Exclusive: London artist agencies in Covid wipeout

Exclusive: London artist agencies in Covid wipeout


norman lebrecht

July 21, 2020

We’re hearing that one leading London agency has fired just over half its staff and another has dismissed one third.

The reductions come as the Government’s furlough payments are coming to an end. By stripping down now, agencies are seeking to avoid massive redundancy payouts.

The firings are not going down well with artists. We hear that one famous conductor has received a legal warning that he would be in breach of contract if he departed the agency together with his fired personal manager.

There will be turmoil ahead.



  • Jimbo says:

    Agencies don’t create fuss when artists leave. The contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. That’s a recognised issue. It’s too embarrassing to sue departing artists… besides who’d then sign up with such a litigious agency.

    • One for All says:

      There is actually a silver lining in all of this. Agencies, as we have known them for the past 20 years are nearly worthless for the vast majority of artists. They have morphed into paid “post boxes” that give the illusion that the artist is “represented” but in reality the vast majority of artists on these agencies rosters haven’t seen any concrete results from these agencies in years. I have worked with and spoken with dozens and I always hear the same stories, that their agent has not got them any concerts in an entire season or perhaps one or two engagements. That is appalling and proves that most of these agencies are useless and should be liquidated as soon as possible. In any other profession, such poor performance would have lead to a far quicker demise for incompetence.

      The classical music “business” is, for the most part, a collection of pretentious, pompous, old-fashioned individuals whose only skill set may be loving music, but they sadly lack a sense of determination, the ability to negotiate, the ability to sell and accepting the responsibility that when their agency signs an artist, they need to perform on the same level as their artist and work diligently to obtain regular concerts and engagements, otherwise they shouldn’t have ever signed the artist in the first place and should release them with some indemnity payment for lack of results and poor performance. How can you sign an artist and then one year later tell them that it is difficult to get them engagements? They should have known the market potential of an artist perfectly, BEFORE they signed them. No serious business operates like that.

      It may all look very sad from the outside, but I actually believe that this purge will see the demise of so many useless agencies, who will no longer be able to give a young hopeful talent the false belief that they will have concerts and an income and subsequently damage their careers and their self confidence. Classical music agents are, in the vast majority a very big pretentious farce and for the already established names for whom the same agencies operated more as a booking service, there is no loss either, as those artists will still be in demand. I am very happy to see this happening and believe that in the aftermath there will be truly devoted and passionate agents both willing to really work for their artists as well as needing to do that in order to survive, no longer able to just live off the established artists without expending very much effort to cultivate the next generation of talent. The charade is over and it took covid-19 to make this house of cards fall, but it was long overdue.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hear hear!
        Thank you.

      • JP says:

        Your views are very interesting. But how can anyone take them seriously without knowing who wrote them? If you write anonymously, then you are either embarrassed about your views or you’re a total naive twat. I’m thinking the latter. Name, please?

      • Der Papagei hat recht says:

        Very true! The other thing that will hopefully vanish together with these ineffectual agencies is the deplorable and criminal practise that many of the biggest agencies in London have established, namely charging an artist a large monthly fee just to appear on their roster and agency’s website, without any guaranty of concerts forthcoming or any real attempt to find them any. These agencies have reduced themselves to prostituting their once respected names and having an artist pay just to make it appear that they are on the roster, that they have management, when in reality that artist will never get any concert through that agency and it only serves to help the artist save face and keep searching for a real agent. What a disgrace! I know of at least six excellent artists who have fallen prey to this disgusting and revolting practice by “major” London agencies, who charge them a monthly fee, them paying upwards of £2,500 just to make it appear that they are on the agency’s roster, when in reality, the agency has made it clear to them that they can’t really get them any concerts and not because the artist is not worthy, but rather the agency just doesn’t, according to them, have the time to devote to their careers. Yet, they extort a fee without providing any service whatsoever!
        Those agencies know who they are and many of you reading this know who they are. It has to stop and let them be exposed for being the crooks and charlatans that they are. This practise does not help to create a healthy music and concert life and actually does more to destroy the art and the artist.

        I invite any reader here to have a look at the main agency websites, look at their artist rosters and then look at past concerts or planned future concerts for those artists.You will see endless cases with no concerts, many since years. How is that possible, you may ask? Why would an artist be on a roster of an agency for several years and have no concerts obtained through that agency? Good question. Hopefully journalists, who may read this will wake up and investigate this corrupt practise, expose it for what it is and contribute to getting classical music concert management back to something healthy and normal again and help to eliminate the rot and corruption that has destroyed the industry from within for far too many years.

        I agree that Covid-19 is doing a great service to eliminating or seriously weakening many of these unworthy agencies and hopefully professionalism will return once this is all over.

      • Norbert says:

        I couldn’t agree more.

        At one point I was offered a junior role in Agency and I turned it down and went in a commerical direction. I’ve never regretted it.

        There is a fundamental truth here too (sadly), that the world produces too many classical artists, and there is an over supply (even in normal times!) for an art form that is basically shrinking. It’s my absolute passion, and it pains me to say that, but it’s the truth.

        Also – the economic model of agency can never really prosper because there is effectively a glass ceiling on revenue streams, when the state, or charitable endeavour is the underlying paymaster. It’s not a good place to be commercially.

        I know of world famous artists who didn’t get a SINGLE concert from their grandiose London agents in the final years of their careers.

        It’s also HIGHLY telling, when the story teller becomes the story……and certain London agents actively campign to have themselves ‘Gonged.’ That really speaks volumes.

      • Peter says:

        I couldn’t agree more, but when you write about agents

        “…whose only skill set may be loving music, but they sadly lack a sense of determination, the ability to negotiate, the ability to sell and accepting the responsibility that when their agency signs an artist”

        I have to disagree. Most of them even don’t like music, which makes it even worse.

  • Singer says:

    Very sad news but hardly surprising. Surely agencies have little choice at this point, unless they have a magic pot of reserves…

  • henrirenquist says:

    which agency? or can’t you say for legal reasons / facing repercussions?
    these days, everyone has to be careful what they say…
    so, there might be a backlog in the uk courts currently, but this will change once Depp/Heard finish their toxic saga and ‘Nightingale’ courts get up and running to clear COVID workload

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I don’t think that they can be fired if they have done nothing wrong. They will have to pay redundancy surely if the employees have worked there for more than two years. A weeks wages for every year worked and if they are over 40 a week and a halfs wages. They should get on to their union reps if these agencies are trying this illegal move.

    • That Guy says:

      Under English law it partly depends on how long someone has been employed. If someone has been employed for less than two years then it’s much easier for the employer to let them go without a reason. Hence as other commenters have said this issue is likely to affect junior staff much more.

  • Gustavo says:

    Job offer:

    Personal manager (m/f/div)

    Strictly no agencies please

  • Rustier spoon says:

    “Fired” vs “Dismissed”… so there IS a difference…puzzled.

  • Agent says:

    Why are we all leeches and parasites? Please develop this point

  • Oliver says:

    “By stripping down now, agencies are seeking to avoid massive redundancy payouts” is a sentence that makes no sense at all. If they let people go now they’ll have to pay redundancy; if they let people go in 6 months’ time they’ll pay fractionally more (redundancy entitlement increases with length of service). But no-one’s able to avoid paying redundancy because the furlough scheme’s operating – the two having nothing to do with each other.

    • Laura Farrell says:

      Correct, the whole point of the furlough schemes in every country was to prevent redundancies. You can only use it if you are not laying off your staff, and the only event in which you can use it but then lay off the staff is if the operation goes into receivership. Otherwise you are obliged to pay redundancy in full. In most countries in Europe (not sure about UK) taxpayer foots the bill if the cocern enters examinership, bankruptcy or receivership.

  • Montblanc says:

    How sad. Sending best wishes to everyone affected.

  • V. Lind says:

    Their jobs and livelihoods are as important as musicians’, and if they are not doing the job, then more fool musicians for staying with them and more fool agencies that did not dismiss dead weight with cause. Keeping on useless agents because they have a prestigious if underserved client list is the worst kind of patronage, or a kind of keeping up appearances. Time to kick the hyacinth bucket.

  • Tim M says:

    Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of… People?

  • ExAgency says:

    While I’m desperately sorry for people who are losing their jobs, the worst job I ever had was for a big London agency, 20 years ago. Awful awful people: selfish, spolit, money-focused, cliquey, no concern for artistic or educational merit, only ‘how much will it make us’? If some of them go down with the ship it won’t be the worst thing. However it won’t be, I fear the first to go will be the junior admin staff who work hard under difficult circumstances and get paid very little…

    That said, the agency won’t survive with a load of senior directors who don’t even know how to wipe their own arse!