Who says agents from competing companies can't get along?

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Photo: Barry Brecheisen

Feeding The Beast - Rod Essig and Stacy Vee

Tony Conway said he and the panelists all got together and asked each other what the title of the panel meant and none of them could figure it out. Conway was actually recruited to the Feb. 11 panel the night before and, as moderator, determined that the best thing to do, rather than figure out the title was to, well, talk about country music – specifically, how to keep this juggernaut rolling. There are legitimately about 25 to 30 headlining country acts on the road today. That's great, but how do we develop the next generation?

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As RJ Romeo of Romeo Entertainment, buyer for fairs and festivals, pointed out, the soft-ticket events at fairgrounds used to be the proving ground for new acts, and still is. It is where Garth Brooks and George Strait first met their audience. Nowadays, it's about the hybrid ticket – a ticket that will get the fan into six nights of entertainment at various fairs. CAA’s Rod Essig noted, too, the rather obvious solution: continue to put the new acts on the road as headline support and to tour them in the fall and the spring.

Stacy Vee, buyer for Goldenvoice's Stagecoach festival, added that the fans are arriving earlier every year to catch the up-and-coming performers. In many ways, it's a lot easier to book a Tim McGraw tour than a new act.

McGraw “knows what he'll be doing in a year,” Essig noted but record companies have a different agenda for a new act. A new performer has to play concerts but the record company wants to drop a new single on a certain date and do it so far out that it creates headaches for the agent. Two topics never go out of style: guarantees and radius clauses, and the panel was sure to address both. As for the latter, promoters still ask agents to keep their artists from performing nearby for a certain time and distance, but what is fair?

Essig and Paradigm’s Curt Motley agreed it's about 150 to 200 miles. A lot of people won't drive that far and if they're big fans they'll go to both shows. Then there are people like Willie Nelson who will never agree to a radius clause. If Willie wants to play eight shows in Austin, that's what Willie is going to do. The discussion inspired one buyer from Tampa to ask for advice because she competes with the Tortuga festival, which demands a radius of Florida for Cam, for instance. How can one work around that kind of business agreement?

Essig noted it's very possible to get “in front” of the date. Contact the agency prior to when a festival starts to book, get the date, and the agency will protect it. As for guarantees, Romeo said that he actually had an agent once say to him that they were “selling $300,000 homes for a million dollars.”

Agencies are more and more often demanding 100 percent payments up front and at ever-increasing prices, which – believe it or not – didn't bother a buyer like Vee in the slightest. “You get what you pay for a lot of times. I like giving acts money,” she said. “It's all relative.” Guarantees do become an issue when the performance is sponsored by a city or county because many times local governments cannot pay for anything other than “services rendered” – the artist needs to have performed for money to be paid.

A representative for the Maui Arts & Cultural Center noted two things: One, believe it or not, Hawaii is an emerging market for country music and, two, CAA and WME understand that and are not at all “beasts” but rather have been very reasonable in helping bring acts to the islands.

Also, it's important to become members of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music because of the amount of information they provide to buyers. Meanwhile, corporate buying has nearly doubled in the past few years, for whatever reason, and if a someone wants to convince a company to book a show, call the agency for a “sizzle reel” to present to the board.