Q’s With: Paradigm’s Marshall Betts on Courtney Barnett: ‘The Demand Was Crazy’

Courtney Barnett
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– Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett seemingly came out of nowhere when she emerged onto the indie scene in 2013. Known for a deadpan singing style, witty lyrics and hooky rock songs, the singer-songwriter from Down Under had already played in a few different bands, most notably alongside Jen Cloher, with whom she is married. But Barnett’s big break came with her breakout single “Avant Gardner,” which was followed by a North American tour booked by Paradigm’s  Marshall Betts.

“We were able to sell out pretty much everything in that first year and do some festivals,” Betts told Pollstar of his first-year booking Barnett. “The demand was crazy.” An industry veteran, Betts began his career working as an assistant manager to Guided By Voices, Yoko Ono and Tift Merritt, among others. He moved on to work as an agent at CAA, APA and finally The Windish Agency before it merged with Paradigm.

Barnett’s Grammy nod in 2016 for her 2015 debut Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit helped bouY an extensive Theatre tour. She didn’t rest in 2017 with the release a collaborative album with Kurt Vile, followed by a co-headlining tour of even larger venues. On the eve of her next major outing in support of her upcoming second album Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom + Pop Music Co.), Betts spoke to Pollstar about the rewards and challenges of building Barnette’s career.

Pollstar: You just announced Courtney Barnett tour dates, how is that going?

Marshall Betts: It’s going great. There was a lot of excitement last week when she announced the record. We followed that with a tour this summer in larger rooms. We’re trying to do big, outdoor shows in July and then she’ll come back later, but that hasn’t been announced yet. Promoters are super excited and fans are excited to be in bigger venues. She’ll be selling the most amount of tickets she’s ever sold.

The last time in 2016 she toured extensively on her own, what’s different this time around?

Bottom line is that she’s an Australian artist so having her tour over here is an expensive endeavor. As she grows, and we grow, it becomes a much bigger operation. Being from Australia, where you are a 13- or 14-hour flight from anywhere, it’s a worldwide conversation and effort. Courtney has to be willing and able to be away from home for a long period of time.

This year we were able to plan this current touring cycle behind the new record in advance and map out certain time periods, where she was going to be in North America. That was a luxury in that we were able to target what we wanted, certain festivals and plan further in advance.

How did you handle booking on the tour with Kurt Vile?

Kurt is represented by Eric (Dimenstein) at Ground Control. We pretty much booked the entire tour together. Both of our teams worked with Courtney’s management and label and Kurt’s management and label.  What started as a small project where we thought we might do a few dates here and there turned into an album and then we knew we had a more expensive tour. Every date sold out, they played in larger venues than they both previously played headlining.

How long have you worked with Courtney?

I’ve worked with her since the first time she came to the States in 2013 and played CMJ. I booked a little tour around that. She released “Avant Gardner,” which was her first big breakout song in September, prior to CMJ. She released that on her own, sbe didn’t have a record label and everything went from there.

What were some of the challenges?

The fact that she was Australian, coupled with demand and limited availability and funds, was challenging. Luckily, because she’s Australian, she was able to get grants and things like that and come over. The demand was crazy, but we couldn’t get her over here all the time. We were able to sell out pretty much everything in that first year and do some festivals

How was transitioning to larger venues?

It was based on demand. We moved up from Terminal 5 (in New York City), where she sold out several months in advance, and now we’re going to do Prospect Park, which is almost double the amount. She’s doing the Greek Theatre which will be her biggest L.A. headline show to date, which is exciting. In a very similar sense, in every other major market when she sold out rooms in advance, we moved up to the next room.  

Those are big jumps.

This was planned many, many months ago.S ince the tour will be in the summer we wanted to have larger, outdoor shows to let people see her in an outdoor environment as opposed to just a theater or a club.  We also wanted to have great support on that and have Julien Baker, Big Thief, Vagabond – acts that are very up-and-coming and that are in her wheelhouse. We’ve had a firm belief of not skipping steps with Courtney and from day one its always been about growing her for a long-term career. She’s going to be around for a while.

Including the Spring and Summer dates, which festivals is she playing?

We wanted to go with festivals with people that had previously championed her.

Like with Newport Folk Festival, she was the very first artist announced on that lineup. Pitchfork have been very big supporters so we’re going to playing there. A few years ago she was earlier in the day, now she will be direct support to the headliner on the first night.

We like to work with people who have previously supported her, whether it’s a festival or a promoter. But the focus is really building her as a headliner, and that continues through the Fall.

Can you offer any thoughts on the recent agreement signed by 45 music festivals to achieve equal gender representation on lineups by 2022?

I work with plenty of female artists, and they are important not only for diversifying things but also artistically. A lot of my artists make great music and I would love to see more of them featured predominantly on more festivals. I think that is an important topic.

I do think that I work with a lot of great promoters who keep that in mind. I don’t think my artists are excelling only because of the fact that they are women, they are excelling because they make great music. If they are able to help move that conversation along then that’s great. But I don’t think that any of them are purposely out there to push some sort of political agenda. First and foremost, they are trying make great music and grow as artists.