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The Long Tale of Coda

When Coda was established as a talent agency in 2002, there were just 15 members of staff. Twenty years later, the numbers have multiplied significantly and, having emerged from the difficult pandemic years, a takeover by Wasserman Music is being heralded as a step toward an even brighter future. Gordon Masson reports.

As the London-based Paradigm staff celebrated the company’s 20th birthday at ILMC, the ink was barely dry on the deal that saw the company become part of Wasserman Music, effectively reuniting agents in the UK with their former Paradigm colleagues in North America, a number of whom made their way across the Atlantic for the 26 April party.

Central to that deal was company owner Casey Wasserman, who had made no secret of his desire to add a significant music division to Wasserman Media Group. Indeed, during his ILMC keynote interview, he told delegates, “I was having a quasi-affair with [Paradigm chairman] Sam Gores, as I had a coffee with him once a week, essentially, for multiple years, to try to persuade him to sell his business. Our goal, frankly, was if we bought the whole of Paradigm, how could we separate the music business from the entertainment business and either sell off or merge that into something else that we would not be part of, so we could just concentrate on the music business.”

Revealing how the deal finally happened, Wasserman reported, “In February [2020], Paradigm stepped on at least one, but maybe multiple, land mines and kind of blew themselves up. At that point, I said to our team that we should move on to other things. But to their credit, Sam and his brother, Tom Gores, called a couple of months later to say they had some struggles and needed to solve the situation, so would we be interested in buying just the music business, which is what we wanted, anyway. So we began that process April 4 of 2020, and end of May 2021, we closed.”

The reunification of the two halves of Paradigm may have taken a further year to complete, but the principals in the London office could not be happier, with director Alex Hardee noting that the initial deal with Paradigm back in 2014 fulfilled a long-held ambition for the business to be part of a global enterprise, “but it took us a long time to find partners in America that had a similar business culture,” says Hardee.

In 2019, the companies officially started trading under the same Paradigm brand, ending the use of the Coda name in the UK. However, for many working in the London operation, the “Coda culture” is still very much alive and kicking, even though the business has now under-gone a couple of ownership changes.

“I threatened to leave MPI, which was sort of true, but I hadn’t actually found another agency to go to”

Early Days
The formation of Coda Agency back in 2002 brought together two successful boutique businesses and established an operation that few could dispute has changed the booking agency landscape.

What’s often overlooked is Hardee’s pivotal role in the formation of Coda. When fellow MPI agent Cris Hearn departed the company for a position at Primary Talent, Hardee saw an opportunity.

“I threatened to leave MPI, which was sort of true, but I hadn’t actually found another agency to go to,” he admits. “But I ended up buying Miles Copeland’s shares in MPI, and then I suggested we should talk to other companies about a merger. Primary Talent was really successful at the time, but I thought if we went in with them, they’d just end up taking the credit, so it was better to look for another agency of about the same size for a merger.”

Instead, Hardee identified Concert Clinic as a potential partner. “We talked to [owners] Clive Underhill-Smith and Rob Challice, and Clive came up with the name Coda for the new company,” Hardee recalls. “So Coda started out in 2002 with me, Clive, Rob, and Phil Banfield as directors. I have no idea how or why Clive came up with the name Coda, but I just realised after the Oscars this year that it actually stands for Child of Deaf Adult, which isn’t the greatest name for a music agency, really…”

“We actually get approached by agents working elsewhere a lot, but from a recruitment point of view it’s all about trying to find people that can complement us”

Development & Growth
As Coda grew, adding agents and boosting its roster year on year, the need for bigger premises became a recurring theme for its leadership.

The merged MPI and Concert Clinic entity saw the partners initially setting up shop for Coda in rented offices in Rivington Street in London, to cater for a founding workforce of about 15 people. But with the company enjoying exponential growth, the need for space facilitated a move to a new location in Shoreditch High Street to accommodate 40 staff, before the directors chose to purchase their next premises in Clerkenwell where the head count doubled again.

“From there, we bought our current office in Wenlock Road, and we grew in size again to about 125 people. And then Covid hit, meaning that we could have probably moved back to Rivington Street,” says Hardee.

With staffing levels in May 2022 nudging above the 80 mark again, the company hierarchy is steadily hiring new people. “To be honest, we’ve always found it quite easy to hire, until now,” says director Tom Schroeder. “We actually get approached by agents working elsewhere a lot, but from a recruitment point of view it’s all about trying to find people that can complement us… There have been some big figures over the years that we’ve said ‘no’ to because we thought it would have changed the tone… we have never been those shouty aggressive people. We simply don’t think it’s the way to do good business.”

Looking back over the past two decades, Schroeder tells IQ, “Every agent that’s come here has gone on to have the most successful years of their career – their biggest financial years, the right upward trends, signing new stuff. We like to challenge people, to try and get them out of their comfort zone in the best, positive, possible way, and I think that’s worked in our favour.”

“We’ve now been together as a board of four – Alex, me, James and Dave Hallybone – for 15-plus years, and that’s a massive strength”

Schroeder was one of the original employees of Coda, having started his career 22 years ago at MPI. “I was up in Nottingham at university, but I wanted to come back home to London, so I randomly emailed a couple of companies one day, asking if they had any jobs for a keen kid. And at that moment, MPI had literally finished a meeting where they agreed to employ a keen kid.”

Taking that chance certainly paid off for both the company and Schroeder, who a few years into his career was invited to become one of Coda’s partners. “I was starting to have some success, and I think Alex had seen that I was quite shrewd.” He notes, “Alex and I realised that we are really different to each other but that we work really well together.

“The partners at the time were Rob Challice, Clive Underhill-Smith, Alex, and Phil Banfield, and I remember promising myself that in the first partners’ meeting I would sit there and not say anything; just absorb it and then leave. But within about 90 seconds, I stood up and said, ‘What are you all doing? This is ridiculous.’ And I really enjoyed that part of it. It comes quite naturally to me.

“We’ve now been together as a board of four – Alex, me, James [Whitting] and [financial director] Dave Hallybone – for 15-plus years, and that’s a massive strength.”

“One of the first calls I ever made was to Anton Lockwood at DHP, and he asked me if the band I was pitching would bring in their own backline, and I had to hand over the phone and ask a colleague what a ‘backline’ was”

For his part, Whitting tells IQ that he joined Coda in April 2003, having been an A&R exec at Polydor and then Chris Blackwell’s Palm record label. “It was my introduction to the music industry, but I found out quite early on that A&R wasn’t for me: you’d sign an act and spend ages developing them, but often you didn’t even get to release a record,” he laments.

As a result, when Clive Underhill-Smith presented him with an opportunity to join Coda, Whitting didn’t hesitate. “I jumped at it,” he says. “I loved the immediacy of the job – working with an artist, booking the show, and the show happens. There’s a beginning, middle and end to it, whereas A&R often lacked a middle and an end.”

However, he recalls that his start date at Coda – 1st April – was apt, as he had limited knowledge of the agency environment. “I was given a load of phone numbers and some CDs and [was] told to book some shows, but I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” Whitting admits. “One of the first phone calls I ever made was to Anton Lockwood at DHP, and he asked me if the band I was pitching would bring in their own backline, and I had to put my hand over the phone and ask a colleague what ‘backline’ was.”

Despite being so green, Whitting quickly found his feet. “The first significant act I took on was Mylo, pretty early on in 2003. I really just focussed on that, and when he broke through in 2004, I quickly learned what it actually took to be an agent and what was expected of you. After that, I knew how to implement that experience into other artist careers.” And as Whitting’s success caught the eye of rival agency bosses, Hardee offered him partnership at Coda.

“I don’t believe you can be a significant agency signing global stars if you don’t have a global footprint as a company”

Global Expansion
The ambition of Coda’s partners and staff to be able to deliver global services for clients became something of a burning topic, and quietly, senior management started looking for suitable partners with whom they could form an alliance in North America.

Says Schroeder, “I don’t believe you can be a significant agency signing global stars if you don’t have a global footprint as a company. And we made that decision a long time ago. It was then about who would those partners be. We had options, but Paradigm was about Marty Diamond and Lee Anderson and Sam Hunt and Tom Windish. That’s who we had our synergy with. And the build worked great because we both saw ourselves as the alternative agency, and to be honest, I never want that to change.”

In fact, Hardee reveals that it was Marty Diamond who first tabled the idea of an alliance.

Diamond tells IQ, “We always wanted to have an international partner, and Coda was a very natural fit because we already had shared clients and we had a shared spirit – both companies were very entrepreneurial and disruptive.”

Noting that he knew the Coda principals individually through working on various shared clients, Diamond says, “Tom, James and Alex complement each other incredibly well, with each coming at it from a different place. As an outsider looking in, it was very clear how their personalities support one another, and that is true to this day – they are thoughtful, methodical, and they balance each other. And, bottom line, they’re just really good partners. Through what has been a very trying time for our industry as a whole, they showed creative finesse and they showed dedication to the people that they work with.”

“Wasserman has the same sort of culture, certain principles that we like”

Schroeder couldn’t be happier with the choice of partners in North America. “The merger was super successful, and our growth was exponential. We were doing global signings in a different way to everyone else, and everyone was really happy.”

Hardee says, “Paradigm was very good because it was a big company in America, but they allowed us to govern ourselves, maybe with a lot more freedom than you would have with the traditional big American agencies.

“Wasserman, I think, will be a slightly different kettle of fish. They’re much bigger than Paradigm, and they will want more control of the company, and we realise that. They have 120 people working in their office in London already on the sports side, so it’s going to be a different dynamic. But as far as the agents go, the people who are at Wasserman are the same who were at Paradigm.”

He continues, “Wasserman has the same sort of culture, certain principles that we like. The difference with Casey Wasserman is that he is up there on the level of a [Michael] Rapino or an [Irving] Azoff – he’s a player in Hollywood, and we never really had anyone before who can get you into any room, which is great for the Americans and great for us when we go to LA. But it will undoubtedly be a slightly different dynamic.”

With a full year under Wasserman ownership, Diamond says the new working environment is “truly amazing.” He states, “Not only is [Wasserman] a well run, well managed company, Casey is incredibly dynamic, incredibly engaged, supportive and excited about being in the music business. Obviously, they’ve been in the music business on the brands and property side of things, but not on the talent representation side of things.”

And he reveals that the support for getting the agency business back up to speed has been unlimited. “I can’t remember the number of people that came along with us in what was a very long and convoluted journey to get to Wasserman, but we’ve hired in excess of 50 people already in the first year,” he says.

“Ultimately, it’s Alex who is the glue. We’ve worked with him for 20 years, so he must be doing something right”

The “Coda Culture”
Despite the Paradigm merger and subsequent Wasserman acquisition, many of the London office staff still refer to the “Coda culture” that they believe sets the agency apart from its peers.

“It probably originated in the early days of everyone at the company going out together and partying together, but then growing up and still having that same team spirit and non-shouty atmosphere,” opines Hardee.

“We’ve engendered a culture where anyone can ask questions, and we’ve always had open-plan offices to help with that. We’re not brain surgeons, so we want to make sure nobody gets too self-important. Sure, we have a sense of humour, but we also do a serious job. For instance, people see me as the funny guy, but I’m actually quite good at processes and putting CRMs together – I invented a thing called Task Systems that everyone uses in this company. So James is the nice friendly one that everyone loves; Tom is very much the emotive one; I’m more robotic; and Dave does all the hard work and takes none of the credit for it.”

While Coda was ahead of the game in terms of actively recruiting and developing female agents, Hardee admits it took movements like Black Lives Matter for the company to put its diversity efforts under the microscope. “It drew our attention to who we actually have at the company, but also who we do not have, and we’ve identified that situation as one of our weaknesses. So we’ve set targets and, I believe, having cut down staff numbers because of Covid and now going through a recruitment programme, we’re addressing that issue, and we’re aiming to be better.”

Agreeing that the Coda culture is very much alive and kicking, Whitting notes, “There’s a few people that have been here for over a decade, and that’s helped shape the company culture, which is forever changing. Ultimately, it’s Alex who is the glue. We’ve worked with him for 20 years, so he must be doing something right.”

“People enjoy working here; people like coming to work. That’s part of the culture that we created, and it’s something we are very proud of”

Another building block of the Coda culture is the openness encouraged by senior management, enforced by their company meetings every Tuesday, when all staff members, from accountants to reception, agents and assistants, gather to discuss every single on-sale and all final ticket sales from the previous week, as well as any other concerns.

Schroeder explains, “I believe in making a flat pyramid structure for the company, where rather than it being very difficult for staff to access the people at the top, everyone gets the chance to talk and be heard. That’s become more and more important because it’s young people who are really defining culture – their A&R is better, they understand what young people want, and those people need access to the top of the tree.”

Indeed, testament to the Coda culture is the fact that the vast majority of agents who join the company stay there.

“A couple of people have left over the years, and it’s always sad to see people go,” says Whitting. “But if they’re not happy and excited, then we wish them well to do what they want to do. People enjoy working here; people like coming to work. That’s part of the culture that we created, and it’s something we are very proud of.”

“Agents instinctively, because of ego or defence or whatever, have a tendency to blame everyone except themselves when they lose an act”

Another unique element of the Coda mindset was a piece of silverware, initially awarded to individuals for losing an act on their roster but latterly given to anyone who made any notable faux pas.

“The Shame-Up Trophy is just a really good way of getting rid of that nonsense that people have when they make a mistake,” explains Whitting. “Owning up to everything is the only way you’re going to learn and grow. It’s good when you make a mistake that people are actually there to support you rather than get on your back.” And he admits, “Ultimately, the people who have won the Shame-Up Trophy most are probably myself, Tom, and Alex.”

Schroeder agrees. “Agents instinctively, because of ego or defence or whatever, have a tendency to blame everyone except themselves when they lose an act. But there have been points in our company’s growth where we’ve lost key acts, and instead of sulking or being angry, we want everyone to learn from it because then you can start to really tackle your weaknesses and acknowledge them.”

“Me and Alex took a kicking at times – our Covid nicknames were Zoom and Doom!”

Covid
Like the entire live entertainment sector re- acting to Covid, Paradigm’s UK offices quickly shut-up shop in early 2020, sending staff home, with a number unfortunately having to be made redundant as lockdowns and restrictions ended live events globally for an unprecedented period.

But while the situation in London was bad, at the Paradigm operation in North America, where the music division was the smaller part of the Hollywood-centric entertainment empire, the pandemic was catastrophic, with hundreds of staff losing their jobs and the very future of the indie powerhouse being called into question. That situation, however, was resolved when Casey Wasserman finally agreed a deal with Paradigm owners Sam and Tom Gores, in a move that Sam Gores described as “a win for all parties.”

Looking back over recent events, Whitting says, “Losing staff was the hardest thing that we had to deal with in our 20-year history. But we’re coming out of it strongly, and while the whole market is very choppy, we’re still here, and that’s something to be very proud of.”

Schroeder says, “Me and Alex took a kicking at times – our Covid nicknames were Zoom and Doom! But I quickly knew that this wasn’t going to be a four-, six-week, three-month thing. That was the toughest bit. I was just spending the whole time as a partner going, ‘If I could just see 12 month’s time, I could plan my business,’ but we never could.”

“Even now, this market is volatile”

Nevertheless, Schroeder believes the company’s weekly meetings took on even greater significance during- and post-Covid.

“Working out how and when to go on sale; whether you’ve been forced to reschedule and when you should announce that; what levels to do upgrades, multiples etc. We want to do that as a company, and when you have either a good tour or a bad tour, or something in the middle, the key is to talk about what you’re going to do next. It’s a massively important part of what we do as a company, so our weekly meetings are invaluable.

“Even now, this market is volatile. And you can either just talk positives and discuss the excitement of the resurgence of live, or you can acknowledge the fact that there’s an awful lot of casual ticket buyers who need to be enticed back into the market.”

“There’s not a better team in the business, globally, in terms of identifying talent early and growing it”

Team Wass
While the live music industry was devastated by Covid, the pandemic presented Casey Wasserman with the catalyst to realise his ambition to get into the agency business.

Having completed the Paradigm US deal in May 2021, the transaction for the UK division became the worst kept secret in the live music industry. Frustratingly, the reunification of both divisions of Paradigm under the ownership of Wasserman Media Group was necessarily prolonged by the pandemic. However, the April 2022 confirmation that the London-based operation and its staff had become part of Team Wass was cause for much celebration on both sides of the Atlantic.

Looking ahead at the prospects for the reunited music division, Diamond predicts, “Continued growth and continued diversification.” He adds, “There’s not a better team in the business, globally, in terms of identifying talent early and growing it. Obviously, if you put on paper the superstar talent we collectively represent, it’s pretty impressive.

“The one thing we have found in our conversations is that there’s a hunger and desire to challenge the business, disrupt the business, grow the business. And that’s done by signing great talent – whether that’s sports talent, branding clients, or music clients – and nurturing those relationships to build superstars.”

“Casey is young; unbelievably ambitious; very, very successful; and he has an understanding of where the economics go, much beyond the music industry. So he’s going to be a massive asset”

Cheerleading the closure of the transaction, Schroeder states, “One of the very obvious weaknesses we felt we had, as Paradigm, is we didn’t have a figurehead… [Marc] Geiger at William Morris, Rob Light at CAA, these people are front and centre, whereas we lacked that. But what Wasserman does, to a level that we never imagined, is we have a figurehead in Casey Wasserman whose reach is enormous. His experience is unbelievable, the people he has access to, the doors he can open.

“Casey is young; unbelievably ambitious; very, very successful; and he has an understanding of where the economics go, much beyond the music industry. So he’s going to be a massive asset, and I feel incredibly excited having someone of that significance at the top of the tree.”

Hardee is equally enthused. “Our contemporaries are UTA, William Morris and CAA, but I still think we present our case differently. We definitely think in a more independent way, but that’s just a little point of difference that most people will see in the culture here. And that’s the same, as far as I’ve seen, at Wasserman.”

Hardee notes Wasserman’s hiring of Brent Smith as an example of the calibre of talent the company can attract. “He’s one of America’s biggest agents, representing Drake and Kendrick and Frank Ocean and having one of the biggest rosters in the world. So, there will be targets over here, too,” he states.

“In the UK, we actually took on Nick Cave and Chris Smyth, but we didn’t want to shout about it because we’d made 40 people unemployed through the pandemic, and it didn’t seem right to announce new people because it could upset the office. The bottom line is that agents like coming here, so we will be looking for new agents – no matter if they are young or old, we’re always open to conversations.”

“We’ve got some great agents coming through… You can definitely see future management material there”

Nonetheless, Hardee contends that one of Coda’s strengths was developing agents in-house, and it’s a strategy he aims to continue despite the expanded Wasserman armoury now at his disposal. “Growing people internally is the most rewarding part of the job and can produce the best agents because they carry no baggage from other places. Tom Schroeder came through the ranks, as did James Whitting, and Nick Matthews is another. We’ve also got great talent who have joined us – Cris Hearn went on holiday to Primary [Talent] and came back, Sol Parker came in, as did Geoff Meall and Clementine Bunel. But we like the education process at the company, which is only possible because we don’t sit in little silos.”

As Paradigm UK becomes the latest addition to the Team Wass family, Whitting is looking forward to the years ahead with a renewed lust for life. “We’re very excited to see what Wasserman can bring to the table,” he says. “It’s going to be interesting because of the various different areas that they’re in – their marketing with their sports and branding expertise: they align really well with what we do. And because they did not have a music department, that’s good for us, as we’re not going into a pre-existing culture. We’re kind of creating that side of the culture for Wasserman. And we’re good at culture creation.

“We’ve got some great agents coming through and people who over the pandemic have put themselves front and centre in really trying to keep things moving forward and keep things positive. You can definitely see future management material there, which is good because we don’t want to carry on doing it forever.”

“I’m completely convinced that we will have this wonderful creative bounce off the back of [Covid], and it will look like nothing we’ve seen before”

Likewise, Schroeder’s fervour for the deal is palpable. “I am buzzing,” he says. “I’ve got a young roster and the fan base is a young one – it’s like the new punk. I’m completely convinced that we will have this wonderful creative bounce off the back of [Covid], and it will look like nothing we’ve seen before. These kids don’t see colour, they don’t see gender, they don’t see sexuality, they don’t see ethnicity. They’re slightly hedonistic for the moment but with real seriousness about cultural significance and owning artists and being part of it. It’s wonderful to see.”

And he believes that the Wasserman acquisition will help fast-track some of the London office’s rising stars to levels where Coda or Paradigm may have found unattainable. “We’ve spent a lot of 2021 and 2022 talking about the need to take some risks and put some young people in really significant positions. Now we’re moving a lot of people who have put the time in and have that sort of spark and specialness about them: if they’ve got that, then why not do it now?”

For his part, Casey Wasserman says, “What’s so exciting about the acquisition here [in the UK] is their history with our US music team. The relationship I’ve built with Alex and Tom and Dave and James and the whole leadership team over the last few years is really extraordinary. I’m incredibly confident that this will be a successful business because of the trust and respect and the commonality we share, [as well as] the history they shared prior to us getting involved.”

As the company’s owner, Wasserman has some strong views on how his talent agencies should operate. “We learned early on that you cannot buy client lists,” he says. “Our job is to build a great culture and attract and retain great people. If you do those two things then the clients will come. If you sacrifice either of those two things for a client, it’s not a sustainable business.”

“I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all… If you are that talented, you should have the best people represent you, and not just because they all work in the same place”

Addressing the idea of representing clients for non-music-related activities, Wasserman pulls no punches. “If you are a musician and you want the best music agent, you are going to want to hire someone at Wasserman to manage that part of your career. If you can also act, or something else, then you should hire the best person to do that for you. I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all: everyone sells that, but it’s total [bullshit]. If you are that talented, you should have the best people represent you, and not just because they all work in the same place.”

“We want to make ourselves the best place for an agent to pursue their career for themselves and for their clients”

Joining in the celebrations for Coda’s 20th anniversary, Wasserman underlines his determination to complete the acquisition that saw the company become part of his media group.

“Coda, and the team that had built Coda for 20 years as an incredibly successful business, had unfortunately just flipped to being Paradigm shortly before the start of Covid, so the timing was brutal,” he observes. “But just like the US [Paradigm] business, they worked through an incredibly difficult situation and did that incredibly well.”

And hinting that there could be further agency acquisitions, Wasserman states, “It was always our plan to buy both [Paradigm] businesses. Because of the different shareholdings, we separated those transactions to give them both the appropriate attention and focus. But these two are the first two steps, not the last two steps, as we continue to build a global music business.

“We are competitive, so we want to represent the best clients, help them drive their careers and be incredibly relevant and influential in the music business. We are going to continue being aggressive, so as the world is coming back, the plan is to put ourselves in the best position to succeed. If we think it adds value to our business and our clients, we are going to go after it.”

Wasserman concludes, “We want to make ourselves the best place for an agent to pursue their career for themselves and for their clients. I really believe we have done that on the sports side, unequivocally, and I have no doubt we are also going to do that on the music side.”


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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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Wasserman Music acquires Paradigm’s UK business

Wasserman Music has acquired Paradigm UK’s live music business in a deal that expands both the agency’s global client roster and its European footprint.

The blockbuster deal comes a year after the launch of Wasserman Music, which itself followed the completion of its acquisition of Paradigm’s North American live music business.

UK partners Dave Hallybone, Alex Hardee, Tom Schroeder and James Whitting, who founded Coda Agency in 2002, have joined the Wasserman Music managing executive team as part of the deal, which reunites the London-based team with their North American colleagues. Coda partnered with Paradigm in 2014 and fully came under the Paradigm name in 2019.

“With this group under one banner, we now have a truly scalable and serviceable global music practice”

“I am incredibly proud to reunite Alex, Dave, James, Tom and their team with the full force of our Wasserman Music group,” says Wasserman chairman and CEO Casey Wasserman, who will deliver a keynote interview at ILMC 34 tomorrow (27 April) at London’s Royal Garden Hotel. “They not only persevered through a once in a lifetime pandemic, but prioritised their clients and partnerships in a way that is consistent with our values and commitment to talent. With this group now under one banner, we now have a truly scalable and serviceable global music practice and look forward to strengthening our platform together.”

“We couldn’t be more excited to be back under the same name as our longtime partners in London,” says Wasserman Music EVP and managing executive Marty Diamond. “We share common values and a deep commitment to artist development, and with live music coming back huge this year, we’re confident that together we can secure the health, success and growth of our clients’ careers throughout the world.

“We have persevered and continued to excel in our global efforts during this incredibly challenging time, and we have worked closely through it all to provide continuous service to our clients.”

“Casey and his team are the most ambitious we have ever met”

Wasserman Music’s roster now includes globally represented artists Baby Keem, Bastille, Billie Eilish, Brent Faiyaz, Disclosure, Drake, Frank Ocean, Fred again.., Imagine Dragons, Kacey Musgraves, Kenny Chesney, Liam Gallagher, Louis Tomlinson, Normani, ODESZA, Old Dominion, Pharrell, Sia, Skrillex, Sturgill Simpson, SZA, Turnstile, Wet Leg and Zedd, among others.

With the UK client roster merging into Wasserman Music, the agency now also handles international representation outside North America for artists including Bon Iver, FKA Twigs, Lewis Capaldi, Liam Payne, Mark Ronson, My Chemical Romance, PinkPantheress, Rag’n’Bone Man, Rita Ora, Robyn, Sean Paul, Shawn Mendes, Take That and X Ambassadors.

“The pandemic was incredibly testing for the industry,” says London partner Tom Schroeder. “It really made us all look at everything we have achieved and where we were going. What we saw in Wasserman was a company very different from others – dynamic, fast-moving, open, and honest. The commitment from our staff was incredible, and I couldn’t be more proud and determined to continue our journey.

“Casey and his team are the most ambitious we have ever met, and their reach and vision is inspiring. We have always seen ourselves as the alternative, and that fits better today than ever before.”

“The UK music partners are an exceptional group, and we congratulate them on this new chapter”

Over the course of 20 years, Wasserman has established itself as one of the world’s leading companies in the areas of brands and properties consultancy, sports talent representation and music artist representation. The addition of a London office adds to Wasserman’s network of more than 30 offices in 14 countries on three continents.

Sam Gores, majority shareholder of Paradigm Music UK, adds: “The UK music partners are an exceptional group, and we congratulate them on this new chapter.”

Paradigm will continue its collaboration with Wasserman Music through the shared representation of music clients in film, television, theatre, and publishing.

 


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Top agents discuss the war’s impact on touring

Top agents from the western world have discussed how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may impact the future of international touring.

Following Russia’s all-out assault of its Eastern European neighbours, live music behemoths such as Live Nation and OVG have severed ties with Putin’s nation.

Meanwhile, a growing number of artists are cancelling concerts in Russia including Green Day, Oxxxymiron, AJR, Imagine Dragons, Louis Tomlinson, Yungblud, Franz Ferdinand, Health, Roisin Murphy, Iggy Pop, The Killers, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Bring Me the Horizon.

Paradigm’s Tom Schroeder tells IQ that the outlook for future international shows in Russia is “pretty bleak”.

“Unless there is a really significant change to the situation, I think Russia could be pushed out in the cold as a touring market for some time. It’s important to say, I have been talking to our Russian promoter friends this week, making it clear we know this is Putin’s war, not Russia’s war, and we support them fully.

“I think Russia could be pushed out in the cold as a touring market for some time”

“Sadly that doesn’t mean it is viable as a touring market, and they are very aware. After the last two years we have all faced, for these promoters to now have this – is mind-blowing, and heartbreaking,” he adds.

Solo’s John Giddings echoes Schroeder’s sentiment: “I can’t see any shows being booked there in the foreseeable future. We have cancelled Iggy Pop and we’re in the process of cancelling all of our shows there. We were negotiating other tours but never got to confirmation because of the uncertainty.

“I don’t think Putin is going to care much about having no concerts but the population will and hopefully put pressure on him to stop. The music business has to act as one – alongside all of the other sanctions”

Paradigm’s Alex Hardee, who represents Louis Tomlinson, added: “I cant see that acts would be willing to tour Russia until the Putin regime ends. Unfortunately, acts won’t be able to tour Ukraine until the same regime ends for entirely different reasons.”

But how will Russia’s isolation from the international touring industry affect artists whose income is partly made up from the private gig economy?

“This is a point of considerable concern – how much bleed there is into other countries”

For years, western artists – such as George Michael and Amy Winehouse – have been able to secure lucrative deals playing at private and corporate parties in Russia.

“[The private gig economy] is a significant market for us,” admits Schroeder, “but in reality, everyone can still rebuild post-Covid without it. I just hope we quickly get to the point where art can heal – like it has done so much in the past.”

Sadly, it’s not just Russia’s live music industry that will suffer as a result of Putin’s all-out assault on Ukraine. Both Schroeder and Giddings anticipate repercussions for neighbouring markets, such as Poland and Romania, too.

“This is a point of considerable concern – how much bleed there is into other countries,” says Schroeder. “I expect there will be concern and caution from US-based acts – we really need to see what happens with the conflict and how contained it is. It is very early days, and the priority is the safety and protection of Ukraine, not our desire to put on gigs.”

Giddings believes there will be a “heavy impact” on the aforementioned eastern European nations: “With fuel prices rising, among other costs, and probably currency fluctuations, it will be hard to make offers that are sustainable.”

“I don’t see us having to cancel dates in neighbouring countries for the time being”

He also thinks that fewer international artists, in particular those from the US, will want to tour eastern Europe because of the conflict.

“We book tours well in advance and no one knows whether the war will expand or not, so until there is some certainty, artists will not want to take the risk – financially, or for their own safety.”

But for now, Hardee says, tours previously scheduled to visit eastern Europe will remain intact.

“I don’t see us having to cancel dates in neighbouring countries for the time being,” he says. “Most tours don’t depend on Russia or Ukraine to work so I haven’t seen any tours yet fall down, due to the forced cancellation of individual dates in these territories.

“Everyone seems to be strong in their resolve against Putin and let’s be clear this is a war against Putin and not the Russian people.”

“Let’s be clear this is a war against Putin and not the Russian people”

Meanwhile, sanctions implemented by the EU, the UK and the US could have an effect on live music markets around the world – not just the neighbours of Ukraine and Russia.

UK artists are prohibited from playing at Finland’s largest arena, the Hartwall arena (cap. 13,349) in Helsinki, after two of the three owners were added to the UK’s sanctions list.

Gennady Nikolayevich Timchenko and Boris Rotenberg, who founded Arena Events Oy in 2013 and bought 100% of the arena, are among the 120 oligarchs and businesses that have wound up on the list.

Timchenko is Russia’s sixth richest oligarch and close friend of Russian president Putin. He also owns the private investment firm Volga Group, which has holdings in energy, transport, infrastructure and financial services.

Rotenberg is a co-owner of SMP Bank, which is linked to the energy firm Gazprom. Rotenberg is described as having “close personal ties” to Putin, a friend since childhood when they trained in judo together.

Arena Events Oy co-founder and brother of Boris, Arkady Rotenberg, is not on the sanctions list.

 


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First sessions unveiled for ILMC 34

The first round of sessions for the in-person return of the International Live Music Conference are now live.

ILMC 34 will take place from 26–29 April 2022 at its longstanding home, the Royal Garden Hotel in London, which is reopening in early April following an extensive refurbishment.

Topics high on the agenda include agency, venues and technological innovations as the touring industry bids to step up its recovery from its darkest hour.

On Thursday 28 April, Paradigm’s Tom Schroeder chairs The Agency Business 2022 to examine the changing agency landscape and what it means for clients and promoter partners. He will be joined by a mix of major agency executives and newly independent business owners to analyse the challenges and opportunities facing them in the year ahead.

Also that day, Venue’s Venue: Reconnect & Reopen sees Marie Lindqvist, ASM Global & Olivier Toth, Rockhal/EAA consider what strategies are in place to revive consumer confidence to ensure full houses and busy bars. The discussion will include getting back to business, a common approach to health-and-safety protocols, and new operational models for these vital buildings.

New Technology: Future Frontiers invites 10 innovators to preview the latest technology set to impact the business over the next 12 months. Hosted by Steve Machin (LiveFrom Events), the session will offer a 75-minute tour through virtual meet-and-greets and digital merch, game-changing developments in production, marketing and mobile.

And on Friday 29 April, IQ’s deputy news editor Lisa Henderson hosts Meet the New Bosses: Class of 2022, which asks how can we build back better to ensure that the business remains attractive to future generations, what issues matter most to young professionals, and what challenges face execs rising through the ranks in today’s live music business?

ILMC is unparalleled in its international scope and appeal

Attracting 1,200 of the world’s top live music professionals from over 40 countries, ILMC is unparalleled in its international scope and appeal. This year’s event was pushed back from its traditional early March date, in light of the rising number of Omicron cases and various restrictions across the world.

The 2022 Arthur Awards, which take place as part of ILMC’s ‘Great Indoors’ Gala Dinner, have moved to Thursday 28 April. Hosted by CAA’s Emma Banks, the live music industry’s Oscar-equivalents remain at the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel.

Meanwile, the Green Events & Innovations conference will take place within the main conference programme on Friday 29 April, and the ILMC Production Meeting (IPM) taking place on Tuesday 26 April. IPM is expanding its programming in 2022 to include a day-long tranche of sessions by the Event Safety & Security Summit (E3S).

Further sessions and details of all guest speakers will be announced in the coming weeks. Full information about the conference including schedule, events and partners is at 34.ilmc.com.

 


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Sustainability and diversity top of agents’ agendas

Discussing various big topics such as the post-Covid return to business and sustainability, the main discussion point arising from this year’s ILMC agency panel was diversity and how the business, in general, can be more open to attracting people from different backgrounds.

Session chairman Tom Schroeder of Paradigm Talent Agency admitted to guests Lucy Dickins (WME), Mike Greek (CAA), Sam Kirby Yoh (UTA) and Obi Asika (Echo Location Talent Agency) that prior to the panel he thought his passion, sustainability, would be the main takeaway from the panel, but instead it turned out to be diversity.

Earlier in the session, Schroeder had joked that UTA had been the most aggressive agency during the pandemic, so much so that they had a 50% market share of the panel guests, thanks to the 3 March announcement that the company had acquired Asika’s Echo Location operation.

“When everything comes back we’ll [either] return to being the same idiots or there will be some fundamental change”

And it was Asika who, in tackling a question about race and diversity, recounted a story from his youth where his mother, a sociology teacher, had urged him to read a book by Jock Young who wrote about labelling theory, opening Asika’s mind to the dangers of stereotyping.

“So I was aware from the age of 13 or 14 that I was constantly stereotyped by teachers at my school, by parents of the children, by school friends, and even maybe sometimes myself, because you end up, potentially, becoming that stereotype. It’s a seriously dangerous thing and it happens all over the world,” said Asika.

But he revealed that it was music at university, especially drum and bass, that first allowed him to think of himself as British, as he identified with the music. He added, “We all do it, but if you are judging somebody before you’ve given them a chance, think about how dangerous that can be. And on the other side of it, think about how powerful the industry we work in is – someone who felt that way, because of the love of music, is now sitting here and has just started as the head of the UK office of a global agency, having a talk with all you fine people.”

“The responsibility we have as an industry to become sustainable is something we haven’t thought about enough previously”

Addressing how the industry should approach its return to reopening, Schroeder stated, “There are two schools of thought: one is that when everything comes back we’ll return to being the same old idiots we used to be, or maybe there will be some fundamental change.”

Greek responded, “I do believe there will be fundamental change, but I do see there are certain elements of what we do that are going to end up being the norm again. Ultimately, the responsibility we have as an industry to become sustainable is something we haven’t thought about enough previously. Secondly, it’s important to note how loud our voice is as an industry when we collectively get together – that’s something we can hopefully see grow in the future.”

On a positive note, Dickins stated that she thought there would be a lot of silver linings to come out of the pandemic shutdown, not the least of which would be improvements to people’s life-work balance, and not being at every show, every night.

“We have to work together – not just agents, but also promoters and venues in regard to dealing with government and policy”

Noting that the industry is in a precarious position where huge number of tickets are being sold, Schoeder pondered, “When we get practical on this, how is it going to work? You’ve got festivals spending money on marketing, but no insurance system for the artist or for the promoters and tickets are being sold for events we don’t know are going to happen. At some point, the artist has got to invest some money to make a show to go on the stage, if anything is going to happen. It’s a jigsaw that confuses me every day.”

Greek agreed, stating, “I have sleepless nights about it as well because I’ve committed lots of my clients to lots of different events, but there’s no way of knowing without insurance and all other kinds of stuff… the conversations are about everyone around the artist trying to minimise costs they would incur in advance in order to make a decision as late as possible to do the show. It’s a big concern and some artists can afford to take the risk, while others can’t.”

Kirby Yoh commented, “We have to work together – not just agents, but also promoters and venues in regard to dealing with government and policy. But we can make it better for everybody – safer for the fans and the artists. In my mind, there is not a choice. It’s our responsibility to work together.”

“Just be careful. Make sure you’re not spending too much money unless you really have to”

Dickins noted that some of the problems around agreeing industry best practice involved the competition and legality issues. “But basically I think you have to conduct your business with empathy because every single person has had to go through this [Covid]. So it’s all about sharing information, talking people through each step, and listening to people. As regards different places opening at different times, that’s just something we’re going to have to work around and take on board because every single border is going to have a different issue.”

Indeed, in answer to a question from a delegate, Schroeder suggested that payment plans for advances were being discussed, although he admitted that these could become complicated.

And adding his advice, Asika said, “Just be careful. Make sure you’re not spending too much money unless you really have to. Hold back and focus on the areas that we know are looking positive. I honestly believe we will have shows in the UK this summer, but I have a policy of spreading my bets – I’m not focussing on any huge festivals this year, I’m spreading things across clubs to 5,000 to 10,000 all over the place and anyone who mentions exclusivity is told that I’m not interested.”

 


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“We’ve been rubbish”: Agents tackle diversity in IQ Focus panel

The evolving role of the booking agent, the increasingly crowded 2021 circuit, and the agency sector’s shaky record on diversity were among the topics discussed during yesterday’s IQ Focus session, The Agency Business 3.0.

Hosted by ILMC MD Greg Parmley, the session – the latest in IQ’s Focus virtual panel series – checked in with CAA’s Maria May, UTA’s Jules de Lattre, Paradigm’s Tom Schroeder and 13 Artists’ Angus Baskerville to see how the business has changed, three months after the world went into lockdown.

“It’s been proper bonkers these past few months,” said Schroeder, who recalled how, back “in February, we were saying, ‘We’re going we need 20 laptops’ [for people to work from home], and other people going, ‘You’re mad; it’s the flu!’

“We’ve gone from that,” he continued, “to ‘Is Glastonbury going to wobble’, to ‘Is Glastonbury 2021 going to happen…?’”

Despite the speed at which circumstances changed – as well as ongoing uncertainty about when live music will return in force – Schroeder said, as an agent, he’s never felt a more essential part of the music industry ecosystem.

“The majors [labels] have seen they cannot get traction for an artist without shows,” he explained. “I spent 20 years telling people that – I didn’t know if it was true, but now I know it’s true. Gigs are an absolutely integral part of the music food chain. I feel more valuable than I have before.”

May said a “day doesn’t go by” when she doesn’t receive an offer for things like “livestreamed shows, or pre-recorded sets being put into a virtual universe”, a la Travis Scott in Fortnite.

“It’s a good time for us to realise that we’ve been really, really rubbish at this, and we’re going to do something about it”

“As agents we all need to be across this massively,” she explained. “Nothing will replace a live music experience, ever – but with most of the shows that are successful, people can’t go to them, as they sell out too quickly. So this [livestreaming] is something that will become in standard in future.”

“Over the past few months we’ve all become experts in the livestream space,” agreed de Lattre, “which has enabled us to go to our clients and say, ‘Here are the pros and cons of the various ticketing providers, here are the different broadcast platforms, here are the different production options…’”

“The idea of our role as advisors, as consultants, as having expertise in the live space and in lots of different areas, I think gives us a reason to exist more so than ever,” he continued. “I think it’s that dimension, rather than just booking tours and taking commission, that is key.”

The growth of virtual concerts, he added, “has really forced us to innovate, and think creatively about ‘What can we learn here?’”

“I think over the next few months we’re going to see increased production values, and people offering opportunities for artists to perform,” predicted Baskerville, “and perhaps monetise, in a meaningful way, some of those performances. We’re involved in a couple of acts playing at Alexandra Palace this week at a streaming event the Wireless people are putting together, and the production values are incredible…

“In the long term, hopefully [these virtual shows] something we can learn from, and use those skills in future.”

Following the events of Black Out Tuesday and the launch of #TheShowMustBePaused, talk turned to racial diversity in the live music industry and (given the panel’s make-up) the agency business specifically.

“Over the past few months we’ve all become experts in the livestream space”

“CAA are very publicly out there and actively working hard… we’re looking at how we recruit, how we employ, how we bring people up, how we create departments and how we bring focus and light to these issues,” said May. “Last week was a great moment for the creative industries to step back, take stock and realise how much work there is to do in this area.”

“I think agencies throughout the UK are terrible at this, and that includes my company,” opined Schroeder, taking a different tack to May. “There just isn’t the representation there, and we have to look at why.

“What we need are some tangible results. One of the most startling bits from last week [Black Out Tuesday] was the brands which put a black square up, saying, ‘We’re going have a think’, and getting called out on it…

“I hated the Insta-moment of the whole thing, so I’m not going to use this opportunity to say what we’re doing at Paradigm. I’ll come back in a year and tell you then. It’s a good time for us to realise that we’ve been really, really rubbish at this, and we’re going to do something about it.”

“I think there’s a risk that the emotion and severity of last few weeks could lead to a rush to respond that isn’t genuine,” added de Lattre, who said the industry must be asking itself, “How can we do this in a genuine, long-lasting way?

“We’re going to be scrutinised for how well we’ve done in the coming weeks and months. The honesty and the dialogue so far is the best we’ve done, but there’s so much more to achieve. It’s for us to prove ourselves from here.”

Looking to 2021, May said it’s going to be challenge to provide space for new acts on already crammed festival bills, with many events choosing to re-book the majority of their 2020 acts.

“With the new acts coming through, it’s going to be difficult, because for the most part we’ve moved everyone into 2021,” she explained.

“It’s important that the events which happen next year happen well”

“If we want to have support for our newer acts, we’re going to have to be willing to work with festivals and promoters if we want to have conversations about the few slots they have left,” said de Lattre, referencing the ongoing renegotiations between artists and promoters of artist deals signed pre-Covid-19.

“There is a need for an adjustment,” said Schroeder. “In 2021 we all desperately need a super successful summer, to make money, for people to survive, for people get their jobs back, and for punters to have a wonderful experience.”

“What Covid will have done is put a pause, if not a stop, on some of those silly deals” from before the crisis, he added.

“We all need to work together very closely so we know clearly on what basis we’re confirming events,” added Baskerville. “But there’s an appetite among agents, managers and promoters to work it all out. […] It’s important that the events which happen next year happen well; if we all support them and work together we’ll be able to achieve that.”

More than anything, concluded de Lattre, the coronavirus has ushered in a period of “reflecting, not just about our work lives, but about lives in general, and there’s an incredible amount of change to come.

“It’s been an absolutely unbelievable year, charged with the promise of change and a more collaborative spirit within the business, and with real potential for change in diversity and inclusion. These are all incredible things that I don’t think anyone could have dreamt of really happening.

“So if we can turn a positive out of all the challenges and the anguish, I think we’ll have done well from this year.”

The Agency Business 3.0 is available to watch back on YouTube or Facebook now.


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Booking agents unite for next IQ Focus

Continuing the weekly IQ Focus virtual panel discussions, this week sees a line-up of senior figures from the agency world step up.

Titled The Agency Business 3.0, the session streams live on Facebook and YouTube on Thursday 11 June at 4 p.m. BST/5 p.m. CET.

For multinational agencies juggling investors, cashflow and large numbers of employees, the Covid-19 crisis has presented significant challenges. And for the smaller boutique outfits, the hiatus in touring is no less impactful.



But when the business does return, will this period have changed how agencies are structured, and how they work? What routes back do agents see working, and what new opportunities might emerge? In an industry fuelled by creative thinking, what comes next?

Joining chair and ILMC head Greg Parmley will be CAA’s Maria May, Paradigm’s Tom Schroeder, 13 Artists’ Angus Baskerville and United Talent Agency’s Jules de Lattre.

The popular IQ Focus sessions have run since April, with previous topics having included the festival summer, grassroots music venues, major venues, mental health and wellbeing during lockdown, and innovation in live music. All previous sessions can be watched here.

To set a reminder about The Agency Business 3.0 session this Thursday head to the IQ Magazine page on Facebook or YouTube.


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Paradigm’s Tom Schroeder: Captain of industry

Spend any amount of time with Tom Schroeder and you cannot help but be impressed by his cerebral dissection of the music industry and his ability to sniff out opportunities and identify changes, big and small, that can be made to improve the work/life balance for staff at Paradigm, and, crucially, the artists that they represent.

“A lot of people are shocked to hear millennials demanding a different kind of lifestyle but at Paradigm we are approaching that in another way – maybe it’s the millennials who have got the work/life balance right and we should be learning from them,” he notes at one point, when musing on how ridiculously all-consuming the business can easily become.

That empathetic, open-minded attitude was prevalent at Coda and remains evident to anyone visiting the now Paradigm UK offices in central London, where the company’s 100-plus employees enjoy a progressive environment that is a pleasure to conduct business in. But that’s a far cry from Schroeder’s own early career experiences when he admits to overworking to the extent that he is still recovering to this day.

“For the first five years as an agent, I didn’t have a holiday and I think it’s taken an additional 15 years to unpick the damage that did to me,” he says. “Stress is a very real issue as an agent and in an agency. For sure many of us are in a privileged position, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel the pressure. We have seen it at all levels of the company, and are now taking a very proactive approach to dealing with it and preventing it impacting on everyone’s well-being.”

Towing the line
That caring side to Tom’s nature is, perhaps, inherited as his mother was a social worker before going on to become the head of education for the London borough of Camden, earning a CBE for her efforts.

“For the first five years as an agent, I didn’t have a holiday and I think it’s taken an additional 15 years to unpick the damage that did to me”

Born in West London, Tom grew up in a sailing family and was a sporty child. “I wasn’t into music much at school, but I competed at national and international level as a windsurfer,” he reveals. That all ended at 17, “when I inevitably discovered the things that we all do as teenagers…”

Faced with a common teenage choice, Tom somewhat followed in his mum’s footsteps by opting to study sociology at university although as his dad worked for Guinness, he also significantly contributed to that side of family lineage during his years at the University of Nottingham.

“Most 19 year olds need a few years to work out who they are, and that’s definitely what university gave me,” he says. “Meeting people from all walks of life was really important, and I’m still friends with a lot of them. But I horsed around and probably got the lowest 2:1 in Nottingham University history because they felt sorry for me.”

He admits, “When I arrived in Nottingham, I thought about how I could become the cool kid on campus. That’s why I decided, with friends, to put on some gigs. Fortunately, for us, there was this very cool Scottish guy, James Bailey, who ran one of the city’s best clubs, The Bomb. He took a chance on us, so we put on Thursday- and Friday-night residencies and we’d go hall to hall in the university, selling tickets.”

Those early residencies also introduced him to someone who he was initially wary of but who would become his mentor and one of his closest friends. “We had a jungle night and Alex Hardee at MPI repped a few acts we wanted to book,” says Schroeder. “Alex had a bit of a reputation, so when we wanted to book DJ Krust, or whoever it was, we ended up getting really stoned and pulling straws to decide who would make the phone call. And, of course, I pulled the short straw.

“My mates warned me it would be too much about business and not about the music. But I ignored them, thank goodness”

“When I called him, he was on another call: ‘Tom, just hold for a minute,’ he said, before on the other line shouting,‘Listen, you Welsh cunt, if I find out where you live, I’ll come and burn your fucking house down.’And then I booked the act with him. That was my first experience of Alex Hardee.”

Knowing that he wanted to pursue some kind of career in music, Schroeder spent a summer in California, where a cousin owned a recording studio. “I tried making dance music but I realised I was nowhere near good enough: proper musicians were at a different level. So I came back to the UK and started thinking about the companies I’d potentially like to work with.”

Perfect Tom-ing
Dance music’s loss was definitely the agency world’s gain – and one company in particular. “It was a Tuesday morning,” says Tom. “I sent a speculative email to MPI, asking if they had any jobs. By a massive coincidence, Phil Banfield had called a staff meeting that same day where he announced that he wanted to find a young, motivated kid to look for and sign new talent. My timing was perfect.”

What wasn’t perfect was the resulting job interview. “In the room were Phil, Alex, Cris [Hearn] and Gemma [Peppé]. Within a couple of minutes, Alex said he had emails to check and walked out. Cris did the same about a minute later, followed quickly by Gemma. So I thought I’d blown it.”

However, Tom exploited the one-on-one situation to learn about the business and spent the next 90 minutes quizzing Banfield. His enthusiasm struck a chord, and a few days later, he was offered a job. “My mates warned me it would be too much about business and not about the music. But I ignored them, thank goodness, as 20 years later I’m still at the same company, albeit after a couple of name changes.”

 


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