When Christian Bernhardt moved to the United States to finish his law degree, the German-born owner of Emeryville, Calif.-based Kork Agency admits, "I didn't even know what a booking agency was."

But with the help of a friend in 1997, Bernhardt began booking shows for little-known noise-rock bands in Minneapolis and was hooked. Now, more than six years after moving to Northern California and founding the Kork Agency, Bernhardt oversees two North American offices, eight employees and a diverse roster of nearly 175 artists, many of them indie.

With such clients as Aesop Rock, . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Atmosphere, Beirut, CocoRosie, Deerhoof, the Gossip, Mates of State, Of Montreal, Peaches, Sage Francis and Xiu Xiu, among others, Kork has between 10 and 30 tours on the road at any given time. And while Bernhardt describes the small to midsize venues Kork traffics in as "completely clogged," he says he still turns a profit while maintaining his independence.

Have declining album sales changed the way indie artists tour?

More and more bands realize that touring, if done right, can create quite a bit of income aside from record sales. The point of touring originally was to promote your record. But it has shifted to make money as well.

So then how has booking bands changed since you first started?

Nowadays there are way too many small bands out there that want to get on the road. When I started booking, the rule was-at least for the size of bands I booked-that you started booking about two months in advance. Now you need to start placing holds and reserving venues some eight months in advance . . . It's completely clogged up. It's insane that I have to book a 300-capacity-room tour six months in advance. Maybe the answer would be that venues refuse to book certain acts further out than four months in advance.

Does Kork only book acts that are signed to a record label?

No. I used to, only because we needed the support of the label to make it work. Since the Internet has become such a strong force, we occasionally take on bands that don't have a label, but have strong label interest . . . There are also bands we book that aren't established yet. We pick them up because we have a feeling they will go places, and because we know that once the band's record is out they're going to get swooped up by the Agency Group or William Morris [Agency].

As the owner of a boutique booking agency, is competing with larger agencies a major challenge?

Giant companies like William Morris and [Creative Artists Agency] are swimming in our pond where we fish for bands. They didn't used to do that. Acts that were unsigned were completely not of interest to them. But they see a band like Arcade Fire, who two years ago played for 27 people a night, co-headlining Coachella. They realize they need to have a closer ear to the ground as well.

What would stop a buzzing band on Kork's roster from moving to a larger booking agency?

I strongly believe that [larger agencies] can't offer much more at all. Bands think that once they're with a big agency, they'll get great support slots for larger bands. That's not true. Nowadays, large bands are very particular with who they want to take out. They want the hot, young bands and it doesn't matter whose roster they're on.

It's kind of disgusting nowadays with younger bands, because they want to go to the top right away. They think whoever waves the biggest check is going to be the best bet. But it's just not true. It's really a bummer because the pressure on us smaller agencies is becoming bigger and bigger.

Is there a place for an indie-rock package tour, a la Taste of Chaos or Warped?

Generally, Taste of Chaos or Warped tour attracts a very young audience, and that's where I assume the money is. For indie-rock bands, the audience is slightly older-and from my experience, more broke. So it's harder to generate enough money to make it work.