A handful of third-party booking and promotion agencies in the Dallas area raise red flags for local musicians, but just as many concert and event promoters put music before money and base their businesses on trust and community in the local music scene.
Spencer Wharton of Wharbaby Entertainment, a Dallas-Fort Worth freelance booking agency, says he has lost more money than he has made putting on shows, often only making enough money for gas and Whataburger. Wharton says he wishes he could make more money booking shows, but he would rather lose money than force bands to sell presell tickets to ensure he makes a profit.
“I’m in a band, dude,” Wharton says. “The only time I’m OK with presell tickets is if the band gets to keep all the money.”
Wharton says the idea of presell tickets is good, but he does not believe bands should be punished for not selling them. Wharton says if a promoter cannot pay for an artist, it should not be booking that person.
“I’m man enough to admit I’ve never booked like a super huge artist because I’ve never been able to afford one,” he says. “But even if I did, like, I would be making my money from the door or a combination of the door and bar sales, or whatever else because I’m not taking a dime away from bands.”
Wharton says he understands how an agency can turn into a money-mongering business because, to him, booking and promoting are thankless jobs, and few people see instant success.
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“I always like to think that five years for a band is when you start to see growth and the real success,” Wharton says, “which is why a lot of bands don’t last that long. I notice that a lot of promoters don’t last that long.”
While Wharton sometimes thinks it would be a miracle if he lasts five years, one promoter has been in the scene since ’93 — the early days of the Galaxy Club in Deep Ellum. Mike Rios, talent buyer for IRock Entertainment, started off as the doorman at the Galaxy Club.
Eventually, by going to shows at other venues, he began handing over bands’ contact information to Kent Wyatt, owner of the now-closed club. He says that is how he landed a position as the assistant talent buyer for the club. Not long after, in the late '90s, Rios left the Galaxy to start booking shows under his name.
“I was at the Red Blood Club, the Rock, Indigo, Tom Cats,” Rios says. “If there was a venue back then, more than likely, I did a show there at least maybe once.”
Rios says he does not try to make money off his shows.
“Basically, what I do is I tell the band, ‘We’re not doing presells.' We take a tally at the door of who came to see who,” he says. “A band that would bring, let’s say, 25 people, gets roughly $190. I don’t try to make money. I make basically about a buck a head that walks in.”
While Rios feels the bands are responsible for promoting their shows in the local scene, he says more venues in Deep Ellum used to have in-house promoters to help pack the clubs. After the scene began to disappear in the early 2000s, club owners began to rent out their venues for shows, ensuring the clubs' expenses were paid for.
“While that’s a good thing, it’s also a bad thing because now the clubs don’t do a lot of promotion,” he says. “That’s why you don’t really see huge crowds at some of these local shows and stuff anymore is because the clubs have really stepped back on their promotion.”
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Charlsie Grace, founder of BandSource, a Dallas booking agency, says bands can benefit when venues use outside promoters.
“There is a huge advantage in offering several venues to booking agents when trying to land a show because it gives the agent options,” Grace says.
To Grace, real promoters often have more success than venues booking in house in the Dallas community. She says AEG, Margin Walker and Spune are good examples of larger talent buyers in the scene.
She says if an agent is booking in house at a venue and a band is too big or too small, it will have to turn to another venue. Outside promoters can work with artists as they grow from small unknowns to selling out stadiums, Grace says.