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Updated: Rod MacSween On Agents, Rob Light Responds

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Editor’s note: In a recent edition of the Lefsetz Letter, noted industry commentator Bob Lefsetz raised the question of if acts still need an agent at all. Here, ITB’s Rod MacSween responds to that challenge and makes an argument for the continued relevance of agents in the live touring industry.

Hey Bob. Let me respond to your email with WHY artists need an agent.

The focus of my work as an agent is on territories outside of the USA, especially in Europe, Latin America, Australasia, Japan/Asia etc. Many large acts do sell the ‘Whole World Tour’ to LN or AEG. However all tours still have to be routed and there are places where the ‘big’ promoters do not have companies or local relationships.

MacSween (ITB)

Often, with tour routes that we have helped to create (many times with those ‘big’ promoters), we include additional and useful ‘sell off’ shows. We also act as a buffer between the Manager/Artist and the Promoter. There are often difficult decisions to be made on logistics, local compliance rules, movement of equipment, local tax issues, currency fluctuations, insurance for pandemics and much more to make a tour run smoothly.

We also check the books (although vanishingly few promoters are dishonest, as you suggest). The point I’m making is that we agents have always provided good ‘old fashioned’, time-honoured service. Here are some of the reasons I say this:

We have geographical understanding gained from years of experience. Local ‘on the ground’ issues are informed and resolved by a wealth of knowledge about locality, culture, company, client, that we have accumulated over time.

We store fundamental information such as how long it takes to overnight from A-B (drive times), the network of ferry links, transport restrictions, crew swaps, air-freight of equipment, charter flights and the many behind-the-scenes activities that collectively make a tour work (we do all this in association with artist production managers and transport companies)

Sure you can leave much to promoters but an AGENT fighting for the artist in their corner provides a crucial and significant service. We’re a vital cog in the overall process. As well as handling regular fee negotiations, much else of what is done by the agent maximises earnings for the artist. At a basic level, your premise that the manager just calls Michael Rapino and makes the global deal (thereby cutting out the agent) could be perceived as short term saving. But believe me, in the longer term, this ‘by-passing’ of our role and function would be more costly because of the reservoir of accumulated knowledge and pivotal insight an agent is able to bring to the party.

The artist relationship with a bigger promoter is partly founded on big bucks advances and guarantees. Undoubtedly this alliance has a role to play as financial certainty helps to keep the world running. Nevertheless, and for reasons I have indicated above, the contribution of the agent remains critical to the success of the enterprise. I would also add that territories outside of the USA represent about half the touring world and an agent ‘on the ground’ with local knowledge is an indispensable element in the equation.


The concept of ‘agent’ is not antiquated and the function is much more than paperwork. We help break talent by assisting younger acts to get a leg up. We foster record label, radio, tv and social media liaisons. We also have excellent relationships with all the top managers. Those guys appreciate the added value and hard work that an agent invests in their artists’ success. The strength and depth of the relationships that we have forged with a number of strong headliners has also been influential when it comes to negotiating with promoters, festivals and other venues. The presence of an agent will be significantly more consequential to an artist, adding value and helping to build or sustain their career in such an uncertain world we now face. The desired end result of an agent’s presence is to allow the artist to concentrate on their performance and give of their best to their audience, free from any external concerns which may have arisen.

The holistic nature of the agent’s relationship with an artist/manager means we’re always there for them, supporting, protecting, nurturing through thick and thin. Our agency representation list and enduring artist bonds speaks for itself.

The pendulum of live music swings between the power of a) the artists and promoters and b) the public who pay good money to see the music performed. In the present climate of uncertainty, the law of the jungle applies so lets allow the market to determine “who agrees what”. You can’t blame Rapino for trying to close the gaps. He is a caring and intuitive man who has given up his own salary for the cause.

Rod MacSween
(International Talent Booking) ITB AGENCY London


Responses from Bob’s readers. Please note, these comments are not edited for grammar or content.

Hey bob. Gen z tour manager here. My thoughts

Is this guy joking ?

“Often, with tour routes that we have helped to create (many times with those ‘big’ promoters), we include additional and useful ‘sell off’ shows. We also act as a buffer between the Manager/Artist and the Promoter. There are often difficult decisions to be made on logistics, local compliance rules, movement of equipment, local tax issues, currency fluctuations, insurance for pandemics and much more to make a tour run smoothly.”

-No, this is what the Tour manager does. You ask an agent for this, good luck getting a response


“We also check the books (although vanishingly few promoters are dishonest, as you suggest).”

-on the most rarest occasion have I had an agent settle a show with me

“We have geographical understanding gained from years of experience. Local ‘on the ground’ issues are informed and resolved by a wealth of knowledge about locality, culture, company, client, that we have accumulated over time.”

– Give me a break
The roadies and tour managers are more well traveled then these guys. Seriously?

“We store fundamental information such as how long it takes to overnight from A-B (drive times), the network of ferry links, transport restrictions, crew swaps, air-freight of equipment, charter flights and the many behind-the-scenes activities that collectively make a tour work (we do all this in association with artist production managers and transport companies)”

-YES ITS CALLED GOOGLE! And the 20 years plus experience we have all over the world. Are you kidding? You want 10-15% for that?

“Sure you can leave much to promoters but an AGENT fighting for the artist in their corner provides a crucial and significant service. We’re a vital cog in the overall process. As well as handling regular fee negotiations, much else of what is done by the agent maximises earnings for the artist. At a basic level, your premise that the manager just calls Michael Rapino and makes the global deal (thereby cutting out the agent) could be perceived as short term saving. But believe me, in the longer term, this ‘by-passing’ of our role and function would be more costly because of the reservoir of accumulated knowledge and pivotal insight an agent is able to bring to the party.”

-As an artist manager and tour manager. I will fight 10 times harder for the artist then the agent. Please……

“The holistic nature of the agent’s relationship with an artist/manager means we’re always there for them, supporting, protecting, nurturing through thick and thin. Our agency representation list and enduring artist bonds speaks for itself.”


-Thanks mom, if we need that support will call home. Next time it’s pouring down rain during the cross load at Red rocks, will you be available for a call?

“You can’t blame Rapino for trying to close the gaps. He is a caring and intuitive man who has given up his own salary for the cause.”

-and the classic agents meaningless kiss ass sign off to the promoter rapino

Stay safe bob,

William Bracey
-gen z tour manager

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And that ladies and gentlemen is why Rod MacSween and Barry Dickins and ITB have been a key agency since they began!

Bill Siddons

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Very well said and well-written. He probably could have circulated it among a whole bunch of major agents and gotten them all to sign it.

Toby Mamis

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Virtually all of what Rod is saying sounds to me like the functions of a tour manager, not a booking agent. While I’m sure a good agent can and does perform those functions too, logistics (which essentially encompasses almost everything he detailed) I would generally want a tour manager to take care of, preferably the same person who stays with the tour to ensure that the plans run smoothly. Who better to execute the plan than the person who drafted it?

Also, LOL at “insurance for pandemics”. I hope that was a self-aware joke since we’ve seen this year just how many events carried no such insurance.

-Brandon Zemel

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As an artist manager, this is the kind of person I would want on my team!!!! Carol ross

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Ha! Peter Grosslight God rest his legendary innovating – pioneering soul could say this statement 15-20+ years ago. But no agent in 2020 who is educated on the real world (and studies trades outside the concert business) on futurism, automation, technology, AI, and the 21st century global economy can say this statement with a straight face. Who are you lying to? Artist will have very streamlined admin for 1% not 10% and tour managers will always be employed because they are the real empathetic ones. Doctors will be obsolete, Nurses will not! Get the comparison y’all?

Jeremiah Younossi

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Rod is 100% correct- agents are needed.
The fact that a lot of the industry don’t know the full job of an agent is what has led to this misguided confidence but I promise that most promoters and artists realise an agent’s importance when they no longer have it.

Danielle Douglas

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Rod makes some good points but he does not address a key and very real point in your original piece – agents will go to bat (or advocate for or protect) promoters/buyers before artists. They’re incented to do so.

I see this happen all the time with the talent I manage. Agents don’t want to disrupt their relationship with the promoter/buyer because they have the money. I have no problem with that except they should get paid from the promoter/buyer and not take a percentage of the fee from talent they’re not going to bat for.

Tony D’Amelio

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Thanks Bob. As a manager of several acts that tour globally, I do agree with many of Rod’s points here. A good, hands-on agent is an essential part of the Artist / manager team. The best Agents are indeed those that really are deeply vested in the Artists’ long term growth and success and , to me, are often a trusted team player that weights in on strategy and the overall gameplay for any given market.

Best,
Edo van Duijn

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God bless the middle man. If you look at every value provided they will be replaced by an algorithm in a smart phone in the next 2-3 years.

Michael A. Becker

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BS.

Love, a highly successful 4 wall company

BOBBY EKIZIAN GENERAL MANAGER. J&R ADVENTURES, LLC JBONAMASSA.COM

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Bob: What Rob is saying is quite true. Touring acts in foreign territories is fraught with negative possibilities.I have never taken an act to Europe without engaging ITB. Back then Barry Dickens saved my ass on a Crosby-Nash tour. Their L.A. agent had given the tour to John Reed who laid off the continental dates to the right promoters. Reed booked the U.K. venues but did zero promotion. I was only the manager for two days before we arrived in London. I called Barry to inform him that we had arrived. He said, Great, but why are you here?” I said for the Crosby-Nash tour.” He said, There’s a Crosby-Nash tour? “Yes” I replied, “we are two weeks on the continent and have the U.K. dates to follow.” I ripped Reed a new one and gave the dates to Dickens. When we got back they were all sold out. We fired the L.A. agent and gave the act to Tom Ross at ICM. John Hartmann

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Some fair points, but need to call out that this line is the biggest load of shit:

“We help break talent by assisting younger acts to get a leg up.”

Ask any agent how many artists they’ve booked a run, gotten a support slot etc prior to said artist being signed or some other catalyst that has already occurred in their career. Agents are typically the last to come on board.

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Hey Bob

Quick background for context because I’ve no doubt you have no idea who I am, nor should you….

I started as an artist and then managed a creative collaborating friend (Nano Stern, Chile) growing his audience from busking to 5000 tickets a night without the involvement of the top line music industry. And let’s be clear that this was possible because of his insane talent and commitment, and his ability to get a standing ovation at almost every concert. Note here that my co-manager Juan Carlos Olivares & I booked everything direct, globally. We were also wise enough to get out of the way of the music and not to steal his money. For me those two are probably the most important things a manager can do.

Then from 2016 to 2019, I ran management for Imogen Heap and had the joy of dealing with the very lovely and hugely capable and effective Jenna Adler from CAA in LA. You probably know her or know of her. She is living proof of how valuable an agent can really be.

To this day, I mentor many young acts, which I really love doing. They want management but I know only too well the total commitment required and offer rather to teach them to manage themselves, to start off with, at least. So they can not only build their value as long as they can but also learn everything that’s involved at a grass roots level so when they do start doing deals, they come to that from a point of empowerment, knowledge and experience.

What’s become clear over the years is that a great agent that is really and truly invested in a young act is arguably the most important member in their business team, adding often-times the most value to growing their audience strategically. Rod is on the money with his explanations in his email to you.

But … and it’s a very big but….the other side of this coin is that the ideal scenario he articulates is extremely rare. What we see so much more at the grassroots level are agents that sign way too many acts and as a result cannot give the attention and energy that’s needed to any more than a select handful. For the acts not getting that attention, the effect is significantly negative. The relationship with the agent is almost always exclusive so the act is stuck with relying totally on the agent for shows. The agents do not push them strategically and mostly just bundle them into mass mail outs to festivals and promoters… little more than spam. A waste of time. LIke buying a lottery ticket.

Bottom line I see is that the wrong agent will slow an act down and send them backwards… even with the best intention. We all know the road to hell can be paved with good intention.

I encourage acts to be clear on deliverables with any new potential agent … some examples include:

– if the agent wants to take over and commission shows that the act has sourced themselves to date and developed relationships for, then the agent should take a reduced %, ie 5%
– on the flip side, new shows that the agent brings in can attract a higher %, ie 15%.
– that the agent should demonstrate that they can handle the load of the acts they already have and be clear about how they will increase their work capacity if they sign more acts.
– that the agent should present a clear strategic plan to the act including how they intend to build the act; including hard numbers like shows sought, shows booked, the trajectory of average fees, etc.

We are at the end of the era of the opaque music business. “Best efforts” is no longer acceptable in any deal. Transparency and accountability is everything.

Sending all love and respect to the great agents and promoters out there. After the artists and their music, these people are the engine room of the industry.

Yours in music
Brian Dubb

P.S. Does the reality of the grassroots artists even interest you? I guess I’ll find out if you reply. Feel free not to of course. I’m sure you get a ton of mail.

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Hahahah agents know how long it takes to get from City A to City B on a bus tour. What a joke.

Dave Weisz

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Dear Bob,

I feel compelled to weigh in on this discussion.

I have always believed that an artists’ career takes a team of smart, passionate, aggressive, forward-thinking individuals who work with a common purpose. I have often compared that team to a football organization. The artist is the owner of the team. They hire a manager who becomes the head coach. That coach has to field a team – smart QB, great running back, strong linebackers, great blockers. You have a strong owner, a smart and strong head coach, and a team that works together – and you win! When you don’t, you may win the odd game, but in the long run, success is distant.

In that analogy, people play different roles. Sometimes, the QB is the agent, sometimes the lawyer. A great tour manager may be left tackle (the key to a great offense) or maybe the linebacker takes down everything in their way. The label head, the A&R person, the publisher, and publicist all play a position, with all taking their cues from a great head coach. In order to be successful, they have to work together.

But in this discussion, when you try to separate what each position does, when you try to make them competitive, when you devalue smart and creative executives with one pass of the brush, you fail to see what makes each of those jobs important, crucial, and valuable.

There are tour managers who are without question, the super glue that holds a tour together and makes it run. There are lawyers whose instincts and analytical skills drive the deal forward. There are business managers whose street smarts keep everything moving forward. And then there are agents whose ability to identify talent, package tours, sense the moment to move up in venue size, and position the right festival slot have changed the arcs of careers.

I have been an agent for 40 years. In that span, I have loaded and unloaded trucks, I have tour managed, I have settled countless shows, I have slept on tour buses. I have acted as a promotion man and broken singles, I have fought for artists to get on the right tour, the right festival, the right TV show. I have been strategic, I have been forceful, I have been kind. I understand local tax issues. I know that buses and trucks are smaller in Europe, I know that 500 miles is a tough drive, and even tougher through the mountains. I know that the the first load out on the first night of a tour is longer and harder than the tenth show. I know how hot and humid it is in the South in the summer. I know the day after a NY or LA show is a letdown. I know Fridays nights in Texas in the fall is high school football night. I know the labels want to bundle, I know promoters have inside deals, I know everyone wants to pay less and make more.

I have taken my love for music, especially live music, and put all my energy into helping artists connect to their fans, while at the same time maximizing their earnings. I have made it a point to never stop learning and to never take the job for granted. I can point to so many deals, careers, tours and problems where I have made a real difference, most times done in the shadows with others taking the bow.

And here is the point – almost all of my peers who are agents (those who have done the job for years, and those whose careers are just starting) do the same thing every day. We don’t wave a flag and say “Look what I did!” We don’t get thanked on award shows. Many times, our artist doesn’t even know the deal started with an agent making the right decision or that some problem was solved because an agent took a call at 1 in the morning.

I could lay out a list of brilliant agents, many of whom were mentors to me, and many peers doing amazing things today, and the subtle moves they made that changed the course of so many careers. And at the same time, I could create a list of road magicians who kept tours on the road, promoters who went above and beyond, festival owners who took a chance – lawyers, business managers, labels executives who went the extra mile – and so many managers whose brilliance at managing not just the artist but the team around them created superstars.

You could, at any moment in time, diminish the importance of any one player, but like a football team, everyone serves a role, people play different positions, the best do a great job, the best of the best do it at a level that makes huge differences. All things that most people never see.

It’s only human that every member of the team wants credit and recognition for their contributions. But it has never been about any one player or even the smartest head coach, it is always about the artist.

I applaud and honor all the people on each team that I get to play on. I know and appreciate each of their roles. I also know without a doubt, that the role of an agent was, is and always will be an important, necessary, critical and game-changing position.

With great respect for all who work on behalf of talent; Rob Light

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Much respect to Rod and the agency he built. But he misses a key point. If I had enough bananas I could train a monkey to book flights and check drive times. The reason why the artist/manager wants the agent in the conversation is the strategy of “why?” and “what’s next?” That comes with experience, relationships, and understanding the marketplace. The manager might not necessarily have that experience because he/she is dealing in every vertical of the artist’s business. The agent should have a full expertise of the touring market and know how to best use it to the artist’s advantage, to build audience and make a living.

Do we play 2 nights at Radio City or step into MSG? If we play MSG are we closing the balcony? What does this do for our perception in the market? Are we at the end of the cycle or the beginning and should we leave it all out on the field or leave demand on the street for a next lap?

We’re routing from Chicago to Mnpls, do we play Milwaukee or Madison? The agent, because of his/her intimate knowledge of the act and constant dialogue with the manager, should know where the fans are and what the demo looks like. Do we have a college aged crowd? Let’s play Madison then, in the spring or fall and not up against a big football game.

Can the manager have these conversations with the promoter direct? Of course. But the issue is that the promoter will always have his/her own agenda. Maybe he/she owns the building in Milwaukee and so steers you there over Madison when it’s the wrong play for your crowd. Maybe he/she gets insides at MSG instead of Radio City and pushes you to go too big too soon. The agent should only have one agenda and it’s to fight for the artist every day. Without that check and balance you end up with the LiveNation memo that was widely distributed last week.

Do I blame Rapino or those who authored it? No, they are smart people and fighting for their dollar. The issue is they didn’t give us (the agents) a seat at the table during the conversations, and the memo was sort of weirdly sent out carte blanche. They are now offering a mea culpa after so many of us spoke up and have revised the deal points. Well, it’s because here we are, fighting for our artists. Even with no revenue in sight.

Keith Levy

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Interesting responses. It’s possible that the naysayers have never worked with a good and thorough agent. Not all of them are. Or they’ve worked with more DIY kind of artists (nothing wrong with that as long as they know what they’re doing). The agent SHOULD be addressing things like the driving distance between shows and being aware of the heinous EU driver regulations for trucks and buses BEFORE confirming the shows; the same with ferry schedules. And both are especially important to study if they involve Sundays. And that’s just one part of it. A good agent will also know what other possibly competitive traffic is in the area that might adversely affect ticket sales. A good agent adds value in many ways, including knowing what other artists are being offered and knowing how to extract the maximum guarantee or fee as a result. Yes, this will also involve communication with management, tour manager, and production manager, but it all starts with the initial offers and routing.

I’ve also seen US-based managers, tour managers and production managers who have so little experience overseas that they NEED help. It’s different over there, not just the EU driving regs, but currency, visas, time zones (yes, really, some people don’t even think of that), tax withholding, and more.

Another thought. Managers who cut out agents for a big act won’t get much help from agents on their next act.

Toby Mamis

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I read your email about Rod MacSween’s response to your supposition that bands might not need agents in today’s day and age. I have been managing bands for over 25 years and include some of the best agents in the world as among those I work with (Rod does represent one of our bands).

The thing that I think you are missing is that an agent… a really great agent is a vital part of the team that makes the band’s gears turn. A great agent is one that understands the big picture of where we (the management) are taking the band. It is all well and good to have a strong arm agent go in and force the promoter to pay dearly for an act. But if things don’t work out to the good, the promoter loses and will be hesitant to re-book the band in the future – and especially not at that price.

The great agents understand the needs of the artist and the promoter and they know where the happy medium is. He/she knows when to be tough and when to give in.

The really great agents know that with the right ideals and planning, the band will be working with a given promoter for years instead of just one show. At their best, a great agent is a true part of the management team. Being an artist manager, people like Rod MacSween and Keith Naisbitt are the kinds of agents I want working with my acts!

Ace Trump
Siren Artist Management

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Managers / Promoters that act as an agent are doing more harm than good most of the time, so sad that the generational consensus is all about instant money rather than long term career development.

Large companies that sign everything and see what sticks have created a toxic image of what an agent’s role is in an artist’s career, unfortunately most managers / tour managers / artists have the shortcoming of being near sighted in the importance of developing healthy, strong & positive relationships that will bear fruit for year after year.

As an agent, almost all of the time a manager steps into these roles (in my experience) relationships are terminated or soured due to lack of bedside manner, and it is even more sad that we have a generation of idiots who cannot think outside of what is directly in front of them.

Russell Brantley
Agent
The Empire Agency, Inc

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It takes everyone working together to route a tour properly. Especially as it scales larger. The booking agent should work with the tour and production managers on logistics of travel and freight while also going back and forth with the local promoters. And the tm, pm, and agent should all work with the artist’s manager to make sure the routing works for the artist’s comfort. Also throw in the label and publishing for promo opportunities (tv shows, radio, Spotify). Sure, lapping the US or Europe has become a bit standard, but global artists are now continent-hopping like never before.

It’s a complex dynamic industry that changes in real time, but everyone should be working their asses off inside the tornado. Those who don’t become obsolete regardless of their position. Over-prepare, then go with the flow.

TM / PM

Gabe McNatt

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Here’s the one thing missing from your discussion, managers are forbidden by most state laws to book jobs, only agents can do that. This guarantees their middle man status. The agency structure forces agents in an agency to bill a base amount and when covid hit, the music agents were the first to go. That will tell you something about the totem pole. No power agent really cares about talent development, no more than major labels do, they care about the monthly financial targets. That leaves managers to hold it all and beg for agency support when they finally get enough momentum.

Managers worth anything, deliver the talent and often the deals so the agent can bless it. Its a screwed system but so far it is the law in most states. With all that said a brilliant agent can be instrumental in a deal, those are worth the money, too bad there are so few.

Jean Renard

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Must have missed the original post you made, but as a TM/PM for 25+ years my two cents: as much as there are some outstanding individuals out there on the Agency side (I’ll name check Scott Thomas as a shining example) and I don’t envy the job itself, William Bracey is sadly more right than wrong. Do agents play a role? Yes. Do they play as big a role as suggested? Not usually. Are they there when the chips are down and the TM/band is being ripped off by some coked up gun toting promoter the agent knows well enough to avoid? Rarely. Are they all worth 15%? More no than yes. Way more.

Thx

S. Richards

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I want my act to be with the agent that is trying to bring more than just live gigs to the table especially during this time. This is when the agents as well as the promoters prove themselves. Bring opportunity to the artist or at least try, there are so many places an agent could be looking right now to help make their artists some money and earning commission while doing it. If your agent is at least trying to do it that is the agent you want on your team.

Jon Topper

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Back in the day, ’75 t0 ’85, I was an agent and concert promoter, depending; blues, jazz, folk shows. As an agent with a couple of bands exclusively, I worked to grow/get them press/radio etc. in each town. I hustled and earned my 10% for sure (mostly-I ultimately had a drug problem, began to fall apart and Grace of God got recovery) But I have to agree with Bracey and others. Rod’s letter, while lovely sounding, was more wishful thinking and pr spin than necessary reality. But great letter. )

Jimmy Cioe

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Yes! We love our agent but what that guy listed is almost all stuff our tour manager takes care of. It honestly made me laugh. I’m glad William Bracey responded.

Kristian Dunn

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I do agree with Rod on certain points, however the idea that an agent knows how to plan a tour, is really why you employ a good Tour Manager who actually spends his or her life on a tour unlike an agent, and his last few lines are all about kissing as, as Live Nation have the money so the agent is in pocket and I am sure Michael will get his wages back when the shares go up, unlike the agents and promoters. Just saying.

Kindest,

Sir Harry Cowell

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After carefully scrutinizing Rod MacSween’s email and reading the responses, I’d like to point out one thing that he WASN’T lying about… He IS an agent.

Wade Mosher

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Firstly let me say that as an older production manager, I only like to deal in facts.

I have worked with Rod Macsween over the past 30 years on both sides of the fence. Firstly as he represented many artists that came to play on the festival for which I was the Production Director for 21 years. Then over the last decade as a touring PM. Last year I spent the summer in Europe working for one of my clients who was headlining most of the big festivals…Werchter, Download, Hellfest…you get the picture. Rod is their agent.

Facts 1:00am Hellfest site mainstage….issue with unauthorized filming by the festival….I had to act fast and need to know if we had been paid all the fee before I got all up the festival PM’s grill!. Rod answered his phone and gave me the information I needed immediately.

Throughout that run he worked with the TM and myself to ensure that the promoters were doing what they had promised to do. From simple things like whipping up a letter for one of my crew to get a second passport to the big issue at Hellfest, he looked after us.

From the present going back I have been doing a bit of squirming re reading some of the email threads from my festival days. We could not step left or right an inch and he would be onto us.

So I can only say good things about Mr Macsween as an agent.

Next I have not seen any artists complain about their agents and it is their money….just saying most artists I have worked for are pretty savvy money wise.

Over long time I have worked with pretty much all the major agents and have to say there is a level of professionalism common amongst them….be it Emma Banks, Marlene Tschuii, or Rod Macsween (to mention a few). So I like knowing they are there as a PM who is oftentimes working without a lot of sleep in the pouring rain (when most TMs are asleep…he he), because their support of me in my job is what I see as a very important part of their representation of the artist.

There seems to be a tendency in times of stress and worry to overreact and ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. If our business needs an overhaul and COVID- 19 is providing the reason for that, then a sensible and adult discussion should be the best course of action, not what basically amounts to shouting via email.

Matt Doherty

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Having been both a mgr and an agent it’s pretty simple.
A good agent is worth the money and a bad one isn’t.
If you’re a developing act with little experience and leverage a good agent will put you up to bat at festivals, showcase dates or support slots.
He can advise which are worth losing money on and leverage payment for the others.
He can apply the leverage of his company to insure payment and fair treatment.
As careers grow he should be finding additional revenue sources be they corporates,secondary markets etc that should more than cover his commission.
Being in the marketplace should make him Capable of adding good info market by market with respect to tik prices , building deals etc.
Once he has helped guide a career to a successful place he isn’t as necessary and is in a position to be punished for his assistance by his commission being drastically reduced or removed. Nice work if you can get it.:) Bottom line generalities suck and each situation should be judged on its own merit and circumstances.

Sam Feldman

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Re: More Agents

Hey Bob

Love from New Zealand, where my global tour dropped me up during a pandemic! Thanks, tour! I’m gonna stay here for a while. The touring/music/venues situation is really fascinating down here in not-america-land. A few weeks ago, Jacinda Ardern announced a $175m package to pump support into the arts. $175 MILLION. This is a country with a population way smaller than NYC – the total population of New Zealand is 5 million (NYC has nearly 9 million). If Trump made a similar stimulus package for the arts, adjusting for America’s population….I’ll let you do the math.

The borders here are closed – tightly closed – and probably for a long time. NZ (and if you’re on the right side of history, you’ll call it Aotearoa) effectively eliminated the virus by going early and hard. There were two weeks recently with no new cases, and there’s been a small uptick of 20 or so new cases in the last week – mostly repatriations from outside.
So – the military has taken over the borders and quarantine, and they mean business.

That means no more international touring acts, for a LONG TIME.

What’s fascinating about this is that the local acts and festivals are actually interested and excited in what they can now do with what’s growing in their own backyard. I was talking to Pitsch, the booker for the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, and he’s convinced it’ll be a treasury of local – and hopefully for indigenous – talent now that the big fish from overseas aren’t there to take the spotlight.

A great Auckland songwriter, Reb Fountain, was about to do her first massive USA tour and first SXSW when this all went down. But business is changing for her: she represents something different now as she’s touring around locally. It’s amazing…it’s like the Farmers Market model as applied to music. Think Local. Support Local.

Maybe it’s time for that. More local musicians talking to their actual communities, using song. Why not? It’s how we used to do it many moons ago.

Meanwhile, regarding agents….if i tried to count, and I don’t wanna, I have had at least 40-50 people walk through the revolving door of my team. Multiple european and australian booking agents, many managers, publicists, assistants, labels, label “services”, lawyers, business managers, internet strategy teams, the works. I’m a demanding and strange artist who never wants to do things by the book and rarely puts the profit first…and I drive everybody absolutely nuts.

And? The longest-standing member of my team by a factor of many is Matt Hickey, my US booking agent at High Road. He’s been with me since 2004, far longer than anyone.

I cannot tell you how valuable it has been to have someone who has watched the entire arc of my career through the lens of the stage and the venue. Matt booked The Dresden Doll’s in tiny clubs and bars. He’s booked my solo symphony shows and every festival. He’s watched my frustration with the music business and label racket up close. He’s watched me embrace twitter and flash-gigs and talked many local promoters off the ledge when they call in a fit because I’m doing a free show outside for the kids. He’s watched me go through my paces on kickstarter and patreon and he understands that I always need a second pre-order window (begins the venue’s subscribers) and my own control over a massive guestlist so my office team can sort its own VIP ticketing for my patrons.

He’s dealt with my desire to tour as a theatrical conjoined-twin outfit, effectively bringing weird plays into music venues. He’s seen and done it all, and his advice is now some of the most valuable to me, because he knows and groks the long tail of my career.

When I need an ear about a new team member, Matt’s one of my first phone calls. It may be an unusual relationship for an artist to have with an agent, but I’m an unusual artist.

Also, the longer I tour, and realize that this is really a life-long job I’ll be doing….i mean, they’ll pry me off stage in my 90s, and even then my COLD ALMOST DEAD HANDS will be gripping the boards, as my stage-ego gets entangled in my own feather boa….

It all makes me realize that an agent really can be the stable, secret weapon of a career. They hold long-term knowledge – how the artist has been interacting with the world stage and The People since the early days – and if they are good, they have a deep instinct about the long-term direction of a band or artist that’s just irreplaceable. That’s why the percentage is worth it, if the agent is good.

Hang In There Everybody,

Amanda Fucking Palmer

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Re: More Agents

Hi Bob.

Interesting missive you sent out. And so was Rod McSween’s response.

Seems to me that the response most folks gave betray the fact that very few have any idea of what a Concert Tour Promoter actually does.

However, first as to the supposed “inherently dishonest” promoter. I don’t think so. However, the deal structure imposed by the various agents and managers on promoters certainly encourages such dishonesty. Used to be that a deal had a 20% promoter’s profit baked in before the entertainer (which is a more accurate description than “artist”) and the promoter split the net revenue accruing from a show. That 20% is ancient history. Now we got 95/5 deals against a sell-out guarantee and such further insanity. Thus, to the extent a promoter “cheats” she or he will inflate the costs leading to the net to be split – which all agents know and mostly tolerate. They got to. Bankrupt promoters make very bad buyers. But that “cheating” yields comparatively very little money. So it’s usually not worth the effort.

The nitty gritty stuff Rod McSween says he does (for what it’s worth I’ve never worked with him or any British agent except Barrie Marshall and Rob Hallett and two or three others on occasion) is nice, and is usually done by Road Managers (not tour managers – tour managers do not represent the entertainer). What Rod McSween DOES NOT do is guarantee the performance fee for each and every show whether it flops or not – which a Concert Tour Promoter does.

Now. A Tour Manager is the representative of the Concert Tour Promoter. She or he manages the tour for the Concert Tour Promoter with respect to the Concert Tour Promoter’s local promoter partners and simultaneously is the Concert Tour Promoter’s counterpart to the entertainer’s Road Manager.

In any case. We’re beating a dead horse here. COVID 19 is to the live entertainment industry what the Yucatan asteroid was to the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Our industry is dead, dead, dead. At least for now. Maybe in three years time we’ll see a glimmering of large-scale live events. Not anytime soon, though.

As to Michael Rapino’s memo to the agents. I think it’s pretty reasonable. Though logically it would require that all promoters adhere to the standards set forth therein. Which, assuming we as an industry do a Lazarus of Bethany, for competitive reasons likely ain’t gonna happen.

Regards,

Michael Fisher

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Re: More Agents

?Ok. Enough…..
Agents are key players, but it’s the manager who set the agenda. It’s the manager who speaks to the artist everyday.
Everyone has their role to play. The agent books the shows. The road manager
does logistics. The record company promotes the music and the brand. The press agent does press. There is someone who takes care of the social media. There are all the music producers and musicians that help the artist create the content. Accountants and lawyers are valuable but annoying.
But only the artist and the manager know the whole picture and where it’s going.
The manager is the CEO and the artist is the chairman of the board.
We hire everyone else.
We decide the division of labor. We set the agenda.
Think of it this way:
The manager conducts the orchestra. The artist is the creator and feature performer. Everyone else is the orchestra.
The magic is getting everyone playing together, turning the pages together.
No agent or anyone else from the orchestra can take the artist from being unknown to being successful.
Everyone is important and everyone has to do their part, but the artist sets the goals. A good manager tries to give the artist success on their terms.

Ron Stone
Gold Mountain Entertainment

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Re: More Agents

Meat Puppets. 1980-2020 and onward.
5 labels and counting
4 managers
3 lawyers
2 publishers
1 agent – and agency – that is, wherever Frank Riley lands.

Dennis Pelowski

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Re: Rod MacSween On Agents

Sounds like this dinosaur is making a case trying to keep his job!

Brad Blanco
http://overeasybooking.com

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Re: More Agents

After reading these responses, one thing a lot of people are pointing out is that some Agents of today don’t have the same knowledge or experience that Agents like Rod have.
Somewhere over the last 10 years a lot of things changed, this might become a problem in the future.

Danielle Douglas

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Re: More Agents

Bob – agents are glorified car salesmen. They sell the hottest model on the lot.

Robert Dubac

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Re: More Agents

This is a great thread. Many of the things listed that I have read are usually covered by a Tour Manager and on the show advances with a Tour Manager, the Road Manager, and Production Company.

A great agent builds relationships and builds trust on both ends with the artist and the purchaser, but it takes a great team to put together the performance. Even though a lot of our business is referral, we still need to turn over rocks out there to find work for our artists. On the flip side, you get paid what the market will allow, so agents need to do their homework when it comes to the buyers and events.

Personally, I want to know everything I can about an artist when we decide to bring them into our company. It’s an investment for both of us in time, resources, and work. The same with purchasers. A lot of us agents know each other and we communicate together when it comes to routing dates, pick up shows and buyer history, plus we learn from each other.

The current pandemic has changed the landscape for all of us. Great agents should constantly evolve and learn to adapt to any situation.

Leni DiMancari

Ten 13 Entertainment LLC

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Re: More Agents

Rob Lights analogy of a football team is false. In traditional models the artist is more like the QB, signed to contracts by the ownership, with no power to fire anyone besides maybe throw in an influential word on teammates. The QB can be traded, catalogue sold, benched (shelved), etc. The QB is only valuable if producing wins. A couple bad seasons due to bad GMing or mismanagement of the team, the QB gets cut. The QB is the fall guy, not the owner.

People who use analogies like this are self-inflating their value, and it’s a grift. The artist SHOULD have autonomy, with solid business influence floating up from below, but we both know that’s rarely the case.

Matt MacDonald

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Re: More Agents

This series of emails has been a really solid discussion on roles played and actual experience in the live realm. I work as both an artist manager and a tour manager. I also have a long-standing relationship with Will Bracey, who I’m very proud of for bring his perspective to the conversation. I am also very fortunate to have worked with some incredible agents who have made a solid difference in how I have operated as a tour manager for all levels of artists (van tours to arena tours) and who have had very educated and valued input for the developing artists that I manage.

I feel strongly that Rod sort of shot an airball with his breakdown of agents’ value. I also feel that Will Bracey and Rob Light absolutely hit the nail on the head in their own deliveries in response. As the tour manager/production manager, we take care of all aspects of the artist’s movements from health & safety, performance quality, finances, crew efficiency and most of all: fan experience. This DOES NOT HAPPEN without the higher-ups (artists & managers mainly) being very actively involved in what anything live is going to exist as.

Quality agents – and I have to give credit to Rob Light, whom I do not know personally, but am aware of, and his response here regarding the football team analogy and his broad, hands-on experience on the road – play a crucial role in planning and strategy. After that, the most valuable moves an agent can make, in my humble opinion, are being extremely communicative with the tour manager and always being prepared to go to bat for the artist, albeit with a realistic perspective based on their extensive knowledge and experience, at any time of day or night.

That being said, I cannot say that every agent I’ve worked with has had this level of experience or determination to truly fight for the artist, even when it could hurt their relationship with a promoter. I also must lean into the point that a lot of what Rod claims an agent does just isn’t in-line with how tours and the key members steering the ship operate these days.

Most of the tour managers I know are hands-on with every aspect of tours, including the wide spectrum of movements and appearances an in-demand artist will have on their insane schedules. We are also, as Rob alluded to from his seat, in a thankless position, which from my perspective takes the brunt of day-to-day shit from all departments.

I feel strongly about a solid team from top to bottom and it’s really hard to define some roles, and their value, in detail. But this dialogue is definitely clarifying some important perspectives and actual (current) insights into the live operation and team.

Cheers to you for creating a forum for this and to everyone out there truckin’ through this tough time for our industry in particular.

All the best,
Stephen Schloss
Concrete Artist Management

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Re: More Agents

I started reading this below and decided I didn’t want to know who wrote it until I got to the end, because
everything I read was right on the money, literally and figuratively.

I met Rob and the late, great and dear Bobby Brooks when they started the CAA music division back in the mid-80’s.
I love Rob, and I love what Rob wrote. It is perfect.

If only one person thinks they’re the smartest guy/gal in the room, failure isn’t an option. It’s guaranteed.

When someone asks us what we do, or what we’ve done, it’s sometimes near impossible to answer,
because what they’re really asking is, what do you know and what have you learned?

The politics, the egos, the reason why you want to pull the photographers out of the pit after
three songs – but if they’re good, escort and give them access to the magic that happens as
the show continues.

Know how to work with or ignore that journalist who’s had a problem in the past with your lead singer.
Do you put them on the side of the stage for a stretch to get a taste of that indescribable
force of energy that comes from the band’s POV? Or do you decide the juice ain’t worth the squeeze
and agree they can sit that show out anywhere but where your band is playing.

Or that it only takes one time leaving the guitar player behind – in his sweats – with no wallet –
when the bus makes a fuel stop, to devise a system to avoid the 3am call.

The man who would be my husband if it wasn’t for his bride (who refers to me as her sister wife),
is an agent who I tormented on a twice-daily basis when I was a manager. Despite that, Andy Somers
still loves me because all we ever wanted was the very best for our bands.

Years back after an artist went from virtual unknown to sold-out-stadium-international-megastar, they took a
a double page ad out in Billboard. They thanked every promoter, their agents, management team, costumes,
bus and trucking, crew to caterers. The last person listed was their publicist.

I taped the ad to my office door with a note – “First to blame, last to thank.”

And that was OK by me.

Janie Hoffman

 

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