Booking Agents in the music business are at a turning point in their development— much like the rest of the industry. Due to the dramatic changes in the economy, as well as shifts in the overall business of selling music, the significance of major agencies as well as the independent ones is much less defined than it once was. The music world has developed to a point where Live Nation and other large music figureheads control such a large share of the market that the small businesses appear to be increasingly irrelevant.
But Tom Windish, of The Windish Agency, believes differently: Due to the technological advances of the last five to ten years, independent bands and independent agencies are in a higher demand than they’ve ever been. Even though Live Nation and other large companies seem to have the monopoly— owning most of the major venues and a large percentage of the talent— businesses like The Windish Agency are finding new and innovative ways to promote their bands that seem to be defying the odds.
History of Concert Promotion and Touring
Concert promotion and touring have always been a tricky part of the music industry to get to grips with, and they have gotten progressively more complicated as the industry has evolved. It used to be that independent promoters represented individual clubs in their own separate regions. Don Law is a prime example of a promoter who reigned over his territory like a King— owning multiple venues and running operations as he saw fit. But as companies like Clear Channel started gaining power— buying out the country’s largest radio stations and venues— many of those independent promoters allowed themselves to be absorbed into the larger companies.
Now with Live Nation and Ticket Master merged as one entity, the giant not only reigns supreme in concert promotions but also in ticket sales— making it one of the largest corporations in the history of the music business. In the year 2009 alone, “Live Nation sold 140 million tickets, promoted 21,000 concerts, partnered with 850 sponsors and averaged 25 million unique monthly users of its e-commerce sites.” With such a monopoly reigning over the concert and touring industry, it’s a marvel that independent agencies can promote and support acts at all. But to people like Tom Windish, the indie artists are not only profitable; they are preferable.
The Tom Windish Agency
Tom Windish began his ascent in the music business by booking bands under the name, “Bug Booking” while he was still attending school at SUNY Binghamton in upstate New York. As the first incarnation of the powerhouse that was soon to follow, Bug Booking had a full roster of bands including names like New Radiant, Storm King, and Ass Pony. Another of Windish’s bands, Hum, rose to great success with their single “Starts,” and after visiting Chicago to attend one of their shows, the windy city started to appeal to Windish’s sensibilities. “It was a community that was very embracing of people trying to create their own music businesses,” says Windish, “I didn’t feel like that in New York. New York was just intense.”
After making his move, Windish got a job at Billions Corp, where he stayed for seven years while he developed his Agency from his downtown apartment. Now, the Windish Agency has expanded to the point where it occupies a four-story office building in Chicago, and recently opened a branch in New York City.
Currently, the Windish roster includes some of indie rock and electronica’s most successful artists. With names like, Girl Talk, Cut Copy, Adult, Dizzee Rascal, Fever Ray, the xx, The Dirty Projectors, and Harry and the Potters, just to name a few. Having recently opened the New York City office, it is clear that The Windish Agency is expanding to new heights even in the midst of a teetering music industry, not to mention the downturned global economy. Even though large companies like The Agency Group in New York and Live Nation seem to have a monopoly on product, Windish believes that there is a greater value in staying small: “the big guys have a commercial and financial interest in artist development; we choose our artists based on the quality of their music and the niche we believe they can carve for themselves.”
Windish started his agency because of his excitement about his artists and his need to have employees work solely for the artists he represented. He began with 50 clients and one employee and is now at over 200 clients and two different offices full of employees. So one must wonder: given the collapse of the major record companies, whose approach is most viable? Companies like Live Nation, or the independent businesses like The Windish Agency?
Touring and the Internet
While its clear that Live Nation has carved it’s presence in the music business as a gargantuan jack-of-all-trades— controlling radio stations and venues, booking tours, managing artists, and selling tickets for all of it— there are doubts within the industry as to whether Live Nation’s new approach can truly solve its problems in any sort of permanent way. “After all, Live Nation was built to protect the strengths of old entertainment companies, not create a company to cope with the changes brought by the fragmentation and decentralization created by the Internet.” This indicates that among these growing giants, there is room still for the independent promoters and agencies.
According to Tom Windish, the things that caused the old music business models to fail—like technological advances and illegal downloading— are the same things that have helped his agency market and develop new artists. “I felt a big bump in public awareness in my artists as of five years ago. The internet and websites made it easy to listen to new music and become aware of different types of music.” Windish also cites the Internet as a massive reason for growth in promotion; “Music is one of the key foundations of social networking sites. When I started out, spreading the word would take years, through constant touring, fanzines, and college radio. There are so many more avenues now.”
It is apparent that independent agencies will always have a role in developing artists considering that these same factors that led to the demise of the larger record companies are key to the development of smaller independent artists. With this in mind, the future of artist management could very well be in utilizing these avenues in as many ways as possible. As the industry embraces new technology over time, more and more people may have the same experience that Windish has had with the Internet being his main source for finding new music.
The Growth of Live Music
In addition to the shifting role of the Internet in artist development, the growing importance of live shows is another factor that helps support growth for The Windish Agency. According to Tom Windish, “The live music experience is still very valuable to people and growing [in economic terms], plus there’s so many more types of entertainment to consume.” Windish also states that even in the crestfallen economy of the past two years, there has been no dip in the touring industry and in fact, he is more interested in expanding now than he was five years ago. [Editor’s Note: This has changed since the article was written; ticket grosses in the first quarter showed a dip of about 10 per cent; however, the author notes an exception below].
If there is any proof of the touring industry’s resilience to economic times, it is certainly in the success that festival tours have seen in the past few years. Coachella hit record high attendance numbers this year with, “an aggregate attendance of 225,000 over April 16-18.” These numbers are the strongest since Rage Against the Machine’s headlining spot in the festival in 2007. Independent agencies use these festivals as jumping off points for their artists and as a medium to gain new listeners in markets that they have not yet entered. Considering the current economic times, it’s remarkable that Coachella is able to get such large numbers of people to spend the $200+ for attendance. It just shows how irreplaceable the live concert experience is for most people. Concerts like these are currently opening all sorts of new avenues of promotion for independent artists and promoters.
As the music industry changes, different facets of the business must re-evaluate their role in the evolving market. The collapse of the “total control” business model that has dominated the industry until now has brought an unprecedented shift in revenue streams. The door is quickly opening for anyone that has a good product to offer, which is creating a demand for indie artists and agencies that is higher than ever. The Windish Agency has seen its number of clients rise from 50 to 200 over the course of its relatively small company lifespan, which has lead to enormous business expansion. Technological advances that have stunted most other players in the industry only provided The Windish Agency with new opportunities. Through social networking sites, internet marketing, and exposure to the right demographics, Windish turned a large problem for record companies into international exposure for his bands, illustrating that although this is a time when the industry is reforming, the niche market is still very much alive.
By Lee Moretti
Tom Windish Interview: 4/26/2010Passman, Donald S.: All You Need to Know About the Music Business 6th Edition
Weissman, Dick and Jermance, Frank: Navigating the Music Industry: Current Issues & Business Models
Krasilovsky, M. William; Shemel, Sidney; Gross, John M; Feinstein, Jonathan: This Business of Music, 10th Edition
Tom Windish interview 4/26/2010
Tom Windish Interview 4/26/2010
Tom Windish Interview 4/26/2010
Tom Windish Interview 4/26/2010