The New Bosses 2022: Steel Hanf, Proxy Agency
The 15th edition of IQ Magazine’s New Bosses was published in IQ 114 this month, revealing 20 of the most promising 30-and-unders in the international live music business.
To get to know this year’s cohort a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2022’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success.
Catch up on the previous New Bosess 2022 interview with Sönke Schal, head of people & culture at Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion (DE). The series continues with Steel Hanf, managing director of Proxy Agency, in the US.
Steel Hanf (30) is managing director of Proxy Agency, a Melbourne-based talent agency birthed in partnership with Untitled Group in January 2021. Eighteen months later, Proxy has booked over 1,000 gigs across Asia Pacific while nurturing a community of likeminded industry professionals and a roster of 80+ artists, of which Hanf is the agent for Hayden James, What So Not, SG Lewis, Lastlings, Cosmo’s Midnight, Partiboi69, Nina Las Vegas, jamesjamesjames, Memphis LK, X CLUB., among others.
A long way from his birthplace of New Jersey, Hanf was previously an agent with WME for five years across their Los Angeles and Sydney offices. Since 2020, he has participated in Diversity Arts Australia’s equity and inclusion programme called Fair Play, which is a crash course on diversity; safe and inclusive workplaces; and representation throughout the music industry.
Making the move to Australia is quite an unusual step for an American. How did that relocation under WME come about?
I was promoted to agent at WME when I was 24, and they asked me if I’d move to Sydney to help grow their Australian office. Moving to Australia wasn’t ever something I’d considered, but my growing interest in Australian music at the time was probably moving me in that direction without my realising it.
The company knew I had a good ear for finding new talent, and the idea of living and breathing the Australian culture that was producing these incredible global artists became an inspiring idea to me. Young Steel told himself the move would just be for two years and then he would move to London or go back to LA. But the more time I spent in Australia the more I realised how fluently I was able to manoeuvre the Australian industry and make strong relationships quickly. I was at every show, as many festivals as I could physically do, and the more I got amongst it and the more I felt people rallying around me, the more I felt like I was finally home.
You obviously spotted a gap in the marketplace when you launched Proxy Agency. Have you always had an entrepreneurial streak or has this been a leap of faith?
I’ve always had strong intuition in recognising opportunities. Australia’s agency landscape was missing something that I thought wasn’t existing yet: an agency with a global perspective on things that is concurrently nurturing the new wave of artists and industry professionals under a banner that means something culturally. So much of the up-and-coming world-class talent in Australia is found in very small pockets of culture. We recognise the value in signing talent at this level instead of waiting for them to be able to sell X amount of tickets, and we don’t try to change what they are doing, as the culture they represent is so meaningful and powerful.
It’s our job to augment what these artists are already doing and connect them with the right parts of the wider industry that share their values. The artists on our roster have a feeling of alignment with each other in one way or another; if it’s not by ‘genre,’ it’s by the energy they are putting out into the world. That’s why Proxy feels like a family; the artists on Proxy are each other’s biggest cheerleaders and there’s an energy behind it because the music matters and we’re representing the change we want to see in the world.
“We are one of the few agencies in Australia that has inclusion and diversity clauses in our contracts”
I’m guessing that Proxy is not quite as corporate as WME, but are there any significant ideas that you’ve taken from your previous employer into your own business?
I’m very grateful for my years with WME; it’s how I learned the global live business and how to be an agent at the highest level. I was able to see what works and what doesn’t work and apply that knowledge to my vision for Proxy. Operating in a corporate structure came very naturally to me, but it wasn’t until I left that setting was I able to properly spread my wings and navigate the industry in the ways that feel most intuitive to me. Proxy’s spirit is very independent, for the artists and for the people.
Being the partner of a recognised promoter might raise a few eyebrows. Is there an ethos that allows Proxy to happily deal with Untitled’s rivals?
The agent/promoter model is not a foreign concept in Australia like it is in most parts of the world. Because the industry is so small here, there is mutual respect for each other’s priorities because at the end of the day, everyone is in this for the talent, the creativity, and putting on the best shows possible. Our job as agents is to always be an objective third party and work with the promoters that put forward the best opportunities for our artists. Our ethos is that the connection is not a conflict of interest but a conflict for interest.
While Proxy is a part of the Untitled Group, the agency runs and operates completely independently. We are artist-first; external promoters have recognised that through their dealings with us and our actions, and Untitled respects when we pass on their offers in favour of competitors.
Proxy has had a rapid rise to prominence, but what has been your biggest highlight so far?
Signing Hayden James who is an A-level festival headliner in Australia, in a very competitive pursuit, was a massive moment for me and Proxy as a whole. Given how fresh Proxy is in the market, being able to sign headliner-level talent this early, [helped affirm] that our presence is resonating the way we want it to at all levels of the industry. The resources that signings like these provide starts a chain reaction of rapid growth via new hirings and more signings at both the established- and development-level. Recent moments include signing UK artist SG Lewis for Asia Pacific representation and signing Australia’s electronic maestro Willaris. K.
“Ensuring indigenous cultures are hired, signed, and supported in our industry is of utmost priority for us”
As a new boss, what is one thing you would change to make the live entertainment industry a better place?
Requiring a rule of kindness, respect, social impact, and understanding in our dealings with one another!
Fair Play sounds like a fantastic initiative. What does it mean in real terms, and how does its guidance affect your everyday activities?
Ensuring diversity, inclusivity, and safe space workplaces has been an ethos we carry into the office every day. Proxy’s staff is more than 70% female-identifying, and we are one of the few agencies in Australia that has inclusion and diversity clauses in our contracts. We know our artists are not interested in playing on events that do not have appropriate representation throughout the bill, and our roster is very diverse across many walks of life. We have so much heavily sought-after talent, which means we have the leverage to start these conversations across the industry and make a difference. Being in Australia means we are also operating on the stolen land of the traditional owners, so ensuring indigenous cultures are hired, signed, and supported in our industry is of utmost priority for us.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? Is there scope for Proxy to expand internationally, for instance?
I will still be heading up Proxy, and I see us growing in every direction. It’s crazy that we’ve only just written the first chapter of Proxy’s story. I’ve always seen Proxy as more than a booking agency, so expanding the scope of our business across the media landscape and using these resources to create more impact and provide more for our clients is a top goal of ours. Expanding internationally is something we’ve already begun doing in Asia. Like I know with my artists’ touring strategies, if things get so loud domestically, then they will inevitably bleed out internationally. Australia is a global tastemaker market.
See the full list of 2022 New Bosses in IQ 114, which is available now. To subscribe, and get access to our latest issue and all of our content, click here.
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