The recent closing of Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI), one of the leading classical music agencies, has sent waves of worry through the music industry in recent days.
Founded in 1930, the agency has represented some of the leading names in classical music, from Leonard Bernstein and James Levine, to Vladimir Horowitz and Van Cliburn. Many are asking what lies ahead for classical music and artist management firms of various sizes in the wake of CAMI’s finale.
Veteran pianist and managing director of Artist Management by Arrangement with Jack Price, Dickran Atamian (aka Jack Price) offers a unique perspective on the recent closing of an industry giant who cited COVID as the apex of their problem.
As a young Naumburg winner in the mid-70’s, Jack was represented by CAMI at the time of his Carnegie Hall debut and subsequent RCA Red Seal recording of The Rite of Spring with famed producer John Pfeiffer; including management by Bill Judd, one of CAMI’s greatest “architects.” Price left CAMI in 1982 when Vladimir Horowitz arranged for his transfer to Shaw Attractions (with Harold Shaw). In 1984 he began his own artist management work. Thirty-six years later he honors the multiple large scale successes of CAMI and pays tribute to the influential classical agency, while reflecting on the gradual shift in the industry away from the traditional agency mindset.
Price explains, “Many large agencies have struggled of late as managers became more successful on the heels of their connections they created while on the job. Once these division managers reached a critical mass of artists they struck out on their own. They brought or created their slots as well as the artists they managed and those artist’s reputations. This approach can gradually chip away at a management’s cash flows and cash reserves.” Slots is an unmentioned industry term referring to connections or presenters who reserve engagements, Jack explains.
By comparison, smaller or boutique management companies such as Artist
Management by Arrangement with Jack Price (BAWJP) who employ a substantially smaller staff of personnel and represented artists, would not experience a large scale financial loss nor reduction of their artist base.
Fold Covid-19 into this discussion and the landscape for management firms is even more complex as bookings can be scarce. The need to differentiate and broaden management services to support streaming performances, broader artist marketing, and relationship-building with presenters for future seasons becomes critical. Agencies that are booking-reliant only face a complex marketplace.
“Diversify or die, to put it bluntly,” Price adds. “After many years as a performer and now manager I realized that the promotion of management AND artists is a key factor in the success of management. If artists are to remain alive in the public they must be promoted. BAWJP advocates heavy push marketing and belief in the individuality of the artist. We guarantee the work; the reporting of work, and the branding and considering. The engagement is not a guarantee.” He stresses that BAWJP is tailored to those who know what his agency is accomplishing, and that the reasons for booking artists can often extend beyond the musical arena.
“We have the ear of the industry per extensive reporting.The music industry is on overload. I believe that the concurrent events of Corona and the marketplace shifts are catalysts for reform and demand a reset button in order to survive and adapt to the circumstances at hand. Artists can no longer demand the fees they are accustomed to and will have to reassess their value to reflect the current industry. Another major obstacle for music presenters is dealing with audience and logistics issues. Orchestras are facing modifications to their on stage set ups (particularly wind players) with unknown costs and effects of the sound produced.”
Jack maintains the model of an internet-based agency was ideal at its inception and has now become a critical guiding source during COVID for staying on top and in touch with the presenters. “In the down turn, one must market more vigorously than when all is running smoothly because when things resume, they will reach out to the people who have been maintaining consistent contact.” He also accredits the pandemic for restructuring his managerial and selling techniques to become even more creative, reinventing the business and services per progressive feedback.
“Large agencies have a business involved securing engagements and placing artists; our services are geared towards servicing artists and attempting to secure
engagements. We can’t do what they did; and they couldn’t do what we do.”
Jack admits to being an artist before a manager; he’s an advocate for artists and feels the artist’s pain. “There is no way a pianist who has devoted all of his life to practicing and concertizing can assume the responsibilities or mind set of the Ron Wilfords..” referring to Arthur Judson’s successor in 1958.
“To have something to say, and to say it uniquely is very rare. That’s a one-two punch that can’t be beat.”
By Arrangement with Jack Price
310 254 7149
1000 South Denver Avenue, Suite 1106
Tulsa, OK 74119