How to run a booking agency | Features | MN2S

In the second part of our interview with MN2S co-founder and director, Sharron Elkabas, we find out what it takes to run a worldwide booking agency with hundreds of artists and talent on its roster.

Did you have a clear vision for the booking agency from the off? It sounds like it followed quite a natural progression…

It was a totally organic progression – although the bigger in business an operation gets, the more responsibility comes with it. I guess naturally over the years we’ve learnt a lot about business the do’s and dont’s. We’ve become particularly good at running MN2S as a business. We had to – because we have 30 staff to pay every month. If we didn’t, we’d be in trouble!

We grew the roster very rapidly, and after a very short space of time had a large number of artists. I remember other booking agencies, managers, even artists commenting on the size of the roster and why we had such a large roster. We never thought twice or even questioned whether that was the right thing to do. When the recession kicked in, a lot of the smaller agencies with smaller rosters fell to the wayside and went bust. We were becoming stronger and stronger every year so that even through the recession we continued to grow about 20% a year. That was partly due to the size of our roster, because we diversified.

I think that one of the great things about dance music is the fact that it does evolve – and so we evolved with it, and that meant representing DJs that weren’t from the soulful house genre, which was our background. We managed to do this successfully. To this day, I think we are one of the few agencies out there that has a very diverse roster – right through from underground to commercial from urban to pop – and again because of that, our client base is equally varied, ranging from under-18s events right through to the private and the corporate sector. So as a business, that has really served us well over the years.

Kerri Chandler 2015 - MN2S booking agency

How did you go about growing the booking agency when you started getting this initial success? What were you looking ahead to and how were you ensuring that everything kept growing?

We wanted to provide a really good service to promoters – having been promoters ourselves. During the mid-to-late-’90s, we sometimes had to deal with other agencies to book the talent that we wanted to. We weren’t very happy with the way we were treated. Yes, we were young promoters, but we had an amazing event – and yet it was difficult and quite a negative experience booking acts. Quite often, it was like dealing with a lot of attitude, a lot of prima donnas… very short email replies, or no replies at all… so we weren’t really very impressed with that at all. Fair enough if someone is going to pass on a request – that’s fine – but you can still treat people with respect and professionalism.

So from day one, we did that, and still to this day we are very approachable. We get back to people swiftly, even if it’s a ‘no’. If the offer’s too low, we will let them know that and give them the reason why we’re passing, and we will do that in a polite and professional way. So I think that has really served us well over the years, where promoters had a positive experience with us and wanted to just keep rebooking with us. A lot of our clients globally have been customers of ours for in some cases over 15 years – so I think that definitely counts for a lot. I’m proud that we still get thanked day-to-day for prompt replies and swift response. It just highlights that in many cases promoters aren’t getting that service from other agencies.

You mentioned before about having the organisational side there. What are the other structures and processes there that you’ve learned that have to be in place to make a booking agency work – especially a larger one?

The organisational aspect and administration is absolutely crucial. I did that myself when we started out and I think that for any good agent, it’s hugely helpful to have an understanding of how the nuts and bolts of logistics work. It is very time consuming and it’s not an easy job. It’s one thing booking an act to a promoter, but everything that happens after that is crucially important in terms of the service that is being provided to both the promoter and the artist – so we realised very early on that there can be quite serious repercussions if that service isn’t first-class.

David Morales

We had to employ other people as the agency grew – people to do that job – and to this day we have quite a large admin team here, whereas some agencies don’t deal with any logistics. That’s all done by management or tour managers. We’ve always handled the logistics here internally, so that was really important.

Running a tight ship as well in terms of the monetary side of things again really important, as artist cancellations can happen in this industry. So keeping on top of things in terms of agreements and collecting money and deposits is really quite key. We quickly learnt on the business side that there was a lot to consider, and we made sure by hook or crook that we delivered.

What are the biggest challenges that you face as a booking agency?

Any agency needs to move with the times and have a very good understanding of the market and the market changes. There are a lot of factors that determine the success of an agency – such as how certain economies are doing globally. As an example, Russia and the CIS historically has been a very busy territory – yet since the collapse in the Rouble, that market has been pretty non-existent. The same could be said for territories like Brazil where the currency is very unstable and fluctuates a lot. That is the difference in whether the bookings actually happen in that territory or not, so when the currency is in favour in terms of conversion to the euro or pound, you will find a lot of clients in that territory will be booking international acts. When it’s the reverse, they won’t. They will be only be booking national acts – which is happening now.

Waka Flocka Flame ‘3:30’ / Fire Squad Flockmix

So again, it’s having an understanding of what is going on. I think because we have diversified and because we’re actively booking in around 100 countries globally, we are dealing with countries that are in recession or going through tougher economic times and we are also dealing with countries that are booming and emerging markets that are having a good time. Obviously being on the button of musical trends and changes and shifts in the market is important, and there have been a lot over the years.

How does your talent scouting work?

We actually have an agency A&R –  somebody here in the office – and we also have external A&Rs and scouts that bring talent to the table. We have a weekly A&R meeting where new acts are presented to all of the agent. We then review them to see which we are interested in approaching or moving forward with for representation. In many cases, especially with up-and-coming emerging artists, it’s too early doors to bring them to an agency like MN2S. We’re a business, and from a financial viewpoint an artist needs to be worth X to warrant representation – whether it’s with MN2S or anyone else.

Artists need to be at a certain fee level to be signed to the agency, but we’re constantly scanning what’s going on out there, what’s being played on radio and so on.

De La Soul - MN2S booking agency

How do you ensure that on the promoters side of things you’re constantly growing your network of promoters and making sure you’re keeping up with changes or new parties in different scenes around the world?

We are constantly adding new clients and promoters to our databases daily. We have researchers, interns and work experience working on tasks like that. We clean our databases quite often. We mail-out asking people to update information. We recognise that there are new generations of promoters coming through all the time. Some of the promoters we were dealing with back in the day no longer promote. I guess promoters get to a certain age and they have had their fill of promoting.

So we work with independent promoters and we work with venues too – but quite often, with any given venue there could be up to 10 promoters working with them.

We’ve always been really proactive. We’re always making contact with new people and sending rosters out to promoters that we haven’t dealt with before. That’s definitely another part of it; we don’t just sit there, waiting for the phone to ring.

Click to view the MN2S booking agency roster.

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