For today’s interview we asked a few questions to Jakob Flarer from the Austrian booking agency Saudades Tourneen whose motto is this:

Creative, experimental, improvised, avantgarde, progressive, contemporary music is THE MUSIC WE LOVE

In “normal” times, Saudades Tourneen organises more than 1,000 concerts per year and has worked with artists such as John Abercrombie, Geri Allen, Uri Caine, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Medeski Martin & Wood and The Bad Plus… to name really only a few.

Booking agencies, as well as performing artists, have been through difficult times during the covid period, however, Jakob also talks about the positive effects of this period:

  • For some of our artists the pandemic also was a kind of artistic turbo boost, there is so much incredible good new music to come! This really was what kept us going on the last year.

But he also shares with us some very thoughtful comments on artists’ career development, among others, too:

  • A good manager is the extended arm of the artist, beside consulting and protecting. Both artists and managers (and agents) should always be careful to keep some basic skills: know your product, know how to describe it, know your value, prepare and provide proper promotion, be reliable, keep professional politeness, be great, be unique.
  • A brilliant publicist is the catalyst to higher visibility and success.  But I think, in the end the most important is a great cooperation with a brilliant label, because a great label usually has contacts and distribution in the target markets and invests also in PR and publicists in relevant countries and languages. With a serious label an artist gets the advantage of both.

Lastly, if you read until the end, he makes a really valuable point about how most artists start working with an agent. It’s not just a ‘concept’ but also actionable knowledge.

Anyway, these are just a few tastes of what this interview can offer. 

Dive deeper to find out more!

You’ve been with Saudades for around 15 years now; how has the role of a booking agent changed in that time? 

The ecosystem of the music business is a very sensitive one and changes on a continuous basis. 

There are bombshell events like the financial crisis of 2009 or the current pandemic that fundamentally changed the market and the work of an agent. 

Actors, organizations, venues vanished and others appeared. 

But also creeping changes like the change of relation between hardcopy sales and live performances, the rise of the music streaming business, changing circumstances for traveling and the new green touring, new measures and needs when it comes to broadcasting/live streaming/VOD. 

Being a booking agent is an ongoing process that requires flexibility and constant learning.

What did/does not change is the role of the agent as a mediator, translator and buffer between the artist and the organiser.

I see on your roster a lot of internationally acclaimed musicians! On an organisational level, how do you manage to keep on top of so many tours? 

Saudades Tourneen is a sworn in team that fights for art with heart and soul. 

It’s believers and committed music-lovers who work with high professionalism through all departments like booking, production, logistics and administration.

In addition, we invest a lot in maintaining and developing, in the efficiency of our in-house database and booking software. 

This keeps us always on top of the case and provides everybody involved with an immediate overview, not only on the status of a tour (dates, fees, travels logistics, time schedules), but also on relevant information about artists, side musicians, promoters, venues, media etc.

This meshing gear system makes updated information constantly retrievable to everybody involved and gives the freedom to work independently and efficiently. 

Team meetings can be used for crucial issues then.

Your website mentions that “simultaneously we worked hard to encourage and support especially young and female artists.” What do you think of the Keychange pledge (50/50 gender balance) and/or are there other things you can highlight in this area in order to make progress?

Saudades is a strong supporter of equality. 

We proudly live this in the team with a nice balance of (actually a female majority of) sex, social as well as educational background and origin. 

This variety of knowledge and experience is part of the success.

Gender balance on the roster is a very important and always present target for us, but also not the only challenge to face when it comes to building an equally balanced roster. 

It’s also about color, origin, age, religion to name a few; and not to forget about musical style, instrument, Zeitgeist.

For an agency this is more a marathon then a sprint. 

While a festival, for instance, can commit to an artist for one show (and rather easily do a 50/50 balanced program in a short lead time), we follow long term (ideally lifetime) goals with the artists and the human beings behind the artist.

An additional aspect is that we don’t see ourselves entitled to intrude on decisions about side artists. Therefore it’s specially female bandleaders we look at and try to support. 

Our vision is a gender balance of artistic leaders and think that this will in the end be more sustainable than a prescribed quota regulation.

Creating, decision-making and maintaining a balanced roster is an ongoing challenge where you never have to lose the vision. 

We’d love to live in a world where gender balance would not have to be thematized.

I imagine you work both directly with artists and via managers. Are there any music business skills that DIY artists should take away from how managers work?

A good manager is the extended arm of the artist, beside consulting and protecting. 

Both artists and managers (and agents) should always be careful to keep some basic skills: 

  • Know your product
  • Know how to describe it
  • Know your value
  • Prepare and provide proper promotion
  • Be reliable
  • Keep professional politeness
  • Be great
  • Be unique

The million dollar question: how should a jazz musician approach an agent with a long-term view of working together?

We of course carefully listen to all records sent to the agency and give the first impression to artistically fit our program. 

In reality a cooperation from a standing start does rarely happen though – in reality most cooperations start out of a previous existing relationship.

We talk a lot about new interesting music with our artists and they share their thoughts about newcomers with us.

Normally (not in the last year) we do some kind of headhunting. 

As we sell live music, the live impression of an artist is the one that counts for us. 

We first keep an eye on musicians we find interesting, then try to get to know each other until we maybe decide to work together. 

It’s decision-making on many levels. 

It’s about art, of course, but also about personal connection and vibe.

And not to forget: It is always a bilateral thing: An agency must also fit the artists view and not vice versa only. 

A successful cooperation is always one where both sides meet at eye level.    

What, in your opinion, should every aspiring musician be doing in 2021 to raise their profile? 

Generally speaking: Always make music for the audience. 

The most astonishing music is not attractive if there is no communication between at least 2 parts: the musician and the audience. 

To speak like an agent: It’s the people that buy tickets and records. 

To make a living out of art and to earn substantial fees one needs to draw an audience. 

Business-wise this means that it‘s a lot about visibility and self marketing. 

In the special year of 2021 though I think it is important to not give your art away for free. 

The temptation to give album downloads or concert streams for free for the sake of keeping track with the fanbase is high. 

But in the long term it‘s not helpful. 

Art needs to be paid!

Has the 2020/21 pandemic brought any changes to your way of working that you think will continue post-COVID?

Mainly it’s event/concert concepts that changed, and some of those changes will stay after the pandemic. 

Live streaming of concerts will be more present. 

Connected questions about broadcasting rights, timeframes and ownership of the material included. 

Formats with 2 sets of changing (reduced) audiences will happen more regularly than before. 

Hybrid (Live and online) formats with all the new regulations will not disappear either.

Can you identify any (even small) positive outcome from the COVID pandemic for the music industry as a whole?

These challenging times teach humbleness to all of us, which is generally a good attitude in my opinion. 

For some of our artists the pandemic also was a kind of artistic turbo boost: there is so much incredible good new music to come!

This really was what kept us going on the last year.

Also, I had the experience that heavy travel restrictions opened doors to new conversations about more sustainable routing (so called ‘green touring’).

If, after the pandemic some of these thoughts stay, they could be good for the environment as well as for the artist.

Saudades has made a point of its work in the improvised/progressive sphere. Do artists in this area need to take a different approach to building a career than their more mainstream counterparts? 

I don‘t think there is a big difference, because, even if there are partly different audiences, venues, organizations and festivals there is still much more overlapping than difference.

Genre borders break up more and more anyway and this is nice because it opens doors for creativity.

Would you rather an artist on your label had a brilliant manager, record label or publicist (and why)?

Normally I would say, a brilliant publicist is the catalyst to higher visibility and success. 

But I think, in the end, the most important is a great cooperation with a brilliant label, because a great label usually has contacts and distribution in the target markets and invests also in PR and publicists in relevant countries and languages. 

With a serious label, an artist gets the advantage of both.

Having a management is something very personal to the artist and makes especially sense, when administrational and strategic work starts preventing the artist from doing their art.

Thank you very much, Jakob, for taking the time to share your valuable insight in this interview!

You’ll find Jacob’s bio below, as well as more info on his booking agency Saudades Tourneen which you can also follow here on Facebook.

And, if you’re looking for more gig-booking topics & interviews, you’ll find them all here.

Jakob Flarer is director of Saudades Tourneen GmbH, a 1983 founded booking agency, focussed on creative music such as Jazz, avantgarde, improvised music, contemporary art music, Radical Jewish Culture, m-base, progressive jazz, genre-crossing music. The agency is based in Austria and provides artists with all-round service, including booking, consulting, travel arrangements, pre production, tour financing.

Saudades Tourneen organizes more then 1000 concerts per year and works and/or worked with artists such as (alphabetical order, incomplete) John Abercrombie, Geri Allen, Ark Noir, Joey Baron, Django Bates, Tim Berne, Steven Bernstein, Samuel Blaser, Jim Black, Carla Bley, Paul Bley, Nels Cline, Joao Bosco, Lester Bowie, Jaimie Branch, Mike Brecker, Don Byron, Uri Caine, Betty Carter, Theo Ceccaldi, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Steve Coleman, Scott Colley, Ravi Coltrane, Sylvie Courvoisier, Jack DeJohnette, Kris Davis, Dave Douglas, Marty Ehrlich, Peter Evans, Bill Frisell, Fred Frith, Gilberto Gil, Egberto Gismonti, Philipp Gropper, Charlie Haden, Jim Hall, Mary Halvorson, Dave Holland, Wayne Horvitz, Elvin Jones, Carla Kihlsted, David Krakauer, Kronos Quartet, Julian Lage, Dave Liebman, John McLaughlin, Anja Lechner, Rob Mazuek, Medeski Martin&Wood, Myra Melford, Allison Miller, Marlui Miranda, Marisa Monte, Paul Motian, Oregon, Greg Osby, Hermeto Pascoal, Chris Potter, Bobby Previte, Dafnis Prieto, Kronos Quartet, Joshua Redman, Sofia Rei, Marc Ribot, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, John Scofield, Andy Sheppard, Colin Stetson, John Surman, Steve Swallow, Henri Texier, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, The Bad Plus, Henry Threadgill, Ralph Towner, McCoy Tyner, Caetano Veloso, John Zorn

Creative, experimental, improvised, avantgarde, progressive, contemporary music is THE MUSIC WE LOVE