“Stagekeepers” seeks to examine a key role in the touring industry: the talent buyer. This person coordinates with a band or booking agent to present a show to the public. They negotiate expenses, coordinate appropriate venue spaces and dates, and in some cases promote shows. As “gatekeepers of night spaces”, Stagekeepers hold the key to public spaces and are responsible for effectively choosing which artists will be ‘presented’ to the public.
Despite recent plummeting profits for record companies, the concert touring industry is on the rise– particularly for independent artists. Technology makes producing and distributing music easier than ever, allowing new artists to create fans ‘practically overnight’. This combined with reduced income from record sales has pushed artists to subsidize losses through touring. Online tools and social media make reaching audiences, sharing, and nurturing niche communities easier than ever.
DFW is a particularly interesting case study for several reasons: it is a large metroplex with distinct community identities (Dallas, Fort Worth, Denton); it houses two major production companies: AEG Live & Live Nation, whereas typically one emerges; and there is a perceived sense of growth after a suspended period of ‘cultural drought’.
The highly transformative nature of these small communities places extra importance on a local, active participant to play the role of talent buyer– who must be knowledgeable of popular venue spaces, trends and bands. With such narrow profit margins, trade and social capital have also become vital to community development. These promoters may not be able to afford extensive radio campaigns or expensive marketing efforts, but they can trade for blog posts, street teams, and often create local brand advocates with access to niche markets.
This project specifically focused on 4 emerging trends:
- All Work, or All Play?– The destabilization of the music scene, from unpredictable schedules and increased amateur participation to shifting hierarchies.
- Selling Yourself– How important is social capital?
- Professional Viability– Is it possible to make a living as a talent buyer?
- Background– Does background affect a talent buyer’s approach?
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Most ’boutique’ promoters founded their mission with a ‘DIY’ aesthetic, and continue this identity assimilation even after adopting more structured, profitable ideologies. However, strict traditional DIY models do not align with profitability, which can create tension among active DIY participants.
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For most public purposes, the term booking agent, talent buyer and promoter are all relatively interchangeable. However, among promoters and talent buyers, each of these terms corresponds with different roles.
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Promoters consistently reiterated the importance of maintaining strong industry relationships– especially between themselves and booking agents.
Further Research & Resources
Ultimately these observations would be much more useful if viewed in a larger context. Further research should include evaluations of other cities– being particularly conscious to choose music scenes of various sizes and types. Developing a solid system and utilizing crowdsourcing could make this a very realistic endeavor.
Whether you’re looking to get more involved within your music scene, or learn more about the political economy of music– I’ve compiled a list of resources.