Finding talent early is a key component of being a good agent and being a good A&R person, so it’s surprising that more people don’t do both. Matt Galle is one of the few who does. With his longtime friend and business partner Mike Marquis, he founded and runs Photo Finish Records — which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, with a legacy that includes hits from Shaed, Marian Hill, 3OH!3 and the Maine — and both are also top agents who, along with colleague Rachel Pestik, recently joined CAA. The three brought a roster from their former home, Paradigm, that includes Galle’s first-ever signing as an agent, My Chemical Romance, along with Janet Jackson, Shawn Mendes, Jack Antonoff and Bleachers, Bella Porch, Jojo Siwa and many more. (Their roster is revealed exclusively below.)
While running a label and being an agent obviously are demanding, full-time jobs on their own, Galle — who is also the father of three kids — is casual and off-hand about doing both. “Early in my career as an agent, I was getting so many demos by acts that I was seeing early on who either didn’t have a label or were on an indie, and was interested in developing a label of my own,” he says. Now, 15 years later, with a staff of seven and a rock-solid partner in Virgin Music Label & Artist Services, Photo Finish is looking ahead to the next decade and a half.
Galle’s two jobs are so intertwined that it’s impossible to look back at Photo Finish’s history without looking at his entire career. The story begins in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s in Norwood, Mass., about 10 miles southwest of Boston, where he was raised. He found his calling as a teenager, riding the train into town to see hardcore and hip-hop shows. He became friends with some of the bands, started going out on the road with them on weekends, “just helping out and selling merch,” and before long he was putting on shows himself.
“There was a lack of all-ages shows in Boston because of fighting,” he remembers. “Venues were scared to put on shows, so me and a couple of friends would rent out halls, churches and VFWs, and even some of the clubs that used to be on Lansdowne [Street, a legendary Boston nightclub hub behind Fenway Park] for matinees. We put on the concerts, we assumed the risks, and that’s how it started.”
He continued promoting shows and going on the road while in college, working toward a degree in marketing. “Real agents were calling me, and that’s how I got to know them,” he says. “I’d put on their shows around Boston, then spread out to Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine. I interned for Mass Concerts, run by a promoter named John Peters, then he hired me and I started programming all the shows at Palladium in Worcester [Mass.], and that’s how I got to know Darryl Eaton at CAA, coming full circle.”
Not surprisingly, it was just a matter of time before Galle struck out on his own, forming Kenmore Agency in 1998 with his friend Matt Pike, with funding from Peters, his former boss. It had an auspicious start.
“The first two acts I signed were My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday,” Galle recalls.
While most agents would be ecstatic with such a hot agency roster, he was actually frustrated that he didn’t have more of an outlet for the many great acts that were crossing his desk.After he graduated from Suffolk University in 2001, it wasn’t long before Galle had an A&R consulting gig along with his thriving agency. “My lawyer hooked me up with Interscope, and I’d find them stuff for a couple grand a month,” he recalls. “That went well, so I started a label called Kickball Records in 2001.”
At around this time, a Northeastern University student and punk rock fan named Mike Marquis came to Kenmore inquiring about internships. “I literally asked him a couple of questions and then said, ‘Can you start today?,’” Galle laughs. He stayed with Kenmore for the duration.
While Kickball signed good acts, Galle became frustrated trying to keep Interscope’s attention on the label. “We had artists like Giant Drag with [producer] Dave Sardy, A Thorn for Every Heart and a couple of others. But I didn’t have a lot of control and it was hard, with me being in Boston and Interscope in L.A.” So he folded Kickball, moved to New York in 2003 and formed Ellis Industries agency with his friend Andrew Ellis — and started Photo Finish in 2006, taking the name from a song by a band called Fastbreak.
Back on board was Marquis, who moved to New York to join Ellis Industries in 2005 — and he’s been with Galle ever since. “He started doing stuff for the label too, and I was finally like, ‘I can’t do this on my own,’” and he’s been co-head of the label, as well as working with Galle at the agencies, ever since.
Even though Photo Finish’s first release didn’t even have a distributor, before long a three-year joint venture with Atlantic Records was secured. The label debuted with releases from the rock bands Envy on the Coast and Danger Radio, but Photo Finish really made its mark in 2007 with a then little-known band from Colorado called 3OH!3.
“They’d done a label showcase in the basement of Lit Lounge [in New York] and there were maybe ten people there, but I thought they were awesome,” Galle says. “So I flew out to Colorado to see them in their hometown, and they’d sold out the venue, like 600 tickets.” What happened next shows the power of a strong network. “I was friendly with their manager from the Warped Tour, and that’s how we came to a deal,” Galle recalls. “At the time, I was managing a producer named Matt Squire, who had just worked with Panic at the Disco. Andrew Luftman at Atlantic came in and helped out with A&R, and he was close with Benny Blanco, who was brand new at the time, and he came in and coproduced a couple of songs on the album.”
The album spawned a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 single, “Don’t Trust Me,” and Blanco has gone on to become one of the most successful songwriter-producers of the past 15 years. “That was his first No. 1 record, and I think we gave him a train ticket, a keyboard he wanted and like a $5,000 bonus when the album went gold,” Galle says. “And then we had the full attention of the Atlantic building and internationally. Being at Atlantic was great, I’d sit in A&R meetings with Pete Ganbarg and John Janick and Aaron Bay Schuck,” who are now Atlantic’s president of A&R, CEO of Interscope and CEO of Warner Records, respectively.
Photo Finish did well with Atlantic and re-upped for another three years in 2009 — around the same time Galle joined Paradigm. But his next big A&R find actually didn’t even land on his label. “We had been told by a promoter about this band that was selling all these tickets in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio — it was Twenty One Pilots,” he recalls. “We flew in to see them in Austin playing for 50 people and they were amazing. We put in an offer, but then another label offered like four times what ours was. So I played it during an A&R meeting and Janick stood up and said ‘I love this, we’ll fly them in next week.’ He ended up signing them, but he took care of us — he gave us a finders’ fee and points on all the records, so that was awesome.”
That wasn’t the only big break to come out of those meetings. “Another time, Aaron [Bay Schuck] was playing this new artist who had just been dropped from Universal because they didn’t know what to do with him — and it was Bruno Mars!,” he says. “I met with him the next week and that’s when I signed him as an agent — we put him out on his first tour, 200-cap rooms with Janelle Monae.”
However, by 2012, a lot of Galle’s close associates at Atlantic had moved on, and Barry Weiss (then CEO of Universal) made an attractive offer. While Galle — who’d joined Paradigm three years earlier — had to leave his label roster behind at Atlantic, it wasn’t long before Photo Finish’s next big hit. “We had success with the Mowglis and Misterwives, but then Marian Hill took off.”
In yet another example of looking where others aren’t, “I found Marian Hill on some Shazam chart in France,” Galle recalls. “I think one of their songs was in a Vine and it started popping there. They were playing in New York the next week so I went to see them, and they reminded me a little of Portishead, who I love, so we ended up doing the deal.”
Before long, the group’s song “Down” was ubiquitous in the way that only songs featured in Apple ads can be — in this case, a spot for the then-new AirPods. While his label has had an unusual level of success with syncs, Galle says it’s had nothing to do with him.
“I don’t know if it’s luck or what!,” he says. “The [major] labels claim they got it, the publishers claim they did, but thanks to that AirPods commercial, we got it on four formats on radio, put Big Sean on the remix.”
Despite that major-label muscle, by the end of Photo Finish’s deal with Universal, Galle was longing for more freedom. “Some things were harder to do in a major-label structure,” he says. “We needed to be able to put our developing artists on SoundCloud and we were blocked from doing that; we couldn’t do an NPR Tiny Desk [concert] because they didn’t have a deal with UMG; we couldn’t stream certain festivals’ sets.”
So in 2016, Photo Finish struck a deal with Caroline — now Virgin Label Services — which, although it is also a Universal company, is technically independent and allows more freedom. “I love working with Jacqueline [Saturn, CEO] and I’ve known her and the team there for years,” he says. “Our first indie signing was Shaed, they got a MacBook Air commercial for their song ‘Trampoline,’ and it took off.”
And even though making the move to Caroline/ Virgin meant that Photo Finish had to start practically all over again for a third time (a fourth, if you count Kickball), several of the artists they left behind have come back.
“3OH!3 and Marian Hill kinda felt like we had deserted them, which of course wasn’t the case,” because majors commonly have a provision that they can keep certain acts when a joint venture ends, Galle says. “But they’ve since come back to us.”
Along with those acts, Photo Finish has many new artists scheduled to roll out this year. “We have this girl named Aviv, she’s 15 and from Toronto and kinda bedroom-pop-esque,” he says, “and we’re really excited about the Maine,” a long-running rock band ironically from Arizona. “We had them back on Ellis Industries for booking, and we signed them to Photo Finish when they became available There’s kinda been an emo resurgence, and when we heard their song ‘Sticky,’ we signed them.” Their album came out last month and, sure enough, “Sticky” is on alternative charts. There’s also country singer-songwriter Ross Copperman, who has written hits for Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley — as well as some others he can’t mention just yet.
“We don’t sign a lot of artists to the label, on purpose,” Galle says. “There’s just seven of us, so we’re all driven.”
We now move to the CAA portion of this article…
After many years at Paradigm, Galle, Marquis and Rachel Pistik officially announced that they have joined CAA in June. The full roster of artists that they have brought appears at the bottom of this article and here, but below Galle and Marquis talk about some of the artists on that roster with whom they’ve had the longest relationships.
Galle: “I signed her with a group of other people at Paradigm about four years ago, we shared a lot of the same vision, and when it came time to leave Paradigm they said Janet’s loyalties stood with me. We’re just figuring out what comes next for her — we’ve got some ideas and some offers.”
My Chemical Romance
Galle: “Obviously there’s a huge demand for [their reunion tour, originally scheduled for 2020] — it sold out in minutes. We moved everything to 2022, so hopefully it all happens. They have fans who grew up with them, but the next generation loves them too because a lot of their favorite bands grew up on them, and they’ve never gotten to see them. As for what else they’re doing, [singer Gerard Way, also a successful author of graphic novels] obviously has his Netflix series “Umbrella Academy,” and he has another comic book coming called “True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys,” and I think he’s got an appetite to do something with that next.”
Galle: “We signed her the week before we officially started at CAA — she was the first one we brought in. Her team likes us and knew people at CAA and knew we’d take care of them, and they knew we got the vision for her. They also knew we were making a statement coming in the door with her with her as our first new signing.”
Marquis: “I’ve been working with Jack since he was in Steel Train, and so proud of all he has accomplished. He is such a great artist, but more important is that he is a great person. We have been working together for all these years at a few different places and I am happy that we get to continue that at CAA. Can’t wait to see Bleachers play this year, it’s been a long time.”
Galle: “I’ve been with him practically since the beginning. His manager Andrew [Gertler] and I knew each other from when Photo Finish went through Atlantic — he worked at Atlantic and would hang around our office space, and we just got to be friends. He called me one day and said he’d found this amazing kid on Vine doing covers and said he was bringing him to New York. I was the first meeting after he got off the plane — he came in with his mom and played a couple of songs, and I was like, ‘This kid’s a star.’ It’s amazing — everything he wanted to do I think we’ve checked off the list and now the goals keep growing.”
Marquis: “This is a special band for me because we are breaking new ground together at Photo Finish, and they are with us at CAA. We have grown closer over the 13 years we have worked together. It’s been awesome to see their growth this year especially with the dual role they play in mine and Matt’s life. Now with being on tour with All Time Low on Sad Summer Fest, they will play to almost 80,000 fans while their song, “Sticky” sits in the top 15 at Alternative. It’s a first for them in their career and it is Photo Finish’s 15th Anniversary!”
Galle: “I’ve been working with her for a little over three years, she was introduced to me by [AEG’s] Debra Rathwell and her manager Karen Sterling. I took her around CAA, everybody loves her, and she decided she just wanted one agency.”
Galle: “She’s a new artist who has probably 40-55 million Instagram follwers. Her music is great and I’m excited for her to do her debut shows. I’ve worked with her for four or five years, beginning when she was still somewhat associated with Disney, but I think her new project is gonna do huge numbers.”
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