“We’ve been rubbish”: Agents tackle diversity in IQ Focus panel
The evolving role of the booking agent, the increasingly crowded 2021 circuit, and the agency sector’s shaky record on diversity were among the topics discussed during yesterday’s IQ Focus session, The Agency Business 3.0.
Hosted by ILMC MD Greg Parmley, the session – the latest in IQ’s Focus virtual panel series – checked in with CAA’s Maria May, UTA’s Jules de Lattre, Paradigm’s Tom Schroeder and 13 Artists’ Angus Baskerville to see how the business has changed, three months after the world went into lockdown.
“It’s been proper bonkers these past few months,” said Schroeder, who recalled how, back “in February, we were saying, ‘We’re going we need 20 laptops’ [for people to work from home], and other people going, ‘You’re mad; it’s the flu!’
“We’ve gone from that,” he continued, “to ‘Is Glastonbury going to wobble’, to ‘Is Glastonbury 2021 going to happen…?’”
Despite the speed at which circumstances changed – as well as ongoing uncertainty about when live music will return in force – Schroeder said, as an agent, he’s never felt a more essential part of the music industry ecosystem.
“The majors [labels] have seen they cannot get traction for an artist without shows,” he explained. “I spent 20 years telling people that – I didn’t know if it was true, but now I know it’s true. Gigs are an absolutely integral part of the music food chain. I feel more valuable than I have before.”
May said a “day doesn’t go by” when she doesn’t receive an offer for things like “livestreamed shows, or pre-recorded sets being put into a virtual universe”, a la Travis Scott in Fortnite.
“It’s a good time for us to realise that we’ve been really, really rubbish at this, and we’re going to do something about it”
“As agents we all need to be across this massively,” she explained. “Nothing will replace a live music experience, ever – but with most of the shows that are successful, people can’t go to them, as they sell out too quickly. So this [livestreaming] is something that will become in standard in future.”
“Over the past few months we’ve all become experts in the livestream space,” agreed de Lattre, “which has enabled us to go to our clients and say, ‘Here are the pros and cons of the various ticketing providers, here are the different broadcast platforms, here are the different production options…’”
“The idea of our role as advisors, as consultants, as having expertise in the live space and in lots of different areas, I think gives us a reason to exist more so than ever,” he continued. “I think it’s that dimension, rather than just booking tours and taking commission, that is key.”
The growth of virtual concerts, he added, “has really forced us to innovate, and think creatively about ‘What can we learn here?’”
“I think over the next few months we’re going to see increased production values, and people offering opportunities for artists to perform,” predicted Baskerville, “and perhaps monetise, in a meaningful way, some of those performances. We’re involved in a couple of acts playing at Alexandra Palace this week at a streaming event the Wireless people are putting together, and the production values are incredible…
“In the long term, hopefully [these virtual shows] something we can learn from, and use those skills in future.”
Following the events of Black Out Tuesday and the launch of #TheShowMustBePaused, talk turned to racial diversity in the live music industry and (given the panel’s make-up) the agency business specifically.
“Over the past few months we’ve all become experts in the livestream space”
“CAA are very publicly out there and actively working hard… we’re looking at how we recruit, how we employ, how we bring people up, how we create departments and how we bring focus and light to these issues,” said May. “Last week was a great moment for the creative industries to step back, take stock and realise how much work there is to do in this area.”
“I think agencies throughout the UK are terrible at this, and that includes my company,” opined Schroeder, taking a different tack to May. “There just isn’t the representation there, and we have to look at why.
“What we need are some tangible results. One of the most startling bits from last week [Black Out Tuesday] was the brands which put a black square up, saying, ‘We’re going have a think’, and getting called out on it…
“I hated the Insta-moment of the whole thing, so I’m not going to use this opportunity to say what we’re doing at Paradigm. I’ll come back in a year and tell you then. It’s a good time for us to realise that we’ve been really, really rubbish at this, and we’re going to do something about it.”
“I think there’s a risk that the emotion and severity of last few weeks could lead to a rush to respond that isn’t genuine,” added de Lattre, who said the industry must be asking itself, “How can we do this in a genuine, long-lasting way?
“We’re going to be scrutinised for how well we’ve done in the coming weeks and months. The honesty and the dialogue so far is the best we’ve done, but there’s so much more to achieve. It’s for us to prove ourselves from here.”
Looking to 2021, May said it’s going to be challenge to provide space for new acts on already crammed festival bills, with many events choosing to re-book the majority of their 2020 acts.
“With the new acts coming through, it’s going to be difficult, because for the most part we’ve moved everyone into 2021,” she explained.
“It’s important that the events which happen next year happen well”
“If we want to have support for our newer acts, we’re going to have to be willing to work with festivals and promoters if we want to have conversations about the few slots they have left,” said de Lattre, referencing the ongoing renegotiations between artists and promoters of artist deals signed pre-Covid-19.
“There is a need for an adjustment,” said Schroeder. “In 2021 we all desperately need a super successful summer, to make money, for people to survive, for people get their jobs back, and for punters to have a wonderful experience.”
“What Covid will have done is put a pause, if not a stop, on some of those silly deals” from before the crisis, he added.
“We all need to work together very closely so we know clearly on what basis we’re confirming events,” added Baskerville. “But there’s an appetite among agents, managers and promoters to work it all out. […] It’s important that the events which happen next year happen well; if we all support them and work together we’ll be able to achieve that.”
More than anything, concluded de Lattre, the coronavirus has ushered in a period of “reflecting, not just about our work lives, but about lives in general, and there’s an incredible amount of change to come.
“It’s been an absolutely unbelievable year, charged with the promise of change and a more collaborative spirit within the business, and with real potential for change in diversity and inclusion. These are all incredible things that I don’t think anyone could have dreamt of really happening.
“So if we can turn a positive out of all the challenges and the anguish, I think we’ll have done well from this year.”
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Booking agents unite for next IQ Focus
Continuing the weekly IQ Focus virtual panel discussions, this week sees a line-up of senior figures from the agency world step up.
Titled The Agency Business 3.0, the session streams live on Facebook and YouTube on Thursday 11 June at 4 p.m. BST/5 p.m. CET.
For multinational agencies juggling investors, cashflow and large numbers of employees, the Covid-19 crisis has presented significant challenges. And for the smaller boutique outfits, the hiatus in touring is no less impactful.
But when the business does return, will this period have changed how agencies are structured, and how they work? What routes back do agents see working, and what new opportunities might emerge? In an industry fuelled by creative thinking, what comes next?
Joining chair and ILMC head Greg Parmley will be CAA’s Maria May, Paradigm’s Tom Schroeder, 13 Artists’ Angus Baskerville and United Talent Agency’s Jules de Lattre.
The popular IQ Focus sessions have run since April, with previous topics having included the festival summer, grassroots music venues, major venues, mental health and wellbeing during lockdown, and innovation in live music. All previous sessions can be watched here.
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ILMC 32: The Agency Business 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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The Crystal Ball: Predictions for 2019
IQ: Panellists, what do you anticipate being next year’s greatest challenges, both for you and for the wider industry?
Emma Bownes, vice-president of programming, AEG Europe: I think most of the industry is concerned about the impact of Brexit on the music industry – will it lead to restrictions on travel for British acts?
The government have to make sure that musicians, particularly smaller ones, can continue to tour the EU easily without the need for visas – and similarly for European artists – while they develop as artists and build their fan-bases and careers.
Beverley Whitrick, strategic director, Music Venue Trust: So much attention is being focused on Brexit that it makes it even more difficult to advance with the changes needed to protect the grassroots of the music industry. Not surprisingly, enormous and necessary energy is being spent trying to safeguard international touring and ensuring that the UK continues to be a leader in music.
Trying to reconcile what is needed at home with these global concerns poses the greatest challenge for 2019.
Stephan Thanscheidt, managing director, FKP Scorpio: A challenge faced by both the touring and festival sectors is the rising costs in all areas, such as personnel, production, administrative expenses and, especially, artist fees. Of course, ticket prices cannot – and should not – be scaled limitlessly, so we need to find ways to optimise and allocate these expenses.
Okan Tombulca, managing director, eps: I think our biggest challenge will be the same as for the rest of the industry: labour. Europe-wide, there is a huge problem with the availability of staff – security, stagehands, event co-ordinators – as well as equipment.
“Europe-wide, there is a huge problem with the availability of staff”
Kim Bloem, vice-head promoter, Mojo Concerts: The biggest issue over the last two years is the lack of personnel and materials for the number of events taking place from May to September. The number of shows, festivals and special events is rapidly increasing in this period, and therefore building crew, technicians, riggers, security personnel, etc., get exhausted because they’re working crazy hours.
We need to make sure live music remains a safe working place for everybody, but getting the number of people needed is very challenging.
Okan Tombulca: I think 2019 will be the biggest year in 20 years in terms of the number of events going on.
Jules de Lattre, senior agent, United Talent Agency: The issue of ticket pricing, both on the primary and secondary markets. Although significant progress was made in 2018, how to combat illicit secondary-ticketing practices will continue to be an issue we deal with on a daily basis.
As the secondary market becomes more regulated but not fully eradicated, will a more widely used and accepted model of dynamic pricing on the primary market emerge?
IQ: How about the biggest opportunities?
Jules de Lattre: As music consumption on ISPs explodes, there will be increasing opportunities for fans to fully connect with artists in the live space.
Mark Yovich, president, Ticketmaster International: There are more opportunities than ever before to empower artists to connect with their fans and harness their live experience. Whether that’s through digital tickets or facial recognition, we are continuing to innovate in a wide range of products that are changing the landscape of the live business.
“Hopefully, 2019 will see further action to ensure that live music is accessible to the widest possible audience”
Emma Bownes: This year saw a great deal of progress made in terms of restricting the ability of professional ticket resellers to acquire and resell large amounts of tickets with a huge mark-up. The British government introduced new legislation to ban resellers from using bots to purchase tickets in bulk, secondary ticketing sites Get Me In! and Seatwave are closing down, and the O2 and the SSE Arena, Wembley, both introduced a digital ticketing system featuring a dynamically changing barcode system that ensures tickets cannot be copied or shared on secondary sites.
Hopefully, 2019 will see further action to ensure that live music is accessible to the widest possible audience.
IQ: Can you identify any key market trends you expect to see emerging next year?
Stephan Thanscheidt: Concentration of power. Next to the continuously evolving activities of FKP Scorpio in Germany and abroad, as well as the strategic partnership with AEG, the live sector of [FKP majority owner] CTS Eventim is growing further due to purchases in Italy and Spain. The same can, of course, be observed at Live Nation and other international companies.
Beverley Whitrick: More grassroots music venues will close unless people who claim to be supportive actually start demonstrating that support through their actions.
Stephan Thanscheidt: Another observation is the formation of investors and investment groups who don’t have a background as a promoter buying up festivals all over Europe.
“Apart from music and comedy, we see the market for speaking events growing”
Mark Yovich: One word: mobile. We’ve been saying it for years, but 2018 saw a huge spike in the percentage of mobile traffic and, more importantly, mobile ticket sales. We think mobile-first with everything we do, from how fans discover events through to digital methods of entry.
Beverley Whitrick: Local activism and campaigns to support music will grow. Both artists and audiences are getting more vocal about the value of live music to communities, local economies, and health and wellbeing.
Emma Bownes: Alongside the music programming you’d expect to see at both venues, we’re seeing a lot of shows coming through the O2 and The SSE Arena, Wembley, that are aimed at more of a family audience: Hugh Jackman, Cirque du Soleil, NBA, Harlem Globetrotters, Strictly Come Dancing, WWE…
We’re also hosting Superstars of Gymnastics at the O2 – a major new showcase of the sport, featuring Simone Biles and Max Whitlock.
Kim Bloem: My colleague Gideon Karting promoted a show with K-pop band BTS this year, which was huge, so that is definitely something that we expect to see emerging in the market in the next few years.
Also, apart from music and comedy – the latter of which is a genre that sees massive audience interest – we see the market for speaking events growing. This year, Barack Obama did a couple of events, and I hope we can have his wife Michelle come to the Netherlands at some point. We can hopefully embrace this kind of role model and learn from them how we can all contribute to a better world.
“I’d like to see much better communication between all sectors of our industry”
IQ: What are you most looking forward to in 2019?
Mark Yovich: The Sunday night at Reading Festival for Foo Fighters. Their London Stadium gig was amazing and I can’t wait to see them again.
Emma Bownes: Sheffield Wednesday turning things around and making it to the play-offs.
Jules de Lattre: We have a very exciting summer of major international festivals planned for Christine and the Queens in 2019. Considering how strong and unique her live show is, I expect the summer will have a significant impact on this campaign. I’m excited for festivalgoers to see and experience this incredible show.
Mark Yovich: Muse and Fleetwood Mac are some other great stadium shows I’m looking forward to, as well as Billie Eilish at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in early 2019.
Beverley Whitrick: Continuing to meet amazing people whose passion for music makes the work we do worthwhile.
IQ: Finally, what, if anything, could the industry do better together in 2019?
Okan Tombulca: In Germany, we have a twice-yearly meeting of all festival promoters and service companies, to share information about health and safety and develop one set of rules for the whole country. I’d like to see much better communication between all sectors of our industry, to share knowledge, help each other and work better together.
“Anyone in the business should do whatever they can to provide support to those in need”
Kim Bloem: Be a bit nicer to each other, work more closely together, and try to reduce the amount of paperwork and covering our own asses all the time. If we work hard and well, we should be able to trust each other’s judgment.
Jules de Lattre: Conversations about mental health are becoming more commonplace and I hope will continue to do so. Anyone in the business should look around them and do whatever they can to provide reliable health and wellness support to those in need.
Gender diversity and equality in the music industry as a whole – from the presence of female-fronted acts at festivals to gender pay gaps and fairer access to leadership roles in the music industry – will also remain a major talking point in the year to come.
Mark Yovich: Accessibility is a huge issue in our industry and we’re working closely with Attitude is Everything on their Ticketing Without Barriers campaign to make sure more is being done.
There seems to be some great momentum, and now is the time for us all to come together to find solutions to ensure equal access to live entertainment.
Stephan Thanscheidt: We need to stand united against political and societal injustice.
Music is being used by groups who are against democratic values and human rights – so why shouldn’t we do the same for freedom and peace?
State of the agency business
Established music agencies in the current age can be roughly split into two categories: independent agencies concentrating essentially on live touring for their music clients; and LA-headquartered full service global agencies offering music clients the opportunity to tap into a wide range of services including film, TV, digital and branding.
A number of well-known independent music agencies have made strategic alliances with or been acquired by full-service agencies in recent years: AM Only, London- based CODA Agency, and Windish agency joined forces with Paradigm, in 2012, 2014 and 2015, respectively. United Talent Agency acquired The Agency Group, the world’s largest independent music agency, in August 2015.
Is going full service the only way for independent agencies to survive in future years? Why are artists and their managers drawn to diversified agency platforms? It’s not just the prospect of going into acting, which concerns a small share of music artists, it’s about the ability to express their art or creativity over a wide range of media platforms. It’s also about providing some of the services the labels are no longer able to provide for many artists, due to the challenges they have faced in recent years: high-level brand partnerships, tour marketing, digital strategy, sync opportunities, literary, non-scripted TV opportunities, gaming and ultimately building businesses with clients. The resources are available to all of those that feel they have ambition in other areas. Not all artists will be interested in this, and some independent agencies will continue to exist and retain clients at the top end. Others may need time to understand the processes and gradually adhere to a more integrated approach.
“The biggest driver of the changing industry has been the digital revolution. As the world becomes increasingly connected, artists that break internationally have done so on a much bigger scale than ever before.”
The merger of independent and full-service agencies is also the result of dramatic changes in the music market, an increasingly competitive and fast-moving sector that demands more attention, more strategy and more resources. Some agencies are naturally feeling the desire to build alliances with larger competitors to retain clients and keep their focus on career and artist development.
In the midst of this sea change, the role of the talent agent has evolved and is more pivotal than ever. It’s no longer a simple artist and promoter relationship. Decreasing revenues on the record side has led music representatives to explore and focus on other areas of growth in developing long-term careers. But in doing so they cannot abandon the trust factor. Agents are as connected as ever with A&Rs, publishers, lawyers, publicists, and building trust from all key actors is essential to an agent’s success in representing the client. Trust can be as much in an agent’s judgement, their ears, as it is in the way they service their clients and the expertise they bring to the table. Agents with the best ears, A&R taste, independent spirit and genuine passion for their acts will be the winners in the long run over opportunists and buzz-chasers.
The biggest driver of the changing industry has been the digital revolution. As the world becomes increasingly connected, artists that break internationally have done so on a much bigger scale than ever before. The major global agencies have created digital media divisions to represent the new generation of artists and content creators. This is in response to a massive increase in musical output on the Internet, which has made things ever more competitive for developing artists and made it far harder for anyone to stand out.
Regardless of this new reality, one aspect of the job that should remain timeless is the sense of service. The key for future agents will remain using all of the tools that agencies have at their disposal to represent and continually provide the best possible service to clients. Those that focus on their own interests without keeping them aligned with the interests of their own clients may become successful, but they will not remain in the agency business. It will be vital for agents and agencies of the future to remain client- focused and to be about building careers, not themselves. The moment an agent or agency becomes bigger than their clients they lose that critical connection.