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U.K. AGENTS:
STILL GOT LIVE
IF YOU WANT IT


AGENTS BREAK DOWN A TRANSFORMED BUSINESS

Moderated by Rhian Jones

It’s no secret that playing live is often the financial bedrock of an artist’s career in 2019, and agents are the ones who dictate earning power on the road. British reps are often working an artist for Europe as well as Asia, Australia and Africa, bringing in a sizable amount of ticket sales. So what’s going on in the U.K. agent world? Where are the challenges and changes, and who are the hot new acts that we should have our eye on next?

Here, we chat with a number of key players to find out their perspectives on a number of big-picture issues. Participants are Paul Wilson from CAA (Sam Fender, Dermot Kennedy), Ryan Penty (Lewis Capaldi) and Natasha Bent (IDLES) at Paradigm, Matt Bates of Primary Talent (The 1975), WME’s David Bradley (Dua Lipa) and Jules de Lattre from UTA’s U.K. Music Leadership team (Christine and the Queens).

Paul and Ryan, Lewis Capaldi and Sam Fender are two acts who have both reached arena level before releasing a debut album this year. Is that part of a wider trend, or are they anomalies?
Paul Wilson: I think it’s part of a wider trend. Streaming is changing how live artists develop, and it’s taking a little bit longer. Two or three years ago, everyone was saying it’s very difficult for new artists to break through, and I think to some extent that’s true, but it’s meant that people had to learn how to build a story online rather than going straight to BBC Radio 1 and press. That allows artists to get really good, and people are getting more and more excited about these new artists, and with social media, the message is spreading really quickly. Put them in the right place at the right time, and suddenly you can sell lots of tickets very quickly. The trick is to be careful not to play venues that feel too big for the artist at that stage of their career.

Ryan Penty: Personally, I think they are anomalies. They’re just two very talented, very likeable individuals who connect with the public. There’s a lot of similar acts who can have millions and millions of streams but not connect on tickets, or could sell quite a few tickets and not connect on streams or on social media because they don’t have the kind of personality that Lewis or Sam do. I don’t think there’s a trend there, but I hope there is—it’d be nice!

What are the biggest changes or developments that you’ve seen in the live-music market in recent years?
Jules de Lattre: The explosion of music consumption on streaming platforms has created ample opportunities for the live sector, which has kept growing consistently for the last 10-15 years. It feels like the pace of that growth has accelerated in the last 18 months. Live is in an extraordinarily healthy state, from small-club-level acts all the way to arenas and stadiums.

Wilson: Before, it used to be about getting some music on the radio, getting some press and then working out how that’s going to sell you tickets. Now, there are lots of other things. Streaming works for some artists. Dermot Kennedy, for example, was getting big streaming numbers in countries around the world, and we would go and do shows and he would sell lots of tickets. But you can have big streaming numbers and think, OK, that will sell you lots of tickets, but for some artists it won’t do that. There are lots of different ways for people to discover artists, and it’s our job to try and figure out which ones work and can translate into audiences in different territories.

Penty: I think it’s definitely harder to break new acts through live. Before, you could tour and tour, and pick up fans on the road. But if your music’s not connecting, people are so much more fickle these days; everything the kids who are now grown up have ever known is instant. So you have to be braver and wait and pick your moment, and be a lot more wise about that. The best bit of advice somebody ever told me was, “You can only blow your load once.” There’s probably a nicer way of saying it, but that really sticks in my head, because once it’s out there these days, it’s done—you can’t bring it back. So it has to be something really special, and it has to be the right moment. Everything has to be so calculated, because if it’s not good enough, there’s a hundred thousand other things that people can go and listen to.

Natasha Bent: There are so many more festivals than ever before, and a lot of them are struggling because of that. They’re struggling to get lineups on their budgets, because the fee for a band that we used to ask for £10k for has tripled in the past couple of years. I think we have a responsibility as an industry and as agents to not kill the venues, promoters and the festivals. But it’s a tough balance.

Matt Bates: The biggest difference I’ve found with live is how it leads campaigns. Ten years ago, I’d go to a planning meeting, and the label would go, “The album is going to come out in November; we need a tour around it to support it,” and I’d book a tour. Now, it’s a case of, “What are the big live looks going to be so we know when to put the album out?” The album used to be the start of the campaign, and you could tour it for the next 18 months afterwards as it grew. Now, the album is almost the end of the campaign—once it’s out, there are no more songs to work because streaming services have got everything. So you are going to find that campaigns are a lot shorter. A band could have a big album and tour it for the next two to two and a half years solidly; that luxury has gone. They now have to be a lot more creative and a lot more prolific with their output. To be relevant and survive, I think bands are going to have to be putting out new music virtually every year, especially as they grow and establish who they are in the marketplace for the first five or 10 years.

David Bradley: Consolidation in the live sector continues to accelerate. Superstruct, Eventim, Live Nation, AEG and recently TEG are all continuing to acquire promoters and festivals. As a result, the way deals are cut is changing, earn-out agreements and global tour offers are now fairly common. The main benefit to artists is that such deals often include huge advances on future earnings. Consolidation does, however, mean fewer choices for artists. Many independent promoters are feeling the squeeze, but exclusive touring arrangements aren’t always the right thing for an artist, so there will always be a need for great independent companies.

What are the biggest challenges about working with British music today?
Wilson: I think British music is great; it travels and it always has. But in Europe, we are now seeing the development of lots of French artists doing well in France and lots of German artists doing well in Germany, so it’s a little bit more competitive.

We now live in a festival world, which can help with developing artists, but in some ways it’s a hindrance too, because a lot of people go to festivals rather than buy tickets for clubs and shows. Festivals are great when people know who you are, but in order to get those festival spots that make sense, you’ve got to build your own audience. The label wants you to play every festival and do every show going, and sometimes it’s not the right show for the right artist at the right time. And if you’re playing a festival, it’s about trying to work out what the right stage and the right time to play in order to make the most of that opportunity and build your audience. So instead of automatically playing the maximum number of festivals in a territory, it’s about being careful and playing the right spots.

Penty: I tend to not take on that many British acts and to be very specific about the ones I do, because breaking a British act is super-difficult these days. If you’ve got an American act, by the time they are ready to come over and tour the U.K. and Europe, they are at a certain level of touring and can afford to come over. With a British act, nine times out of 10, you’ll start from zero. Even though things break through streaming, there’s still lots of pressure from management and the labels to get support slots, tours and festivals.

The festivals are desirable because you’re on that poster and it’s a good look when you announce it, but sometimes that look of being on the festival is more important than the actual slot. If it’s a new band, quite often you’re going to be playing to just the agent and the manager and a handful of people in a field rather than it being a massive crowd. So it’s a balancing act of how early you pitch for festivals and whether the benefits of being on the poster are going to outweigh what happens when you get there. It ties into what I was saying earlier about having to be brave and hold off for the right time and push back on some of these things until you’re ready, because the build is a lot longer nowadays.

Bent: With social media and the internet, there are now thousands more bands able to get out there and have a voice, so from an artist perspective, it’s the challenge of being heard. The challenge from an agent’s point of view is having the confidence in your band that they are going to have a long-term career, and growing them as if they’re going to be around for however long they want. You see a lot of pop acts get big very quickly. So the question is, do you do as much as you can, get all the festivals, all the money and all the touring, with the idea that they might not be around three or four albums in? With acts like IDLES, I’m building a long-term strategy.

de Lattre: DSP providers are largely influenced by U.S.-based artists owing to the nature of the playlist content they support, which is making it harder for British artists to cut through internationally.

Bates: You’re asking a very British person that question, so I can tell you that this is the best country for music—and the best industry for music—in the world. Beyond that, Brexit could make our jobs far more complicated down the line. Freedom of travel is going to be the one that could make our lives very difficult. If an artist suddenly needs a visa to go across each different country in Europe with their gear and freight, and if all that has to go through checks at every border, touring could suddenly become a lot more costly and time-consuming. We route a tour knowing we can get from Hamburg to Stockholm in x amount of time, but if we’ve got to think, what if the truck gets stopped at the border and we’re stuck here for 12 hours, we need to lay out a contingency. We’re going to have to find completely new ways of touring and navigating potential problems.

Bradley: With British artists, there’s a danger of breaking domestically and failing to connect overseas. The most successful artists can tour anywhere in the world, and that’s often due to an investment in international touring early in their careers. Agents need to have a global outlook when planning any campaign. We’re now placing as much emphasis on the touring plot for Australia, Asia, Latin America and Continental Europe as we might have previously for the U.K. and the U.S. Streaming has made it easier for artists to reach their audiences anywhere in the world; it’s important to follow up on that with a solid touring plan.

How about the best or the most exciting thing about working with British music?
Wilson: Seeing someone like Sam Fender go from playing three nights at Omeara to a thousand people to 10k tickets at Brixton Academy in what feels like a couple of months. Britain has a very healthy live scene; people like live music and coming to shows. Also, in the last year, Sam Fender has been all over Europe, to Japan, Australia and America, and he’s having the same kind of reaction everywhere. You can go to a territory where you’ve not necessarily had any radio or press, but people understand who this artist is and what sort of experience you get live, because they’ve heard about it from other people on social media. The U.K. is very good at developing these interesting artists who are not necessarily all doing the same kind of music but are plowing their own way through.

Bent: I’ve been in this industry for 17 years now, and it feels like it used to be. Whether that’s because it’s cyclical in music and now is the time for guitar bands, or because of the fact it’s a really volatile world that we’re in and people like real messaging and a real voice for what they feel and what they want to say. IDLES handle that responsibility beautifully and with respect. I think the industry has now been convinced, or reconvinced, that it’s a strong time for guitar bands, and that’s opened up great opportunities. It feels like a great time for British music generally.

I was having a laugh while looking through my past Facebook posts, where I was going, ‘Oh, come on Mercurys, there’s too many major label acts and not enough meaning,” but look at all the nominations this year, from Little Simz to black midi and Fontaines D.C. to Dave. It’s an exciting time. It’s tough to be heard with online and socials, but at the same time, the power is very much back in the hands of the artist and the fans, and that’s brilliant.

de Lattre: The U.K. has produced significant international breakthrough artists over the years, and there are no signs of things slowing down. The U.K. market is still a dominant tastemaker that others look up to.

What are the biggest changes in the role of an agent that you’ve seen over the last few years?
Wilson: It’s a lot more complicated than it was before. A long time ago, people would put records out, sell lots of records and you’d go, “OK, there’s an audience for this; let’s go and do some live shows.” Now it’s working out who the audience is, and how they are going to get the messaging in terms of marketing and social media. Ticketing is getting very complicated; you’re having to deal with all sorts of issues like secondary, and you’re having to deal with festivals and how to work out festival strategy. There are fewer local independent promoters and there are more big mainstream promoters, so there’s a lot more politics involved at that level.

But the music’s the same, and whether an artist is great onstage is still the same. Particularly with younger artists, I just go, “OK, all this other stuff, that’s great, but ultimately let’s do great shows and sell them out, and then let’s play the next shows and sell them out. Let’s just make sure that everything we do is really exciting and the audience has a fantastic time, and enjoy it.” There is a lot of pressure on young artists, particularly when they’re having a lot of success early, so sometimes it’s about trying to keep control of that as well.

Bent: Perhaps now, because live is so important, our advice and strategy on a campaign or an artist’s career is that much more important. We have to bring our opinions and ideas to the table in a way that’s stronger and more comprehensive. At Paradigm, because we are coded in with the global company and our branding department and corporate department, everything around our act’s live side is growing. We also have an alliance with ITG, which is one of the biggest independent talent agencies for artists who are interested in voiceover or film scoring. So it’s about coordinating a lot more avenues and strategies and opinions for our bands. The workload has increased a lot, because it’s ever-present and global, so you’re almost working 24/7.

de Lattre: Tomorrow’s agents will need deep knowledge of and expertise in many more areas than touring: understanding of branding, music supervision, social media, DSPs, tour marketing, sync, film & TV and a general understanding of the media landscape will be key.

Bates: I like to think we are becoming far more important, because the live business is far more important to the artists. To be a good agent, you have to really enjoy it, because it’s every second of the day now; we have so many artists we look after compared to what it was 15 years ago. Because the emerging markets are exploding, there are so many more markets in the world where you are touring. So your phone will ring all through the night, you’ll finally fall asleep, wake up at 6am, look at your phone and groan because there are 200 new emails from that little bit of sleep you just got!

The world has become more complicated too. You have to develop a greater knowledge of the world, and quickly, and that’s only going to increase as different markets grow their live businesses. Thanks to streaming and the internet, you can now break a market without having a record label there or selling records there. I have bands that have literally sold what looks like 40 records in a country, to then go to that country and play to 40k people. How does that happen? It’s amazing but terrifying at the same time.

Tell us about the new acts you’re excited about.
Penty: There’s a singer/songwriter called Delilah Montague, who is signed to Columbia and is supporting Alec Benjamin in November. She’s incredible live. Every act that I look at has to be incredible live for me to appreciate them, because everything else that comes with it you can manipulate and manufacture. Your social-media feed is just a highlights reel, and you can make it look however you want, but live is the thing where you’re stripped bare and vulnerable. If you deliver there, that’s the mark of a true artist, and Delilah has absolutely got it.

Bent: I’ve just started working with Alex Hardee on Kacey Musgraves, and I can’t believe I’m saying that. It’s going to be really exciting to work with her in Europe. I’ve worked with Cage the Elephant for over 10 years, and again, it’s that ethos of long-term building. They’re headlining festivals in the States and we’re going to work at mirroring that here. I’ve worked with Unknown Mortal Orchestra for 10 years, and we sold out the Roundhouse and Royal Albert Hall on the last campaign, so I’m really excited for what’s to come with them. And Do Nothing is a really new band that’s been referenced in the same lane as LCD Soundsystem.

Bates: I do a band called Sports Team, who have just played the 2.3k-capacity Forum in London, and they’ve only released three singles. It’s very exciting that it’s moved so quickly into such big rooms. I think there are fewer true rock & roll frontmen every year; music is getting a lot safer. You’ve got someone like Matty Healy from The 1975, who is a phenomenal frontman and spokesman for his generation, but there are not many of them around. Alex from Sports Team is a different kettle of fish. He is a gobby shite! When people watch him, they either love or hate him, and that is when you know you’ve got a great band. I remember watching them at SXSW with some Australian promoters, and half of them were like, “Oh my God, that’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in 20 years of coming to SXSW,” and within the space of two minutes, another one turned to me and said, “I think that’s literally the worst thing I’ve ever seen at SXSW.” I thought that was brilliant; I don’t normally get that kind of yin and yang of comments. I absolutely love Alfie Templeman, who is signed to Chess Club; he’s only 16, but he’s phenomenal. I do quite a lot of acts with Dirty Hit, who have got some amazing artists coming through, in particular Beabadoobee; her streaming numbers and the reaction she’s getting are phenomenal.

Wilson: Dermot Kennedy is similar to Sam Fender. He’s been under the radar [despite] big streaming numbers, but now he’s being discovered by radio and the press, he’s having hit songs and starting to sell lots of tickets. So after a couple of years of developing, he’s about to go to the next level. He’s already playing arenas in Ireland, and he’s going to be playing arenas everywhere else.

I think Mahalia is a fantastic new artist too. It’s been a long development process for her, but she’s a very exciting, natural, charismatic performer, and we’re starting to sell thousands of tickets. She’s just sold out the Roundhouse, and she’s about to go to Brixton Academy. I think she’s got a very exciting future.

Bradley: Griff is a new artist I’m very excited about. She signed with Warner and started to release music earlier this summer. Everyone on her team feels she has the potential to be a huge global star. Kim Petras sold out her debut European tour in minutes, and we also had to upgrade her U.S. and Australasian tours. She’s one of the hottest prospects on our roster going into 2020. Hyyts are really special. They’re making big pop tunes with a bit of punk edge. They’re so much fun live, I can’t wait to see what they’ll do when we get them on some bigger stages. Greta Van Fleet have had an explosive year; they’ve gone from playing clubs and opening festivals to doing arena business in little over a year. The band sold 15k tickets in Bologna this summer, and people thought we were nuts when we put that show on sale. Gang of Youths are set to come back with a huge record next year; David Le’aupepe is a gifted songwriter and world-class performer.

de Lattre: I’m super-excited about Arlo Parks, a 19-year-old poet/singer from London. A totally unique and brilliant advocate of honest and sincere confessional pop.

 

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