(Original Photo By: Yoder Productions)
The dance music industry is made up of so many moving parts. Though the DJ takes center stage night after night, there is an army behind each one to get them there. One of the most important people in that group is the booking agent, the person physically responsible for getting acts to play at venues and festivals around the world. While DJing and producing requires practice on physical instruments, a booking agent gains their skills through experience and networking. On this episode of Aspire to Inspire, we tell the story of Max Freeman, a booking agent for Circle Talent Agency.
Max, like most of us, didn’t grow up listening to dance music. The Manhattan Beach, California native listened to punk bands in the early 2000s, before being exposed to reggae while he worked at the famous ET Surf Shop. He was never interested in learning how to play an instrument; instead Max enjoyed being a fan and always bought tickets to his friends’ shows to support. In fact, music wasn’t even his first choice for a career – he always assumed he’d follow his parents’ footsteps and work in the fashion industry.
Upon graduating high school, Max moved in with his best friend in Boulder, Colorado, even though he was unsure on a career to pursue. Max’s first taste of EDM started with Lotus at the Fox Theatre, where he was immediately hooked. Boulder had a completely different environment than he was used to, which was entertaining for the first 6 months he was out there.
Eventually, he grew restless at community college, and began to seek the next opportunity. It seemed serendipitous that the Fox Theatre had a position for a graphic design intern open, which Max applied to and received. For the first time, it felt like he had some guidance towards an actual career. Though, an unpaid internship and school couldn’t financially sustain even the most meager lifestyle, and he didn’t want to reach out to his parents for help. If he wanted to stay in Boulder and not return home, he had to get a job.
The Fox Theatre also employed him as a janitor so he wouldn’t have to leave. Max arrived every morning after a show at 9am, where he would clean the entire venue and fufill his internship requirements before he returned for shows later that night. Seeing how hard he worked to stay afloat, his parents continued to let him have his freedom, nor did they pressure him into settling into a more stable career. Max was just entering his 20s and he wasn’t any worse off than his friends who were switching majors in college; there was plenty of time to settle into a full-time job.
Though Max made some leeway in determining what he wanted to do in life, he knew he didn’t want to continue being a janitor. He quit working for the Fox Theatre after a short amount of time and decided to try his hand at booking small artists. Boulder had a circuit of venues that booked local talent throughout the week, and his first act – Robotic Pirate Monkeys – were able to play often. Even though it was only his first taste of booking talent, Max vowed to only work with acts he liked; it would be easier if he believed in the acts rather than chase glory.
After more local success and without any provocation or guidance, Max proposed they go on tour out of state. To the then 21 year-old, the concept seemed pretty cut and dry, and what harm would it do to take his band out to California to do a few shows?
Thus, the Buried Treasure Cali Tour was born. Though it was a failure and few people came out to each stop, Max walked away with so many lessons, both about himself and about the music industry. He returned to Boulder in low spirits, but vowed to learn from his mistakes for the next time. For three months, Max built his database of club promoters across the US, accruing over 100 names to the cause. He would immediately get his chance to use this network after he pursued Crizzly, who had a small fan base but no agency to help him. Paired with Protohype and Dallas K, the trio embarked on a national tour. Once more, Max was unsure of how well the tour would do, but this time he remained on the sidelines rather than travel with the artists.
Once the tour finished, Max returned to California, as LA’s scene began to explode with talent. He connected with RJ, owner of Into The AM and an artist manager. Through RJ, Max started expanding his network, which included weekly Dim Mak and Gotta Dance Dirty parties. He attended 5, sometimes 6 events a week for months, with the sole objectives of networking and learning more about the industry as a whole.
In 2012, Max faced his biggest challenge yet – a 2-month, 30-show tour with Candyland, Mitis, and Singularity. This time, he did join them, as he rented a van to personally drive them across the US. This rental van (which wasn’t supposed to actually leave the state) racked up 27,000 miles during their travels. It was much more emotionally and physically exhausting driving the acts across the country, but it was worth it. Not only did Max get to meet face-to-face with the promoters, but he learned firsthand the logistics behind a tour, the most valuable lesson he learned up until that point. Still, it was a daunting task, and sometimes he wasn’t sure if he would make it to the end of the tour. Though his parents remained supportive and bailed him out more than once on the road, Max knew that when he returned home this time, he had to get a full-time job.
Once more, luck was on his side, and he discovered Circle Talent Agency was looking to hire an advancer. As he talked about his immense wealth of industry experience in the interview, it was clear that 23-year old Max was overqualified, and immediately he met with Steve Gordon, the owner of the company. In 2013, Max was offered a position as Jr. Agent, and it’s been magic ever since. His current roster at Circle includes Sound Remedy, Kayzo, Getter, Mayhem, Antiserum, and Party Thieves.
When asked what the secrets to his success are, Max first and foremost says that he only works with artists whose music he enjoys, the same promise he made to himself when he first began with Robotic Pirate Monkeys in Boulder. Having a belief in those artists and not chasing the next big act provides him with a bigger sense of pride and accomplishment when they get major gigs, like when Alex Young got booked for EDC.
Currently, Max is happy at Circle, and for the first time doesn’t feel like the future isn’t riddled with uncertainty, like they were for many years prior. He feels that he’s steadily climbing the ladder, but he knows that there will never be a point where he believes that he made it to the top.
“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point where I think I can’t achieve anything more. It never stops. But having the right roster of artists and having the right interests in the industry, those are goals that I can always build on.”