UNMANAGEABLE: A farewell to PR Concert Artists

Sol Hurok, manager of Segovia, also managed Charlie Chaplin.

In his book “Classical Guitarists: Conversations”, author Jim Tosone had the visionary idea of interviewing the most important classical guitar artist manager in history: Harold Shaw. Anyone familiar with the names Julian Bream, John Williams, Angel Romero, Assad Brothers, Eduardo Fernandez, Carlos Barbosa Lima and a long etc. should know his name. This man saw an 11 year old John Williams play in London, discovered Julian Bream and organized his first tour in the USA, and at some point represented all the artists just mentioned. However, he didn’t JUST managed guitarists. He was an associate of Sol Hurok – the legendary impresario – and together overlooked a roster of artists that included the likes of Horowitz, Jaqueline Du Pre, Isaac Stern and a certain Andres Segovia. It was because of the success of the latter that Bream/Williams and the rest had been able to enter a circle reserved for a few privileged artists, creating a ‘Golden Age’ for the instrument. Fast forward 30 years and the word in the street is that the guitar has never been played better in its history, and that there are more excellent guitarists than ever before. However, a quick perusal reveals that the number of guitarists in the top management agencies has decreased compared to 1970. Why?

Harold Shaw, with eminent violinist N.Milstein. Who manages guitarists in the 21st century?

Harold Shaw, with eminent violinist N.Milstein. Who manages guitarists in the 21st century?

Many Paths for success: Why Management?

The past year was extraordinary for guitarists in recording award nominations. Berta Rojas was nominated for a Latin Grammy and even got to present an award during the ceremony, and Jason Vieaux will compete this Sunday for a Grammy Award as Best Solo Classical Recording. However, their paths to these accolades could not be more different: while Jason Vieaux relies on the traditional structure of having a competent manager, a recording label, and one of the best PR (Public Relations) agencies in the classical sphere,  Berta Rojas embodies the ethos of the time: Do it Yourself.

Many might cite the achievements of Berta as proof that DIY works, since she counts already two Latin Grammy nominations without formal management and produces her own CD’s. Other artists – like Manuel Barrueco – are also successful with their independent productions, after a long history with a major label (the defunct EMI). However, it would be foolish to think that all the independent CD’s produced by guitarists nowadays have the same barometer of success. Berta Rojas, in addition of being an extremely talented artist, has been able to position herself as a cultural icon in Paraguay due to the figure of Augustin Barrios.  In her country, she is a celebrity that even appears in TV commercials for Toyota (see HERE). With that kind of support, it’s obvious her productions – DIY or not – will have a large impact. The question is: how many guitarists can rely on similar kind of support for their DIY efforts?

On the other hand, Jason Vieaux reflected in a lecture that he had been approached by his manager after playing a concert in his 1996 GFA tour. To my knowledge this is the last time a guitarist was signed by a classical music manager (as opposed to ‘guitar only managers’) in a guitar event: 20 years ago. Management opened opportunities for concerts and channels (like his recording label, Azica) otherwise out of reach. Combined with the efforts of his PR agency, his last production resulted in his recent Grammy Nomination.

As seen, there are many different paths to the same goal within the narrow scope of having a concert career. For the general public, DIY works marvelously well. However, while technology opens opportunities for the group as a whole, it’s detrimental for the outliers: the truly exceptional.

Classical Guitar Management in the 21st century

Nowadays, we can almost count with a single hand the number of guitarists that are in the rosters of the most important agents of our time: the ‘Sol Huroks’ and ‘Harold Shaw’s’ of the 21st century.

They are:

  • Assad Brothers (Opus 3 Artists)
  • John Williams (Askonas Holt)
  • Xuefei Yang (Askonas Holt)
  • Pepe Romero (CAMI)
  • Sharon Isbin (CAMI)
  • Milos Karadaglic (IMG Artists)

That’s it. All the other guitarists that do have management are in boutique firms that do not have the type of global impact and resources that the above count with. Further, with the exception of Milos Karadaglic and Xuefei Yang, the most recent generation of guitarists is effectively unmanaged. When we see the data there there is a clear trend: the number of professional guitarists has grown exponentially, but the number of ‘outliers’ – of guitarists at the top agencies – has reduced to less than half. Thus, the reaction of the guitar community to create the ‘guitar managements’ like PR Concert Artists.

While I admire and value the laudable work of my former competitors (Aranjuez Artists and Dan McDaniel Management) they essentially operate as booking agencies and opt for a very conservative strategy with artists that have momentum with the current status-quo. Regardless of the positioning, we are all exposed to the industry-wide deflationary trend in artistic fees and the increasing competition and substitutability of artists in concert series.

The vision of PR Concert Artists is artistic development, and unfortunately it is precisely the industry wide status-quo that prevents it. I would argue that all of the artists engaged exclusively in ‘guitar management’ rosters (including PR Concert Artists) would have essentially the same careers with or without management. In this scenario, management is simply a way for the artist to avoid the menial office tasks of doing phone calls and sending some emails. In spite of the best efforts of all guitar agencies – again, PR Concert Artists included – I have yet seen an artist make a substantial change in any of its careers in terms of fees, exposure and growth beyond the guitar niche with the direct influence of its management.

This is especially concerning to the  outliers of the current generation: while technology has made it easier for the whole guitar community to create content and grow, the chances for the few extraordinary emerging players to gain the necessary resources and conduct a career like Segovia or Bream are exponentially diminished. It’s like trying to compete in the Formula 1 with a bicycle instead of a Ferrari.

Regardless of any individual appreciation of the pros and cons of technology, the fact is that 15 years after Napster and MySpace/Facebook, both labels and top management agencies are still here. Technology is not forgiving, and when disruptive it obliterates older models as Digital Photography did with film cameras. In spite of Youtube and twitter, record labels and major artist management remain the main channels through which careers in classical music are made on a larger scale. This occurs mainly because of the very relationship we have with music: even though technology now facilitates immediate access to the entirety of the music production of the world, our brain cannot process it all at once and determine what we like the best: there’s not enough time to listen to it all and judge. As listeners, we need points of reference to make decisions about what to hear, and who to hear. The labels and management agencies create these points of reference by marketing artists, who must then respond to public demand by presenting concerts and the creative cycle commences. There are always exceptions, but the likelihood of being born in the right set of circumstances and to have the talent to exploit DIY initiatives like the case of Berta Rojas are slim to none for the great majority, to say the least.

In the particular case of the classical guitar, the creative cycle is hurdled by the level of investment and the oversupply of talent, making it impossible for an industry of this size to sustain its growing potential. Obviously, one can always accept the fee cap imposed by the industry, and perennially continue to operate as a booking agency, but that would go against the vision that gave birth to PR Concert Artists.

Having realized this, PR Concert Artists ends to pave the way for other initiatives that address the industry wide problem, with new and more exciting projects than ever before in the horizon. Sadly, this means this will also be my last post in this forum.

I want to thank Rafael Aguirre for inspiring me to start this dream with his supernatural talent (Gracias Cuñao, a ti y a “Peito y Risitas”), and to Gabriel Bianco, Irina Kulikova, Aniello Desiderio, Matt Palmer, Grisha Goryachev, Jorge Caballero, and Pablo [Sainz] Villegas, with whom I’ll continue to work as a consultant. Thanks also to all the presenters I’ve had the pleasure to work with, as I am sure that even in through tense moments each of the events we facilitated for the public were very special and made it all worth it. In spite of the challenging conditions, PR Concert Artists arranged concerts for all of the artists it represented – many of whom had no traction in certain markets before. Four Carnegie Hall Debuts, 2 CD productions, 2 DVD’s, tours, calls, emails, craziness, and a lot of good times have made these five years amazing.

Thanks guys, I’m sure we’ll work together in the future.


P.D. if you want to know the real meaning of the acronym “PR” please click HERE.

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