MBW’s World’s Greatest Agents series celebrates the talent representatives looking after the live careers of the world’s biggest artists. This time, we speak to Corrie Christopher Martin – a senior figure at Paradigm Talent Agency in Los Angeles, who works with the likes of Janet Jackson, Imagine Dragons and more. World’s Greatest Agents is supported by financial technology company Centtrip Music, which regularly works with the live music sector to maximise returns from artist touring around the globe.
“Someone asked me once when I started my own agency, ‘Well, how much start-up capital do you have?’ I just laughed.”
Corrie Christopher Martin, Music Executive Leadership Group, Paradigm Talent Agency, is recounting her career over the phone to MBW from her office in Beverley Hills.
“I don’t even think I knew what ‘start-up capital’ was at 28 years old,” she says, of her decision to launch her Fierce Talent Agency, which she sold to The Agency Group in 2005. “I could keep the lights on. That was about the extent of it.”
It’s only a couple of weeks before Janet Jackson’s debut Vegas Residency, with the star having signed with Paradigm around six months ago. Christopher Martin co-represents Jackson alongside Matt Galle and Sam Hunt, adding to a long list of the former exec’s uber-successful clients.
Take legendary Chicago punk band Rise Against, for example, who Christopher Martin has worked with for two decades and refers to as “family”. Or Imagine Dragons, who she signed around 10 years ago – before they even had a record deal and went from being another unknown band playing gigs in Vegas and Sunset Blvd, to headlining arenas and music festivals around the world.
“I’m passionate about what I do. I work hard, and I’m big on building relationships,” says Christopher Martin. “The rest falls into place.”
Christopher Martin joined Paradigm as an agent in 2013 from Agency for the Performing Arts (APA), where she was Senior Vice President of Concerts, bringing a blockbuster roster of clients with her, including the likes of Imagine Dragons, Rise Against, AWOLNATION and legendary Californian punk band the Descendents.
Before that, she worked for the Agency Group for four years (2005-2009), having sold Fierce Talent Agency, which she founded in 1999.
As part of Paradigm’s senior leadership board today, Christopher Martin is actively involved in a number of diversity and inclusion efforts in the entertainment business.
She’s a founding member of the agency’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiative (DAII), and also serves on the Entertainment Leadership Board for Time’s Up, as well as the Executive Committee for She Is The Music, a non-profit focused on increasing number of women working in music.
“These issues have always been important to me,” she says. “Perhaps it’s from coming up in the punk rock community, and trying to give a voice to the underrepresented; using my platform at whatever level has always been important to me.”
Here, Corrie Christopher Martin gives MBW a glimpse into one of the world’s leading talent booking agencies, tells us what it’s like working with Marty Diamond – and explains how she’s using her platform to make the music business more inclusive.
How important is the role of an agent in an emerging artist’s career?
It’s absolutely critical. The agencies have had to take on more of a role in marketing, branding and in overall business planning. It’s not just a matter of booking tours or shows. We look at an artist’s career in a completely holistic way, in terms of how we can help generate revenue streams beyond touring, how we can help them create a brand and set themselves apart from other artists that are attempting to fight for the same piece of the pie.
How does your approach change when you’re dealing with an artist like Janet Jackson compared to newer artists?
With an artist like Janet, there’s a legacy and a brand to protect. When you have a developing artist, you are working to protect the brand, but the story is just [starting to be] told. So there’s a little bit more flexibility in terms of what type of projects you can put in front of them. With an artist like Janet, she’s an absolute icon and part of such a small number of artists that have reached that level of success.
Do live agents find artists earlier than record labels do?
Sometimes. There are certain agents who are very focused on finding artists before others know about them. There are label people who are focused on the same thing. It just depends on what your business model is. There are people who find young, developing artists out of necessity if they’re establishing themselves. And then there are people who really enjoy that part of the process and being part of the story from the beginning.
Tell us about when you started working with Imagine Dragons.
I started working with Imagine Dragons going on 10 years ago and they were an unsigned band that a former clients’ manager tipped me off [on].
I saw them play in a tiny club and took a chance – and that really worked out! I don’t find a lot of clients; I keep a fairly small roster. I tend to focus on quality over quantity. I’m not out there signing an act every week. That just doesn’t work for me. When I sign an artist, I invest a lot of time and energy.
How did you become an agent? Did you always want to work in live music?
I started working for a boutique agency [The Tahoe Agency] when I was a senior in high school at the age of 17. I don’t know that I necessarily had figured out what I wanted to do when it fell in my lap.
I was telemarketing at a timeshare in my senior year in high school and I would bring in music to the office. The office manager approached me and said, ‘How do you know about all this underground music? My husband and I have a boutique booking agency and we booked some of these artists. Would you be interested in interning?’ And that was 1995. They shut down in 2000.
And you work with Rise Against. What’s it like working with them?
I’ve been working with Rise Against for 20 years. They’re amazing. I mean they became like family – Imagine Dragons, too.
Working with Rise Against has been just a very unique experience for me because they were the first artist that I represented that played arenas and really broke out in an elevated way beyond just the little punk rock scene that I started in.
Similar to Janet Jackson, finding things to do with them, finding opportunities for them that they haven’t done before becomes more challenging the more time you spend working together. Very recently they just did a run of dates where they played theaters, beautiful theaters, the Chicago Theater and the Paramount in Denver and the Ace Theater here in Los Angeles.
They brought in a string section and did acoustic renditions of their biggest songs. It was just incredibly stunning. And, it actually made me very emotional to hear these songs in a completely reconfigured way and just thinking, reflecting back on how long we’ve been working together and what an instrumental role in my life, both professionally and personally they’ve played.
you owned your own agency and then you worked at the Agency Group. Could you talk us through that journey before working at Paradigm?
I started my own agency in 1999 with a couple of clients that were really being elevated and started playing arenas and larger events. I recognized that, in order to keep growing, I needed to surround myself with other experienced agents in a setting that would help me do that, so I sold my agency to the Agency Group in 2005.
I had a lovely time at the Agency Group. I spent some time at APA as well prior to coming to Paradigm in 2013. All of our Paradigm offices are now under one roof in Beverly Hills and I’m Co-Head of the Music Department here. This office is an exciting place to be right now.
What’s it like working with like Marty Diamond?
Marty is an icon himself. Marty Diamond is one of the most passionate, hardworking people I know. And it’s contagious. He’s like the Energizer bunny.
We have a great team of people over here. We have people like Matt Galle and Paul Morris and Sam Hunt and Tom Windish and Jackie Nalpant, all of whom came from [owning] their own agency or came from agencies that were acquired by Paradigm.
Each of these companies had their own individual culture, and we’ve now created at unified culture. It’s not like everybody came up on the same path and learned the same system.
We have a lot of people who had a DIY mentality and ethos that helped build their own individual businesses. And now they’ve brought that way of doing business to Paradigm.
Can you tell us about how Love Loud came about?
I helped [Imagine Dragons singer] Dan Reynolds put together his Believer documentary which won a Sundance award and was aired on HBO. And, during that process he decided that he wanted to put on a festival, which started small and then grew to something much more ambitious.
We are now in our third year here, and it’s taking place at the end of June in Salt Lake City at USANA Amphitheater. Last year we did almost 30,000 people and the Dragons had headlined the first two years. Dan is now headlining with Kesha and Martin Garrix. And, the premise is to raise awareness and funds for LGBTQ-youth oriented charities primarily in the Utah area.
You’re also a founding member of Paradigm’s Diversity and Inclusion initiative. Why are these issues are important to you?
I was just raised that way. I was raised to fight for the underdog and take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.
This is a continuation of that ethos, which is that, I believe that the need for diversity across all levels of the music industry is incredibly important and impactful. It has a reach beyond just our industry, whether it’s film and TV or the music industry.
“We have a responsibility as people who represent art and artists… we have to clean up our own house if we expect the rest of the world to follow suit.”
The impact that the art that is put out has around the world is completely under-acknowledged. We have a responsibility as people who represent art and artists that have such a global cultural sway in what the rest of the world is mirroring, that we have to clean up our own house if we expect the rest of the world to follow suit.
If art affects commerce and art shapes culture, then we’re absolutely affecting the world. Especially when you think about whether it’s the music industry and the US having the greatest impact or film and television, entertainment all goes hand in hand, but it’s a huge responsibility.
That’s why I’m involved in Time’s Up, that’s why I’m involved and She Is The Music and that’s why I helped create the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative.
Do music companies, whether it’s labels or agencies or management companies or labels are taking the social responsibility that they have more seriously?
I certainly think that the awareness has been elevated. You’d have to be living under a rock at this point if you didn’t know that it was happening that we had a diversity issue. Some companies are doing better at it than others, but there is definitely a huge push in our industry to create a more level playing field.
Where the challenge right now has to do with the promotion and the executive ranks and promotions. That companies are doing a much better job on the recruitment side, making sure that they are recruiting from a wider range of colleges and programs and creating mentorship programs and really looking at hiring people through a more diverse lens.
We still certainly have an unconscious bias issue in our industry and that’s just going to take time. There are people who perhaps think that they’re doing a better job at it than they are.
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to work in the live music business?
I would say be relentless, make friends, don’t worry about what others are doing. Carve your own path. You see an opportunity, make it happen.
Beyond the music, being an agent, you need to be personable and fast and know how to create a vision. Obviously the ability to share your vision with other people is really important, [like] a storyteller of sorts.
Who are the iconic live artists of the future?
These [headlining] artists are incredibly important to the ecosystem, and I just don’t know what that looks like 10 years from now. That’s where I get concerned about the labels and the flash-in-the pan success stories, especially in hip-hop, a little bit in pop, but it certainly in electronic. It just goes so fast, and it burns out so fast, more often than not.
That might be fine for the labels because they’re just trying to move units as quickly as possible or do big branding deals or whatever. And I don’t know [if] that’s anything that we’re necessarily responsible for figuring out because [it could be] a cultural thing, right? Everything’s disposable. The plastic’s disposable, the clothing is disposable, the music’s disposable. It’s the Western consumption problem.
The consumer has created this [situation], not necessarily the labels or the agencies or the managers.
What do you think about Billie Eilish’s album and how so many people on Apple Music listened to it from beginning to end, which is an interesting notion in the streaming era.
Her fans are invested in her. It’s not just a song, it’s a movement. She is a rare unicorn, as we say around here, and it’s incredibly exciting because you don’t see that very often anymore.
The fans want as much from Billie as they can get creatively, whether that’s the music or the videos or things she co-signs, things she’s involved with, talk about being your authentic self. Billie absolutely, it’s her authentic self, and people see that. She and her brother made that music for themselves at the beginning, and they just happened to get a bunch of fans.
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