This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Seth Shomes, VP, Casino Division, The Agency Group.
As casino entertainment booking expert Seth Shomes will tell all parties in a negotiation, booking talent at a casino is a gambling game.
Hence, gamble with the money that you can afford to lose.
Shomes understands the casino world--its limitations and its opportunities for both his artist clients, and the casinos themselves--the way that other agents understand their expense accounts.
So The Agency Group’s appointment of Seth Shomes to develop and operate its newly created Casino Division recently should come as no surprise.
As founder and CEO of Day After Day Productions, Shomes, based in Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley of California, successfully ran his independent music agency for almost two decades with a footprint unmatched in the casino world.
Shomes has brought many of his clients with him to The Agency Group for casino bookings including 98 Degrees, Bruce Willis & The Bruce Willis Blues Band, Jeff Bridges & The Abiders, Jeff Timmons, Jermaine Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Men Of The Strip, Rob Thomas’ Sidewalk Angels Foundation, Scott Weiland, Skid Row, Staind, Sylvia Browne Remembered, and others.
After graduating from Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts in 1995 with a double major in English and Music as well as a minor in African-American history, Shomes’ entertainment career started in the mailroom of the Associated Booking Corporation in New York.
In late 1996, Shomes launched Day After Day Productions in a tiny apartment in New York City with the strategy of booking, producing and buying talent for entertainment events at casinos. He went on to build his firm into a booking leader within the casino industry.
How did you come to finally land at The Agency Group?
About 8 years ago, I had conversations with the company, and I had an offer from them to do something similar. For whatever reason, it wasn’t the right time for all of us.
What changed your mind this time around?
Over the past ten years or so, I have partnered with The Agency Group on clients, and I have always worked really well with them on the clients that that we shared. Going to casinos that, maybe, they didn’t have a relationship with, and producing events with casinos with their clients. I worked really well with them. I liked them. They are very entrepreneurial. So, when we started talking about this (appointment) in the summer it was just a natural progression for me. I’m 41-years-old. I was just ready to take my business to another level. Feeling that this would be the right move for me with (The Agency Group having) 7 offices around the world, and not just booking casinos, but having a full-service approach for my clients, and potential new clients.
The casino world has its own expertise, language and players. Not all agencies have the experience or skill set to navigate that world successfully. Obviously, The Agency Group sees something in you in doing that because they approached you twice. You fill something in their portfolio.
I like to say that I speak casino-ese. It is a very different language. A very different model. For years I have approached the casinos quite differently. I haven’t approached them as somebody who they can just pay a lot of money, and they are lucky to have my client. I have approached them as the big marketing machines that they are.
Who do you report to?
Ahmmmm. That’s a tricky question. The only reason that I say that is because The Agency Group, God bless them, came in and said, “This is your deal. This is your expertise. We have faith in you to build, and develop this. You have shown that you can do it on your own. We are here if you need us.” This is something that I respect. That nobody is calling me every day to ask what I’m doing. They have complete faith in my ability.
Obviously, there is Gavin O'Reilly, CEO at The Agency Group, who oversees the company globally.
Probably. But if I had to say one person it’s Natalia Nastaskin (CEO of The Agency Group’s US Operations). She’s awesome. I love her. Everybody I’ve met there (at The Agency Group) I love. That’s just not me saying the company line. Everybody there is creative, smart, entrepreneurial, friendly and, above all, incredibly dedicated to their clients which is what I wanted.
Another reason that I went to The Agency Group was that I have had experience in working in a lot of different agencies as kind of an event producer, and there is a ton of politics and competition internally between agents. At this point in my life, with three kids and living out in a beautiful area in central California, I was also looking for a great partnership with an agency where I felt that the quality of life would still be good. What I have seen just in the few weeks that I have been with The Agency Group is the camaraderie between these agents. Not just in each office, but in offices around the world. Agents constantly talking about opportunities for their clients. There’s is a great deal of sharing of information for the betterment of clients, and that’s exciting to me. It’s exciting to see that strong communication all over the world within The Agency Group’s offices.
That’s to the credit of Neil Warnock, now worldwide president, who launched The Agency Group in 1981.
I think that Neil Warnock is a genius. Obviously, he wins International agent of the year a lot. I look at a guy who through hard work and ingenuity has built an amazing company, and he still is out there working as hard as any agent that he oversees, and he is still as friendly. I love that. A lot of the times, they say that it starts at the top.
Where are you now working from?
My office is in Solvang, and I live in Santa Ynez which is in part of the Santa Ynez Valley, the wine country of Santa Barbara. I will be based out here, but I will still be going to the different offices a lot. I just got back from New York City. I will be going to Los Angeles the most, obviously, because of the proximity.
What support team did you bring with you?
I brought some. I also run a successful website and technology company (Day After Day Marketing). That’s separate from what my deal with The Agency Group is. (My wife) Audra (Shomes) will stay on that side. She won’t be on The agency side.
Earlier this month The Agency Group acquired Guy Robinson’s Coalition Talent Agency which represents DJs, including BBC Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw, Greg James and Scott Mills, and owns such live entertainment brands as Coffee House Sessions, Flirt! and the Ents Forum. Another exciting part of the puzzle added to The Agency Group?
It is. I shot an email to Guy saying that “When you get settled in, let’s chat.” He’s got a lot of great things. DJs and electronic music is a space that certain casinos have got into.
You are renowned for your passion as an agent, and as an advocate for the casino entertainment sector.
If there’s anything that you can see, you can see how passionate I am about this sector of the industry. Just like if you had a heart problem, you’d go to a heart doctor. If you have a foot problem, you are going to a podiatrist. But you know what? The casinos are a very specialized part of the booking industry. It just makes sense to a lot of people to have a casino expert, and a special casino agent handling something like this because it’s not the same language as a typical promoter.
What’s the difference?
My official title might be music agent, okay. But I consider myself a marketer as much as anything else. Yes, I will do the deals, contract the deals, and negotiate the deals but, at the end of the day, I don’t feel that is where my job ends. My job is to be with the casinos every step of the way. So that these dates are successful for them. From what I hear from casinos that is very different from other agents who just want to collect their 10%, paper it, and be done with it.
You sure you aren’t just working to cover off your casino losses?
(Laughing) I can say that in the beginning (of booking casinos) that I did gamble a lot, and I got my butt kicked every time. Then I stopped gambling, “Well, the house does always win.” It’s not fun to earn a commission, and then lose it on blackjack. I don’t gamble much anymore.
You certainly have a deep background as a supporter of casino entertainment.
For 18 years I ran Day After Day Productions. Founded it, owned it, whatever. I was known as the casino guy. Well, my model, surprisingly enough, was kind of two-fold. Part of it was to represent clients exclusively on my own all around the world. Certain clients. Then I developed the model where certain clients I had partners with other agents, and with other agencies to book outside of the casinos. So we both worked together and were considered exclusive agents. We worked as a booking team together. For example, Aaron Lewis, who is the lead singer of Staind, has a country career. CAA (Creative Artists Agency) is my partner on Aaron. We work together as a team. It’s not that I middle dates through CAA. We are a team. I don’t want it to seem that I brought Aaron Davis to The Agency Group for everything. It is still just for casinos. I will give a plug to Brett Saliba out of the Nashville office (of CAA) because I have really enjoyed working with him. He’s a great guy and I think he’s doing a great job with Aaron in the country space.
What clients do you have on your roster?
Bruce Willis is my client around the world. Aaron Lewis is casinos. Staind is casinos. 98 Degrees is something that I partner with APA on. I started out as Jeff Bridges’ agent on everything and then I brought The Agency Group in when Steve Martin was still there. Now (senior VP. The Agency Group) Bruce Solar, a wonderful guy, is my partner. He’s done a wonderful job with Jeff. I do the casinos, and Bruce and I work together on Jeff. Staind my partner is (senior VP. The Agency Group) Ken Fermaglich. Scott Weiland the same thing. Kara DioGuardi the same thing. So some of those partnerships aren’t as much partnerships anymore because we are now colleagues.
Obviously, you see a potential in evolving The Agency Group’s roster in the casino world.
Absolutely. The system that The Agency Group works under is a RA or responsible agent system. They don’t work on a territory system.
But agents there do partner on acts.
They do. The agents have really welcomed me with open arms. They have been very encouraging about wanting me to book their clients, and bring them opportunities. So in many ways part of my thought with The Agency Group is that casinos, because they are different than typical entertainment venues, it’s not the most efficient system for them to have 30 different agents from the same company calling about their specific roster. So what I said is that I think that we will get more bookings for The Agency Group clients if we have a centralized spot, a centralized division that can be speaking to the casinos on The Agency Group’s behalf.
What’s been the reaction of your appointment from casino talent buyers?
The casinos have been extremely happy about that since it was announced. Like, “Wow. Awesome. We love that.” A lot of the casino guys were like, “Wow, The Agency Group has clients that we didn’t even know that they represent. That we are interested in, but that we didn’t know about because we didn’t know that specific agent that represents them.” In no way do I want this written that the agents in The Agency Group were not doing their job, but a lot of them were not as involved in the casino world. It’s a different language, and they didn’t necessarily know all of the people. They, themselves, have been more than happy to say, “Great. It hasn’t exactly been my world up to now, but my clients do want to play casinos, and we are happy to have a guy that can lead that charge.”
Any acts on your wish list on The Agency Group’s roster to pitch to casinos?
That one I won’t answer. I don’t want to show favoritism in any way. There are the usual suspects that fit really well into casinos, and then there are some that aren’t typical casino acts. I’m excited to work with the non-traditional casino acts because my history has always been showing casinos how to do well with non-traditional casino acts. That’s what I am excited about as well as working with some of the biggest names on their roster.
You have also represented casinos as a talent buyer.
That’s somewhat unusual for a booking agent.
It is. It is kind of unusual.
You have been able to say to agents and managers, “You want $1 million for your client? Justify that price to me.”
And that’s partially why that I think that I have been kind of different in the (casino) space than some of my contemporaries. The reason is that my model is built around the fact the casinos are gaming facilities. They may have other attributes that are attractive to fans: concerts, retail, restaurants, spas, nightclubs, whatever it is; but those attributes are just ways to get a potential person outside the casino that will spend money onto the gaming floor.
At the same time, Harrah’s Corporation has a database of 35 to 40 million customers. That’s an extraordinary amount of eyeballs, perhaps, checking out their social media as well, it is a powerful tool to drive their entertainment marketing.
You’re hired. And that has always kind of been my thing. Listen, there’s a lot of eyeballs there. Instead of trying to hit the casinos over the head with just money, money, money; if we talk about how we can have a strategic alliance with marketing on the night or multiple nights that a client of mine is in the casinos, then both sides win. We give them something really interesting to market so that they can attract people from outside the casino to the casino to spend money, and my clients can get great marketing opportunities to have whatever they are looking to achieve in front of more eyeballs. If you have that old win/win, it allows me to monetize it (the deal) differently for the act, and also make it more successful for the casino instead of making it a harder ticket date.
Over the past five or six years, casinos have been trained to try to become more hard ticket events as some of these bigger promoters have become talent buyers for them. My thoughts to the casino has always been, “You aren’t hard ticket events. You can’t have your cake, and eat it too. If you want to use my client to get more gaming opportunities then let’s not only focus on how many tickets that they can sell.”
Yes, we want them to sell X amount of tickets, but there also has to be what I call a “cash-to comp-ratio.” So that the comps that they are giving out do have value. Lets figure out how we can make the best value of those comps. To not just focus on what the ticket price is, but let’s focus on how do we get the best gamblers in each seat for each performer. Someone in your neck of the woods, Larry Gregson, who ran (marketing) at Fallsview Casino Resort (In Niagara Falls, Ontario), he was amazing at it. That’s why he got so many of the great acts as do Randy Wright at Integrity Events who is now the buyer there, and Kelly Kelly who is the onsite person at Fallsview. But that was Larry’s model.
For decades, considered a casino loss leader, entertainment was then a lure to attract bodies that could be separated from their dollars on the gaming floor. While casinos weren’t worried about making money from entertainment, managers and agents gouged the casinos for as much. Perhaps, I won’t use the word gouge....
No. That is true. That is a good word.
Okay. What started to happened a decade ago, as casinos began to struggle to hold onto customers in the face of a softer economy, and with increased competition from other casinos, talent buyers were told that entertainment is not a loss leader. That this is another component of the casinos. “We don’t want losses.”
But I don’t blame the casinos because....I guess the way to answer that is to say again that my specialty has been to look at the casinos’ formula of success and look at why they are continuing to proliferate. To say, “Okay. I’m not going to reinvent their wheel. They are about gaming. I need to put my acts into their formula to achieve the same goal that I want to achieve for my clients which is more money, better opportunities, and better marketing.” The goal of the casino is better opportunities, better marketing, but better money on their gaming floor. So they have been gouged. People would say, “We want to be paid a ton of money. We are not going to do a meet-and-greet. We are not going to do any press. We are not going to do anything extra for you. But pay us a lot of money because you are a casino. And casinos got hip to that really quick, and they don’t like it.
You can’t blame them....
Not at all
The reason being that they knew they were being used.
Agents, managers and artists argued that casinos got charged higher prices because casino gigs aren’t career builders. Those casino dates were not going to help an artist attract new fans. They looked at casino dates like some celebrities look at doing TV advertisements in Japan. “Nobody will find out we are playing a casino, but we want a lot of money too.”
A lot of the casinos say to me, “We really like the way you approach us because you want us to win. You want us to do well. You want your acts to do well. You want to make it a win/win. Not just get a lot of money and not do anything in return.” That’s been my model. And, it’s not because I think that I’m any genius, believe me.
But you changed the paradigm.
I have changed the paradigm. That is why a lot of agents have allowed me to produce events for their acts in casinos. They are dealing with the world outside of the casinos and they don’t necessarily have the patience or the time or the expertise to speak the casinos. They are say, “Great Seth. You do it. You get the acts the money that we want, and the opportunities that we want.”
Any talent agency has had to learn to the businesses of clubs, amphitheaters and so on. It’s a lot of ground to cover. With some agents, there’s an arrogance of, “We have the acts. If you want them, come and get them.” A casino date for them is just a date on the itinerary.
At the end of the day, an agent is a sales person, and the buyer is a customer. The best deal is when the sales person, and the customer are happy with the deal and they want to do the deal again next year.
The salesman should either learn this sector of live music or bring in someone who does understand what’s going on.
Sure. And, if the salesman is not willing to learn that specific model for that specific industry then, in my mind, they have really done a disservice to their client because they are putting him in a world that is very specialized, and different than, say, a typical Live Nation venue, for example.
At one time casino entertainment was middle America entertainment fare like Steve Lawrence & Edie Gorme, and Tom Jones. Today, with casino managers and some customers being under 50, they probably grew up with Pearl Jam. So they are going to have a more enlightened perspective about entertainment.
I give the casinos a lot of credit for widening their genres that they are willing to present whereas 18 years ago, it definitely kind of the Steve & Edie, and Neil Sedaka a sort of thing. The kind of classics.. In no way do I say that in any negative way. It was what it was.
Even Céline Dion, Bette Midler, and Elton John fit into that older casino model. Booking Zappa Plays Zappa at a casino venue is a bit different.
I just got an offer for (Massachusetts metalcore band) Killswitch Engage at a major casino. I can’t mention which one because it hasn’t been confirmed. That’s not a typical casino act, but it shows that if you can approach the casino in the right way within their formula, show them, and give the ammunition, “This is how I think that Killswitch Engage can work for you, and help grow that next generation of gamblers.”
There are certain generations of gamblers. There are ones that want to see Steve & Edie perform. Guess what? There are plenty that want to see Killswitch Engage that have disposable income That are of a certain age group and want to go to a casino and stay in a hotel and go to the nightclub and go to a concert and spend money gaming. My job as an agent is to on a case-by-case basis, on an artist by artist basis to provide the casino with the ammunition; to say, this is how you guys can make money with your goals with this specific act. I have done it with all sorts of genres of music.
You did that with Snoop Dogg.
I did it with Snoop Dogg. We did Snoop years ago in Atlantic City. It was something that I produced with Resorts Casino (Hotel) which is the oldest casino in Atlantic City, and the least one you would expect to produce Snoop Dogg. We did it and on a night that the casino would have been incredibly quiet, and not much happening We turned that place into the happening night in that area. It was a very successful engagement. I had to go to the different division of (Resorts Casino) that handle those attributes that I mentioned and say, “This is how I think you hotel group can make money off this. This how you catering group can make money off this. This is your player development will do.” I don’t just like to talk to the concert people or the entertainment department (at a casino venue). A lot of the time I like to speak to the other divisions. The entertainment directors love this because it only helps them.
It leads to a win/win with the partnership formed.
I work that way as well with third party talent buyers that get hired by a casino. I will say. “There is no way that I am going to make you look bad in anyway, and I do not see this as going around you in any way. We will do the deal together, but allow me to help by showing how an act like Aaron Lewis or Scott Weiland, or a Staind can do really well at a casino.” Often times, me being able to have that conversation directly with casino executives is different than coming through on a big list of names that a talent buyer might send through. Again, I’m very conscious of the politics and sensitive to the friends of mine who are strong talent buyers. They are like, “Great, we would love to do that sort of act. Help us figure out how to get our casino to approve it.”
Do casinos in Las Vegas, and Atlantic City differ in booking entertainment from commercial and Indian casinos in the heartland? Are there three worlds of casinos that operate differently?
They all have the same goals no matter what region that they are in, and that is to increase their gaming. So that is what I really try to tie into. Certainly, there are bigger markets than not.
Las Vegas casinos are able to support lengthy residencies, whether it is with Céline Dion, Shania Twain or Elton John.
They get a lot of incoming traffic where they can do that. In certain ways, you do look at situations like that differently. But I love working with the secondary and the tertiary market casinos because they are so hungry for great events that they put so many resources behind it, and make it a great experience for the fan, and for the band. I love all those casinos; whether it’s a native American casino or a privately-owned casino or a corporate-owned casino like Harrah’s. I think that C3 Presents has done a phenomenal job with the Harrah’s account, bringing all sorts of entertainment opportunities to them, and really showing them how to succeed with them. I tip my hat to them, and to Harrah’s for having that partnership.
How contemporary are the casino rooms today? Do casino buyers pay attention to what artists are charting or do they wait for an artist’s career to further develop?
The only consistency is that in a lot of the ways they (casino talent buyers) have inconsistencies. What can work for them in July--that they are dying for in July--they may not want in June at all.
They have different marketing goals or they have different budgetary goals in that month. For example, Lake Tahoe is very busy in the ski season, the snowboarding season, and the winter season. They may not be as busy in the summer season so they might have different goals in that time.
Bruno Mars has done well at several casinos of late.
I would imagine that most casinos would love to have Bruno Mars come in. It becomes a point of can they afford him, and are they willing to pay the kind of money that he charges. I don’t know what that money is. How do they make it work? Because they probably are not going to make it at the box office. It is going to be a loss leader. So how do they figure out a way to achieve their goals on the marketing and the gaming side? So Bruno does his mini-residency in Vegas, they came up with that model.
So do casino talent buyers look at the music charts?
I think some do, and some don’t. But, casinos segment their customer database at different levels Whether someone is going to be a $10,000 a hand player or a $50 a hand player. They are going to say, “Okay we are going to have this act. This kind of money. How many of these upper echelon players can we get to come out to see this event.” Knowing that the more action they get with the higher players, the more gaming opportunities that they have.
By the way, that can cut both ways. These big players who come out to see an event can really beat a casino with a big night of blackjack. In fact, I did an event with Bruce Willis and his band, and by the time Bruce took the stage, there was a guy who was down a million bucks in blackjack. He had come out specifically to see Bruce Willis, and he was down a million bucks. Okay? The crazy thing is that by the time he left the casino a day later, he was up $200,000. You get big players like that, and they get swings, man. They get runs. Big card players. Big craps players They can hurt casinos, too.
Are there agents, managers or artists utilizing the casino circuit to build a career? Given the social media available, this could well be a career route in coming years.
I think that is something that will hopefully evolve.
It hasn’t happened so far?
No. I think that both sides haven’t figured out how to break a band through casinos. There are certain casinos that will take a shot on a regional artist, but as far as typically breaking a band, no. I hope that is something that I can pioneer with The Agency Group’s clients.
As casinos began to diversify their entertainment offerings a decade ago, many of them featured specialized programming like having the cast of “The Sopranos” onstage. Will we see further specialized shows at casinos?
Yes, I think so. But again the casinos, the agents and the producers have to figure out ways to make it win for the casino. It’s not like having a band that has hits. It has to be positioned in a certain way to make it be successful. I can tell you that there’s not one celebrity that I know or that I have worked with that doesn’t like the idea of going to casinos somehow, someway. Either doing appearances or promoting their books or promoting their TV shows or their movies.
Whatever it is. It is just about trying to figure out what works.
The flipside of that coin is that casinos do understand that in breaking a new concept, even if you have famous faces involved, it can be a lot more time intensive for them than a typical concert. I will give you a good example. A casino friend of mine once said to me where I wanted to get $50,000 for one of my bands, and it was going to be X amount of work for the casino to make that successful. He said to me, “Seth, you see that car up above those slots machines that somebody can win. The amount of money that we will generate by people trying to win that car--which was about $50,000—will far surpass what we could ever hope to win on this specific band that you want to charge us 50 grand for.” That was years ago somebody said that to me. I always remembered that because that was a real eye-opener, right? I am not necessarily competing with another $50,000 act. I’m competing with a $50,000 car giveaway.
Like Wal-Mart, you are competing for space.
The production “Sylvia Browne Remembered” that you are booking, is that with Chris Dufresne, the son of the late spiritual psychic Sylvia Browne who passed away in late 2013?
It is. When Sylvia passed, I was very close to her. I loved working with her. She was incredibly bright, very worldly and knowledgeable. She had 22 New York Times’ bestsellers or something like that. The way that she connected with her fans was as big of a connection than I have ever seen anybody connect with a fan before, in music or otherwise. Her son, who is incredibly bright, wrote a book called “My Life With Sylvia Browne” (which tells of growing up in an uncommon household with a psychic for a mom). He really wanted to grab the torch and say, “My mom wants to continue making a connection with her fans even from the other side” as they call heaven.
So Chris has put together a show which we will start going out with in the Fall that is going to be a celebration of his mother’s legacy. She was quite the pioneer. He will continue the (Sylvia Browne) tradition of answering questions from the audience for people who want to ask him about their loved ones on the other side or ask for advice or whatever.
What’s been the reaction of the casino talent buyers?
The casinos are very excited about this because they did very well with Sylvia. It was a very inexpensive (show). The fee was what the fee was, but producing the show, they didn’t have to hire a bunch of production, backline and security. It was one woman onstage with a microphone. She kept people enthralled for up to two hours every show. She would sell 1,000 to 1,300 hard tickets. She appealed on the comp side to a core slot demo. From that age group and genre.
“Sylvia Browne Remembered,” because it will give a side look into Sylvia’s life never seen before with video footage etc., we expect it to be successful. But also we are keeping it small right now. We aren’t going to do a huge tour right now. I want Chris to learn from each gig that he does at a casino or at a theatre. “This is awesome. I see how this works. I need to do this.” At the end of the day, Sylvia’s fans are going to see Chris as kind of the portal to the other side to Sylvia.
You graduated from Longmeadow High School in 1991 after lettering in three sports.
The funny thing about Longmeadow High School is that it’s in a dinky little town in Massachusetts and it has spawned such great talent. Aaron Lewis was one of my high school friends. That’s how I have known him for years and years. (Model/actress) Bridget Moynahan went there. Her brother is one of my oldest friends. She’s a couple years older than I am. There’s another girl who has had a little bit of an acting career, Erinn Bartlett, who is married Goldie Hawn’s son Oliver Hudson. One of the founders of the Pixies went to the high school, (guitarist) Joey Santiago.
Longmeadow High School is also known for its Grammy award-winning music program.
The guy who has been running their high school music program—he’s now retired—Peter Thompson—he ran a top music program there (with Michael Mucci) specializing in madrigal singing. I kind of started singing that kind of stuff, and doing the piano thing. I did the whole Billy Joel/Elton John thing. But he had submitted his music program to the Grammys, and they won several honorary Grammys for excellence.
You graduated with honors from Tufts University in 1995 with a double major in English and music as well as a minor in African-American history. What led to you becoming a booking agent?
I started playing piano when I was 4. I started playing piano professionally when I was 16. When I was in Boston I did the “Jake Ivory’s Dueling Piano Show” at a place behind Fenway Park called Jake Ivory's which is no longer there, but it was there forever. A guy that became my agent, Ross Cigna in Boston, was booking me at all sorts of different events. He needed help running his company because his wife was having a baby. It was a company called United Sound. He booked wedding bands, DJs, and instrumentalists for weddings. I started sort of running his company, booking in the day, and playing piano at night.
You also played in rock bands?
I did. But I went to Tufts to become a dentist. I took a couple of science and biology classes and I was like, “There’s no way that I can do this the rest of my life.” It’s a different side of my brain.
So you broke your parents’ heart by becoming a booking agent.
I always laugh that as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” I went to school to become a dentist, and now I’m a casino guy. But this is the path that I took. I don’t regret any of it. I love what I do. I love the casino industry. I love the acts I've had the pleasure to work with. That’s how it kind of happened. As I got the flavor of the booking thing, I liked it. I went to New York and took meetings with a whole bunch of agencies, and I had a bunch of offers. I decided to take the job at ABC (Associated Booking Corporation) because the other agencies said I would be in the mailroom for two years; then be a floating assistant for three years; and then be a junior agent. (ABC president) Oscar Cohen said, “Kid, you can be an agent here in eight months if you work hard.”
How long did it take you to be an agent?
I became an agent in four and a half weeks.
How long did you stay at ABC?
I was there for about a year and a half before I opened up my own thing. I will never forget Oscar Cohen walking into the mailroom and saying, “Kid, you are now the north east agent.” I said, “Mr. Cohen, I don’t know how to be an agent.” He goes, “Well figure it out or you are fired.” And he laughed and walked out.
At Associated Booking Corporation what did you learn from Oscar Cohen who, like you, started at ABC in the mail room.
I learned from Oscar how to oversee a client’s brand. Oscar came up representing Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. These massive celebrities. He taught me how important it is to really protect the brand of an artist. When you are doing a deal to not just look at the dollar and cents, but to make sure that it makes sense from a publicity and a marketing standpoint. He was and is tough. Still, what I learned from him is that you can be tough, but you can be fair. Every agent has their own style. Some are more aggressive than others. I’ve never been a screaming type of guy. I’m not that agent. But I think that the casinos that deal with me will say that, “Seth is very fair, but he really cares about his artists. He cares about their life, and the brand of his artist. He doesn’t care just about the dollar, and the cents.” Financially, a deal has to work out for everybody, but you have to be fair.
[Associated Booking Corporation was formed in 1940 by Joe Glaser and Louis Armstrong. Oscar Cohen joined the agency at age 15 as an office boy after school. He worked his way up the agency ladder. When Glaser passed away in 1969, Cohen, his assistant and VP, carried on Glaser's legacy. Through the years ABC has represented Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, Barbra Streisand, B.B. King, the Allman Brothers Band, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Third World, Black Uhuru, and the orchestras of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Tito Puente and Dave Brubeck.]
Why did you start the digital agency Day After Day Marketing in 2011?
The artists and celebrities that I had been working with really liked the personal touch I gave them on the agency booking side. They kept saying that they were frustrated with certain marketing companies that they had worked with or with websites etc. They kept saying to me, “If only we had a guy on the marketing side and the website that handled us and care about us the way that you do.” That was kind of like a light bulb.
[Day After Day Marketing is a digital agency that offers a full range of services, including web design and development, social media, E-commerce, high end graphic design, search engine optimization, pay per click, advertising, and E-mail marketing.]
You are continuing to operate that company separately from your deal with The Agency Group?
Yes I am.
As the president of David Clark Cause, a global leader in creating cause related initiatives, has working with David Clark been an inspiration for you, in using causes to effect change? An eye-opener ?
Yes, an eye-opener for me and a different way to maximize celebrity’s brands for good.
When did you get involved with that?
About three years ago. David is a very creative, and a very smart guy. We did a lot of good with Flash Flood For Good which had digital voices half a billion with huge celebrities tweeting. It was an awareness campaign. In the philanthropic space there are awareness campaigns, and there are fundraising campaigns. Our goal was to raise awareness about the need for clean water outside of North America. We take it for granted. A lot of those countries outside North America don’t have great water sources or water sources and a lot of people in North America were not aware of that. So the fact that we were able to bring a lot of awareness to that makes me feel good as a human being. That was never about making a lot of money for Seth Shomes. That was about saving kids lives and we saved a lot of kids lives through that campaign. It feels good.
[Created by David Clark, Flash Flood For Good was launched from The Clinton Global Initiative in 2013 to raise awareness for children in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Myanmar so they could receive clean water through the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program distributed by leading water provider World Vision.
Flash Flood For Good was one of the largest clean water campaigns in history, aggregating over 1/2 billion Twitter followers, and Facebook friends. Supporting organizations included: The Clinton Global Initiative, The ONE Campaign, The Country Music Assn., Procter & Gamble, Lilith Fair, and the CAA Foundation.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.” Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.
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