This is the third in a part series (the first featured guitarist Brooks Betts, the second manager Josh Terry) where I provide an inside look at various aspects of the business of Mayday Parade, a rock band that over its 13-year career has sold more than 1 million albums, produced 60 videos that each have been viewed over 1 million times on YouTube, and are a hugely successful live act just coming off a sold-out U.S. tour.
And their new album, Sunnyland, was just released. (It's great.)
The band got their start selling homemade CDs in a Warped Tour parking lot over a decade ago -- and this summer they're headlining the final edition of the tour.
This time I talked with the band's agent, Mike Marquis of Paradigm Talent Agency, to learn more about how artists put together successful and profitable tours.
Start by explaining what an agent does.
The majority of what we do for a band like Mayday Parade is handle the live representation of the band. We also represent the band for branded opportunities, private performances, a lot of things outside of touring... but the nuts and bolts is live performances.
If someone wants to book a band to perform, they go to the band's agent. They discuss what they're looking to do, what kind of budget, etc. Then we work with the management and artist to make it happen.
More importantly than that, though, we develop strategies for where they'll play, for marketing, for when tickets go on sale... and obviously we cut the deals and manage the contracts. And just as importantly, develop strategies for building a long-term career for the artist.
Extend that to a band like Mayday Parade. How do you approach putting together a tour for them?
I've worked with with Mayday for a number of years. We start with the fans: Where they live, which cities, the right venues...
And with Mayday we stick with a few consistent themes: Set a relatively affordable ticket price, make sure anyone regardless of age will be welcome, make sure the venues are appropriate and have great sound and great production capabilities... and make sure the venue is conducive to the audience and feels like a safe space.
We don't want any fan to feel out of place or worse, judged in some way.
I grew up going to shows. Now I see a lot of kids who, like I was, are 16 to 18 years old that are trying to find their place in the world -- and that's not always easy. When they go to a show, it should feel like family. When they come to see a band like Mayday, that's everything to them.
In a lot of ways, being a part of an audience is part validation, part community...
Then we think about how to turn a fan that comes to one show into a fan that wants to come out to all of your shows.
Mayday does a great job of honoring their fans. They consistently make great music. They consistently put on great shows. They consistently interact with their fans. They're loyal to them; they don't leave anyone behind. Everything they do, everything we do... the goal is to satisfy the people who are supportive of the band.
The band has never made a conscious decision to be more mainstream or try to be more "popular." It's almost the opposite: They stay true to what people liked about them in the first place, and trust the audience will find them.
Say I'm an artist and you're developing a tour strategy for me. Where do you start?
Start with historical data: Which shows were great, which cities were great, which shows sold out fast, which means you could go to a larger venue... or where you should go smaller to make sure the venue is full and the show is great.
Understanding the past is great, but it can also make you lazy. It's easy to do things the way you've always done them.
One good thing about Mayday's entire team is that they stay focused on all the decisions along the way. They never get comfortable.
Having years of experience booking a band does help, but you have to make sure you're always thinking about what's next -- not what you did last time.
I would imagine that balancing out short-term results with long-term viability is tough.
That really depends on the artist. To be frank, some are short term-focused: Their goal is to capture the momentum while it's there and make as much money as possible. If someone wants to pay twice what someone else will pay, take the money.
But what happens when you play places that are too large just to get paid as much as possible, and then the momentum dies down... then the artist has to have another hit.
That's not the business model for Mayday. We're always looking for long-term strategies, to make the shows great, and not take any bait. There have been times when we sold out entire tours and could have sized-up the venues and pushed the gas pedal... but then the fans wouldn't get the best experience, which isn't best for the band in the long run.
The same thing is true with ticket prices. If you lose touch with your audience in terms of pricing, if you try to push those things... that usually derails longer-term strategy.
How do you decide when a branded opportunity makes sense?
There are so many different types of deals in our space because the landscape is different. The artist carries influence in ways that aren't just based on music. Artists talk to their fans all day every day on social media, and it's become an arms race for brands to see who can engage the most with those audiences.
Across every type of music, and every type of business, brands are trying to figure out ways to connect artists with customers and create something special. Our job is to help our artists navigate those opportunities and balance the potential revenue with staying authentic and staying true to themselves and to their fans.
Making money in art is always changing. For example, it's harder to make money selling albums... but there are a lot of opportunities that exist now that didn't exist 10 years ago.
Overall, have the changes in the music business been for the better or worse?
Neither better nor worse. Just different. For example, streaming and the Internet have made live business better. People can consume more music for less -- or no -- money... bit that has paved the way for artists to gain exposure, build a fan base, and have a touring business without ever having a record deal.
Again, it's just different -- which means being forward thinking and constantly exploring all the different avenues that allow an artist to make a living.
What's the best thing about your job?
Seeing a band perform that has been doing this for 13 or 14 years, seeing them in front of their fans, seeing them changing kid's lives by not just entertaining those kids... but giving them a place to connect.
Like I said earlier, when you grew up like I did and went to shows, that meant the world to you. It gave you a community. It's really fulfilling to see that from the other side. That's special.
But to do that you have to be highly accountable. I'm the live performance outlet for Mayday Parade. I represent them to the world. The weight of that is something I take very seriously.
To do it right... it's an all-consuming job.
Being an artist is a funny thing. You have to be selfish in terms of creating music that you love and is authentic to you... but then you have to serve the audience. What was just for you now has to be for them.
Absolutely. When you put out a new album those songs are special to you, but there are people that spent time and money to come to your show and they want to hear that one song from 10 years ago that made them fall in love with your band. It can be disheartening when fans just want to hear your older hits -- but you want to showcase new material that you're incredibly proud of.
You have to balance those things. You have to reward fan loyalty and give them the show they want... while at the same time supporting your artistic side and showcasing your current creativity.
That can be a real challenge, but it's one a lot of artists have figured out. Take Pearl Jam: They play a different set every night. When you come to a show, you don't know what you're going to hear. You might hear the three hits you loved from your childhood. Or you might not. Either way, the audience understands that, so it works for Pearl Jam.
Finding that balance is what makes certain bands special.
Currently hip hop and pop make up 70 percent of all steams, and the other 30 percent are all other genres combined.
When you make music that is not "of the moment," you have to figure out how to weather the storm. Things always come back around. Different genres eventually come back into fashion.
The key is to make decisions that allow you to weather the storm and be there when the wind shifts back your way.
On the performance side, you have to stay focused on your audience. Lots of artists are putting less thought and effort into their performances and their setups. Things have become a little "cheaper." You see a lot of shows where it's one person onstage with a microphone and another person playing a track behind them... and that's it.
Granted, some artists are phenomenal that way. They're stars, and it's a great show. But that's not always the case.
If I came to see you mostly because you're of the moment... once I see you, I've scratched that itch. I'm not going to come back again unless the show was awesome.
Artists that put energy and passion into their performance... into every performance... those are the artists that have a real shot at enjoying lasting careers.