Getting sucked into the wishful thinking of potential musical success is easy. MyAfton, a booking agency based in Portland, Oregon, thrives on this kind of naive optimism.
At first glance, MyAfton’s unsolicited booking emails might look exciting and, to the uninitiated, like a revolving door of endless opportunity. However, after walking away from a couple of MyAfton shows, one begins to realize that this is hardly the case.
Although MyAfton books about three to four shows per month in DFW, the company might be doing more damage than good to the local music scene. By forcing bands to sell presell tickets and not paying any mind to what genres are booked, MyAfton has earned itself a bad reputation among local musicians.
Portland natives Ryan Kintz and Dan Robertson started the booking agency, originally called BigTime Entertainment, in 2004 to help bands get into venues that were not willing to risk booking local acts.
“They’d rather be closed than risk having a bad show where they lose a thousand dollars. That’s when it kind of clicked for us,” Kintz says. “So we started off just renting out the venue with our own money, and we even invited some of our friends' bands to play.”
With their money on the line, Kintz and Robertson needed to make sure that people came out to the shows.
“That was kind of the start for me of realizing that the selling of the ticket is what ensures my friends come to the show,” Kintz says.
About a year later, the company branched out to Seattle; Phoenix; San Jose, California; and Sacramento, California; and it hasn’t stopped since. To Kintz, MyAfton provides a much-needed service to up-and-coming musicians all across the United States, but not all of his clients feel the same way.
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“I am damn near certain I would never work with them again,” says Mitchell Ferguson, a Dallas singer-songwriter.
Ferguson says MyAfton offered him a show at one of the best venues in St. Louis, where he used to live.
“In comparison, it’s a space kind of similar to The Kessler, so it was, like, a really cool opportunity,” Ferguson says. “This is when I first started booking shows, so I was kind of naive about the whole process.”
Although Ferguson never enjoyed booking shows based on ticket sales, he decided to take the opportunity.
“The weird thing about it was that your set time was dependent on how many tickets you sold,” Ferguson says.
For weeks, Ferguson was told that his band would be playing around 9 or 10 p.m. However, when they got to the venue, the artists were told to go on at 7 p.m., causing all of their fans to miss the set.
“They just totally fucked us on that,” Ferguson says.
Kintz acknowledges that some of his clients don’t like how his company works.
“We’ve worked with over 200,000 different bands, rappers or groups in the last 14 to 15 years, so definitely, you can’t make everyone happy dealing with that many people,” Kintz says.
A quick Google search reveals forums and articles dedicated to warning people about MyAfton and the way it conducts business. One article, published on timesunion.com in 2011, tells the story of Zach Perez, a 16-year-old rapper looking to break into the music scene in Albany, New York.
"I was expecting to get my name out there and build a base. I can't personally get myself shows or do something that would get me that level of attention,” Perez says in the article.
A little over a month after confirming a show at a venue called Red Square with MyAfton, Perez learned that he had been taken off the lineup. Robertson says the problem stemmed from a misunderstanding with the venue over clashing genres at the show, according to the article.
"We had thought it was a marketing decision — not wanting to be thought of as a hip-hop-centric room, since Red Square largely features rock acts," Robertson says.
Perez, however, was not the only rap artist on the lineup for that night. Three other rap groups were booked and got to stay on the bill because they had sold a significant number of tickets. Perez's experience with MyAfton highlights another common problem with the agency’s shows.
“They didn’t even care about the genre and what played after what,” says Darren Eubank, singer of D and Chi, a Dallas band.
Eubank says that one of the shows the band played consisted of a rapper, two Christian bands and a metal band.
“It was just off the rails,” Eubank says. “Such a genre clash.”
He says MyAfton’s booking policies are manipulative of artists who just want to play.
“They usually kind of target new artists who are just kind of sorting things out, and they’ll say, like, ‘Yeah, everyone’s doing this,’” Eubank says.
It is no surprise that the venues MyAfton works with are indifferent to the booking agency's practices. Since MyAfton rents the venues it works with, it is a low-risk scenario for the owners of the clubs.
David Card, owner of Poor David’s Pub, says he has worked with MyAfton for about two years and that the turnout for these shows is all over the map. Fans often leave after seeing the act they bought tickets for, he says.
“The live music business is just getting more competitive,” Card says.
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While MyAfton’s system of booking seems to work for venues, Russell Hobbs, owner of The Door and Prophet Bar, doesn’t think third-party booking agencies are necessary in Dallas. Hobbs says MyAfton’s showcases at his clubs generally include bands that think booking with the club directly is too hard.
“We have been doing all-ages touring acts and developing locals for 35 years, but now the internet has created an atmosphere in which bands look to agencies instead of going directly through the club,” Hobbs says.
Booking agencies like MyAfton decrease the amount of communication within the music scene and create the misunderstanding that bands are only booked because of their draw. But the service bands provide is the music they play at their shows.
MyAfton is not the only agency of its kind. Companies such as Coast 2 Coast Live and Third String Productions use similar tactics reminiscent of pay-to-play schemes that artists try to avoid.