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.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
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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