‘You’re Not Seen As A Human Anymore’: Agents Discuss Strain Of Volume Bookings At ESNS

The Agents Panel at ESNS
Gideon Gottfried
– The Agents Panel at ESNS
From left: Moderator Allan McGowan (ILMC, IQ Magazine), Maria May (CAA), Paul Buck (Paradigm), Alex Bruford (ATC Live), and Beckie Sugden (X-Ray Touring/Paradigm)

Eurosonic Noorderslag took place Jan. 15-18 in Groningen, The Netherlands. Days packed with discussions and keynotes were followed by nights of back to back concerts in 40-plus venues.
What sounds like bliss to a music journalist, is hard work for the countless promoters and agents that are part of the international delegation of professionals visiting ESNS each year. 
Their goal is, of course, to find new talent for representation and to add to their upcoming festival lineups.
At the beginning of 2020, the “upcoming” festival season often means “the 2021 festival season” – the volume of events, and artists who want to play at those events, has never been greater.
Unsurprisingly, industry vet Allan McGowan, who traditionally moderates The Agent’s Panel at ESNS, asked his panelists this year: “Has life gotten any harder for you?”
While all agents on the panel were reluctant to speak those exact words, they did acknowledge that work has gotten “more, not necessarily harder” (Paul Buck, Paradigm) or at least “more complex” (Alex Bruford, ATC Live).
Bruford said managers in different time zones expected answers immediately these days, which created a 24h-cycle that could pose a real challenge. “It feels like there’s a better solution to communication than we’re using right now,” he said.
CAA’s Maria May said she’s been “feeling the strain of volume bookings for years now,” adding that her children have started to demand email-free holidays, and even dropped her mobile phone into the pool once to prevent their mother from adhering to the idea of 24h-availability.
Beckie Sugden of X-Ray Touring confirmed that with the time zones, “you’re really using every second of the day to do you job. You’re not seen as a human anymore.”
Addressing the new booking reality in which deals are made further and further ahead of the actual show, Sugden said that while it’s “been like that forever with stadium and arena shows,” she was nowadays struggling “even at the bottom end.”
Even small and mid-sized venues are being booked up increasingly fast, simply because there is so much talent out there that wants to play live. 
“It’s difficult to make artists and managers understand that if we don’t book this now, they may not be in the right venues [at the time of the tour],” Sugden explained.
The audience only has so much money to spend on concert tickets. Given the large choice they have in 2020, agents no longer assume that the second tour  will necessarily be bigger than the first. 
Bruford explained: “Even if they loved the show, and are a fan, they might go and see someone else.”
Buck confirmed that is was “very rare these days that you can revisit cities on the same campaign these days.”
More Highlights from the Agents Panel:
Live Streaming:
– Bruford: “The streaming of live shows is becoming more important, there’s a large audience outside the actual concert. It changes the shows artists want to play, because they can get extra exposure.”
Ticket Prices:
– Bruford: “Are we just trying to make money, or are we trying to build artist careers? I’m a little bit concerned about the talks that we can charge more.”
– Sugden: “It depends on the artist. Some just want to rush in and out and make as much money as possible. Some artists do the [2,300-capacity O2 Forum Kentish Town in London] on a £45 ticket, because fans pay it. They should keep it low and play festivals for the big money.”
Growig Markets:
– Sugden: “There’s lot’s of healthy growth, especially in the Middle East. Loads of rappers are going.”
– Bruford: “There’s more desire to visit markets worldwide. Streaming only pays off if you have global streams. It makes people more open to going into new markets. Artists love it, fans appreciate it more. Every tour we include at least some markets they haven’t been to before, and it’s always some of the best shows.”