Ask a Booking Agent
Dave Galea is a booking agent at large booking agency called The Agency Group. I first met Dave in my Sophomore year at NYU when playing in bands. Dave was the trumpet player and manager of a group called Edna’s Goldfish that would later sign to the Moon Ska label and tour the U.S. an Europe. After touring several years of touring Dave worked his way up from intern to booking agent at the Agency Group. His current clients include Paramore, White Tie Affair, Paper Route and many others.
Dave was nice enough to speak to me about his career trajectory as well as his thoughts on touring from both the artist and agent perspectives.
Musician Coaching: So you work at the Agency Group as an agent- tell me about how you got a huge act like Paramore.
DG: Paramore is by far my biggest band. When I got promoted I was booking some kind of emotive, pop punk, emo and had just the tiniest bit of success. But if you have even a little bit of success, people start to notice the level of your work. I’m pretty methodical. When you’re going in, you have to pay attention to detail, not just throw these dates in the book. I think there needs to be a rhyme or reason why you’re going to places. I mean, if your shows are doing pretty well in Altoona, Pennsylvania, you go to Altoona. There are a lot of off the beaten path places.
Musician Coaching: You were an artist, then you were an assistant, then you were an agent. Tell me about how your experience as an artist helps and how you came to be an agent.
DG: I think it helps me to say, “I’ve been there, I’ve been in a band.” I was in a band and started to do okay at the tail-end of my career at NYU and then I realized when I graduated I had a science education degree, but at that point I’d been going to school since I was four years old, and I decided, “Maybe I don’t want to work, maybe I don’t want to go do the rest of my life right now.” And then we realized as a band we can tour. We were putting our records out on Moon.
You had a deal with Moon, a local ska label, and you were doing all the normal things – you were flyering, you had a mailing list, you did all that word-of mouth, you were in college, which obviously has its certain pockets and niches, which really helps. How did you break out of your home market? How did you get other people to care in other markets?
DG: I think we happened to be around at the time of the ska revival. We were very much in that community.
How did you break into the ska movement? Was it as simple as showing up and being on the up-beat, or did you have to play politics to get into that community?
DG: I think it was a function of Moon doing really well at the time, and that scene was so insular. A lot of kids would just buy a record because it was on Moon. And because we were considered a band that was a little bit better at our trade and had infectious live shows, people gravitated towards that. At that point, the Internet existed but it wasn’t as much of a tool as it is today.
Getting a live show in another city as any kind of niche market band is probably easier than if you’re just a rock band, right?
DG: There was a finite amount of bands we could play with. If I wasn’t in school, I would be in the apartment calling the Trocadero or the 9:30 Club. That was I think what got me into the booking of the bands. I was the guy that would make the calls. And then of course you network with bands, you trade off shows. We’ve all been there and done that. We built up a little pocket of a market and had a huge following on Long Island and did well in New York City and then it expanded. We did well in Boston, we did well in Philly. It’s still how I book bands. I book them concentrically. You build up here before you go out there. When you tour nationally, no one’s going to remember you if you go out to San Francisco and then don’t come back until a year later. And it’s different now with obviously Myspace being such an effective promotional tool.
Clearly you’ve been in the band and done that whole thing, but what are things that bands are doing other than selling tickets? Are there things they should do to get your attention?
DG: The tickets are the most important thing. I might get tips from promoters in other cities, I might get tips from labels or managers, but when a band starts to make enough noise – it sounds very elementary – I take notice. Complacency is not going to get you far at all. You need to work when you’re worth five people, ten people, 50 people 100 people, 500 people. People are impressed by work. It’s the American dream. I’m not going to want to book a band based on just an e-mail, but I will respond to some. I find the ones that seem more intelligent and have more to say, I’m more apt to check out.
It has to come down to statistics at a certain point. If a band comes across and says, “We’re selling X many tickets and X many things,” and you happen to be talking to the promoter that day and can verify it, that’s either impressive or not, depending on your criteria.
DG: Of course. Myspace is awesome because you can truly quantify how many people listen to these songs every day. Number of plays is important. I won’t sign a band just because they have a lot of plays, but if they appeared on my radar later I’ll really look at it. You need it from different signs. It’s just one of the key indicators.
So, key indicators are obvious ticket sales, a word from a promoter, Myspace plays …
DG: If there’s a label that you work with that you really enjoy and a band is on it, you roll the dice sometimes. You say, “I enjoy this relationship and I want it to continue.” Sometimes it’s political. There are political elements to everything I do.
So you’ve worked at an agency for ten years?
DG: What happened was I was touring for two straight years, Europe twice, toured the country that many times. When I wasn’t on tour, because I did have an education degree, I was lucky enough where having an education degree and living in New York City, I would just substitute teach. It’s the perfect job for a touring musician. You work when you want and you make good money. And you absolutely have no responsibility. You just need to get out of the classroom alive at the end of the day. But there did reach a point where I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I was 24 years old, and I just didn’t want to do it. I felt like I wanted to live my life, but I was scared to death after college.
Knowing what you know now as an agent, is there anything you would have done different as a band member?
DG: I got into the agency because I had an agent. I tour managed bands for a couple months after I toured. Then I got a job teaching in Brooklyn. As much as I said I wanted to be an adult, I wasn’t ready to be an adult working a 9-5. I just called my agent who coincidentally worked for the Agency Group. I asked if I could intern.
You clearly did something right to establish that relationship with your agent. Having clients now, is there a way you should interact with your agent?
DG: I have had promoters call me and recommend me to other bands that are thinking about maybe leaving their agents and say, “David has a very personal relationship with his bands.” I think you just develop a personal relationship. I can’t put my finger on something in particular, but it could be something as simple as liking a lot of the same books or the same bands. In my case my bands are often a lot younger and are playing to 15 year old girls. I think agents need to make themselves – especially with the consolidation of the music industry – invaluable in as many aspects of the industry as you can, whether it be personal or professional. There might be things outside the box that truly aren’t in your job description. You’re a partner, not just a spoke on the wheel.
What would you do differently knowing what you know now as an agent as far as your touring strategy?
DG: I don’t know if I would do anything differently. I feel like what I’ve built I’ve built step by step. And I think that’s one of the most important things a band needs to know. Also, less was better for me. Honestly, what I know now really wouldn’t apply to then. It was a learning curve. I was probably the worst tour manager, but that was the way we did it, and the knowledge base I built made everything possible.
Learn more about Dave Galea and the Agency Group.