This week Pollstar broke the news that five former Paradigm agents – Marshall Betts, Avery McTaggart, Amy Davidman, Ryan Craven and Devin Landau – launched TBA, a new, independent music agency with an impressive roster. Though not all exactly household names, TBA’s acts such as The War on Drugs, Courtney Barnett, Chvrches, Hot Chip, Tune-Yards, Guided by Voices, Cut Copy, José González, Beirut, Tycho, Toro Y Moi, Pink Martini and Caribou among others are, to a certain set of music fans, an all-star team.
TBA’s quintet of founding partners, up until five and a half months ago, worked for Paradigm and prior to that, for The Windish Agency, with which Paradigm partnered in 2015 and acquired in 2017. On March 20, only a week after the national lockdown began, the TBA co-founders, along with a reported 250 employees, were furloughed.
“They called it a temporary layoff,” says Davidman, TBA partner and agent. “It was a surprise. Trying to work through really what that meant, moving forward was confusing. It’s not the same as getting fired. And as an agent with a roster, what do you do next? Who do you call? What do you tell them? How do you make sure that the people you’re responsible for are taken care of?” Davidman asks.
“It came exactly a week after we were no longer able to go into the office,” says McTaggert, also a TBA agent and partner. “It was March 13th when things started to feel serious and people were wrapping their heads around what a pandemic is. And then we got laid off a week later. At that point, the weekend between, I was already rescheduling tours. Those were the days where we thought, ‘I’ll just push it back to the summer, kick it off in July and we’ll be good.’”
“I was out traveling for business the week prior to going into lockdown and then everybody was let go the following week,” says TBA’s Betts. “I was going to see Alvvays open up for The Strokes at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. ... It was very much like the pandemic, right? It was like, ‘It doesn’t look like there’s going to be shows for a couple of months. Hopefully, things can come back to normal and everybody will reassess in those couple months,’ And it went a couple of months further. And, essentially ... here we are.”
“Here” is the just-launched TBA, with a team of 11, which includes agent Josh Mulder and his roster of Sudan Archives, Remi Wolf and JAWNY among others; Samantha Tacón, head of artist creative strategy, who’s executed projects with Netflix, Gucci, Microsoft, Adidas, Balenciaga and HBO; and Katie Nowak, former AEG Global Touring marketing director, overseeing campaigns for Sturgill Simpson, Tyler, The Creator, Illenium, and Juice WRLD, and who previously worked for Windish, Paradigm and CAA, and head of operations Lauren McCauley. Rounding out the team is support support supsu support from Chris Danis and Lindsey Schiffman. Business management is handled by Mike Merriman at Parr 3 and legal by Nioura Ghazni and Jordan Bromley at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.
At the core of TBA, however, is its enviable roster. According to Pollstar Boxoffice reports over the past 36 months, The War on Drugs grossed $170,000 with an average of 4,200 tickets sold; Chvrches grossed $132,000 with an average of 3,300 tickets; and Pink Martini grossed $131,500 and an average of 2,150 tickets.
“There are people that are on this roster that are going to be playing Madison Square Garden within the next couple of years when things return,” enthuses Betts. “There are artists of every caliber and level on our roster. And that, I think, is exciting not only to us but to the artists we work with and to the managers we’re working with.”
Such entrepreneurial enthusiasm from a start-up, in this Dumpster fire of a year, is (live) music to this industry’s ears. As tours and festivals are canceled and rescheduled, and canceled and rescheduled, then rinse, repeat and wait, few if any agencies, promoters, venues, production companies, concessionaires and most any businesses connected to live are left unscathed.
Paradigm, however, even before the pandemic hit, seemed to be having a tougher go of things than other agencies. This included the collapse last summer of an estimated $250 million acquisition deal; layoffs in January amidst reports of financial challenges; and a subsequent, if disputed, lawsuit. That the agency instituted major layoffs just a week after the pandemic lockdown spoke volumes. (Paradigm declined to comment for this story.)
It was hard to square in part because Paradigm was born of a similar entrepreneurial spirit and over the last decade and a half built a formidable music agency that stood out from its more corporate competitors at WME, CAA, ICM and UTA. It began with Paradigm’s foundational music agency acquisition in 2005 of Monterrey Peninsula Artists. Established in 1975 by Dan Weiner and Fred Bohlander who themselves departed L.A.’s larger International Famous Agency (which eventually became ICM) for more independent pastures, Monterey Pen’s roster included The Doobie Brothers, Emmylou Harris and, perhaps tellingly, Cheech & Chong.
In 2006, Paradigm acquired Little Big Man, owned and operated by Marty Diamond and Larry Webman, which gave Paradigm bicoastal anchors. And, in addition to the aforementioned executive talent, the deal brought in Jonathan Levine and the late, great Chip Hooper among others. The deals gave the growing agency touring powerhouses like Aerosmith, Coldplay and Dave Matthews Band. Over the last decade, Paradigm’s roster grew considerably and qualitatively with acquisitions that included Paul Morris’ electronic-heavy A.M. Only (2012), London-based Coda (2014), Windish (2015), X-ray Touring (2017) and Dale Morris Touring (2018).
Tom Windish spent nine years at David “Boche” Viecelli’s Billions Corporation building a strong roster until 2004 when he went out on his own. Throughout the aughts and early teens Windish set a template for what a successful contemporary independent agency could be with prescient and adventurous signings well before most had ever heard of them. This included everyone from 2manydjs, Acid Mother’s Temple, and Aphex Twin to Four Tet, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and LCD Soundsystem to more recently Lorde, Alt J and Billie Eilish.
“I was the fifth employee,” says Davidman who joined Windish in Chicago in 2006 after working for five years as Frank Riley’s assistant at High Road Touring in Sausalito, Calif.
“Tom set me up in his office, basically facing him, to learn how to be an agent; it was a crash course. I’d known Tom for many years at that point,” says Davidman, who also worked at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge in 1999 with Matt Hickey (and for a spell with Ryan Gentles, The Strokes’ manager). “From [Windish] I learned how to be diligent and how to follow through and be really thorough, assertive and proactive.”
After a year spent in Chile learning the South American market and picking up a number of Latin acts like Ana Tijoux and Mexican Institute of Sound, Davidman moved to Los Angeles. There, she helped open Windish’s L.A. office where she worked beside two other agents who would also become TBA partners.
“I started with one of the other partners in TBA, Ryan Craven, at a company called Kork Agency in the Bay Area,” says McTaggart, describing his winding road through the business. “We were part of an earlier wave of consolidation and sold that company to The Agency Group [in 2008], which is when we moved down to L.A.,” he says. “And then when Tom was looking to establish his office in L.A., Ryan moved there first and a couple of months later I switched over.”
The L.A. Windish team initially worked out of a house in Echo Park. “It overlooked the lake,” McTaggart recalls. “We had basically a giant dining room table we worked from on the first floor, and then some desks where some people set up shop. Tom had the master bedroom upstairs as his office and there were a couple of other bedrooms. Sometimes it was annoying because you had to step outside to make a phone call, but we had a ton of fun there. I used to have meetings with people and just walk around the lake.”
Meanwhile, TBA’s Marshall Betts, who started his career in 2008 working for Philadelphia’s Fata Booking before moving to New York to join the Pinnacle Agency, in 2012 joined Windish’s New York office. “He is probably one of the best A&R people I have ever met in my life,” Betts says of Windish. “I don’t think many people would disagree. And that sense of being aggressive about finding new talent and helping artists grow and grow quickly in the current climate, which happens faster now than ever, is definitely something all of us aspire to and enjoy doing.”
“This group of people who are starting TBA, I’ve had relationships with for a long time,” Davidman says. “Devin Landau and I share about six clients; we already have a relationship where we speak five times a day.” Landau, the fifth partner, worked at the Surefire Agency for nearly seven years before he joined Windish in 2016.
Exactly how TBA came together following the “temporary layoffs” may always remain TBD. “I don’t remember a date, a time or a conversation that was like, ‘OK, it’s the five of us,’” Davidman says. “We were trying to figure out how to take care of our clients and their needs in the beginning, whether that was moving or canceling tour dates or dealing with releases that were getting moved or whatever was happening in that moment. And also checking in with each other like, ‘So what did you hear about this festival?’ ‘Hey, have you gotten a call from this venue?’” Davidman says that naturally turned into conversation about working together.
“It was this kind of never-ending cascading series of phone calls with different individuals and groups of people,” McTaggart says. “We were in the very early stages of understanding the ramifications of COVID-19 in our business and at the same time trying to get clients on the phone and reassure them that things were going to be OK. You’re plowing through a lot of that and people calling and they’re crying or they’re calling and have their lawyer on the phone and they’re angry. And there’s all of these conversations swirling around with our group, dozens of other people who have been affected, other people who are at other companies. Throughout that process you start to see how people are thinking about moving forward and reacting to what’s happening and eventually, a group started to coalesce.”
When asked about the new company’s structure Betts is adamant. “We’re all equal,” he says. “That everybody here is equal was very much the mentality from the beginning and what we wanted to approach as a team. Everybody brings something different and we feel like the sum of all of our parts is going to be greater than any individual good.”
He has a similar reaction when asked about the supposed limitations a smaller, music-focused agency might present to clients looking to branch out into ancillary businesses like branding, film/TV and other areas. “The reality is that if our artists want to do that, we can help facilitate those things,” Betts says. “Ultimately, our artists will have better service because they won’t be competing among 3,000 or 4,000 other artists who are also asking for the same thing. If one of our artists has those ambitions, we have people in place to help them facilitate that. Sam’s [Samantha Tacón] is going to be the head of our artist creative strategy and will help facilitate activities for our artists outside of traditional booking.”
TBA’s proof of concept lies in the fact that nearly all of the artists and managers chose to remain with them as well as the outpouring of support from across the industry when the company announced itself.
“This team has consistently delivered great moments for Coachella and Goldenvoice over the years so we will be harvesting their roster for gems in the future,” said Paul Tollett, co-founder of both the fest and the promotions company, in a statement.
“The founding of TBA is an exciting development for artists and managers who like to work with forward-thinking, hungry and independent teams,” wrote Nick O’Byrne and Katie Besgrove, Courtney Barnett’s managers. “The consolidation of agencies worldwide should be of concern for everyone in live music, so we are very happy about this announcement. As for the agents, we’ve worked with Marshall Betts ever since our client’s first shows in North America. He’s one of the best agents we’ve worked with in any country and any market.”
Similar accolades poured forth from managers including Sam Denniston (Hot Chip and Jungle), Ami Spishock (The War on Drugs and Beirut), Neil Harris (Cut Copy), and Brian Long (Jose Gonzalez) as well as First Avenue Productions’ talent buyer Sonia Grover, OCESA’s Leizer Guss and even a joint statement from Evenko/Osheaga Festival’s Nick Farkas, Daniel Glick, Evelyne Cote and Patrick Guay. Most importantly, praises came directly from artists themselves, including Caribou, Pabllo Vittar, Cuco, Hiatus Kaiyote, Madame Gandhi and others.
“Amy has been an integral part of our band since the moment we started working with her and has always gone above and beyond the role of our booking agent,” Cut Copy wrote in a statement. “She’s family. And it’s an honour for us to be a part of TBA with all these amazing artists. While the future of touring is so uncertain, it is reassuring to know that we’ll have Amy and TBA in our corner when we eventually get back out there.”
In the meantime, none of TBA’s agents have stopped working for a second.
Davidman’s booked a run of drive-in shows in Escondido, Calif., for Pink Martini in November and Madame Gandhi did a talk at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, as well as an NPR Tiny Desk Concert at Home, back on June 24. She also has a TED Talk that posted in August.
McTaggart notes that his client Yaeji performed an online DJ set for Google and Toro Y Moi did a DJ set on the Anchor Steam Brewing Instagram site.
The TBA team seems thrilled by what their future may hold. “I feel more invigorated about my career right now than I have since I was in my mid-20s,” McTaggart says.
“Why start a company if you aren’t going to keep dreaming?” Davidman adds, “The sky’s the limit.”