Executive Interview: Neil Warnock On India and International Booking
Neil Warnock discusses the booking business and why India is not on the international touring circuit
I was at the Hard Rock Café in Mumbai where I spotted Neil Warnock enjoying bands like Pentagram and Swarathma sipping while splurging on his beer few weeks ago. Neil Warnock, a man who turned his passion into a globe spanning business. A former printer's apprentice, Warnock got his start booking bands such as Traffic, The Doors, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Donovan and Fairport Convention into universities in the UK. That led to a career with NEMS Enterprises, the home of The Beatles. By 1981, the then MD of the Bron Agency bought out that company and changed the name to The Agency Group.
With five international offices (including its headquarters in London) and 70 agents who represent over 2,000 artists, The Agency Group often wins professional industry awards, yet they're not sitting on their laurels. Having come down to Mumbai for some meetings and flights being cancelled I located his hotel and paid him a visit at its coffee shop as he spoke some of the amazing things for my better understanding of the Booking business, Touring Circuits, Mergers, Cut-throat competition, The Agency Group, Michael Jackson and his journey so far.
Tell our readers about your music career over the years?
That's a big question. I have doing this now over 40years. My relationship with my artists and the industry is born from being a really big fan. I am fan of all sorts of music. I am in a very lucky position, where I can actually help my artists go about their career, whether I work directly with them or their managers or road managers. I can facilitate what they want to do- Live Shows. My job as an agent is to create an environment when they go to work, let it be an arena or a stadium. All of that is looked after by us at the Agency. The Agency group is now setup in New York, Los Angles, Toronto, London, Sweden, Miami and we have a world depending on what artists want to do. We can send them anywhere in the world. We know that any advice we are giving them about where, when, how to play, ticket price, and the promoters they should work with and may be the sponsor. Everything about the show is researched diligently and brought back to the artists. But the reality is that, there are many facets to what we do and over the years it has become far more sophisticated in how we arrive at decisions for and with our artists. Then back 30-40 years where the world was a smaller place for touring. Now we can comfortably bring some artists to India as we can bring to Russia, Hongkong or Brazil or any other markets that weren't necessarily on the world touring markets. So this is the long answer to your short question Ria.
How does the booking business operate internationally?
The booking business works in cooperation with the band's manager, in terms of each artist wants to go live for their different reasons. It may be because they got a new album or they like to work or sometimes they need money. Live scene is now important part of every artist life as the record sales are diminishing, recorded music getting to the customer is diminishing or customers don't pay for music as they did earlier. So for an artist to support themselves, the best way is to go live. Working live can depend on many aspects. There is no simple answer to this question. Different artists will work in different venues and in different part of the world for different reasons. We even have so many different musical genres, like heavy metal bands work in different venues then high tech artists will work in specific theaters or specific festivals. Some artists may do less work for more money and some may day less work anyway. We answer the desire of our artists on how and when they want to work.
What sort of artists do promoters look for?
They want the biggest bands in the world always. I find it unrealistic. A lot of entrepreneurs who think they can bring the biggest artists into the world territory to their venues without doing a proper research on how big are that artist? What should be ticket price be? What sort of money the artist would demand? How is immigration going to be done? What is the local tax situation? How will it impact on the artists? Is the venue big enough? - Lots of questions. Every top agent gets absolutely useless inquiry for their top band because of the amateur nature of some of the promoters who don't think through when they are asking for some of the world's top bands.
How do you perceive the live music scene in India?
I perceive it to be very healthy. I am enjoying what I am seeing here in India- the young entrepreneurs and young bands. I believe that over several years we are going to see, people become more interested in developing more venues where artists can sing whether it is indoor or outdoor by utilizing the facilities that haven't been used before. I am hopeful the government can see the value of cooperating with promoters who want to make facilities available which haven't been available before. There is a long way to go but I believe, India is on the verge of becoming a proper touring marketing. Not just for international artists which is important from my end because I represent so many international clients. There are so many great Indian bands which are not only going to break bigger in Indian but going to break internationally too. When the break internationally, that think will reflect back on what happens in India for them as well.
As an agent, tell us which band is considered really big and followed the most?
I think when worldwide bands get to a certain level, it is not territory specific. I believe a big band is a big band everywhere. Particularly now when you got younger bands like Cold Play, Nicole Back, Muse who have come through, they are not territory specific. I think their fame and fortunate is on worldwide bases. They disseminate information to the fan base quicker which is worldwide. Bands are not as specific as they would have been back in the days like Deep Purple or Black Sabbath or those artists who used to think their music was made available by historic record labels who had money to spend in some territories and not in others. So historically these acts became big as what they did in a spotty way could big in India but not in Hongkong. The information highway for all sorts of music lifts bands to big bands' status worldwide.
Do you have any Indian artists or bands on the Agency Group?
No, currently we don't but we plan to. My part of continued interest in India, when we commit to an artist here we should be able to give them the same treatment and same dedication to work that we do with all of our clients. So it is very important that when we have the privilege of representing Indian clients, that we are able to do it in a proper way.
Prime Wave Music Publishing and Marketing entered into a strategic alliance with The Agency Group sometime back. Could you throw some light on the deal?
The alliance we have with Prime Wave is all about branding and looking at newer artists as they come through by offering them more services then just being their booking agent. It is absolutely vital in the same way sports people grow up. With branding associated with them, so they can develop their careers in junction with sponsors. We are able to offer that service to our younger bands and look at branding overall with likeminded sponsors and music. Prime Wave is expert in that and we are excited about this alliance as are they. We represent nearly 2000 artists worldwide so there is a big job to be done with branding whether it is the newest band or may for a band like Motorhead who can associate with the product for a metal band like theirs.
If I am correct, you brought Michael Jackson to India. Coud you refresh me with the old and famous story again?
The main part of the story was the enormous amount of organization it took to actually bring an artist of his caliber at the peak of his career to India. Quite frankly all the work done by myself and Wizcraft brought about what happened in the end. It was the amazing vision of seeing Michael Jackson walkout on the stage in India. It was big relief for me. The negotiations and putting the show took a really long time in very difficult circumstances during those days.
Who are you planning to bring down here next?
That's difficult to say. We are always looking opportunity of having are artists here. With smaller club circuits that are available now, we are going to see smaller artists coming in through to Asia and to play in Australia and in northern parts of Asia like Hongkong, Singapore, Japan. We can younger artists coming to India in the near future.
The Agency business is more cut -throat today with the mergers and mainstream agencies like the William Morris Agency and CAA working with more alternative music acts. How are things for The Agency Group?
Cut-throat is a good word as we are all competitors. CAA and William Morris and we are always competing against each other for the biggest music artists. We all play a fair game. My agents are around in the night looking at new bands. We pride ourselves for the fact that we get our artists very early signed as we are developing new talent at a very early stage and start working not only with young bands but even young managers to enable them to build their careers. I think we have seen and proved that with the Doors, Nicole Back, Muse and all of these were baby bands when they came to us and are still now with us. It continues to be a part of the philosophy of the Agency Group.
What is the booking market in Asia like?
Asia is always difficult because essentially it is very time consuming tour here. You can do only one show in Hongkong, Singapore, Taipei and take a day off in touring in between them. Whereas in Europe it is far mo compacted as you can 14 shows in Germany and another 10 shows in France and move around in a much easier fashion. It is harder to get artists here with the amount of time it takes to go through Asia. It is always going to be difficult. I think it is important to create a situation in India where there are four or five major plays that can go with Australia, coupled with rest of Asia and then straight into Japan. Try and create a circuit. It is a trick we all want to pull off well.
How do you see the Live Nation and Ticketmaster merger affecting the industry?
It is still early days, impossible to know now. We are all waiting to see how it pans out. It has been very challenging days for those companies. It is going to be interesting how the industry reacts including promoters and how other ticketing companies react.
What has it been like over the years managing some of the big names in the industry? How have you seen the artists evolve from 20 years back to today?
It is exciting as I love it. I have been involved with English band status grow for over 40 years. I have been involved with Canadian band, Russians since 1976, with Deep Purple since 1967. I watched artists develop from being students to being very rich people, to going bankrupt, to even killing themselves and literally die. I have seen them go through success and tragedy. They live their lives in public domain. I have been lucky enough to have some of the great associations and seeing artists develop. In other terms I have been involved with several years of working with Johnny Cash before he died; now I am working with Dolly Parton who is another legend. It is a privilege to have worked with these people and be a part of their life. I am in a very lucky position as I love what I do. I love their music, I love being able to go and hear their music and be a constructive part of the artists team.
Where do we see yourself and the Agency Group in next 5 years?
I would hope that the Agency Group expanding the services that we offer our artists. Not just in live but even in film and television. There is a lot media and exposure and the way we actually bring the services be bring through agents need to genuinely be more complete. There should be a real positivity of providing all the services in action. We opening at more places and I should be doing even more of what I am currently doing.