On a Saturday night in late July, 10,000 people are packed into an outdoor tent at the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino. L.A. bass music favorites NGHTMRE and Slander take the stage for their headlining back-to-back set at Gud Vibrations SoCal, an event NGHTMRE and Slander curated and sold out.
During the first song, a curtain falls to reveal their sprawling stage production. As the crowd erupts in cheers, 27-year-old booking agent Ben Hogan pounds his fist into his palm in celebration. As big a night as this is for his clients, it's just as big for Hogan, who has helped guide their careers since the beginning.
Ten years ago, Ben Hogan was a high school student in Baltimore when he began working in the dance music scene, throwing all-ages events. A few years later he began working for Steve Gordon's concert promotion company, Steez Promo, expanding its events in the Baltimore area and other markets as Gordon taught him all aspects of the music industry.
“He was throwing some college events early on and approached me to work with me and had a lot of energy,” Gordon says. “He looked me in the eye and told me he wanted to do this, so I gave him a shot. Ben has been one of my longest-running employees and has truly scripted his own career path within our agency.”
Hogan was making minimum wage as he learned the ropes, but he knew he was paying his dues and it was all going to pay off. It did — Hogan moved to Los Angeles to become an agent at the Gordon co-owned, EDM-focused Circle Talent Agency, where he now holds the title of senior booking agent.
The affable but assertive Hogan has built up an impressive roster of talent that have each made their mark in the dance music scene. His clients include Bro Safari, Ookay, Snails, NGHTMRE, Slander, Goldfish and Elohim.
The careers of NGHTMRE and Slander have been co-guided by their manager, Will Runzel of Prodigy Artists.
“I think the reason Ben is so successful is because he's not too aggressive,” Runzel says. “I'm a talent buyer and a manager. As a talent buyer, I get deals done with people who aren't aggressive and don't ask for too much money, who work with you, are reasonable and are honest. Those are the agents you look out for. When I became a manager, I wanted to make sure the agents I worked with had that same ethos. When it comes to things like billing and set times, I like to think that because Ben is a nice person to work with, we win every tiebreaker.”
Hogan has emphasized the festival circuit, and building relationships with all the top festival promoters. This year, I saw NGHTMRE and Snails deliver two of the best sets at the inaugural Middlelands near Houston. NGHTMRE played a set later that month at Hangout in Gulf Shores, Alabama, that was so packed, I couldn't even make it into the tent.
“Ben Hogan has taken us from being local DJs to international headliners. His passion for bass music is real.” -Slander's Derek Andersen
“Hangout is in a non-market — there is no major touring market [near] Gulf Shores,” Hogan explains. “That's a perfect festival for us … we get to play for all these kids whose average drive is five or six hours. When we tour through the Southeast after, we see a reciprocal effect of Hangout being so huge. When you play and have that awesome set everyone's talking about, they come back to future shows.”
Bro Safari, a bass and trap producer based in Texas, became Hogan's first major client when the two sat down and connected at SXSW in 2012. They laid out a general five-year plan, and a half decade later they've crossed everything off that list, playing major festivals all over the world. Canadian DJ/producer Snails will be embarking on the biggest tour of his career this fall across 40 cities, including a sellout Red Rocks date in October. Among Hogan's new clients, L.A.-based artist Elohim is breaking new ground as a female producer who sings live. She's currently on tour with Alison Wonderland.
Top DJs on the EDM circuit now can make between $20 million and $50 million a year, per Forbes' annual list of the highest-paid DJs, published in early August. While none of Hogan's clients made the list, his most successful acts, including Snails, Bro Safari, NGHTMRE and Slander, are heading in the right direction. A prominent placement at a major dance music festival for an artist like NGHTMRE, with his 1.5 million monthly Spotify listeners, can mean a six-figure payday.
Hogan's success can be partially attributed to his wife's devotion to his career. Kerry Hogan, who met her husband in the Baltimore music scene, has even acted as A&R for him; she set him on the path to sign one of his artists, Goldfish, after she noticed the South African duo had no agent listed on their website.
“His artists and his managers are his world, and their relationships go beyond a business level. They are like family to him, so they're genuinely like family to me,” says Kerry Hogan, who works in real estate. At Hogan's clients' shows, she notes, “It's not uncommon you'll find [us] in the crowd crying together like proud parents.”
Gud Vibrations at the NOS Events Center was one such show, which ended with Scott Land of Slander asking the crowd to open the pit for a “wall of death” — where the crowd makes a mosh pit and runs into one another full speed. Kerry sprinted into the crowd and her husband chased after her.
“Doing a show of this magnitude was something we would have never thought possible even just a year ago,” Slander's Derek Andersen said. “Ben Hogan has taken us from being local DJs to international headliners. His passion for bass music is a real thing and that's why we love working with him so much.”
Land adds, “I really do feel that Ben absolutely and genuinely cares about the acts he represents. To him, we're family and not just a fee for the agency that turns into a paycheck for him.”
Hogan is well removed from those days earning minimum wage, but he's never forgotten the lessons he learned as a teen in Baltimore. “I said, if I keep working, I'm gonna get there eventually. You can't ever be entitled; there are no shortcuts. I knew I couldn't do this on my own, but I thought I understood dance music and I knew how much I absolutely loved it.”