Jbeau Lewis, Jay Williams, Ali Harnell, Craig Newman, Matt Galle, and Mario Tirado pull back the curtain on the music agent world in 2016 at the IEBA conference in Nashville. (VT Photo)

REPORTING FROM NASHVILLE — With the music business still adjusting to the new paradigm after the mass adoption of file sharing and music streaming, often for free, new revenue streams had to be uncovered. Touring quickly became king. But, according to many of the panelists on the ‘Agents Power Panel’ at the IEBA conference, Nashville, Oct. 9-11, touring is not enough. Today’s artists want scale.

“Touring brings the money,” said Ali Harnell, AEG live. “It’s the major part of the revenue for most artists today. But our job is to get our artists the most revenue and these days even touring isn’t enough.”

According to Harnell, what the artists want is multipurpose agencies that offer them flexibility and opportunity.

“There’s a lot of pressure these days to be a rounded agency that can deliver all sorts of options to the client,” said Mario Tirado, CAA. “The talent wants more than just a tour deal. They want TV, book deals, radio and sponsorships.”

All the agents agreed that in today’s climate, often the artist is still just waiting around for the touring deal. “The impact of touring deals can not be underestimated,” said Lewis. “The tour deal is a prevalent piece of the business. But it’s getting trickier. Club and theater deals are creeping into business. Agents must look out for artists and put the artists in right rooms, in the right cities.”

“It’s never fun to do the tour deal,” said Tirado. “A lot of it is out of our hands and 100% up to management. There are so many companies out there, some little mom and pop shops, most big conglomerates. It’s often a balancing act to move between them. I hate it when I have to move from independent promoter to huge company. We need more independents.”

“Private equity firms have taken over most of the big agencies,” said Harnell. “There is a huge emphasis on non-negotiable profit. This makes it harder to break a new act. Twenty-five years ago I could lose money on an act if I thought it was a stepping stone for them. Now, if it’s not making money it doesn’t happen. There is no time for artists to develop. Real estate is driving the tour deal. It’s harder out there for the mom and pops.”

“More independent promoters are getting gobbled up by the big agencies,” said Jay Williams, WME. “It’s become a venue play. Amphitheaters make money. There are several loyalties at play. Loyalty from agent to promoter, loyalty from artist to manager. These all have to be taken into account.”

“Filling the gaps is the natural evolution for agents,” said Matt Galle, Paradigm.“We need to look past just a tour, and worrying about the tour deal. We need to fill the artist's schedule. Everything connects. There could be an artist that is known for touring, and we can turn them into TV talent. It’s super important to interconnect everything.”

“It’s very important to use all departments of the agency,” said Tirado. “The artists like to work and we want their calendar filled up. Artists used to make new records, then they wanted to wait around for the tour deal. Now they want something else to do. They need income. No one waits around for the tour deals, not anymore. They want to work, even in a different arena.”

“Everything the artists want done, we need to do,” said Jbeau Lewis, UTA. “Record labels used to be at the center of the artist's world, now we are. Digital, theater, books, all of them are equally important and fill the voids.”

“Tear down the walls between departments,” said Williams. “Know your client and their goals. Don’t think they can only do one thing. Navigate all the areas. If you have an act that tours, see if they can do TV. If they do TV, see if they can tour. It’s a 360 business now. And in the end, all of  these things have an impact on ticket sales.”

“Doing a show like ‘Dancing With The Stars’ brings offers,” said Craig Newman, APA.  “We all need to be that somebody who is trying to develop new entertainment from other departments. I look to see if I can create a tour from someone in books, or TV.”

“Celebrity Chef Rob Irvine comes to mind,” recalled Newman. “I saw him and thought this guy would make a great live show. So I called the head of his department, said ‘let’s do a live tour.’” They presented the idea to Chef Rob and he loved it. The tour started a few months later. It’s been a huge success and we’ve been running him on the road for the last four to five years. We change it up every year so the fans will want to see him time after time. This is a total win/win. We created a new revenue stream for Chef Rob, he’s thrilled, and we’re keeping a client happy and busy.”

“No matter what the artists want, whether it’s to write a book or produce reality TV or something else out of their normal conversation, we want to have a department that can handle it. Crossover is imperative,” said Williams.

“And remember, YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, Facebook, all of them are just another outlet,” said Galle. “We ultimately have to guide the client toward what is best for them. We’re the professionals, we should know what will work and what won’t. But we should not be afraid to take a chance.”

Harnell stressed that it’s crucial to understand what the client can achieve and not push or allow the client to take on a skill set he or she doesn’t really have. “Social media can create huge followings,” said Harnell. “But the question is, ‘how do we translate that following to ticket sales?’ Someone may have 2 million followers but can’t sell 200 tickets. Engagement of the online fan is one thing; we need to get that fan to buy music or  go to a show. New rosters need love. Only take on what you really believe in. Don’t take on too much.”

“Utilizing what’s going on is important,” said Newman. “In the casino world, for instance, we usually book rock and country and it works really well. But I’ll tell a casino, ‘let’s explore a game show, a celebrity speaker, a chef. Maybe there’s a segment that hasn’t visited your property that will bring you business. Changing the show is also really important. No one wants to see a stale show. Change the show every year.”

“The more conversation we can create in any media is what we want,” said Lewis. “A PBS special will guarantee 200 tickets sold. Utilize TV as a staple.”

Tirado said shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Nashville,” “American Idol” and live game shows are all doing great business when they can convince someone to try it. This trend is great and translates into ticket sales. “Nickelodeon is another great place to look. Williams said, “The old model is not working anymore. We have to change with the times or we’ll become irrelevant.”

Artist poaching was another hot topic the agents were eager to tackle. “It’s the nature of the business,” said Newman. “We all need good defense and good offense. Servicing the client effectively will thwart poaching. When artists leave it’s because they want to do things their agency can’t do and another agency says they can do.”

“It’s also about the agent’s character,” said Lewis. “At my agency, we just try to remain honest, accommodating, and focused on winning. That keeps an artist loyal.”

“A great support staff helps,” said Tirado. “Don’t take on too much,” said Williams. “Artists must believe you and believe in you.”

Interviewed for this story: Ali Harnell, (213) 763-7700; Matt Galle, (310) 288-8000; Jbeau Lewis, (310) 273-6700; Craig Newman, (310) 888-4200; Mario Tirado, (424) 288-2000; Jay Williams, (310) 285-9000