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WME freed from Virgin Fest lawsuit over artist deposits

WME has been freed from Virgin Fest Los Angeles’ lawsuit seeking to recover prepaid deposits from the event’s cancelled 2020 edition.

VFLA Eventco LLC – Virgin Fest’s organiser and the music festival arm of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group – filed a lawsuit against the agency in July 2020, as well as artists Lizzo, Ellie Goulding and Kali Uchis, saying the parties had agreed to return deposits in the event of cancellation due to “an uncontrollable factor”.

The acts had been scheduled to play the debut outing of the festival at the Banc of California Stadium (22,000-cap.) and Exposition Park (160-acre) in LA on 6 and 7 June 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

VFLA argued that because the government prevented the festival from proceeding, the artists were obliged to return monies they had been advanced when they were booked to play.

The judge did allow a breach of contract claim to move forward against the artists’ touring companies

However, Lizzo, Goulding and their agents argued that they could keep those payments because they were still “ready, willing and able to perform”, despite the festival being called off. Uchis’ company did not file a demurrer but did file a notice of joinder to the other defendants’ demurrers.

According to VFLA, all other agencies have returned, or agreed to return, the full amount of the prepaid deposits for the performances.

On Friday (12 March), at the LA Superior Court, Judge Mark H. Epstein issued an order that said the agreements the parties signed protected WME from being sued for what is essentially a dispute between the artists and the promoter.

According to Law360, Epstein said the court “agrees with the plaintiff that the contract does not protect WME from liability for its own wrongs. It only protects WME from being sued for what is essentially a dispute between the artists and the promoter. But that is essentially what is at issue here.”

The judge did allow a breach of contract claim to move forward against the artists’ touring companies and also said that VFLA can amend its complaint against WME, which the agency objected to.

 


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CAA to lay off 90 agents, execs

Creative Artists Agency (CAA) is preparing to lay off 90 agents and executives, as well as furloughing approximately 275 assistants, Variety has reported.

The staff cuts, effective this week, will be enacted across offices in London, Los Angeles, Nashville and New York.

According to sources close to the situation, the music and sports divisions are expected to be among the hardest hit.

“Effective this week, approximately 90 agents and executives from departments across the agency will be leaving,” says a CAA spokesperson.

“In addition, we are furloughing approximately 275 assistants and other staff. The company will continue to fully pay the health plan premiums for those being furloughed.

“This is a painful and unprecedented moment, and words are insufficient”

“This is a painful and unprecedented moment, and words are insufficient. Today, we simply say that we extend our sincere appreciation and deepest gratitude to our departing colleagues.”

CAA was among agencies and other live businesses to announce company-wide pay cuts in response to the coronavirus crisis, in the hope of “keep[ing] all employees financially whole through the end of our fiscal year, 30 September, 2020”.

The agency states it has honoured that commitment, including for those impacted by the announcement.

CAA had so far avoided reducing its workforce but now joins many across the live industry to do so, including fellow agencies WME and Paradigm, ticketers Eventbrite and TicketSwap and, most recently, AEG.

IQ has contacted CAA for further comment.

Photo: Minnaert/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)

 


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Virgin Fest sues WME, artists in bid to recover deposits

The organisers of Virgin Fest, which was set to have its debut outing this June, have filed a lawsuit against agency William Morris Endeavor (WME) and artists Lizzo, Kali Uchis and Ellie Goulding, in an attempt to recover deposits from the event’s cancelled 2020 edition.

The acts had all been scheduled to play in the festival at the Banc of California Stadium (22,000-cap.) and Exposition Park (160-acre) in Los Angeles on 6 and 7 June before it was cancelled – along with the vast majority of this year’s event calendar – due to the coronavirus pandemic.

VFLA Eventco LLC – Virgin Fest’s organiser and the music festival arm of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group – has now levied a complaint against WME, as well as Ellie Goulding’s Starry US Touring, Lizzo’s Big Grrrl Big Touring and Kali Uchis Touring, saying the parties had agreed to return deposits in the event of cancellation due to “an uncontrollable factor”.

“After the government prevented the festival from proceeding, VFLA invoked the force majeure provision and demanded the return in full of the prepaid deposits”

According to VFLA, all other agencies have returned, or agreed to return, the full amount of the prepaid deposits for the performances, but WME argues that deposits do not need to be returned as the artists were “otherwise ready, willing and able to perform.”

“[WME] refused to return the deposits and insisted that the artists it represents are entitled to keep the deposits — even if the Covid-19 pandemic constituted a force majeure event, even if the governmental orders prevented the festival from proceeding, and even if those orders likewise made it unlawful for their artists to perform on the dates and at the times and places specified in their agreements with VFLA,” reads the complaint, as published by Law 360.

“After the government prevented the festival from proceeding, VFLA invoked the force majeure provision of the artists’ performance agreements and demanded the return in full of the prepaid deposits made in connection with those agreements.”

VFLA is seeking a court order forcing WME to return the deposit money, as well as damages. From the three touring companies, the Virgin fest organiser wants additional damages for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

IQ has contacted WME for comment.

Photo: Andy Witchger/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

 


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MelodyVR announces LA gig as Wireless prep gets underway

Music-focused virtual reality (VR) company MelodyVR has announced hip-hop act Cypress Hill will perform live via its platform this Friday, as the VR pioneer begins filming for the digital edition of Wireless Festival in London.

Working in partnership with Festival Republic, Melody VR is helping to produce Wireless Connect, the virtual reimagination of this year’s Wireless, which will be aired from 3 to 5 July.

The company is filming artists performing live in a recently unveiled, custom-built, 360° studio in London’s Alexandra Palace theatre.

London-based audio specialist is working with the Wireless Connect team to deliver broadcast audio mixes in stereo and immersive formats. Spiritland founders Antony Shaw and Gareth Iles have previously worked with festivals including Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and Big Weekend.

MelodyVR is filming artists performing live in a recently unveiled, custom-built, 360° studio in London’s Alexandra Palace theatre

In keeping with Covid-19 restrictions, artists and performers remain in isolation for the duration of the performance and do not come into contact with the public, the MelodyVR team or other on-site crew.

Wireless Connect will be accessible to anyone with a smartphone and free to watch, with viewers encouraged to make a charity donation over the course of the weekend. The full line-up will be announced on the Wireless website soon.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, hip-hop legends Cypress Hill are performing as part of Melody VR’s Live from LA series. The show, which will be available to watch in 360° for free via the MelodyVR app and VR headsets, will be broadcast live on 19 June at 6 p.m. PT/3 a.m. (20 June) CET and will be available on demand from 25 June for those who miss the original broadcast.

Other artists to have featured in the series include John Legend, The Score, Katelyn Tarver, DaniLeigh and Zella Day.

Ben Samuels, North America president of MelodyVR, was one of a number of music industry innovators to take part in the IQ Focus Innovation Session last month. All previous IQ Focus sessions can be watched back here.

 


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Event production firms join Covid-19 fight

As touring grinds to a halt and festivals are put on hold, a number of event production suppliers and staging companies are trying their hand at a different kinds of work, delivering emergency supplies and manufacturing disaster relief facilities for those in need.

Event infrastructure suppliers across the world including South Africa’s MGG and Upstaging, Choura Events and Gallagher Staging in the US, are aiding the public health sector as the demand for medical supplies and facilities grows greater by the day.

Mark Gaylard, the managing director of Johannesburg-based company MGG, found himself with 32 idle vehicles, following the implementation of a three-week shutdown of all non-essential businesses in South Africa last week.

After advertising the fleet’s availability to transport goods, MGG’s six full-time drivers and regular freelance staff have found themselves ferrying food, agricultural products, building materials and medical supplies – including much-needed hand sanitising products – from the docks of the coastal city of Durban to Johannesburg.

“I quickly realised that the general transport and freight business is radically different from moving and delivering goods and trucking services in our core entertainment industry world,” says Gaylard.

“What we are working on is to become an instant, rapid solution for hospitals, government agencies and test centres in need of facilities”

“It’s highly competitive and a lot of the work gets outsourced to those who don’t own their own vehicles. It’s definitely not an environment where you can just flip a switch and start moving goods as you might be used to. But it’s been extremely interesting.”

The manufacturing side of company has also kept busy, producing Covid-19 hazard warning signage.

In the United States, Choura Events, which typically builds tents, staging and facilities for events such as Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and South by Southwest, is also maintaining its production line, erecting heavy-duty triage tents and overflow facilities to help hospital handle increasing volume of patients.

“What we are working on is to become an instant, rapid solution for hospitals, government agencies and test centres [in need of facilities],” says Ryan Choura, CEO of Choura Events. “Usually, at this time of the year, we are building Coachella and Stagecoach and Grand Prix, and so many other things, and instead we are working to try and help in any way we can.”

So far, the company has built four “medical villages” in Los Angeles.

Another LA-based firm, Gallagher Staging, has taken a similar approach, offering disaster relief structures to hospitals across the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. The company is renting out in-house equipment at no cost, charging only for trucking and labour fees.

“When we come through this I think there will be a massive demand. People will still need and enjoy getting together”

Fellow staging company, Chicago-based Upstaging, is manufacturing lightweight room divider panels for make-shift hospitals, face shields and social distancing floor signage, as well as offering trucking services.

Bon Jovi have tweeted their support for Upstaging’s efforts, writing: “Our long-time touring partner and trucking company has pivoted from Rock N Roll to emergency response services. They’re now working to manufacture high quality face shields at their facility outside of Chicago.”

Althought many event production companies have proved their versatility and shown how their skillsets can be applied to other sectors, MGG’s Gaylard believes the switch will only be temporary.

“Live events is a very vibrant sector, and people do love to congregate and enjoy each other’s company, energy and atmosphere,” says the MGG managing director.

“When we come through this I think there will be a massive demand. While there may be some changes in the way we use remote networking technologies, people will still need and enjoy getting together. We will bounce back!”

Do you know of a production company getting creative in the fight against coronavirus? Email anna@iq-mag.net to let us know about other industry efforts.

 


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Morrissey, Blondie to head up new Goldenvoice fest

The inaugural edition of Cruel World festival is taking place in Los Angeles this May, marking the newest addition to the Goldenvoice portfolio.

Morrissey, Blondie, Bauhaus, Devo, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Psychedelic Furs are among acts performing at the one-day event on 2 May at the Grounds at Dignity Health Sports Park (27,000-cap.), LA.

Promoted by AEG’s Goldenvoice, Cruel World adds to the organiser’s stable of California festivals, which includes Coachella, this year headlined by Travis Scott, Frank Ocean and Rage Against the Machine, and country music event Stagecoach Festival.

Goldenvoice also operates multiple venues in Los Angeles and the Bay Area and promotes over 1,400 concerts a year in California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska and Canada, in addition to recently promoting a number of North American tours, including dates by K-pop stars Blackpink.

Tickets for Cruel World festival go on sale on Friday 14 February at midday pacific time, with the presale beginning the day before. Prices start from US$135.

 

 


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Lizzo, Billie, Lil Nas X to make Grammys debut

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards are taking place on Sunday (26 January) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, celebrating artists across 33 categories.

Live performances on the night will come from record of the year nominees Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, as well as K-pop stars BTS, EDM DJ Diplo and singer Mason Ramsey.

Other nominees including Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Bon Iver, Ariana Grande, H.E.R. and Tyler the Creator will also perform on the night.

Over 173 nominations have been put forward for this year’s awards, which has seen its fair share of controversy this year due to allegations levelled by suspended CEO Deborah Dugan. Using data from Rostr, IQ takes a look at the major trends this year’s Grammys.

 


There are some usual suspects among the nominees for a few of the biggest categories. Last year’s best pop vocal album winner Ariana Grande is up for the prize for a fourth time, going up against Taylor Swift, who is on the lookout for her first win in the category after three nominations.

In the best dance album category, the Chemical Brothers are nominated for the sixth time – including two wins – for No Geography, whereas Flume sees his second nomination, following a win in 2017.

Lizzo is the artist with the highest number of nominations, appearing in eight categories, including best new artist, song of the year, album of the year and record of the year. Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X have also fared well, receiving six nominations apiece. Of the top eight most nominated artists, five are women, with H.E.R, Ariana Grande and Yola also appearing in multiple categories.

Overall, however, fewer than one in three nominated artists are women

Overall, however, fewer than one in three nominated artists are women, with male artists making up almost 60% of nominees and 10% comprising acts with a mix of male and female artists. Two award categories – best rap album and best electronic album – consist of purely male artists.

The best pop vocal album and best new artist categories feature predominantly female nominees, 80% and 70% respectively, with best country album (60%) and album of the year (57%) also weighted towards female artists.

Over the past 20 years, more than twice as many nominations have been for male artists than female, with women outnumbering men in just two categories this century – best new artist and best pop vocal album.

Last year’s Grammy Awards, which saw artificial intelligence correctly predict Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ song of the year win, with Kacey Musgraves picking up album of the year, Dua Lipa winning best new artist and Ariana Grande taking best pop vocal album.

Photo: Andy Witchger/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


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UTA announces agent, exec promotions

Beverly Hills-based United Talent Agency (UTA) has promoted nine agents and five executives across seven divisions in its Los Angeles, New York and London offices.

Tessie Lammle (pictured), James Masters (pictured), Daniel McCartney (pictured), Ron Perks, Angie Rance (pictured) and Chris Visconti are new agents in the music division.

Elsewhere, UTA gained new agents in the television talent, independent film and speakers departments.

Allyson Chung and Ally Diamond are now executives in the UTA Foundation, with Rachel Hall and Caroline Long being promoted to executive level in the marketing division and Brendan Mulroy becoming an executive in UTA IQ.

“We’re pleased that the vast majority of our new agents and executives began their careers at UTA as assistants”

UTA also announced that 12 new coordinators have been named across its Los Angeles, New York and London offices in music, speakers, fine arts, independent film, emerging platforms, video games, corporate communications, digital talent and brand partnerships.

“We’re incredibly proud of this outstanding group of colleagues,” says UTA’s co-president David Kramer. “Each of them personifies exceptional performance and commitment to client service.

“We’re especially pleased that the vast majority of our new agents and executives began their careers at UTA as assistants, which is a reflection of our commitment to developing and fostering the growth of young professionals. As we continue to grow all aspects of our business, they will all play an integral role in driving our future success.”

The promotions follow the recent appointment of former Maverick management executive Alisann Blood as co-head of music brand partnerships at UTA.

Pictured (l to r): Top – Allyson Chung, Lucas Barnes, Tessie Lammle, James Masters; bottom – Angie Rance, Daniel McCartney, Kristen Sena, John McGrath

 


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Five Vectors receives $1m from esports investor

Five Vectors, a start-up bridging the gap between the music and gaming industries, has raised US$1 million in seed funding, in a round led by esports investment specialist Bitkraft Esports Ventures.

Five Vectors was founded earlier this year by former Universal Music Group executive Andres Lauer and ex-ESL executive Wasae Imran, and is based out of Los Angeles and Berlin.

Combining the two founders’ expertise, the company produces music for esports tournaments, leagues, games and teams, working in partnership with gaming industry publishers and esports organisations.

Five Vectors has created music for esports league Rainbow Six Siege, SK Gaming’s League of Legends team and the Japanese esports projects of creative gaming agency PlayBrain, among others.

Currently, Five Vectors initiatives engage over 4m gamers, with 600,000 monthly active users, and its artists collectively have more than 15m streams on Spotify.

“Music and games are coming together in new ways”

The funding will be used to attract additional music talent and to make music more accessible to game publishers, platforms, teams, leagues and creators across the gaming and esports industries.

“We are extremely proud to welcome the Bitkraft Esports Ventures family as an investor in Five Vectors,” says Lauer, CEO and co-founder of Five Vectors. “We see a powerful overlap between music and gaming and created Five Vectors to fill the gap in the industry by providing customised music solutions for the global gaming audience.

“Music and games are coming together in new ways,” says Bitkraft founder and managing partner, Jens Hilgers. “With our investment in Five Vectors, we are supporting an incredibly ambitious team that has subscribed itself entirely to music experiences and technology in gaming and esports.”

Esports revenues are on track to exceed $900m this year as more and more sponsors and investors show interest in the competitive gaming sector.

Live music-related companies that have invested in, or partnered with, major esports competitions and teams in recent years include DEAG, AEG, CAA, TEG and MSG.

 


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Managing the Latin explosion: Rebeca León Q&A

Update: the quotation “I am the only female executive I know” appeared in a previous edition of this article. Rebeca León did not use these words, IQ apologises for the misunderstanding.

With over 20 years in the business, Rebeca León is a pioneer in the Latin music space, initiating the career of hit reggaeton artist J Balvin and managing fast-rising Spanish star Rosalía.

Having served as senior vice president of Latin talent at AEG, León is now chief executive of her own management company, Lionfish Entertainment, which she founded along with Colombian musician Juanes.

As Latin music continues to gain more traction across the globe, IQ catches up with León to find out the secrets behind her success, discuss the sometimes male-dominated Latin music business and gain insight into the potential of Rosalía’s Flamenco-infused rhythms.

 


IQ: Why Latin music?
RL: I think it was a combination of my own cultural background – I was born to Cuban parents in Miami and grew up with the culture – and good timing. I moved back to Miami after college and there were lots of Latin labels around. I started working at Sony Music Latin in 1998 in the midst of a crossover track explosion, so it was a really exciting time to be involved in Latin music.

You really grew the profile of Latin music in LA and across the US during your tenure at AEG, can you tell us a bit more about your time there?
I was at AEG for eleven years. I was hired to book the then Nokia Theatre (now 7,100-cap. Microsoft Theatre) at entertainment complex LA Live.

The idea was to bring Latin shows to that venue. Before, Latin artists were only really playing New York and Miami and I was asking myself why. We became the headquarters for Latin music in LA and I was the only promoter in the company that could really book Latin shows around the whole country.

AEG were really great to me, they gave me huge wings and plenty of opportunities to grow. Latin music and, in particular, reggaeton music, began reaching new markets across the whole of the United States.

“Latin artists were only really playing New York and Miami and I was asking myself why”

Why did you decide to make the move to setting up your own management company?
I think going into management was the natural next step for me. I was lucky to have had experience with record labels, promoters and management previously, so I was able to see the whole thing and apply all that knowledge through being a manager. It seemed like an amazing opportunity to be up close to people I really respected – the artists – it was always something that I wanted to do and it felt like a privilege to do so.

I really love being creative and managing allowed me to be in a more collaborative relationship with the artist, rather than just inheriting something. I could be on the inside of the long term strategy – setting goals and creating paths – and that was very attractive for me.

It reminds me of when I started working with J Balvin and we both believed he would be a global superstar. We put a strategy together from the very beginning in order to make it happen. That was a very exciting time.

You’re now managing Spanish singer Rosalía who has a very different sound to other Latin artists – is this signalling a new direction for Latin music?
I think Rosalía is super special. An artist like that only comes around once every 50 years. What people are responding to is the authenticity of her very unique take on music. She produces and writes at least in part all her own songs – it’s all her. This is difficult to replicate, so I can’t say this type of music will become a trend. This is more about finding a truly unique and talented artist.

In general, there are still more male than female artists having more success industry-wide and particularly in Latin music, how can this be tackled?
The Latin world is notoriously machista, just as every culture has its challenges, one way or another. It’s not going to happen from one day to the next, but we do have more female artists in the Latin music space now – Becky G, Greeicy [Rendón], Anitta.

All of a sudden there’s a whole bunch of girls appearing, but I know it’s not enough. However, I do feel that people are aware and conscious of the imbalance and are starting to make strategic decision to create more opportunities for women in general.

“An artist like Rosalía only comes around once every 50 years”

What has your own experience been like as a female executive in the industry?
I am happy to be a woman in the industry – even if sometimes I am the only girl in the room. I try to be smart about the way I do business and it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man, this is the most important thing.

I’m 100% aware that we need more positions for women. Professor Stacy Smith, founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, has put together a study of women across the industry as a whole, and the numbers are really astounding.

We need to inform ourselves of these imbalances and shine a light on the women who are having success in the industry and make sure they get the recognition they deserve. The conversation needs to be about empowering and educating women on how to talk about money and power, and how to handle difficult situations. We need to give women the tools they need to succeed.

What’s next for Lionfish Entertainment?
Rosalía is one of the most incredible artists I have ever encountered. It’s so exciting and beautiful what’s happening there, so I want to make sure we support her as much as possible.

Aside from that, I’m working on some film and TV projects. That’s the focus for us really in 2020 – not letting this cultural movement be just about music – I want to make Latin content across all media.


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