Dennis Arfa has seen and done more than most agents, let alone most people, will in lifetime. Over the past 35 years he’s traveled the world building a powerhouse agency with a stellar roster on par with the biggest multimedia Hollywood talent agencies. This includes: Billy Joel, Metallica, Rod Stewart, Def Leppard, Kidz Bop, Neil Young, Iggy Pop, Why Don’t We, Mötley Cru¨e, Cage the Elephant, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, Five Finger Death Punch, Jane’s Addiction, P.J. Harvey, The Strokes, Linkin Park, Regina Spek¬tor, Ghost, Smashing Pumpkins, and Hall & Oates among many others. This he’s accomplished with a lean and mean machine of 22 employees, a tireless work ethic and relationships built over a lifetime.
In a challenging year that saw many in the industry laying low, rescheduling tours or perhaps furloughed, Arfa didn’t sit still for a second. “We did a joint venture with John Jackson’s K2,” Arfa says referencing last August’s blockbuster deal with the rock-focused British agency. “We also signed deals with Why Don’t We, who Randy Phillips manages, and Jane’s Addiction and established a relationship with Maureen Valker-Barlow’s BrandMark.” He also is proud he paid his staff their full salaries.“I’ve been very fortunate during these times,” he says, noting he expects another big announcement coming soon.
So how does he do it? Over the course of 50 years in this business, which included a stint at William Morris during the 1980s, Arfa has developed a number of business philosophies that have helped guide his success while brokering innumerable deals requiring hardnosed negotiating, creative strategies and delicate diplomacy. Often, when speaking with Arfa, he’ll drop nuggets of wisdom he’s acquired over the years that not only succinctly explains his successes but can inspire success in others.
DENNIS ARFA’S SIX CREDOS FOR BUSINESS & LIFE
1) If you have a problem and you don’t handle it well, now you have two problems
As simple as it sounds, it’s a great way to analyze what is going on. If you don’t handle your problem well, you’ll have many more problems. It could be anything in life, it can be a business or personal issue. It’s really a test of who you are and who you’re not.
2) Don’t cry about tomorrow until it’s yesterday
A lot of times when we’re expecting bad things or that things aren’t going to work out, that’s not the reality. We put ourselves through things we didn’t necessarily have to. Wait for the result before you’re crying, before you’re sad, before you’re not handling something well. Sometimes you’ve got to step away and come back to it and approach it with less emotion.
3) Sometimes I build the car and sometimes I just put the gas in it
Most agents are bookers. I look at myself as more of a touring expert. When I have the opportunity, I try to do things that enhance one’s career. I try to do that all the time. You may not want all I can offer, and that’s okay, but if you want, I’m capable of giving you a lot more. I have the ability to build a car. But you may not want that service from me. You may want me just to be a great router or a negotiator or other different parts of my job.
4) If you don’t ask, the answer is always ‘No’
That means if you say, “Well, I’m not going to ask them to give me that $2 rebate on the facility fee because I think he’s going to say no,” the answer is always no. There’s been many times in my career, in negotiations, that just by asking I got it or some of it. If I didn’t ask, I would have gotten nothing. And I’ve been amazed.
5) I’ll never talk to you again…until I need you
There are people who have done unethical things I’d get angry at and would never talk to again. And then two years later, guess what? They’re managing this band or artist and I have to work with them again. So now I’ve learned to say, “I’ll never talk to you again…until I need you,” because that’s what’s going to happen. To sit down and draw a line in the sand, to the point that I’m hurting myself is not an option. This is a business. And if you’re a long-term player, you understand that. I didn’t get that for quite a while.
6) Winning Is Fun
Don’t forget that. Show up to the show. Having 40,000 people to see your artist, feeling your role in helping the event take place with the adrenaline, the roar of crowd, the emotion – nothing is better, nothing.