Who really has the power in the agency business, and how is joined-up career planning reshaping the sector? Five agents and one promoter weigh in
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Data’s role in artist discovery, the rise of global genres and competition both within and between agencies were all discussed at ILMC’s agency-focused session
By IQ on 05 Mar 2020
Artist development formed the central pillar of conversation at the agency panel at this year’s International Live Music Conference (ILMC).
IQ Magazine’s Gordon Masson opened the session asking panellists for highlights of the past year, both at the top-end of their rosters and at a breakthrough level.
For UTA’s Jules de Lattre, Christine and the Queens headlining All Points East after a “difficult” second album stage was a highlight, along with Marc Rebillet on the emerging side. Paradigm agent Cecilia Chan chose Mark Ronson as a highlight of 2019, whereas ICM Partners’ Scott Mantell said getting through a Nicki Minaj tour was his proudest achievement, as “overcoming hurdles can also serve as a highlight.”
Speaking for Paradigm agency as a whole, Rob Challice named Billie Eilish and Lewis Capaldi as “phenomenal successes” of the past year.
Many people think Eilish was an overnight success, said Challice, but “it’s been four years in the making”. Challice stressed how early agents get involved with artists nowadays. “The assumption is an act is not going to need or want a label at the point we are taking on acts.”
De Lattre spoke of the importance of an agent’s network of managers, publishers and others. “The challenge is that you’re faced with such a great volume of music – how do you work out what’s interesting?” The UTA agent said there was a number of boxes to check before going for an act, such as signs of a strong team and support network.
“You’re faced with such a great volume of music – how do you work out what’s interesting?”
Data is another significant factor in artist discovery, said Challice. “Do you go by you ear, or by what you see in the metrics? That’s the question we’re looking at right now.”
Mantell referenced social media, stating that “if you’re not engaging, you’re missing out.” A combination of data and gut instinct were the way to go for Chan, who reiterated the importance of knowing and understanding your audience.
Talk turned to the global nature of acts nowadays, with an unmistakable rise in Latin music, K-pop and Afrobeats in recent years. Mantell agreed that “we’re having to look deeper into opportunities outside of the traditional genres,” adding that festivals are really embracing this.
De Lattre said that travel is key to getting fully immersed in current music trends, but warned against signing a lot of acts from the same global genre. “Agents should have varied and broad rosters,” he said.
Mantell countered, saying that with K-pop, for example, it’s important to get a drop on the competition and sign multiple acts. “I think the selectivity of rosters has gone in the other direction nowadays,” said the ICM agent.
The agents all agreed that you need to believe in the act you are signing, and stressed the balance of having star acts as well as so-called “bread and butter” acts on any roster.
When it comes to ensuring agents in the same agency are not vying for the same artist, Chan said good communication and discussion is key, mentioning Paradigm’s Intranet that allows agents to convey information on which acts they are looking at. “We see a much more collaborative way of working now,” agreed Challice.
A question from the floor asked if there was a danger of agents “becoming redundant” in the age of global conglomerates such as Live Nation and AEG. De Lattre answered saying that input from both promoters and agents is needed on global tours, which still involve agents in almost all cases.
“There is a responsibility for agencies to support agents through tough periods”
“People have been asking this question for ten years, and we’re still here,” quipped Challice.
The competitive nature of the agency business also came into play, with Masson asking panellists how much time they spend “trying to poach acts from others”.
“A fair amount,” admitted Mantell, “but that’s both in an offensive and defensive way – you have to re-sign acts everyday.”
De Lattre suggested there was a different culture in Europe, with “more respect” between agencies. “We don’t want to proactively create problems that aren’t there, but if you’ve heard an act is thinking about moving, then that’s a different story,” he said.
The modern need for continuous content has led to “difficulties changing artists’ mentalities”, said Challice, adding that the old model of releasing music only every few years “has been broken for acts at all stages in their careers”.
Another question from the floor asked what the agency business was doing to tackle gender imbalance. Chan said she had noticed major improvements in terms of female representation since joining Paradigm – then Coda – a few years ago, while Mantell stated ICM was striving for a 50/50 gender balance.
To finish, Challice spoke of the recent “trend” of promising agents in their 20s and 30s leaving the business.
“There is a responsibility for each agency to support agents through tough periods,” he said, adding that more emphasis needs to be placed on the mental and physical health of those in the business.
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