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Sustainability and diversity top of agents’ agendas

Discussing various big topics such as the post-Covid return to business and sustainability, the main discussion point arising from this year’s ILMC agency panel was diversity and how the business, in general, can be more open to attracting people from different backgrounds.

Session chairman Tom Schroeder of Paradigm Talent Agency admitted to guests Lucy Dickins (WME), Mike Greek (CAA), Sam Kirby Yoh (UTA) and Obi Asika (Echo Location Talent Agency) that prior to the panel he thought his passion, sustainability, would be the main takeaway from the panel, but instead it turned out to be diversity.

Earlier in the session, Schroeder had joked that UTA had been the most aggressive agency during the pandemic, so much so that they had a 50% market share of the panel guests, thanks to the 3 March announcement that the company had acquired Asika’s Echo Location operation.

“When everything comes back we’ll [either] return to being the same idiots or there will be some fundamental change”

And it was Asika who, in tackling a question about race and diversity, recounted a story from his youth where his mother, a sociology teacher, had urged him to read a book by Jock Young who wrote about labelling theory, opening Asika’s mind to the dangers of stereotyping.

“So I was aware from the age of 13 or 14 that I was constantly stereotyped by teachers at my school, by parents of the children, by school friends, and even maybe sometimes myself, because you end up, potentially, becoming that stereotype. It’s a seriously dangerous thing and it happens all over the world,” said Asika.

But he revealed that it was music at university, especially drum and bass, that first allowed him to think of himself as British, as he identified with the music. He added, “We all do it, but if you are judging somebody before you’ve given them a chance, think about how dangerous that can be. And on the other side of it, think about how powerful the industry we work in is – someone who felt that way, because of the love of music, is now sitting here and has just started as the head of the UK office of a global agency, having a talk with all you fine people.”

“The responsibility we have as an industry to become sustainable is something we haven’t thought about enough previously”

Addressing how the industry should approach its return to reopening, Schroeder stated, “There are two schools of thought: one is that when everything comes back we’ll return to being the same old idiots we used to be, or maybe there will be some fundamental change.”

Greek responded, “I do believe there will be fundamental change, but I do see there are certain elements of what we do that are going to end up being the norm again. Ultimately, the responsibility we have as an industry to become sustainable is something we haven’t thought about enough previously. Secondly, it’s important to note how loud our voice is as an industry when we collectively get together – that’s something we can hopefully see grow in the future.”

On a positive note, Dickins stated that she thought there would be a lot of silver linings to come out of the pandemic shutdown, not the least of which would be improvements to people’s life-work balance, and not being at every show, every night.

“We have to work together – not just agents, but also promoters and venues in regard to dealing with government and policy”

Noting that the industry is in a precarious position where huge number of tickets are being sold, Schoeder pondered, “When we get practical on this, how is it going to work? You’ve got festivals spending money on marketing, but no insurance system for the artist or for the promoters and tickets are being sold for events we don’t know are going to happen. At some point, the artist has got to invest some money to make a show to go on the stage, if anything is going to happen. It’s a jigsaw that confuses me every day.”

Greek agreed, stating, “I have sleepless nights about it as well because I’ve committed lots of my clients to lots of different events, but there’s no way of knowing without insurance and all other kinds of stuff… the conversations are about everyone around the artist trying to minimise costs they would incur in advance in order to make a decision as late as possible to do the show. It’s a big concern and some artists can afford to take the risk, while others can’t.”

Kirby Yoh commented, “We have to work together – not just agents, but also promoters and venues in regard to dealing with government and policy. But we can make it better for everybody – safer for the fans and the artists. In my mind, there is not a choice. It’s our responsibility to work together.”

“Just be careful. Make sure you’re not spending too much money unless you really have to”

Dickins noted that some of the problems around agreeing industry best practice involved the competition and legality issues. “But basically I think you have to conduct your business with empathy because every single person has had to go through this [Covid]. So it’s all about sharing information, talking people through each step, and listening to people. As regards different places opening at different times, that’s just something we’re going to have to work around and take on board because every single border is going to have a different issue.”

Indeed, in answer to a question from a delegate, Schroeder suggested that payment plans for advances were being discussed, although he admitted that these could become complicated.

And adding his advice, Asika said, “Just be careful. Make sure you’re not spending too much money unless you really have to. Hold back and focus on the areas that we know are looking positive. I honestly believe we will have shows in the UK this summer, but I have a policy of spreading my bets – I’m not focussing on any huge festivals this year, I’m spreading things across clubs to 5,000 to 10,000 all over the place and anyone who mentions exclusivity is told that I’m not interested.”

 


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