Mike Dougher is a New York native whose love for music and people has brought him through a variety of jobs where he has encouraged others to heal from their past and pursue their dreams. He went down to Nashville to become a guidance counselor for dependent and abandoned kids for ten years, where he saw that music could build a bridge between him and kids who came through the court system. After that, he was a booking agent in several venues including the Sandbar in Nashville, Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Rhythm and Brews, and currently works with Monica Kinsey at the Revelry Room.
Can you tell me more about your work at the Revelry Room?
Mike: Yes, I work with AC Entertainment to book the Revelry Room. We work together every day on stuff. I help them a little bit with the openers at Track 29, and occasionally I’ll come by a big act but usually they’re exclusive so I let them do what they need to do. All I do now is book. I go from getting home at 4:00 am after shows to having a normal work day (9-5) like everybody else. I can pick and choose the shows I go to. I try to see my friends who are playing and the acts that I need to check out to see how the crowd reacts. That’s a very important part of what I do.
What are some challenges you experience in booking?
Mike: You know, you get torn between knowing something is great that no one will come to see and the fact that this is a business centered around money. Finding that line is the tricky part because something new and creative and awesome may not draw a big profit. We booked Mac Sabbath about a month ago and people are still talking about it. It’s insane how great it was. But we lost money on it. Was it financially successful? No. Is the potential there for success? I think so. But you have to remember where that line is; do we bring them back or not?
I’m always looking for the potential. People here in town love Here Come the Mummies but I couldn’t get a hundred people to come see them the first time I booked them. When I booked them, I knew that they were great and they’d be a ton of fun. Carla Pritchard put them down at Nightfall and I went there and watched the crowd. I could see the audience lighting up after that. It’s knowing what is good, and getting people to come see it.
What do you think is important for people trying to pursue a career in music?
Mike: The business is built on trust and it’s the most important part of the business because a lot goes with it, including short term relationships and taking care of people. Being good to people. I used to tell staff members to introduce themselves to the band because they may not know exactly where they are, but I want them to remember where they have been. My wonderful Lisa and I used to work together, and we would cook dinner for the bands that came in. We wanted to separate ourselves out from the other clubs in town, knowing that if you came to us then you would be treated well. It simply meant people treating people well, and being honest and respectful in that. I was able to build up that reputation where people simply trusted that I would take care of them and I’ve been doing that for a while. It’s so much easier for me to work musicians because of that reputation. Even if they’re newer, their agents and I may have worked together before and when we do a deal, we can just talk and get business done. But we can also talk about real life things like how their kids are doing in soccer and catching up about family issues.
It’s a people business; I think that’s easily forgotten. Regardless of what part of the business you’re in, I still go to ball games with people and hang out at festivals. Now his kids are 16 and 18 and I have no hair, and it’s all good. I believe if you go that one extra step that it comes back tenfold, whether it’s taking that extra minute on the phone or seeing how their family is doing. My wife has knitted so many baby blankets for band members to booking agents but all of it counts. Cutting a deal doesn’t matter. When you can solidify that it’s all about the people then things become a whole lot easier.
What does a typical day as a talent buyer look like?
Mike: If you go back to last summer at the other club, I used to get a hundred emails a day of which 60% had some kind of importance. 100 new bands a day. I had to sort through all of that and it’s time consuming. That’s why I used to tell local bands that the first twenty seconds of the song that they send better catch my ear because I don’t have time to listen to your music all day. It’s shifting through a lot of music that people have poured their heart and soul into and determining in 30 seconds whether to pursue them further or say, “Next.” It’s unfortunate but that’s how it is. You’re trying to find the right thing for the right venue for the people in the city that you think might work. You have to take what you like completely out of the picture and think about your audience.
Photo Credit goes to Angela Lewis from the Times Free Press.