Covid crisis: Artist agencies stand down staff

Covid crisis: Artist agencies stand down staff


norman lebrecht

April 02, 2020

An email to an agent at AskonasHolt today drew this auto-response:

Following the introduction of the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Askonas Holt has placed a number of staff – myself included – on a temporary leave of absence from 1 April until 31 May 2020.

Whilst I am away, colleagues will be handling enquiries related to my artists.

We hear that just over half of AH staff have been put on furlough, and that similar measures are being taken at Columbia Artists in New York. At Askonas they are on full paid leave.

We’re not so sure about Columbia.


A message on the AH website reads:

Our priority right now is to support our artists and their loved ones as they face the arduous months ahead, and to safeguard and support the entire Askonas Holt family into the future.



UPDATE: We’ve seen the letter that AH sent out to agents and artists a couple of days ago. Here goes:

Dear friends, 

I hope that you are keeping safe and well in these extraordinary times. Thank you for all your messages of support and kindness these past weeks. 

I’m writing to let you know that Askonas Holt has taken advantage of the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and we are therefore placing a significant number of our colleagues on a paid leave of absence (called furloughing) for a temporary period, initially for two months. Our predicament – and you will understand this all too well – is that our income streams have all but dried up, and we have to do what we can to save on costs. 

This scheme will allow us to access government funds, and help our company to navigate through these turbulent waters. Furloughed staff are not allowed to work for Askonas Holt during their temporary absence. We may extend this scheme in parallel with any UK Government extension, and we will inform you accordingly. 

With few performances happening due to worldwide restrictions on public gatherings, it makes sense for us to reduce our capacity for a temporary period. Therefore, in addition to the furloughing scheme, the staff at Askonas Holt have volunteered to move to an 80% working week, with colleagues working four days per week.

While temporarily you may not have your usual team working for you, please be assured that you will continue to receive the ‘Askonas Holt service’, and we will work even harder to ensure that you have the full functionality of the company at your disposal. We will be in touch with you individually to confirm your day-to-day contacts and we are here to answer any queries which you may have. 

In the meantime, I wish you, your families and friends all the strength and health required to rise to the challenges that face us in the months to come. We remain optimistic about the future, assured by the heightened relevance of the arts in these uncertain times. 


Chief Executive, Askonas Holt
on behalf of the Board and Staff at Askonas Holt 



  • Stephen Maddock says:

    I don’t know what has happened at AH specifically, but they may well have furloughed some staff under the UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This is available to all employers outside the public sector, and means the government will pay 80% of their salaries. They remain on the staff – but cannot work – and it means that redundancies are minimised at a time when there is less – and in the case of agencies, probably hardly any – income coming in.

    It’s been guaranteed by the government until the end of May in the first instance.

  • Cassandra says:

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. American classical management is on the verge of total catastrophe. CAMI, Opus 3, and every boutique agency is either in the process of firing or furloughing their workers. Yes, I have direct knowledge of this. CAMI and Opus 3 are in a state of complete collapse. What is happening in American classical music is nothing short of the apocalypse.

    • IntBaritone says:

      This has been the case for years, even when I was managed by an aforementioned company. I, too, have been thinking for weeks that this will spell disaster for multiple agencies. Perhaps CAMI will be bailed out by the rest of their roster (beyond classical) but most are too debt-burdened to make it much further. Sadly.

    • Has-been says:

      Your information is incorrect. Neither CAMI nor Opus 3 are in a state of ‘complete collapse’.

      • Cassandra says:

        I’m not going to argue with the contrarian know-nothings on this website. I‘ve worked in the industry for thirty years and have many colleagues across a broad spectrum of the profession. Both CAMI and Opus 3 along with many smaller agencies have laid off, furloughed, or fired nearly 80%, if not more, of their workforce. I don’t care if you like this, it’s a fact.

        • ANonniMouse says:

          Just judging on the username and a hunch on where it might come from, I’m gonna guess you wanna listen to Cassandra on this one…

        • Has-been says:

          I doubt if you are as close to the administration as of the companies you mention as you say you are. But I can assure you they are not near collapse and will qualify for government assistance to keep them going strong until the economy recovers. Furthermore your attitude reeks of schadenfreude, a shameful emotion in the current climate.

      • Maria says:

        Oh, really? You work for them? Reality is they are stuffed. American denial or optimism just doesnt work here. Agency jobs and artists’ careers are seriously at stake and, yes, close to collapsing.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          “Agency jobs and artists’ careers are seriously at stake”

          Not really, the agencies will go bust and new agencies will take their place, using mostly the same staff. Tough luck on the owners of these agencies (or the people who lent them the money). But the music world will continue much as before.

    • Sistine Chapel says:

      IMG has cut employee salaries by at least 20%…

      This is after they have already laid off more than one employee.

      • Cassandra says:

        IMG is in a slightly better position than CAMI or the other big agencies because it has private funding, although that funding is provided by a criminal, so you know, there’s that.

        • AT says:

          Actually, IMGA’s funding comes from a dubious Russian “minigarch” (NL’s delicious neologism), and it’s anyone’s guess as to how much longer he will continue to provide cash infusions before he tires of the whole thing. It’s certainly not his primary business.

        • Anon says:

          Hmmm, I had no Idea IMGA was the only privately owned major company. Cassandra really does knows her facts.

      • MALEDIZIONE says:

        Sistine Chapel, if what you’re saying is true, that means a good number of employees will be making below minimum wage at that company, since base pay is zilch at IMG and other American agencies. No doubt these companies are on the brink of collapse with their massive expenses for things like tours and, in the case of IMG, the history landmarked townhouse they work out of right off Fifth Avenue. And all of this demands the question of why these companies, small businesses by any standard measure, are not taking advantage of the American government’s new loan policy that will forgive loans for payroll expenses at the very least. Are they using this pandemic as an excuse to clean house and bring their wages even lower than their employees thought possible?

        • AT says:

          If you factor in the ridiculous number of hours the typical agency employee actually works on behalf of the clients, even mid-range salaries were already below minimum wage prior to any reductions.

          • libera me says:

            It’s absurd that these companies like IMG think that cutting their lowest-earning employees’ salaries to below unemployment payment levels is going to do anything but sow discord in their ranks, ESPECIALLY when they have self-proclaimed multi-millionaire owners who treat the company like their vanity projects.

            It’s also ironic that it’s going to be boutique agencies with larger names that will wind up being ok, since their overhead is minimal, provided that they’ve been well managed up until this point. Maybe this will be the end of the bigger agencies?

        • Anon says:

          Who’s to say they aren’t? The loans only came on line today.

  • John Holmes says:

    As it is, AH have probably lost a lot of commission now following the retirement of Haitink as have HarrisonParrott with Ashkenazy.

    I gather these venerable guys, who are old friends, are near-neightbours in Lucerne – but they probably can’t even see each other.

  • SVM says:

    “At Askonas they are on full paid leave”

    But are they on *full* paid leave? My understanding is that the UK government covers 80% of monthly pay up to £2500, and nothing in the message quoted implies that the furloughed staff are getting any more than this.

  • Matthew says:

    With the demise of these giant companies, maybe we’ll see their stranglehold on the industry loosen.