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#WomenToTheFore 5: Danielle Oosterop

We talked to Amsterdam-based booking agent Danielle Oosterop. She runs her own business, Danielle Oosterop Music Management, which she set up in 2011.

Can you tell us about your career and what led you to set up as an agent and manager for artists in the jazz and creative music scene?
I started my career in this industry 22 years ago. I knew many musicians and I went to lots of gigs. So it really began from my own interest in music. And then I was asked by a Dutch piano player, Michiel Braam, to work for him. 

I didn’t just do the bookings - I did everything! From applying for funding, booking tours, all the administrative stuff, to publicity and production of CDs. I didn't have any relevant education in this, although I did do some professional courses once I started. But ultimately I was asked to do the job because I was so into the music scene in Amsterdam.

Before this, I had worked in an office and then quit to travel in South America. I worked there as a tour guide for four years. And later I realised that this was a really good training for the work I do now. A lot of the qualities and abilities I needed to do it well were the same. You have to deal with people. You have to improvise and find solutions for problems, create schedules and organise travel.

How would you describe your approach and what are the qualities and skills you need to succeed in your job?
I'm a curious person. So I like to know what's happening and I like to know people. I'm interested in what they do and what they think and how they work. I also enjoy being independent and free. That's why I always worked alone. I’m the boss of my own time. And I love to travel and meet new people and see new places. It also helps that I am an organised person. That’s really important in this job. 

I have quite a personal approach to the job - it’s all about going out there and meeting people. If a band of mine plays at a festival that I don't already know, I try to go there and meet the presenters and get to know people there. I really like doing this and it helps me to do my job better. I share this approach with other good agents, but it’s definitely something that’s very important to me.

What does a typical day or week look like? What are the key responsibilities and challenges you face?
Well, a typical week, when I'm not travelling, involves sitting at home with my computer and sending emails. That's really what the largest part of the day consists of and it can be difficult, because you have to motivate yourself. 

Often you have to approach people that haven’t asked you to do so. It can be hard to find the energy to keep doing that. Out of 20 emails, maybe one gets a reply. So keeping going can be my biggest challenge sometimes. 

Another challenge is making decisions about tours. They are like big puzzles. For example, if I book this concert on this day, then what's the routing like from the other parts of the tour? Will it allow them to do this other thing too? Is the money good enough? So there are a lot of decisions you have to make by yourself. 

How do you balance the day-to-day logistics of booking gigs and tours with the longer-term development of an artist?
I think about this in relation to the places I book them. So with bands that are starting out, I would just want them to play as much as possible. I would book them at places where maybe the fee is not that good but it will help with their visibility or career chances.

But with people that are a bit further in their career, I avoid gigs like this. So in that sense, it's a very practical way of building a career. It’s really about where to play. I also take into account where I’ve booked people geographically. So once I’ve booked a gig for someone, I can’t always book them in the same city or region next year. It’s another part of the same big jigsaw puzzle.

Artists sometimes change their priorities - so they may want to focus on well paid gigs and then it can change to wanting as many playing opportunities as possible, so I also take into account what they want to achieve. I try to talk to them about taking gigs with other musicians: sometimes it interferes with their career, sometimes it is good for visibility. But ultimately it is their own decision.

You have a roster of artists from across different countries in Europe, with a focus on those working in avant garde and experimental styles. What do you consider when selecting artists to work with? What qualities do you look for?
My approach has changed quite a bit since I started. There are some artists that I've been working with for a very long time. And when I started working with them, it’s because I knew them through other people, and I liked their music.

Now I have to be a bit more picky. Firstly, I really have to like the music. But more and more, I'm aware that not only does the music need to be good, you also have to attract an audience. If I’m trying to sell a band to promoters, that's something they have in mind as well. 

So if I work with some artists that are very good, but very experimental, I know there's a certain circuit of venues and festivals that they can play, but they will never really get beyond that. In these cases, it may not make sense as there is too little money to go round, and I also need a little part of the cake, but the cake just isn't big enough. So I do take that into consideration now. 

And also, I need an artist to work with me to think about these things -  about publicity, visibility, and trying to attract an audience. They need to work alongside me and not just sit back and wait for the emails with the tour schedule.

Are there any special new projects you’d like to highlight from your current roster? 
I’ve recently started working with David Murray. He was invited to play in a trio by Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love, two Norwegian musicians that I've been working with for a long time. I booked a few tours for them in 2019. That's how I got to know him. This trio still plays and now I’m booking some of Murray’s American bands in Europe as well. So that's exciting as it opens up some new places for me.

I also started working with Norwegian artist Maja S.K. Ratkje, in a duo project with Stian Westerhus: acoustic music, where they both sing as well. It is a bit different from the rest of my roster but too beautiful to resist! I booked the duo of Stian with Sidsel Endresen as well so it was a logical step.


Women are often under-represented in the jazz sector. Have you faced any specific challenges as a woman working in this field?
Maybe there are more men out there working as agents and managers, but women are represented as well, especially in the younger generation. I see more and more women coming up. 

With the people I meet and I see, I don’t feel I have experienced any specific challenges as a woman agent. I don't think so. Our approaches might be a little different as a male or female agent but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It can be difficult to take your first steps into being an agent or manager. How important is it to have strong role models and mentors in roles like yours?
I think it's important. I've been asked to talk about what I do, to groups of people at the start of their careers as agents or managers. And I was told that it was really useful for them. 

To see how I work can help people to see that they can do it too, without having a big organisation behind them. It shows them that you can do it on a small scale and you can still survive and have a really nice life with it. 

A lot of people I talked to in these fields prefer to be a manager. Nobody really likes to be a booking agent and do the actual work of booking the gigs and that's a problem because there are just not enough people who do that. And I think we need more of them. So in that way, it helps to see that you can actually do it and that it brings a really interesting life with it. I travel and I meet a lot of new people.

What advice would you give to aspiring agents and managers interested in working with jazz and creative music artists? What do they need to succeed in this challenging field?
On a practical level, I would say you need to be really organised - have a good database, create a good system where you can set reminders about who to approach when. And do lots of research. I look at the tour lists of artists, and I always check out the venues that I don't know. So that's an ongoing process. 

You’ll be working with musicians, and it’s really important to be a team. I think that's a very good way to start. So you can make decisions together. You can talk about things together.

Financially, it's really hard to start so it’s good to think of a model where you can have some steady income. Maybe the musician wants to invest a little bit in someone so they can have a fixed amount per month, plus a percentage per booked gig, or you can look at what funding is available.

The next important thing is to be patient because it really takes a while before you actually have results. So maybe do it a few days a week to start with, alongside another job.

And finally: meet as many people as possible and listen to what they have to say!

Could you share some memorable experiences or collaborations you've had. How have these experiences influenced your approach as a manager?
The first band I worked with when I started my own agency is The Thing. They were quite successful and really helped my career. I have many good memories but unfortunately they don’t exist anymore. I still think I got the job because I was brave enough to jump in the fjord, after a party thrown by their drummer, Paal Nilssen-Love, at Molde festival. We were talking about some other project and I didn’t even know who The Thing was but he asked me to book them and I said yes. It shows that sometimes things just happen, you can’t always plan them! Just keep your eyes open for opportunities, that’s how I try to work.

Collaboration and networking are crucial in the creative music sector. How do you foster long-term relationships with venues, festivals, and other industry professionals to create opportunities for your artists?
Mostly it's about going to places. For example, specific festivals where you know a lot of presenters will be going. I like to go to these whenever possible. And of course, the European Jazz Conference and jazzahead!. These are the places where you can meet people in real life.

When I travel, I try to visit venues and meet up with people that I only know from emails. There’s also lots of keeping in touch by email, WhatsApp, Facebook etc and some people prefer phone calls. You work out how people most like to communicate. And I also send out my own newsletter a few times a year, so people know who I’m working with. I find that really helpful and always get some feedback or connections that I hadn’t anticipated.

Managing and nurturing the careers of artists requires a deep understanding of their artistic vision and goals. How do you strike a balance between supporting your clients' creative aspirations and ensuring their financial and long-term success?
This depends on the artist, they are all different. Some people ask me what I think beforehand. Others are really autonomous in their music and decisions.

But yes, I do have an influence. When people think about who to ask to play on a new tour, for example, I may advise them that it will be more difficult to arrange with American musicians. I try to discourage them from expanding their ensembles to include more and more musicians - at least if they want to take them on tour and unless they have a lot of travel funding! It's not practical, it’s much harder for me to sell, and often not financially or logistically viable. So sometimes I have to hold them back a bit and manage expectations. And remind them of the practical consequences and challenges.

What does the ideal business model look like for a manager / agent? What role does public arts funding play in your business?
Well, in my case I only make money out of percentage from the fee. That's not a perfect model, but it’s the way I run my own business.

Some of the musicians I work with have public funding and that means that my percentage doesn't come out of the musicians’ fee but out of the funding. Also travel funding makes it much easier to sell a band. 

I don't get any funding myself. I think that in Belgium, for example, an agent can ask directly for funding for their own business. And there are also models where there's a fixed fee. So for example, you might take 300 euros each month from a specific ensemble and then on top of that a percentage when you book them. That’s a good model if you can make that work.

Photographer credits:
3) PNL Circus by (c) Petra Cvelbar

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