The Agency Group has acquired highly respected boutique Nashville-based booking agency the Bobby Roberts Company, and will adopt BRC’s territorial booking model to broaden TAG’s existing Nashville office, currently led by senior vp Nick Meinema.
BRC, founded nearly 30 years ago by Bobby Roberts, represents about 30 clients, including Merle Haggard, John Anderson, Bobby Bare, BJ Thomas, Marty Stuart, Pam Tills, Lorrie Morgan, John Michael Montgomery, and emerging country artists Blackjack Billy and Chris Janson, along with many other established and emerging artists.
BRC’s staff of 10, including newly-appointed TAG Vice President Lance Roberts and booking agents Travis James, Josh Garrett, Matt Rizor and Alec Vidmar, will move to TAG with their respective clients, joining Meinema and agents Scott Galloway, Justin Bridgewater, Stu Walker and Justin Hill.
As part of this deal, founder Bobby Roberts will continue to be actively involved as a strategic consultant in the enlarged Nashville operation. Roberts’ wife Diana Roberts, the COO of BRC and instrumental in building the operation, will retire. The BRC name is also officially retired, and that staff will join TAG in new office space in the Cummins Station area of Nashville in November.
TAG group CEO Gavin O’Reilly says his agency “spent a long time looking at potential candidates and individual agents [in Nashville],” before settling on BRC. “Here’s a guy with a hugely great reputation in Nashville, who has quietly, in a very proud way, built up a great agency,” he tells Billboard. “Bobby wanted to see if he could find a good fit to ensure that his legacy and great years of work would be carried on by a company that recognizes what agents do; we’re not an overly corporate entity, [and] we’re very entrepreneurial, which is also what Bobby, Lance, Travis and the guys at BRC have been doing. This seemed to be a very good fit, and it gives Bobby’s clients greater exposure internationally, which is one of our great strengths, that we can provide a truly global platform. I’m really delighted that we managed to get a deal done.”
BRC has contacted all of its clients about the acquisition, and the feedback has been “excellent,” Roberts says. The move “will enhance the reach that the TAG roster has already, emphasizing the extra services for the BRC artists that come over,” Meinema tells Billboard. “More importantly, for those artists and managers, the only thing that will change in their day-to-day is when they call it will say ‘The Agency Group.’ They’re still getting Lance, Travis, everything they’re used to, they’re just getting it with more services tied in.”
Negotiations have been taking place for much of this year. “What was paramount for me was that I felt this was a good thing for our roster as a whole,” Roberts explains. “As I got to know the principles of TAG over the last months, I realized very quickly that this would open up a whole new opportunity with client relationships and talent buyers that will enhance the touring of the artists that we represent. That was a no-brainer to me.
“The other aspect was how do we integrate our system into the Agency Group system, and … they will integrate the territorial system that we have,” Roberts continues. “So we don’t miss anything on behalf of the artists, we’re just a turbocharged version and we can do that much more for our clients. I also am very much at peace about all our employees, who have been loyal to the Bobby Roberts Company, that TAG very graciously was totally open to bringing everybody in as part of their family.”
Adds Meinema, “The deal wasn’t a long discussion. The long discussion was about making sure that the artists were taken care of, so when the switch is flipped, nothing changes for them, except they have more tools in the toolbox, a little more clout, and more people looking at them.”
TAG’s Nashville office represents such acts as Kevin Costner’s Modern West, the Trailer Park Boys and emerging artists Dallas Smith and Sunday Best, and successfully books TAG clients like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and many others, into fairs and festivals. While most of TAG uses the “responsible agent” model, where one agent is responsible for all that agent’s client bookings, the Nashville office will use an “augmented territorial system,” Meinema says, “but the reality is, country music in the Nashville office, [under] TAG, is going to be booked territorially. If we’re going to have conversations about really being in the country business, that’s the way it needs to be done. Country artists work Thursday-Sunday almost all year, and that doesn’t exist in rock or the other businesses we’re in as much. We need to adopt the knowledgeable systems that have been on base here in Nashville.”
BRC’s clients will immediately get more clout and a global platform. Not only does TAG book nearly 50,000 shows annually in over 60 countries, but TAG’s tour marketing, sponsorship/branding, literary, and other departments will broaden the opportunities for BRC artists. “There’s just a little more bulk to it now,” Meinema says, adding that BRC also brings much to TAG, beyond the clients. “They’re bringing an allotment of buyers that they deal with almost exclusively, and we have that same thing. You put that together, and there’s going to be a metamorphosis, a one-plus-one-equals-three, that will happen. And not just with the roster; the personalities at TAG and BRC getting together will supercharge what we all do.”
Lance Roberts, son of the agency’s founder (along with agent Travis James), remains responsible agent for Merle Haggard (a 17-year client), and was a critical player in getting the TAG negotiations started with Meinema. He says he doesn’t expect his day-to-day business to be effected much, beyond “giving me more opportunities for my clients,” he says. “I really saw this opportunity as an incredible way to preserve the legacy of the Bobby Roberts Company and all the great work [Roberts] did in getting this company off the ground, the family dynamic of all us being involved,” he says. “To have a company like TAG that saw value and wanted to be a part of what we’re doing, and inviting us into what we’re doing as a great opportunity for them, that’s really a validation.”
For TAG, “Essentially, this will solidify our plans to be more forged into the country music community,” Meinema says. “We’re not WME, we’re not CAA, they do what they do and, for certain artists, they do it better than anyone else can do it. But for what we do, and what BRC does, I don’t think anybody can do it better. We have all the services needed to be a worldwide touring entity, and I don’t think anybody tours better than we do.”
Meinema says TAG Nashville will be “particular and unique in the Nashville landscape.” While they will be actively signing new talent, “TAG’s philosophy is [that we don’t want to sign] every young, emerging artist with a song about a pickup truck,” he says. “Do we want to be in the emerging business? No question, we want to build these long relationships and grow headliners in this format — like we’ve done in every single other format — [but] with the right clients, the right managers, and the right teams.”
For Roberts, 67, retiring the name of an agency he has spent half his life building was a bittersweet experience, but he came to embrace the idea. Yet, “It’s not a hard decision for me, because of the fact I’ve gotten to know these people [at TAG],” Roberts says. “Philosophically, the way they run their business, they are like a very large boutique operation. Although they represent a couple thousand artists, it doesn’t feel corporate. I’m very excited about the future here.”
And while Roberts may spend more time fishing, “I’m going to continue to stay very actively involved,” he says, adding that he will maintain such relationships as with country legend John Anderson, whom Roberts has booked for 26 years. “Nick and all the TAG family have welcomed me in to be a part of this and to work with them. As long as they need to have me, I’ll be there.”
TAG has seven offices: London, where Neil Warnock (still an agent with TAG, booking such artists as Dolly Parton) launched the agency in 1981, along with New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, Scandinavia, Miami and Nashville. TAG now has 90 agents booking a roster of over 2,000 music artists.