#IEBA2018 Recap: Agents Power Panel


Samantha Kirby Yoh, WME

Corrie Christopher Martin, Paradigm Talent Agency

Cheryl Paglierani, United Talent Agency

Allison McGregor, Creative Artists Agency


Moderated by Ali Harnell, AEG Presents


At our annual chat with some of the industry’s most influential players, IEBA’s Agents Power Panel tackled topics of workplace diversity (or the lack thereof), developing new artists, tour promoter deals, and perhaps most importantly – a continuing passion for music and the artists who create it.


Commitment to Diversity in the Workplace

Harnell began the discussion by citing some facts about equality of representation for women in the music industry. Billboard’s Power 100 list for 2018 was 17% female and only 10% female in 2017. Of all individuals nominated for Grammy awards over the last six years, only 9% were female. “How do we create change,” she asked. “How are you dealing with it for yourselves, and what are we doing as female leaders in the industry to address this?”


Kirby Yoh was the first to field the question. She placed prime importance on having more women in music industry jobs and called for more education on the opportunities that are available. Giving organizations like Girls Behind the Rock Show and Women’s Audio Mission as examples, she believes that mentorship and hands-on experience can be key. “We need more females and people from difference social and economic backgrounds to know about the opportunities to work in the music industry. And we need mentorship to keep them on the path.”


Resources are being assembled so that artists and companies have a wealth of candidates to choose from when staffing tours. “We are already working on databases that show females that are tour managers, lighting engineers, promoters, agents, everything,” noted Kirby Yoh. “Having diversity in the room or on the tour bus can make for a safer and more creative environment.”


Christopher Martin pointed out, “This might be the first time that agencies are actually working together on resources. This tool kit started with Stacy Smith. I think that all of the agencies are trying to add to it, to make sure that females are getting shots at these gigs.”


McGregor weighed in: “It should be the best person for the job – male, female, whoever. There are amazing women out there who do all of these jobs.”


An important part of attracting a diverse workforce is creating a supportive environment where any employee can thrive. Christopher Martin shared that her experience at Paradigm has been very positive in that respect. “Make sure you are providing a safe work environment where all people feel safe and have room for upward mobility. People need to know that the company will help them grow. I feel very fortunate to work at an agency that does so.”


Christopher Martin also brought up the challenges of work-life balance. “When you’re trying to raise children, it’s not easy to do at all. With a supportive team, you absolutely can. It’s not without sacrifices on both sides but I think anything, that is really worth it, usually has some sacrifices.”


Commitment to Passion

Christopher Martin has adjusted her business approach to allow time for more creative pursuits. “I don’t actually sign a lot of artists these days. I want to do all of these other things because it feeds me and also to cut through the noise. To have an artist actually reach an arena level takes an all-hands-on-deck approach.”


Harnell mentioned her recent move from regional head at AEG to the Global Touring division and stated that the move allowed her to follow her creative passions as well. “I got to a point where I really wanted to be involved. There were artists that I was just madly in love with, artists that I wanted to help. You can’t do that when you’re spread thin. I want to invest my time, expertise, and relationships into the acts that I’m really passionate about.”


When asked how she determines whether to sign an act, Christopher Martin insisted on feeling passionate and seeing a concrete plan for the artist. “I have to be able to envision the path to get to the larger size rooms and great festival spots.”


McGregor felt the same and added, “I have to be really engaged. I have to feel like I’m an important part of that team. If I don’t feel like I can actually contribute something and be part of what the end goal is, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.”


“I also sense a feeling of responsibility,” added Paglierani. “Whatever the artist is putting out there facing the world – I want it to be positive. I want there to be a message. I want it to be important.”


Harnell polled the panelists to see which data sources they use as guideposts for decision making. Christopher Martin learned from experience to trust her ears above all data. “I’ve signed things for the wrong reason – perhaps the numbers on Spotify were insane and I liked it…but now I just have to FEEL it. Usually by the time any numbers are happening, everyone else is also aware of it and it’s almost too late then.” She also noted that she wouldn’t have signed Imagine Dragons or Rise Against if she went by numbers alone.


For Paglierani, it’s important to find an artist with a unique offering. “I met one of my clients, SAINt JHN, before he put any music out. We sat in the car and he played it for me and I said ‘I really want to do this.’ I like to be able to go to promoters with something that they have never seen or heard before.”


Commitment to Developing New Artists

Citing her strategies for new client Rosalia, Kirby Yoh emphasized the importance of growing organically and authentically for artists still in the developmental stage. She has closely monitored the reception of Rosalia in her starter markets like Madrid, Miami, L.A., and Houston. “The dedicated people reading blogs and being tastemakers in their towns are the targets…they’re going to be the one at the shows if we put them in the right club. Then they will tell their 20 friends…it’s a whole pattern.”


Christopher Martin underscored the importance of being in touch with the tastes and habits of younger listeners. “I’m not consuming music the way young people at our company do,” she stated. “I definitely turn to them as a resource. I will play things for them to get their vibe on it. And I will listen when THEY come to me and say ‘You’ve got to check this out.’”


“I think a lot of [the success of a developing act] has to do with timing,” noted Paglierani. “For Post Malone’s first club tour we routed it perfectly, but the album release got pushed back and we ended up having to cancel some of the shows.” After gaining more experience, the right adjustments were made. “The next time around, we did it right. Everything was timed perfectly after the album was announced and it blew up on the sale.”


Commitment to Choosing the Right Partner

Harnell turned the conversation to tour promoters and asked the panelists what they are looking for when deciding to choose a promoter. Kirby Yoh believes that a promoter’s connection to the marketplace can be the deciding factor when money is relatively even. “It’s about being a marketing partner and amplifying it on all levels,” she noted. “How can we increase the awareness of the music, its message, and the fact that they’re coming to town?” McGregor agreed, adding “You want to know that they are not just renting the band for the night, that they are really committed to its success and hopefully the next tour and the tour after that.”


“Don’t just take the biggest check,” warned Paglierani. “I map it all out and I know which venues I want to play. I know the ticket prices. Then I figure out who the right partner is – is it better to go locally or is there a tour promoter that makes sense?”


Christopher Martin underscored the importance of coordination between all touring partners. “It’s really about utilizing all of the resources that these companies have. Get with the marketing team of the label when you’re about to launch a record and pull in the tour promoter’s marketing team with them and map it all out together so you don’t have a misfire on the timing.”