The music industry is changing, and quick. Artists and musicians take on more and more of the roles and responsibilities traditionally held by record labels and managers. If via various internet platforms, artists can skip the intermediate steps and connect straight with their fans, what’s the point of shelling out money (or a portion of profits) for a manager, booking agent or publicist?
Tommy Merrill spent 7 years as Talent Buyer at Rockwood Music Hall, helping to develop (and vet) artists from the ground up in New York City’s famed showroom on the Lower East Side. More recently, Tommy jumped to The Press House, where as President of Artist Development & Booking, he works directly with artists on the upswing of their careers.
As someone who works with tons of independent artists, Tommy answered some questions about what relevance management and representation has in the DIY music economy and how artists can make the most of those sorts of partnerships.
In the do-it-yourself music economy, what do managers and booking agents have to offer that artists can’t provide for themselves?
TM: Two things, relationships and assistance in planning strategy. A good manager and/or booking agent can get you in the door somewhere you haven’t previously been. Managers are wonderful for coming in and really laying down the short and long term goals and strategies needed to accomplish those. Whether just starting out or being further along in one’s career, introduction to the right people in the right situations can really help.
Artists were coming to me regularly expressing their frustration at not being able to get an agent because they hadn’t toured in the past. They just didn’t have the background to know what venues made the most sense and who to contact. There was a huge gap between developing artists and those that were starting to gain traction with larger agencies. This is one of the primary reasons that Dawn Kamerling and I launched this new division of The Press House to come in and assist. We’ve been able to get artists into outside markets, both around the US and internationally, with a good level of success for the past year because of our relationships.
What do you look for when taking on new clients at The Press House? Besides “raw talent”, what makes a viable artist?
TM: I look for a couple of things when taking on new artists. First and foremost, there certainly needs to be that raw talent that you describe, but I also think a very strong work ethic is needed to be successful or to even lay the foundation to be successful. It’s a pleasure when artists bring more than talent to the table. I’ve always thought that knowing the ins and outs of one’s industry, no matter which aspect you focus primarily on, makes that person infinitely better at what they do.