An Agent Of Metal Fortune
How would you like a career where you’re immersed in the music you love? For Borror, it began with an internship that eventually led to the founding of All Access Booking 21 years ago. Now he spends his days (and nights) scouting new bands, booking dates for his clients and strategizing with artist managers and labels to deliver the best tours possible. Some of his fall tours include Samhain, Black Veil Brides, Opeth & In Flames, and Killswitch Engage.
Borror was gracious enough to give us a peek at how tours are booked in the 21st century. But his story is about more than just the business of concerts. It’s also about Borror’s passion for music and how his love for the art brought him to where he is today.
Where were you before you started All Access Booking in 1993?
I was in college. I went for one of the early versions of the music business courses at one of the Philadelphia colleges. I went to school for a minute at Drexel University for finance but decided I was never going to be that guy. I went to shows as teenager … three or four times a week. When I went into college for finance, did a year of that [and] realized I was about to hate my life, I decided I needed to figure out a way to stay close to music. I got an internship through school. The company was called “Fox” and at the time they basically made software for booking agencies, tour managers and managers. They had a management company as well and they were also running a fan club. So they would, basically, give me odd jobs. One of the odd jobs they gave me at the time was like, “Go book these bands for three weeks that no one has ever heard that we manage.” I did a good job, started flirting with that with bands that were friends of mine. This guy from Fox actually backed All Access. We built a little business out of my internship with these guys. They kind of did it with no strings attached. They put me in business, made sure I had a little bit of money to not fall on my face and let me go out on my own. I figured that out for a little while.
Did I always think I was going to be a booking agent? No. I didn’t know what I was going to do when I took that internship and what doors it would open. I took to this and pretty soon I had a couple of bands. Artists & Audience came knocking on my door not long after and said, “Hey. You’re going to lose a couple of these bands in a minute. We’re actually trying to take a couple of these bands out from under you. Why don’t we give you a job where you can keep these bands and we get these bands and nobody loses?” That was really how it all got started.
Is that when you realized that this was more than just a temporary gig?
I forget which year I got the job at Artists & Audience but I think I realized that a little bit sooner than that. All Access had kind of become my career, my job. I did it while I was still in college … taking phone calls and sending faxes around my class schedule. It was a real gig. I made some money. I wasn’t getting rich but I had a cooler job while in college than most people and I intended on continuing to do it after college. … It wasn’t that calculated but [it was like] “Here I am in music doing something I love with bands that I like and I’m going to do this until somebody tells me to stop.”
Were you the music freak among your peers when you were a teenager?
Yes and no. I was into punk rock when I was a kid. All of the friends that I made were friends outside of where I lived or where I went to school. They were other kids who were going to shows. I would say I was as into music as much as whatever my circle of people were at the time. We were all fanatics, piling into each other’s pickup trucks and going to Connecticut on Friday, D.C. on Saturday, back to Philly on Sunday and New York during the week. There were probably 12 of us that were doing that. Of us, I was … the worker of the bunch. I would be the guy who would set up shows for my band or my friend’s bands. … promote a show here or there. I would be the guy who would introduce me and my group of friends to other groups of friends. I was designing a path for myself before I realized I was doing it.
You have a lot of metal bands on your personal roster at The Agency Group. What do you think is the public’s biggest misconception about metal?
I think it’s changed a lot. I think the public’s misconception was that it was a lot of trouble makers. But that feels more ’80s than 2014 to me. I dunno. [People may think] the message is negative [but] I don’t think that’s the case. There are a lot of political messages in the music … a lot of messages about winning against the grain, winning from the bottom up. The message of the music is probably still misunderstood and misconstrued. That the audiences are violent – I think that’s misconstrued. It’s a real community lifestyle thing. When kids get into it, they more often become lifers within it.
Through the years there have been articles written saying that, no matter what popular music trends may be at any moment, metal always lasts.
I think that’s definitely proven itself. It’s had waves where it’s been a little more pop culture than underground, but whether it blooms out or some of the air comes out of the bloom, it definitely sticks around. I see fans of bands they loved in the ’80s rediscovering bands in the 2000s and 2010s, discovering new bands that feel relatable to them. At the same time you’re seeing 14 and 17-year-old kids get into it. They grow with the bands and they stick around. A lot of times … these fans gear up for these shows. It’s one of the events in their lives, to go the concerts for these bands. I think that’s true of any fan who is going to a concert in any genre but I want to say [metal is] a little different in the sense that that 14-year-old kid shows up when he’s 24, when he’s 34 and 54 and the event is still just as meaningful as it was when he was 14.
How do you keep your ear to the ground for discovering new music?
There’s a couple of things that help me with that. Getting to be involved with music keeps me young-spirited. [I’m] playing on the playground, still, in a certain way. I still pinch myself over the idea that I get paid and have a career doing something that I love, that I knew that I loved when I was 12 or 13. I never forget that. I interact a lot with younger people at The Agency Group. If I’m at a show, I stand in the crowd a lot of times instead of the VIP area to get a sense of where people are coming from, what people are saying, whether people are liking something. This isn’t a definitive answer but I listen to a lot of the stuff that’s sent to me, particularly when it comes from a resource that I’m already familiar with. It still does pile up because too much of it shows up. I try to get through it as much as I can. … If you can identify good sources and pay attention to what’s happening culturally, you have good resources of people to bounce things off of, you’ve got an ear [for quality music], you can stay relevant.
How do you stay relevant over decades, when tastes change and trends go in and out of style?
For me, I don’t chase trends. If I like something I’m looking for something that stands alone in the crowd. … It’s true in any genre, it’s true in any era – there’s one great band and then there are 50 that copy that band. Trying to pay attention to the small details that makes a band unique is something … I listen for and look for. … I operate outside of the bubble of trends and eras in that way. Is this relatable? Is there something that rocks? Is there something that has a bit of a timeless air but also feels current? It’s not math or science in the sense that there’s an explanation for it. I don’t think I’m so unique that I have that quality. There are a lot of people in our business that have that quality. But I think that quality isn’t found in everybody. It’s found in the pros.
But you also have to balance a band’s uniqueness with whether it can succeed financially. Have you known a band that fit the qualities you described but was incapable of selling tickets?
I think that probably happens more than [people think]. I get credit for the bands that stick around, that were nothing and became something, but it goes unnoticed the bands that were great but never got anywhere. It happens all the time. There are a few things that go on with that. It’s not up to me and it’s not up to the band. It’s up to the people listening, they make the call. Sometimes there are misfires in the setup, in the chemistry of the people in the band and the expectations. Sometimes it never gets far enough for people who listen to make that call. For me, probably the worst part of our business is the bands that don’t make it. Particularly the bands that work hard and are great but for whatever reason it wasn’t their time. Those are tough stories, that aren’t talked too much about. … Hopefully, the smart kids or the kids that are paying attention, get a shot at being something. There are plenty of bands that are doing it the same way as the next band that got popular, but it doesn’t happen [for them]. They’re not left with much when all is said and done. I take it really personally when I take on a band and [try to] help them get to the next level.
When you sign a promising new band, what are your first steps to putting that act on the road?
Go talk it up. … That [the band] sounds great, that it’s going to be important. … an asset, a good look for someone else’s tour. Kind of lay the groundwork, attack the potentials. … Rally the team, the label, the publicist, the management, whomever that may be, to whisper in the other camp’s ear to pay attention over here. You’re competing against a large pool a lot of times. There’s a little bit of luck involved, a little bit of relying on your relationships involved. … You want to get those first ground level tours. A lot of times it doesn’t have to be the big tour, it just has to be a tour where you get to tell a little bit of the story. Where you can say, “I told you this band was going to be buzzy. They just did this tour and look at the word of mouth coming off of the tour.” One success story will open up the door for the next one. You really [have to make] sure you keep up your momentum. Which is why you can’t overload your roster too much with little things. You need to have a credible approach to believing in the ones that are real.
Are festivals important for breaking new bands?
That’s a tricky question. I would say they are [but] it’s also hard to compete. People come for the event, drink a beer, to be outside. They do come to discover new music, to stay in tune with culture, they come for the headliners. When there are 10 bands a day on four stages, it’s as significant as it can be for the band that pulls it off [but] they can also get lost in the shuffle.
But you’ve got to be there. If you want to win the game you’ve got to show up on the field.
For breaking bands, how important is that personal touch, the meet-and-greets, to be very accessible for fans? There was a time when bands didn’t mingle with fans.
To me, the jury is still out on this topic. I say to my son who is fully grown, “I feel like you can’t see cool stuff anymore because now everything is sold to you with a commercial of some kind.” And that commercial can be that access. You don’t just get to discover the band that you’ll like, you also have to pay for the VIP meet-and-greet. People are paying for it, so people obviously want it. I can’t say it’s a bad thing but the mystery and the idea of putting a rock star on a platform – in the long term I guess we’ll wait and see. … I think [more access] is building up momentum, there’s no stopping the train now, this is the way it is. I think it feels good to artists, and fans like the experience of being able to have access. You can’t argue with that to a certain extent.
The public stereotype of an agent is a person sitting behind a desk selling dates – acting as a liaison between the promoter and the act. But what are some of the things you do that might surprise people outside your industry?
It’s not just the go-between. There is a lot of quarterbacking to be done, a lot of planning, strategizing, coaching and leading in terms of seeing when something is cresting with some momentum and being ready to hit another switch to take it to another level. Whether, it’s 500 tickets to 1,000 tickets or 2,500 tickets to 5,000 tickets or 5,000 tickets to 10,000 tickets. There’s a lot of surveying the area to see what’s in your favor, what you are up against to be able to make calculated moves to drive something up the food chain. From a fan’s view or from an outsider’s view, I don’t know if people realize how critical agents are in that role but it is a big part of what we do.
Putting together the routing, getting the holds and getting the offers on the table, then getting the offers to look right, confirming the shows, issuing the contracts and the itinerary – that’s the nuts and bolts of what we do. … Now, there’s a lot more. We’re more involved with the show-to-show and big picture tour marketing. We’ve got to be aware of branding opportunities that exist. There are a lot of add-ons. I think everybody in this world, let alone in our business, is expected to be able to do three things, not one.
When you started your career, the entity that is now called Live Nation was just getting started. How has that affected your job?
I think there are good things and bad things about it. Some of our business has become a spreadsheet and math equation and [less] about the heart and soul of music. … This has always been a business but, traditionally speaking, there has been a certain amount of, like, “Let’s play it fast and loose and see if we can get lucky and have fun doing it.” I think our business has lost some of that. But I think it’s been replaced by a lot of great marketing opportunities and strategies, new ways to build bands and ways to keep pace with the technology that is available to fans. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. I think a lot of our business is how much we can extract from the fans as opposed to how much of a great experience we can give to our fans. I’m not always in love with that and I’m not blaming it on consolidation or anything else. I just think that’s a component of what it is. The consolidation, it works in certain scenarios with tours. I sell a lot of tours to AEG or Live Nation as box shows. Out of a 30-day tour, here’s 22 shows. You can take advantage of all the things that come from one group of people quarterbacking a marketing strategy on a national level. There are some really great things to that. Sometimes, depending on whatever variable there may be, it’s better to deal with the guys on a one-on-one level city-to-city and get a super-personal touch.
Through the years other agents have said it’s easier to deal with one person to book 40 dates than to deal with a different person for each show.
That’s true, and at the same token I don’t think that’s always appropriate. I think that’s the cookie-cutter way out in a lot of scenarios and you’re not getting super-served or a custom look. You’re just plugging something into a system. For me, I like to do that when I know I have something that the consolidated group really wants, [to say] “Look what we can do when an act is in this position.” I think that’s a really great time to use them and that’s a good fit for everybody.
What is an agent’s place when a tour blows up – a band member quits or somebody gets arrested? For instance, Lamb Of God’s lead singer Randy Blythe, was arrested in The Czech Republic in connection with a fan’s death, and spent a considerable amount of time in court rooms and in jail before he was acquitted.
I’m close with [Lamb Of God]. They built their career at the same time I was building mine. [The arrest and incarceration] was a terrible experience and was not something I would want to see anyone go through. I’d like to be able to take some credit for having some sort or role in it. But my role was to be supportive. It happened overseas. I think our company showed great support in the situation, overall. I think Randy, management and the band would say so. In that kind of situation you’re kind of in the background hoping for the best. … It was at the mercy of the court system in that situation. There wasn’t anything that anyone could do except have the due process and the legal team on the ground do what they do. We all did what we could showing support in terms of bills getting paid and whatever else. But there was no lobbying for him in that situation, especially in that court system. We had to wait it out, let it go through the process.
You take another scenario, where maybe a guy is on tour in Texas and gets popped for some weed in the tour bus. He goes to jail and the band needs to figure out how to keep the tour going. For me, I take a little more active role in that situation. Help open some doors to finding a drummer or offer the manager three or four different solutions and be really active. But that situation [Randy Blythe] was such a different kind. It was unique. I don’t think anyone who was involved or was close to the band didn’t do all that they could. … Ultimately, Randy is the reason he’s free now. He had a good group of lawyers … and that’s why it panned out the way it did. It wasn’t because of the booking agent in any way. I can tell you that.
When you have a band out for nationwide tour, how many shows will you see?
Anywhere from two to six to seven. I’ve been on tours where I’ve seen a lot more than that, when I’ve gone on the road for one reason or another, whether it’s because I wanted to be out there with the act or whether it was because I had a role where I had to be out there actively day-to-day. On a standard tour I’m going to see, a minimum of one, for sure, but two to four is normal and the occasional six or seven.
You mentioned that you like to go out into the audience as opposed to sitting in the VIP section. When was the last time you bought a ticket to a show?
One of the great perks of what we do is that we don’t have to do that [buy a ticket]. If it’s a young band without [it] being on the radar [that I’m] checking them out, I’ll show up at the show, pay my $15, try to stay off the radar and see how the show reads, and comment later, rather than having everyone know I’m there and asking me what I think. Sometimes, because of our access, we get asked to a lot of shows [and I] If I have to play ticket broker for friends and families. There are times when I know it’s not the time to ask for a favor [from] the promoter or I’ve used up too many and I still want to do someone a favor, I’ve bought tickets for friends and families, just to make sure they got the experience they’re looking for.
Those times when you did buy ticket and tried to keep a low profile, were you also checking out the audience to see if other agents were scoping out the band?
I don’t know. It’s probably harder for us to hide from each other. I know the guys who will come out and see the bands that I’m interested in and they know me. If I see them in that situation, they’ve probably got themselves in for free.
If it was possible, what kind of advice would you send back to Tim Borror in 1993?
I consider myself very lucky to be doing what I’m doing 20-some years later. There are things maybe I could have done to have a bigger career and there are probably plenty of things I could have done to have less of a career. I’ve never gone back and thought about how I could have coached myself differently. There is something awesome about this business in terms of getting where you’re going. I don’t take it for granted.
This is the latest in a series of features designed to give our readers a peek behind the concert industry curtain and Tim Borror is the third Agency Group agent to answer our questions. For more encounters with booking agents, click here for our conversation with The Agency Group’s Peter Schwartz and Joshua Dick and here for our interview with Dave Shapiro.