(bron: Mapamundi Música)
Eric van Monchoven is the director of Music4You, his booking agency.
Mapamundi Música: Which is your background, what made you become an agent for world music artists? I also want to know what made you move from Belgium to Italy.
Eric Van Monckhoven: I am not someone who used to be in the music industry. I worked for 25 years as a capacity builder, eco-social project designer, startupper, and grant writer/fundraiser for grassroots organizations, local communities, and NGOs in various parts of the world, including Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, and eventually Indonesia and Brazil. I also had a passion for cultural diversity. This is what brought me to music.
At the beginning of the 1980s, while studying social economy and social communication in Paris, I started with some friends a live music club for ethnic minorities living in the city. They needed a place to rehearse and express their musical, artistic, and cultural heritage and creativity. We had exciting concert series presenting music from Central and South America, Africa, Asia, the Balkans, but also local folk music from Brittany, Occitania, Ireland, and Quebec. Then I helped a musician friend from Quebec to create and develop a project on Native American music. Soon I realized that I could help other music artists walk their own paths.
In 2005, while living in Finland, I started to work as a cultural producer, and in 2007, I set up Music4You to offer PR and booking services to various artists and bands of world, folk, and roots music.
Then, I met my wife, and I moved back to Italy where I had worked some years as a consultant in social project management. She is from Modica, in Sicily.
Mapamundi Música: From your training, education, previous experiences, which ones of the skills or knowledge you got have been the most useful for your career as an agent of musicians?
EVM: To me, a booking agent is a facilitator who helps build bridges between the artist (or the management) and the venues/festivals (or/and the audience) to provide the artist with gig opportunities and live music income streams. In this context, networking and project management are important, as they deal with processes, plans, and operations. Then, there is a lot of work understanding the value of the artistic proposals and communicating it to the right people, at the right moment, through the right channel at the right time. One needs to know how branding and marketing are working – as well as sales of course.
Mapamundi Música: Apart from that or those skills, which other do you think are essential to succeed in this field of work?
EVM: Listening to all parties and knowing their needs is important too, And trying to be smart, patient, passionate, flexible, honest, transparent, plus a good sense of humor never hurts.
Mapamundi Música: Any particular advice for a fellow newcomer or someone who wants to get started in this field?
EVM: If you are looking for an easy job, pass your way and look for other opportunities. However, if you really think that this is your dream job, I would suggest starting by working in other positions within the music, cultural or creative industry – to learn how things are really working (or not working), and build connections and relationships. Never promise anything to the artists unless you are 100 % sure.
Because you will invest time, knowledge, competencies, relationships, and money, and take multiple risks – in a market that is in constant evolution, often unstable, saturated, and full of uncertainties, you do not want to work with any artist. If there is no real alchemy between the artist (or management) and the booker, it will be hard to put good work on. Things are already enough challenging in “normal” conditions. Start lean and smooth, try to understand the proposal you have and if it is “market-ready” and fits your network of venues/festivals. What I mean is the artist should have a minimum of history: followers, recordings, live gigs, and useful content you can use for promotion & marketing (video clips, live videos, etc.). It is always better if the artist has some management structure – being this internal or external.
Mapamundi Música: And now, for the artists. I’m sure you get requests from artists every day to be their manager. I am sure because it happens to me too, and many colleagues tell me the same thing. Do you have any recommendations for the artists, so that they can improve the way they communicate when they do it for this purpose?
EVM: I am personally of the idea that artists should be the CEOs of their own businesses. I am interested to build working partnerships with such artists. In the past, artists were products of music companies. They did not control anything. Today, thanks to the Internet, artists can handle their careers themselves. And that is where they can make a difference. At a lower cost than music companies, they can record their albums, distribute them, promote them, build a lasting relationship with their audience, grow their fan base, etc. Why should they give up their assets to people who will rarely put a priority on them?
I see the artist as a personal brand in search of a supportive audience. The core business is not the music but the brand – a mix of tangible and intangible values that comes with the music but also many other features. This is the new frontier of the artist or musician business. Run your projects like a startup company that puts the customer at the center of the business, and build alliances with other small business owners (like me for instance) for specific tasks. Build a “circle of trust” (including super fans, professionals, and media people) around your music and brand. Capture multiple revenue streams. This is where building a strategy for the long term starts.
Most of the artists who are contacting me are still living in the 20th century. They have no idea how the music industry works today, and what means to be an artist in the digital age. They are thousands of music talents out there in the world. This kind of talent is not enough to succeed. Artists who succeed are those who become entrepreneurs of their own careers. They start cultivating other talents to make their career sustainable and resilient. They take responsibility and act. They look for guidance and training to move their operations to the next level. They do not wait to find someone with the magic stick who will make them successful. I would love to have a magic stick. But unfortunately, I have not found it yet.
I of course listen to the artists who are contacting me and try to be clear where I stand and where they should/could stand. I need to have the big picture of who they are and where they want to go. Most of them are not market-ready – I mean for the market I am working with. So I offer them some guidance, and if I see them do something with it, I am ready to walk a step forward. But they should understand that I am already very busy with the artists I am collaborating with. I am a sole entrepreneur and cannot take them all. I am only a piece of the ecosystem.
Mapamundi Música: Do you think it makes sense for the artists to try to find an agent? Have you ever started a stable collaboration with a band or artist that approached you in their search for an agent?
EVM: I think it makes sense to look for people with whom to collaborate – as an artist and manager of your own career. To succeed you need many skills and competencies. If you are not that good at something, you can look for people to hire for that specific job. On the basis of the results, you will decide if to go on with it or not.
When it comes to labels, booking agents, managers, etc., I would say to the artist: do not look for them but build your career to the point where they are pounding down your door begging to work with you. At that point, you will be able to decide to go on your own, or sign. But ask for the advice of a professional or experienced colleague to read the contract. In this position, you will get a better deal. Contract terms can always be discussed and negotiated.
My point is that if you want to have a career in music and pay your bill at the end of the month, as with any other business in the world, you have to work for it. Agents mostly want acts that are proven, have a fan base and are making things happen on their own. There are exceptions of course. But exceptions are not the rule.
How could we explain briefly which is the value we, the agents, provide to the value chain?
I believe there are many different kinds of agents. One should be clear about what he can offer to both the artists and the venues. I think that as agents we are in a position where we can do a lot to educate both sides. Especially because we are working in a niche market and our products are specific.
Mapamundi Música: Is there any difference in the work of an agent like you, when working in the market of Belgium than of Italy? If so, which one/s and how to deal with it/them?
EVM: I am from Belgium and I am based in Italy. I am not that familiar with the Italian market, however, which I find very hard to read, understand and navigate. The audience is fantastic, but the live music ecosystem is very complicated. Belgium is interesting and very diverse. There is a real interest in folk/world music, especially in Flanders, and there are many venues and festivals for such a small country. To be honest I am not specialized in any territory. My network of contacts is international. Because I am most of the time working with musical acts that are little known, my focus is on equipping them with a CV and the tools or strategy that will help them be more attractive to other agents -who are more specialized in specific territories. It is a lot of work. But I am not complaining. I like it, and I am also developing other activities or other ways to look at my profession. In that way I think it is clearer for people if I tell them I am not working that much as a booking agent but more as a free-lance music export manager. I know how the music ecosystem for the world/folk music artists is working in various countries, like Italy, France, Benelux, Scandinavia, and Canada for instance, and who the players are. Those ecosystems are quite diverse, and it is a plus to know how they work.
Mapamundi Música: Do you have any future plans that are especially thrilling for you and that you can share with us? (related to your work as an agent)
EVM: Because many artists I meet need capacity building and education in non-artistic matters, like identifying their niche, building a personal brand, growing their online presence, creating a fan base, defining their marketing mix, etc. I created a training package on such topics. The idea is to provide them with inputs so they can strengthen the foundation to boost their careers and start build a business model that works for them. A business model is not good or bad. It is a tool that can help them visualise and organise the work to put forward to reach a scope. Business modeling is not a waste of time, and it can be fun too. There is a growing number of artists who are handling their careers as cultural and social entrepreneurs and are successful with making a living.
Mapamundi Música: Explain in one or two sentences, to the wider culture community, the reasons to book musicians from around the world that give a relevant presence to their roots.
EVM: For me, music is an instrument of peace and healing. World and folk music are living expressions of human diversity and richness. Music that is rooted in a culture, a territory, a community has the power to connect and reconnect us with nature, the people around us, the deep, and the ancient.
Mapamundi Música: Do you want to tell us anything else?
EVM: Live love and love life!