The recording industry’s power brokering, the story goes, is bound to the coasts: The power lunches, late-night hobnobbing and faux-casual cavorting seem so quintessentially New York or L.A. But the number of big-time cultural tastemakers in our own backyard might surprise you.
Publicity, management and consulting powerhouse Biz 3 promotes clients to hipster arbiters of cool The Fader and Vice. For the last 13 years, Kathryn Frazier has grown her company into an essential tastemaking source, beginning with Will Oldham, then El-P and his indie rap imprint Def Jux. Frazier has since shifted focus to imprints like L.A.’s Stones Throw, not to mention taking on higher-profile talent like tween phenom Justin Bieber and preppy hip-hop upstart Asher Roth. The company remains best known (and most highly regarded) for its early championing of aughties club culture—working overtime to secure national coverage of local favorites Kid Sister, Flosstradamus and the Cool Kids.
As for why artists are so eager to work with the company, Frazier surmises, “We go way beyond press with our artists. We throw parties for them, host them in our homes, buy them neti pots, hear out their relationship troubles, help newbies get managers/lawyers/labels, style them, let them do laundry here, etc.,” she says. “I often do not stop working an artist after the money stops from the labels. We stick with our people through thick and thin.”
Naturally, those artists are brought to the public’s attention largely via live bookings. Chicago’s Windish Agency leads the pack at getting many of those underground artists into the right venues and onto sought-after tours and festival lineups, operating like a lower-tier version of industry titan the William Morris Agency. And it’s done so in remarkably short order. In the six years since Tom Windish launched the company, he’s wooed dozens of agents, and their respective clients, away from other companies. “We have almost 400 artists on our roster now, and three years ago we had maybe 200,” he estimates. Surely it doesn’t hurt that he’s adept at keeping an ear to the ground: “It seems like booking agents and publicists are the first people to hear about new bands these days, earlier than labels most of the time.”
Recently, a New York office was established to accommodate the booming business, home to blog faves like Girl Talk, Animal Collective and Yeasayer, not to mention Biz 3 clients past and present like Justice and local fave Tortoise. But to hear his side of it, Windish began at the ground level, like any startup. “For a very long time I booked artists that even the clubs hadn’t really heard of. I had to explain to promoters how to spell the name of Autechre and Aphex Twin.” It’s that uncanny sense of what trends lurk around the corner that’s allowed tastemakers like him—as well as Frazier—to influence the music we hear well beyond city limits.