Indie Agent Panel At Pollstar Live

Sometimes, the intended topic of the panel is the least interesting part of it.

Moderator Wayne Forte definitely kept the topic at hand but came armed with a host of thought-provoking questions that were not necessarily about indie agents, or agenting at all. Questions like, “What’s your favorite concert of all time?” and “If you could be anyone else in the music business, who would you be?”

But first came a simple question about the title: “Is smaller really better?”

“I’ll jump in there,” said the panel’s youngest member, Jesse Kirshbaum. “I don’t like the name of this panel. Smaller is better? When I realized I was on that panel I figured I must be branding my company wrong. We’re definitely trying to build our company.

“Independent agents being the heart of this business? I definitely think that’s spot on. Our agency is extremely passionate and we’re very hands-on.”

The four agents agreed that not only are there benefits to smaller agencies, they wouldn’t want it any other way. Paul Goldman said it’s a boon when signing artists because Monterey International has the ability to give them more attention. And it’s a better lifestyle for the agents. He noted that his agents, and those with Mike Kappus, can work remotely.

Kappus added that giving his artists full attention is central to his philosophy, to the point that he reconsidered selling his company to Monterey Peninsula Artists because he wasn’t sure if the artists would get the attention there they deserved.

“If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?” Forte asked. Goldman said that, about 35 years ago, he was a junior high school teacher. He figures he’s a little long in the tooth to handle junior high students but would love to teach again.

Kappus said his near-decision to sell the company came from “an extremely frustrating situation” but, when he rethought it, decided he wanted to spend more time with non-profits. Kirshbaum said he’d like to be a venture capitalist. Stevens is happy with what’s she’s doing now and Forte had no idea.

“I fell in to this,” Forte said. “I did it in college and had no plan.”

Kirshbaum had a question for his fellow panelists.

“What do you do when an artist isn’t getting the touring opportunities? They’re not getting the calls, but you like and care about them?”

“You don’t sleep at night,” Forte said. He faced that situation once, when he committed to a band and its manager before realizing there was no ticket sales.

“In the end, we got really creative,” he said. “We took a band scenario and busted it down to a three-piece acoustic thing. We booked a few small places at a high ticket. We came out breaking even. But, for three months, no sleep.”

Forte asked who panelists would want to be, if they could be someone else in the music business.

“Steve Martin,” Goldman said of The Agency Group North American president. “Because he still has hair.”

Forte agreed, because Martin, who was in the audience, still had fun. The only other answer came from Kirshbuam who admires Ari Emanuel because of the ways he can help his clients.

“So it’s about power,” Forte said, joking.

“No, it’s not about power,” Kirshbaum responded. “But I don’t want to be the smallest agency in the room.”

What really caught the room’s attention was when Forte asked about the best concert people saw.

“Probably the coolest was in Estonia, before the Soviet Union fell,” Kappus said. “I was there with the Robert Cray Band, in a town square with a Russian soldier in effigy being thrown around. Soviet soldiers were around the perimeter not wanting to do anything because they were far outnumbered. And the next day there was this concert with 100,000 people or so. I was managing Cray at the time. It was illegal to display the Estonian flag in any way. And there was a giant one in front of the stage. It was just amazing.”

Goldman said it was Muddy Waters in the mid-’60s at a club in Chicago; Kappus noted that he represented Waters at the time. “It was Buddy guy’s Checkerboard Lounge with The Rolling Stones.”

Stevens? “High school, Gino Vannelli, Market Square Arena in downtown Minneapolis! Blew my mind.”

For Forte, it was Stevie Wonder and The Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden.

“Wonder blew everybody’s mind. And I was convinced The Rolling Stones were going to stiff; that everyone was going to leave. But the Stones came out and the roof came off.”

Steve Martin, from the audience, said for him it was Bruce Springsteen at C.W. Post in 1972, along with that Rolling Stones show.

“I have a concern,” Kirshbaum said. “Is anyone worried about who is going to fill arenas when Springsteen leaves? Where will Ke$ha be in five years? Am I going to be talking about these acts the same way you guys talk about Zeppelin and all these amazing concerts? You sound like you haven’t been to a good concert in 30 years! Am I going to say, you know, ‘Oh my God, that Drake concert was so outrageous, dude’?”

Goldman assured him that the next wave will be there. And Forte noted that the point is the experience.


Pollstar Live 2011 Panel Index