Agent vs Promoter: the presidential debate
IMS Ibiza resurrected its “presidential debate” at this year’s conference to pit Wasserman Music agent Tom Schroeder against leading promoter Richard McGinnis.
Schroeder represents artists such as Fred Again.., Disclosure, FKA Twigs, The xx, Raye, Kaytranada, Nia Archives, Overmono and PinkPantheress, while McGinnis served as head of talent at MAMA Festivals for nearly a decade and is a founding partner of Warehouse Project and Parklife Festival.
Their conversation, held at Ibiza’s Destino Pacha Resort in May, explored the ever-changing dynamic between agents and promoters. Moderated by the Association for Electronic Music’s interim CEO, Finlay Johnson, it can be revisited in full below.
“The way I see the industry is it’s much more collaborative… We have to look after each other a little bit more”
Here is a selection of some of the panel’s key talking points:
The agent/promoter dynamic…
Tom Schroeder: “I think it’s changed. The way I see the industry is it’s much more collaborative, it’s much less secure. We have to look after each other a little bit more. We need everyone to win. Yes, I am here to represent my clients. But that means to make a success of a festival, it doesn’t mean just to take the most I can get out of it. Live music, particularly electronic music, was built [to be] quite combative, but I think everything’s changed and we’re here to make this ecosystem good again.”
Richard McGinnis: “I think the days of drum and bass agents ringing you up and threatening to burn your house down because you’ve not paid the deposit on time have passed! Certainly, pre-Covid, the merging of a lot of the agencies, and the professionalism that the American [companies] brought to the table, alienated a lot of that kind of culture. That kind of street level agency behaviour has slowed down, it’s not as prevalent as it used to be. It certainly used to be a problem.”
“I think it’s good as a promoter to go to an agent who’s given you a headliner and offer them up X, Y, and Z slots”
Leveraging support acts…
TS: Different strokes for different folks. At my company… we don’t really do that. Or I like to think we don’t do that. I don’t want to leverage acts on to Parklife that aren’t suitable for Parklife and are going to play to no one – no one wins.”
RM: “I think it’s good as a promoter to go to an agent who’s given you a headliner and offer them up X, Y, and Z slots. That’s basic etiquette in terms of, if someone’s giving you a big act, you should look after them. But equally, from a promoter’s perspective, that can work both ways. [There are] acts that we’ve booked for a couple of grand as a favour for a big agent, and they’ve played an early slot and hated it. And then 18 months later, they’re the biggest act on the planet and you want to offer them [a slot] and they’re just like, ‘We’re not going back.’ That favour that we did ended up biting us in the bum, because they didn’t have a great time. In the old days, independent UK-based agencies might have tried to shoehorn every single act of theirs onto a lineup. That doesn’t happen [anymore], because the agents rep the acts on a pan-European or a global level, they’re not just reliant on this small bit of England. So it’s definitely changed.”
“When you have 100 acts on a bill, billed A-Z, you’re not getting value for money as a promoter”
A-Z artist billing at festivals…
TS: “When you have 100 acts on a bill, billed A-Z, you’re not getting value for money as a promoter if it takes me a long time to see a headline act. And actually, promoters need to stand up to these idiots and say, ‘This is what’s going to sell my tickets for my festival, this is how my artwork has to work. If you don’t want to buy into that then come off the bill.’ I would support people 1,000,000% doing that. From my end, I can lay out my stall from the start and say, ‘I would only consider it in this position. If you don’t want to book it, you don’t want to book it.’ But this A-Z thing is hurting everyone, and it’s a cop out.”
RM: “It’s a cop out, I completely agree. The human brain looks at the poster and reads the first line from left to right. Those acts there are going to sell the tickets. That is the basics. Once you lose a big act to an A-Z… you might as well not have them on the bill. No one’s read that far.”
“What promoters expect of acts in terms of promoting a festival is not working”
TS: “I think what promoters expect of acts in terms of promoting a festival is not working. Where it works is when an artist explains to their fanbase why they’re playing a festival and what to expect, so that there’s some ownership. These artists don’t have a lot of ownership of the festivals and I’m telling really important people, like Rich, to watch this for the next few years because it’s a problem. My artists want to play festivals, but they’re not as desperate to play them as they might have been a few years ago. The rite of passage thing has slightly come away as we’ve come through Covid and they don’t want to spend their entire time plastering one poster – of which they’re A to Z with 100 acts – on their socials. And you know what? Their fans don’t want to keep seeing that poster appear. So we’ve all got to work out a much cleverer way of my artists helping to sell your tickets.”
RM: “There are so many shows that we’ve worked on together where the artists who’ve created the show, from Annie to Disclosure… And the symbol of authenticity that comes from that is undeniable. Where I see the difference is, it’s all right if you’re Fred Again and he’s on this path that he’s on, but what about the kids in the mid tier? Those kids that are grafting doing three shows a week for £2,000 need to start pushing these shows. Their shows need to be busy. They haven’t got all these opportunities like the big acts have, so there’s another side of it.”
As part of IQ‘s enhanced coverage of the electronic music business, check out DJ Mag editor’s Carl Loben healthcheck here, or in our latest issue.
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