Q’s With Tim Borror, Co-Founder Of Sound Talent Group

Airborne Toxic Event:
Theo Wargo / Getty Images
– Airborne Toxic Event:
Randy Blythe of Lamb of God, a STG client, performs during a tour with Slayer and Behemoth at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on July 27, 2017, in New York.

With 26 years in the business working as a metal/hard rock agent at both major (United Talent Agency) and independent agencies (All Access Booking, The Agency Group) and now co-owner of his own company, Sound Talent Agency, Tim Borror is the perfect person to discuss the live metal landscape. Opening STG nearly two years ago with Dave Shapiro and Matt Andersen, the roster and company have grown exponentially and in addition to bands like Lamb of God, Clutch, Trivium and GWAR, they now represent artists that include Run-DMC, Calle 13 and Hanson. Here, Borror looks at the state of the live metal market, livestreaming and festivals and branching into new businesses.

Pollstar: How long have you been an agent?
Tim Borror: 26 years, something like that. This is the only thing I’ve done as an adult, period.

How have you seen the metal market develop in that time?
It’s always had a bit of a bulletproof existence. The baseline of the genre is healthy and secure, anywhere from a 200-cap room like Saint Vitus up until a 2,000- or 3,000-capacity room. There’s some bands that have really high ceilings or maybe no ceiling in a couple of instances inside the genre. That wasn’t always the case. I mean, Metallica, early on, was a genre leader and Slayer, obviously, and Megadeth – all those bands have been big for a long time. Obviously Slipknot’s done it at a different level, and there’s been other bands that have emerged from the genre and become big commercial successes. This genre is really good at supporting itself and supporting emerging artists inside the genre to be the next wave. Bands can have really long, sustained careers in this genre as long as they keep serving the audience, making great records, having interesting tours and staying fresh. Bands will stay supported in this genre for a long time.

Has there been an increase in festivals for metal?
A lot of these festivals serve that audience and know a pretty large part of that base is going to show up year in and year out and support that event. With the way that people listen to music now, metal bands fit in the punk or Riot Fest space or in the DWP [Danny Wimmer Presents] festival space with those rock bands. C3 and Live Nation did a really interesting show last year I wish was going to stick around, Exit 111, that was awesome. It took Southern rock and outlaw country elements and meshed it with hard rock and metal and I thought it worked really well with that audience. The reason its footprint is in more festivals in North America again speaks to how loyal the audience is. Internationally, metal or hard rock runs the festival space.

Especially Europe.
Yeah. Europe, there’s a few festivals outside of Europe, in South America and parts of Asia and Australia. The music either has a bunch of slots on a broader rock-genre oriented festival or it can completely support itself and just be a metal festival.

Metal has such a powerful core, yet it rarely breaks into the mainstream. If I turn on my radio, it’s pretty hard to find black metal.
If you look at the active rock chart, metal has made its presence in that space in the last 10 years: Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Motionless in White, Avatar, there’s probably a dozen bands that live in and out of the top 20, a number of those in the top 10, and a few will get to the top five. Sirius XM has dedicated channels. In spite of that, it’s still a specialized listener. This isn’t, “I love this song,” it’s about being part of the genre and supporting the bands in that genre.

And people just love metal. It’s not going anywhere. 

Man In Black:
Courtesy Tim Borror
– Man In Black:
Tim Borror, who’s been working as an agent in the metal/hard rock sphere for 26 years.

It’s funny, five years ago, six years ago, people were saying rock’s dead, metal’s dead. And meanwhile, honestly, there was very little if no dip in the true metal genre from a touring perspective. It took a little while for the audience and the genre to take to streaming, it was largely a CD space, but it’s finally started to catch on. 

How’s it going during the pandemic? 
The audience is showing more support than ever. The few bands that are doing livestreams are having big moments. Underoath, Clutch, Trivium, three bands off the top of my head, have had really big success. People are buying more vinyl than ever, more T-shirts than ever. The audience is making it a point to stay connected to the genre and their favorite bands through this moment, which is really encouraging. Tours that have been postponed and moved to 2021 had had among the lowest refunds in the business with people saying, “Hey, you know what? I’ll wait and see those bands next year. They’re that important to me. I don’t need my money back. I want to see that show.” More so than most genres.

Streaming metal, just because of audio and the volume of it – it’s not Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard playing in his studio with an acoustic, where a lot of this started – how are metal bands doing livestreams?
These bands largely have a working-class attitude about their craft. They want to play, they want to jam, they want to get in a room with each other and turn it up and play. The concept of production is important to them. Once a couple of bands started to break the ice on how it could be done, a lot of these bands were among the first to figure out how to do it cooler and better. It’s different than a live show, obviously, but it’s still a way to get the music and it’s still pretty fun considering your options are limited. People at home are casting it to their TV and hooking it up to their stereo, blasting in their own room with a beer or cocktaiI, they’re making metal shows in their own living rooms.

So you guys started Sound Talent Group, what, two or three years ago?
First week of November 2018, a little shy of two years.

Your roster’s enormous.
It’s grown a lot. When we started it was three agents. We thought that’s what it would be for a little while. This is myself and my partners Dave Shapiro and Matt Andersen. Day one, we got several calls from people wanting to be part of what we were doing. Which surprised us a bit. Going into 2021 you’re going to see more of it, but at the time there were very few indies forming out of the majors. It was for a long time indies folding into majors. I don’t think we realized we were touching such a nerve. We didn’t know so many others would want to be part of it.

What’s the growth been like?
We grew from three agents and three assistants to 20 people inside of a year with six or seven agents. I’m psyched to say, “Look. We’re rock guys, and we’re metal guys, and punk guys,” but our roster’s got some depth to it.

We got to talk about this. There’s Calle 13, Maxi Priest, Run-DMC, The Sounds, The Wonder Years, Scandal and Residente …
Yeah, we got Latin music, K-pop, some J-pop. We’re trying to spread the field. And it’s fun to be in these other genres when you’re small like this and you’re building something special. We’re all involved a bit in each other’s worlds inside the company. So while maybe I don’t book Residente or Scandal or whatever, I’m tight enough with John Pantle that I know a lot of what’s going on with those artists touring and what he’s doing with his day-to-day. You know, with Jake Zimmerman and Eric Powell, Dave, Matt and I have a good lens on what those guys are doing and we all get help from each other to make good decisions when those forks in the road come up. It’s not just about, “Hey, how big of a year can I have independently?” It’s like, “Well, let’s make this company great and help our artists have interesting career paths and develop  bands that are here that we’ll still be booking 15 years later,” which is our calling card. It’s why we get bands early and hold onto them for a long time, these bands have long healthy big careers.

Before the pandemic, how did you see the market?
It was definitely expanding and robust. That first year of business some of our biggest artists weren’t even on the road and we had a massive year. We did great business in terms of ticket sales and percentage of sales relative to capacity. The genre and the business, going into the pandemic, was really, really healthy. We had a bunch of tours on the road in March and all of them were quite literally on fire. If not selling most of them out, they were really close. And that was true for all of 2019. 2020, pre-pandemic, was looking to be bigger and better and stronger from the perspective of the artists and how well they were doing.

What you’re working on now?
We moved a lot of tours. I wish we’d all taken April off because I don’t think I’ve ever wasted more of my own time and other people’s time than when it was like, “Oh, we’ll just reschedule these,” and none of that worked. But since then, we’ve had a little bit of a pivot. We’ve got time and manpower and started three businesses out of this pandemic.
We started a live streaming platform. Our partners are a company called Live From. We’re part of that company. We’re doing a ton of livestreams, some in the hard rock space and metal space and some in all the other spaces. We’ve done everything from Clutch, we have one coming up with Down. We’ve done Silverstein and have one coming up today, actually, with Thursday. On the flip side, we’re doing Scandal, The Slackers, a ska band, we’re doing Latin shows with Cabas and Debi Nova and Badflower. The calendar is loading up. That’s not a business that would have started for Sound Talent Group if there hadn’t been this pandemic.
We’re relaunching Velocity Records, which was a label that Dave was involved with before. That was something we were going to do in 2020, that was already on our agenda. And we are launching something soon I can’t talk about but it’s a business we wouldn’t have started if it weren’t for the pandemic. We’re further along as a result of the pandemic. The super cool thing about this is at the end of the pandemic, when we get back to touring we’re going to have a bigger, and better and more dynamic business than we would have as a result of this whole thing. So while it kind of blows and sucks and is painful, we’re going to make something of this, which is awesome.