Tom Windish on booking the hottest musicians around the world & what SXSW has become
Louis Armstrong once said, "There are some people that if they don't know, you can't tell 'em." Tom Windish is one of those people that intrinsically knows. He knows what good music is, he knows what isn't, and he can't really explain it.
"I guess I don't really think about certain genres, I just hear great music. If it's really awesome, I like it. If not, I don't," he tells CultureMap.
Windish founded The Windish Agency, an independent booking agency, 20 years ago after cutting his teeth as a college radio DJ and more formatively as a tour booker and agent at other similar talent-based businesses.
Today, his agency reps over 600 of the hottest indie music acts in the world. To blow your mind, consider that Windish is responsible for booking shows for following acts, among hundreds of others: The Knife, Alt J, Blonde Redhead, The xx, The War on Drugs, Washed Out, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Jose Gonzalez, Japandroids, Diplo, YACHT, Zola Jesus, Yeasayer, Twin Shadow, Neon Indian, No Age, Solange, Lykki Li, Lower Dens, Toro y Moi and Royksopp.
"Look at Bon Iver, which came from a cabin in Wisconsin. [Location] doesn't really matter as much these days," - Tom Windish
"I think that we represent this movement of emerging artists and musicians that are doing things on their own terms, not influenced by record company or people telling them that 'it's gotta be more this or more that.' [We play] a much more important part than say 10 years ago," Windish says.
With dozens of artists repped by Windish at SXSW this year, he and his team of 20 agents are busier than your average booker in what is an incredibly competitive business. But where the conference used to be more about getting signed for bands back in 1984, 20 years later, it's now more useful as development tool for acts that are already established.
"The purpose [SXSW] serves for a lot of artists these days is marketing a new record — a marketing tool to promote the band, and it used to be more about being discovered," he explains.
But the growth of the conference into a three-pronged behemoth (Music, Film, Interactive) offers cross-pollination between industries that wasn't as prevalent before.
"The purpose [SXSW] serves for a lot of artists these days is marketing a new record — it used to be more about being discovered," Windish
"So many people from film, technology and TV are now there, so there's a better chance that someone there will see you unplanned," he explains.
"Hopefully some people will be [at shows] that will go on to dramatically make an impact on your career. It could be that the music supervisor for an amazing television show is there, someone says, 'Go see this band,' and they say, 'Hey, I want that to be in a television show."
Much like a good, diplomatic father to a large slew of children, Windish is reluctant to name specific buzzworthy bands or name certain pockets of the world that produce better music than others.
"I think there's great music being made all over the place," he says, almost in repent after stating that Stockholm consistently churns out laudable acts ("I think it has to do with [that] everyone in Sweden learns how to play an instrument in school," he reasons). "Look at Bon Iver, which came from a cabin in Wisconsin. [Location] doesn't really matter as much these days."
Though largely protective of the roost he rules, Windish does lower his gaurd long enough to mention a sampling of musicians he's excited to see during SXSW: "There's a band I'm very exciting about called Sir Sly that's from Los Angeles that's going to turn a lot of heads in Austin. Then No Ceremony, Hundred Waters, Shone, Chvrches, Flume."
He groans and laughs, "I hesitate to name names because there are so many amazing acts. I feel so lucky and fortunate to be able to have a really meaningful place in these artists' lives and careers. I think the music my clients are making is incredible and betters the world when people can hear it."