One of the brightest and the best has hung up her spurs and sauntered off into the sunset. (Presumably, if you hang up your spurs, you don't ride off…) Cash Edwards, who has been representing many fine artists over sixteen years and doing so with diligence and integrity, is calling it quits. On the surface, it was hard to figure out why. She had built a roster to die for and a quick look at Musi-Cal confirmed that her clients were working frequently in all the right places.
She is not the first to decide to give it up. Over the last few years, several excellent reps have either decided to leave to do other things or taken a hiatus to assess what they were doing. Jeri Goldstein, Joanne Murdock, Kris Bergbom, Patty Romanoff, etc - you know who you are. Some have stayed with the music business in some way, shape or form; some have moved out all together. It seemed to me that this was a bit more than the usual ebb and flow of small businesses. I was particularly upset on hearing the news about Cash because, although I do not know her well, I felt she was doing everything right. So I called her and asked her about her decision. She pointed out some issues that I think the entire artistic community needs to take a look at and she graciously gave me permission to explore some of them here.
The quick and dirty answer to her decision to close down shop was money. Despite her best efforts, Under The Hat Productions remained an undercapitalized small business. Never quite enough money to hire and retain support staff. Never quite in a position to take on another rep, even if there was someone out there who was interested and, frankly, there didn't seem to be an abundance of eager reps-to-be lining up outside the door. Side comment: some statistics on venture capital floated by in the business section of the Baltimore Sun the other day. Something like 38% of venture capital goes to minority-owned small businesses, only 2% of that is to women-run agencies.
Cash went on to say that an equally crucial component of her decision to leave was the way we are often viewed and, in some cases, treated. It is ironic - and more than a bit annoying - that, as we struggle to achieve a living wage for our clients (and, yes, for ourselves), in some arenas we are perceived and periodically reviled as "money-grubbing agents". There is a significant segment of this musical community that persists in casting the artist in the role of the pure and inspired seeker after the muse without consideration of filthy lucre (sometimes known as the "starving in the garret" syndrome) while the rep is totally involved in the callous selling (and possibly exploitation) of that art. It is this kind of atmosphere that fosters a recent discussion that on one of the listserves where a booker/performer posted a message describing his distaste for dealing with reps vs. artists.
Sometimes these concepts are just a matter of degree. In whatever form they manifest themselves, they ignore the inescapable reality that the artist who does not in some way address the marketing of his/her muse's output is more likely to end up in a cubicle (or a corner office or the loading dock) than on a stage. In the beginning stages of a career, there is a strong likelihood that the artist will need to do all the planning and execution of this him/herself. If their efforts are successful, they will be in a position to form an alliance with another person to take on some aspects of their career development. Note the word: alliance. This is not an artist vs. rep situation. This is two (or more) people working toward a common goal. Each brings different strengths to the situation. For the vast majority of the people involved (perhaps all the people involved), a primary motivation is a love of the music and a desire to get it out to an audience. All of the people involved have a right to expect to be viewed and treated that way. It is laughable to suggest that artist reps are "just in it for the money".
Whereas it is difficult enough to encounter this attitude from talent buyers or fans, it is devastating to run into it with an artist with whom you are working. Every time a buyer approaches an artist with the suggestion that he/she prefers to deal directly with them and the artist acquiesces (for whatever reason: they don't want to pay a commission, they are afraid of losing the gig, they feel they can do a better job than the rep), the artist is buying into the idea that involving the rep is somehow a hindrance to their career goals rather than a partner in helping achieving it. The critical component here is that this is generally done without the knowledge of the rep. It's one thing to sit down with your artist to work out a plan to deal with another person's attitude. It's quite another to discover a booking in Musi-Cal for an artist with whom you have an exclusive agreement.
There are a slew of other things that are going on here that need to be addressed. In discussion with David Tamulevich, he suggests that the entire business model for artist representation may be based on some faulty assumptions. There are some interesting avenues to explore in that and it ties into some other issues Cash raised. Another area that both Cash and David saw as critical was how often the rep becomes active in other arenas (publicity, management, marketing, etc.) simply because they can see how crucial it is that it get done. However, this is often taken on without additional recompense and, in truth, steals time from income-producing activities. These are all important items that I want to explore further in future columns. If you have contributions to make to the process, please give me a call at 410.268.8232 or drop me a line at email@example.com
We all need to be concerned when someone as dedicated and caring as Cash decides to quit. I suspect that those in the know will agree that there is a serious lack of artist reps out there relative to the number of artists. If I had the wherewithal to do so, I could triple my roster tomorrow with worthy, working artists making great music whom I would love to represent. I'm sure any other rep will tell you the same. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves as reps to see what we need to do to continue to be a viable part of the artistic community. In it's turn, the artistic community need to take a long hard look at how it can help us do that.© McShane Glover/Noteworthy Productions