I feel the best way to describe the Major Agents is to regale you with a story:
Back when I was buying shows/tours for a major concert promoter there were more major talent agencies than there are now (mergers.) There was: ICM, Premier, William Morris (no Endeavour) CAA, Triad, and ITG, off the top of my head, but I don't want to lump ITG into this particular group, they don't deserve it.
Agents were assigned geographic areas and venue size, i.e., there was one agent for North America Clubs/Small Theatres, one for Large Theatres and Arenas and one for Stadiums, sometimes an agent took care of a couple of venue sizes. Of course the Artists only dealt with their RA (Responsible Agent) often having no knowledge of the amount of Agents working on their behalf.
I booked all venue sizes, from clubs to Stadiums and Festivals, so I had a pretty close relationship with all the agents who represented artists touring Canada. We talked at least once a day, sometimes more. We were actually friends. If I was ever on vacation in their town we’d hang out, willingly. I knew about their personal lives, and they mine. Again, we really were friends.
We knew we were in this together, their job was to get me to buy a tour at their price, sometimes I knew the act wouldn’t do well in Canada, so I’d pass, then they’d have to threaten me with ‘well you know, if you don’t do this tour, I can’t guarantee you’ll get (fill in the blank, but needless to say, someone I wanted) I’d have to call their bluff or throw them a bone, they needed me as much as I needed them, there was back and forth but it was all friendly and at the end of the day, we were still friends.
Then there was a sea change. I wish I could remember what year that was, you think you’ll remember important dates, but if you don’t write it down….anyways, I believe it started with CAA. I got a call from my CAA agent who was responsible for clubs and theatres. He was uncharacteristically ‘to the point.’ I tried to cajole him, ‘hey, did someone kill your dog? What’s up with you?’ It took a little while, but eventually he told me that there was a big meeting and agents were told to ‘cut the chit chat’ That they were too friendly with the promoters and that "time was money." I couldn’t believe it. I told him how stupid that was, I was preaching to the choir, it certainly wasn't going to make his job easier.
Then came ICM, same thing, My agent covered everything from clubs to arenas, he too seemed awfully terse. Again, I asked what was up, he was more forthcoming, he told me that, like CAA, they were all told to cut out the chit chat and that they had to log their conversations; length and topics discussed. None of us liked this, but it was out of our hands.
If I had to pick a point in time when the business went from being an amazing field to work in to cold hearted and ruthless - that would be the time, again, I wish I remembered the year.
From that point on when an agent called I was awash with dread, 'oh what’s he going to try to shove down my throat today?' I mean if you’re going to try to screw me, buy me dinner! It was the worst advice they could’ve given their agents. One is more inclined to figure out a win-win situation when one is compelled to, I was no longer compelled - and if their act was big enough, they’d have to work with us eventually, we had a monopoly on all the biggest venues.
Further to my overwhelming disappointment, another incident sticks in my head: There was a band who had been around forever, a beloved classic band who had a new hit. I knew that with their impressive catalogue and this current hit, I could book a good theatre size tour for them, especially if I put another classic act on the bill. (Confession: I had a huge crush on the lead singer when I was in high school, so I really wanted to do this tour.)
I called their agent, fully aware that this would put me at a disadvantage, whoever makes the request is in the weaker position, but I wanted this tour. I made my request and was so shocked when THEIR agent responded with ‘oh you don’t want them, we can do better than that, how about ‘fill in the blank?’' (I don’t remember who they were pushing.) I was taken aback, I said, ‘hey, you represent them, how can you say that?’ I should have expected the response; ‘because I want the best for you.’ Whatever, I insisted, I wanted this band and I knew I could sell it. My boss was not in the habit of paying for me to meet one of my teen idols, so I had to be damn sure.
Long story short, I got the tour at a very good price, I did sell it, we all made respectable money and I became friends with my high school crush. Eventually I told them what their agent did because I was so fed up with them being disrespected, but I won’t divulge their name here, I don’t feel right about it, but you know them.
Obviously there was a list of bands the Agent was told to push, and this one wasn’t on that list. The Agency should have just dropped this band from their roster because they were doing them a huge disservice and actually, harm. I lost every bit of residual respect I ever had for that Agent and Agency. Trying to talk me out of hiring one of THEIR bands? I can't even...
That’s when I remember the tides turning, and booking national tours was never fun after that. That was a come to Jesus moment. Never again did I give them a call when I was in their town, we weren't friends anymore. I’d quit the business not long after, but that didn’t last long either…..when it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood. But my eyes were open and the view sucked!