. I credit that to the Internet.
With someone like a Wiz or Big Sean, are you looking at this artist with potential for the future?
Oh it’s no question. I’m not the type of agent that – if you’re hot we want you and if you’re not we don’t. We ‘re really interested in client and career development and the long term and how to help the team get there. Really having a partnership with the artist and the team. It’s not about how much money you can make to start. We don’t look at someone and think just about money. It’s more about what we see there and what we can grow and make exciting. Is it something tangible that can really grow and be appealing? With someone like a K.R.I.T. we can see that. When we signed Wiz he was playing 300 cap venues and had a lot of Internet action and that’s what was partly really attractive to us- great music. Wiz has a great connection with fans and putting out great music. We’ve taken Wiz from the earliest stages to right now which is selling out a show last night with 7,000 capacity. And that was in 16 months. And, of course, that’s with a really great team.
How important is a great team?
It’s mandatory, really. A great team is important. Again, someone like K.R.I.T comes to mind. I think he’s on track to be huge, in terms of the major growth he’s been having lately, and he has a great team around him. Working with Jonny Shipes and Sha Money–that’s a great team. And, in terms of support, we had K.R.I.T. support Wiz on some tours and the response was great. Wiz and Mac have an amazing team with Benjy Grinberg and the whole Rostrum gang. The team we have is no doubt a key part of the success we’re seeing. That and great artists.
Do you find it’s helpful to partner up your artists?
We’re trying to help our roster work together when they can. Yelawolf supported most of Wiz’s tour last year as well and now at this point he can do his own tours and sell out clubs on his own. And, it’s just part of the development process. With someone like Mac Miller, we took him on because we really loved his music and worked with his team before with Wiz and now he is absolutely on fire. We’re selling out 1800 cap clubs 5 weeks in advance and the guy doesn’t have anything on the radio. It’s just organic and we are taking the steps to build it up right.
How important is touring today for artists?
I think it’s huge especially when it complements other great things happening. A lot of people look to touring today as added income and a good means of exposure.
And a lot of older acts use touring as their main source of income.
Right. Some people are hitting the road – you’re seeing higher volume of tours now a day. When you have a great touring story it’s such a great complement to everything else going on. For example, when the label was busy working “Black & Yellow” on radio it was so nice that a program director could go out and watch a show as he was adding the song to radio. Seeing someone play a sold out show and watch the crowd go crazy makes a program director want to add that song. I can’t credit enough acts like Sean, Mac, K.R.I.T., etc .The young guys really work hard and its not a question of them sitting on their couch and waiting for a big check. They get it and the demand is there for them.
Clearly, you’re enjoying working with new acts. Do you try to catch as many live shows as possible?
Without a doubt. The last year had been crazy. Surely every show that comes through New York and Jersey I go check out. I enjoy seeing my new acts on the road but I get the most done when I’m sitting in my office. We’re averaging about 1500 shows booked a year so I can’t be at them all. I make sure I get out with my artists and spend time with them.
Where do you see the future of touring? Merchandizing more?
I think the last year and a half has been the most successful shows I’ve seen in my career. So I think it’s promising. There’s a big all-age scene brewing that is really hot. This young hip-hop scene is just bubbling in a big way. I think people love to see their favorite artist live. I think the net helps people buy into an artist’s life and when they come to town you want to see them in person. What is crazy now – is how groups can become popular putting out a mixtape and then the fans can come and see you. Someone like Mac can never have put out a major label album but every time he drops a mixtape it trends on twitter. Someone like Mac doesn’t have a major label at the moment (even though everyone out there is trying to sign him) but every time he drops a mixtape it trends on twitter.
At the same time you don’t see huge major tours anymore, like you did back in the day.
There are only a handful of artists that can play at above the 5,000 capacity mark in hip-hop. So you really need those people to orchestrate something bigger. Eminem, Kanye, Jay-z. Those names. I still think whenever you try to make a package you still try to have a good headliner that is ultimately there as a backbone for selling tickets There’s just fewer of them around and those working nowadays but if things keep up there is definitely a new era of these people coming. Wiz is a good example. This summer we will average 6, 000 capacity a tour as we progress up the ladder of venues sizes. If these kind of acts keep working, there will be some new blood coming.