Matthias Wendl is a Berlin-based booking agent working in the G-A-S (German-Austria-Switzerland) territory for a whole range of jazz artists – from big name Americans like Branford Marsalis, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Snarky Puppy to some of the top Europeans: Eivind Aarset, Nils Petter Molvær, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & more.
Being a booking agent can be a little like being a bass player – it’s not often you meet another one in your every day work. However, I guess I met Matthias once a year for 6 or 7 years at the annual Jazzahead conference (where his agency, artribute, always have a booth with an excellent coffee machine!) and we have a quick catch up about the jazz scene in general.
More recently, we joined Danish agent Kat Jarby to form a 3-person panel for the InJazz Conference in Rotterdam. Not only did Matthias give some great advice to the jazz musicians in the audience, we also talked quite a bit afterwards about even more ideas that could be shared.
So, it seemed logical to ask him some questions here, given his wide range of artists, long experience and particular expertise in the German-focused market!
The full interview is below but, first, a couple of quick personal highlights to takeaway from his answers:
The importance of using your contacts to create a ‘buzz’ at industry events when you are showcasing.
The role of regular, high quality videos in the rise of Snarky Puppy (and other bands)
Don’t forget: there’s an audience out there which wants to be entertained (in whichever way that is, for you)
Which was the last artist you signed who didn't have an established reputation already? What motivated you for them, ahead of other similar(ish) bands?
I regularly sign artists who don’t have an established reputation yet.
The motivation is first of all if I like the music and the performance. Then it’s also a matter of networks which I’ve established over the years. I prefer to work with artists who have a management I have already made good experiences with in the past.
Also important is if the artist already established a network – in social media and in the scene.
We met at the InJazz Conference in Rotterdam. Aside from playing great, was there anything else the bands there could have done to get more attention from agents & promoters? Do you think these showcase-type events are useful for musicians?
These showcase events are useful indeed.
I think artists really have to prepare such events upfront. It’s quite easy to create a little buzz on such a showcase festival if you have people with a certain influence who help you to spread the word on site. Within the little cosmos of a festival a good performance can go viral pretty fast – and on these festivals you of course have the labels, festivals, journalists and agents.
Also important is to back the showcase with activities on your social media and to let the people attending have easy access to videos and further info material.
Can you pick 2 German festivals that you think have a particularly strong track record in introducing new and exciting jazz to their audiences?
You were involved with Snarky Puppy from the early days. Can you pinpoint one factor that helped lead to this pretty fast rise in their profile?
It’s not easy to pick up one factor because it’s really a combination of different factors – with a good timing and bit of luck.
I think the basis of their success is still that they really love what they do and that they’re doing it as a real collective (of very talented musicians).
Snarky Puppy did a very good job in their social media. They produced elaborate and high quality videos of all their album tracks and posted them on a weekly basis. The videos captured the extraordinary energy of the band and their skills as musicians.
As this became a viral success they constantly followed that path and regularly fed their fans with new material.
In this manner they created an ever-growing worldwide fanbase which then came to their concerts. And as the band performs very well on stage they won their fans over also on stage.
Once they had established a considerable fanbase they made themselves independent from the classic music industry by reaching out to their fans directly.
You have quite a few Scandinavians on your roster. Are they particularly well-received on the German market now or it is more your personal taste?
Due to the German labels ECM and ACT there have been quite some successful Scandinavian artists since the 70ties. Artists like Jan Garbarek were very well received in Germany. At the turn of the century artists like Bugge Wesseltoft and Nils Petter Molvær created a new buzz over here and from that point the Norwegian scene brought up many interesting artists.
For me when it comes to jazz the Norwegian scene is still the most interesting in Europe.
I think the focus on artistic individualism in education and the openness to other genres makes this scene very unique.
How much importance do you put on an artists’ digital presence (social media & website) when thinking about taking them on?
Social media is extremely important.
Like a good performance on stage you also have to perform well online.
You also have to develop a style of communication there and you have to work on it constantly.
Where do you discover new artists?
On the internet, by word of mouth and at festivals.
And exactly in this order….
One piece of advice to an artist who doesn't have an agent and is pitching themselves to promoters and record labels?
Get your social media appearance on a high level and reach out to your audience.
Do what you love to do, but don’t forget that there’s an audience out there which wants to be entertained – in whichever way.
Do festival promoters, in your opinion, care about albums and release cycles, or is it more important to be present with new videos/tracks/projects etc.
I think for the moment you still need an album.
But as the situation develops it won’t take too much time before it will be replaced by single tracks for download and streaming, which have to be promoted with videos on the internet.
Videos are already an extremely important tool for promotion of course.
The obligatory 1 or 2 year circle will be replaced by constantly releasing new material.
In terms of jazz music, the original idea of an album as a kind of representation of a certain work period of an artist will still be of importance for a while, because you can’t put out 1 or 2 hits and go on tour with them.
Plenty of stuff to think about there and, I hope, a useful insight into the thinking of a top European booking agent – thanks Matthias!
More about Matthias Wendl
After being a professional jazz musician for 6 years, Matthias started to build up the booking department of Berlin-based agency artribute.
artribute is booking tours for jazz artists in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Artists on the current roster include Snarky Puppy, Branford Marsalis, Jacob Collier and Nils Petter Molvær. Since 2015, artribute is also producing tours in cooperation with the German concert promoter a.s.s. concerts.