Music Glue Meet... Rob Challice at Coda Agency

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Rob Challice has 35+ years of experience in the live music industry as agent, promoter and festival organizer - he co-promoted Nirvana’s first ever London show in 1989. He is a Founding Partner at CODA, the London based agency formed in 2002 representing over 800 artists for Europe and beyond.

Responsibilities as an agent, advice for emerging artists, thoughts on the future of live music, best- and worse memories in the job... Rob shares it all.

Hey Rob, thanks for taking the time. So how did you become an agent?

I was booking tours at the age of 17 before I even knew it was a job; I was just ringing other punk promoters to get gigs. I also ran a label and promoted shows for a few years. At 24, I was offered a job as an agent at Allied Agency. I stayed there for 6 months before setting up my own office. That office was FAB (1988-1999) then came Concert Clinic Agency (1999-2001). At the end of 2001, MPI agency and Concert Clinic merged and CODA was born.

Which artist do you have on your roster now?

CODA represents over 800 artists and DJs; I personally represent artists such as Billy Bragg, Bon Iver, Gordi, Nadine Shah, Moses Sumney, Novo Amor, Oysterband, Warpaint, Yo La Tengo and more...

And what do you do for them?

As an agent, I exclusively represent my artists for a specific territory i.e. Europe or Europe + Asia + Australia, etc. All their live shows for these territories are booked via CODA. This requires a lot of work on email and phone. My team includes an assistant and booker. Generally, I work out a rough timeline for a band’s touring in conjunction with the manager. This will be based around releases, availability and how the respective international markets are prioritised.

What skills have proven the most useful over the years?

The main skills I believe you need are the ability to multitask, being highly organised and confident. But above all, you have to understand your individual artists and their audiences. 

Best memory working as an agent?

It has to be Bon Iver at Glastonbury 2009.

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Photo:Mito Habe-Evans/NPR

And the worst one...?

It’s probably being pursued across Dublin in the early ’80s by a PA company that had not been paid by the promoter and wanted my band’s fee.

What can you achieve that bands and artists won't be able to do for themselves?

It’s our job to provide our artists with the best opportunities.  As an agency, CODA has a bigger “live” address book than any manager or individual act. We know multiple promoters in all markets and have experience of working with those promoters and their local venues. We also have in-depth knowledge of the festival market which is so key nowadays.

We are meeting festival bookers throughout the year and often book headliners with these events. Often a key headline or festival show can be the turning point in an artist’s career.

At CODA we put a lot of value in bands making the right move in important city like London; not overplaying the market, but when the artist does play, ensuring that it’s a sold-out show.

With festivals it’s about creating the moments: Bon Iver did not necessarily want to be in Europe June 2009 for Glastonbury Festival, but I convinced the artist it would be an important show and the set on the Other Stage was sensational. Importantly, the show was broadcast on BBC and seen worldwide.

What do you look for in a band or artist? Musical innovation, commercial potential...?

I like artists that stand out and are in their own lane. Obviously I have to like the music. Another major factor is how good the management, label and PR teams are.

How do you usually hear from new bands?

We have a great A&R set up at Coda. We have staff collating all the tips and we keep each other advised on which agents are going after new acts. These tips come from managers, labels, promoters, blogs,etc.

So at what stage in their career should a band or artist start looking to get a booking agent?

They should have a manager onboard before looking for agency representation. That manager should have existing relationships with all areas of the business and know the way around live business. One of the many jobs of a manager is “managing” artist expectations. I like to see ambition and an understanding of what the team has to do to make those ambitions happen. Generally I have found that the bands who have done some work building their profile before taking on an agent are the easiest to start working with. They have an appreciation that sometimes playing less is more effective than playing all the time, how to be strategic with key shows, etc.

What is your favourite venue?

It has to be the garden stage at Larmer Tree. It works as the mainstage for Larmer Tree Festival and the 2nd biggest stage at End of the Road Festival ; both festivals take place at the same location. As for favourite indoor venue it changes every month!  

What are your thoughts on the future of live music?

One thing I can say is it’s hard to predict with certainty where live music will go in the future.  I do believe that live music is as important and popular today as ever.  We’re in the middle of a period where the festival market is so strong it’s having a significant negative effect on venue touring.  I can see that swinging back the other way as not many festivals actually break even.

For more info on CODA, visit their website here.

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