Last weekend, I was chatting with one of my friends, Steve, about an article I wrote on ways we can improve the local music scene. This led to an incredible discussion on the decline of show attendance and it’s correlation with Facebook. I sat down with Steve, a booking agent for The Trep Agency, to get a little bit deeper with this conversation and hear more of his thoughts.
AMN: Before we get started, tell me more about yourself. I’ve known you for a few years now but we’ve never sat down and shared life stories or anything. Give me some background on your roots.
Steve Maracle: Well I was born in Toronto but moved to San Antonio when I was about 4 where I’ve spent most of my life. I’ve gone to school at University of Texas, San Antonio as well as York University in Toronto but still haven’t finished my education unfortunately. I started booking shows in San Antonio when I was 18 fresh out of high school and no matter what ups and downs the music industry has thrown me I haven’t been able to get away from it like I see a lot of people eventually do. It’s tough to quit when you love something so much and always keep your end goal in mind. I currently work as a booking agent for The Trep Agency.
AMN: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
SM: All kinds of rock. When I was young I used to listen to all the usuals like The Offspring, Green Day, Metallica, Nirvana. Which then transferred to Limp Bizkit, Korn & Kid Rock lol. As a teenager I listened to a lot of Punk like NOFX, Millencolin, Rancid, Pennywise and a lot of Pop Punk like Blink, Sum 41, New Found Glory, Linkin Park as well as bands like Taking Back Sunday(still one of my favorites), My Chemical Romance, Good Charlotte, Brand New, All Time Low. Later on I had my guilty pleasures like Forever The Sickest Kids, Mayday Parade, BoysLikeGirls, and Metro Station. I also liked a lot of Rap as a teenager(and still do) – used to listen to a lot of Eminem and Dr Dre, along with stuff like Young Jeezy and some of my Texas favorites like Chamillionaire & Paul Wall.
AMN: What got you involved in the music industry to begin with?
SM: My best friend Andrew had a band called Glory Automatic. Great band, but they had no idea how to talk to people, which has always been one of my stronger suits, so I did the talking for them. I met a promoter who was booking them named Chris, and he eventually asked me to book a show with a couple smaller national bands that was 3 days out. I did that successfully so he hired me on to do pre-production & to work the door on all the shows he was doing and gave me another show with ample time to book. I still remember that show like it was yesterday. A Day To Remember, A Heartwell Ending, and On The Last Day on a Monday in October 2006. We did about 90 people, and I think ADTR drew about 5 of them. These days those guys are killing it.
AMN: So you’ve been promoting and booking shows for almost 10 years now. You’ve worked in multiple cities across the nation booking hundreds of tours and artists. What was it like booking shows in 2006?
SM: Booking shows in 2006 was an amazing experience, I did most of my work out of a 3 room venue called The Sanctuary then which was a really cool place. I was lucky enough to have a mentor and someone who had been in the scene 20 years to give me advice so I didn’t fail right away and lose money like I see some promoters do. He also got me involved in shows at every level so I learned every aspect of the live music business from working the door and security to sound and even being a loader/runner on bigger shows. Because of him I had the pleasure of being able to partner on shows right out of the gate with bands that are huge now like A Day To Remember, Greeley Estates, Alesana, BoysLikeGirls, and Mayday Parade. More kids still went to Punk shows instead of just Pop/Punk, Hardcore, and Pop shows.
AMN: What are some of the major differences from when you first started out to now?
SM: That’s tough to say because I’m still not sure if I was a naïve 18 year old in 2006 or if things have really changed as much as I think. I guess maybe it’s a bit of both. When I first started I thought any show that didn’t do 50+ people was a total fail on my part, these days that seems a lot more tough to do. It was a lot easier to pay touring bands knowing you could get a crowd out there just from the locals and promotion on MySpace every show. Back then a show that bombed would be considered somewhat of a success today. A lot of venues have also closed their doors, and at one point it was a lot easier to get kids to come out to certain venues based on it being just a cool place to hang out, whereas when we had to start changing venues because my home venue closed down, show attendance dipped drastically.
AMN: What role does social media play booking?
SM: Well in a sense it gives them an idea of how big or small the band is. As an agent, when I’m sending over a band the promoter might not know, or even sometimes do, I include the links to their Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube so the promoter can see the bands number and get an idea of whether or not they may have a following in their area. If they’re sent 2 separate emails with bands they’ve never worked with, one who has 50,000 ‘Likes’ on Facebook and one who has 5,000 ‘Likes,’ chances are they’ll want to book the one with 50k. It also makes it easier sometimes to get a band guaranteed money over a door split percentage if you can prove the band has a decent social media following they can promote to, instead of the venue/promoter using their following to do all the legwork.
On the other side of things, as a promoter it’s how you get the word out. You spread your flyer through your social media pages as well as the bands. You create a Facebook event so people can keep track of when the event is, and you can post in there with updates and remind them. Facebook also reminds them they have an event that day they were interested in. These days due to the rise of social media and people constantly scrolling through their friends posts, pages they likes posts, celebrities posts, and ads; people have such a short attention span that you have to constantly be on there reminding people. Back in 2006 it was awesome to spend 3 months promoting a smaller show and hyping it up like crazy all the way til the day of. These days if you create a Facebook event for a smaller act or local show 3 months ahead of time, people often quickly forget about it and the show bombs. I find a lot of the time for smaller bands these days that last minute shows do fantastic compared to what they would have done if they were planned for 3 months for this exact reason.
AMN: Let’s talk about Facebook. MySpace was such a different kind of social network. There were so many great features like you mentioned. It was a great way for bands to get noticed and building a following. Top 8 and Embedded music players definitely played a roll in that. What changes have you had to make as a promoter in order to keep up with Facebook after MySpace died out?
SM: Well to be honest the fact MySpace died out is why I’m not as active as a promoter anymore and focus more on tour booking and artist management. At one point we all posted our shows and bulletins on the promotional page with over 55,000 friends on MySpace. When everyone converted to Facebook a lot of those people to promote to were lost and I saw shows that should’ve done 200 tickets do 100. I know some of that had to do with the fact that kids grow up and their musical interest changes, but the other generations were lost with it. Also we had to adapt and learn a whole new social network and how to promote on there. You could create a page, but your posts wouldn’t be seen as much. You could also create a personal page as a promoter, but Facebook caps you out at 5,000 friends, unlike MySpace where it was unlimited. So the age of having 55,000 friends to reach was lost.
AMN: Do you think the fall of MySpace has any correlation to attendance of shows?
SM: Yeah, shows aren’t as popular or cool to go to like they were back in the day. It’s harder for promoters to reach people when Facebook is constantly limiting views. Recently Facebook capped out event invites to 50 people instead of 500, so it’s virtually impossible to even get the word out to a few hundred people that would be interested in the show unless you’re using multiple personal profiles with friends of people that would be interested in the show or don’t mind dropping $50-100 to pay for ads to promote your show. It’s a lot tougher to fill a room with 100 people now than it was 10 years ago. I don’t think social networks are fully to blame with this, as society has changed with the social networks. But in retrospect, social networks have changed the way bands promote(or don’t), and has changed what society wants to see.
AMN: Have you noticed any changes in fan bases and artist pages when the popularity shifted to Facebook?
SM: Most definitely. Honestly I thought the post-hardcore scene would die with MySpace but those guys weren’t going down without a fight, which I thought was cool. Some of the obvious ones that come to mind are the well known “MySpace Bands” who aren’t doing the kind of ticket/album sales they once were like Brokencyde and Millionaires. There’s also a lot of artists who disappeared completely with MySpace. As far as fan bases go, I saw a lot of kids stop listening to the music they did and move towards EDM or hip hop, but I’m not sure if that can be fully accredited to the popularity shift in Facebook.
AMN: What are your thoughts on ads or sponsored posts through Facebook?
SM: Personally, I think it’s a crock of shit(pardon my language). If you have 10,000 likes I feel like that means there’s 10,000 people who want to see your post. I understand that Facebook is a business like everything else, but the fact that the views are constantly going down and being limited is crazy to try to keep up with. A lot of promoters get mad at my artists because they only check their Facebook and they’re like, “your artist isn’t promoting.” But the true fact is, why spend a bunch of time posting over and over on Facebook if only 100 out of 300,000 people see your posts? That’s well under 1%. What they don’t realize is a lot of these guys post up their Tour Flyer once and post nothing else until the tour so it just sits there and anyone that visits their page will see it, while they get on Twitter and Instagram and push it over and over and get engagement and get to talk to their fans about what’s coming up. The Trep Agency’s Facebook page has about 1,750 Likes and the post we made 8 hours ago has still only been seen by 19 people. In fact, most of our views come from the fact people are constantly visiting our page to see what we’re up to, not seeing their posts in their newsfeed. Even if I drop $20 on an ad for one of my artists on their Facebook, it’s still not reaching everyone who likes their page. Unless your album recently went platinum, no one can afford to boost every post they make so their entire audience sees it. Promoters have to try to drop ads on show announcements and events and have no clue if it’s even reaching anyone who cares. Artists are dropping ads to try to grow their fanbase just to find out they just gained 100,000 fans and 80% of them were fake profiles or people from Indonesia. At this point, I think Facebook ads are a waste of money. If anything, Instagram may still be worth it but who knows how long that will last being Facebook owns them as well.
AMN: Do you think social media helps or hurts the industry?
SM: Both. Back when I first started Myspace was the thing. There’s a lot of bands still listened to today that would’ve never rose so fast or gotten any attention if it hadn’t been for social media. It was really cool when you could go to your friends profile and a song just started playing and you were like, “who are these guys?” So you go hit up their MySpace page and check them out. Or often times you’d see a band on another band’s profiles “Top 8” and go give them a peek and listen to their music and fall in love. Promoters and concert venues could also add songs from bands that were coming through soon so you could give them a listen before they came to town. I still think social media helps get the word out to people that would’ve never listened to a band. At the same time it’s taken away from old school types of promotion like magazines, MTV(which you never see music videos on except at 4 AM), and people handing out posters, flyers, or free demos. Nowadays people think the only way to get the word out is through social media or paying for ads. It’s taken away from the work ethic of bands because they think promoting a show means sharing a couple posts of the flyer and event page on social media instead of getting out to similar shows and handing out flyers or going downtown and handing out flyers. Talking to people about your band and show in person can have a much bigger impact than blindly messaging people on social media with a copy and paste message that they’ll probably read and forget about in a couple seconds.
AMN: Alright enough with the heavy stuff. I wanna hear some cool stuff now. Who’s the biggest band you’ve booked to date?
SM: As a promoter probably Mayday Parade or Shwayze. As an agent probably The Ready Set or more recently SayWeCanFly in August 2014.
AMN: What’s the biggest/craziest show you’ve ever worked or been a part of?
Such a loaded question. I’ve worked stage/sound set up for The Eagles, as well as ACL. One of the craziest shows I ever did was the day before New Years in 2008 with a couple smaller touring bands that aren’t really around anymore and about 10 locals at a local venue, The White Rabbit. The show did like 700+ kids, 2 of the local bands that played back to back had beef since one of the members had previously been in the other band and wrote all their songs so they played the other bands song and said “this song’s called write your own f**king songs.” The night finished off with the Tour Manager and I almost getting in a fist fight in the “office” at the Rabbit(which was about a 5’x5’ space) because he was mad the show was behind and they couldn’t pick up one of band’s girlfriends at the airport.
AMN: That’s nuts. Thanks so much Steve!