Twin Hype 

Of course there is still an old boys' network, but that just makes us work ten times harder for our artists.

The phone doesn't stop ringing in the downtown office of Oakland-based Hype Entertainment. Managers, A&R reps, event producers, publicists, and other booking agents from around the US are jamming the lines of one of the country's fastest growing booking agencies. The fact that it is run by two twentysomething women doesn't matter to the increasingly desperate music industry types dying to get their acts on the road. Plain and simple, Hype's tours make money, and there are very few people who know the ins and outs of booking small to mid-size tours for emerging hip-hop and dance artists better than Esther Yoon and Lan Phan. The pair has built a booking empire from a burgeoning network of hip-hop/dance promoter friends, boasting clients like former Tribe Called Quest MC Phife Dawg, A Guy Called Gerald, the Detroit Grand Pubahs, and Bahamadia. And their roster continues to grow monthly. It may sound glamorous and easy, but the girls from Hype will be the first to tell you that it's not all it's cracked up to be.

"There are so many shady people in the music industry," sighs Phan, and Yoon agrees. "It's really hard sometimes. People try and rip you off all the time. Deposits are not made, flights are late, and often things are totally beyond our control." When things go bad, the booking agency is often the first place blame is laid. Yet she and Phan remain relentlessly positive about their growing business.

Forming the business in early 2000, the young women came together from similar backgrounds. Yoon was an agent at San Diego-based Champion Sound, and Phan was a manager having a hard time finding competent booking agents for her stable of hip-hop artists. The two met at an event and "hit it off instantly," says Phan. They finish each other's sentences, finish off each other's e-mails, and have a sense of togetherness most often seen in couples or siblings. Their combined agenda and synergy has served them well in an industry notoriously dominated by white males. "In some ways, I think being a woman in this industry is a plus," offers Phan. "I think people feel comfortable with us right away. A lot of times, people will trust a female more than a male. It's a lot easier for us to get a quick rapport with people." But what about the old boy network that has kept women out of booking circles? "Of course there is still an old boys' network," says Yoon, "but that just makes us try ten times harder for our artists."

The agency's low overhead -- helped in part by its Oakland location -- should ensure that Hype will be around for a while. "It's just comfortable here [in Oakland]," shrugs Phan. "San Francisco is too noisy, too everything for us. Oakland just has a better vibe." Yoon agrees, and extols the pluses of their downtown location. "We started Hype with no start-up money, and Oakland has some great resources for small businesses." But doing business in a perceived "dangerous" city like Oakland is not without its pitfalls. "One of our clients from New York was Fed Ex-ing a bunch of stuff the other day," says Yoon. "He asked us, 'Is it going to be okay?'"

Hype's roster continues to grow, and the tours it books are getting larger. As business increases, Yoon and Phan will still encounter the occasional promoter who thinks they are girlfriends of band members, or worse, groupies. But Yoon speaks proudly of a recent encounter backstage at a Hype-booked show, where a promoter asked her if she was there to see her boyfriend perform. "I told him, 'No, I'm here to collect our money -- pay up.'" And that's no hype.


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