John Booker (Deep South) on Talent Buying

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Here at Get Sad Y'all, we thought it would be a great idea to interview numerous people in various aspects of the music industry to serve as guides for those that might want to pursue a career. Those interviews can be found here.

If there's anyone you'd like us to interview, give us a shout.

Below, we chatted with John Booker (Deep South) about talent buying.

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Who are you and what do you do?
JB: I'm John Booker and I am, in addition to being a musician and live audio production provider, a talent buyer for Deep South Entertainment in Raleigh, NC. Current projects include booking for the North Carolina State Fair, the Carolina Hurricanes Homegrown Series, and Oak City Sessions live music television program. I also was the manager and talent buyer for Deep South The Bar for 6 years (the venue closed in Jan 2019 after an 11-year run), and have booked for various festivals, special events, private parties, etc. all over North Carolina.
How long have you been talent buying?
JB: I started booking at Deep South Entertainment/Deep South The Bar in the fall of 2012, so nearly 7 years. Before that, I booked my own bands on many national and regional tours from roughly 2002-2012.
Who are some of the bigger artists you've booked?
JB: Most of the events I book for are focused on North Carolina-based talent, so I've had the pleasure of booking many of our state's best and most prestigious acts - such as Superchunk and Corrosion Of Conformity, to name a couple. Some notable national acts I've booked for festivals include King's X and The Posies. I'm lucky to get to book a lot of NC's best up-and-coming acts primarily, though - it's fun to give so many budding bands cool opportunities - often pairing them with more notable touring acts.
What's your day-to-day look like?
JB: Lately it's all over the place. I'm no longer full time at DSE (just doing project-based contract labor with them), so I have no set schedule. I work a handful of different jobs these days, and mostly make my own hours/work from home - so there's no such thing as a typical day or week. I've had weeks recently where on Monday and Tuesday I'd be on site filming our Oak City Sessions TV show - acting as a stage manager/talent coordinator for the bands that I'd booked, and also as the audio production company (supplying the PA/mics/etc. for the band and also an employee to run sound/record the audio). Wednesday I'd be in my PJs all day at home booking bands for the State Fair via my laptop/couch. The next day I'd maybe swing by the DSE offices for a bit to knock a couple things out, go back home and practice my guitar parts for a new original band I've started (&DearFriends), maybe send a few follow-up emails on some pending projects, etc. Then the weekend consists of loading up all my cover band's instruments and PA into the van and heading out to play a couple gigs to make some money. It's all over the place, which is cool - sometimes there is a ton of downtime a few days in a row, then sometimes it's nonstop for a couple weeks straight.
How did you get on the path to becoming a talent buyer? What made you want to become one?
JB: As soon as I finished high school, I moved to California with a band I was in. I didn't go to college - I spent my 20s playing music. I moved back to NC at about 24 years old and went back to an internship I had at Merge Records before moving away, and they very quickly helped me land a full time job at Yep Rock Records. Did that for a year or so, then I started a band called I Was Totally Destroying It that quickly became a full time thing as well. We toured a ton, recorded a ton, had a lot of cool opportunities come up along the way, including being managed by Deep South Entertainment. So when IWTDI decided to slow down and get off the road, I knew that my many years of not doing much other than playing and working in music wasn't going to make job hunting super easy. I kinda knew how to do just one thing at that point (the only other jobs I'd had while doing music were manual labor - painting houses, cleaning offices, odd jobs, etc.) - so luckily DSE were able to help me out with a job. I started as a sound engineer one night a week at Deep South The Bar and within a couple of weeks, I was promoted to being their full-time booking person, and I've been a talent buyer ever since. I always say I never wanted to "become one" though, haha - when I was managing my own bands I always used to say that my least favorite part of the music world was booking shows... so it's funny that's where I ended up. It's what I know how to do.
What is something you've learned about talent buying over time that you wish you had known from the start?
JB: You can't reply to every email forever. Haha. Honestly the two biggest evolutions in my work life apply heavily to all aspects of my life and are things that I've just learned by growing up and growing older, I think.
  1. Be more concise. I say that as I'm writing these long answers to these questions, haha, but I do feel like I've learned to be more efficient, succinct, and be better at time management over the years.
  2. You don't have to fight every battle. I've definitely learned to just shrug things off more and go with the flow... I used to have to let people know, in very detailed form (aka novel-length emails, haha) that they were wrong about something. I'm an over-explainer. I think I've pulled way back on that in recent years for the most part. My friends still have a word for emails/conversations like that though: "Bookering." You're getting Bookered right now.
Where should someone looking to get into talent buying start their career path?
JB: Get in the van. If you're a musician, great - the best way to dive into the business side is to read up on it as much as you can and then just start doing things DIY for your band. Find internships, for sure - but make sure you get out there in the field, too. If you're not a musician: same thing. Find a new local band that you love and think could use some help. Travel with them, in the van. Do whatever you can - sell merch, help advance the shows, load the gear, drive - just follow them around and soak up everything. That's the best method - learn by doing. I am always shocked by people in the industry that just went to college and then started working in music behind a desk somewhere. That's nuts to me.  You've got to get out there - you have to understand what it's like to be on the road to truly be able to come at this business with a fair and understanding mindset. It's the way to know the difference between when you're getting screwed or you're being entitled. Get out there and get humbled. Once you have the experience, the doors will start to open for paid work. 
What are three key things that someone looking to get into talent buying should know?
JB:
  1. You're not going to make a lot of money.
  2. Organization is the most important thing - if you're not very OCD or you have been known to double-book yourself or forget appointments... this might not be the job for you.
  3. Email is also your friend. Phone calls take up too much time and are redundant because you're going going to have to turn around and write everything down anyway. I generally don't accept booking-related phone calls and it makes it so there are never any crossed wires (a paper trail for everything!) and it's just so much faster than getting caught up in small talk, etc.
Anything else to add?
JB: I'll just reiterate the bit about getting out there an immersing yourself in the world you want to work in. I don't get out nearly as much as I used to - I'm 38 - but I'm still utilizing relationships I formed on the road and in the local music scene in my early 20s that help me do my job today. So get in the van, see the world, and learn the business in the process. Have fun and thanks!

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Be sure to give all of John's projects a follow, listen to &DearFriends, and check out the lineup for this year's North Carolina State Fair below!

Deep South Entertainment
Socials: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

North Carolina State Fair
Socials: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Oak City Sessions
Watch: YouTube

Carolina Hurricanes Homegrown Series

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