Years with Company: 5
Address: 65 E. 55th St., New York, NY 10022
Clients: Straight No Chaser, Michael Feinstein, The Piano Guys, David Foster, Wyclef Jean, Jane Lynch
A farmer’s daughter from rural Ohio, Andrea Johnson grew up in a musical family. Playing piano from an early age, she later took voice lessons and imagined she’d become a singer before switching gears and taking business classes. Her expertise in classical music eventually allowed entry to the other side of the industry. Now at ICM, she currently manages a tantalizing range of talent.
Shrinking Budgets for Classical
Mission statement dollars don’t exist the way they used to. In 2001, we could reliably sit around a conference table and route a 50-city orchestra tour on the ground because we knew there would be takers in 50 different markets. Today, there are maybe 15 organizations in the entire country that can underwrite something like that.
I have colleagues who have to personally love the music otherwise they don’t feel they can do the job. I’m the opposite. I end up loving the music after I’ve started working with the client. What excites me is taking an artist who might be under-represented or has an interesting concept I think is buildable and helping them achieve those goals. And in that I become a fan.
I also have crazy eclectic tastes. Just today, I’ve been listening to everything from Bach to Rage Against the Machine to Drake to Ariana Grande. I have a soft spot for almost everything.
Using Existing Talent
Anyone who’s working at a company with different departments should keep in mind what intellectual property they represent already that’s not being fully fleshed out. Where are there some needles in haystacks that we could put on the road where that’s not an area of business they’ve ever even thought about before?
We represent Jocko Willink. He’s an ex-Navy Seal and a New York Times bestselling author who also has a very successful podcast. He does a show where he talks about taking the principles of being a Navy Seal and putting them into action in business. This is not something he had really ever considered. He was already a client of the agency in our literary department and I said, I wonder if he’s ever considered this. It took a couple years for him to wrap his head around doing it but it’s been this incredibly successful venture.
Growing Baby Bands
We frequently work with acts that are just starting out. One of the most satisfying things is to take on a baby band and grow with them. My client, Straight No Chaser, I’ve had for 10 years. It’s now an annuity for everyone and it’s never been healthier or more profitable than it is today.
Can You Sell Tickets?
Our job, at the end of the day, is to book shows, so you have to demonstrate some ability to sell tickets. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time to have an agent in place. But if a manager we’re in business with says I’ve got the next new thing, then absolutely we’re going to give it a hard look, even if there’s no money to be made for quite some time. Anybody in this business who’s working on commission is prepared to work for free for a while in service of belief in an artist’s career.
Education and Perseverance
Educate yourself about the business. Read the Don Passman books. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself. And get a lawyer if you don’t have one, if you need one. And then just start gigging out. It’s going to be tough. You’re going to have to DIY a lot of things before people start knocking on your door. While it’s never been easier, cheaper or more democratic to put your music out there, it’s also never been harder to break through. So you have to be prepared to do whatever is necessary.
Perseverance is a major part of this. You have to be willing to work your ass off. Eventually, something will catch fire. And then, I promise, you will have to beat us off with a stick. Once you get over that hype bubble it becomes a feeding frenzy. But it’s about getting over the hump.
Get Yourself Booked
Find a venue that’s presenting the kinds of artists you look up to. Make friends with the guy or girl who’s booking it and say, I’m a singer-songwriter, I front an indie rock band, whatever it is. I’m working on my mailing list. Are there any opening slots? We’re willing to work for pizza. I’m going to bring in people to drink.
Here’s the other dirty secret, a lot of bands need help selling tickets. And the local opening act can sometimes outsell the headliner, depending on who it is and the night of the week. So ingratiate yourself to those people who need to make money. Bring in people who are going to drink and you’re going to get calls. Word is going to spread. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s going to happen overnight. You want a career? You have to build a foundation.
Agents Need That Fire in the Belly
We’re looking for the fire that’s burning in someone. I’m looking for a self-starter, a critical thinker, someone who isn’t going to be in my office every five seconds asking me questions that they could probably answer on their own with a little legwork. [We want] people who are connecting the dots on their own and have an insatiable curiosity to learn more and be better.
Backstage is usually pretty boring. It’s not people doing shots of tequila or illegal drugs. It’s usually a bunch of bored people on their phones waiting for something to happen.
Everything on the Table
A lot more is expected from your clients than there was 10 or 15 years ago. Never before has the agency business been more competitive than it is today, so it stands to reason that it’s not enough just to book tours anymore. Of course, touring still pays the bills for a lot of people but the expectation is that the agency is going to be able to bring other opportunities if those are what the artist wants. Do you want to act? Do you want to produce? Do you want to direct? Do you want a branding deal? Do you want a reality show? Do you want to write a book? Anything you could imagine is pretty much placed on the shoulders of the agency. And the hotter the act, the more competitive it is.
Part of this business that can get a little nauseating is the bloated promises that are made and not only not delivered on but the person making them has no intention of delivering on them. It’s just about stealing a client. I pride myself on not being that kind of agent. If I say I can do it, I’m going to do everything in my power to make it happen. And if it doesn’t happen it’s not for lack of trying.
If you are a woman thinking about getting into this business, we want you here. It has traditionally been lacking in females but it’s getting better. We pledged to have 50/50 parity in terms of women and men by the end of 2020. We’re very close. We’re certainly closer than our competitors and I’m extremely proud to work for an agency that has not only made that promise but is actively delivering on it. The more voices we have in the leadership structure of this agency the better we’re going to serve our fantastically diverse roster.