Talent agencies made steep staff layoffs at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. But now, several departed agents from Paradigm — one of the major music agencies that announced cuts — have announced their own company, carrying over prominent touring acts including The War on Drugs, Chvrches, and Courtney Barnett.
The agency — founded by ex-Paradigm agents Marshall Betts, Avery McTaggart, Amy Davidman, Ryan Craven, and Devin Landau — says it wants to offer a more holistic approach for its clients than what’s currently available at the largest corporate agencies. Called TBA (yes, that’s the name), the agency is far from the only one who’s who’s taking such a step: Most of the music industry’s biggest show bookers have pivoted beyond just touring to more heavily focus on brand partnerships and marketing deals since the pandemic started. But the larger companies, Betts and McTaggart say, can have a harder time with this approach because of their size, where they’re focusing on thousands of artists and are heavily separated by departments.
TBA, an 11-person team, has also brought on Samantha Tacón from Paradigm to head artist creative strategy, and Katie Nowak comes from AEG as head of marketing.
“For us, this opportunity feels like what was missing for a long time,” McTaggart says. “The industry went through this decade-long period of consolidation where prominent companies joined into other organizations, and it left a bit of a gap, with a number of boutique agencies that have existed for a long time and the larger corporate agencies, and there’s no agency built for the new music landscape. What we have is a very succinct group of people that have a very high level of experience and a very small roster. How we’re going to actually integrate those concepts agencies talk about is by being able to focus on those people.”
It’s an unusual time to launch a new agency. Artists’ tours and festival dates have been almost entirely wiped out for 2020, and atop thousands of behind-the-scenes workers and venue owners scrambling, most of Hollywood’s biggest booking agencies have issues layoffs and furloughs to offset their losses. Paradigm laid off 250 employees at the beginning of March, the Los Angeles Times reported, with several former employees saying that the agency mishandled its layoffs.
TBA will spend its infancy wading through uncharted waters. Fitting for a Covid-born company, TBA hasn’t leased any office space, and with employees working well remotely, McTaggart and Betts say they may not lease an office even after the pandemic ends, saying they may the money for its artists instead.
McTaggart acknowledges that brand deals, livestreams, and other typically ancillary revenue streams for agencies likely won’t be enough to support the new company. But TBA has investment funding that will sustain them through the pandemic, he says, although he declined to comment on how much TBA has in funding or who its investors are.
TBA isn’t the only break-off agency that will emerge from the layoffs, several former employees tell Rolling Stone, speaking under the condition of anonymity because other organizations have not been announced yet. The former employees say that another agency is in the works — albeit not as far along as TBA — helmed by a different Paradigm alumnus.
Betts says that though the future is unpredictable, TBA is “something that we’d been talking about working on” since the pandemic started and the group of former colleagues watched the live industry crumble around them.
“Right now, we see an opportunity to be a constant and positive force for the artists and teams we work with,” Betts says. “The future is uncertain as to when live touring is coming back, but there’s other stuff we can do to work with our artists, and we want to be there for them in the interim. We don’t want to just sit back and say ‘we’ll help you out when things come back to normal.'”
Additional reporting by Samantha Hissong.