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ILMC 34: Top agents discuss post-pandemic landscape

Tom Schroeder, Jon Ollier, Sally Dunstone, Ari Bernstein and Lucy Dickins came together for The Agency Business panel at this year's ILMC

By Gordon Masson on 29 Apr 2022

image © Alexis Dubus Photography

Session chair Tom Schroeder (Wasserman) recounted his first ILMC experiences when he was accosted by private jet brokers who were not exactly relevant for his jungle acts. As a result, he said he wanted to make this year’s agency session a little more accessible for all.

Jon Ollier (One Fiinix Live) spoke of his recent experience with the start of the Ed Sheeran tour and the excitement around it, noting that outdoor shows appear to be more exciting than those indoors.

Looking for the positives in the current state of live music, Schroeder reported that young acts who have come through the pandemic appear to want to have a lot more ownership of their careers, with Lucy Dickins (WME) agreeing that there is a culture shift happening among the younger generation.

Ollier opined that it’s not just a generational thing, but also financial, as lots of people are buying tickets late, meaning that promoters have to take a leap of faith in investing in their events in the hope that people do turn up at the last minute.

The agents said [ticket] prices are not likely to come down as the artist’s costs have also increased

Sally Dunstone (Primary Talent) told ILMC that avails appear to have reached a saturation point, making it tricky to get to that next step with new artists. But she said this forced agents to be more creative and look to work with different venues, for example.

“We have to advise the artist on how they get to that next step in the career and if that means telling them to wait, rather than go out now and do a tour that could harm their long term prospects,” said Dunstone.

She said that her decision to switch agencies was down to the pandemic, thinking in a more entrepreneurial manner and searching for new opportunities – a sentiment echoed by Ollier who launched his own agency, saying that it was the CAA ethos of exploring new avenues and trying to always find a brighter path, that had prompted him to decide to establish his own venture.

Looking at the year ahead, Ari Bernstein (ICM Partners) observed the effect that festivals might have on other touring, highlighting radius causes and the like as issues that need to be discussed. He said Covid had made him look around for all the other revenue sources that his clients as artists could benefit from, which was something that would strengthen the sector going forward.

Schroeder said the new breed of young manager wants their agents to be a bigger part of the artist’s journey

Bernstein agreed with Schroeder that the price of living is going to squeeze the fans and there will be an impact that we are yet to experience. He also cited the war in Ukraine, rising costs and higher ticket prices, but accepted that it is now part of an agent’s role to negotiate those challenges.

On the thorny question of ticket prices, the agents said those prices are not likely to come down as the artist’s costs have also increased. But they said acts are already looking to tour with smaller productions in a bid to save money, as well as considering sustainability matters.

Schroeder said the new breed of young manager wants their agents to be a bigger part of the artist’s journey, rather than just a cog in the wheel.

Dickins also applauded the entrepreneurial spirit among young acts and younger agents. “The artists that tell me what they want to do, not the other way around,” she revealed. “There are things they are telling me that I think ‘shit, I’ve got to read up on that,’” she added.

Turning to the future, Dunstone predicted that in three to five years’ time the business would be fully recovered and progressed from where it was pre-pandemic. “People are looking at content differently now,” she said citing acts that have done well through the likes of TikTok. “I think we’ll see a fresh batch of new headliners in five years’ time, that have come through the pandemic,” said Dunstone.

“The artists that tell me what they want to do, not the other way around”

Ollier joked that Dickins would be working at his agency in three years, but on a serious note, he said there would be a period of natural selection with artists, events and probably even agents.

“Change is good,” said Dickins. “It’s been boring to see the same headliners at festivals for 15 years. I’m excited about the change and I’m embracing it – it’s already happening.”

Schroeder noted that while festival programming had improved, diversity in the actual industry itself was poor, with Dickins agreeing that the business needs to be a lot better.

Schroeder concluded that this summer will be bumpy but that agents need to navigate it. Ollier said, “The art is going to get better and better, no matter what us industry idiots have got to do.” That struck a chord with his fellow agents, with Bernstein believing that there will be more doors opening for revenue streams than ever before, as people embrace entrepreneurial ideas and think outside the box.


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