Hip-Hop’s Go-To Agent on Indie Successes
For someone who doesn’t understand the difference between a label, management team, and an agent, can you break down what a company like The Agency Group does?
In a nutshell we represent their careers for their live performances. Part of the job entails finding talent, signing talent and then representing and booking that talent. The ultimate goal is to grow the artist’s size and the artist’s value as big as we can. Sometimes we’re looking to see if we can get them a book deal, lectures, merchandizing, VIP ticketing, or in some cases it’s TV and film, endorsement deals, marketing. We don’t deal with records, but as you know, things are crossing more. Labels want to be in touring and everybody wants to be in everything.
Do you feel like, since tours are crucial these days, a company like The Agency Group is more important than ever in an artist’s career?
I think so. And I think the exposure of the Internet puts more and more artists out there. There are more acts to be booked. And that’s why we’re trying to have more guys here booking and be able to take on all different levels and sizes. There are a million groups in that 500-cap or lower size. Some of them go on to that 1000-cap, some of them 3000. God willing a select few go on to theatres or amphitheaters.
When you approach an artist, what are some of the determining factors? For instance, The Agency Group reps a small band like Ratking, but also deals with mega stars like Wiz Khalifa.
To that question, “You never know.” If we had a crystal ball to say this act would be huge we’d select the ones in the ball. Of course, there is a gamble with it. I think it’s partly, “Hey, we like this music and we believe in it.” I think it’s partly, “It’s a good manager who’s had other success before.” When you start out you got to know that that act is only doing 100 people and you can help them do the right things to grow it.
You ever said, “If you’re good, we’ll find you,” for artists asking for an agent or a manager?
Certainly. Someone like an A$AP Rocky, who just did a show or two in New York City with buzz, but there was no touring presence. There was press, and so much happening that we’re already going into 500-cap venue tours from the start and selling them out. I’m going to always do my job on how we’re going to sell out shows; the artist obviously has to have tools that help us. They’ve got to make good music. If there’s good press, that’s a tool that helps us. It’s they’re creating good material, that’s the number one thing. If you have a hit record, that’s a tool. So it’s not like we can take an artist with nothing happening, and make them huge by touring. [Laughs.] We’re not magicians.
This is going to be the best part of the interview. What are some nightmares you’ve had with artists throughout the years?
I think lately I’ve been blessed with far less problems I had in my early years. I feel like the artists have been what I would consider “reliable,” which usually is not a word I would use with hip-hop. Years back in my early days, maybe it was just a case of me having to take on more crap than one might want, because you’re trying to build so you have to deal with a little bit more. Dealing with promoters who cancel or flake out or things like that is always a stressful part of the job. Lately I feel like the artists have done a great job. Rarely do I have a cancellation. Back in the day, there always used to be cancellations. Lately I haven’t been having any horror stories. Some of the things were more like dealing with a flaky promoter or weather.
Do you think it’s because the record sales are down, the artists are getting on their grind?
I think this younger scene takes it seriously. And I think this “modern fan” connection is important. They don’t want to not show up. They want to sell merchandise. They want to be in front of their fans and I think that’s a great mentality.
Someone like Macklemore certainly fits that bill.
It’s unbelievable. [Laughs.] It’s why we spend the time doing it, seeing these success stories happen, spending time on something and not giving up. I remember when Macklemore was doing 200 paid, that was the goal to make it 2000 paid, then 20,000 paid, it wasn’t losing sight or things and sticking with the program and I can’t credit those guys enough for making incredible music.
They’d been touring for a few years already before this moment. And they’re definitely one of the groups that have a live show that people love. They were selling out venues at the size we were tackling for years. Obviously “Thrift Shop” is number-one today, the tour we had booked last fall were selling out two or three thousand cap venues six to eight weeks in advance. So the fan base was there. “Thrift Shop” was the song that took that following to a much more serious level.
Wiz was out touring and did 60 or 70 shows before “Black and Yellow” took off. We had already sold out 1000-cap venues. People couldn’t believe the price of his guarantee. Like, “The guy’s got one song.” No, and he can sell tickets. That’s a great fact that these guys can sell tickets, and when you have an album or a single take off like it has, that’s just an extra thing.
What are some advices you have for someone who wants to become an agent?
Get plenty of rest now. Be prepared for a lot of work. You have to have a good ear for it and you have to love it. If I didn’t love hip-hop, I could not do this. I still love the shows and that’s definitely a part of what keeps me motivated to do it for 20 years. Like that Macklemore show in Irving Plaza, I’m standing up and I couldn’t stop smiling. I feel like most of the people who are successful as agents, really do have a passion and love doing it. And I think that’s a key ingredient.