UTA Closure: What It Means

It is difficult to peg a figure on what the music agency billed in 2016 but a ballpark number is $50 million, so that is between $5 and $7 million in commissions United Talent Agency stands to lose by closing the Canadian office.

It means that a lot of headlining acts and their managers will be reviewing their agreements to see if their key man clause holds up, and for many more acts without top draw clout the immediate future looks very uncertain.

We have reported that Canadian CEO Jack Ross has all but said he’s starting a new shop, the guess is that partner Ralph James will take partial retirement but continue to work with Nickelback who have been with him since day one and contines to represent the band exclusively for Canada, Australia and Asia.

Premier agent Rob Zifarelli already operates out of Toronto and New York. It’s hard to guess where his allegiance lies.

The closure affects a wide swath of Canadian acts, from the aforementioned Nickelback to Marianas Trench, Skydiggers, Bahamas, 54:40, Billy Talent, City and Colour, Alexisonfire, Sam Roberts Band, Doc Walker, Trailer Park Boys, and Walk Off The Earth.

There’s going to be some gold digging here by the Feldman and Paquin agencies and more. And then there’s Jack, Ross, who is fielding phone calls, making plans, setting himself up for another agency start-up. He’s been there before, done that, and has impeccable credentials, deep loyalties and an inspiring track record in working with acts.

The news hit many like an unexpected thunderbolt; others had heard rumblings, a few had speculated that the UTA’s acquisition of Neil Warnock’s The Agency Group in 2015 was just that: An acquisition, and that this wasn’t a marriage made in heaven, and the purchase necessarily meant a shoring up of overheads.

It also gave the combined entity a roster of close to 2,000 clients. Not everyone was going to get the special treatment, and the agents would be pressed hard to pay for the buy.

The live business isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in the mainstream media, either. The competition is intense, costs for travel, venues, general overheads and agent fees have ballooned, and gate receipts are haphazard. Festivals have helped to offset declines in the number of available club venues featuring live talent, but the festival industry is showing stress marks and fatigue. Everything’s got to be bigger, better, more fantastic—and the up-front gambles by event promoters more speculative each time.

And then there’s the weather: Once, surely predictable; with climate change not so much.

For Ron Kitchener, he has four acts with UTA, but they are all represented by Nick Meinema out of the Nashville office.

Julien Paquin wasn't shocked to hear the news, but he was surprised. He also sees an opening ahead: "There is no doubt some opportunity for Paquin. UTA has a lot of talented people and A list artists – from developing artists to headliners," he emailed FYI yesterday, adding that "some will need new homes."

Sam Feldman offers a bit of sangfroid, opining that "the inevitable corporate dynamic meant that the acquisition would be reviewed on numbers, not people."

“It’s really too bad," he added, "because there are some good ones there,” he said in an email yesterday afternoon.

“The Canadian market is unique in terms of opportunities well beyond the arenas in seven major markets and the extraordinary talent that comes out of here,” Feldman said, noting that “after 40 plus years here I'd like to think we know where the bodies are buried and I'm sure that the staff there will be treated properly and will land on their feet.”

He’s probably right. But there’s gonna be a lot of upheaval in the market before the dust settles.

The game has changed, and so too have the players.

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