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IFF 2023: CAA’s Emma Banks & Mike Greek hold court

The powerhouse duo behind Creative Artist Agency’s London office shared the conference stage for the first time ever

By Oumar Saleh on 28 Sep 2023

Mike Greek & Emma Banks

image © Phil Wilson - Parklife Photography

CAA UK bosses Emma Banks and Mike Greek looked back on their storied careers and gave their thoughts on the current state of the business in a joint keynote at today’s International Festival Forum (IFF).

After more than 30 years of working together, the powerhouse duo behind CAA’s London office shared the conference stage for the first time ever.

The leading agents sat down with ILMC MD Greg Parmley to discuss a host of topics on the final day of the invite-only gathering at South London’s Omeara. Here are a selection of highlights of the hour-long discussion, starting with a time-warp back to 2006…

Leaving Helter Skelter to form CAA’s London office 17 years ago…

Mike Greek: “There were moments at Helter Skelter where it was a brilliant company with a great group of people, but we were only supportive of each other to a point. Naively, I thought we were all in it together, and there were moments where I’d help people but the feeling wouldn’t be reciprocated…When the opportunity to start looking at a different business model came about, that was a factor in deciding to set up a company with a more ‘American’ outlook which was based on camaraderie, teamwork, and togetherness instead of the old-school “eat what you kill” philosophy.”

Emma Banks: “We didn’t feel like we were being seen. And to follow up on what Mike said about America, which had just woken up to the fact that there were other places outside of New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles, they were taking our clients because, by and large, there’s more money to be made in America. All of those things together paved the way for us to talk to some of those US-based companies, and ultimately set up a CAA office in London.”

“If we can make money out of it, we can do it, and if we’re not already covering something, we’re thinking about doing it”

CAA UK’s growth…

MG: “When we started, we had around four or five people.”

EB: “Nowadays, we have various offices in London that cover different areas of the business. I think there’s around 380 people now in London that look after music, TV, sport — specifically football. We’ve got an executive search business, which is an emerging market, as well as podcasts and brand consulting. It’s grown massively to the point where we have offices in places like China and Singapore that look after a lot of things, despite our individual offices’ relatively small sizes. The domestic and international growth has been exceptional, and I can’t see it slowing down anytime soon.”

The 2023 festival season…

MG: “As we’re based in Europe, we do think a lot about European festivals. But our job starts at the Laneway Festival in Australia that happens every January or February, then we move towards festivals in Mexico and South America that normally begin around springtime before we enter the busy summer period. There’s a constant festival opportunity, and it’s not always concentrated on the May to July months. You see all these festivals changing and evolving alongside their host countries, and despite audiences wishing for better facilities or bigger lineups, I see huge growth across different territories all over the world.”

“I think we all get caught up in the idea that the industry revolves around the biggest festivals in the world, but it shouldn’t be”

The trend of A-list acts playing in more stadium shows than festivals…

EB: “Going forward, some of them will do that, but crucially not all. However, there are legitimately some artists you can’t put on a festival bill because, from a production and backstage facility standpoint, their demands can’t generally be achieved at a festival. As we’ve seen throughout the year, some of the biggest stadium shows featured megastars such as Beyoncé, Harry Styles, and Taylor Swift. It’s not just about the money they can take out of multiple sold-out stadia, but also the additional revenue generated from platinum ticketing, VIP ticketing, and their complete control over the artwork and the billing. There’s so much more control for them, and the money they can make from all the incidental stuff blows festivals out of the water.”

Festivals’ responsibility towards creating headliners…

MG: “It’s really a loaded question for the bigger festivals, but I think the opportunity for real artist growth and career development comes from their mid-size counterparts. I think we all get caught up in the idea that the industry revolves around the biggest festivals in the world, but it shouldn’t be. I’d much rather recommend an artist headline a 20,000 to 30,000-capacity crowd than being third or fourth in the bill of a 70,000-capacity festival, because I firmly believe that mid-sized festivals are the lifeblood of the industry and we should be seriously thinking about them in a rapidly crowded and changing market.”

“It’s probably an unpopular opinion, but I think that artist fees are too low”

On artist fees…

MG: “It’s probably an unpopular opinion, but I think that artist fees are too low. We always hear complaints about how festival fees have risen, but how often do you hear agents complaining about them making so much money? There’s no transparency on what the profit margins are in festivals, and it’s clearly a huge investment. With that said, I think artist fees should be improving because there are so many different ancillary revenue streams — especially for the bigger events — and I don’t think they recompense artists properly. I think more can be done for the artists playing in those festivals.”

EB: “I agree with Mike. We actually had a discussion in the office about general ticket prices, thinking about how we don’t actually charge enough on ticket prices in gigs, and we certainly don’t put enough in the budget for support acts anymore. When Mike and I started 30 years ago, there was around £50 to £100 for the support artists. Fast forward to now, and most of the time, there’s still only £50 to £100 for the supporting acts. It’s laughable because no one in their right mind would do anything for that. When there’s no transparency, we’re going to push for as much money for our artists as we can. If the artist fees don’t go up, more and more artists will resort to simply doing their own shows.”

What they’re most proud of during their run as co-heads so far…

MG: “I look at a lot of agents that worked with us. They’ve started with us and we’ve watched their careers grow over the years. I know it’s a bit cliché, but seeing them develop has been incredibly rewarding, and it’s great to see them grow and become leaders in their own right.”

EB: “That’s what it’s really all about. Very few people leave the company unless they’re leaving the business. It’s also very important to maintain a culture amongst your colleagues and employees, which can’t be fostered through a Teams meeting online. We all spend so much time together. There’s also the fact that we do some great work with our clients, but that comes from being in a happy, positive environment.”

“Watching an artist you’ve been with for years grow is still incredibly rewarding”

What keeps them motivated…

MG: “Constantly working with new artists keeps us energised. It’s another cliché, but watching an artist you’ve worked with for years grow is still incredibly rewarding and exciting. Seeing them go through their first phase as an artist to sell out their first major headline show keeps me going.”

EB: “I’m pretty much the same as Mike. When you start working with an artist who’s playing their first gig in a tiny club, and then later get them to a point where they’re headlining arenas and festivals, is truly something special. You maintain a good relationship with them to the point where you know their families well, and as we’ve seen numerous times, record company people come and go but it’s often the case where agents are one of the very few people that remain a consistent presence in their lives. It’s great if you sign a big artist, but the good vibes really come from working with emerging talents you’ve been with from the very beginning. They’ve grown with you, and that’s really special.”

What do they admire most about each other…

EB: “It’s his dedication. He’s done an amazing job balancing his family and his job without ever taking his eye off the ball. His clients get 100% of him, but his family are also properly looked after to the point where he’s even allowed his children to have a dog, and he hates dogs! He’s always been so supportive of me, and without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

MG: “Emma’s a leader, and she’s brilliant at what she does. She’s so intuitive about the way our business should grow, and thinks nonstop about how we can develop a culture and how we can bring people on. It’s very rare in life that you have a working relationship that we’ve had that supports each other, and her leadership qualities are second to none.”


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