Anni Lam is the founder and of Parc Landon, a multi-faceted entertainment booking agency. She takes a working lunch break to visit with Coyote Music about her company, inspiration, and the naked truth about indie artists touring internationally.
Coyote Music: What is Parc Landon and how did it come about?
Anni Sarah Lam: Parc Landon started as a music management and marketing company in 2004. I had fallen in love with the music of Asian-American artist, Kevin So. I wanted to help him and others like him succeed. Over time, Parc Landon transitioned into being a music/sports/theatrical agency. Today we primarily book multi-gold/platinum U.S. based artists and Broadway theatrical productions into Asia.
CM: I didn't realize it all started with Kevin So. I'm a big fan of his.
ASL: Every time I was feeling down, I would go see Kevin perform. His music is the boost I need to get me back on the right track and remember why I do this for a living.
CM: I saw him perform for the first time just before I moved away from New York City in 2005. The inspiration I felt that night reminded me of why I moved to NYC in the first place (a quest for musical experiences beyond those I'd had in Austin, Texas). His show made question why I was leaving.
ASL: Yes and unfortunately, we can't say the same about any other major artist today.
CM: Could you go into a little bit about how Parc Landon transitioned from promoting a single independent artist to booking Broadway shows and multi-platinum U.S. acts? That seems like a significant leap.
ASL: Money. [laughs]
CM: Let me rephrase: how did you find the opportunities to book bigger shows?
ASL: I got involved in the Asian-American music scene but, realistically, we only make up 4% of the population in the U.S. so I refocused very quickly to a broader population. Things transitioned when I met an Asian boxing agent on the West Coast who had contacted me to try to book a Chinese singer to perform at the casinos in Vegas. I watched him put a deal together and I was very drawn to the process and the excitement. So then and there I wanted to follow this path to build an agency.
CM: So you just make a call to, say, Broadway On Ice 's production office and offer to book them in Hong Kong, or did people start finding you?
ASL: Something like that. We sign our own artists and productions, but if they were already signed in Asia we would try to work with their agents to put a deal together. Eventually enough people heard about us, so they sought us out. Parc Landon started out by booking Hip-Hop acts like 50 Cent and Akon in Asia.
CM: From the angle of independent artists, how would joe-garage-band go about playing shows internationally? Is it worth their time if they are unknown in the U.S., or do you need to have a good-sized American fan base already in place? I guess the important part of this question is, is there any money to be made by doing an international tour or is it a pretty big financial liability?
ASL: I went through this in 2006 when I managed Johnny Hi-Fi. He has a solid fan base in New York City and we wanted to expand by touring overseas to perform for Asian fans who actually live in Asia. At the time, the band was still new in Asia and, realistically, we weren't going to find venues or promoters who would pay enough money to cover our costs. Bands have to look at this from an economic point of view: venues and promoters pay bands a percentage of what they can gross from ticket sales. Naturally, the more tickets the band can sell, the more they get paid. But with the added costs of international travel, expenses can really balloon up. It's likely that very little money will be made. International touring for a joe-garage-band would have to be about promotion and exposure, and the band would have to front those expenses in exchange for that exposure.
CM: Are venues overseas any better off or any more motivated toward booking a relatively unknown artist than they are in the U.S.?
ASL: No venue or promoter has any financial benefit from booking an unknown artist. But they will do it for their passion of music, of wanting to help an independent artist, or if they believe in that artist and envision that the band will become very successful.
CM: So for a 4-person band, say, with a tour manager and a roadie/tech, touring internationally would likely end up as a several-thousand-dollar promotion expense?
ASL: Johnny Hi-Fi spent an amount that could buy a really nice car for their tour of 4 countries in 10 days, through Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. We ran the tour wide and large. No expense was really spared.
CM: What about the comparison between an indie band and Broadway show or sporting event? It would seem there would be a much greater chance of making money with an enterprise that already has a marketing machine behind it. Is there optimism in any international touring venture?
ASL: Yes. Asia does well with many larger entertainment attractions, particularly sports and theatrical productions. There aren't as many language barriers with those attractions. Music does well in Europe. Music does not do as well in Asia.
CM: Even Beyonce-level acts?
ASL: Promoters have very a difficult time making money by promoting U.S. music in Asia. Sponsorship is vital.
CM: Any thoughts on the Europe/music Asia/Broadway differences?
ASL: It goes back to the economy, actually. Concerts are incredibly expensive. Promoters need to pay a huge guarantee to the artist, plus all the costs of travel for their crew, production, advertising, etc. If they don't have sponsors, it would not be economically feasible. Even then, the show may not sell out due to the high ticket prices set in order to cover their costs. Theatrical productions, however, usually don't have to pay a superstar salary and are sold by the week. A theater promoter has eight shows (opportunities) to gross revenue, whereas with concerts there is only one shot.
CM: So back to independent artists, then. Say joe-garage-band calls you up tomorrow. What would it take for them to impress you so much that you would jump at the chance to work with them?
ASL: You mean a joe-garage-band with no record deal?
CM: Yeah, just for the chance to make money. I mean, I have heard a few artists whose music has such a profound impact on me that I immediately want to personally manage or promote them, the latest being Natasha Waterman. Of course, I wait a couple hours and realize that would be somewhat insane, the time vs. chance for financial success, and I go back to what I had been doing when I heard them.
ASL: [laughs] That happens to many of us. I would need to see several things: By far, the two most important things would be talent and hit songs. Also, their image and commercial viability, to see if I think they would do well on the road and on radio. And very importantly, if we get along with each other.
CM: How, if at all, would their sales and size of fan base factor into that? I mean, for years major labels have pretty much disregarded everything about an artist except for sales figures.
ASL: I look at sales pretty seriously, as well, because it tells me not only about commercial viability - and visibility - but also how hard the band or act has worked thus far. I would not want to invest my time, energy, and effort into helping a band that doesn't have hardworking ethics already.
CM: Think about the single most financially successful venture you've had with Parc Landon. Is there a difference to you between a financial success with a client you are not that fond of, and a financial failure with an artist with whom you have had a great experience?
ASL: This sounds like a "What is the meaning of life?" question. [laughs] My perspective has changed.
CM: Let me rephrase: Would a string of financially successful bookings keep you going, if they were for events or artists that you weren't really happy with personally?
ASL: [laughs] I have had many experiences, actually what I always characterize as the highest highs and the lowest lows. A lot of those experiences were personal triumphs and career triumphs, and the lowest lows were always hard lessons. A couple of years ago, I would have said that success meant personal satisfaction and not necessarily financial reward. Nowadays, because of the competitive industry that I work in, it has conditioned me to equate personal success and satisfaction with financial success and, in many ways, it has become hand-in-hand.
CM: Certainly, these days a person can really only afford to take on financially profitable endeavors, no matter how much you would love to help out an inspirational performer.
ASL: My former mentor always told me that everybody in this business is a whore, and all past grudges go out the window when there is a big offer on the table. But it is also in my nature to invest a lot and to give a lot to the artists that I make a commitment to.
CM: Do you ever think of leaving the music realm, professionally, and just become a music fan again?
ASL: I do. It would be nice to appreciate music for what it is again.
CM: Before we wrap-up, are there any things you'd like to add, to throw out to readers?
ASL: I would like to encourage everyone to follow their passion and their dreams. If they have a vision of what they want to be or what they think they can become, they need to start focusing on the "NOW". Live in the present moment and to act now. Hold on to your dreams, but don't lose yourself in it. The things that you do now, today, will affect what your "now" will become later on in the future.
CM: Fantastic advice, in art and in life.
ASL: Thanks for the opportunity. It was fun.