‘I’m Not Good At Waiting It Out’: Q’s With Jon Ollier, Founder/CEO of One Fiinix Live

Jon Ollier
Courtesy of One Fiinix Live
– Jon Ollier
Founder and CEO of new London-based agency One Fiinix Live.

Jon Ollier made headlines when he announced his departure from CAA in October, where he spent almost six very successful years thanks to an eclectic roster of artists, with Ed Sheeran leading the way.

Ollier didn’t want to just sit back and watch the current crisis unfold, so he decided to launch his own company, One Fiinix Live, where he’s currently preparing for a post-COVID world, in which artists will be touring again. His roster, which also includes Anne-Marie, Lauv, 2Cellos and JC Stewart amongs others, has joined him for the ride.
Pollstar reached out to Ollier to talk about his motivation to go independent, a move that may seem counter-intuitive to some during these uncertain times, what he envisions a world after COVID to look like, his love for the agency business and the first meeting with Sheeran – way before they embarked on what would become the most successful tour of all time. 
Pollstar: How are you doing in these strange times, and how are you dealing with the weird depressing energy that’s palpable everywhere?
Jon Ollier: Part of the whole reason why I did this was, I couldn’t cope with the energy anymore. I had to feel like I was doing something positive and moving forward and building something.
It’s something that we all need to feel, isn’t it, that we’re actually here for a reason and not just waiting it out. 
That feeling is a large part of what drove me to do this.
It’s great that you found an endeavor to sink your teeth in.
Absolutely, and the hope is that other people, who might be feeling like that, will want to come and talk to me, even if it is just to get a different perspective. Maybe we’ll end up working on things, going into ventures, whatever the case may be.
We’re here wanting to collaborate on how the future might look.

One of Ollier's clients:
Burak Cingi/Redferns
– One of Ollier’s clients:
Anne-Marie, performing at Lovebox Festival 2017 in London, England.

What will be important for artists in the coming months, and what do you envision the post-COVID world to look like?

Artists will need to be able to exploit areas of their career without barriers in the way, so they can forge careers in a more streamlined and easy way than perhaps has been the case so far.
I think the post-COVID world will eventually look very much like the pre-COVID world. I’m a firm believer that the human race is very resilient, and it will always find ways around these things. This is only temporary blip, and we’ll all be able to get back to the business we know and love in the future. 
We will see more and more of what I’m doing. We will see big companies fracture and professionals either being made redundant or wanting to be in control of their own destiny. I think we will see the day of the independents again over the next couple of years.
Probably the largest obstacle that we’re going to have to overcome is the economic one. I have no doubt that the vaccine, the testing, herd immunity or whatever it is, will solve the problem of the pandemic. But it’s going to leave in its wake huge problems with poverty and inequality and all the issues that really weren’t in a good place before we went into this pandemic.
We won’t be able to take the economics for granted, that, I think, is going to be the biggest challenge.
Why is it that agents in particular are the most active in these times, setting up new businesses all over?
We, as agents, by our very definition almost, we make things happen. We’re not very good at sitting back and waiting it out.
The reason you’re going to see this happening more and more is because it’s in our instinct that when there’s a problem, to apply all our problem-solving skill and pro-activity in order to find a solution to move forward.
When this pandemic hit, and we were all facing the tragedy that unfolded back in April, all of the big companies – broadly speaking not just music – their strategy was to just sit still in wait it out.
People that are in my line of business, they’re just not naturally good at doing that. They need to feel like they’re attacking the problem.
How long into the first lockdown sometime in March did it take you to know what you were going to do?
It was a very long process, I did a hell of a lot of thinking, I talked very openly about it with CAA, which is why we had this very amicable departure.
I wouldn’t say I knew I was going to quit my job and start my own company back in March, but what I would say is that some of the things that are happening now in terms of agencies splintering and small independents starting, all of that kind of stuff, I predicted back in April.
I supposed, subconsciously, that was the start of the process for me.

Ed Sheeran poses before Wembley Stadium where he performed during his all-time record setting Divide tour.
John Phillips/Getty Images
– Ed Sheeran poses before Wembley Stadium where he performed during his all-time record setting Divide tour.
The iconic building is Ollier’s favorite venue in the world.

You chose a name that has a theme of rebirth and renewal. Was that born out of the current situation or does the Phoenix carry a different meaning?

It was a combination. The symbolism of the Phoenix is something that’s always been very close and relevant to me, whenever I had huge turning point in my life. The conventional spelling of the word Phoenix we actually gave to my daughter as her middle name.
She’s almost six now and was born around the time I started at CAA. New job, baby on the way, moved house, all of those were massive changes, and so the Phoenix was a real theme at the time. I just felt like now was a very similar moment.
And, yeah, the Phoenix rises from the ashes, and you can use the ashes as a metaphor for the music business or the touring business. And this company will rise out of those ashes, and that’s fine.
But, I think, more so, in terms of spiritual symbolism, the Phoenix symbolizes hope and rebirth and immortality. That’s more the feeling of it all: the idea that we can have faith in the immortality of music, we can have hope in the rebirth of the business that we know and love.
How have these past months made you feel personally?
I felt foolish, because back in November last year, I was saying to myself, and I think I even verbalized it to colleagues and friends: ‘Brexit doesn’t matter. It will be okay, whatever happens, we will get through it, and we will be alright, because live music is recession proof.’
I built a career out of the financial crisis, that around when I started working in the agency business. Despite the financial crash I hadn’t been scared.
But I felt extremely foolish and complacent when the pandemic hit, and all of a sudden, services can’t be rendered, there’s no business, and ultimately agents are faced with this stark reality that they don’t own anything. There’s no royalties on live tours, there’s no residual payments on that.
This kind of dawning that we’ve been far too complacent made me feel foolish on a personal level.

SSD Concerts' distanced open-air arena.
Ian Forsyth/Getty Images
– SSD Concerts’ distanced open-air arena.
“From an audience experience perspective, I think they got it as close as you can possibly get it to the real thing,” said Ollier.

Did any of the artists on your roster perform any live shows during these past six months at all?

Not really, there’s been bits and pieces of online stuff, but nothing ticketed. There hasn’t been a great deal of activity at all.
Have you been observing the developments like drive-in shows, distanced gigs, and the various live streaming offers online, some of which are ticketed, and is there any model amongst them that you find appealing?
When questions about the future of gigs arises, my answer is this: no one thing is going to be a solution in the sense that it will replace touring. But all of those things, whether it’s the online virtual stuff, the socially distanced shows, the Utility Arena shows they did up in Newcastle – which were fantastic by the way – they are going to be the building blocks with which we can get back to normality.
The next 12 months, probably, are going to be a case of trying a bit here and trying a bit there. Those individual things are not going to be the answer, but collectively they’re all tools that we can use to build our way out of this.
What made the Newcastle open air arena stand out in your view?
They really nailed it. The idea that everyone gets a platform with their mates – from an audience experience perspective that was really strong, because it was just like being on your own VIP platform. You go to Ibiza, people pay good money to have their own platform at the front of the stage.
From an audience experience perspective, I think they got it as close as you can possibly get it to the real thing, out of all the different options I’ve seen.
The difficult thing, obviously, is the cost. The expense of putting it on and the relatively small amount of money you can make out of it.
But the other thing I was really impressed with is that the guys, who put it on, just seemed to have such fantastic energy with it, and that came across. We looked at it. We discussed with them. They wanted Anne-Marie, we went through the process, it just ended up not working out. 
But those guys just had such a great energy about them, they probably felt inspired and empowered to be on some kind of crusade to make sure that people got some entertainment that summer. 
You’ve mentioned the comparatively high costs of putting on COVID-compliant shows. Is that also part of what made you say earlier that we cannot take the economics for granted anymore?
Primarily, I was talking about the wider population just having less money in their pocket. That’s where it all comes from.
Yes, there are going to be cost implications with putting shows on, and potentially huge cost implications with testing and systems in place with regard to some kind of medical passport or whatever the case may be.
As an industry we’ve always managed to absorb those costs. When the terrible attack on the Bataclan happened, we’ve managed to implement extra security and it became second nature, and that was widely accepted. We will adapt.
The main problem will just be general poverty within the population. People are going to have less money for a bit, the governments are going to stop spending, they’re going to have to fix their [budget], we don’t know what that’s going to look like, but it could be years of austerity from the government. I just think we don’t want to be taking the fanbase for granted at the moment.
Do you remember the moment you fell in love with live music?
Yes, it was at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall in Birmingham, and it was watching a band called Machine Head back in the late 1990s, probably 1996 or 1997.
Was that your first gig?
It was my first ever what I would call real gig. My first ever spiritual experience, shall we call it?
Did that also want to make you want to work in this business, or did that take a while?
That took a while. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life in general until I was 22, 23 years old. I didn’t go to university until very late, I certainly went around the houses. And then, for a long time, I wanted to work in music production or in record labels.
It was the financial crash in 2008, just when I had come out of university, and recorded music was suffering big time. It was all the Napster stuff and the rest of it, the record companies were in big trouble.
That made me flip to live music. So, it’s not been a straight-forward path. 
Could you also have envisioned yourself becoming a promoter?
No, I’ve never really liked being a promoter. I’m a bit more of a strategist at heart, and the agency model just really took me.
Do you have a favorite venue of all time?
Yeah, it’s just going to sound grandiose, but there is nothing else quite like playing Wembley Stadium. I wish I could have some fantastic story about The Dog & Duck in Roehampton or something, where they really keep the spirit of music alive and all of that.
I wish I’d have that kind of romantic story for you, but the reality is, you get to Wembley Stadium, you just walk out and you realize the enormity of it, and the scale of the achievement and the prestige of the name and the people that have walked in that building, onto that stage – that’s the moment that your breath gets taken away.
What are you looking for in the artists you’re working with?
The obvious thing is the talent, the songwriting, the delivery, the performance, the stage craft, all of that.
But the one ingredient these days, the defining difference between those that really get it done vs. those that don’t, is their own drive and vision for what they want to do. 
Gone are the days when artists just record 12 songs, hand them over, and in six months’ time they’re famous. It just isn’t going to work in the modern day and age. 
They have to have a clear vision for what they want to do, how they’re going to do it, and the drive to keep achieving until they get there.

Ed Sheeran supporting Just Jack at London
– Ed Sheeran supporting Just Jack at London
Sheeran approached Ollier afterwards, thinking he was approaching Guy Chambers.

Can you talk about the reasons for this change?

It’s just too competitive, and the way we live our lives online now is just so personal to the artists. It has to come from them, no one can fake your social media. You will get found out. If it’s not coming from you, and if it’s not coming from the heart, there’s so much out there now that you will get found out, and you won’t stand the test.
Can you take us through the first meeting with Ed Sheeran?
The first meeting with Ed Sheeran was backstage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and he was supporting Just Jack. At the afterparty, Ed came up to me, and he gave me his card, and he said: ‘I hear really good things about you, man, I really want to work with you, and I was hoping you’d take my card, and maybe we could hook up and talk about it.’
And I thought, ‘fantastic, that’s really cool, proactive,’ he was fantastic, all the rest of it. So, yeah, we ended up doing all of that and starting this great career.
But it wasn’t until about four or five years later, when we were just chatting, that he told me that he thought I was Guy Chambers that night.