Executive Profile:
Corrie Christopher

Corrie Christopher heads up the Los Angeles office of Paradigm’s music division and has a richly deserved reputation for identifying and developing artists, most recently with the explosive success of Imagine Dragons. But in a sense, she’s a terrific example of personal and career development as well. 

Nearing her 20th anniversary in the business, she didn’t take the stereotypical agency track of first earning a law degree and taking a job in the mailroom. As more-or-less normal kids do with normal jobs, she started her agency career as a part-timer at The Tahoe Agency in California while she was still in high school.

Early on, Christopher showed not just a desire and drive to learn the ropes, but an unwillingness to rest on her laurels. Every job she has had since high school has added to her considerable knowledge base and development into one of the top agents in the industry. An early fan of ska and punk, Christopher represented and, in one case, worked for her favorite bands at Tahoe and beyond.

She was able to take that experience and open her own business, Fierce Talent, which she operated in Southern California. She ran Fierce Talent for four years before deciding she wanted a little more seasoning, and a chance to learn from other, more experienced agents. She sold Fierce Talent to The Agency Group, bringing her roster with her.

Eventually, APA came calling and Christopher was able to learn new facets of the business with a broader-based company. Christopher was looking for a full-service environment as her next challenge, and landed at Paradigm just more than a year ago.

She notes that while Paradigm is itself a major player in the agency world – including film, TV and literary divisions and the opportunities that comes with that – the music division is populated with many colleagues coming from boutique agencies, making for an ideal fit. In addition to Imagine Dragons, Christopher represents a talented group of successful artists including Rise AgainstAWOLNATIONDescendentsThe Dirty HeadsSublime with Rome, and Kongos among many others.

Christopher is married to Graham Martin, a music manager, with whom she has two boys. She says she doesn’t allow cell phones at the dinner table.

Click here for the PDF version, which includes additional photos.

See Also: Pollstar Executive Profile Archive

Who or what inspired you to become an agent?

It’s coming up on my 20th anniversary in the business. In 1995, Stormy Shepard was on the cover of Pollstar’s agency directory. She was the agent for all punk, ska, pop-punk bands of the era – AFI, the OffspringRancidNOFX, etc. Here was this young woman on the cover who owned her own agency.

I was interning at The Tahoe Agency (my first agency) as a newcomer in the business and I saw that, and said, “That’s what I want to do.”

How did you connect with Tahoe Agency?

I started interning at The Tahoe Agency my senior year in high school, in 1995. I was just 17. I was doing telemarketing for a resort in Lake Tahoe and often we were encouraged to bring in our own music to play in the office.

I would bring what I was listening to at the time: punk, pop punk, ska, indie rock, etc. The office manager approached me one day and said, “My husband and I have a booking agency and we represent some of the artists that you’re playing.” She asked me if I wanted to come and intern. I had been going to shows for several years, but had no clue there was an actual business behind music. I jumped at it and that’s how I stumbled into the music business. About six weeks into that internship, Rick Bonde, the owner of The Tahoe Agency, offered me a job as a paid assistant to begin right out of high school.

I worked there for two years and, during that time, the agency signed Blink-182, Sublime, Goldfinger, and Reel Big Fish to name a few. Things really took off. After being an assistant there for two years, I went on my first national tour and when I came home I decided I was ready to take the next step. I approached Rick one day and said, “OK, I’m ready to be an agent.” Rick’s response was “You’re 19. I can’t make you an agent.” So I said “OK then, I’m outta here!” I was young, but I suppose my attitude hasn’t changed much (laughs).

But you did go out and get a little seasoning.

I went back to Southern California to work at a small indie record label, Cornerstone R.A.S as well as Sublime’s merch company. I was booking small bands on the roster and doing retail for the label, running the warehouse for the merchandise side, doing whatever needed to get done, until they downsized in 1999. I called my old boss, Rick Bonde, who had recently relocated to L.A. and told him I was looking for a new gig. He asked if I wanted to come back to work for him, this time as an agent. I started back to work for The Tahoe Agency the next day, booking half of the roster.

Did it seem like a dead end or did it present another opportunity?

About six months into being back at Tahoe, I felt I was ready to sign some of my own clients. I went to Rick to discuss the idea with him and was pretty surprised when he informed me that he had decided to get out of the booking business at the end of the year. He told me he would support me if I wanted to go off on my own and start an agency. I had no clue what I was getting myself into, but I didn’t hesitate for a minute. I remember years later being asked by another agent how much startup capital I had when I started my agency and laughing at the idea that I probably didn’t know what startup capital even was at that time.

So this marks the beginning of Fierce Talent? Yes, I started Fierce Talent in August of 1999. Blink-182 was doing arenas at the time and Rick was really focused on them as well as a handful of other clients. That allowed me to focus on the rest of the roster. He basically called up all the clients that I was servicing and said, “Listen, Corrie’s going to go off on her own and you can either stay with us, knowing we’re going to be focused on other things, or you can go with her and have our complete blessing.” I think all but one of those artists came with me. I had an instant roster, which was really amazing, and it kept the lights on from the start.

That’s quite a trajectory from high school intern to agency owner in four years. And it wasn’t the end, was it?

I ran Fierce Talent for about six years. I loved owning my own business, but I had a couple of clients that were really starting to take off, and I felt that I had more to learn and needed to be around people whom I could learn from. I sold that to The Agency Group in 2005 and worked in their Los Angeles office for just over four years.

You mention learning from other people. Do you mean as mentors or in some other capacity?

I consider anybody around me, who has experience with something that I do not, to be a mentor. I look at what other agents do, that I don’t want to do, as much as I look at the ones that I think are getting it right. There are certainly people at The Agency Group whose ears I would bend – Steve Martin, Steve Herman, Andy Somers and Ken Fermaglich were some of them. They have very different styles of agenting, and I leaned on them all when I was there. I got a lot out of being at The Agency Group, which for me was a natural progression in my career. I’d owned my own agency and come from a boutique agency before that. I came from a very independent-minded background. The music I was working in also shared that spirit.

How did you fit in at The Agency Group after being an independent?

The Agency Group was a very natural fit. I was able to work under an umbrella of a worldwide agency that allowed me to be very autonomous. I took my whole roster there; nobody was dictating what I was working on or what I should be doing. It was my own roster within a bigger agency. That was a great transition for me.

But yet you went from The Agency Group to APA. Were you still looking for a different experience?

APA was an opportunity to work with a full-service agency that was in a territorial system. I knew I wanted to start a family and I knew that system might be a little bit more conducive to what I wanted to do with my personal life. I also thought my clients could be supported in other areas I didn’t have access to with The Agency Group at that time, such as the [non-music] ancillary revenue streams. I was there for about five years.

How did you transition to Paradigm?

I had met with Marty Diamond before I joined APA, but I was not interested in relocating to New York City, and Los Angeles wasn’t an option at that time, as they didn’t have a music department there yet. But when the opportunity came up, just over a year ago when my contract was up for renewal, I jumped at it. I absolutely love everything about Paradigm – the agents, the comradery, the roster, the reputation. The entire agency was built on agents that had carved their own path and all were very hands-on agents. I have huge respect for Chip Hooper, Marty Diamond, Dan Weiner, Fred Bohlander, and many others. They are all amazing agents and great people to work with.

You have several very successful artists on your roster who have been with you through a lot of changes. Tell us about some of those longtime relationships.

I’ve been working with Rise Against and Yellowcard since about 2000. Rise Against was a $100 opening act and had sold just a few thousand records on a small punk label. We’ve taken them into arenas in quite a few markets and really helped them establish a credible, solid touring base. I consider them dear friends and one of my favorite success stories. Yellowcard was really the first Fierce Talent band to break out of clubs, selling millions of records.

Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION has been a client of mine going on eight years now between his various projects. I’ve always had real faith in him as an artist regardless of what project he is doing. There’s a lot to be said for the longevity of relationships. And if it hadn’t been for that relationship, I wouldn’t have Imagine Dragons or Kongos. Aaron’s longtime manager Berko Pearce turned me on to both of them.

You’ve also been very involved with Riot Fest. How did that come about?

Riot Fest is something else. Four years ago I helped Michael Petryshyn and Sean McKeough take Riot Fest outside for the first time after being in clubs for the seven years previously. We had acts like Rise Against, The Descendents, Elvis Costello, Jesus and Mary Chain and Iggy Pop the first year in 2012. I helped them expand into some other markets. We’ve grown that into the second largest festival in Chicago. Now, it’s expanded to Toronto and Denver, also. We’re on our third year in Toronto and second year in Denver. It’s something I’m really proud of. I had been selling shows to Riot Fest for years before getting involved. It’s been really exciting to help them grow that.

You have a reputation for growing artists as well, and being hands-on in artist development, with the success of Imagine Dragons. What was your strategy?

As much credit as I would like to take for Imagine Dragons, they wrote an incredible record, they are fantastic players and they have a work ethic to match. They are also surrounded by a really solid team. Their manager, Mac Reynolds, and Interscope are all very engaged. They are a huge priority for everyone involved and have been from the beginning. As far as the strategy goes, we went where the fans were dictating.

It was evident from the first headline tour that these tickets were moving faster than we could put them up. So we followed the natural progression of what the fans were demanding. We were very cautious going from the theatre tour to the arena tour. It took meticulous planning. We were extremely ticket price-sensitive and we tried to set it up so if the demand was there, we could go with it. We did, we ended up selling all the way to the top. That’s really not rocket science, but the band wants to sell every ticket. They’re very hands-on, very intelligent; I love that.

With all the changes in technology in the last decade, is it a challenge to methodically develop an artist according to plan, or are there instant expectations?

I bought a crystal ball in 1997 (laughs). It would be naïve for anybody to think they’ve figured it all out, because things are moving exponentially faster than they used to. What it looked like 20 years ago is completely different. How long it took an artist to develop from even 500-capacity clubs to 1,000-cap clubs to 2,000-caps, has especially changed in the last five years.

The trajectory for Imagine Dragons is unprecedented. Initially, we were looking at artists whose careers we really admired. And we asked, “What would so-and-so have done?” Not long into that game, we realized we had to stop paying attention to what anyone else had done because it was truly unparalleled. You can’t ignore what other artists have done right and ask yourself what you might have done differently, what’s worked and what hasn’t.

But this is lightning in a bottle and a truly incredible story. As I mentioned before, it was a team effort with everyone working toward the same goal; all hands on deck. If one of those pieces wasn’t working the way that it did, who knows? I’d love to say that I’d figured out how to turn every band into Imagine Dragons. But the core of it starts and ends with great music.

Do you still go to a lot of shows to check out emerging talent?

Not as many club shows as I used to. I have two young boys. I do what I can, though. If I am excited about something musically I make a point to check it out. I also don’t sign a ton of artists. I keep a fairly small roster. I’m really big on quality over quantity. I seem to find a sweet spot with the size of my roster and the amount of time I can give to my artists. I don’t really mess with that. I sign maybe one or two new acts a year. So I’m not out scouting a ton. I listen to what the people around me are excited about as well, whether it’s my other artists or people in the business that I respect. I go off of instinct a lot. What works for me is when I’m truly passionate about the music. I learned that lesson a long time ago and I don’t get passionate about very many things.

Has that ability to narrow your focus facilitated other facets of your life, like being a mom?

That’s the most important part of my life, being a mom! It’s been amazing. As my personal life has grown and I’ve started a family, my professional life has grown exponentially as well. I feel very fortunate to have the people I have around me. As they say, it takes a village. My husband, who is also in the business as an artist manager, is incredibly supportive and understanding of the needs of my job.

My family is close by. I also have an amazing team at Paradigm that I trust. Balancing all that, you’ll see I take my kids – if I’m going to be gone for more than a few days, I’ll bring the whole gang with me. I try not to be away from them for more than a couple of nights at a time, which makes traveling a little more challenging than it used to be. But I find that my priorities are laser-focused now and I don’t sweat little things as much as I used to.

Does it sometimes feel like a juggling act, balancing a music career and raising kids?

A single mother who is working a swing shift is juggling. My situation is much more fortunate than that. It’s certainly a lot easier when you only have yourself to think about. But I guess what makes it more of a juggling act also makes it that much more enriching. I’ve certainly been through some rough things with being a parent and having a lot happening at the same time – parenthood is a lot for anybody even if you don’t have an intense career. I feel very lucky.

I feel like my life is very balanced, and that’s really big for me. I am lucky I have so many wonderful things personally and professionally in my life.