15.08.2018 | Words by: Jasmin Hoek
Photo by: Thomas Venker for Kaput Magazin
On Friday August 10th, an all Discwoman
line up played the basement of De School. A few hours before opening the club doors, a workshop was hosted by Discwoman founder Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson. In the male-dominated world of Amsterdam music agencies this workshop focused on exploring the alternatives. She led the workshop and helped in shaping the participants ambitions in this field.
Frankie grew up in London. As one of the very few black students at the predominantly white university she attended in England, she developed a strong interest in creating spaces for marginalised people. Her experience here taught her about needing a space and an environment that supports you – an environment where marginalised people can survive and thrive. “I never thought my love for techno and partying, and this would ever meet. But it did, so that’s great,” Frankie comments.
In 2013, four years after Frankie moved to New York, she met Emma Burgess-Olson (also known as Umfang) at Bossa Nova Civic Club. Frankie instantly got drawn to a Call Super track Emma was playing. In 2014 Emma and Frankie organised their own event at Bossa Nova Civic Club, as a response to the amount of women artists around them who were playing techno, but weren’t getting booked. “It was never the idea for it to be more than a party, but we just reacted to what was going on,” Frankie says. “For a while there was the temptation to make Discwoman just a regular event. We thought that would get really boring and competitive at some point. It also didn’t have the kind of stokehold and ability to change anything in the way I was longing for.”
“One evening Emma and I were joking that I should be her manager, and then we were like: ‘Actually, maybe I should become your manager. Yes, that’s it! Let me be your manager.’ And then we were like ‘Maybe we should be an agency,’ and ‘Yeah, okay cool let’s do it.’ We didn’t know what we were doing, but it seemed to make sense.” This marked the birth of Discwoman in 2014.
Today Frankie runs the agency together with Christine McCharen-Tran, who takes care of all the paperwork and other formal aspects of the agency. Christine had experience with managing paperwork and the more formal aspects of an agency before she started working at Discwoman.
So, it all started from a lack of visibility for artists. An agency in general puts artists on the map: it makes artists seem more professional and visible. Second, we noticed that women in general felt more vulnerable in the industry. Negotiating fees and your worth is one of the hardest things you can do. Asking to be paid more, and letting someone know that you want more money is very difficult if you are the artist and you’re fighting for yourself. To me being the person that asks for more money for my artists, it feels empowering and tough. It’s awesome to be able to challenge those kind of things, that feels political to me,” says Frankie, “I firmly believe that booking agencies and artist representation are important sites of change. Working in and improving those aspects of the scene is a huge political action we can take, and changes we are able to make ourselves.”
“A popular combat against booking more women is that ‘women are just getting booked for being a woman’, but who gives a shit. This notion that if you book someone for their identity is that you are sacrificing the music, but that’s such bullshit. It’s a myth: there’s so much talent to choose from, women, queer, of colour…,” says Frankie.
“Our first challenge was that we represented two women – Volvox and Umfang: both white women.There weren’t any queer people or women of colour playing techno in New York at the time. It was mostly white men, which is ironic considering the black origins of the music. I personally love techno, that is definitely my genre of choice. However, my taste shouldn’t necessarily dictate who I’m representing. I think there’s more important things to consider here, like the diversity of my roster. I didn’t want our agency just to be white people playing techno music. However, by bringing in different artists and different sounds some artists felt comfortable enough to start playing techno music. They wanted to, but didn’t dare to – yet. They started feeling more in touch or more comfortable with the atmosphere. Being able to see progress in artists and them growing into something they really want to play is incredible,” says Frankie.
Without further ado, here are some of Frankie’s key points for creating an inclusive agency:
– Choosing who you work with is really important to the environment you want to create.“Emma and I share love, respect, politics, and care. That needs to be the foundation of what you build. It’s super important, because it spreads out to the rest of the (working) environment.”
– Trust your own instincts.“A lot of people will tell you what you are doing is stupid, and second guess what you are doing. Do not listen to people. Everyone is too scared to take risk, they’re constantly projecting their own fears on to you.”
– Be your artists biggest fan.“If you are taking on new talent, encourage their excitement and interest. Help them develop their interests and nurture their creativity. If you believe in an artist be there for them, be their fan.”
– Step outside of what is comfortable for you music wise. You can’t stick to the same thing.
– Remember that use of appropriate language is important as an inclusive agency. You have to be very sensitive to people and how they identify. “We don’t have a set use of language. We prefer to keep it a bit open. Language is something that is always going to change. You have to be open to changing it as well. Accept that you need to be accountable for your language. In this era of identities expanding we have to be comfortable with that, and be responsible for the way we bring people in and introduce them. It’s a learning process and a process of adapting.”
– There’s not a lot you can do about being seen as exclusive, but try to be open about the process. “Letting someone into the agency for me is mostly about my personal connection with that person. If you are going to start a long process with that person the basis is excellent communication, otherwise it’s going to fail.”
– Most important in your communication with an artist is that you’re clear on what the terms are, and what you’re doing as an agent before you even start working together. Be communicative towards your artists in general.
– To survive amongst these big agencies, you need to match how they work to be taking seriously.
There are several documents that are essential and useful:
– A rider: a document you send to a club, to let them know what an artist needs: hospitality, preferences in lighting and equipment, etc.
– An offer sheet: has all the information of the event on it (venue, time), fee, contact details. You can send this to the artist or a minimised version of everything that’s relevant to the artist. To be filled in by the promoter.
– A performance agreement: is made by the agency based on the offersheet. The promoter needs to sign this.
– An itinerary: created from the offersheet. A document for the artists so they know what is going on with gigs, flights, dates, hotels. Sometimes venues offer artists their own itinerary as well, but having too much information is better than too little.
– Make sure you get a confirmation or a signature on certain documents and emails. Phone calls are not recorded, so try doing as much as possible over email. You have it written, you have the history, and you can check it if needed. It’s always going to be a blaming game if something goes wrong. So try to have your own back.
– As an agency, your job is to make everything as seamless as possible for the artist. You have to make sure nobody gets in their way for performing. “Quite often artists are already tired from playing and traveling, especially if an artist is playing more gigs in a row. So make sure little things like not having something booked or not having a flight number gets in their way. Attention to detail is very important.”
– For arguing fees it’s important to know how little an artists wants to make for an hour. The essential idea is that an artist doesn’t leave a gig feeling that they got robbed for their work.“You don’t have to play anything you don’t want to play if you want to make 500€ for every gig. You do have to be realistic: small venues, can’t pay high fees. A club with a capacity of 500, will most probably not be able to pay a of 2000 euros. If the artist also gets paid way too much, it creates an uncomfortable vibe for everyone. It’s okay if that’s the fee you want to play for, but don’t demand that amount from a venue that can’t give it to you.”
– A good way to go around it is to ask what the promotor’s budget is first instead of doing an offer, because sometimes a promoter might offer more than you had in mind.
– Keeping good relationships with venues is also important. It’s always good to be respectful, considerate and kind in your emailing. Remember to stay realistic and be clear and transparent with both artists and promotor on what your position is.“If a venue can’t cover for your artists traveling or hotel, let them know right away. ‘This is the way the offer is: do you want to do it or do you not want to do it?’”
– If something doesn’t work out, let your artist know that it is just a gig.“Tell them it’s just a party there will be plenty more of those. Move on.”
– Help your artist keep their profiles up. Press pics are important. Encourage your artists to be present and be more out there. Social media is great. Some DJs prefer not to use it, that’s fine too. Make a Soundcloud, put mixes up there. If you have an artist that produces music, encourage them to upload their music.“I find self-releases amazing, encourage your artists to do that. A lot of people are scared of what others are going to say of their productions and mixes, but if you believe in them, as an agent, push them to get it out there. Nine out of ten times, uploading stuff pays off. Even if someone doesn’t like it, someone else might like it; it’s always super objective.”
– Make a note at a promoter if an artist felt unsafe in the environment or at their venue, let them know you don’t want that behaviour towards that artist.“However, you need to be realistic. This is the world we live in, bad things are going to happen and you can’t protect everyone at every time of the day. Do what you can do, but don’t drive yourself insane thinking that you have to fix or do everything. Let go control a bit. You can only do your best.”
– Stay healthy, look out for yourself and the people around you. The scene has a lot of temptation lingering around, it’s a slippery slope.
– Know that you won’t make a lot of money. If you want to do what we do, it is not something that has to be money driving. It has to be something that you’re just passionate about. You have to be in it, because you want to represent these people. “Me and Christine split the percentage of commission we get. Discwoman survives on merchandise and the occasional sponsorship. I believe that once more of us start moving up, we can make more living out of it. It will raise the kind of stakes of what’s going on. It’s not something that is very lucrative, it take a lot of heart, care, dedication and love for a kind of music essentially. Wanting to see marginalised folks prosper is the drive of what we do, but it’s fucking awesome and it’s a huge pay off, honestly.”
– Being inclusive is something you just have to do, this should be what normal is.“It’s like how do you not be racist? Just don’t do it. Stop looking for the rule book, but just know what’s up. Don’t make excuses for being problematic, but just act right. "Take responsibility for yourself and call out the people that make your environment unsafe, even if it’s one of your own artists. Think about what kind of environment you are bringing a marginalised person into.”
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