Rya Park & Will Hollands
When most people think of music and the performing arts they think of a person or group up on stage performing for an audience.
Some might not realise just how many people are involved behind the scenes to get that artist up on stage. From light and sound technicians at the venue to artist managers and booking agents organising things (and even specialist lawyers!) – what the audience sees up on stage or listens to on their commute to work is the culmination of a lot of work and organisation that has gone on behind the scenes.
To get a perspective on both sides of the story, we talked to AIM Melbourne alumna and singer/songwriter Rya Park (Lucy Travis) plus fellow alumnus and booking agent for 123 Agency Will Hollands about their respective experiences in the industry and what skills up-and-comers will need to make be successful.
Here’s what they had to say.
AIM: What is the hardest part of your job? And the best?
RP: The hardest part at this stage, as I’m just starting out, is not comparing myself to other artists. I think with social media it’s really easy to get down about what other people are doing and it can easily throw you off track of what you’re achieving, even if it’s maybe a slower or maybe just a different approach and process. The best part is that I get to make music and perform. That’s what I’ve always loved doing and that’s the core reason why I am doing this and following it as a career.
WILL: The best part is easily getting to work with a multitude of inspiring and creative people each and every day. The team environment at 123 Agency is nothing like I've experienced before, and on the flipside - working with so much incredible musical talent is a true blessing and something I don't take for granted. I genuinely love coming to work each and every day, and there's seriously nothing better than watching an artist develop over time to a point where people start taking notice and things click into gear for them!
The hardest part is definitely the amount of stress, lack of sleep and managing of people's expectations. It takes a certain type of person to enter into the business side of the industry - but if you're willing to work tirelessly for the act as well as form amazing relationships and friendships with everyone you meet, the hardest thing can often become the best.... its a wild ride but one I don't take for granted!
AIM: What have you learned about finding the right management team for you?
RP: I think I realised that they need to be fans of you and your music before anything. I want to surround myself with genuine and passionate people, and I’ve been lucky enough to begin to put a team together that are on the same page as me. Trust and friendship is also a key part of this kind of business relationship I think as well.
AIM: What about from an agent’s perspective?
WILL: Management, business and organisation are often dirty words for some artists. Musicians love making music, and to me that's really what it should be all about - unfortunately in this day and age artists are required to have the whole 'package' and understand the landscape of the business to a point that can hopefully accurately portray their style/sound/vision/live show/recordings to an audience. Once this is in place and if an artist is lucky enough to captivate interest from outsiders within the business, it is often hard to navigate through the noise and be able to accurately put the right team in place to relieve some of that stress away from the music.
When looking for a management team/agent or label it's important for artists to connect. Get to know the people you are going to be working with and get a real sense for if they passionately care about you as a person, your music and not just seeing $$ signs. Whilst it's called the music business, at the end of the day I think managers and agents should be enablers. By this I mean, enabling the artist to focus on the music as much as possible and truly always have the best interest of the artist at heart. You need someone who is going to work hard for you, bust down the doors and make things happen that you couldn't do on your own. At the end of the day, everyone in the artist team should be a fan of not only music but of the artist - and to me, that's what distinguishes a good team VS someone who is in it for the wrong reasons. Let the artist be the artist, and let your management team look after the business (to a certain extent).
AIM: How does a manager and booking agent work with you behind the scenes? Is there anything that has taken you by surprise?
RP: I speak with my manager every day! We discuss little things that need to be done in order to achieve the bigger goals that we’ve discussed. We do a proper call once a week to discuss the week before and to chat about what’s coming up next. When it’s time to release music the discussions become more frequent! I’m lucky that the booking agent I am now with went to the same uni as me, so we already had some sort of bond and common ground. We mainly speak over the phone to discuss potential gigs and tours but we try to catch up every few weeks to chat about goals and what’s on the agenda.
AIM: What does a booking agent’s day-to-day look like?
WILL: Lots of coffee and emails/calls!
Agents look after everything surrounding live shows/bookings as well as having a wide list of connections and contacts to leverage artists they work with and provide an opportunity which may not occur without one. A typical day will consist of bookings shows, finding revenue streams for artists which might not be commonly thought about & really making sure anything regarding the live show goes off flawlessly. Also a lot of listening to new music every day.... you need to have your finger on the pulse!
A lot of being an agent is A&R (going out and seeing LOTS of shows & meeting people), so if you're not a fan of losing sleep it probably isn't the right path for you. As an agent it's important to understand the landscape of the industry, talk and connect with the right people and most importantly look after the artist first at all times! Like any relationship, it takes both parties/teams working as one, and so a lot of the role involves strategising, creating artist plans, generating exciting promotional opportunities and logistically ensuring the artist is taken care of so they have the most comfortable experience possible from start of the process to the end (being a great show). Being an agent is like running your own little business within a business - if you truly believe in the talent you book for, it's about working hard each and every day to sell tickets to the shows you put on for your roster of acts... trust me when I say there is nothing more exciting than when one of your artists sells out a show/tour or gets booked on an exciting support slot or Festival!
AIM: What advice would you give to aspiring artists and booking agents?
RP: I would say to give everything a go. I think even if you think you’re not ready to perform yet, or to show someone your lyrics or first song - just do it. I’ve always put my hand up for things that make me super nervous because it just put me out of my comfort zone and helped me grow and learn. The advice I’d give to young girls aspiring to be artists is to stand your ground. Use your voice and state your opinion. Sometimes not being honest about something that was making me feel uncomfortable has gotten me into trouble. Now that I’m getting older I’m getting better at realising that there is room for my opinion.
WILL: Be willing to give everything you have to the role. At times it can be taxing having to tell friends, partners or family you can't hang out because of commitments - but at the end if you want something enough you can create a balance which works for everyone. It's super important to be open with people, honest and positive. Absorb as much information as you can from the people around you and those with experience - it is the most valuable thing you can possibly do! Trust your gut feelings, show real belief in your own work as well as others and be open to work as a team. I would always advise having mentors where possible, people you can turn to at any time and ask for advice as well as backing yourself.... don't be afraid to ask the hard questions because often everyone is also thinking the same thing as you - but the ones who ask will excel!
AIM: What is best practice for an aspiring artist looking to get signed?
WILL: Be active, show you have some business skills in place whilst actively working every day to hone your craft. All it takes is a song to connect with a fan for the ride to begin. I go out to gigs most nights of the week looking for new talent - I can assure you other agents do too.... you never know who might be watching your live show. It doesn't matter if you are playing to 5 people in a dive bar, it's insane how quickly things can happen - so treat every show the same regardless of attendance or vibe. Listen to feedback and don't take it to heart - use it as motivation and be open to hearing the thoughts of others. A good indication an act is 'ready' to be signed is when they have a package in place. Great songs, amazing live show and demonstrating some genuine thought in strategy and development will get you a long way. If a song connects on Streaming platforms/radio/social media numbers, it's often a good sign - but at the end of the day, the best piece of advice I could offer is simply, be yourself, trust your gut instinct and be known as someone who is willing to work hard!
AIM: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
RP: I was born in London, but haven't lived there since I was really young. I have always just imagined myself in London in my late twenties and onwards. I love the cold and I’ve got the passport so why not haha. It’d be pretty amazing to be based there and to write and travel with my music too.