The Mind Music team decided to go behind the scenes for this interview and step into the gritty world of the booking agents to get some inside information on what counts in the DJ world, welcome ‘Joanna Barber’ Senior Booking Agent of FMLY Agency
Krystal: Hey Joanna, nice to finally catch up with you and have a moment out of your hectic schedule.
Joanna: Yes finally.. Some days I can’t think, other days I am free.
Krystal: How long have you been a booking agent for and why did you want to be in this industry?
Joanna: I’ve now been a booking agent for 7 years, starting as as an assistant and moving to where I am now. I used to work in advertising and after a particular rocky period in my life; I quit my career, moved back to my parents to work out what to do with my life.
Around the same time, I met my now husband (Neil) and he told me how he LOVED going to work (he is a badass studio engineer for high profile artists and also a DJ and producer in his own right under ‘Barber‘ and some secret alias) loving going to work seemed alien to me so I decided to do something in an area I loved and I love going raving plus I had years of sales experience so an agent seemed a natural choice.
I wasn’t even quite sure what it entailed in the beginning but after working (really, really hard) as an intern for an events company who were starting their own agency, I got offered a job as an assistant. The pay cut from working in advertising to working as someone’s assistant was extremely hard and I relied on Neil (Husband) for support especially when I moved back to London.
I would say, the money is shit to start with so be prepared to be overworked and underpaid however it is an investment.
Krystal: I see your roster has been growing steadily, what do you look for when taking on new artists?
Joanna: Personally I look for someone who is great at what they do, I am not fussed about genre although I do have certain pockets I am good at and some genres I suck at.
I LOVE Disco but I don’t have to be totally invested in the sound as long as I can see talent (lots of agents would say the opposite but give me something I can sell and I will) also a really nice person helps; I can’t stand dickheads, there are a lot of them in this industry and I have worked with a fair few.
Egos come with this job, there is no escaping that but I just want my artists to be grounded, realistic, hard workers and talented. Also do not expect that you can just give up your day job because you had one month of busy gigs, keep your feet on the ground!
Krystal: That’s a great insight! How many artists are you currently managing and how do you juggle the split between them all?
Joanna: I have 13 now and I am lucky to have some bigger ones which need negotiation & strategy and then some smaller ones who need hustle and a sprinkling in-between.
It is a fun split and means I don’t get bored, yes some days I start at 10am and finish 12 hours later for sure but when you see someone rise from £300 gigs twice a month to big money gigs 6/7 times a month, playing on big line-ups at dream venues, giving up their day jobs, buying a house and living the dream then it is most definitely worth it!
Plus I do make decent ££££ on these artists which helps…
Krystal: The hard work pays off! So Joanna, what is a typical day as an agent?
Joanna: No day is typical.
Some days it’s all pitching a particular artist, other days will be all management calls/meetings or dealing with incoming requests and hustling for better positions on line-ups.
Sometimes I get to talk to all my favourite people and some days I spend wishing I could not answer the phone! Lots of my day is spent at my desk answering emails but it’s not everything we do.
Krystal: The big question which often gets discussed online, what does a booking agent do that the artists cannot do themselves?
Joanna: Get better fees!!!!
The amount of times I have said no to a low fee and the promoter goes to the artist and the artist agrees it especially with upcoming guys, so frustrating.
It is about getting the artists on better line-ups, better positioning in terms of the billing. Lots of people think agents are not needed but speak to an artist who really likes and works as a team with their agent and they’ll tell you they need them.
Krystal: Agree with the last sentence, if you have the right people around you, it works like a dream! So Joanna, what has been your biggest challenge so far in the music industry?
Joanna: In the beginning the shit pay, long hours and huge expectations as in you should give up your weekends, tbh as I get older and rave less the expectation I should be at every gig is unrealistic.
I’m 36, I like my chilled Sunday’s and non hungover days so I can’t go to everything.
Competition is fierce; artists leave, get poached and think the grass is greener and that can be really hard to take. I have cried over artists leaving me, I have also sighed with relief! It’s hard not to compare yourself to other agents and rosters, just believe in yourself saying that you really have got to work hard, prove yourself, get a mentor, learn, network and don’t just get fucked at every party and expect people to take you seriously!
Krystal: At what stage in an artists career should they think about approaching an agency?
Joanna: When they are busy enough to present something worthwhile to an agent – lots of agents get paid based on the booking fees they generate.
If your asking someone to spend time pitching you must you make sure you’re something worth pitching and people want to buy you. An agent is the last piece of the puzzle not the first and you shouldn’t be thinking “oh if I get an agent then I’ll have all the gigs all the time” it just doesn’t work like that.
Krystal: Great advice there. For anyone out there thinking of becoming an agent or starting an agency, what are your top tips?
Joanna: Hmmmm good question….
Work hard, like harder than anyone else you know, be prepared to get the shit from the promoters and the artists (I have been blamed for people’s lack of career and lack of success, it’s defo not the agents fault. If people wanted to book you they would) but be prepared to accept people will think things are your fault, even cancelled flights and declined visa’s. Don’t take it personally!
HAVE FUN!!! It’s just discos, we’re not saving people’s lives and as seriously as people might take it – it should be a laugh most of the time!
Krystal: What an interview, thank you again Joanna for the chat and the honesty, some great tips!
Joanna: You’re welcome, thanks for having me!
Check out the roster at FMLY – www.fmly.agency