If you have had the chance to see Snails, Lookas, NGHTMRE, Bro Safari or Ookay at your local club or music festival, Ben Hogan, Senior Booking Agent at Circle Talent Agency, has played a major role in making it all happen. From Coachella to EDC, TomorrowWorld to Lollapalooza, he has worked extremely hard to place the acts we all want to see. Grinding hard since day one, Ben has worked in the music industry for about 10 years now. From promoting for an event company in Baltimore to dropping out of college so he could move to LA and follow his dreams, he has one wild and inspirational story to tell.
I had the pleasure of linking up with Ben in order to get more insight into his world. From what he thinks is the key to success, to where he sees the most innovation in the industry, Ben gets deep and shares a wealth of knowledge. His responses are truly priceless.
How did you start your career in the music business?
I really started out in the business as a street promoter for Steez Promo back in 2007-2008. My best friend (who ironically works at Steez now today) and I had started throwing makeshift raves in 2007 at a club in downtown Baltimore, and also had begun facilitating and executing senior proms in the Baltimore area. Basically, we were coming in as College freshmen and DJing Senior and Junior proms, bringing in lasers, moving lights, and playing heavier electronic music for the majority of the prom, which was obviously rather atypical and exciting to high school kids. We would charge a premium to private high schools to bring in a ton of production, then we would DJ the prom- which brought in a huge demo of kids we then marketed our raves too.
The same kids would then rally and come out to our all ages raves downtown and bring their friends from other schools, which we could then market further to- we were doing good business, bringing out 1000 kids and creating a rave-esque environment. We got screwed over pretty badly by the club on a rainy night and lost all our money we had worked up - then I went to work for Steve Gordon and Evan Weinstein at Steez Promo. I did everything from hustling tickets for a small commission per ticket to running lights at the shows, to working as a stagehand on load-ins and load-outs for the shows. I also would work the door at a venue called Bourbon Street in Baltimore, taking in all the money then doing a rudimental settlement on the shows. I pretty much worked in every facet of a typical dance music event during those years for an hourly wage, commission, whatever. At Starscape Festival in Baltimore, MD, I would work as a stage manager, putting all the acts on stage and running the general stage area, which entailed 24+ hour shifts with no downtime- pretty brutal. By 2010, Steve Gordon was also growing Circle as an agent for acts like Excision, Datsik, and Dieselboy, and he thought I would be good on that side of the business, so I started working full time for him during normal business hours whilst continuing to promote shows at Steez Promo for some time. We relocated Circle to LA in January of 2012, I dropped out of college and moved out with the company, and I haven’t looked back since!
What is the best part of the business?
Watching artists grow - standing in a crowd or on the side of a stage and watching them play the biggest set of their careers. Watching artists take the stage at Red Rocks, or EDC, or Coachella…it never, ever gets old. I still get a tingle all through my spine and get giddy when you watch all the artists' work and all your endeavors come to fruition. Likewise, I still get nervous / anxious before a big set or festival. By far the most redeeming part of the job is watching the actual music take place and being able to stand behind your work.
What are the biggest challenges?
On a personal level, this profession can have fairly grueling hours and responsibility. You have to be available 24/7 if an important call comes in, you have to travel a lot to shows, and you often spend holidays on the road (typically at festivals or shows), which can be taxing and can be challenging at times.
Professionally, I think the biggest challenges facing the industry right now are issues regarding billings, set times, and radius.
Billing pertains to where certain acts are placed on lineup flyers and posters. Agents and managers constantly battle and vie for the best position for their respective act(s) and depending on the show or promoter it can be a very tedious and annoying process to get your act into the “right spot” on the flyer. Everyone wants to deliver for their clients, and the promoter just wants to get the lineup out the way they want it, so it’s often a tug of war and not the most enjoyable process. Once your billing is locked in you also need to navigate your set time - trying to place your client in the perfect position on a multiple stage festival with 80 artists playing so that when they perform, their fans are front and center, without major conflicts or competition that can ultimately affect the outcome of the performance. It can be a little disheartening to see a festival schedule come out and look at hundreds of complaints about artists playing at the same time - sadly there’s no way to put on an epic show without some of these conflicts, and navigating them is rather difficult.
Radius pertains to limits placed on artists, typically on bigger shows or festivals, which set restrictions on which (if any) other shows an artist can play once they are booked on an event. For example, if my artist is playing a big festival in NYC in August, the radius agreement we make with the festival may forbid us from playing NY and surrounding markets for up to four or even five months prior to the event, and some time after as well. This means that ultimately, as an agent, your touring strategy can be significantly altered as you’re placed in a position where you have to make crucial choices. Does the artist do their own headline show for their fans in the market, and try to sell out a big show on their own? Or, does the artist play a big festival slot and try to gain fans and cash in on the touring they have already done? Is there a way for us to do both?
The abundance of festivals in the North American market has made it so that traditional touring is often at odds with massive radius clauses, and navigating these limitations with the promoters and the artists can be quite a process in itself! It’s a very tough decision to make between doing your own show and throwing all of your value into a festival slot and the challenge placed ultimately on the agent is to always be making the right decision for the artist’s career and for the artist themselves. Sometimes it all works out wonderfully, which takes great promoters to partner with as well as great planning.
What career advice would you recommend to someone just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way up. Too many people ask me how to become an agent or a manager or a big DJ - you don’t “become” those things and then start working as one of those professions. You work your ass off, crawl, fight, and scrape your way to that level and with the hard work, progression and success should come naturally.
Stay off social media early on, don’t use Facebook or any Social Media platform to communicate to people working in the industry. My mom regularly gets messages on her personal Facebook from aspiring DJs, Managers, etc. asking to send their music to me - true story. Save Social media for when you have big, awesome stuff to post about your success! For now, stick to email, no one wants to get blasted on social media by someone they don’t know about some business they aren’t yet in. Social media is not a professional medium of communication.
As the EDM industry continues to grow, what do you think the secrets to longevity in this business will be?
Artists who surround themselves with excellent, skilled, professional, and educated teams will flourish without expiration. I think releasing good music and putting on epic performances can keep any artist going for as long as they like - but having a solid team around you, staying loyal to the people who help you out, and staying true to your fans and your image is crucial when it comes to longevity. Musical evolution is, of course, natural, but I have seen a lot of acts dedicate themselves too much to being part of a “genre” only to have that genre fall out of favor. The acts will try to switch to a new genre and it doesn’t always work. Longevity is about creating a lasting brand and image and then living it vicariously and in as genuine a way as possible. Excision has been the same artist with an awesome, genuine, real brand for years and is selling more tickets than he ever has before - though blogs eviscerated and chastised the term “dubstep” for a few years, bass music is king at the moment and you see a lot of acts that have always been bass heavy just getting stronger and stronger as time goes on, because they stuck to their guns and ran cohesive, genuine brands for their real fans.
Where do you see the most opportunity in the EDM industry and why?
Regardless of what pundits may say about the supposed “EDM bubble” bursting, there is a continued and expanding opportunity to work in and around electronic music. There are new festivals popping up every season, new events, new promo companies, and new music - more artists enter the space every day and those artists need management and representation. This is a great sign - there is an opportunity for growth in the industry behind the music as it continues to show signs of growth.
Nightclubs, I think, come and go typically - which is why it’s so awesome to see clubs like Exchange, Create, Avalon all smashing it for all the time I’ve been in LA and showing no signs of slowing down. Dance music I think has become so filled with passion and energy that the clubs can live and breathe with their lineups, and survive longer - surely this is another opportunity as we see new venues being built and opened all over the country with a focus on dance music. Meanwhile, technology is allowing even relatively uneducated and unskilled young people approach, enter, and begin to interact with producing and performing dance music, which I think is extraordinary. Decades ago if you couldn’t sing, play guitar, or rock the piano, you were kind of out of luck. Now you can pirate software off the internet on a MacBook and within a few weeks begin producing your own music - to me this is the essence of electronic music.
There is no experience like stepping onto the fields of EDC Vegas and seeing the immense, sweeping production rivaled by none in the world. Watching the sun set and day turn to night at Coachella as the winds pick up and the trees light up with LEDs. Festivals are getting bigger and better and there’s a furious production race that ultimately benefits the artists, fans, and overall experience, which is another opportunity. The guys behind the scenes who are out in the desert setting these festivals up for months at a time have seen their industry and clout grow as well. This is a big industry with a lot of moving pieces, and what’s great about dance music is that the point is not necessarily to sell records. The goal is to release great music and tour strenuously, building-wide fan bases and putting on dynamic, changing shows, not entirely unlike Grateful Dead did. The industry is growing right now and there is an opportunity abound for young people to become a part of it.
What does electronic music mean to you?
I really think any music that uses a synthesizer, whether analog or digital, has electronic elements to it and feels like electronic music. Music that is created and processed digitally is certainly electronic. EDM is certainly one of the worst terms we’ve been given to describe the current explosion of music centralized around digital production of patterned music, but even certain Radiohead tracks are electronic music to me. M83 is electronic music to me. Almost all pop music today has electronic elements to it and could be called electronic music.
Technology has gifted us with new, innovative ways of making music and these new technologies have all driven us more electronic, from the first synthesizer all the way up to modern production software like Logic and Ableton.
Electronic music is music that speaks through a digital medium, whether wholly or partially. It’s not supposed to be something we take and jam into different sub genres, it’s certainly not meant to be corporatized and turned into “EDM” and it’s definitely not meant to be ostracized as “rave” or “techno” music. The issue is that there is a stark lack of education when it comes to music in our world. Most kids are forced to learn to play a symphonic instrument for a year or two in elementary and middle school and then they put it down and never pick it up again, leave music behind. I played in a jazz band all through high school, singing, playing trombone, joining all county and all state bands and experiencing that was a huge part of my formation into a lifelong music lover. I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the time I spent learning and playing music. We should be educating children about all aspects of music, digital, analog, business, etc. as it’s a major major industry and one that has room for expansion.
If you were not working in this business, what would you be doing?
I honestly can’t really imagine doing anything but music. I grew up playing Trombone and singing jazz music which I gave up for swimming in college. I used to be extremely competitive in swimming and I would likely have kept with that if not for music. I think no matter what I would have to say I would be in entertainment doing comedy or playing music somewhere and performing. If not I suppose I would be around water somehow. I’d like to just remain where I am for now and not think of a world without music as a job.