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A Brave New Agency World: Meet the independents

Last year presented the agency world with a raft of unforeseen hardships, from the shutdown of the concert business to widespread job losses. Faced with the choice to adapt or founder, many agents rose to the challenge of the former, ushering in a new age of entrepreneurship. Some agents banded together in the wake of redundancy and others decided to strike out of their own accord, spurring a wave of brand-new independent agencies across the globe.

The UK gained the likes of Mother Artists, One Fiinix Live, Route One Booking, Marshall Live Agency, Runway Artists and Playbook Artists; the US welcomed Arrival Artists, Mint Talent Group, TBA Agency and Paladin Artists; and the Spanish agency landscape expanded with Rebel Beat Agency – all “born out of the most unlikely of scenarios,” as Arrival puts it.

For the founders of Arrival, the most unlikely scenario was being laid off from Paradigm Talent Agency in the US, along with hundreds of others. But co-founder Ali Hedrick says this turned out to be a blessing in disguise: “I’d hoped that one day I would be my own boss, but I’m not sure if I ever would have done it, so it’s kind of fortuitous that it happened and forced my hand, in a good way.”

Hedrick founded the agency in October 2020 with her former Paradigm colleagues Erik Selz, John Bongiorno, Karl Morse and Ethan Berlin, as well as Matt Yasecko, former COO of Chicago- based agency The Billions Corporation – where she previously worked for nearly 23 years. A

Arrival’s roster includes the likes of Everything Everything, Denai Moore, Sons of Kemet, Wild Pink, Andrew Bird, and LOMA, booking from offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.

After clocking in time at other agencies, both major and independent, Hedrick says that setting up her own shop has given her a new lease of life as an agent. “It’s made me love booking again and being an owner just feels right… all agents are entrepreneurs in their own way.”

Jon Ollier, an ex-CAA agent who used the pandemic as a jumping off point to launch his new UK-based agency One Fiinix Live, echoes that sentiment: “As agents, we’re problem solvers – we make things happen – but the whole live business was being asked to just sit things out [because of Covid restrictions], and I’m not very good at doing that.”

Ollier took the likes of Ed Sheeran, Anne-Marie, JC Stewart, Lauv and 2Cellos to One Fiinix, which he set up following his exit from CAA in October 2020, after nearly six years at the agency.

“No one single factor led me to this decision. If that was the case, I’d probably be foolish – but a major factor is the reaction to Covid-19. I’ve got young kids and I want to be able to look them in the eyes in years to come and tell them I did all I could to make sure we came out of this stronger.”

“I always really just hated the competitiveness among agents and agencies – or even agents within the same agency”

A sense of fortitude is something Amy Davidman, founder and partner at US-based TBA Agency, is striving for too, after the “emotional upheaval” of the pandemic and her own redundancy from Paradigm.

“I chose optimism. I choose to believe in my work and my clients and my partners, and our ability to start a company and be successful and do right by our clients,” she says.

Davidman formed TBA in September 2020, alongside Marshall Betts, Avery McTaggart, Ryan Craven, and Devin Landau, to whom she felt “a natural gravitation.”

The new agency has unveiled a clientele that includes The War on Drugs, Courtney Barnett, Chvrches, Tune-Yards, Cut Copy, Beirut, Guided by Voices, Jungle, Cuco, Purity Ring, José González, Tycho, Caribou, and Alvvays, operating from offices in Los Angeles and New York.

“As a group, the five of us really could cover all the bases of what we needed to launch the Sons of Kemet are one of the acts helping to launch Arrival Artists company. Typically, none of our contracts would have ended at the same time so it would have been very difficult for all of us as partners to come together at the same time and launch a company,” Davidman says, pointing out the fortunate timing.

Timing has been a crucial factor for Route One Booking founder Ben Ward, who says that his redundancy from United Talent Agency (UTA) in London, along with the pandemic, has provided the perfect storm in which to launch his UK-based agency.

“I’d previously thought about going independent and the redundancy just accelerated things. I thought I’m not going to sit around and feel sorry for myself… I’m going to see which clients I can retain. There was nothing I could do but throw myself wholeheartedly into it,” he says.

The veteran rock agent and Orange Goblin frontman launched his new booking agency in November 2020, alongside co-director Jules Chenoweth, during England’s second national lockdown.

“When you want your numbers to be good, you’re thinking in a different way. Going independent has lifted a layer of self-inflicted stress that I didn’t need”

“If touring and festivals were all going ahead at the time, we would have been scrambling around trying to get things sorted in time for the summer,” he says. “But because there was nothing happening, we could reschedule shows and look to 2022 and 2023 and have time to get everything in place and bring everything up to speed.”

The new agency’s roster includes the likes of influential punks Discharge, fuzz-rock legends Fu Manchu, Canadian thrash act Voivod and country artist-producer Shooter Jennings, alongside emerging acts such as King Creature, Video Nasties, Daxx aand Roxane, and Blind River. In addition to bookings, Route One offers clients transport options for touring, backline, and links to digital music distribution company RouteNote, of which Chenoweth is a board member. The company also owns The Yard, a music venue in Cornwall.

Like Hedrick and Davidman, Ward says that going independent has renewed his “enthusiasm and clarity” for the job, which had diminished during his time working at a major agency.

“You can get really down and lose focus on what it’s all about. I had periods of that at UTA,” he explains. “If you want to be really hands-on with your artist, then being a small fish in a big pond isn’t as good as being the big fish in a small pond. A lot of artists fail because they were swept under the carpet at bigger agencies, and I feel that a lot of agents probably felt the same way as well.

“You get your big hitters at every agency who deliver millions of pounds worth of commission each year, and younger agents won’t be regarded in the same light. That’s understandable because every company is in it to make money, but the money comes secondary – it’s the artists’ satisfaction and seeing bands’ careers develop that comes first for me. I think with bigger agencies that satisfaction is lost with the pressure to deliver and keep the big wheels rolling.”

Davidman, who spent three years at Paradigm, agrees that both artists and agents are at risk of “slipping through the cracks” in a major agency. “I saw the benefits at a larger full-service agency, and yet I’ve maybe felt a little bit less in control of those benefits,” she says. “I think major agencies can work for a lot of artists and managers, and then I think others really slip through the cracks. There should really just be space for everybody to be successful and have access to a lot of different opportunities.

“I always really just hated the competitiveness among agents and agencies – or even agents within the same agency. I have hoped that there could be a way that we could all just say, ‘Yeah, you offer that thing, and you offer that thing,’ but if a lot of people are going after the same artists it just naturally becomes competitive.”

Davidman says that being her own boss has alleviated that sense of pressure and competition and has helped reaffirm her unique offering as an agent.

“If you want to be really hands-on with your artist, then being a small fish in a big pond isn’t as good as being the big fish in a small pond”

“After we launched TBA, there were a couple artists that I tried to sign that I didn’t, and I was less broken up about it than I maybe would have been before. I was, like, ‘Yeah, if this doesn’t fit what you’re looking for then cool, go and find the thing that you’re looking for, because this is what I’m doing and I’m really in it.’ Now I don’t have to wake up every day wondering what my value is or how I fit into a larger picture or what my numbers are going to be.”

The pressure to hit targets and go up against peers are two things Hedrick says she won’t miss either. “You have to do projections a couple times a year at a major agency,” she explains. “You’re always looking at your numbers and when you’re not one of the top agents at the company, there is that pressure to be doing well. There’s in-built competition. When you want your numbers to be good, you’re thinking in a different way. Going independent has lifted a layer of self-inflicted stress that I didn’t need.”

One Fiinix Live’s Ollier believes the crisis of 2020 will have highlighted these issues and suggests that a paradigm shift may be on the horizon. “When the times were good, agents were being paid well and looked after by a company that seemed like it cared. But now, that whole concept has been shaken to the core. Agents need to feel a bit more like they’re in control.

“The business models of the big companies are not designed to withstand a pandemic. That’s not a criticism of anyone in particular – everyone has been far too complacent,” he says. The reality is that the major agencies have a huge amount of overheads, huge numbers of staff, and they’re not really able to move quickly in terms of making decisions and engineering their way out of it [the crisis]. There’s a unanimous sense that the shackles are off for these agents, and with a greater sense of autonomy each is revelling in their ability to abandon traditional ways of working and reinvent the wheel.

For Ward, breaking away from an established agency has empowered him to take a more “hands-on approach.” “We have that freedom to sign the acts we want to sign – whether it’s rock and metal bands or we want to get a bit more diverse with our roster. And you know there’s no fear anymore, just opportunities,” he says.

Davidman is also keen to ditch the traditional “strict rules” about who gets to work on which projects, and instead is adopting a more ad-hoc approach to TBA’s services, especially during the pandemic. “We have to be flexible about who we’re talking to and what opportunities we are putting in front of folks,” she says. “Whether that’s being open to an artist who doesn’t have a manager, or a manager who is independent but wants a team to help them with different things, or someone who’s asking for help in a realm outside of touring – those things are not what an agent would traditionally do, but we at least want to be open to these opportunities.”

Ollier has had a similar vision for his agency, revealing plans to be less “departmentalised” and more focused on the people within the company.

“We’re ripping up the old-school contracts and the old-school way of working”

“At the moment, all I’m saying to people is, ‘How can I be supportive? Come and talk to me and let’s generate some ideas,’” he says. “Ultimately, we would like to help some people out. I’ve been helped out over the course of my career, and we all need that – no one is an island. So, what I’m saying to people is: let’s get collaborative, let’s get creative, and let’s build our way out of this, however that manifests, in a mutually beneficial way.”

Hedrick, who has been an agent for over two decades, is looking forward to diversifying Arrival’s workforce and mentoring aspiring agents – something she’s never had the chance to do before. “[Arrival Artists] could easily just hire the people we’ve worked with before – that have done the job and that we know are fantastic – but we’re doing our due diligence to make sure that we include a more diverse set of people. We’ll probably even hire some people who haven’t done the job before that we need to train,” she says.

Hiring is also top of the agenda for Natasha Bent, who left Paradigm in December 2020 to set up UK-based artist management and live agency Mother Artists, along with her brother Mark Bent. “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,” she says.

“It’s not only about clients but it’s about us and creating a company that – in my mind, wherever I’ve gone – I always thought should exist. A place where ourselves, our families, and those who decide to join in the future, are really well looked after,” she says.

Another thing that was important to Hedrick was the implementation of a profit share for all the employees at the company. “I want to make sure that we share the profits with all employees so they can buy a home someday and show that not everybody at the company needs to become an agent to make decent money. If the company has a banner year and profits, that will be spread throughout the entire company,” she says.

As for the sense of cut-throat competition that each agent has referred to: that has been replaced with a desire to collaborate – something Hedrick chalks up to the pandemic, “which made us all a little bit softer and nicer to each other because we’re all in this together.”

The Arrival Artists boss says she has calls with new agencies including Mint and TBA on a regular basis, as well as weekly meetings with UK agency ATC Live, with which Arrival has formed a strategic partnership to “facilitate dynamic global representation for shared artists.”

Davidman, meanwhile, hopes that this new spirit of collaboration will not only better the agency world but the industry as a whole. “The agency world should not be so divided, fighting over power,” she says. “We should collaborate and use the collective power to try to figure out the important things, like how to break down systemic racism within the music industry.”

Welcome to a brave new agency world…

 


Read this article in its original format in the digital edition of IQ 100:

 


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Jon Ollier’s One Fiinix Live makes first agent hire

Jon Ollier’s new booking agency, One Fiinix Live, has made its first hire, recruiting ex-Paradigm agent Jess Kinn.

Kinn joins from livestreaming company LiveNow, and was formerly an agent at Paradigm Talent Agency, where her roster included Mallrat, Years and Years and Rebecca Garton.

“Jess is everything we are looking for as we build our new business,” comments Ed Sheeran agent Ollier, who launched One Fiinix in November following his departure from CAA. “She is an exciting and forward-thinking talent with a fantastic reputation, and we are really thrilled to have her join us. I believe she has a huge future ahead of her and I am excited to be a part of it.”

“Jess is everything we are looking for as we build our new business”

Kinn began her career with the Leighton Pope Organisation and worked her way up from receptionist to agent at Paradigm (formerly Coda Agency). With LiveNow, she worked on some of 2020’s biggest music live streams, including the Pete Tong Heritage Orchestra, Gorillaz and Dua Lipa’s record-breaking Studio 2054.

It is unclear which of her former acts will join her at One Fiinix Live.

“On my first conversation with Jon, we immediately clicked over our shared values and ideas about the future of the live industry,” comments Kinn. “Being part of a growing agency with progressive and innovative thinking at its heart is exactly where I want to be in this ever-changing landscape of live events.”

 


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Jon Ollier: ‘The agency world has been shaken to its core’

Ed Sheeran agent Jon Ollier says hopes to help talented booking agents regain a sense of control after the devastating events of 2020 with his new venture, One Fiinix Live.

Speaking to IQ after the launch of One Fiinix last month, Ollier explained the agency’s unusual name, which was inspired by his eldest daughter’s middle name, Phoenix: “One Fiinix wasn’t necessarily named after her, but it comes from the same place,” he says. “When she was born, it was a cataclysm, and we’re in a similar situation now. A phoenix symbolises hope, rebirth, immortality, and new beginnings…”

In addition to Sheeran, Ollier takes the likes of Anne-Marie, JC Stewart, Lauv and 2Cellos to One Fiinix, which he set up following his exit from CAA in October after nearly six years at the agency.

Ollier says he looks back fondly at his tenure at CAA, which he describes as a “fantastic company” about which one “can’t say enough good things”.

“It was a very amicable exit from CAA, which came after lots and lots of discussion,” he explains. “They were very good to me.”

“I want to be able to look my kids in the eyes and tell them I did all I could to make sure we came out of this stronger”

However, as time went on, the impact of coronavirus on the major agency sector – and the opportunities presented by striking out on one’s own – became too difficult to ignore, continues Ollier. “No one single factor led me to this decision – if that was the case, I’d probably be foolish – but a major factor is the reaction to Covid-19.

“As agents, we’re problem solvers – we make things happen – but at the moment, the whole live business is being asked to just sit things out, and I’m not very good at doing that. I’ve got young kids and I want to be able to look them in the eyes in years to come and tell them I did all I could to make sure we came out of this stronger.”

Like his colleagues in the independent agency world, Ollier believes the crisis of 2020 has done much to shift the balance of the power in the agency sector.

“The business models of the big companies are not designed to withstand a pandemic. That’s not a criticism of anyone in particular – everyone has been far too complacent,” he says. The reality is that the major agencies have a huge amount of overheads, huge numbers of staff, and they’re not really able to move quickly in terms of making decisions and engineering their way out of it [the crisis].

“When the times were good, agents were being paid well and looked after by a company that seemed like it cared. But now, that whole concept has been shaken to the core. Agents need to feel a bit more like they’re in control.”

“Agents need to feel a bit more like they’re in control”

For those agents who feel like they’ve lost control of their destinies, Ollier has one simple message: Get in touch.

“So many people are clinging to this life raft, which is the job they’ve got, but which they don’t feel they have a future in,” he says, “and my job is to say, ‘Let go of the life raft.’”

Ollier says he sees One Fiinix – currently just him and longtime colleague Emma Davis – becoming a “collective of individuals who are empowered to go out and there are make deals”. “I’ve always wondered why we have a department for this, a department for that, when everyone in those departments is more than capable of going and getting a deal,” he explains.

While the new agency will have an office, the plan is to be less “departmentalised” and with more focus on its people, Ollier adds.

“At the moment, all I’m saying to people is, ‘How can I be supportive? Come and talk to me and let’s generate some ideas,’” he continues.

“Ultimately, we would like to help some people out. I’ve been helped out over the course of my career, and we all need that – no one is an island. So what I’m saying to people is: let’s get collaborative, let’s get creative, and let’s build our way out of this, however that manifests, in a mutually beneficial way.”

 


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Jon Ollier launches new agency One Fiinix Live

Ed Sheeran agent Jon Ollier has announced details of his new booking agency, launched following his recent departure from CAA.

Headquartered in London, One Fiinix Live aims to offer both a “first-class service” to Ollier’s existing roster – which also includes Anne-Marie, JC Stewart, Lauv and 2Cellos – while also investing in new “strategies to maximise opportunities in a post-Covid-19 world”, according to Ollier.

Ollier will serve as CEO of the new venture, with Emma Davis – who served as Ollier’s assistant at CAA – also joining One Fiinix Live. Ollier left CAA after nearly six years last month, along with his personal roster.

Explaining the reason behind the name, Ollier says: “I have always been interested in spirituality and symbolism. Fiinix is, of course, a play on the word Phoenix and so, therefore, a symbol of rebirth, hope, immortality and resurrection.

“It is a word that has come into relevance for me strongly at huge turning points in my life. We gave our daughter, our first child, the conventional spelling as her middle name. She came into our lives and it was all change, a new chapter in our lives. I think we are in a similar place right now: everything we knew to be true about our lives has been tested and shaken and my response to it has been to embrace the change, have faith in the immortality of music and hope in the rebirth which will come from it.”

Ollier began his career at Helter Skelter, moving to Free Trade Agency in 2008, when he first began working with Sheeran. He moved to CAA as a senior agent in 2015.

“After almost six years at CAA, where I learned a huge amount from some inspirational colleagues, I felt it was time to launch my own venture and realise the vision I had for a forward-thinking, innovative agency that could empower artists and help them reach new audiences,” he comments.

“The idea of starting the company now is to invest in a business that can grow from the bottom of the market”

The past few months have seen a flurry of activity in the agency world on both sides of the Atlantic, with the likes of Route One Booking and Runway Artists in the UK, Arrival ArtistsMint Talent Group and TBA Agency in the US and Rebel Beat Agency in Spain all having launched this autumn following cutbacks at the major agencies.

“It may seem counter intuitive, but I think this is uniquely good time to launch a new business as we enter the next phase for live music,” continues Ollier. “There will be huge opportunities as we create new ways of thinking and I believe One Fiinix Live is poised to play a leading role in that positive disruption.”

Hinting at plans to expand the number of agents at One Fiinix, he adds: “We are keen to turn the current challenges we are all facing into possibilities, and I encourage anyone who feels they have the same kind of mindset to reach out – now is the time to embrace the change.”

He adds: “The idea of starting the company now is to invest in a business that can grow from the bottom of the market and to create a vehicle that can take advantage of the situation we find ourselves in. There are talented people out there who, for a number of reasons, may feel their situation is less secure that it was and the hope is that we can start conversations, employ, go in to ventures or just simply offer support where we can.

“I think the priority for all of us right now needs to be the survival of the ecosystem as a whole and so I think the industry will become naturally more collaborative. It is then just about seeing what opportunities come out of that collaboration.”

 


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