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ILMC 34: Top agents discuss post-pandemic landscape

Session chair Tom Schroeder (Wasserman) recounted his first ILMC experiences when he was accosted by private jet brokers who were not exactly relevant for his jungle acts. As a result, he said he wanted to make this year’s agency session a little more accessible for all.

Jon Ollier (One Fiinix Live) spoke of his recent experience with the start of the Ed Sheeran tour and the excitement around it, noting that outdoor shows appear to be more exciting than those indoors.

Looking for the positives in the current state of live music, Schroeder reported that young acts who have come through the pandemic appear to want to have a lot more ownership of their careers, with Lucy Dickins (WME) agreeing that there is a culture shift happening among the younger generation.

Ollier opined that it’s not just a generational thing, but also financial, as lots of people are buying tickets late, meaning that promoters have to take a leap of faith in investing in their events in the hope that people do turn up at the last minute.

The agents said [ticket] prices are not likely to come down as the artist’s costs have also increased

Sally Dunstone (Primary Talent) told ILMC that avails appear to have reached a saturation point, making it tricky to get to that next step with new artists. But she said this forced agents to be more creative and look to work with different venues, for example.

“We have to advise the artist on how they get to that next step in the career and if that means telling them to wait, rather than go out now and do a tour that could harm their long term prospects,” said Dunstone.

She said that her decision to switch agencies was down to the pandemic, thinking in a more entrepreneurial manner and searching for new opportunities – a sentiment echoed by Ollier who launched his own agency, saying that it was the CAA ethos of exploring new avenues and trying to always find a brighter path, that had prompted him to decide to establish his own venture.

Looking at the year ahead, Ari Bernstein (ICM Partners) observed the effect that festivals might have on other touring, highlighting radius causes and the like as issues that need to be discussed. He said Covid had made him look around for all the other revenue sources that his clients as artists could benefit from, which was something that would strengthen the sector going forward.

Schroeder said the new breed of young manager wants their agents to be a bigger part of the artist’s journey

Bernstein agreed with Schroeder that the price of living is going to squeeze the fans and there will be an impact that we are yet to experience. He also cited the war in Ukraine, rising costs and higher ticket prices, but accepted that it is now part of an agent’s role to negotiate those challenges.

On the thorny question of ticket prices, the agents said those prices are not likely to come down as the artist’s costs have also increased. But they said acts are already looking to tour with smaller productions in a bid to save money, as well as considering sustainability matters.

Schroeder said the new breed of young manager wants their agents to be a bigger part of the artist’s journey, rather than just a cog in the wheel.

Dickins also applauded the entrepreneurial spirit among young acts and younger agents. “The artists that tell me what they want to do, not the other way around,” she revealed. “There are things they are telling me that I think ‘shit, I’ve got to read up on that,’” she added.

Turning to the future, Dunstone predicted that in three to five years’ time the business would be fully recovered and progressed from where it was pre-pandemic. “People are looking at content differently now,” she said citing acts that have done well through the likes of TikTok. “I think we’ll see a fresh batch of new headliners in five years’ time, that have come through the pandemic,” said Dunstone.

“The artists that tell me what they want to do, not the other way around”

Ollier joked that Dickins would be working at his agency in three years, but on a serious note, he said there would be a period of natural selection with artists, events and probably even agents.

“Change is good,” said Dickins. “It’s been boring to see the same headliners at festivals for 15 years. I’m excited about the change and I’m embracing it – it’s already happening.”

Schroeder noted that while festival programming had improved, diversity in the actual industry itself was poor, with Dickins agreeing that the business needs to be a lot better.

Schroeder concluded that this summer will be bumpy but that agents need to navigate it. Ollier said, “The art is going to get better and better, no matter what us industry idiots have got to do.” That struck a chord with his fellow agents, with Bernstein believing that there will be more doors opening for revenue streams than ever before, as people embrace entrepreneurial ideas and think outside the box.

 


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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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Sally Dunstone joins Primary Talent International

Sally Dunstone, formerly of X-ray Touring, has joined London-based Primary Talent International as an agent, bringing artists including Grammy-nominated rapper Jack Harlow and Brit Awards Rising Star nominee Rina Sawayama.

Dunstone, one of IQ’s 2020 New Bosses, joined X-ray from Live Nation in 2014. Her roster also includes Kelly Lee Owens, Places and Faces, Maxo Kream and Lancey Foux.

“We are very excited to be welcoming Sally into the Primary Talent International family” says Primary Talent managing director Peter Elliott.

“Sally is an agent I have admired and wanted to work with for a long time”

“Sally is an agent I have admired and wanted to work with for a long time,” adds Matt Bates, director of Primary and head of international for parent company ICM Partners. “She has an exciting contemporary roster of clients and has a huge future ahead of her. We are thrilled to welcome her into the ICM/Primary family.”

Comments Dunstone: “What ICM and Primary have put together over the past year has not gone unnoticed in the concerts world, and I am excited to join the team with my talented roster of artists and keep the momentum going.”

 


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The New Bosses 2020: Sally Dunstone, X-ray Touring

The New Bosses 2020 – the latest edition of IQ’s annual celebration of the brightest young talent in the live business today, as voted for by their peers – was published in IQ 93 this month revealing the twelve promising promoters, bookers, agents, A&R and production experts that make up this year’s list.

To get to know this year’s cream of the crop a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2020’s New Bosses, to discover their greatest inspirations and proudest achievements, pinpoint the reasons for their success and obtain advice for those hoping to be a future New Boss. Snippets of the interviews can be found in the latest IQ Magazine, with all interviews being reproduced in full online and on IQ Index over the coming weeks. Catch up on the previous New Bosses interview with Artur Kasper from Der Bomber Der Herzen here.

Our next New Boss is Sally Dunstone (30), an agent at X-ray Touring in the UK. Admitting to a lifelong passion for live music, Dunstone moved from Barnsley to London to study music and events management at university. After completing many short-term internships and spells as a casual broadcast assistant across various BBC programmes, she joined Live Nation as a receptionist. After working a year at Live Nation, she moved to X-ray six years ago and has been building an impressive roster ever since.

 


What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on implementing live strategies for my roster at X-ray. I am grateful to work with a broad spectrum of artists including but not limited to, Jack Harlow, Rina Sawayama, Kelly Lee Owens, Places+Faces, Roosevelt, Maxo Kream, Walt Disco & many more. A part of my job that I love is having a varied roster and I take pride in catering to the differing needs of my clients.

What are some of the highlights of your career to date?
It’s tough to ring-fence specific moments as there have been so many incredible experiences throughout my career so far. The shows that mean the most to me are the ones which feel like a significant turning point in an artist’s career.

A few that immediately come to mind are Places+Faces at KOKO, Rina Sawayama at Heaven and Kelly Lee Owens’s late-night set at End of the Road 2019.

Kelly’s show at End of the Road was the final live show of her first album campaign. The set was flawless, and the crowd had incredible energy. It felt like a celebration for all the team’s hard work on the first album and the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the next album.

Walt Disco’s show at AMP Presents in March also has a poignancy for me as it was the last gig I went to before Covid-19 took hold and venues closed.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt working in live music?
Never be afraid to ask questions or take advice. Learning from my colleagues has helped benefit my clients greatly throughout my career.

“Right now, I’m concentrating on ensuring that all bases are covered for my clients in all eventualities”

Did you always want to be an agent?
I have been passionate about music for as long as I can remember. From attending Leeds Festival and seeing The Strokes for the first time aged 11, I knew that live music was my vocation. As a teenager, I would often attend three or four shows a week and did whatever I could to get my foot in the door within the industry.

What impact has Covid- 19 had on your job?
The impact of Covid-19 across the entire industry has been profound. It has been heartbreaking to see the rug pulled from under the live sector and very little financial support to help venues and businesses continue operating.

From a business perspective, there is a lot of uncertainty in the industry right now, so I am concentrating on ensuring that all bases are covered for my clients in all eventualities. I am also focusing on being proactive and continuing to keep the long term goals and vision for each artist at the forefront of everything.

Do you have a mentor in the industry?
I am grateful to Beckie Sugden who has provided endless support to me throughout my time at X-ray and taught me a lot about being an agent and the wider industry landscape in general. Beckie’s determination continues to inspire me every day. I have also learned a lot from Josh Javor at X-ray whose encyclopaedic knowledge of venues, capacities and festival routings never ceases to amaze me. Both Beckie and Josh have done a lot to shape my career and I appreciate that greatly.

“I have had many doors slammed in my face over the years and have always found a way to get myself in the room”

What does the live music industry do well, and what can we do better?
The live music industry still has a long way to go in terms of equality and diversity. There have been improvements in recent years however there needs to be more inclusion and opportunities for BAME and LGBTQ+. There is also space for attitudes towards women in the workplace to improve and I would welcome seeing more women in senior management positions.

What advice would you give to someone who’s new to the business?
Ask questions and take advice. Believe in yourself and be determined. I have had many doors slammed in my face, figuratively and literally, over the years and have always found a way to get myself in the room. Where you can, surround yourself with people you enjoy working with. To build a viable business for yourself, you are going to need to work a lot of hours and this is so much easier when you like the people you work with.

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing currently?
Much like all the live sector, navigating Covid-19 and the unchartered territory is currently the biggest challenge I face.

Where would you like to see yourself in ten years’ time?
I plan to continue expanding and building my artists’ careers and still see myself working as an international touring agent.

 


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The New Bosses: Introducing the class of 2020

The New Bosses 2020 – the latest edition of IQ’s annual celebration of the brightest young talent in the business – launches today, celebrating the 12 most promising 30-and-unders in live music, as voted by their colleagues around the world.

This year’s list, the 13th, follows the most engaged voting process to date, with hundreds of people taking the time to nominate their New Boss picks.

Our distinguished dozen this year comprises promoters, bookers, agents, A&Rs and production experts, all involved in the international business and each of whom is making a real difference in their respective sector.

In no particular order, the New Bosses 2020 are:

“The class of 2020 is undoubtedly enduring the strangest, most challenging time of their careers,” writes IQ editor Gordon Masson, “but the hard work that they are putting in to ensure that the business globally is ready to resume at the earliest possible opportunity is generating a lot of enthusiasm among their peers, who have recognised them as future industry leaders.”

As in previous years, full interviews with each of the 2020 New Bosses will appear online in the coming weeks. However, short individual profiles of each New Boss can be read now in issue 93 of IQ Magazine, embedded below:


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