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The Agency Business 2018

The Agency Business 2018

Chair: Rob Challice, Coda Agency (UK)

Guest speakers:
Greg Lowe, UTA (UK)
Bex Majors, UTA (UK)
Scott Mantell, ICM (US)
Russell Warby, WME (UK)

Global deals, the balance of power between agent and festival, and the Americanisation of the agency world were among the topics discussed at ILMC’s traditional Friday-afternoon agency panel.

Chair Rob Challice of Coda Agency – itself part of Paradigm Group – opened by asking about agreements for global representation, which are increasingly ubiquitous in a modern live music business characterised by “much more touring and a buoyant festival market,” according to WME’s Russell Warby.

Warby went on to say that the “ideal thing [for an agency] is to represent an artist globally,” with UTA’s Bex Majors (standing in for an ill Summer Marshall of CAA) saying she has clients “whose managers don’t particularly care [which agent] books, say, Australia or Japan, as long as the deal gets done.”

She cautioned, however, that it’s easy to get “off-kilter on strategy” with multiple agents booking the same tour, so it’s “important that you think globally from early on.”

Speaking about a different kind of global deal, ICM Partners’ Mantell described how exclusive deals with major promoters such as Live Nation and AEG are becoming more frequent. “We do a lot of this kind of work with Live Nation,” he explained, adding that offers from promoters for exclusive agreements have “become more aggressive” in recent years.

Majors said the suitability of global deals have to be assessed on a “case-by-case, artist-dependent” basis. “I work a lot in the rock/metal/alternative world, and a deal that fits those artists isn’t going to be the same as one that fits an urban artist,” she explained.

“I like to keep my artists with independent promoters and venues for as long as possible,” she added. “Local knowledge can be invaluable. With respect, an AEG or Live Nation isn’t fully invested: they’re not going to do a better job [than a local promoter] in a 300-cap regional venue.”

Mantell countered that “a lot of Live Nation guys get in very early, and it sometimes helps to have that financial clout”. However, said Majors, “it’s not just financial – it’s about local knowledge.”

UTA’s Greg Lowe said there is a “legitimate concern among the agent community” that the growing number of global deals could lead to “homogeneity, with a smaller pool of artists. There is an increasing trend, with maybe 5­–10% of the market that appears to have been ‘picked’ by AEG or Live Nation, so who is the arbiter of taste here? The agent or the promoter? Where’s the power?”

While Warby said the consumer makes the choice on who to see, Lowe said it’s not as simple as that when “we live in a country [the UK] where 25% of festivals are owned by the same company [Live Nation]. It’s boom time for agents now, but where will we be in another ten years?”

"The ‘battle of the bills’ – with artists, managers and agents battling over where their artists should appear – is just crazy now”

Is it actually boom time, asked Challice, or are we all just busier than ever? “You’re always on the clock,” said Warby, while Ward decried the “sheer volume of emails and calls and aspects of the deal. There’s social media managers, radio, all these people signing off on eight different versions of artwork – it’s no longer a plug-and-play process.”

Sticking with festivals, Warby said that “for a lot of artists now, festival touring is touring. The ‘battle of the bills’ – with artists, managers and agents battling over where their artists should appear – is just crazy now.”

Challice described how he’s heard of agents reducing their standard 10% fee to as low as “8%, or even 7%” in order to ensure pride of place for their artists, reflecting increased “pressure” on bookers to push clients further up festival bills.

Referencing UK band The Sherlocks apparently photoshopping the Y Not festival line-up to make themselves appear higher on the bill, Ward added that he “just loved The Sherlocks putting themselves where the think they should be.” “And how many people now know who they are?” replied Majors. “It worked!”

In response to Challice asking if alphabetical billing could be the answer, Lowe said: “Not when you represent an artist called Underworld!”