Turn your passion into your main gig with insights from Talent Manager, Brok Neilsen
At One76 we’re all about getting the best advice from those in the know; the industry insiders who live, breathe and have a passion for what they do. We spoke with Brok Neilsen, Talent Manager and Managing Director of Together Agency to chat about what over a decade’s experience in the hospitality industry has taught him, and how he took the chance and turned his passion project into his full-time hustle.
Brok let us know where he envisions Together Agency going in the next five years and how he’s inspiring a whole new generation of music producers and DJs with DJ Skool.
You started off studying computer programming, what made you make the switch to talent management?
This is such an interesting question. I’ve learnt so much. I have basically grown from a boy to a man inside the industry. I have learnt about business, learnt about making and taking deals, how to do my taxes, count large sums of money after 15-hour shifts, and how to break up fights before they happen.
Hospitality is kind of like being thrown in the deep end of the human species pool, you get to see and be around every type of human. It actually helps you throughout life, because you become better at understanding humans in general.
If I could break it down to three key things I’ve learnt throughout my time in hospitality, it would be the following:
1. Problem Solving.
Running an agency now, full of new / young talent, I’ve quickly learnt how uncommon it is for someone to have the ability to problem solve, even at a median level.
When you’re looking down the barrel of a full venue, people are lined up around the corner and over the radio comes the call that a patron has just fallen through the floor of the room upstairs, you really find out how good you are at thinking on your feet.
I have become so naturally systematic at problem solving now, it’s just a habit. I no longer become flustered when under pressure, I just start operating at a higher level.
The funny thing is, I manage to get easily flustered when communicating with my partner. It appears hospitality problem solving still hasn’t taught me how to problem solve in a relationship. Haha.
2. Everyone Lies.
The hard truth about the world is everybody lies. Whether it comes naturally or they do it when put in a tough situation.
Through hospitality, I’ve slowly learnt to understand it so well that I see the lies before they even tell them to you. “I’m sick”, “It wasn’t me”, “I’m friends with the DJ”, “I’ll pay you back”, “I have x amount of experience”, “your pay rise is coming”.
Whether they are coming from the customers, the staff or the owners, everyone is looking to portray themselves in a certain light and sometimes, lying helps them speed up this process.
Being able to sort through the lies and the truth really easily helps you speed up important decisions and also lets you know who you’re dealing with.
It feels like a weird thing to have learnt but, I can honestly tell you that it has helped me so much, throughout life. You begin to see the bigger picture more clearly as you unlock the veil that people place over themselves.
3. No Time Off.
From 2002-2020, I have worked every single New Year’s Eve bar one, and that’s because the club I worked for flooded the week before.
Working in hospitality, you quickly learn that even a day off can end up being a full day of work. I’ve still travelled, had time off and enjoyed quiet time with friends. But it has taught me that you always need to be ready to work. Which has prepared me for running an agency. We get calls sometimes at 11pm at night, a DJ is running late, someone is feeling sick, a venue has had someone no-show and needs us to fill a last minute shift.
It helps that I’m super passionate about the work we do. But always being ready to work has always helped me move up quickly, wherever I’ve worked. No one wants to call you up and hear an um and ah on the other end of the phone. They want someone to respond with an emphatic “YES!” It’s not for everyone, but it’s helped me and definitely something I learned early.
How do you think your previous work as a talent buyer has helped you now navigate relationships between your artists and big events promoters/venues?
The greatest thing about this industry is that there are no wasted relationships. Everyone you meet and work with 9 times out of 10 stays in the industry and moves through it with you. I still work with most of the people I started relationships with 10 years ago. They’ve just grown and moved jobs / venues.
A perfect example is a recent interaction I had that’s helped me secure 5-6 slots for different talent we look after on the same event. This was through a person I’d met 8-10 years prior and had helped them run an event at a venue I was looking after.
The trust is automatically there; you don’t have to work for it.
You pivoted your online content really well during the COVID-19 pandemic with live stream sets etc. What were some of the biggest hurdles you had to overcome during those lockdowns and social gathering restrictions?
COVID was an absolute soul crusher for us, and the industry as a whole.
I really don’t think there were any major hurdles that we had to overcome, it was more the mindset factor. I knew that if we were to just shut up shop and do nothing over that period, everything we had worked for would be for nothing.
People have a tendency to forget very easily if you let them. So I knew every day that I had to wake up and try to figure out how Together Agency was going to continue to keep its name out there.
We basically opened our doors to the industry and let them know we would come and run livestreams wherever they were needed, totally free. It helped us connect with so many of our own team and a whole new crew of businesses and talent.
You can 100% feel the after-effects of that work in our business today. While others had stopped working all together we continued, and we’re seeing it all come back to us now.
Over that period (COVID-19 pandemic), I tried to preach that message as much as possible, to our talent and the industry as a whole. It doesn’t take much to see who worked hard over COVID and benefited. People like Wongo and Fritter and Jai King Koi all smashed it during that period and have seen massive growth.
You started Together Agency five years ago – what’s your vision for the next five years?
DJ Skool, DJ Skool, DJ Skool.
The industry is changing so much and so rapidly that to predict the next five years has become almost impossible. So we decided at the start of the year to create something that is stable, that will be our rock and keep us locked down for the life of the business.
You’ve started DJ Skool for the younger generation of up-and-coming DJs. What inspired you to start DJ Skool?
DJ Skool actually started because we sat down one day and tried to figure out how we could use our resources on days that weren’t the weekends. We realised we had a lot of DJs and equipment and needed something to do with them when we didn’t have bookings.
What started as an idea to use our talent in the down times has now turned into a whole lot of fun. We’ve trained over 1000 young DJs, and are now working with different clients during school holidays. Having just acquired sponsorship from Pioneer to expand the project even further, we are hoping to eventually make it into primary and high schools as a possible extra curricular subject.
Your agency has signed over 60 live acts and DJs. What do you usually look for in an aspiring artist to sign with Together?
We actually work with over 100+ live acts and DJs, but only a very small amount of those are signed to us solely. When we are looking to take on someone on a more personal / management basis it is more about personality and work ethic for me.
“You can give anyone the roadmap, but they have to want to take the steps and put the work in for it to mean anything.”
Who’s easier to work with, the DJ Skool DJs or the Together Agency DJs?
Hahahaa this is a difficult one. I think both have their difficulties for sure.
What advice do you have for young creatives who are trying to find their path in today’s industry?
My advice is not going to be any different to advice you can find anywhere.
GET OUT AND JUST DO IT!
“Don’t sit on your hands, don’t worry about whether you are good or bad. If you never begin you will never know.”
It is the biggest failure I see that runs right throughout the industry, everyone is worried about whether they are any good at something.
‘Is my music any good? Do they like my art? Are they going to like this video?’
The answer is who the f*ck cares? What you should be asking yourself is, ‘Am I getting better? Is this project better than the last one?’ If it isn’t, then that’s what you need to concentrate on: ‘How do I get better?’
Ready to take your dream from passion project to full-time hustle? Explore your creative potential at One76 and see where it leads.
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