Sam Hunt has been a booking agent with the Chicago-based Windish Agency since shortly after the agency began in 2004. He's represented acts including Girl Talk, Diplo, Animal Collective and Black Moth Super Rainbow. He talked with us about what goes into routing a tour, and why your favorite band hit Pittsburgh last year — or why it skipped us.
What are the factors that go into where you route a tour in between the big must-hit cities? What goes into deciding whether an artist hits Pittsburgh or Cleveland or Columbus?
Sometimes it's a matter of how many days you have to tour. Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati to some extent, are all between the major cities on the East Coast and the major cities in the Midwest. If you're on a five- or six-week tour, maybe you'd hit two or three of those cities. If you're on a two-week tour and just blazing around the country, you realistically only have time to hit one.
There's also things to consider like: Do you have history there? Do you know that you have a lot of fans in one city versus another? Are the venue options good and appropriate? Is college in session? If so, maybe you want to hit Columbus over Cleveland. And things that seem like they shouldn't or wouldn't make a difference do often make a difference. If you have 10 fans in Columbus who email the band every single day, it's likely that that will have an impact. The band will say, "We've always wanted to play in Columbus; I feel like we have a lot of fans there."
It seems like in the past five or six years in Pittsburgh, there have been more venues getting more desirable tours.
Yeah, definitely. There weren't many good, or at least tried-and-true, venue options. I've booked a lot more in Pittsburgh in the past two or three years than I did in the five or six years preceding.
Does that have to do with venue size, location, reputation?
It has to do with reputation more than anything else. There are promoters in town that have really grown in the past few years, that have developed relationships with agents and with artists; people trust them. Pittsburgh had a weird reputation for a long time as a place that was very skippable. And a couple people, I think, have worked very hard to convince people otherwise, and have succeeded. It still doesn't make it onto the three- or four-week tour plan that most bands want to do, but it's part of the conversation now. And as well, there are some excellent venues — Stage AE is an excellent venue, for any city.
Until recently, I'd say Pittsburghers really had to see a band when it was still playing small rooms — because they'd come through then, but they wouldn't come back for a long time once they got popular.
Right, exactly. And it's not that there have not been people working hard at that level. Every agent knows who [promoter Manny Theiner] is and has probably worked with him. And he provides a very specific and relevant and important service for the Pittsburgh music scene. He's on it; he knows to ask about a band before they get big. To have someone who's paying attention and can cherry-pick good new bands when they're in that position, that goes a long way. That's the difference between playing Pittsburgh and not playing Pittsburgh in a lot of cases.