‘Any artist who wasn’t making $500,000 annually was a loss’

‘Any artist who wasn’t making $500,000 annually was a loss’


norman lebrecht

April 02, 2021

From an Opera News article by Fred Cohn on the decline and fall of Columbia Artists, a once-powerful classical agency.


… The collapse of the compact-disc industry also had a big impact on the career paths of opera singers—and on CAMI’s ability to secure bookings for them. The introduction of the CD format in the early 1980s prompted the major labels to issue a torrent of opera releases, with new complete-opera sets and recital discs every month. The CDs brought in income for the artists—and commissions for their managers. More important, the record companies’ promotional muscle buoyed the entire industry. “If an artist recorded for three different labels, you’d see three full-page ads in the Met program,” says artist manager Ken Benson, who worked at CAMI between 1985 and 2010. “You can’t pay for that kind of publicity. When I’d try to book a young singer, the concert presenter would say, ‘Send me a CD.’ That isn’t going to happen anymore.”

The most lucrative part of the artist-management business has historically been concerts and recitals. AGMA rules cap a manager’s fee at ten percent for opera-company bookings. But for a concert gig, a manager can charge a commission of up to 20 percent. That source of revenue, though, has dwindled. The amount that singers get paid for concert appearances has not kept up with inflation. Moreover, the number of presenters now booking vocal recitals has shrunk radically. “Jamie Barton does as many recitals as anybody, but it’s maybe five or six a year,” says Epstein. “I used to handle Maureen Forrester, who didn’t even sing opera but was constantly in demand for concerts. You don’t see careers like that any longer.”

Read on here.



  • Has-been says:

    For the record, Ronald Wilford did not succeed Arthur Judson as President. He succeeded Kurt Weinhold. After Weinhold’s ‘retirement’ Ronald Wilford became Chief Executive Officer and later took the title President.

  • Ben D. Over says:

    Why link us to articles that are behind a paywall?! Are you buying, Norman?

  • leo grinhauz says:

    Good riddance, CAMI! Thanks for all the help in putting legit music in the toilet! Music managers are like realtors; bottom feeding nothinggarians all.

  • caranome says:

    So how many musicians are making $500,000/yr. now, who can justify having an agent? if the golden age had the 80/20 rule (20% took 80% of revenues), would it be 90/10 today, or worse?

  • “AGMA rules cap a manager’s fee at ten percent for opera-company bookings.”

    There are rules in that business?