Sam Hunt, Paradigm Talent Agency
Brian Manning, CAA
Peter Pappalardo, AGI
Seth Seigle, WME
Moderated by Jamie Loeb, Nederlander Concerts
Loeb began the panel by posing the following question: How and why has the agent’s role mutated over the last 15 years?
Manning noted that when he started as an agent, industry roles were more compartmentalized and well-defined. Agents and promoters booked shows, lawyers worked on record deals, labels worked with artists to create and distribute music, and ticketing companies sold tickets. With the advanced development of the internet, all of those roles had to change and the lines became blurred. “Now we have to be a jack of all trades and have knowledge across publishing, sponsorship, endorsements, ticketing (both primary and secondary). It just gets more complicated by the day. If we’re not always learning more skills to sign, service, and retain our clients, then we’re not going to be around very long.”
Pappalardo agreed and added that with other income streams dwindling, touring cycles have extended to periods of 3-5 years depending on an artist’s need for funds. This means that agents have to be smarter, working international in addition to domestic markets and making sure that markets aren’t being burned out.
Hunt pointed out that there are more types of touring now. “How you tour on a hard ticket level is related to what kind of festival offer you can get, and all of that relates to what brand opportunities you get. All of that informs your metrics and overall profile. It’s an ongoing process, and a lot of that lands on our desks as agents. Departments have diversified and, among the agencies, it’s a bit of an arms race.”
Seigle acknowledged the arms race, but underscored the advantages of having diversified departments under one roof: “We have the luxury of building businesses on top of touring, allowing these cycles to keep going without the labels having to keep spending money.” When asked by Loeb about managing client expectations, Seigle stated that the key is to “staff up, accordingly and strategically, with people who can handle the needs of those clients. I don’t think we sign up for things that we can’t do.”
With all of the diversification and added abilities of full-service agencies, agents are finding themselves the nucleus of their company. Hunt observed that “part of my role can be understanding everyone else’s job, who does it best, and communicating the potential to the artist side.” Pappalardo contrasted boutique and full-service agency models by saying that AGI doesn’t get mired down in meeting the client’s expectations in a variety of areas and stays focused on excelling in the touring category. However, there are tradeoffs: “There was a story of two heads of agencies meeting. One agent was from a full-service agency, one was from a booking agency. The first said ‘Hey, I wish I could book a tour like you do and just dedicate my time to that.’ The other said ‘Well, I wish I had your roster.’ So it goes both ways.”
Loeb brought up another difference between agency models: territorial systems versus RA systems. She reasoned, “The argument for territories is that territorial agents are able to build relationships with promoters and buildings in their region and know the traffic. The argument against it is that an RA knows their artist’s vision, quirks, intricacies, and have more control over the tour from this week to the next.”
The system at CAA incorporates elements from each approach. Manning attributed this to a competitive market: “We have territorial agents who service geographies and colleges and festivals. We have those who service national and global touring. Ultimately, we have to do all of these things not because we like having overhead or bodies in our buildings, but because our clients have demanded that we evolve.” The agency’s versatility permits artists to tailor their career to their desires. To enable them, “we hire and retain the best people, even if they don’t book shows. We’re bringing in as many talented people as we can to service our clients in a myriad of different ways because we simply think we have to have the best people to retain clients.”
Seigle touted the territorial system’s ability to have experts in certain fields but pointed to the need for flexibility as well. “I’m an RA and a territorial agent. I call out of territory to make sure that the needs of the clients are met, check on the show, and make sure the deal is in a healthy place while relying on territorials for insight.”
Pappalardo argued that the voluminous rosters of large agencies necessitate a territorial system to keep up with the varied needs of their clients. However, AGI maintains a smaller roster with agents working on a more comprehensive basis with their artists. “AGI, founded over 35 years ago, was originally called QBQ – Quality Before Quantity. We prefer not to sign too many clients and try to service them on a high level. Neither model is better.”
Manning offered, “None of us sign and retain clients by not having a personal relationship. To suggest in any way that we sign then hand off to a territorial agent never to be seen again is a complete fallacy.”
Data & Analytics
Loeb asked, “What data do you guys pay attention to, how do you interpret it, and how much weight does it hold?” Seigle began, “I think that for every data point that establishes one point of information, there is a corresponding one that completely refutes it. As a buyer, you have to sift through that and know that just because [an arist] has 50 million streams of a song on Spotify doesn’t mean they should be headlining your festival.” As an agent, part of his job is to prove an artist’s worth to buyers, he observed, “It’s easy to get mired in some sort of data, but I think ultimately, it’s music. That’s as important of a sales pitch as anything.”
In her marketing work with Nederlander, Loeb has seen many data-based artist pitches: “’My artist has 5 million YouTube views and 500,000 followers.’ As the marketing department, we have to crunch it and ask ‘How many of those are in the geo region that we’re trying to book the show?’ and dig, dig, dig. At that point, do we just say ‘all tools be damned’ and just go back to our gut?” “Agents, we’ll use those points to make you guys pay us more money all of the time,” Pappalardo quipped before offering, “Digital stuff is probably more important in the festival world where they’re looking to be on the cutting edge and brand their festivals. I don’t think those data points matter quite as much on a traditional tour.” His experience has been that views on YouTube don’t necessarily translate and matter in hard tickets. He continued, “The social media stuff is more of a marketing thing. It gives you guys an idea of where to go to find their fans.” Nederlander sells out clubs with artists who are known exclusively from YouTube. When asked about repeat business, Loeb responded, “If they can’t back it up with a good live show, then it’s going nowhere the second time around.
For Manning, the more interesting use of data is in ticketing. Citing the investment in innovation by Ticketmaster, AXS, and others, he noted, “We’re getting scaling back from settlements with 10, 30, 40 ticket types. This is a completely different universe we’re in now. Having all of that data to help us price better, to create different offerings and sell them better – to me that’s a much more impactful usage of data. Any of us who continue to book by instinct, in terms of feel for what the market does, will do so at our peril.”
Loeb mentioned that Pappalardo has one point of data that he uses quite regularly – his 13-year-old daughter, who has introduced him to 15+ acts so far. “It’s such a fast-moving thing. She’s in and out of bands and artists within a week.” This doesn’t surprise Hunt, who cited the difficulty of booking a festival 13-14 months out when consumer tastes shifting so rapidly: “I suppose that’s why the most powerful people in the entire music industry are the 13-year-old children of festival buyers.”