Dennis Arfa, Founder and Chairman, Artist Group International

Dennis Arfa
– Dennis Arfa

The Caretakers

Executives making the right moves to keep careers, companies, shows, the business, rolling. Operators as opposed to architects.

Dennis Arfa
Founder and Chairman, Artist Group International

“I’m sure we have the best home run-to-bat ratio in the industry,” says Dennis Arfa when discussing the impact of his powerhouse independent agency Artist Group International. “There’re some baseball players who have more home runs per bat; we have more headliners per agent than anybody with a single digit number of agents.” 

 And as Arfa ticks off his 2019, it’s clear his baseball metaphor isn’t an exaggeration. “Def Leppard is touring Canada before a Vegas residency at Planet Hollywood; Billy [Joel, whose live career he’s helped take to unprecedented success] has the Garden residency and is doing eight stadiums this year, including a return to Wembley and his sixth year at Philly’s Citizens and Boston Fenway; Metallica just finished a huge tour of secondary markets in March; Rod Stewart is touring Europe and has a Las Vegas run continuing in September; The Smashing Pumpkins are going out with Noel Gallagher; Ghost has their first full arena tour; Kidz Bop is doing amphitheaters; Hall and Oates have dates in Europe and America before touring in 2020; Yes is on their Royal Affair tour with Asia, ELP and Moody Blues in sheds; we just signed Five Finger Death Punch and expect them out in the fall; we’re in the process of putting Mr. And Mrs. America together, which is Andrew Dice Clay and Roseanne Barr for select dates.” 

 And that’s not even touching Neil Young, Iggy Pop, The Strokes, Regina Spektor, Elvis Costello and Cage the Elephant (see Marsha Vlasic on page 66 whom Arfa calls “a legendary agent”). 

 All of which begs the question, how the heck in this age of power agencies has Arfa, who worked for William Morris between 1981-1986, managed to thrive as an independent and is even talking about “expansion opportunities?” 

 The company founder credits his team, the attention AGI gives its artists and the firm’s “culture.” “Show me an agency that’s big and isn’t loaded with all kinds of politics,” he says. “You want to live in my culture you’re apolitical, you aren’t dealing with upper management or if you’re in the right clique or who’s stealing whose acts and internal fighting. We don’t have any of that. We’re all partners here at AGI in this business. We work together.”

Hot Takes

What’s your favorite laminate?

My favorite laminate? Any one that works.

The show that changed your life?

Led Zeppelin headlining The Fillmore East for the first time. I was sitting in the seventh row and I was mesmerized. That’s when they had to prove it.  

Were people just blown away?

Blown away. It was the ultimate frontman, it was the ultimate guitar player, it was the ultimate drummer. It was just a bunch of all stars conquering the world and it was just wow! A rock ’n’ roll band.

Best career-related advice you were ever given?

Don’t worry about the credit, as long as you get the check.

What would you like to tell our friends at the record labels and/or radio?

I would tell the record labels that they missed being in the live business. They missed ever really getting to understand it and know it.

What about radio?

I’ve got to only say about radio, it’s just to me that it’s too bad that only pop makes a difference. There’s a genre for everybody and radio is satellite. There’s something for everybody. But it doesn’t move the needle like pop radio does, unfortunately.  

Where can you be found during a show?

Depends which show, but either at a soundboard sitting in a seat or schmoozing in the back.

The biggest miss by you and/or the industry?

I would probably say that the biggest miss to the agency business was that they didn’t get into the promotion business. By not taking a risk, we lost income. 

Artists to watch in the next year?


Pet peeves?

When agents claim that they don’t poach.

Ten years after the great slump, when the recession happened, can it happen again?

Of course. And it doesn’t have to be just financial, it could be a series of terrorist things, many things could happen. It depends how the world goes. To me, when the concert business is doing well, it’s an extension to some degree, that mankind is okay. It is, because it’s one of our celebratory experiences that’s out there for many to enjoy.