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Top agents weigh up consolidation of the biz

Top execs weighed up the pros and cons of the continued consolidation of the agency business at the recent ILMC.

Alex Hardee (Wasserman Music), Alex Bruford (ATC Live), Charly Beedell-Tuck (Solo Agency) and Ella Street (WME) shared their views on the matter during the Agency Business 2023 panel, moderated by IQ Magazine‘s Gordon Masson.

The panel, which took place at the beginning of March, marked one year since Paradigm UK was acquired by Wasserman Music, with Hardee becoming part of the managing executive team.

He told ILMC delegates he thinks the convergence of the business will continue, leaving a handful of major agencies that operate on a global scale.

“I think that there’ll be fewer and fewer agencies and they’ll fold up into bigger ones,” said Hardee, who represents Liam Gallagher and Lewis Capaldi among others.

“I don’t know how you can survive on a big scale without having a global footprint moving forward because the Americans have rigged the game in streaming and the majority of the new acts that are going to be global acts will come from America and perhaps Korea because that’s where the streaming base is. Branding – even though a lot of its smoke and mirrors – seems to be quite important. We’ve got 300 people working at our company now, just in the UK.

“I think that there’ll be fewer and fewer agencies and they’ll fold up into bigger ones”

“I don’t know how you’d operate on a cottage industry level and retain a world-class band. You’d be under so much pressure from people. I think it will be very hard. I think that there will be four or five main agencies probably like there are four or five main record labels.”

While WME’s Ella Street stressed the importance of independents in a healthy marketplace, she echoed Hardee’s point about the need for agencies to have a global footprint.

“I think competition is obviously important and we need to support those independent agencies, venues and festivals to create a healthy marketplace for everybody,” said Street, a WME veteran who represents the likes of Keane, Goldfrapp and more.

“And obviously, some artists are looking for a more boutique experience and don’t want to sign with WME or Wasserman. But I think Alex does have a point; artists and managers are coming to us and wanting a global plan. We’re having to project 18 months, two years ahead. So unless an artist is just looking to just tour the UK at a certain level, they are eventually going to involve a bigger team – they’re going to be looking for that next part of the conversation.”

Bruford, founder and MD of independent agency ATC Live, argued: “I think it’s well proven now that you don’t need a major record label or a major agency or major management to be a global success. I think there are a lot of artists out there that have managed it with all kinds of different levels of teams. For me, what matters is the quality of the work that you do. Whether you deliver not for your artists, it’s not really about the size of the company.

“It’s well proven now that you don’t need a major record label or a major agency or major management to be a global success”

“For us, the continued consolidation is beneficial because rather than being focused on volume, we’re focused on the creative and strategic representation of our artists. And that’s really our priority, rather than how many acts we represent and how big the numbers are. We’ve had really positive responses to that from a lot of the biggest artists and managers out there who want to have their artists represented in that way. There are obviously different ways of doing it and it just depends on which path artists want to take with their careers. I do totally agree that you need a global footprint – we have one – and I think that that’s a really important part of the business. It’s just part of the game.”

Beedell-Tuck, a senior agent at John Giddings’ boutique Solo Agency, reinforced Bruford’s point about the bespoke service independents can offer artists.

“It’s about how you’re servicing your clients and what kind of service you’re offering,” said Beedell-Tuck, who works with artists ranging from Iggy Pop to Megan McKenna.

“If you’re represented by a smaller boutique agency, you’re likely to get a more tailored experience because, in my opinion, you get more of the agent’s time and you’re not just another number. Having a global footprint is very important but there are other ways of satisfying that.”

Since the panel took place, there has been more movement in the agency business, with Primary Talent returning to being an independent music talent agency following a management buyout.

Primary was sold to ICM Partners in 2020, which was subsequently acquired by CAA.


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Live biz urged to embrace digital opportunities

A raft of top execs have urged the live business to embrace the opportunities of the digital world, amid the pandemic-accelerated convergence of tech, streaming, gaming and music.

Covering a range of hot topics from ticketed live-streaming to in-game concerts, the forward-thinking ILMC 34 panel Convergence & new frontiers explored the place of live performance in a post Covid-19 universe.

Moderated by freelance journalist Mark Sutherland, the session brought together the live and recorded music strands of the biz with speakers Jackie Wilgar of Live Nation, WME’s Levi Jackson, Tiago Correia of Warner Music UK and Jane Kinnaird of Meta.

“In our mind, even before the last couple of years, that opportunity for digital to really extend live – and its definition – has always been there”

“From the time we started Live Nation, the question we posed was, ‘What is the definition of live?'” said Wilgar, LN’s EVP marketing & consumer technology – international. “And can the digital world, in fact, allow us to expand that definition – whether that’s reaching people in markets and places they’ve not been able to attend a physical live show, or whether it’s taking the physical live show and just extending it beyond its current physical presence?

“So in our mind, even before the reality of what’s happened in the last couple of years, that opportunity for digital to really extend live – and its definition – has always been there.”

Creative strategist Kinnaird elaborated on the “huge” potential for combining the physical world with the metaverse.

“For me, it’s how you can augment a live experience for the people that are there,” she said. “The thing that I really want to explore is how you can enjoy something with someone else – it might be that one of you is at the live event but the other is at the augmented metaverse version.”

“We’re always about providing more avenues for fans to connect”

Correia, of Warner’s global digital business development team, discussed the rise of in-game concerts such as those seen on Fortnite and Roblox over the past couple of years (the label made an “eight-figure” investment in Roblox in 2021).

“There’s an entrenched audience in those games,” said Correia. “We don’t know if that audience is a fan of Tones & I in the case of Fortnite, for example, or a fan of Aya Nakamura. So there’s naturally a big opportunity to say, ‘Let’s try and capture those that aren’t and try to engage those that already are.’

“We’re always about providing more avenues for the fans to connect. And part of that is giving avenues for the artists to express themselves in new ways. Of course, it came in at a critical time where no one was able to do physical. It is not substitutional in any way. But, for a brief period of time, some people who couldn’t go to live, went to these virtual concerts in the hope that they could have some semblance of what those experiences are. I’m glad we were able to provide that service to them as well, because we were very happy with the results.”

He added: “There is still a bit of taboo and shame around games, because maybe we played them when we were young and we’re no longer that person. I think that that’s going to change. It’s not just a generational thing, look at the capabilities that you can do in games that you can’t do otherwise, I think people will understand that it’s quite a very important part of the entertainment industry as a whole and, as a music industry, that’s why we’ve done a lot in gaming. We need to be very, very aware of what’s happening and we need to be driving part of those conversations.”

“You’d be crazy not to look at gaming as an opportunity for distribution or inclusion”

“You’d be crazy not to look at gaming as an opportunity for distribution or inclusion,” agreed Wilgar. “Now, if the artists you’re working with are more relevant to a 65-year-old-plus crowd, maybe that’s not your right platform. But if you’re looking for distribution and reach, the reality is gaming is up there with sport. It is the fastest growing lifestyle reality of anything that exists worldwide right now. And it’s not just 12 to 16-year-olds playing games – the age demographic tends to be 24 through early 40s, or 40 through early 50s, in terms of the biggest growth areas for gamers.”

On the subject of live-streams, meanwhile, WME’s Jackson suggested that licensing hurdles had stunted the growth of the market and deterred some acts from embracing the format.

“Despite two years of live-streams through lockdown, people’s understanding of ownership and how we get the right licences in the right territories has been such a challenge… And it just puts people off,” he added. “If we could figure out a way to encourage everyone to participate and help each other there, it will probably encourage a bit of creativity to do it. Because at the minute, it does feel somewhat clunky. It’s enough for any artist that wants to look at this space to say, ‘I’m okay for now.'”


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