May 16, 2010

Into the World of a Music Agent

In interview with Eric Amada, we venture into the business side of music and entertainment. Born into a successful musical family, Eric was a Vice President at Columbia Artists Management, Inc. (CAMI) in New York, where he worked for 14 years. Now he is the owner of Arts Management Associates, a boutique firm that represents performing artists and entertainment acts.

You come from a family of performing artists. Talk about growing up around such talent.

Coming from a musical family, I was always around classical musicians. My mother, pianist Susan Starr, performed so much when I was little and I was exposed to many, many great concerts. She also taught piano from home and I can't tell you how many times I woke up to a student warming up with Pischna. In little time, I was able to tell who was going to get hollered at and I’d get out of bed faster! My grandfather was a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, so I was also exposed to a lot of orchestral performances, especially during the summers at the Robin Hood Dell and at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga, NY. My sister, Lori Amada, was a very talented pianist who later moved over to French Horn. All three made their living performing and all went to Curtis Institute of Music. Almost everyone I knew performed an instrument at such a high level, but I was more of the black sheep of the family. I was obligated to choose an instrument to study and I chose clarinet, and was required to practice a minimum of one hour a day. I would have far preferred to be out playing baseball. As a teenager, I realized that most of my social life was due to the fact that I played clarinet yet I never seriously considered this as a profession for myself, especially after speaking with a neighbor one day who was such a talented clarinetist and him telling me he had no intention of playing professionally himself because he “did not want to be told what to play, when to play or where to play,” but simply did it for himself. Up to that point, I thought such talented people making a decision like that would be wasting their talent. However, it actually paved the way for me to realize that I did not need to go into the “family business,” and not all would be lost if I stopped playing as well one day. However, all of the exposure to such great musicianship and performances and studying music myself assisted me immensely later on in my chose field of Artist Representation as I had developed a really good ear for superior musicianship.

How did you become interested in arts management business?

While I do consider myself a natural candidate because of my early exposure, I initially wanted to be a sports announcer and went to Temple University to make this happen. I soon changed my focus to advertising, yet I was reluctant to move to NYC to work in that cut throat environment. After speaking to a few people in the industry, I landed my first job out of college working for the Florida Orchestra in Tampa as an assistant to the Director of Marketing. A year later, my name was recommended to Columbia Artists Management, Inc. (CAMI), as they were looking to fill a spot in the marketing department. So, I wound up in NYC after all. The director of sales there had worked with my mother years early and I guess he figured I had decent pedigree and he could turn me in to an agent. Well, he worked me hard, and after 14 years at CAMI, I started my own company in Philadelphia.

Many young artists dream of building careers. How does one get on the radar of artist managers? When is it the right time to engage in a business relationship?

A natural reaction is “how do I get concerts until I have an agent?” There are several organizations that prepare an artist for a career including Philadelphia’s Astral Artistic Services and Young Concert Artists, and a host of International Musical Competitions. The hard truth is that a majority of agents and managers want to manage careers, not artists.

Very, very few agents sign artists who contact them directly. I often get cold calls from young artists looking for representation. What I often tell them, if I find the time to reply, is that an effective agent is one who either believes in you and/or he thinks he can financially benefit. I think artists should be a little more careful and protective of their careers by not just signing with just any agent. I strongly believe artists need to carefully consider the magnitude of to whom they are entrusting their career. It’s almost like entering into a marriage. Just because you always wanted to get married one day and then you feel you are now ready does not mean you should just accept a proposal because that person seems like a good candidate on paper. Truth is that just because someone is an agent does not mean they will even book a single performance for you, and poof, you just lost a year or two of your life. An effective agent must be inspired and passionate about the artist they represent or it simply will not work.

People sometimes find me through directories and know nothing about me or my agency… I think it is like someone finding a potential spouse on an online dating service and then talking about marriage before dessert is served. Wouldn’t you want to be introduced or speak to someone who knew your “date” before you went out? However, if someone I knew and respected set up this interview and said “she is fabulous, you are going to thank me,” I’d be a lot more receptive, right? If Martha Argerich or Fima Bronfman were to write to me and tell me I simply had to hear this pianist that they thought was the next Evgeny Kissin, do you think I might find that of interest? So, in a nutshell, I would recommend speaking to colleagues and teachers who are familiar with the managers and really familiarize themselves with how to prepare to make a good impression. This means knowing what is unique about your talent. What separates you from the rest? What conductors are ready to hire you if I were to call them? Do you have quality recordings and references and reviews?

You represent Igudesman and Joo, one of the funniest acts exploding on the music scene since Victor Borge. How did this relationship come about?

I saw one of their videos. I immediately recognized their uniqueness, and their marketability, and the fact that they were working with such musical luminaries as Gidon Kremer, Emanuel Ax, Julian Rachlin and Mischa Maisky, I knew they would be received well with the organizations who book talent. At the same time, I also knew they were not a household name, and were virtually unknown in North America outside musical circles…. which means a tough sell to the general public. They were in the process of changing their representation in the states, and I was quite fortunate to have contacted them when I did. Although they were already in discussion with far larger agencies, I think it was my familiarity with them and my obvious passion and enthusiasm for their artistry that piqued their interest in me. We have a long way to go before we are successful in getting them into the largest performing arts centers in the states, but they are clearly on their way… and 15 million views on YouTube does not hurt!

With emergence of Internet technologies, recording industry went through major challenges and changes. At the same time, how did arts management business evolve and adapt?

Record companies are no longer operating in the same fashion as they did even 10 years ago. They are now looking for what has been coined 360 deals, where they pretty much control all aspects of an artist’s career, including management, booking, publicity, music publishing, etc. Very few classical artists ever made money on classical recordings anyway. If a classical artist were to sell 10,000 CDs, this would have been quite extraordinary. Not like the pop artists. It seemed to me that they would go out on tour to generate more record sales, where the classical artists would generate recordings to help secure live performances.

While it is now easy to put up a wonderful video recording of yourself performing on your website, or on social media outlets and gain exposure, it also means 1,000,000 other people are also doing it. What is required is that you do something that really sticks out. Anyone can make a recording of Chopin Preludes or Bach Fugues. And it hardly matters if you play exceptionally well because that is practically expected. You need to find a way to make your outstanding performance stand out. Perhaps an agent can open some doors. Some artists have received attention for their appearance, whether it is because of how attractive they are, or because they have overcome physical limitations or even because of the color of their skin. If you are a pop artist and you write a hit song, no one does it better than you! In the classical world, what are you going to show me that I haven’t seen a hundred times and that my grandfather didn’t himself see?

It was not my intention to be so harsh here, but this is a tough and unfair business and this is because it isn’t about who is fastest or scores the most points. The same could be said about Hollywood, I guess. But I will share with you, paraphrasing what I used to hear my mother telling her students: if you can find happiness making a living doing anything else, you may be well-advised to pursue that avenue because you will undoubtedly find tremendous hurdles and damaged feelings. You should not venture down this avenue unless you truly know you wouldn’t be happy doing anything else and you are ready to sacrifice… tremendously.

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