Understanding the underground club music industry: managing and booking new talents at The Secret Agency (Interview with Ben Start)

The secret Agency, LondonThe secret Agency is a development of the legendary London party crew secretsundaze. After 11 years of parties and strong relations formed with both artists and promoters across the world this seemed like a logical progression. The agency aims to continue the secretsundaze ethos of openess, honesty and forward thinking musical direction and ultimately delivering results for both the promoter and our artists. The reputation of our artists is based as much on their ability to spin records as to make them. We pride ourselves on looking after artists individual needs and being pro-active in terms of seeking work for our artists as opposed to sitting around waiting for the telephone to ring. With regards to dealing with requests from promoters and bookers we aim to give a professional, reliable, honest and efficient service.
Hello Ben, from secret agency in london, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience about your job in the electronic music panorama…we are here to talk and understand a little bit more about the underground club music industry, how it works behind the scenes and how it is actually different from the rock, pop, urban and indie rock, especially in finding, managing and booking new artists…let’s begin!
First question: given the fact that in today’s industry the “artist” is often the producer as well as the live performer and the DJ… What do you look at first in finding new talents?
I guess the main resources are the labels, if an artist is signed to a label that we respect, then this could trigger our interest for sure… Of course they need to be skilled DJ’s that we would feel confident sending to a club to represent our brand, or even book for one of our events and parties. In addition to that, it’s all about their ability of delivering good releases or albums, and yes, obviously their attitude! Do they really want to make something in this music industry?
What are your main resources in finding new artists? Do you think an artist has to have already built a strong following to join your company?
We look for artists worldwide mainly through the internet, the records we buy, mixes we listen to, parties we go to, interviews we read. It’s quite difficult these days to find an artist fully developed with a strong following, who is not already signed somewhere; it seems that every young DJ and producer has a manager these days!
How do you deal with the fact that many record labels integrate a booking and management agency within the same structure? Would you consider them competitors?
Well, usually labels unearth new talent and promote their own music, agencies make sure that the artists are getting the right exposure through the other side of what they do: the performance. There are labels like Ramp which are building their “own family” at the grass roots and like to take care of the booking for their artists at the same time, but this is quite rare though. The Secret Agency works under the secretsundaze umbrella, along with all the parties and the newly launched label, so it actually feeds into each other.
Do you think is more important for an artist to have a strong live performance rather than good EP’s/Albums? What does actually trigger your interest the most?
I think that now competition is tougher than ever !!! An artist really needs a strong live/DJ set, good releases and remixes. Having their own label might help them, as well as a decent haircut and some nice trainers! 😉
How important is the personality of an artist behind his or her skills? Is it something that you considered as a key-point?
It’s important to have personality in this industry, but different people express this in different ways! As long as the music or the live performance has something that set it apart from everything else, then this is the most important thing. Of course the artists are performing in a social environment, so it’s important that [they] are able to deal with this in a good way.
In what do you think a good company has to be good at these days, in order to discover a new potential superstar? Are there still potential superstar out there? How do you recognize when an artist is ready to take the big leap?
We are still dealing with very underground artists, so the leap you mention usually happen organically, so an artist will have a break-through-track which will receive lots of exposure, support, booking, and fame and girls soon follow… There are always potential superstars out there! As music becomes more democratic and small scale, in some cases this has opened the door to more and more managers at grass roots level, so I think there is intense competition for people with potential star-quality, resulting in people getting picked up early.
Do you think that “do-it-on-your-own” strategy to build a career could work in the electronic music scene? How would you compare this to the more common “who-you-know” policy? What’s your opinion on that?
I think the do-it-yourself approach can work, but there are certain rules and obstacles individuals will face at some point. The right contacts and the network you have are always going to be useful when you come up against this.
How is your approach in evaluating how to achieve goals? How important is your consulting service/advisory in planning his or her career at the beginning?
Most artists know exactly where the best clubs are and of course [they] want to play there! It’s up to us to work with them steadily in order to get them there, or at least helping them get closer to that. It’s really important to listen to their thoughts, we’ve come to realise that really are the little things that count in this job!
How difficult is it to sign a contract with a company like yours? How much does the whole process usually take?
We work on a no-contract basis with a artists… Usually we work on an initial term of one year; some artists will take longer to settle in than others, but we constantly evaluate their performance as we go, as they do the same with us.
Which is the most challenging issue that you’re facing right now in the industry?
The biggest challenge is the competition we are facing from other agencies, artists can sometimes think that the grass is greener on the other side (even if it’s not), but at the same time competition is something that we are all exited about!
How do you think this economic recession has affected this industry?
I think that the recession is definitely catching some promoter clients off guard. People have been tightening their belts for the last 4 years, some have been squeezed out, but that means the competition that remains is stronger; it’s a natural selection.
What do you think you will need to improve to stay ahead of other competitors in the industry? How will you differentiate yourself in order to succeed?
We need to continually improve to stay in the game. In terms of our range of service, we need to address their individual needs and wants in a better way every year. We also need to continue to improve our roster and offer a exciting variety of artists. We generally try to differentiate ourselves by giving a friendly, “boutique-like” service but with a very professional edge. Of course what makes any company unique is the type and the quality of the music it represents!
Would you like to give us some good advices to follow for a young artist? How can they trigger the interest of a manager?
Be yourself, confident, daring, be willing to experiment but also be able to focus your goals…
Finally, how do you see recruitment and scouting as a value in the future?
Its an ongoing, never ending task. Our stock of artists needs to be continually developed and updated. This development can also come with artists already on our roster adding new strings to their bow through their natural development, or experimenting and reacting to what is going on around them. Without this, well the roster would get stale and promoters would lose interest very quickly. So it all feeds into each other!
Ben StartBEN START : Ben was given the enviable task of shaping the secretsundaze vision of an agency in late 2009. With a varied background in many facets of the music scene he has helped to mould a modern, forward thinking agency. Ben enjoys the hands on, day to day task of dealing with genuine legends of the scene, thriving on building relationships worldwide.
ROSTER : ALEX COULTON, AMIR ALEXANDER, ANTHONY NAPLES, BLEAK, BL, BRAWTHER, BROTHERS’ VIBE, CALL SUPER, CHEZ DAMIER, CITIZEN, DANTON EEPROM, DELANO SMITH, DJRUM, ETHYL, FCL, FLORI, GILES SMITH, JAMES FOX, JAMES PRIESTLEY, JAY SHEPHEARD, JOHN DALY, KEITH WORTHY, KEVIN MCPHEE, NICHOLAS, NYRA, PATRICE SCOTT, ROYALTY, SAN SODA, SEI A, SIMBAD, STELLAR OM SOURCE, SVEN WEISEMANN, TWO ARMADILLOS, YOUANDEWAN
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5 thoughts on “Understanding the underground club music industry: managing and booking new talents at The Secret Agency (Interview with Ben Start)

  1. Thanks so much for doing this series, it’s really interesting to see what people in agencies have to say about the state of the music industry and advice they have for budding artists.

  2. Pingback: Understanding the underground club music industry: managing and booking new talents at The Secret Agency (Interview with Ben Start) « Ludovico Vignaga

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