Dan Dan Laird goes by Dan twice, a throwback to an inside joke between college friends. A longtime Lansing local and former half of the music duo the Swift Brothers, Laird has recently turned his passion for music and the relationships he’s built over the years into a new booking agency called Angry Talent Entertainment.
Laird is fair with bright blue eyes. He’s quick to smile and very polite. Folks in the industry speak about him with great warmth and admiration. So, what’s he so mad about?
“I tried coming up with generic-sounding agency names like ‘Top Notch Talent’ and things like that. But I’d just watched an episode of ‘Last Week Tonight’ about artificial intelligence and art, so I started putting ideas for a talent agency name into an online generator. I don’t know where the word ‘angry’ came from, but I really liked the image that it spit out. I showed it to my wife and was like, ‘Does this work?’ We liked the name paired with the image.”
I pressed him a little. Is this frowning man a sort of alter ego?
“Maybe a little,” he said. “For a long time, there’s been just one booking agent with a monopoly on the venues in the Lansing area. His only concern is making money off the hard work of others. I have enough stories to fill a book. So, yeah, maybe there’s a little anger there.”
But if Laird is mad, he doesn’t show it. His new talent agency is all about living well, paying artists well and pushing back against poor practices in the local music scene.
“We live in a crazy world where everybody thinks everybody’s against each other all the time. I think if we can change that mindset in the Lansing area, we can all team up and make something successful,” he said.
Like most artists in our community, Laird’s life was turned upside down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A silver lining of COVID was that we had a lot of family time,” he said. “But when things started to open back up, the pendulum started to swing the other way. The Swift Brothers were booking 10 to 12 months in advance.” Laird had a regular solo gig at the Peanut Barrel on Friday nights, but when other shows started to pick back up, he had to find a replacement. That’s how the booking started. Then, in early 2023, the Swift Brothers decided to disband.
“My kids are at that age now where it’s their time to shine. We’ve got a full-time after-school activity schedule — and there’s no such thing as last-minute family plans,” he said.
While balancing his day job and family, Angry Talent is a new avenue for Laird to uplift the local music scene through the three pillars he’s focused on: musicians, venues and community.
“It’s not like we made a ton of profit this year, but I’m going to make a contribution back to the local music community,” he said. On Nov. 21, he made a $500 donation to the Michigan State University Community Music School’s financial assistance program.
Musicians and venue owners report an appreciation for Laird’s approach. JP Peters of local band JP & The Energy said, “Dan is my go-to Lansing guy. Coming into 2024, he’s going to be my right-hand man.”
Although Peters works with multiple talent agents to book shows across Michigan, he said, “Dan is at the top of my list. Lansing lost so many venues during the pandemic, but people like him are starting to bring that live entertainment back. It’s great to see him doing his thing.”
Mike Krueger, who purchased the Peanut Barrel last year with business partner John Mosholder and has run the East Lansing bar and burger joint Crunchy’s with Mosholder since 2015, has experience as both a restaurateur and a musician. He worked at the Small Planet, a storied East Lansing venue that closed for good in 2009, as well as the Temple Club before it was converted to the Temple Lofts apartments. He also used to own a record store called Vinyl Addicts. He said that for a restaurant owner, working with a talent agent can be a major benefit.
“There are a million different things to attend to on a daily basis. When I’ve got people looking to play here, I can send them on to him. He’s very responsive to texts and phone calls — that’s what really sets him apart from a lot of talent agents that I’ve dealt with,” Krueger said of Laird.
Laird’s first memorable brush with the music business occurred when he was just 19 years old and opening for “a real band” at the Small Planet. The headliners were guys in their mid-30s.
“They seemed ancient to us,” he recalled with a smile. But at the end of the night, the headliners turned to Laird and his friends to ask for help.
“They had signed a deal with someone that was supposed to manage them. Whatever gigs the manager booked, he got a cut, and whatever gigs they booked on their own, the manager got a cut of that, too,” Laird said. “Well, the manager stopped booking gigs, so these guys were just stuck out on a limb and giving him money for nothing.”
For Laird, that early lesson was sobering.
“It seemed wrong. These guys who seemed like they knew everything were asking for our help,” he said. “At that time, we were really excited about the idea of working with agents, but that made us more cautious.”
Booking music could be described as both an art and a science. Everyone benefits when the booker understands the technology, the acoustics in the space and the nuanced category of “vibes.”
“The Peanut Barrel is very small,” Krueger said. “Whoever Dan books has to be somebody who can keep it chill and not take over the restaurant as a venue, per se, but they understand what they’re doing and can add to the ambiance of a Friday night.”
Laird added, “When we first set up the space at the Peanut Barrel, we were right in front of the dart boards. When someone first shows up, they might be thinking, ‘They’re going to be throwing at me.’ But since then, Mike’s invested in a house PA and mounted speakers up high. Carving out the space in the venue like that is good. The artist can just plug right in.”
Laird laughed as he remembered a place in Howell where his band used to have to wait for customers to finish eating.
“They never moved the table where we were supposed to play, so the venue would just pay us to sit at the bar and do nothing for an hour,” he said.
Krueger said the bottom line for the restaurant is a little harder to quantify.
“I don’t know if we make more money when you factor in paying the artists, but it’s more about creating a space where we have that vibe on a weekly basis. If people want to come out and see live music, we are here to support that,” he said. “The local talent has brought family and friends and people who otherwise wouldn’t have popped in. Hopefully we can give them a great experience while they’re here, and they’ll want to come back again.”
Krueger and Laird agree that it’s important to do it right when it comes to compensating musicians. Although some artists might be tempted to play for free just to get exposure, Laird encourages them to think twice.
“Musicians have that same struggle that photographers have. Anybody can pick up a camera, anybody can pick up a guitar, and so everybody thinks that it must be easy. You love it, so you don’t need to make a lot of money doing it. But that’s not true. We’ve all played for 50 bucks and a pitcher of beer. But I hope new musicians coming in will think of their music community as well. When you agree to a raw deal, that perpetuates a raw deal for everyone else,” he said.
While Laird works directly with artists to find them spaces to play at, he also partners directly with venues that understand the value of bringing musicians into their space.
“When Toscana opened up, I worked my way through their email chain to say, ‘I can help you, what do you want to do?’ They wanted jazz, which is different than what I normally do, but I figured out which doors to knock on. I found them a solo artist one night and a trio the other,” he said.
Working with venues as a client can be fun, and I could tell that Laird sees their requests as a kind of adventure — maybe even a quest.
“One venue asked me, ‘Can you find a group that plays classical stringed instruments, but instead of classical songs, they’re modern pop songs?’” he said.
We laughed. Does Michigan have its own Brooklyn Duo?
“I found them a group out of Ann Arbor,” he said. “I’m hanging my hat on being able to pull rabbits out of it.”
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