Taking on new talent, Part 1 Who to approach?

Man scratching headMusic is an incredible thing – it touches all of us in one way or another. Billions of people across the planet listen and make music every day. It is without question, an important part of our identity, and the expression of our identity should be universally encouraged.

The process of making music can be taught and should always be valued, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who makes music is going to be able to find an audience they can make a living from. Usually, an agent will need to start working with an artist before they have found their audience.

Consequently choosing the right artists to approach is complicated.

At the start of an artist’s career, live fees are low and the percentage the agent makes from their live bookings is negligible. This means two things, firstly an agent can only work with a few emerging artists at one time, and secondly, taking on emerging talent is a big investment in time and money.

The need for the agent to generate commission makes it more complicated still.

There is an intangible quality to music that makes it difficult to judge if it will go on to become successful. The opinions of the listener are always subjective and the zeitgeist of the moment is a fickle mistress.

And so the decision becomes yet more complicated.

Then there is the question of whether the agent is best placed to work with a particular artist. Everything else may be right – except the agent. They just may not have the knowledge or the network to help the artist. So we need to be honest about that too.

Really freakin’ complicated then!

But it doesn’t have to be. Let’s break it down…

Rationalising who to approach

In order to make some sense of this, we have to rationalise how we choose who to approach. let’s look at how we do that at Midnight Mango. (of course very frequently, the approach will come from the artist’s side – that doesn’t change anything here – you still have to do your homework. The only thing it does tell you is you don’t have to worry about poaching*)

Firstly, we ask ourselves a subjective question. And it’s the only subjective question we do ask!

Is the music unique?

By this we mean, do we think it is interesting enough that other people would want to listen to it. Bound up in the answer to this is; Do we think the artist will produce more of it? Do we like it enough? Could we get enthusiastic about it? Is it worth the effort? To do this properly we really need to see the artist play live.

After that it gets more scientific, we apply the following test…

Is the artist popular already or does the artist have the potential to become popular?

If the answer to the first bit is yes; Is the artist popular already? That’s all we really need to know! We’re happy to work with them, we are a business and businesses are in the business of making money, we celebrate that. We thank the artist for their business and the privilege of representing them.

The answer to Does the artist have the potential to become popular? requires further analysis.

We consider the following criteria which we can measure in some way, we call it a Potential Analysis

  • Source – Other music professionals have suggested the artist to us. For example journalists, publishers, managers, promoters, showcases bookers, etc.
  • Live work – They have booked and played shows, festivals, and showcases and they have supported other artists.
  • Image/Brand – They have a consistent image across all their channels, it looks exciting and it will align with a particular music scene.
  • Self-promotion and engagement – They take every opportunity to push their brand, they engage directly with their fans, they promote their shows successfully, they are active on social channels, they get on local radio, they get in fanzines and blogs, they appear at local showcase events, they produce merch, they sell their music direct to fans.
  • Social media – They have impressive raw stats; streams, followers, likes, etc
  • Persistence – They’ve put in at least a couple of years of effort. We’re particularly keen on dogged resilience. We want to know its real, proven ambition and not just a beautiful hobby. This is our full-time job, the artist needs to aspire to that as well.
  • Team – They have a team. An artist does not exist in isolation, we want to know who else is involved. For example manager, label, publisher, promoter, pr etc.

We don’t expect all of these criteria to be filled, but the more that are, the more likely we will be successful in helping them with their live career. The Potential Analysis helps us with that.

Are we the right agency for the job?

And finally, we ask ourselves these two questions

  • Does the agent have time to do a good job?
  • Is the agent well placed to do a good job?

If our overall assessment is not quite hitting the mark, or we’re not quite ready, we might watch an act and see if they develop. It’s rare we take on an emerging act without watching them for some considerable time first.

But if it is and we decide the artist would be a good investment of our energy, then the agent writes to the artist or their manager. Keep it short, say how you came across their music, and let them know who you are. And crucially ask…

“Would you like to open a discussion about representation?”

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*One last thing… which actually is something you’ll need to find out at the start. Is the artist already represented? If they are, then it’s inappropriate to try to poach them from another agent. Remember there are always more artists that are unrepresented. However if an artist or their manager approaches you as an agent and they are already represented, then the right thing to do is let them know in principle, but ask them to terminate their relationship with their current agent first before you open discussions.

Sometimes it’s not immediately obvious if an artist is already represented. It’s actually quite common for the agent’s name not to be listed on the artist’s channels. If unsure you can always ask the artist or their management.

If they are already represented, you can be sure they will let you know!

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