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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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Untitled Group expands to Europe & Asia-Pacific

Australian independent promoter Untitled Group has restructured its booking team as it expands to Asia Pacific and Europe.

The Melbourne-based company has upped senior touring agent Monty McGaw to head of electronic, which sees him move into an overall strategy and management role.

McGaw, who is currently head booker for the firm’s flagship four-day electronic music festival Pitch Music & Arts, will be tasked with guiding Untitled Group’s expansion into Asia alongside newly appointed Marc Roberts. He will also be responsible for developing new touring agents, and heading up collaborations with other electronic promoters in Asia Pacific.

“With this new expansion, we will be able to build on our relationships with local Asia bookers/promoters”

“This is an exciting prospect for not just Untitled Group but also for the artists and teams that we have been working with for some time,” McGaw tells IQ. “Australia and New Zealand have often been seen as ‘isolated’ regions for touring artists given the long distance travel involved.

“With this new expansion, we will be able to build on our relationships with local Asia bookers/promoters and it will allow us to tell a more cohesive story between the regions in terms of the artists touring, their music and audiences. I am very much looking forward to leading this change, and am excited for what opportunities we may be able to harness together.”

McGaw and Roberts work alongside fellow touring team members – director of touring Nicholas Greco, senior agent Pia Del Mastro, tour operations manager Georgia Madden, senior artist operations Ela Rutherford and artist operations Stacey Queffert.

Untitled Group will present the European debut of its Day Party at Amsterdam’s Lovelee on 22 October

McGaw, who is also programmer for Australian electronic music hub Xe54, has upcoming tours with the likes of Honey Dijon, Dj Boring, Job Jobse, Sally C, Palms Trax, Mella Dee, DJ Mell G, Ki/Ki, Etapp Kyle, Charlotte De Witte, Adam Pits, Lisene and Aloka.

Untitled Group will also present the European debut of its Day Party at Amsterdam’s Lovelee in the Netherlands from 11am to 9.30pm on 22 October, in collaboration with Amsterdam Dance Event. Expanding to the Northern Hemisphere for the first time ever, the event will feature UK vocalist and producer Eliza Rose, alongside Mella Dee, Dj Boring, Daws, Jennifer Loveless, La La, Moktar, X. Club and Young Singh.

The Untitled touring team has also worked on tours for Glass Animals, The Kooks, Hayden James and Wu-Tang Clan, as well as its established festivals such as Beyond The Valley, Wildlands and Grapevine Gathering.

 


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Australia’s Untitled Group on the return of live

Australia’s Untitled Group has reported strong ticket sales for the region’s summer period, despite a series of Covid-related setbacks.

The Melbourne-based independent promoter sold more than 200,000 tickets for the November to March period – in line with 2019 levels – even with the spread of the Omicron variant leading to mass cancellations and rescheduled events around the start of this year.

Australia reopened its international border in February for the first time in nearly two years. The country imposed some of the world’s strictest travel bans after shutting itself off in March 2020. However, Untitled Group co-founder Nicholas Greco tells IQ that market confidence has clearly taken a hit.

“Buying patterns have shifted dramatically”

“It feels like Covid is really behind us now but everyone is still cautiously navigating their way out and their path forward,” he says. “Buying patterns have shifted dramatically. We had become accustomed to seeing the majority of tickets being sold in the first few days of the campaign but that has been totally flipped and we’re seeing 30% of tickets sales in the week leading up to a show and even 10% in the last 24 hours. This makes planning quite difficult and very last minute.”

Melbourne spent longer under lockdown than any other city, totalling more than 250 days, before reopening in October 2021. Untitled’s first major post-lockdown event was Ability Fest – said to be the world’s first annual music festival aimed at normalising disability – organised with Australian paralympian Dylan Alcott, which raised more than £400,000 for the Dylan Alcott Foundation.

“We wanted to create an event where people of all abilities feel welcome to come and enjoy a music festival whilst raising money for his foundation to help those with disabilities,” explains Greco. “Dylan loved going to music festivals whilst he was growing up and spoke of how the first time he had felt included was at a music festival.

“However, we realised there are some barriers in order for those with disabilities to enjoy a music festival with ease so we implemented unique infrastructure and processes to cater for people of all abilities. We put in viewing platforms, flooring across the site for wheelchairs to get around, there’s a quiet area for people with sensory disabilities and Auslan interpreters sign the main stage.”

“We actually had a set up a postponement department which I am glad to say we have been able to retire now”

Untitled, whose co-founder Filippo Palermo was profiled for IQ‘s New Bosses 2020 series, moved its Beyond the Valley festival to an inner city location for 2021. The boutique event was renamed Beyond the City and was held over two days at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl in December 2021, with Beyond the Valley to return later this year.

“It really felt like the start of a proper recovery, with 30,000 people enjoying the event with a mostly domestic bill and Hayden James counting us into 2022 with fireworks in the cityscape background,” says Greco. “Pitch Music & Arts, which is our four-day electronic music and arts festival, was also very special as it was the last major festival to go ahead in March 2020 and then the first one back without any restrictions and full of internationals – it felt like a real bookend moment for us as our first camping festival back.”

The firm has a stadium tour with Glass Animals lined up for July, with its multi-city Grapevine Gathering festival set to return across five states in October. Despite the disruption, Greco reports the firm was able to use the break afforded by the pandemic to refocus its operations.

“It really allowed us to take a step back and work less within the business and start to work on growing the business,” he says. “For so long it felt like we were going from event to event and sometimes chasing our tail in certain areas but we were able to grow all of our internal departments like marketing, touring, site/event, customer service and HR and taking that time has allowed us to really hit the ground running coming out of the pandemic with a really strong team.

“Having such a big team also allowed us to be very agile across the ever changing landscape of the last few years. We did outdoor shows, reduced cap shows, looked at seating models, rerouted and postponed and I really feel it’s made us stronger as a business. We had so many shows in the market that were constantly moving that we actually had to set up a postponement department which I am glad to say we have been able to retire now.”

“In such a short period of time, we’ve been able to build a diverse roster of 75 artists”

Home to an international and domestic artist touring division, artist management roster and record label, Untitled recently branched out further with the launch of its in-house booking agency, Proxy.

“Proxy materialised very naturally during Covid, when our bookings roster merged with another agency’s roster, and we were able to sign a lot of both developing and established talent to put together a culturally relevant roster,” says Greco. “Our head agent Steel Hanf joined Untitled Group in 2019, and we knew that if the time came where it made sense for us to start a booking agency, we would have an experienced agent that could look after the talent.

“We come across so much amazing talent in our day-to-day of putting on shows, so it was a logical next step for Untitled Group and something that kept us extremely busy during Covid. In such a short period of time, we’ve been able to build a diverse roster of 75 artists, and many of those made up most of our slots across our summer events calendar.”

Wrapping up, Greco says he expects the rest of the year to be “rocky” for the business as a whole as it navigates the after-effects of the shutdown, allied to further complications such as rising inflation and the war in Ukraine.

“We want to continue to book diverse line-ups across our events that are in touch with what our audience is wanting to see,” he adds. “We are very aware of our responsibility as a company to continue to improve on our diversity and inclusion goals and our sustainability initiatives.

“A lot of our shows are expanding and growing which is very exciting but we need to make sure they continue to stand out and are unique when the market is very saturated.”

 


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