Gary James' Interview With Entertainment Agent
He began his career in show biz in the New York office of the William Morris Agency in 1961 and quickly rose through the ranks. He booked The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Moody Blues, David Bowie, Franki Valli, Three Dog Night, The Beach Boys and the list goes on and on.
Q - Jay, correct me if I'm wrong but, you seem to be advertising your expertise for seasoned performers. You're not looking to advise someone who's just starting out are you? What you're offering is sophisticated advice?
A - When I first began my service nearly three years ago, I had no idea who would want to avail themselves of my contacts, knowledge, expertise and advice. Because no one else is doing what I'm doing on the internet, I attracted all sorts of people. Some were absolute newbies and wannabees and others had some talent and a few were actually quite talented. I make myself available to artists no matter what level or degree of professionalism they may have. Some artists had no idea how to get into a studio, while others had well produced CDs and DVDs. I view myself as any other professional when it comes to dealing with the general public. I am like a general practitioner as opposed to a specialty doctor. My contacts, relationships and friendships of over thirty-five years span all areas of the entertainment arena and consequently I can satisfy the needs of writers, singers, musicians and actors...practically anything that moves and breathes in show business.
Q - You say "My service is for truly talented artists, writers, producers, directors, musicians and actors who seek guidance and direction." What is your definition of a truly talent artist?
A - A truly talented artist is someone who is truly good at what they do. Everyone can sing, but not everyone is talented enough with or without my help to be taken seriously by professional producers, A&R people, publishers, agents and managers. Overwhelmingly, folks have a pretty realistic idea of where they fit in the scheme of things. I can play the piano, but I would never fool myself into believing that I'm good enough to make a career of it. I think most people are grounded enough to know whether they're wasting their time and money or not. Pursuing a legitimate career is not inexpensive.
Q - How are you able to offer consultation by e-mail or phone? Wouldn't you have to see the person you're advising in-person to make a judgment on their talent?
A - No. All I need to do is listen to their CD, watch their DVD, read their book or manuscript. Whatever their level or degree of talent might be, I can help them. I can get them to the next level and more often than not, open doors for them that they wouldn't ordinarily be able to get in. I worked with a client recently who had a Top Ten book published in Europe, wrote half a dozen scripts for TV series and couldn't get anyone in the U.S. to pay attention to him. Within a very short period of time, I got his works to the desk of one of the most important and powerful agents at William Morris and they agreed to represent one of his properties. Once again, I use a doctor or lawyer as a comparison. A good doctor or lawyer may not be able to cure the patient of what ails them. A good lawyer may not win every case. But, any good professional will give it his or her all and try their very best on behalf of their client, until they've exhausted every possibility on their clients behalf.
Q - What can you do for a client that William Morris or I.C.M. cannot? Those agencies are in constant contact as you well know with the studios, the TV networks and the record companies. Do those same companies consult with you?
A - I am not a practicing franchised agent licensed to procure jobs. This is by design. I did that for thirty-five years. What I do is offer my many decades worth of expertise, knowledge, advice and contacts to help artists achieve their goals. I do not sell my clients. However, I do submit their work to the appropriate people in hope of making a marriage. After that, they're on their own. I do review contracts and suggest changes, alterations and modifications. I've even showed clients how to get out of their contractual obligations that were going nowhere and that were tying them up. I've seen every trick and hoax, heard every lie. Often times it takes a pro to separate the BS from the reality. The everyday artist just doesn't know all the pit falls, trap doors and sudden surprises. I do. I lived it for three and a half decades.
Q - Why won't you work with Rap artists? You don't have a feeling for that type of artist? Also, why won't you offer your services to anyone under twenty-one? In the music business anyway, isn't the business geared to teenage acts?
A - Not having to answer to bosses, department heads and a host of in-house attorneys has left me free to determine who I do want to work for, not necessarily who I must work for. I don't work for Rap artists because, "A" - I don't care for that art form; "B" - a dozen kids on every block in every city from coast to coast is a Rap artist and "C" - young, inexperienced kids take up way too much time to work with. They are so inexperienced and lack the basic fundamental knowledge and understanding of the business that they are totally unrealistic and require an inordinate amount of time. I just don't hold hands and do baby sitting anymore. Also, and equally important because they are for the most part under age, the agent now has the pleasure to work not only with the artist, but their parents as well. Anyone in show business will tell you that they would prefer to deal with the devil himself rather than parents. Now, this is not to say that there aren't agents that work with children and young adults. There are, and there are a ton of them. Some are actually good. They are the specialists. How they do it, I'll never know. A word of caution; children and young adult agencies are not at the top of my list as having an untarnished, unblemished and sparkling reputation. Be careful! Above all, never pay the agent for anything except the commission for the job. There are some legitimate deductions, but I'll save that for another time.
Q - You started out in showbiz not as an agent, but as a singer? A musician? Why was that not to your liking?
A - I was a middle size fish in a small pond, Philadelphia, and when I moved to New York when I was nineteen, I was not only a tiny, little fish, but a rather untalented one as well, compared to the other fish in the same water. When I got on a New York stage and auditioned, I knew immediately that I was not destined for stardom. That's why I pursued a career behind the spotlights. I truly believe that there weren't that many people interested in becoming an agent and worst of all, making $52 a week in 1961 money. I bought a large pizza and a liter of Coke and ate half one night for dinner and the remainder the following night. I also had to walk six blocks in winter blizzards and take two different subway lines to get to this no money job. It was also good timing. The Morris office was just beginning to toy with the idea of getting into the music business, booking tours for a new wave of music - Rock 'n' Roll. Morris was always on the cutting edge. After all, they repped a new kid singer named Elvis and put him in the movies and on TV.
Q - You booked part of The Rolling Stones and The Animals first tour in the U.S. Did you hear about the explosion of music that was taking place in England?
A - Yes. The young agents that became the eyes and ears, the next generation of Morrisites, knew exactly what was going on across the pond. Morris blew it big time in not representing many big British bands over their firm commission policy. So, while agencies like Premier Talent and others became big Rock agencies, making a fortune booking these new bands for less than the usual 10%, we, William Morris, stood by our long established commission policy and stood in the wings watching all these acts go by. Eventually the Morris office came around and became more competitive, but it was basically too late.
Q - Since William Morris had an office in London in 1963, why didn't the Morris agency take the lead in booking an act like The Beatles?
A - The London office was primarily dedicated to negotiating film deals for the big, impressive roster of actors, actresses, directors, producers and writers we were representing. We did send a young age from Brooklyn over there and he discovered Graham Nash, The Hollies and several other big names of the time. It was too little, too late.
Q - Since you've worked for both William Morris and I.C.M. - what's the difference between the two agencies?
A - There are many differences between the way William Morris and I.C.M. operated. For one, William Morris was more of a big, extended family organization. The young agents were the sons and daughters so to speak of the older staff, the moms and dads. To the members of the Board of Directors, it was a family and everybody knew to get along. They had profit sharing, a great pension and even privately held stock that they sparingly gave out to their best performing agents. Loans to buy houses and cars were not out of the question. Let's not forget the deep pocket expense accounts we had. I don't think I ever paid for a meal out of my own pocket for thirty years. (laughs) I.C.M. is much more corporate, much less of a family atmosphere; more like what you'd expect at I.B.M. or General Motors. Unlike the music agents at William Morris, I.C.M. music agents had to wear suits and ties. It was substantially less synergistic than William Morris's operation. Information wasn't disseminated like at William Morris. It seemed to me that at I.C.M., every agent's office was a little agency, whereas at William Morris, there was more of an open house type of operation. Also, William Morris is Fort Knox compared to I.C.M. which struggles to this day to stay afloat.
Q - Why didn't you want to be an agent anymore?
A - I had had enough. I worked in one of the most high pressured jobs for a very long time and it was time for me to move on and have time to smell the flowers and watch the grass grow. I do not miss it. It was a wonderfully exciting time in my life and I got to go places first class on an unlimited expense account anywhere in the world. A very exciting time. Now, the most important thing to me is my twelve year old female Golden Retriever; the love of my life, Kona. I've had her since she was six weeks old. Remember one thing: Talent will always win out. So, if you're talented, Go For It!