Lee Anderson, Tim Borror, Robert Gibbs, Joe Hadley, Jbeau Lewis and Ben Totis discuss the way forward in a rapidly changing – and increasingly demanding – industry.
On top of Future Bosses: Meet the next generation panel at the Billboard Live Music Summit on Wednesday (November 6), Billboard editorial director Hannah Karp stepped out of the gate to talk to the elephant in the room.
"I must say it is not the most diverse panel we have ever moderated," Karp said to begin with. In fact, of the six young power agents on stage – Paradigm agent Lee Anderson, STG co-owner Tim Borror, ICM partner Robert Gibbs, CAA agent Joe Hadley, UTA agent Jbeau Lewis and WME agent Ben Totis – none of them a woman
As an explanation, Karp pointed out that the panel was compiled asking all agencies to send agents who were currently leading their respective companies, inadvertently resulting in the male-dominated group that met on stage at the Montage Beverly Hills.
With Karp setting the tone for the rest of the conversation, diversity – both gender and racial – became a frequent topic of discussion, with Hadley the first of the panelists to address the issue directly.
"I think there are literally fewer than 50 black agents around the world, and of those three are women," said Hadley, an African-American. “So we need to change our hiring practices, we need to make sure people of color have the same opportunities. Since we are not the exception, we need to show that we are the rule – we need only the same opportunities as everyone else. So throughout the (in) entertainment map, not just agencies, we need to find a way to make sure we're diversifying and making sure that the executive side is representative of the look of music and talent. "
During the audience's question and answer session near the end of the panel, a person who questioned the issue further asked the men on stage what their respective agencies were doing to include women more specifically. In response, Hadley spoke of the responsibility of individuals in leadership positions in agencies to elevate women – especially women of color.
"My last four interns were colored women, and three of them were hired," he said. “This is no coincidence, it's me who goes to our HR and says,“ If I'm going to have an intern, if this person is going to work with me, that's what I need from you: it needs to be a person of color, specifically a woman. by heart. & # 39; ”
The rest of the panel members also had answers ready, with Gibbs and Anderson emphasizing the importance of mentoring agents and Lewis stating that diversity should also be considered when choosing which clients to hire. Borror noted that building diversity considerations from the outset has been a priority at STG, which he started alongside his UTA colleagues Dave Shapiro and Matt Andersen last November.
“I'm not trying to wave a flag or pat me on the back, but to me, by the year 2020, it's kind of a problem if someone has talent and strives to do what we do, then they should be doing it. ", he said. "There's not much out there right now … but I finally feel that the door is more open than ever."
The focus on structural changes in industry at a time of great transition came to dominate the discussion, including the need for greater emphasis on self-care. In fact, if the rest of the panel can boil down to one broad theme, it's this: Being a music agent is tough and in the digital age it's getting harder and harder.
"As agents coming into business, we were the porters, right?" Said Gibbs. “(To) access the talent … you had to call the agent. Well, now it's Twitter, Instagram, social media, you can get right to the artist. And so, the way to just do the core business just doesn't work (anymore). You need to be able to expand this. "
The increase for agents in 2019 became more difficult in many ways. On the one hand, agents are now expected to deepen their clients' results in ways they had not expected before, mainly because the revenue share of recorded music has declined.
"At the end of the year, when you look at the charts where the revenue comes from, a lot of it comes from touring," said Anderson. “And I think that's why they trust us to provide much more of these (additional) revenue streams and opportunities. There are a million deserving customers out there, and that's how you find a way to offer them all with just so many opportunities. "
As Lewis said, given the greater “fairness in sweat” now involved in representing an artist, agents need to be increasingly careful about which clients they choose to invest their energy into.
"I think what this requires is that we are all much more discerning, more prudent about who the artists we are betting on," he said. “With the realization that (when) we make a bet on this artist, it will take time and energy from a crowd of people. So it is best that everything is ready to place this bet, if we wish. "
For Totis, the nature of single-oriented streaming also requires agents to be more agile when it comes to mapping careers. "We're touring singles now, so you need to activate your plans early," he said. "Not waiting for the album and you go on tour."
This mind-boggling pace, coupled with increasing customer demands, often results in often unholy work hours for agents who were already overworked long before the rise of streaming. So how do panel members deal?
"I'm over 50 pounds, so I'm the wrong guy to ask," Anderson said, laughing as Karp questioned participants about his self-care practices.
“At UTA, we certainly have company-wide initiatives pushing people into wellbeing,” said Lewis, “whether it's groups of people (getting together) and talking about it or meditation sessions in the office, stuff like that, where people they can step beyond their daily routine and get into it. But communicating and talking about it is also a battle. "
For a panel on "future bosses," Karp continued to ask a crucial question: What would panelists change if they managed things in their respective agencies? In response, Hadley passionately led the charge on another timely question: the growing social media campaign to higher salaries of assistants in entertainment companies.
"I think a lot of us think like," Oh, I came and earned $ 25,000 for everyone to do that and you have to pay your dues, "Hadley said. “It's just not right. If we want to attract the best and the brightest, we need to have competitive salaries or at least systems to help these people succeed, because I'm tired of losing good people because they can't afford to work. "
Anderson was arguably even more forceful in his criticism, focusing on his personal experience to express the argument.
“When I moved to New York, I was living below the poverty line. I was dodging the subway turnstiles to sneak into the train because sometimes I couldn't afford a subway card, ”he said. “There were days when I went to bed because I couldn't buy food, and that wasn't too long ago … if it was my business, I'd pay (support staff) more. I'll probably be called to the HR office when I get out of here for saying that, but … it's an old misfit model and I don't agree with that. "
Lewis reduced things to an even more fundamental level.
"I think there's a broad theme here: Whether we're talking about who we represent or who we work with, we're dealing with people, we're dealing with humans," he said. "Despite the competition, despite the celebrity, maintaining the perspective that we are dealing with humans every day is very critical here."