On agents who demand payment up front

On agents who demand payment up front


norman lebrecht

May 17, 2019

Whenever an artist tells me that an agency wants to sign him or her but expects to be paid for their services, I have given the best advice available in these circumstances: don’t go near them.

An agent who demands money up-front from artist is an agent who has failed to make money by legitimate means.

VAN magazine today publishes an important exposé about a lone agent who makes promises to artists and takes their money.

Without talking to others, a musician might think she was the only person who didn’t get a single concert in a year. “On a very basic level, you have to ask how ‘desperate’ some of the musicians were to sign a contract that requires a deposit of trust, belief, and money,” said a performer. “It’s a sign that young musicians, who are highly specialized and educated, often find themselves in uncertain economic straits, and fall for things.” 

This is a higely prevalent problem of which VAN has bravely uncovered just the visible tip.

Read on here and weep.



  • Nick2 says:

    A sad story, and one that is surely no longer unique. If it illustrates one thing, this is surely that as part of their programmes music schools and conservatories must ensure that young musicians are given a series of classes on how good artist management works around the world. This tale of Evangelista makes a perfect case study of the pitfalls young musicians must avoid and the results of an over-reliance of hope over reality.

    • Talking the talk says:

      Wow, I’ve been wanting to know what reality actually is, perhaps you might enlighten us?

  • Honestly, I don’t know why this woman has been singled out as an example of what goes on all the time in biz of music. Equal time should be given to lawyers who are far worse, and I can name a few. I wonder if you remember Thea Dispeker who operated in a similar manner in terms of charging artists a monthly retainer, which to my taste was really disgusting. Now it seems for such a retainer an artist has the “privilege” of appearing on a website and being packaged in a mass mailing that is generated by email. Pfui Teufel, or as they say in my mother tongue of Yiddish, Pheh!

    • Nick2 says:

      I remember Thea Dispeker. I met her and her friend Alice Tully at a recital at the Y. I had no business dealings with her and have no personal knowledge of how she ran her company. But totally unlike Evangelista, she had ‘form’ (as they say) and managed a number of major and very impressive artists. These included the great soprano Maria Stader, Richard Tucker, Martina Arroyo, Judith Blegen, Roberta Peters, Jan Peerce, Hermann Prey, Pablo Casals and Wieland Wagner. I imagine being on a list alongside those names was probably felt to be worth whatever retainer she charged – no matter your view on retainers.

      • I wonder just exactly how far and how long Ms. Dispeker’s management of your list of the cream of the crop lasted.I believe artists are given to change managers and publicists pretty fast until they find a fit that’s mutually beneficial. I’d also be curious to know, and I suppose there are files, at what point in their career the aforementioned list of luminaries signed with the dear lady’s office etc.

        • Dominic Stafford says:

          Certainly Arroyo, whom Thea managed in conjunction with my mother, stayed with her pretty much her entire career – and I think many of her other artists did, too…

    • jaura says:

      Because she is such a nasty witch. I know this from personal experience. I’ve never been so ruthlessly attacked in all my life. A very low class woman who has a volume of erotic poetry for sale on amazon!

  • Nick says:

    Some call it a retainer. And it is not necessarily money “upfront”, as, most certainly, some agents (crooks) do ask . But a retainer is a quite popular form of a contract that gives the agent some incentive to work for a young artist. It is not easy in this market and time to develop an unknown talent for many reasons. The evils are: a. numerous competitions that flood the market with thousands of mediocrities, b. lack of music education in school systems, hence, lack of audiences/consumers of the arts and music, c. overzealous parents of young mediocrities – winners of these numerous competitions who promote their kids as if there is no tomorrow – all these and many other evils create the present difficulties for both, the talented unknown artist with modest “connections” and a willing to work, but unknown agent/manager also with modest “connections”, thus the manager needs the same incentive as the artist. A modest monthly fee – a retainer – might produce a modestly paid local “career” for a young talent, and, hopefully, a little more than that.
    While I agree with N.L. that “upfront” agents fee = a crook, a retainer, as unpleasant as it looks and is, can be the only way for young artists of significance to establish their presence in this market.

    • John Rook says:

      How does extorting money from artists offer an incentive to the agent to actually find them work? Quite the opposite, I’d have thought.

  • Suzanne says:

    Serious agencies do exist that charge retainers in various forms. However, they are transparent about what the charges are for and they certainly do not go trawling social media for inexperienced, passionate young musicians waiting for their “big break”. Agree with Nick2, how are these recent conservatory grads supposed to know about, understand, navigate the world of agencies and management? What can and cannot be expected from competent management needs to explained. To get the ball rolling: 1. confidentiality clauses have no place in contracts between artists and artist agencies. 2. No agency can acquire engagements out of thin air. If you have zero concert engagements in your calendar no serious agency will offer you representation – beware of any management willing to take you on with nothing in the calendar AND asking for money up front. 3. Get to know the person you will be entrusting to represent you. Zero or 1 face-to-face meeting is not enough information for you go on. Don’t let you hopes and dreams get in the way of asking yourself whether this person as a person is a good fit for you, regardless of how successful the list of represented artists appears to be.

  • Dominic Stafford says:

    I’ve never understood payment up front. I’ve never understood retainers, either. I also don’t understand agents who charge singers to audition. I auditioned two singers yesterday. I paid for the room, they paid for the pianist. You’ve got to speculate, as they say, to accumulate. Every business has legitimate business costs…

    Agree about the pushy parents, though. Met more than a few of them in my time…

  • Novagerio says:

    Serba Dinic, that name appeared already here on SD late in April. His face is the first thing one sees on Evangelista’s management page.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Where the art form is considered a ‘highly competative business’ it has been killed-off and the music treated as a mere commodity to make money and a career. This is, mainly, the position of classical music within a capitalist, free market society, as it developed in the 19th century. In the ‘ancien régime’, however limited by restrictions by courts, nobility and church, musicians had decent, paid jobs and more security.

    • Anon says:

      If by “decent, paid jobs and more security” you mean less security (hired and fired on a whim with no rights or protections), and decent jobs which could include as much waiting on tables as actually playing music, then yes, sure. But I suspect you don’t…

  • Randolph G. Bolsover says:

    “Like they teach you in One-L.: Caveat emptor, pal”

    —Mike McDermott in the film “Rounders”

  • Nijinsky says:

    This is quite shocking. And this lady advertising herself as an artist’s salvation, when she had difficulty because she might have to be a bit more forthcoming, she says that this caused her to go on beta blockers? Usually it’s just a man saying his wife forced him to start drinking because she’s such a “bitch.” But now you have various pharmeceuticals that are “scientifically” appropriate means to disable reason would a person have to come up with why they believe they have certain exploitive rights.

    “Someone” mentioned: “In the ‘ancien régime’, however limited by restrictions by courts, nobility and church, musicians had decent, paid jobs and more security.”
    Apart from lacking evidence that a simple musician had it easier back then, or on wonders what then would define a simple musician, would they have it easier — and this makes me laugh to think would someone go along with the regime they had security and a decent well paid job, as if there weren’t a whole list of more honest musicians that were discarded — I don’t see that the majority of the exploited music now having enough honesty to resonate with the human condition rather than a fabricated societal time related fashion… I don’t see that that was from people who had decent well paid jobs with security. Certainly not Mozart or Schubert, or Vivaldi (who was the first to die penniless in Vienna), and then there’s a whole list of female talent we wouldn’t even know existed.

    Perhaps it’s SOMETHING ELSE that goes on when creativity resonates with the human condition rather than method, whether it’s compositional, social or governmental. And which is worse, dismissing creativity because it doesn’t adhere to someone’s “method” or making it a commodity.

    Perhaps there’s something else.

    Simply being human? But than it’s not the issue whether you ever become “famous” or have a “career” or even acknowledged by others not interested in such simplicity.

  • Vittorio Parisi says:

    I think I have been contacte by this agent but I do not remember why and what for so I cannot say anything on her. But there is an US agent that writes me regularly offerung his services. He asked me 200 dollars each month. I was not interested and I kindly answered why. He proposed me not to charge the fee if I could manage to find 3 concerts each year for his artists. I laughed at this proposal and he started to pester me. He is currently writing to young cinductors even if they are begunners. I always tell to my student conductors in Milan not to fall in these traps. They are just selling dreams. Beware!