“Behind the Show” is an ongoing series where we spotlight the work of people who help make concerts happen! Let us know who we should interview next: [email protected]
This week, we talked with booking agent Alex Martin. They book shows with You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania Booking, play bass in Short Fictions, and act as project manager at Counter Intuitive Records. Their booking roster for 2021 includes: Origami Angel, Worst Party Ever, Short Fictions, Charmer, Nervous Dater, Taking Meds, Hospital Bracelet, Jail Socks, + More.
Backstage Pass: How did you get your start in music? How did that lead to where you are now?
Alex Martin: I played in some bands in High School and in college but I didn’t get super active in my music community until 2017 when I met Sam Treber (also of YGAFIP, Short Fictions). I always thought it was really cool how he did so much for the Pittsburgh music scene and his friends, and it made me really want to be a part of it.
BP: Do you think being in bands yourself has helped you with your booking endeavors?
AM: Participating in and touring with Short Fictions taught me a lot about booking tours. I would say that I didn’t book the first successful Short Fictions tour for like 2 years hahaha. After I was confident enough to do it for SF, I wanted to help friends. Origami Angel was the first band I booked a tour for, and that was in December of 2018, which feels like 4 years ago in terms of how much I’ve grown as an agent and how much they have grown as an artist. They were definitely the first band that gave me the reigns and we became really close really quick. They even let me come on that tour!
BP: What does the process usually look like when booking tours? Are there any rules you usually try to follow?
AM: A general tour I’m working on usually starts with finding a route that makes sense in terms of markets, drives, etc. I really try to avoid Monday shows everywhere and target bigger cities on the weekends! My favorite weekend cities are definitely Philly on the East Coast, Chicago in the Midwest, and LA on the West Coast.
BP: How is booking shows at established commercial venues different than booking shows at DIY spots? Is it easier? Harder?
AM: Booking shows in venues has always been easier for me, but that is definitely because I’m not necessarily trying to get bands into a 200 cap room if they don’t need to be there yet. It’s possible to build a fanbase and tour in a fashion that will help the band grow even if the show is in a basement or a warehouse and doesn’t have presale tickets, as long as it’s promoted well from all ends. To me and my team, sometimes making a little less money and playing in front of 40 kids who give a damn is better than making $150 per night playing first of four in a 500 cap room to people who don’t care at all.
BP: You’ve also booked a lot of shows in Pittsburgh. How does that process differ from booking a tour?
AM: I don’t really book too many shows in Pittsburgh anymore, honestly. One of the only reasons I started booking shows was to help out folks who I knew in turn would help my band tour, which was definitely the case in the beginning.
The whole “show-trade” dynamic of DIY touring is really cool and goes back to the emphasis on community building. Thankfully, quite a few new cats have picked up the booking slack in Pittsburgh DIY and Brett (Shumaker) from the Don’t Let The Scene Go Down On Me! Collective is never not booking shows at several spaces around the city.
BP: Besides everything you do for other bands, you’re also in two bands yourself. How do you manage your time and efforts between each of those projects?
AM: I definitely do a lot of work which can get exhausting and overwhelming, but I’m also pretty proactive on making sure I don’t overload myself. I try not to do work on the weekends, which is a new thing, and something that has really helped me. I have always made a point to stay away from things that would jeopardize any touring opportunities for my artists, and that includes overworking myself.
BP: Since a lot of the people you work with are also friends, is it sometimes difficult to separate business from friendship?
AM: It’s never been too hard to separate friendship from work. There are definitely artists on my roster who I’m far closer to than others, and I can definitely say the work seems more seamless for those bands that I’m closer to. Most of my artists and I are very like-minded in most ways, and being in constant communication has us always thinking about what we can do next and how can we do things in a more exciting and accessible way. At the end of the day, I feel like my goal is to make every tour feel like a huge event in itself.
BP: What’s the most challenging part of your work and what’s the most rewarding?
AM: The most challenging part from the beginning has been trying to figure out how the hell to do this on my own. I’m very lucky that I’ve had some really great folks take a lot of time to teach me a lot of things over the years and I’m still learning things about the industry everyday. There are also a lot of people that my team is going to piss off because we are going to do things a little different and are still going to succeed. Having accessible shows and a diversified tour is so much more important to us than maximizing profits.
BP: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming involved in the booking/promoting side of live music?
AM: If you are thinking about booking/promoting, you should try it! It takes a lot of time, effort, and organization but I think booking shows is super important because every band was once a local band. Every band had someone in their community help them strive. If you can do that for someone that’s awesome! If that’s not your thing, go to shows and support the artists that way. And if you don’t want to do that you can always buy their merch online or stream their music. There are so many ways to help folks!