IFF ’22: The new kids take centre stage
The teams behind the multitude of new companies and events to launch post-Covid took the spotlight on the final day of this year’s International Festival Forum (IFF) in London.
Moderated by IQ‘s Lisa Henderson, the New Kids on the Block quickfire presentation session heard from the key new festival and agencies to have emerged in the last 18 months.
The panel featured FKP Scorpio MD Stephan Thanscheidt, Mother Artists co-founder Natasha Gregory, Barbara Hexges of Goodlive’s Superbloom, Runway Artists founder Matt Hanner and Jess Kinn and Emma Davis from booking agency One Fiinix Live.
Thanscheidt discussed the success of the debut edition of FKP’s new open-air festival Tempelhof Sounds, launched with DreamHaus and Loft Concerts on the grounds of Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport in June. The event was headlined by Florence + The Machine, Muse and The Strokes.
“We had strong media partners and huge media reach, so the brand got established really quickly”
“We announced it last October, and four weeks later Omicron kicked in,” sighed Thanscheidt. “But we had a fantastic premiere. We had 40,000 people per day, which made us really happy because we were pretty much restricted because of Corona in Germany until this April. So the first edition went really well and we had strong media partners and huge media reach, so the brand got established really quickly. The city of Berlin also welcomed us with open arms, which was fantastic for us.
“It was cool to book our new festival because most of the festivals we do were booked the second half of ’19 and then got postponed and postponed and postponed. So we had to wait until this year and there were a lot of bands who couldn’t get the slots at other festivals, so we had a fantastic line-up that was fresh and was really well received by the audience.
“We had a very good audience that was also interested in all of the topics that are part of the philosophy of this festival, like diversity, gender equality and all these kinds of things. We had a huge sustainability programme, and we set ourselves clear goals from the very start.”
Gregory, meanwhile, spoke about the progress of artist management and live agency called Mother Artists, which she launched in 2020 with her brother, music manager Mark Bent. The agency represents the likes of Idles, First Aid Kit, Amy Macdonald, Bombay Bicycle Club and Foster the People.
“It’s just about being honest with each other and realising that you’re dealing with humans”
Detailing the firm’s patented “no-bullshit” policy, Gregory said: “It’s just about being honest with each other and realising that you’re dealing with humans. When we’re talking about festivals and budgets, we’re having an honest conversation [with promoters] and we come to the same number – there isn’t this working against each other.
“The pride I have in teams like Idles is that I don’t feel like I’m going to lose my job every day and I hope that the promoters feel the same way. We are all the same team, you leave your egos on the side. We’re all in it for the same reason, and there is zero tolerance for bullying. If someone writes a shitty email to someone in my team, we don’t accept it, I support them… That sounds like a great place to work.”
Hexges reported on the two-day Superbloom, which finally launched in Munich’s historic Olympic Park in September after two postponements due to Covid-related restrictions. Calvin Harris, Macklemore, Megan Thee Stallion, Rita Ora, Skepta and David Guetta were among the acts that performed across 11 stages during the event.
Alongside live music, the festival delivered a multi-faceted programme of art, culture, diversity, lifestyle, society, research and development, sustainability and science, with the aim of “redefining the music festival concept”.
“We had 50,000 visitors per day on a huge, historic location in the heart of Munich”
“We had 50,000 visitors per day on a huge, historic location in the heart of Munich,” said Hexges. “It was our first edition and we sold out. It had eight stages, including three main stages – one indoor – and the concept includes 50% music and 50% experience. We had 11 experience areas and it was a tough ride to be honest, but it worked and I was surprised at how well it went.”
Former ATC Live agent Hanner recalled taking a leap of faith and setting up Runway in spring 2020, having been made redundant shortly after the onset of Covid-19. The company made Steve Backman, formerly of Primary Talent International, its first agent appointment last year and expanded its team with four new hires in early 2022.
“The pandemic forced my hand,” he said. “I had a choice to make at that stage. And having spoken to a few artists and knowing that they’d come with me to be part of a fledgling roster, I was made redundant on the Friday and I think Runway began to exist in some form the following Monday. So it was a pretty swift turnaround.”
“We try to get involved building careers, for artists in meaningful ways, not just for the ones who are going to make us a bit of money next week”
He continued: “We are very independent, and we work with a lot of independent managers, a lot of independent artists and that is broadly what ties a lot of our roster together, even more so than stylistically. It also means that we’re pretty involved with our artists and our teams. We like to think of ourselves as boots on the ground, part of a core artist team.
“We try to get involved building careers, for artists in meaningful ways, not just for the ones who are going to make us a bit of money next week, but hopefully the ones that are going to make us some money maybe in eight years’ time. It also means that we’re growing our team organically. We’re not able to throw money at things.”
Booking agency One Fiinix Live was launched by Ed Sheeran agent Jon Ollier following his departure from CAA in late 2020. Davis – who served as Ollier’s assistant at CAA – joined the company from its inception, with ex-Paradigm agent Kinn coming on board in February 2021. The duo debated the benefits of working for a growing independent company.
“One of the most important is that we kind of make the rules,” suggested Davis. “The job is the same and you’re working with the same people but we have the power to go the way we want to, which is exciting.”
“It is also making sure we’re not just putting an artist out there for the sake of it and really sticking to the strategy of only touring at the right time, especially now,” adds Kinn. “Being able to pick and choose helps.”
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Top agents call for action on diversity
Top agents called for a more diverse, inclusive and equitable industry during last week’s ESNS (Eurosonic Noorderslag).
Hannah Shogbola (UTA), Natasha Gregory (Mother Artists), Sally Dunstone (Primary Talent International) and Whitney Boateng (WME) came together for the all-female Agents Panel – hailed as “a long-overdue milestone” by moderator Maria May (CAA).
“We are representing the change we want to see,” said May during her opening gambit for the digital session. “I believe the music industry has a duty to continue to strive forward post-pandemic be even more progressive, more inclusive, and representative of the world that we live in.”
However, WME’s Boateng says there’s a “lot more work that needs to be done in the industry”. “It is still predominantly old white male and it has been for years,” she added. “Change has to come from the top-down and it has to be more than black squares.”
UTA’s Shogbola agreed: “If you are looking around your office and it does not reflect the society that you live in and the roster that you look after, then there is something categorically wrong.”
Black squares were posted on social media as part of the music industry’s Blackout Tuesday movement, a protest against racism and police brutality in response to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
“As a black woman within this industry, it’s frustrating that even 15-20 years into my career, it takes the death of somebody like George Floyd for our industry to finally open its eyes,” said Shogbola.
“The industry has a duty to be even more progressive, more inclusive, and representative of the world that we live in”
Boateng pointed out that it’s not just racial inequalities that the industry needs to fix but also disparities around sexuality and gender, with the panel unanimously agreeing that diversity on line-ups is still “not good enough”.
“It’s so important that when anybody is going to a show, they feel like it’s a safe and inclusive space for them,” said Dunstone.
Elsewhere during the panel, Mother Artists’ Gregory says that flexibility towards employees’ work hours will also be a key feature in a more equitable post-pandemic industry.
“Working 9–5 is not equality because everybody has a different situation, a different experience and different needs,” argued Gregory. “Being an agent is not a 9–5 anyway so just put trust in your team – working hard is a given in this industry.”
Dunstone agreed: “Adaptability and flexibility are massive takeaways from the last two years. Hopefully, we’ll pick and choose the bits of [pandemic life] that worked for us.”
The 36th edition of ESNS took place under the banner ‘Building Back Better, Together’ and focussed on getting the industry back on its feet after two years of the pandemic.
The hybrid conference and festival wrapped on Friday (21 January) and Dago Houben, director of ESNS said that “despite the fact that there is definitely screen fatigue, we were able to perform our platform function for the national and international music industry.
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Rebecca Nichols joins Mother Artists as agent
Former CAA agent Nichols will build her own roster at Mother and be charged with growing the live side of the business alongside co-founder Natasha Gregory and agent James Tones.
Nichols was most recently head of live coordination at FKP, where she helped set up multiple UK shows and tours for artists such as Ed Sheeran, The War on Drugs and Self Esteem. She also worked on special events and festivals for the European promoting giant as it established a footprint in the UK.
“I’m really grateful to FKP Scorpio for the fantastic year I’ve spent with them but very excited to be returning to the agency side where my passion for working with artists and being a part of building their careers can flourish,” she says.
Mother Artists was founded in late 2020 by ex-Paradigm agent Gregory (nee Bent) and her brother, Mother Artist Management boss Mark Bent.
“I have huge respect for what Natasha and Mark are building at Mother Artists, their commitment to the artists is at the heart of everything they do alongside a strong company ethos of integrity, inclusivity and empowerment, which really connects with me,” adds Nichols.
It’s amazing and humbling that Rebecca is joining us
“They care and they want to make a difference whilst creating a supportive and empathetic environment which is mirrored in the culture at Mother Artists. These values are important to me and how I connect with people and are what I will offer to the artists that I work with too.”
Earlier in her career, Nichols worked for over a decade as an agent at CAA with acts such as Lianne La Havas, NAO, Villagers and Charlotte Day Wilson amongst others.
“It’s amazing and humbling that Rebecca is joining us,” says Gregory. “She is quite simply a wonderful woman; kind, smart, personable, universally liked and respected and is just going to fit into the Mother Artists ethos and culture perfectly. I have personally wanted to work with Rebecca for a while and we are all just excited to learn from her and continue building Mother Artists as a team. Let’s go!”
Kelly Chappel, Live Nation SVP, touring, international, adds: “Beck is an absolute diamond, she loves new music and has exceptional ears. Most importantly she’s very easy to deal with, she listens and has a vision of where the artist should go and you’re part of that.
“I’m so excited to see her grow and flourish as part of Mother Artists ‘family’. They are building such an exciting culture and team.”
Mother Artists (live) currently works with Idles, First Aid Kit, Tom Misch, Cate Le Bon, Fever Ray, Foster The People, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, RY X, CMAT, Thomas Headon and Do Nothing, while Mother Artists (management) represents the likes of Idles, Heavy Lungs, Mouth Culture and Blair Davie.
Mother Artists: “We’re ripping up old-school contracts”
In December last year, ex-Paradigm agent Natasha Gregory [aka Bent] and her brother Mark Bent, boss of Mother Management, launched brand new artist management and live agency Mother Artists.
The company – which is the latest in a legion of new UK agencies including Marshall Live Agency, One Fiinix Live and Route One Booking – brings together the pair’s combined four decades of experience under one roof, with Natasha spearheading the company’s live division and Mark heading up management.
Having taken their artists with them (Natasha’s live roster includes the likes of Cate Le Bon and The Magic Gang, while Mark manages Idles and Heavy Lungs among others), the pair have hit the ground running and have already expanded the team with Natasha’s former assistant James Tones.
Now, the pair tell IQ why they’re employing a no-bullshit policy, what kind of company they’re determined to build and how the pandemic created the perfect storm in which to launch.
How did Mother Artists come to fruition? Was joining forces inevitable?
Mark: “We’ve always talked about working together as a kind of dream thing to do, but there was never any plan about when or how. And with everything that’s happening now and our situations, the timing felt serendipitous.”
Natasha: “Timing-wise, I feel like we’ve both got to the same level in business so that neither of us is carrying the other. We’re both strong in our own positions and in our own knowledge and skills…we’re on an even playing field. Mark and I are extremely similar in ethos and mind and ideas and we trust in each other.”
“Mother Artists is something that never would have happened without this pandemic”
Given the current climate of the industry, why is now the right time to set up shop?
Natasha: “Obviously it’s a really, really tough time for the live industry – for artists, managers, agencies, agents, crews…it’s catastrophic. But we’re glass half full people.
“For 18 years, I didn’t ever have the time to think about anything but the job at hand because the live industry is so fast-paced so there was just never any time to make Mother Artists happen.
“The advantage of the pandemic is that neither of us is travelling so we have the space and mindset to get our heads together and make sure that Mother Artists is really the best to our ability.”
Mark: “Mother Artists is something that never would have happened without this pandemic.”
Why did you decide to stick with the name Mother? Is there a philosophy behind it?
Mark: “When I was a tour manager, I saw some artists being pushed to the limits for the sake of people’s goals and we’ve never wanted to have that approach. I had a full-blown breakdown halfway through a tour and everyone was telling me it was gonna happen but I didn’t listen but my artists stuck by me through that when they could’ve so easily moved on.
“That’s why the name, Mother Artists, is so important because we want the company to be like a family and, within a family, you can have those moments where you all have a difference of opinion or you drive each other crazy but that trust and that belief is always there in the background which is so important.”
“We’re ripping up the old school contracts and the old school way of working”
Now you’re both running the show, what kind of company do you want Mother Artists to be?
Natasha: “We’re ripping up the old school contracts and the old school way of working, and really trying to be diverse in not only who we work with, but who comes on board in our team. It’s not only about clients but it’s about us and creating a company that – in my mind, wherever I’ve gone – always thought should exist. A place where ourselves, our families and those who decide to join in the future are really well looked after.”
What will you change about the status quo of the agency/management business?
Natasha: “This has always been quite a magical industry and that you know there’s this smoke and mirrors approach to what you do. When I started as an agent and there weren’t very many women, the only way that I’ve built this roster over 18 years is through hard work, kindness, respect and being honest with myself about who I am and what my capabilities are.
“Enough bullying. Enough shouting to get what you want – that doesn’t work so much anymore and actually that you should be proud of your differences and your vulnerability. Everyone is going to have bad days. Mistakes happen. Our number one rule is you put your hand up straight away so we can talk about it and deal with it. No ‘Oh my god I got that wrong, I’m going to be sacked’. We all pull in, sort it out, and it’s fine because we’re human.”
“You can achieve amazing things by being human”
Mark: “You can achieve amazing things by being human. Besides, everyone’s winging it. If you’re not learning if you’re sitting there thinking you know everything, then it’s game over really.”
You’ve been vocal about Mother Artists having a ‘no-bullshit policy’. What does this mean to you?
Natasha: “What we mean by no bullshit, is that there aren’t any shortcuts to being good at what you do. For example, when you pitch for a band. I can’t promise my bands that they’re going to get on another band’s support because I grow my artists to be in a position to pick their own supports. There’s no shortcut to building a great band – we deal with career artists.”
Mark: “Honesty is such a massive thing, especially on my side. Every artist I’ve worked with knows that they will get an honest answer out of me every time. Whenever we work with anyone, it’s never about the quick buck. The no-bullshit approach is the best way to achieve a long term career with anyone. Because if you don’t have the trust with the artists you’re representing, if you don’t have the trust of the team you’re working with, you’re not going to have those long term relationships with it which is exactly what you need for long term careers.”
“We have a no-bullshit policy…there aren’t any shortcuts to being good at what you do”
How do the artists on your rosters reflect the ethos and business model of Mother Artists?
Mark: “[The business model] can’t be led by us, it needs to be led by our artists. So we’ll just have to see where their careers go and how they want them to go and then we’ll make sure all the pieces fall together when they need to. We want to make sure that we’re representing our artists in both of our fields, as well as they were before, but ideally better than they were before.”
Natasha: “The rosters that we both represent have very strong-minded artists in their own right. They’ve got something to say and they stand for beliefs that we have to be a reflection of that and do it ourselves.”