Behind the Scene: Madison House’s Wes Samuel
Wes Samuel may be responsible for some of the fastest-rising acts on the jamband and festival circuits, but the 36-year-old agent still often looks back on his days as a Florida teen, which helped carve his path forward. Throughout his wide-spanning career, Samuel has explored all sides of the concert industry, working as a high-school ticket taker and college promoter, before helping to put together large-scale events like Jam Cruise and Langerado. In 2010, the boutique agency he worked for merged with Madison House, and Samuel now helps shepherd marquee acts like TAUK, Twiddle, Midnight North and Papadosio. “The more well-rounded you are, the better you are going to be at your job,” Samuel says. “Do anything you can to create relationships and understand how things work.”
What was your first job related to music?
When I was in high school, my parents told me to get a job to pay for gas and my car, and a buddy of mine had read an article that the Coral Sky Amphitheatre was hiring. I got a job as a ticket taker—this was ‘96 or ‘97, before the days of scanning tickets, so people would come in and you would rip their ticket and drop it in a bag.
After about a year or two, they allowed me to become a concierge. Part of the time, I was still taking tickets, but then, instead of having to go back in the room and go through inquisitions for a manager counting all these tickets, they would stick me backstage where I was anything from a runner to a hospitality person to a production assistant. That was the tipping point for me—my first real taste of seeing how promoters and artists interact.
At the University of Florida in Gainesville, you were in a unique situation where your student-run club was the biggest talent buyer in that region.
One of my friends from back home, who was a year or two older than me, got me involved in Student Government Productions. We put on concerts through the program counsel using school money. Within a year, I had slowly but surely moved most of my focus away from my studies into SGP.
I held every position that was available, including president. Our budget floated around half a million dollars. The concert program divisions at most colleges and universities were strictly regulated and the concerts would take place at the student union or somewhere on campus. We would do shows at the stadium where the basketball team would play: Oysterhead, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Stone Temple Pilots, Jane’s Addiction. I was a 20-year-old kid with half a million bucks to spend—with absolutely no intention of getting that money back.
Did that lead you to working with Langerado?In 2006, Alicia Karlin—who now works at Madison House—introduced me to two guys out in South Florida who were producing Langerado, Mark Brown and Ethan Schwartz. Alicia and I went to college together, and she was heavily involved in the SGP world. Mark had also just started an event called Jam Cruise with his company, Cloud 9 Adventures.
I ended up working there from 2007–2009. There were three of us and we had a little office down in a South Florida strip mall. I split my time between working on Langerado, which drew about 10,000 people a year [except for 2008 when the festival moved to Big Cypress and brought in around 25,000 per day], and Jam Cruise. I did everything from cataloging the ship’s manifest to calculating the budgets and answering the phone in case anyone had a question or wanted to switch rooms.
Then, I started to get a little burned-out. As a promoter, you’re dependent on so many things that are out of your control, like the weather, and you’ve got so much pressure coming from the artist’s world to be able to produce their vision. I decided that I wanted to switch to the artist side. I had done business with a lot of agents but, at that point, to be an agent, you had to move to New York and get into one of the larger agencies. You’d go through a rigorous application process to be stuck in a mailroom with 50 other people just like you and then fight it out with those guys. It seemed like another rat race.
Around that time, a friend of mine, “Boca” Phil Egenthal, moved to Florida. He’d worked at Evolution Talent Agency in the early 2000s and he’d recently got married and opened his own small boutique agency called Philosophy Agency, working with acts like The New Deal and the Benevento/Russo Duo. I was able to dive right in and assist him and learn what an agent did. I was also able to jump a lot of steps to get right into routing tours and booking tours, talking to promoters and learning how contracts work.
In 2010, Philosophy Agency merged with Madison House.
At that point, I’d only been there for about a year, and it was just the two of us. The merger was an organic thing—it’s hard to pinpoint what really got the ball rolling. It was a combination of long-term business and personal relationships. And we came up here [to Colorado] and integrated ourselves into Madison House, bringing all of our clients over.
Did your earlier training inform your work as an agent?
The stuff I learned as a ticket taker 100 percent makes me a better agent—how to deal with fans coming in during the rain or how to deal with an angry tour manager who just wants to get to the next town. To this day, if a client shows up to a festival and says, “I saw catering’s closed—we can’t eat,” I can say, “I know the guy who works catering because I worked for him 10 years ago.”
Since the publication of this piece, Samuel has taken on a new job with Live Nation – Colorado.
This article originally ran in the January/February issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.