Tom Windish, the president of boutique booking agency the Windish Agency, was among numerous talent firms competing to sign the highly buzzed-about 16-year-old New Zealand singer Lorde.
“At the time, I think there were a few other agencies sniffing around, but the manager (Scott Maclachlan) in New Zealand checked me out with a few people he knows,” Windish tells Billboard.biz. “They all gave me high marks. Then we had a few conversations and he thought it was a right place for [Lorde], much to the chagrin of my competitors, I suppose.”
Signing Lorde was a nice score for Windish, whose agency books more than 600 acts, including Gotye, the xx, Alt-J, the Knife and Icona Pop. The New Zealand singer’s buzz in America began earlier this summer with the release of her EP “The Love Club,” which debuted at No. 8 on Heatseekers Albums in May, and has since graduated to the Billboard 200. And with her aptly titled single “Royals,” Lorde became the first lead solo female to hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative airplay chart in more than 17 years.
Lorde recently made her U.S. live debut with sold-out club shows at Le Poisson Rouge (New York) and the Echoplex (Los Angeles). With a handful of additional U.S. club dates scheduled in the coming months (see full list below), Lorde is expected to tour behind her upcoming full-length album debut, due Sept. 30 on Lava/Republic Records.
Windish recently spoke to Billboard.biz about how he signed Lorde, the strategy behind booking her upcoming sold-out U.S. club tour dates, the temptations of playing larger-sized venues, the thought process of setting live performance fees for an artist with virtually no touring history, and how musicians are seemingly getting younger.
Billboard.biz: What’s the story behind you signing Lorde to the Windish Agency?
Tom Windish: I heard about her from some friends (in December 2012) and then checked out some of her songs on SoundCloud. I sent the songs to a few agents in my office, some friends, and everyone replied saying how great it was. I’ve done the same kind of thing with a lot of different artists I hear about. But I’ve never had such a unanimous, quick and overwhelming response.
At the time, I think there were a few other agencies sniffing around, but the manager (Scott Maclachlan) in New Zealand checked me out with a few people he knows. I work with the Naked And Famous, who are also from New Zealand, and he knows other people I work with. They all gave me high marks. Then we had a few conversations and he thought it was a right place for [Lorde], much to the chagrin of my competitors, I suppose.
When did you first see Lorde perform and what were your impressions?
I was at both of the shows she recently played in the United States — New York [Le Poisson Rouge on Aug. 6] and Los Angeles [Echoplex on Aug. 8]. Both were great. She’s only done a handful of shows and the show itself is a work in progress. She has an amazing drummer, an amazing producer, and there are some backup tracks. When she opens her mouth to sing it’s unbelievable.
What else is Lorde doing to develop her live show?
She’s constantly rehearsing. She’ll be back in the States for some shows at the end of September. The show will be more developed than it is now.
What was the strategy behind booking Lorde’s upcoming U.S. clubs shows?
We obviously wanted her to play New York and L.A. Part of the decision about where to play was which venues were available. I didn’t get that much notice; I had about a month’s notice. We got the word from everyone that things were starting to happen and she needed to get over here to do a bunch of promo and play some shows. We wanted her to play cool places. So playing the Echoplex felt like the right move for us. And playing Le Poisson Rouge in New York also felt right.
Is your phone ringing off the hook for requests to book Lorde? How do you fight the temptation of playing clubs instead of larger-sized venues where she might draw a bigger crowd?
My phone is definitely ringing off the hook. Actually, it’s more like my inbox is constantly full with requests to book her — all sorts of venues and opportunities. Just about everything you can think of, from going out and opening for huge arena acts to playing all sorts of parties and fashion events. Every venue that hosts live music has reached out to me. That’s an exaggeration, but a lot of people want to book her.
The strategy is to be cautious. We don’t want to put her into huge venues right away. She’s a very genuine artist who wants to play the right places at the right ticket prices with the right opening acts, where she can have a really good, intimate, genuine experience with her fans. The venues are about 1,000 to 1,500 capacity, which are reasonable sizes but still pretty intimate performances. They all sold out instantly.
Lorde’s debut album will be released on Sept. 30. Beyond her upcoming club shows, are there plans for a full-scale North American tour?
We’re analyzing which festivals she’s going to play next year. And then we’ll build more shows around the festivals she ends up playing. There might be a tour early in 2014 or it might be a little later. We’re not sure yet. There will be more shows to support the album, but I don’t know yet which months it will be or how many shows.
How do you set live performance fees for a young, buzzed-about artist who essentially doesn’t have any touring history?
That’s a tricky situation for an agent, particularly when it comes to festivals, which are booked so far in advance. Some book 10 months in advance. It’s not just a challenge for [Lorde] but for a lot of artists — to try and place a value on an artist before an album is out and before we see how the market receives it. It’s hard to say. Is it worth X or is it worth three-times X? We’re working through that. One thing I’ll say is that the longer we wait to determine that price, the higher that price will go. What I mean by that is she keeps getting bigger every day.
Lorde is 16 years old. Is she the youngest artist you’ve worked with so far in your career?
She’s probably the youngest. I’m seeing more and more music by young artists come across my desk. There was a moment a couple of years ago where I realized I’m getting older after I met the parents of one of my clients. And they were, like, “What does Mr. Windish think?” But there are several new generations of musicians out there. I’ve got some other clients who are pretty young. There’s a guy named Max Jury who I just took on and he’s around 18 years old.
Lorde’s upcoming North American concert dates:
Sept. 24: The Fonda (Los Angeles)
Sept. 25: The Belasco Theater (Los Angeles)
Sept. 27: The Fillmore (San Francisco)
Sept. 28: Showbox At The Market (Seattle)
Sept. 30: Webster Hall (New York)
Oct. 1: Webster Hall (New York)
Oct. 3: Warsaw (Brooklyn)
Oct. 6: The Danforth Music Hall (Toronto)