Jamaican Music Music Interviews

Reggae Music the State of Affairs: “A Conversation George Michailow, Fast Lane Booking Agency” Part 2

Written by Stan Evan Smith

Fast Lane International is an international booking agency with global reach.  The agency focus is on North and South America, Africa, The Caribbean, the Far East and the South Pacific, the UK, France and The Netherlands and venues and festivals throughout Europe. Fast Lane represents promoters or artists including: Jimmy Cliff, Eric Donaldson, Steel Pulse, Sean Paul, Akon, Third World, Toots and The Maytals, Buju Banton, TOK, Capleton, Morgan Heritage, The Wailers, Kymani Marley, Julian Marley, Junior Kelly, Bushman, Culture  and Dawn Penn.       
George Michailow spent the last 30 years booking artists and representing numerous promoters across the USA and around the world. George observations paint a comprehensive picture of the different aspects of touring.

Booking agencies have to work with are the numbers:  Music and sales, YouTube views, Facebook likes, downloads, attendance figures and box office grosses  to decide how popular an act really is and what they may be worth in a market. In Reggae Music these facts are often hard to come by. 

Stan Evan Smith: You say the artist has to take responsibility for getting the music played and promoted and for building and maintaining a fan base so that they can tour successfully, what do they need to do this?

George Michailow: I am not certain but I am of the opinion that it is important to give it away until recognition and demand are established. Free samples allow for a taste at no cost and hopefully they will want more. That’s basic marketing.  I think many artists who can’t fill a small club in their home town should focus on their home region and grow from there. If you can’t pack the house in your neighborhood, how you gonna do it across town or in the next town? I hear the Beatles played a tiny club in Liverpool till the lines were around the corner. Maybe they were on to something?                                                                                                                                                       

Stan Evan Smith: Please explain the new paradigm where promoter is no longer promoting the music or the artist but the provider of the venue and it is the artist’s responsibility to get his fans to buy a ticket to see them.

George Michailow: I really can’t explain it. It is something that I am observing constantly. I think with the growth of all of this music sharing on the internet and the explosion of social media artists are able to connect more with fans. It’s more powerful when the artist invites fans to come out and join the for a party.. Venue owners take advantage of that, provide the venues and post the dates on their calendars. They expect the artists to provide posters. The most successful artist s provides posters, artwork and put their street teams to work

Stan Evan Smith: Explain the difficulty as a booking agency you have with lack enough info on the acts to determine if they are viable.

George Michailow: I have a history either from Pollstar or the artist.  The tour history in the market shows hard numbers. You take into account the day of week. Weekday vs. weekend but if an act drew 500 attendees to a club last time and only 300 the time before that it is a good indication of growth in the market and allows for projection. If it’s the reverse trend It may not work. It’s pretty normal for artists that failed to draw to blame the promoter but the most successful acts always take responsibility and blame no one but themselves. As an agent I need to point to something concrete as attendance figures or box office history to show a venue an artist has potential and is worth the money I’m asking. If I can’t point to that I have to have something equally as convincing. The worst approach is saying that the artist knows he has fans and will sell out but will not risk playing for a percentage of the door.

Stan Evan Smith: Explain the new criteria venue owners need to book act Box office grosses and how this helps artist to choose the right venue.

George Michailow: Best thing we can do is find the websites of a club you want to play in a town and see what their requirements are… and meet them. You can’t call them to BS them and they don’t call the agent unless they think the act we represent will sell out their room.
               
George Michailow:  There may be reggae friendly rooms but there are no reggae clubs left, we are playing by the same rules on a level field.

(A)  This is a 100 capacity club in a college town. To exist we must subsist. That means, at the very least, we can’t lose money on booking your band.  We are not in the business of underwriting bands. We have no built in crowd to support your band; therefore, in order to book here you must be able to draw your own crowd. If you cannot guarantee a crowd, we cannot make any guarantee to the band. Pay is based on draw. We expect bands to do something to promote themselves. If you already have a date booked, please send us anything we can use to help promote the event here at the club: posters, flyers, web links, CDs, photos, etc. While we will do our best, as noted above, promotion is ultimately the responsibility of the performer and/or the performer’s promotional team.

B)   A popular 300 capacity showcase club in North Carolina The venue presents the best local, regional and nationally touring artists seven nights a week. The professional presentation of your music and engagement of your fans is our top priority. If you are interested in playing at this venue, please read below.

(1) Have you ever played this town or venue before?

We are a smaller more intimate live music venue. It is not, however, a small enough venue to break bands into the local scene.   We are ultimately looking for bands with marquee value in the area to help us fill the venue.  If you’ve played in the area, please include the date, venue, how many paid and the ticket price.

(2) Where can we listen to your music? Send us links to your best websites where we can listen to your music (Reverb Nation, Sound Cloud, Youtube etc.)

(3) Can you provide us with posters and promo for a show once we confirm a date?

We do a ton of promo on our end but it takes a team effort in order for a show to be a HUGE success.  If we get left holding all the responsibility for promo, then chances are pretty good the show will not be as successful.  If you plan on just booking a show and then just showing up to play ~ please stop reading now and delete this website from your browser!

What to do now… Please send an email to us, Do not call.    The email must contain: Your band name in the subject line and the answers to the 3 questions above

C)   300 capacity Club in California: To Book a show your band or act must draw at least 100 people. Please don’t call the club to book a show ever!!! If you call the club it
will greatly decrease your chances of booking a show. We do all booking via email only!!!

After you booked a show To Do list each band/performer’s responsibility is to:
Send at least 50 Posters & 100 hand bills, latest CD & Any other promotional material you have.

D)  We are a 300 capacity showcase music venue with a reputation of presenting good music of all sorts. Although we appreciate all that goes into performing, we look for headliners, openers, and co-bills that are able to bring in an audience that is rewarding to both this club and the artist. If you feel your band’s music is compatible with the music we generally present here, the level of musicianship is solid, and you are able to reach your fan base with a strong publicity effort, this could be a great room for you. Artists such as Ben Harper, Dixie Chicks, Phish, Emmy Lou Harris, Steve Earle, and Wanda Jackson have all performed here, and we love the opportunity to help more great bands bring their music to the Somerville/Boston area! Please be aware that we field a tremendous amount of booking requests, so it may take up to 3 weeks for us to get to your submission. We will then view the information you provided in the form below, and will do our best to contact you with our comments/options. Please do not be offended if we do not get back to you — even though it’s great stuff, it may be that we feel the band/artist is either not compatible with this venue or may not be ready at this time. It could also mean our computer crashed …

ON-LINE press kits are generally the rule, and sending us a link to yours is a good way to start. We do accept hard press kits, but only by request. Please do not mail us unsolicited materials

Stan Evan Smith:  The venue owners and promoters criteria use to determine whether an artist have a draw. Headline Shows: Co-Bill Shows, Box Office Summary, and Avg. Tickets Sold: Avg. Gross:  the promoter that Jamaican artist don’t report, this info. Explain how this prevents reggaes from being book in mainstream venues?

George Michailow: Very simple answer. We are playing by the same rules on a level field. It’s too risky for the mainstream venues to be guessing how they will do without verifiable data, they don’t need to take that risk and they will always choose the proven draw artists over the ones that can’t provide information

Stan Evan Smith: You Say the American Reggae bands are successful in the US market because they understand that reggae music is universal and, this allows them to relate to and reach a much wider demographic, why have the Jamaican artist been unable to do adjust to this new reality? 

George Michailow: Good question. I think Denial is not only a river in Egypt.

Stan Evan Smith:  Why is there such a difference between how Steel Pulse, or Jimmy Cliff and the American reggae bands and how dancehall acts relate to their fans?

George Michailow: I hate to say this but you are asking the wrong person. Have you tried asking Dancehall artists? I bet Shaggy relates to his fans differently than Vibes Kartel? Would you classify them both as dancehall?

Stan Evan Smith: from your vantage point as a veteran booking agency in the US and using the industry definition of touring/promotion 6-9 week Reggae/dance hall artist aren’t doing tours in the US, is it because their focus is how much a show pays and not building their brand market by market? No reggae artist has sustained any serious length tour in a long time. Times have changed.  I think you hit the nail on the head. Maybe try to go where the people are, not where the money is? Cultivate the market

George Michailow: Outreach in every possible way. I may be mistaken but I sense, arrogance, in many, even in the sound that may no longer appeal to the numbers of people as they did in the past? I am not an expert on this and am speaking from limited experience. I know there are some in the genre that are humble and conscious so I don’t want to be painting with a broad brush without having the personal knowledge. Maybe Dancehall is evolving also? Maybe I just don’t see it or know of it yet?

Stan Evan Smith: VP executive Neil Robertson argues that the artists need to active in the promotion of their brand and invest in themselves. They need hire professional publicists & social media person, invest in Facebook ads to support their tour dates. Does the current reggae artist understand this?  

George Michailow: Ask a Reggae artist. To me it appears Neil is right

Stan Evan Smith: according Neil Robertson top Jamaican acts, like the Marley’s, Sean Paul, Toots, Steele Pulse  are doing well in the US market but how are the Jamaican based dancehall reggae acts fairing against US based Reggae acts?

George Michailow: I’m not so sure that all of those you mention are doing as well as they could or should. Doing well is a relative term anyway.. Some markets are more supportive of certain artists than others.  My home town is one of the biggest markets outside California for Steel Pulse. There is a festival at the beach that hires them every summer because they can guarantee an audience of (17) thousands.  That’s a phenomena even they don’t understand for sure. That festival at the beach I refer to would never hire a dancehall act for several reasons. One is there may be the perception that their audience is limited, another is maybe fear or perception that they may offend some portion of the audience. I think a Polka act would also probably not do as well but they are less likely to offend? I hope I am not offending anyone by venturing there. Neither the polka nor the dance hall fans

Stan Evan Smith:  The top US based Reggae bands have established their brands now and have a young generation growing up with them, do you get the sense that the new/ or dancehall acts understand how important this process? 

George Michailow: I think that the Reggae/Jam/Rock of the US based bands has more appeal to their demographic than dancehall simple as that. It’s just a matter of taste not marketing as far as I see it. There are a few Jamaican acts like Rootz Underground and Dubtonic Kru that may be able to do well in that same demographic because of the style, the vibe, the media savviness as well as the determination to get out there despite the difficulties in getting established.

George Michailow: I admit that I am personally unaware of any dancehall artist currently reaching any larger demographic but I am hoping someone corrects me and points them out to me. I know that in recent years Shaggy, Sean Paul and others climbed high in charts and became household names.

Stan Evan Smith: Earlier reggae acts like Bob Marley, 3rd World. D. Brown, Peter Tosh, and Steel Pulse, toured strategically to win the USA market, but the market today has changed what should a Jamaican base reggae act do to In terms of establishing themselves as a touring act to succeed in the US market? 

George Michailow: Times have changed. In those days there wasn’t a hot local reggae band in every town that can outdraw many a Jamaican headliner but out of deference they support them and massively increase their audiences in many cases. I think it starts with making good music that has a wider appeal and lovingly sharing it and then see if the phone starts to ring before venturing out at high cost

Stan Evan Smith: Is the model to succeed in today’s market for a touring act ( Rootz Underground) to go out as a support act and open for acts that have a solid audience?  

George Michailow: That’s one way to build a larger audience and fan base.  It’s not easy either. The bigger act has many choices when approving or taking a support act on the road with them. This comes from the artist shaving a mutual respect and personal relationship. I have seen that the US based bands are more likely to use that approach to help each other. US based bands among I think the sooner we accept a culture of cooperation and reject the culture of competition; the sooner things will get better in music and in humanity’s condition.

George Michailow: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share insights, express opinions and learn something. Maximum respect to all Musicians, Singers Journalists, especially Investigative Journalists and whistle blowers.

 

Stan Evan Smith is the Host of State of Affairs on The Keys Blog Talk Radio.  (www.thekeys107network.com)
Senior Editor and North East Media Coordinator: Jamaicans.com (FL)Contributing writer: YUSH .com (UK).
Contributing Editor: Everybody’s Magazine (NYC)
Sends comments to Email: [email protected]

About the author

Stan Evan Smith

Senior Editor and North East Media Coordinator for Jamaicans.com