Best Of Agent Icon Marsha Vlasic At MIDEM 2019

Marsha Vlasic at MIDEM 2019
Gideon Gottfried
– Marsha Vlasic at MIDEM 2019
She was interviewed by Ray Waddell, president of OVG’s Media & Conferences division

A keynote with Marsha Vlasic, president Artist Group International, moderated by Ray Waddell, president of OVG’s Media & Conferences division, closed MIDEM’s Live Summit, June 6.
Vlasic is known for her long and fruitful relationships with artists including Neil Young, Nora Jones, Elvis Costello, The Strokes, Cyndi Lauper, Moby, Band of Horses, Iggy Pop, Cage The Elephant, Silversun Pickups, Regina Spektor, PJ Harvey, Devendra Banhart, Butch Walker, The Breeders and The Heavy and more. Over the course of her career she’s also worked with Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Bob Dylan and many others.
Pollstar picked some highlights from the conversation.
On being one of the first female agents in the business: 
“I never felt different. It wasn’t like, ‘oh, gee, I’m a woman, he’s a guy and I have to do this differently. It just never entered my mind. I just ploughed along.
“Look, for any woman, who has been abused or put in an uncomfortable situation, my heart goes out. But I think that things were much more relaxed, and it wasn’t thought of as inappropriate. We had fun. It was a lot less serious than it is right now.”
On being independent: 
“I was always a rebel and couldn’t follow the rules. Being in the big agency, it was just hard. It was hard to be part of the team, there wasn’t a team, it was a false hope in a way.
“Being independent worked for me up to a certain point. But then, at MVO [Vlasic’s first own agency] I started feeling really lonely, and I felt like I wanted people around me, and I wanted to have those people to walk into an office and say, ‘what do think about this?’
“It was just me and an assistant doing it all.”
On working with the Osbournes: 
“I love Sharon. I loved representing Ozzy Osbourne, there wasn’t a dull moment, ever. I also was the guardian to the children, so had anything happened to Sharon or Ozzy…
“Planning the Ozzfests was amazing. She is a genius, she has passion and compassion. And his craziness, we’d sit in the house and even before the cameras were rolling, the cameras were rolling.
“Every time Ozzy wound up in a hospital, somehow I was at his hospital bed. I loved them, I really did.”
On working with Lou Reed: 
“I loved him. He was so conflicted. He just wouldn’t enjoy his career, he would’t enjoy performing. He did enjoy it, but he would always find something wrong. He was brutal on himself.”
On making relationships last:
“Once you earn the trust of an artist, and you’re not faceless, and you actually have an opinion, and just don’t ‘yes’ the artist, and you listen, you hear what the artist says.
“If an artist has a dream to do something, even if it’s unrealistic or crazy, it’s worth checking it out, and letting them know that you’ve checked out the possibilities, and not just say, ‘no, that’s crazy, forget about it, it can’t work, it’ll lose money.’
“I really listen to what they say, and I go through the motions to see if I can make their dreams come true.”
On the importance of live: 
“For me, the live show was always one of the most important things. I never claimed to be an A&R person, I never claimed to be a musician, I can’t sing, I can’t play, but for me it was instinct. It was standing there and having my heart pound when I watch somebody perform, or was moved by the songs. Something had to get me.”
On playing festivals: 
“It’s like winning the lottery, playing to a festival, whether you’re an unknown band or a headliner. Just having that enormous amount of people there. Unless you’re a stadium act, and none of my acts really are stadium acts.”
“The festival is the important play. Just being on the poster. Everybody looks at it. It’s like a magnet.”
On radius clauses: 
“I’m incredibly respectful [of] them. I will [talk it through] with the promoter, and I will never, never, never just blow it off. And if you are the headliner, you’re going to respect the radius clauses, because you get paid to respect radius clauses.”
On the consolidation of the business: 
“I’m still hands on. Before the consolidation of Live Nation and AEG, some of the promoters were as strong as the artists. There was somebody in each city that was a star. And those people cared so much about selling tickets and having their name on the poster as presenting. It was more of a commitment.
“Now, a lot of the times you don’t have a local person in the city that you’re playing. It’s hard to connect. Some agents are as hands on as I am, and some are not, and leave it to the global touring office to make the individual city decisions. I don’t do that, because I think a person knows local radio, local people, local media in their market. For me it’s a personal service business, and I want to know everything that’s going on.”
On calling Bill Graham: 
“When I became an agent, at that time you had territories. So they gave me the west coast territory, and Bill Graham was my promoter. I’d wait until seven at night, New York time, to call him, because I was just so afraid.
“Every time I’d call, he’d rage and rant and scream. No matter how much I told him the act was. If I’d told him it was a dollar, it would have been a dollar too much. It was hard. He was a screamer, and, being a woman, the one person I felt a difference from was Bill Graham. But I had a great relationship with him.
On Elvis Costello: 
“He’s one of the greatest, most passionate artists. In my heart and soul I wish that he was up there with the Billy Joels, Elton Johns, Sting. He really has to be recognised, because he’s just unbelievable.”
On the #metoo movement: 
“When I do a panel, or something like this, and a young girl will come up to me afterwards and say, ‘oh, it’s so hard for us to break into the business,’ I really get angry, because when you really think of how many women [there are], look at the executives in the publishing companies, record companies, lawyers, I mean, the amount of women that are now really top, top in the field, it’s really amazing.”
On going to live shows: 
“It’s becoming harder, because the artists expect you to be there. You sit down with the calendar, and there’s so many conflicts of double, triple bookings, and sometimes I say, ‘why didn’t I think of my schedule when I was routing this out.’ It’s hard.
“I try to be in LA for most of the LA shows, I try to be at the big shows, and some of the really small or charity shows that mean something to the artist. The Strokes just did a show at the Wiltern for the homeless in LA. Nobody got paid to do anything, I made it my point to be there and support it, and organise it.  
“You just want to make the artist know that you’re part of it, and seeing them live is so important.”
On having it all: 
“I look back, and I really don’t know how I did it. I did go to all the soccer games, and I did go to the book clubs, and got the homework done, and tried to cook a meal, my husband and I were very hands on. 
“It was very important to me, as a woman, to have children and work. So I figured it out.”
2019 marked the second year of the branding, marketing and content partnership between Oak View Group, Pollstar and MIDEM that was launched in early 2018. MIDEM’s Live Summit is a result of that partnership.

OVG is Pollstar’s parent company.