Earlier this month, Tash Sultana’s booker 123 Agency announced she had completely sold out her UK and Germany tour, months in advance.
In two-and-a-half years, the Melbourne artist went from a sold out 150 capacity Shebeen to a sold out Margaret Court Arena. From her bedroom to theatres, festival stages and arenas, the 22-year-old’s schedule now includes Lollapalooza alongside Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Killers, as well as international shows throughout the UK, Europe and America.
While she’s still very much the same self-taught loopologist who blew minds from her bedroom with breakout hit ‘Jungle’, Tash Sultana is now a ‘global artist’.
Tash Sultana saw huge crowds on her European tour this year
Rewind three years, when Sultana was writing down her goals with 123 Agency’s Regan Lethbridge (who is still her Agent today), fellow 123 Agent Adam Montgomery was touring the globe, hitting many of the same touchpoints needed to warrant ‘global artist’ status.
Alongside support tours with Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stoneage and AC/DC, Adam Montgomery’s band Calling All Cars was on the international festival circuit, stopping at The Great Escape, CMJ and Sonisphere, among others.
When the UK-based band called it a day and returned home to Australia in 2014, 123 Agency Director Damian Costin (and Calling All Cars’ former booking agent) offered him a spot at the company’s Melbourne office in Collingwood.
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“He said, ‘Here’s a desk, just go for it’. It was a super steep learning curve,” Montgomery says at a café near 123 Agency’s Sydney office.
BIGSOUND was a signpost moment
At this year’s BIGSOUND, Montgomery had six of his artists showcasing, and another two performing unofficial slots. Each one of those acts has their own success story off the back of those shows; some he can discuss, some which haven’t seen the ink dry yet.
Montgomery predominantly looks after up-and-coming acts at 123 Agency, and his recent signing Dear Seattle is already making national waves. Following a highlight showcase at BIGSOUND – and the release of just two singles – the Sydney band are close to selling out their debut national tour just weeks after announcing. Dear Seattle is also set to announce their signing to a still-to-be-announced imprint under one of Australia’s proudest export music companies.
Dear Seattle released their clip for ‘Afterthought’ in May
Meanwhile, Montgomery’s act Didirri played to a sold out industry crowd in London this month; and next month, 22-year-old Tasmanian Maddy Jane is supporting Harry Styles for three national dates.
“I couldn’t rate BIGSOUND highly enough for bands,” says Montgomery. “I’ve been to SXSW, The Great Escape, CMJ, Reeperbahn… I’ve been to all these similar festivals around the world as both an artist and an Agent. It’s up there with them. It stands up.
“People can be cynical about those industry events but it’s where stuff happens,” he adds. “Bands genuinely get deals and things start kicking off for them.”
A global player after just four years
With its artists Gooch Palms, Harts, Phebe Starr, Stonefield and Trophy Eyes among those making waves overseas – plus with four-time ARIA winners Killing Heidi on the roster – the company harbours everything the world loves about Australian music: outward independence, gravitational attraction, and seemingly preordained ubiquity.
Surprisingly, the agency’s sold out national arena tours, chart wins and ARIA awards don’t even spring to mind when Montgomery details his pride point as an Agent.
“Music is such an emotive space, it’s relationship driven. I can call a bunch of the artists that I work with and have conversations where we both feel comfortable, which in no way undermines management – Didiri stays at my house when he’s in Sydney for instance. Building those relationships and friendships is something I’m into.”
Didirri announced his November tour to coincide with the release of his video for ‘Jude’
It’s clear that Montgomery has an amicable perspective on a booker’s role in the industry. He feels the weight of responsibility that comes with the territory in a local live performance industry where the average ticket price is close to $84. Overall attendance may be growing, but is still down 2 million from 2007 (LPA survey, 2017). A booker’s role couldn’t be more integral to the lifespan of an artist.
“Because I look after up-and-coming bands for the most part, the majority of their income comes from live at this point,” he notes. “So there’s a lot of weight and pressure on to keep money ticking over. For them to trust me with that is a nice feeling,” he adds. “I’ve been there before and it’s really hard to be honest.”
Now on the other side of the proverbial velvet curtain, Montgomery speaks highly of the well-crafted machine that is 123 Agency. Using big data (right down to when and where tracks are streamed) and social monitoring, 123 Agency may not be using technology in an entirely new way, but it’s keeping up with the international star players in the way it does tap in to data. From booking tours to signing acts, data has changed the rules of engagement in the live industry.
Making sense of big data
“There’s a big focus on data at 123, taking the time to look at where tracks are being played on Spotify, getting information from management, getting the opt-ins for tickets… Because it’s really important.
“I think 123 is really leading the way in the digital space where they’re using data in a smart way,” he adds. “You can collect it all, but it’s about thinking about the best way to use it.”
But 123 operates under a hybridised business model. What may work for one act, isn’t necessarily going to work for another. Montgomery says Kiama band The Vanns may not be able to pack Enmore Theatres in Sydney yet, but they’re easily selling out shows in regional towns like Wagga Wagga.
The Vanns released their ‘Harder To Find’ clip in February
“That’s where data comes in really handy, because you can see the towns where the tickets will sell,” he says. “But then some acts like Goldclass, they’re much more city based so it doesn’t quite help as much.
“You still have to use your gut instinct. If the band is say, Powderfinger, you could go straight on analytics and book a tour of the hottest regional spots for them, but you don’t always get that chance.”
Mapping out a skyward trajectory
As an artist who has played stadiums, some of the biggest festival bills in the world, and even supported Green Day, Montgomery now has an intrinsic notion of what a band’s trajectory should look like. His mantra? “Always undersell until you know you can oversell.”
“If you can sell 300 tickets, play a 200-cap room, and if it sells quickly, only then do another one,” he advises. “But never got to a 400-cap room if you don’t think you can sell it out.
“Strangely, an artist selling 300 tickets in a 500-cap room is worse than them selling 250 tickets in a 250-cap room. I don’t know any band who would want to do it the other way,” he quips. “It’s a weird culture where sold out shows are what drive festival fees up – there’s demand, it’s a better pitch.”
Montgomery might bring a unique perspective to the table at 123 Agency, but when it comes to his vision for the company, he matches its’ ethos wholly.
“I would much prefer to have five great artists who are playing arenas or big theatres, as opposed to 30 who are doing 200 cap rooms,” he affirms. “It’s not necessarily about having the most bands, it’s about having the best bands. Bands who do more business, who write great records, and who are career artists.”