On August 21 2015, The Agency Group (T.A.G), one of the world’s largest music booking agencies, sent tremors through the global industry by merging with Los Angeles-based United Talent Agency, set up to rival William Morris and Creative Artists Agency as the largest full service entertainment agency on the planet.
For Neil Warnock, who had established T.A.G in London England 37 years ago and for COO Jack Ross and President, Ralph James, who from their Toronto base has worked tirelessly to establish a series of offices in London, Toronto, Miami, Nashville, Los Angeles, New York and Malmo, Sweden, joining forces with United Agency Group, must have seemed like stumbling onto one of Willy Wonka’s golden chocolate bars!
Further credibility, especially within the North American music market plus access to major funding from UTA and their vast television, radio and digital properties were all now attainable by the former T.A.G operation.
Formed in 1991, UTA first made inroads into the movie/television agency field, representing the likes of Seinfeld creator Larry David, Joel and Ethen Coen and actors Michael J, Fox, Alan Alda and Mike Myers and even having their pulse on the fast emerging digital movement. In 2001, they began to expand into the music industry but it wasn’t until 2015 when UTA figured they could make a dent in one foul swoop by taking ownership of T.A.G that their musical identity became established.
It’s really hard to fathom how this partnership has faired in the short term, but early this week, United Talent Agency CEOt, Jeremy Zimmer delivered a staggering blow that in the interests of downsizing their operation, a decision has been made to close the Toronto agency. This means that all nine agents and 23 people in all will lose their jobs as certain select artists and groups will be taken over by key U.S offices while the rest of UTA’s Canadian roster will be dispersed.
At the time of the union two years ago, Zimmer was ecstatic about the new venture, calling it “A united leap forward for UTA in the music business”. Yet two years later, having absorbed most of the key agency locations, Zimmer has decided that the Toronto office is dispensable.
“It was a business decision, to reduce the size of our music departments and centralize our offices,” Zimmer explained. “And to be blunt, the best way to do it was to close the Toronto office and let go the people who are in the Toronto office.”
You have to assume that Neil Warnock’s London office is still solid but this move must have come as a direct kick in the teeth to Ross and James who had achieved so much in cultivating the careers of artists like Nickelback, The Bare Naked Ladies, Billy Talent, Sam Roberts Band , City And Colour and The Tea Party, just to name some key talent from their domestic roster.
Ross’s immediate response has been to announce he will carry on representing the nucleus of his Canadian roster, presumably under a new name, and that the majority of his existing roster has declared their support for any new initiative he might want to establish.
“I’ve been representing a core group of Canadian artists for a long time and many of our clients have been with us for decades,” he told Billboard Magazine. “I can’t speak for everybody but I can tell you that I certainly plan to continue as an agent and continue representing my clients. I am looking at this as an opportunity to work with like-minded people who believe in artist development and who see Canada and Toronto as a great place to do business.”
Considering the chart-topping exploits of the likes of Drake, Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Nickelback Arcade Fire and City And Colour and the emerging status of Alessia Cara, Sean Mendes, Sean Hlllman and budding Country Music stars like Cold Creek County, Washboard Union and High Valley, it’s hard to comprehend why UTA would forego Toronto and instead continue to support Malmo Sweden??
This country is in the midst of a massive musical renaissance be it R&B/Rap, Country, Classic Rock and even the new music offerings of The Arkells, Strumbellas and July Talk so you would think that UTA would want to maintain a direct pipeline to this emerging talent.
For the most part, the artists themselves are committed to their agents and if they have a strong presence in Canada, they will stick with that agent. Although international artists like Nickelback are probably already established with U.S representation.
“As of now, nothing has changed,” noted Lyle Chausse, president of LCE Music, who represents Kelowna hard rock band, The Wilde! ” My agency looks forward to a continued on-going relationship with Ralph James and the other agents from the UTA offices in the forthcoming future.”
How that continuation develops remains to be seen.