By Brian F. Johnson
It’s no secret that in today’s music business the focus is on the almighty dollar. Artists are being lost in the shuffle at an alarming rate. Ironically, now is the time that more focus on the artists could result in more dollars and happier relationships.
With these thoughts in mind, two Boulder-based agents have joined forces, jumped ship from the popular Crescendo Artists and started their own agency, Sweetwine Entertainment Group.
Ira Sweetwine and his business partner Koryn Johnson, both musicians themselves, opened the doors to their agency earlier this year with a goal of making and keeping the focus directly on the artists.
Marquee: What was the first concert you ever attended?
Johnson: John Denver.
Sweetwine: P.I.L. (Public Image Limited). I was a punk rocker when I was a kid in Detroit.
Marquee: What was the first album you ever remember owning?
Johnson: Andy Gibb, the one with him in snakeskin boots on the cover.
Sweetwine: I honestly don’t know. I’m thinking it might have been in my punk rock days, but it might have been Purple Rain, too.
Marquee: How did you guys decide to form S.E.G. while working at another agency?
Johnson: Well, I kept going to Ira for his thoughts and we found we worked really well together, and slowly a business plan started to develop.
Sweetwine: We just saw eye-to-eye on so many things in the world of artists and musicians that after a while it just made really clear sense.
Marquee: How does the time you’ve logged on the road as a musician help what you’re doing?
Sweetwine: I was on the road for 10-plus years on and off with different bands. The last band I worked with, Jyemo, we took to a national level and experienced some small success. I ended up getting into the business because I managed and booked the bands I performed in, so it just led here. But being an agent that knows the road is a good quality to have. Our bands love it. They just know that I’m a road dog and they’re like, ‘he understands.’
Marquee: I know you have some things in the works that you can’t publicly talk about, but who are the artists on your roster right now?
Sweetwine: Les Nubians, The Motet, Golden, Quemando, 8traC, and our newest addition is a reggae star from Jamaica, Everton Blender.
Johnson: In addition to those national touring acts, for which Ira is our agent, handling that exclusive roster, we have a private event side, a corporate side of the business, which is what my background is.
Marquee: What is one of the biggest challenges facing you and the bands you work with?
Johnson: Gas prices (laughing).
Sweetwine: It’s kind of funny, but true. Most talent buyers give you prices based on a band’s past history, but the industry hasn’t taken that expense into account. I’ve gotten a few talent buyers to recognize that, but when I get a sour offer, I say, ‘Hey man, with all due respect, can’t you kick a few hundred for gas purposes?’ It’s a reason a lot of bands don’t make it — expenses on the road are outrageous.
Marquee: What’s the goal for Sweetwine Entertainment? Are you hoping to grow your roster?
Johnson: We are getting bombarded by artists and we are discovering the reason why is that the huge agencies are disregarding smaller bands. Bands that they consider tiny are big to us and they aren’t getting the attention. So I would say our biggest concern isn’t about how big our roster gets, but that we stick to our initial core value of making sure that all of our artists get exceptional over-the-top service from us. To the point where they are shocked.
Sweetwine: I want them to be able to call me at four in the morning. There are times when a band is on the road and they need that help or there’s a disagreement or something. Sometimes the agent or manager is the only one that can push the buttons. I just want to be available for that.