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The DJ Booking Industry: An insider's perspective
In the grand scheme of things the DJ booking industry is young, fresh and expanding exponentially. The rate of growth over the past few years has been phenomenal for many reasons and without booking agents we would stand less of a chance of being able to see our favourite DJ at our local nightspot. Even more importantly, DJs would have a bigger task of making ends meet with the current problem of dwindling record sales. Serving such a vital function for the music business, booking agencies are still widely misunderstood, with varying misconceptions about what they actually do.
To get a better insight as to how the industry operates, how it’s grown and where it will end up, we spoke to three leading agents in the field: Ned Beckett, current agent to Aphex Twin and others, Talida Wegener now head of TW Artist Management and once agent to the mighty Sven Väth and Andrea Wünsche who heads up the Magnet Musik agency, home to John Talabot, Pantha du Prince and more.
In addition to these particulars we spoke to Dutch DJ Benny Rodrigues who has been very vocal with his opinions towards agents and management. He is part of a rare breed who nowadays functions without either. And for good reason, as an artist he prides himself on having ultimate control over his business aspects. “If you wanna get things done properly, do it yourself,” he states. He recently left Kinetic Artist Management, who managed the bookings for his techno alter-ego, ROD. “I was happy and proud to be represented by the same agency that works with my techno-heroes Jeff Mills, Robert Hood and Luke Slater.”
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Even though leaving the agency had a mildly detrimental effect on his international bookings, the relationships that he built domestically meant that his career was’t massively impacted by his decision. With that in mind, it has to be questioned whether or not anyone needs an agent - or more importantly, why artists need them in the first place. His decisions to self-govern reflect the growing problems of the booking industry as a whole. “Luckily there are agencies, such as Kinetic, who work passionately with artists they connect with on a musical level.”
Even though DJing has been around for decades, it didn’t turn into an international, multi-million dollar industry until the 90s. Growing global levels of demand, combined with decreasing plane fares and changing technology caused the international-touring DJ scene to become prolific. Around this time sales within the music market began to dwindle, but what came first, the touring industry or the drop in sales? “In general people used to play less,” comments Beckett, “there wasn't so much emphasis on live shows and back then people could make decent money from releasing music.”
Ned Beckett set up the LittleBig agency just over ten years ago which is now home to Clark, Jimmy Edgar, Battles and other internationally established artists. His introduction into the industry was unintentional. “I was working at Warp Records and without realising, I sort of stepped into that space between the artist, the promoters and the festivals, and became a natural middle man.”
- Ned Beckett
Back when Beckett started up his agency the industry had less in the way of competition. “It was completely different,” he stated, “only the really big, actively touring acts had agents.” The other thing that was different back then was the technology. “The process of actually getting an artist to do a show would be quite slow,” he explains, “trying to make a phone call, sending a deal memo by fax, not hearing back for a couple of weeks etc.”