Geoff Meall

Geoff Meall is the the UK managing director of The Agency Group, one of the world's premier booking agencies with a roster of more than 1,000 artists.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 12 Jan 2012
  • min read
Geoff began his career in 1992 with Cloud Music Agency (CMA) and is now responsible for the UK office operation, sitting on The Agency Group's worldwide management committee as well as continuing to book and build artist's live careers.

He has worked with a number of high-profile artists, including Muse, My Chemical Romance, Paramore, Nickelback, Cornershop, Doves, The Zutons, The Pogues, Sum 41, Billy Talent, Brand New, Funeral For A Friend, and Alkaline Trio, among many others.

Geoff was integral in the success of Muse, who he discovered in 1997 and signed in 1998, helping the band to build a following in Europe and has since catapulted to worldwide recognition and acclaim.

M caught up with Geoff who spoke about his career and gave his thoughts on the opportunities and threats to the live music industry over the next few years.

How did you become a booking agent?
I think like everyone else I fell into it by mistake. I don't think there's a single person who is a booking agent that grew up wanting to be one as no-one really knows what one is!

Pretty much everyone from my generation took the same step: we were all college social secretaries, which gives you the first taste of contact with booking agencies. I spent a year at Oxford Polytechnic (Now Oxford Brookes University) putting acts on, many of whom are still around, and at the end of that year I had impressed a few people with what I'd done promotion-wise. I then got a job at Cloud Music Agency (CMA) - I was there from 1991.

I think growing up, the only person putting on live music that had some visibility was Harvey Goldsmith. He was always on the television in the 1980s and he put together Live Aid which gave him a profile. However, I can't say I really knew what he did until I started working at college and getting more heavily involved in music.

What did you do to make an impression in the industry?
I started as a junior agent at CMA and the first thing they did was to give me a roster of clients they didn't want to be booking, which is usual. The first act I booked for was the Scottish folk rock band Capercaille. I think about six months later they fired me which was no surprise as I didn't know what I was doing in that genre of music.

I started to use the bands that I'd been asked to book as a lever for getting my own roster together. One of the first acts I took on that were really successful was Bare Naked Ladies, who I still look after. That was my first gig that really sold out and I got them to The Astoria in their first year of their career. In those days you went through the scale of venues - The Falcon, The Borderline, ULU (University of London Union) and so on. The Astoria and The Forum were the pinnacles at that stage and then the aim was to take it on from there.

So how do you build a live career for an artist?
A million different ways, there's no set way of doing things. With some bands you have to do a lot more ground work of finding and procuring gigs for them, others if they have a lot of press and radio exposure early on it makes your life easier because there's a quicker demand for people to come and see them. With some bands you have to break without radio and press and you do that by a combination of things: you find them slots on club nights where there will be crowds about; you try and secure them as support slots on bigger tours; you get them festival offers and hopefully from all those things a following begins to develop and you can set the band up with some headline shows. If the crowds keep coming back then you structure the career upwards, getting bigger each time.

What does your current role at the Agency Group consist of?
I'm the Managing Director of the UK company, which basically means I'm in charge of the London office. I have a roster of clients that I still book and I look to take on new clients all the time too. I'm also in charge of the hiring of new agents and mentoring them, the day-to-day business of the company - financial forecasting, looking after accounts etc.

How do you mentor an agent’s development?
I very much have an open-door policy. When we make someone an agent here, they are an agent, full-stop - I like them to be responsible for signing their own roster, I don't like giving people artists to book as it's counter-productive to not let people book artists they believe in. We've got a structure where there is Neil Warnock, the chairman who has 40 years of booking, I have 20 years and we have others who might only have six months of booking but we're always getting together and swapping ideas. Developing agents can always ask me for guidance and sometimes I ask them for advice as they are down at the coal-face breaking bands through smaller venues and promoters and I have to go back to that myself from time to time.

Do you have any advice for artists looking to develop their live offering?
One thing I always say to acts is to get yourself a good manager, you can do it yourself at the very beginning but if you want to have a proper career you've got to have somebody good around you - they don't necessarily have to be experienced, I've seen a lot of talented young managers - they just need to be able to learn from mistakes, that kind of thing. If a band is getting a following locally, someone good will discover them. The web has made it a lot easier to be discovered these days. Always take it at the right pace and when you perform always believe you're the best band out there. It's funny the amount of bands I still see who make excuses for the way they play and those bands never go on to be anything.

What are the key threats to live music over the coming years?
The recession is definitely starting to make an impact, There was a sea-change towards the end of 2007 in the UK economy but we certainly bucked the financial trend up until about 2010 but I'm starting to see a downturn especially in developing music, people are starting to be more cost-effective with their spending - I'm noticing a trend where if a band have released an album early in the year and toured to support it, then played a string of festivals, then toured again in the Autumn they are struggling with that third phase as people are going to spend their cash on something else, so bands need to be careful of that. There's one other thing - I keep banging the drum about it even though I don't have an answer or definitive proof it's happening - I think from post-2010 there's now a generation of kids who are getting their music on demand, they're not buying records like previous generations, they're not even hanging onto things and there's a quick turnover on YouTube. They swap music on their phones and social media and I think that's having an effect on brand loyalty. Kids are getting into bands very quickly and then getting out of them just as quickly as they are onto a new thing. There's a whole generation of kids who have been brought up this way.

I can't see this situation being positive for long-term growth of artists. I've only got that anecdotally at the moment but I think someone needs to look into what the long-term effect will be.

In the UK, if a band breaks very quickly, they're equally likely to fall off a cliff just as quickly. The building a band over several albums and growing some roots is definitely the tried and tested way of giving them longevity. You look at a band like Muse who didn't break until their third or fourth album. The only way to buck the trend is to go slowly, we're going to have to not push bands too fast as there will be a backlash come the next album campaign or tour.

Are there any new oppportunities?
One of the positives of everything being available is if you use the tools correctly it's a way of bypassing the old system. I'm working with an American band at the moment called Boyce Avenue who have broken exclusively through YouTube. I had them sell out Shepherds Bush this year and got great figures in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium. They have bypassed the record system totally and it is building nice and slowly. They've looked at a different opportunity but I guess the downside is that once somebody tries something innovative, a bunch of copyists come along and try the same model and a good idea becomes a stale idea.

Anything that government can do to legislate the pubs and clubs business to enable gigs to be put on is a good thing. It is very expensive to put on music and I've seen a number of music pubs disappear because it costs to open the doors. One of the bigger issues is the cheapness of alcohol outside of their system is affecting them, especially early takings as people drink at home

Who do you think might be big on the live scene in 2012?
There's always one or two who come through. I'm quite excited about a guy called King Charles who we sold the Scala out recently with. I always love the NME tips where they get 98% wrong, but there are always bands who come through behind that. Gigwise, I've got Paramore next year, Muse back in 2013 - we're booking that now.

What's the best gig you've ever been to?
My personal favourite gig was Queen at Knebworth - my first major gig. Watching Muse over the years has been incredible - their first Wembley Stadium show was something to behold.