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Tom Windish: ‘I miss the days when guys would threaten to run over my hand…’

Inteviewed at ESNS, which wrapped up on Saturday, Windish spoke on the agent's crucial role in talent development – and why he misses the good old days…

By Jon Chapple on 23 Jan 2019

Tom Windish

Tom Windish

image © Paradigm Talent Agency

Veteran agent Tom Windish has spoken of his nostalgia for the live music industry of old, dominated by “entrepreneurs”, “impresarios” and “lunatics obsessed by music”.

Windish – who sold his Windish Agency to Paradigm in 2015 – was one of the keynote speakers at last week’s Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) conference in the Netherlands, where he was interviewed by ILMC MD Greg Parmley.

Speaking to Parmley about his early days in the business, when he ran a company called Bug Booking (“because I was bugging people to book my bands”) following a short-lived internship at WMA (“I was told I wasn’t William Morris material”), Windish recalled: “I was doing a few shows at [New York club] the Knitting Factory in the Bug era, and the owner of the venue said to try and get Yo La Tengo.

“The band’s agent at the time, Bob Lawton, wasn’t returning my calls, so I phoned the lead singer directly. Bob came back five minutes later and told me, ‘Don’t ever call one of my acts again, or I’ll come over and run over your hand with a taxi so you can’t ever make a call again.’”

“I miss the days of the entrepreneurs, the impresarios – even the guy who threatened to run over my hand!” he continued. “I don’t think we’re going back to that, when it was just these lunatics obsessed by music… It’s becoming much more corporate.

“But there are lots of great things, too. The fact that more artists are selling tickets and making a living is fantastic; back in the day, some of these artists would never be discovered without the data we have now.”

Windish also spoke on the increased role booking agents have in talent development, compared to when he started out in the ’90s.

“I don’t think we’re going back to that, when it was just these lunatics obsessed by music”

“We [agents] often get involved years before a label is helping,” he explained. “JS Ondara is releasing his debut album [Tales of America] on Verve this month; I signed him two years ago. That’s a real issue these days: the lack of help for these great artists early on, and the amount of time they have to wait for it.

“These big companies are relying on data and [in the case of Ondara] there were no streams.

“When I started doing this, the record labels told me what to do, what cities to play, they put the bills together, et cetera. It’s the opposite now: agents are leading that development and labels are getting involved later.”

The 33rd edition of ESNS wrapped up on Saturday 19 January at the Oosterpoort in Groningen, Netherlands, having been attended by a total of 42,789 visitors, of which 4,135 were conference delegates.

Other speakers included Fruzsina Szép of Lollapalooza Berlin, Cindy Castillo from Mad Cool Festival, Mojo’s Kim Bloem and Key Music Management’s Richard Jones, as well as Pinkpop director Jan Smeets, whose keynote interview focused on the 50-year history of the legendary Dutch festival.

Outside of the conference programme, highlights included the European Festival Awards and A Greener Festival Awards, as well as a total of 342 shows in 52 venues across the city.

Eurosonic returns on 15–18 January 2020.


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