Gary James' Interview With
The Founder of New Frontier Touring
Paul Lohr is the booking agent for some of the biggest names in the music business. We're talking about John Oates (Hall And Oates), Suzy Bogguss, John McCuen. With offices in Nashville and Boston, we spoke with Paul Lohr about his background, the history of his company and the future of 'live' music.
Q - Paul, you've got some big acts as part of your roster. What are you offering that William Morris, I.C.M. and C.A.A. can't offer?
A - Attention. Personal Attention.
Q - I've heard that if you're not an established artist, you can get lost in the shuffle at William Morris.
A - Well, it's not necessarily just about William Morris, or anyone in particular. It's just a simple function of how many waking hours in the day a person has. If an agent has a hundred acts, there's going to be seventy they don't talk about in a day. Or maybe you're talking to a buyer, it may be even less than that. It may be that one artist takes up a lot of time or you devote a lot of time to that artist just 'cause it's your favorite. So that's the age old conundrum.
Q - I know that only too well. Twenty years ago I was interviewing an agent from Morris who flat out said it's the money makers who get the most attention.
A - In my business, you have the 80/20 rule where you give 80% of your time to the 20% who make the most money.
Q - I'm guessing then it would be easier to sell John Waite or Chris Hillman than it would be to sell The Roys. What then do you say to promoters to get them interested in a new act?
A - For new artists it's an education process. In fact, I've kind of over the years kind of noticed that it's really a three year proposition working with an artist to even break even. The first year you're losing money. The second year maybe you break even. The third year you're making a little bit of profit, which offsets the money you lost the first year. It's not 'til the fourth year that you're really in the black with the act. Let's just say The Roys: they have a new Bluegrass album coming out. Let's say you're talking to someone about The Grascals. We'd say either two things - either they're booked, so they're not available. How about The Roys? Or you'd say they're (The Grascals) $10,000. Oh my God. I only had $2,500 in the budget. Oh, well then how about The Roys? Oh, well who are they? You get 'em and say here's what they sound like. Here's the music. Festivals, often times people are coming just for the event. They're not always artist specific. It's tough to sell a brand new baby act for a hard ticket scenario.
Q - It would be wonderful if the new acts were able to get four albums out in four years. But the way record companies are today, if the first doesn't sell, the act would be dropped. Now, were you an agent with a bigger agency before you started New Frontier?
A - Yeah. For about twenty years I was with a Country agency here in Nashville. I was booking the biggest names in Country music, Garth Brooks, The Dixie Chicks, Willie and Waylon, George Jones. When I left there I went to work for The Agency Group to open the Nashville office, 'cause The Agency Group has offices around the globe, but they did not have a Nashville presence. I gave that a shot for a couple of years and weren't able to get the traction we hoped we could for whatever reason. So I said alright, I'll do this myself and started building the agency that we thought was gonna be... The basic thing is, you put the music first. I kind of approach it from an A&R standpoint. So, I really have to use my ears. Then you use your eyes. You gotta see how the audience reacts. It's nice to think that everything is technically proficient and perfect, it's not necessarily what the average fan wants. So you have to be keenly receptive to what the public likes.
Q - Were you a musician at any time in your past?
A - Oh, I was a garage guitar player.
Q - How long has New Frontier been around?
A - About five years.
Q - Was it expensive to launch this agency?
A - Well, you know that's a relative term. I was able to... if I had to start from the ground up with no established acts... sure that's tough. But I was fortunate enough that the artists I had at the Agency Group, I was able to hold on to for New Frontier. So, we came out of the gate with ten artists who were income producing artists, so we got off on the right foot.
Q - Do you have satellite offices?
A - Just this Fall we opened an office in Boston. That office is where our performing arts division is based out of.
Q - What is the performing arts division all about?
A - The performing arts will present a broad spectrum of styles of music and entertainment, not necessarily just music. So, our roster is not genre specific. We have Rock acts. We have Country acts. We have Bluegrass. We have Americana. We have Classical. We have Jazz. We have Children's Programming. We have Western Swing. The performing centers around the country typically book on a season or a series basis. In fact, right now, here we are in the Fall of 2010, they are scheduling and booking their 2011 - 2012 season, which basically would go from Labor Day 2011 through Memorial Day 2012. Then they take the Summer off. In that season, let's say they do one show a month. And you've seen this. You get a brochure and it has the Chinese acrobats in January, a Country act is coming in February, a Classic Rock act is coming in March, River Dance is coming in April and in May we may have The Blue Man Group, that kind of thing. That's what they try to do. They try to book a wide variety because a lot of them are funded by the city or the state. They get grants. They're there for the citizens of that particular city. They may have a Hispanic night. They may book a band from Slovenia because they have a Slovenian population there, so they've got to do that every year. Performing Arts is very diverse. Lots of culture. And not just music. It's dance. It's theatre. Our Boston office is our Performing Arts Division. The fella that heads that up, that's all he does. He books our whole roster. He's talking to just the performing arts centers. He doesn't talk to the promoters. He doesn't talk to the clubs. He doesn't talk to the county fairs. Not everyone on our roster is necessarily performing arts friendly.
Q - Is it necessary to have a recording contract to be booked by New Frontier?
A - It is not, especially in this day and age, it's a whole new game. Many people are releasing music themselves, even established artists. One of the big things record labels bring to the table is money. They act as a bank. They underwrite it. Then they hope to sell enough to recoup that plus a profit. Then money goes to the artist. So, if an artist gets to the point where they don't need the up-front money to record a record, they can go ahead and do it and get it manufactured yourself. What they need then is distribution and promotion.
Q - Two big things by the way.
A - Those take money too. Everything takes money, but the barriers that used to be there to get to the people are no longer as tough as they used to be 'cause you got the internet. And everybody can have a video up there. Everybody can record something and put it up. So, the filters aren't there anymore.
Q - And getting people to watch your video or buy your CD is still the obstacle.
A - Right. That's why the promotion and online marketing comes in.
Q - As you look forward, what is the future for 'live' entertainment?
A - 'Live' entertainment is going to be the last man standing. At the end of the world there's going to be Keith Richards and cockroaches. People are pack animals. We like to hang out with other people. Even if you can see it on your computer or TV. You still want to go to the 'live' show because it's that dynamic and that much of a difference that you can't replace it. The fact that you get to socialize and do it with tens or hundreds of your friends is irreplaceable.