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Killing it! An interview with Josh Petersen of Aorta

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

Josh Petersen is a man who knows how to get things done! As one of the booking agents up at Aorta Music & Management, he finds himself at The Lookout, for what seems like most nights, working his tail off to make sure all your favorite shows go off without a hitch! I met Josh before the Boundaries show on March 29th to learn from the master on how to book a show.

Brian: How did you find yourself at Aorta?

Josh: So I actually started booking with another guy in town under a different name and I learned a little bit from him, and then learned a lot of ways to not do things from him, and just like one day started talking to Nick, who is the owner of Aorta now. I kind of just looked at him as somebody I could bounce ideas and stuff. So if I got show offers and stuff I could be like “ Hey do you think this is smart?” because I had like no idea what I was doing.

Brian: Yeah?

Josh: I was shooting off emails to people I had no business emailing, and just trying to bring bands that I wanted to see to town. So he kind of like mentored me behind the scenes, and then I had a show here one night, and the guy I was booking with got blackout drunk and had to go to the hospital… and that was kind of the night that I was like, “you know what? I don’t want to do this with this guy anymore, like it is going to become a bad reputation,” and Nick kind of didn’t really give me an option. He was like, “ Well you are now a part of Aorta. So we are going to do this.” I was like, “Hey cool lets do this!”

Brian: Wow, that is like a great example of how making connections can open up so many avenues for you.

Josh: Yeah.

Brian: So like, what does it take to get something like this, like this show going? Like, what does it take to get this show off the ground and get bands onto the stage?

Josh: So like, Essentially with this show, they have a booking agent who will shoot me an email. You know like some agents if you work with them enough, they will just call you, or facebook you or whatever. But basically you get an email sent to you, and then like with this specific show, they sent me the date and what bands are on the bill. So then you have to see, first of all If you even want to book the band. Like you will get a lot of offers where like these bands are like, “Hey we want to come through town,” but then you look on facebook, and they have no likes on facebook, they have no music. Then you are like, “ Well how am I supposed to justify booking you?” With this one specifically, I have booked Boundaries before, I have booked Castaway before, so it was kind of a no-brainer for me. I was like “Oh Yeah I will see what I can do.” So then from that point you have to figure out a venue. So then this one worked out, The Lookout was open. So I locked in The Lookout, and then you just basically have to communicate back and forth until you come up with a number that you agree with, as far as like what you are going to pay the bands, and it is different for every show. It depends on how many bands are coming through, it depends on like the size of the band. You know, the whole 9 yards. So then once you get all that stuff locked in then you have to find the locals.

Brian: That’s alright.

Josh: So for this one, it was kind of a pain for locals to be honest. I had two locals right off the bat, and when I say locals, one of them is from Kansas City, Which I still consider them Locals.

Brian: Yeah, yeah! They are kind of like within okay driving distance. You know, they are not going to break their bank getting here.

Josh: Yeah exactly! So, I got those locked in, and then I had a local drop that was actually from Omaha. They had other stuff going on, like stuff happens. So I get it. So like tonight, both of our local spots are from Kansas City.

Brian: Oh nice! Well I mean we get a lot of, like good local Death Metal from like, Kansas City anyways. Like we got Rimjob, and F****ing Torn The F*** Apart, stuff like that.

Josh: There is lots of good stuff that comes out of Kansas City. I figure like, we have a lot of good locals here in town, but if you book the same locals over, and over, and over again, people get tired of seeing them.

Brian: Yeah, over exposure and such.

Josh: So I try to pull people from Kansas City, and from Des Moines as frequently as possible. You know obviously like, when you bring in those bands, if you are going to put them on a show that is not going to do well, and they drive out here for nothing, then they are probably going to get pissy, because they drove out here for nothing.

Brian: Yeah, yeah.

Josh: But the show tonight, both of the locals that are on it were like, “Hey we really want to play the show!” So I was like, “Hey, let’s do it!” you know?

Brian: Cool! So like, I know a lot of people in this business, they like, sort of feign interest, and then when it comes to getting down to business, they just kind of drop. You know what I mean? So how do you determine whose heart is in it, and whose is not?

Josh: It is honestly like really difficult you just have to be able to read people. You know, by like, people’s attitudes when they walk in. You know, like I personally, up until this year, I only booked bands that I genuinely was like, “I only want this band, I am only going to book this.” But I have realized that over the last several years that, you have to book what other people want to hear as well because, otherwise people just don’t show up. So I don’t ever think I have booked a band that I haven't liked, you can see by the bands that are here. But it’s like the demeanor that people have.

Brian: So I noticed that you guys, kind of like, do a lot of shows here at the Lookout. What is the advantage of doing it here at The Lookout, compared to something like Jack’s Drinkery?

Josh: I mean the easiest answer there is that The Lookout is all ages, and The Drinkery is 18+.

Brian: OoooOOOOooh!

Josh: You know, and I do book a lot at the Drinkery as well. I always try to come here first, just for the simple fact that it is all ages. But, Omaha is a fairly small place when you look at the amount of music that comes through here. There is a lot of promoters in Omaha, and most of them always want to come through Lookout. So it fills up really fast.

Brian: That is cool.

Josh: Drinkery isn’t a bad place, the stage is very small on the inside, and that is kind of restricting, which is you know, a plus side here, but the staff and everything, I haven't had any issues with them. They are super nice people. So yeah I mean, I do probably 40% over there, and 60% here. That is just, kind of how it works out, especially when we come into nicer months, because they have an outdoor stage

Brian: Oh yeah, that has got to be nice! So what are sort of… what are the risks of putting on a show like this?

Josh: I mean from the start the risks are financial. If I agreed on an amount of money to pay a band, that is what they are getting paid regardless of whether there is 200 people that walk through the door or whether there is 20. You know, so there have been shows where I have lost over $1,000 on.

Brian: Oh, Geez!

Josh: But there have been shows that I have made over $1,000 on, and then like, it is one of those things where you have to be strong in your word. If you f*** somebody over, they are not going to book through you again, and it’s not just them, they are going to tell their agent, and then their agent is not going to go through you, and that agent will probably tell other agents, like, “Hey don’t go through this guy!” You know? I mean there have been bands that I have booked, that just treated people like garbage, myself included, that have treated the bar staff like garbage, and it is one of those situations where you are just like, “F*** you! I don’t want to pay you guys,” but you still have to because you committed to it. That is the biggest risk right off the bat, financial. There is also like, the risk that you run, especially with like a show like this where you run more beat down, like aggressive. You run the risk of people fighting. And that is another plus side to Lookout, they have security on staff, which is part of it all. Drinkery does not have security. When I book stuff over there, I am the security!

Brian: Oh Jeez!

Josh: You know, I’m pretty good at stopping most situations, but I mean, some people just don’t like to listen, which makes things kind of difficult. But those are the two biggest risks, just financial and fighting. I mean it takes a lot of time. A lot of people I don’t think realize that it’s not just showing up to the show and making sure it goes smoothly. You know like I booked this show 2 or 3 months ago, and from that point you have to secure everything you have to lock it all in, you have to make sure everybody is committed to it, and then from that point on you are creating a facebook event page. If I didn’t know how to make flyers, which I personally do all my own flyers, I would have to find somebody to make flyers, pay them for that, and then constantly promote the event, make sure that the bands are promoting the event. You know it is an ongoing thing. Like, it doesn’t take a ton of time but if you total it all up, it is still time out of your day.

Brian: Yeah.

Josh: You know, like this week, this is our fifth show this week at the Lookout. So I have been here a lot! We had a show in Lincoln earlier this week, so we have had 6 shows this week so far. You know, it’s time away from the family. There is a lot that goes into it that people don’t realize.

Brian: So how long have you been doing this?

Josh: I have been booking for a little over four years now.

Brian: And how long would you say it took you to be proficient at it?

Josh: Umm… I would like to think that I have always been proficient at it. Just because I came out of the gate swinging, but I will say, this year alone has been… Like, I’ve made the smartest moves this year. I’ve lost a lot of money over the past few years because like I said, I booked what I wanted to see. I didn’t consider, anything else. I just kind of did my own thing, and that doesn’t always work out for you.

Brian: So, I guess, like, what sort of contracts go into making all this happen? I am sure you guys have legal stuff you have to take care of.

Josh: Yeah and that kind of goes based on a show to show basis. Like, for instance, the show tonight, I don’t think there was any contracts sent out. It is a smaller scale show, but when you get really anything over $700, there are lots of contracts that are sent out for each individual bands, and that will state, where the show is happening, who the responsible parties are, how much money you agree to pay them. You know, it will have everything covered, so if I try to bail out of it, I am still responsible for paying them. Like if somebody wanted to take me to court for not paying them, they could. You know what I mean? I try hard not to let that situation happen, but the contracts that I experience are in place to protect everyone.

Brian: I guess my last question, to sort of wrap things up is, what is your favorite band that you have booked?

Josh: Oh, that's hard! I mean, it is one of those things. Like, I book a lot of bands that I have never even heard of before, so there have been bands where I have gone into it expecting to feel like, “Oh my God, I’m so excited,” and then like, maybe they don’t perform as well as I want them to, or they don’t sound the same live. It is hard to pick a favorite. Like I said, I have booked bands that, like, I have no idea who they are, and they get on stage and I’m like “Holy F***ing S****,” like, “Who is this band?” I don’t know. I guess, we have Ice Nine Kills next week, and I have been listening to them for a long time. I am really excited to be a part of that. That is probably my favorite at the moment. Obviously like, we all have, like, the booking agency have bucket list bands. You know some of them will probably never happen, but you know, I’m just going to keep trying. There is a little bit of luck that goes into it too!

Brian: Nice! What does your bucket list look like?

Josh: Oh, man! Like, Definitely The Amity Affliction! I love that band, they are so good! Underoath would be amazing! Like, Fever333!

Brian: O yeah, yeah, yeah! I remember them!

Josh: Yeah, I’m like super addicted to that band! I was a big Letlive fan. I mean if The Chariot ever decides to come back, that would be an amazing show to book! That is probably like my top bands right now!

Brian: Cool Beans man! Well, thanks a lot. I appreciate it, and let me buy you a drink!

Josh: Right on!

You can see Josh at The Lookout just about every night there is an Aorta show!

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