Life after your star act
Host: Anna Grace, IQ Magazine / ILMC (UK)
Panellists: Mark Bennett, MBA Live (UK) | Barnaby Harrod, Mercury Wheels @ Live Nation (ES) | Geoff Meall, Paradigm Talent Agency (UK) | Dan Silver, Value Added Talent (UK)
The premise of this session was to talk to industry professionals about the fallout after losing a significant client, and the lessons learned from such experiences.
“It definitely hurts, but there’s also something to learn from each act you lose – the bottom line is that we all make mistakes and nobody is infallible,” said Meall. Bennett told the room, “The first act you lose definitely hurts the most. For me it was SG Lewis and I did not handle it well – I’d put a lot of work into learning about his world. But then, last year I lost my entire roster, so I can now definitely put things into perspective.”
Recounting when he lost Depeche Mode, Silver said, “I’d taken them from nothing to 60,000 tickets in the Pasadena Rose Bowl, and I’d put my heart and soul into it, so that really hurt. But the nature of this business is that there are always others who promise to do a better and cheaper job for the act. But you find an inner resource and you end up thinking, ‘I’ll show you, you bastards!’”
Silver recalled that in his younger days he’d also lost a couple of acts to agents working for the same company as him and that became a catalyst to form his own agency in 1983.
The panel’s sole promoter, Harrod, had his own tales of woe, and spoke about his early days of working with Moby when he was playing to 2,000-cap venues. “He was vegan, so I decided to ask the local Hare Krishnas to do the tour catering. Moby loved it, but when the next tour was announced, we were not involved and that taught me that I need to professionalise the company.”
The agents agreed that often they can take on an act too early, which can lead to them being fired, while a change in artist management commonly leads to wholesale changes as well, if the new manager has existing relationships with other agents or agencies. “You can also, quite rightly, get fired for fucking things up,” said Meall. “Us agents do sometimes get things wrong and I’ve been fired a number of times because I deserved it.”
Silver also told the tale of client Vince Clark, who left The Assembly to form a new band, Erasure, and decided to go with a different agent. “It’s highly unusual, but give him his due, Vince called me up to say he’d made a mistake and I took him back. Actually it’s the only example I have of an act admitting they’d got it wrong.” He added, “Losing acts is just part and parcel of what we do – the business now is really predatory – it’s a million miles removed from what it used to be… as an independent, it’s really tough to compete with the big agencies, but it’s a test of your skills to see how creative you can be.”
Acknowledging the predatory nature of the agency world, Meall nevertheless said the business in London is more amicable than in North America. “Here, agents are friends with agents at other companies. I’m not sure that exists in the United States.” With pressure being a key element in the industry, Harrod said he had started meditating when he went through a rough patch a few years ago, while Silver revealed he goes for a walk when he’s struggling with a business problem.
Bennett concluded, “In the last couple of years, the conversation about mental health has opened up, so we are making progress, but it’s sad that people are feeling that they have to leave the business because of the toll that pressure is taking on them.”