Cyrille Aimée vs. Nicky Schrire: booking agents

Cyrille Aimée is a French vocalist in her thirties with a strong touring career. I reckon she's known best for her 2020 Emmet's Place appearance, which ranks among the YouTube show's greatest hits, right up there with Patrick Bartley.

Nicky Schrire is a South African-British vocalist now based in Toronto who comes from a similar generation and whom I interviewed last year. Her latest album, right up my jazz/folk alley, is Nowhere Girl. ("Heart Like a Wheel" featuring Laila Biali was one of my favourite new tracks of 2023.)

Schrire works for the boutique jazz booking agency Unlimited Myles, who just signed Caity Gyorgy to a roster that already includes Fred Hersch and Melissa Aldana.

On May 21, 2024, a non-profit arts organization in Minnesota called Campfire Music Foundation published an interview with Aimée on YouTube. The next day, Campfire and Aimée collaboratively posted a clip from the interview to Instagram, where Campfire's bio states their own mandate as having been "Founded to build a new model of music streaming that pays artists fairly and transparently for their music."

Over the past day, Schrire made comments in a comment thread on the Instagram post, including a back-and-forth with Aimée.

I'm not sure if Schrire watched the entire interview, beyond the Instagram clip; thus here is my quote of what Aimée says just within the clip:

"I used to make more money, actually. But the fees [paid to the artist for performances] have stayed the same, and the expenses have gone up. So, you know, like I said, I used to tour with a tour manager. And one extra band member, but there's no more money for that. And the crazy part is that the agents and the managers are still taking their percentage[s] off the top. That drives me insane, because, like that's been the deal in the music business forever, and it hasn't changed. That needs to change!"

The top-level comment under this clip that started the exchange came from Norwegian vocalist Gro-Marthe Dickson, who wrote, "Does the manager/booking agent deal need to change or does [sic] the fees have to go up?"

Dickson's comment refers to the standard business model of both artist managers and booking agents, which involves a fee (usually 15% or 20%) on related gross revenues.

For an artist manager, the related revenues could be all of an artist's income during a period, including things like royalties paid and fees earned: gross $10,000 in a good month, the manager's 15% cut would be $1,500, before costs.

For agents, the related revenues are fees for shows that the agency has booked; agents won't take 15% of, for example, streaming royalties.

When Dickson asks if the "fees have to go up", she's not suggesting the percentage going to the manager or agent needs to go up. Instead, she means the same thing that Aimée does in opening the clip by saying, "I used to make more money, actually. But the fees have stayed the same".

Schrire shared the clip to her own Instagram Stories with this message as opening context:

"Always dodgy to cite a paraphrased interview, but it's not crazy that managers and booking agents would take their percentage (not an outrageous commission %) off the top. They re working and they need to be compensated as the artist is. The discussion of fees not having increased is a different kettle of fish. But managers and agents need to be compensated. Simple. Otherwise don't use those services and don't part with commission 🤷‍♀️ "

She also left a top-level comment, which I can't find anymore but that she screenshotted for her Stories:

"I don't agree with the demonising of booking agents and managers. They take a commission-not an outrageous commission at that. So if performance fees are low, they feel that financially too. Managers and agents in the jazz community are a musician's teammates. Not vultures off to the side trying to take financial advantage of the musician they're assisting. If you don't want to part with commission on a fee, then don't make use of the services of these people. It's quite simple. The question of performance fees is another conversation."

Schrire's first comment under Dickson is a reply directly to the Norwegian, not to Aimée:

"@gromarthedickson the agent/manager deal is straightforward. They need to be compensated for their work in securing opportunities for the musician. Most booking agents are charging between 10 and 20% commission. It’s not an outrageous amount. If a musician doesn’t want to part with that commission from the overall fee, then they need to secure their own opportunities. Not sure what Cyrille is suggesting here 🤷🏻‍♀️

"The issue of fees not having increased is another discussion. But it’s not crazy that if you have people doing work for you, they need to be paid. And their fees have not increased as fees have decreased."

The Campfire Music Foundation's own account responds next:

"@nickyschrire that’s not what she’s saying… she’s talking about the issue of agents and managers take their cut out of the gross profit, not the net. Therefore all tour expenses (which are continuously rising due to inflation) have to come out of her cut. So the 10%-20% cut that an agent takes actually turns into more like 30%-40% of the total profit.

"You’re right, every music worker deserves to be paid for their labor, including agents and managers, but the deals need to be clear and equitable for all parties."

Schrire responds:

"@campfirefoundation But the agents broker that full fee. And almost all deals we broker, as booking agents, are the fee PLUS hotel and ground. The only compulsory cost to the musician to come out of the fee is airfare and paying their bandmates. A tour manager is a luxury and at the artist’s discretion. I agree the model is hugely flawed but I don’t think it’s inequitable where agents are concerned. Again, having an agent is a privilege but not imperative to being a working musician."

And at this point Aimée jumps in:

"@nickyschrire Saying that the artist’s expense are « only flights and band members » is first of all incorrect.
But even just that is already a huge percentage of the budget. My dream would be to be able to pay my musicians more, as they deserve more and are physically doing way more than anyone else in the team, but I can’t.
Flights are getting more and more expensive, and when you travel with a quartet (I can not take my dream band septet on the road because it’s too expensive) the flights add up.
The problem with taking commissions off the top is agents don’t have the incentive to book shows with a routing that makes sense in terms of geography and travel times and we are forced to travel across countries back and forth to make gigs. It is taxing not only in terms of cost but also on the body, not to get into the emotional cost of being away from home all the time.
Everyone needs to be compensated, I agree. Unfortunately no musician is getting paid for the hours spent practicing, rehearsing or composing music.
« Having an agent is a privilege » is something I am so glad I never heard my agent say as he shows me how grateful he is to be part of my team.
An artist will always be an artist with or without an agent. A booking agent can not be a booking agent without a great artist.
Don’t forget that you work for the artist and not the other way around and try to recognize the privilege you have of being able to work for artists that inspire you and maybe you will get a clearer picture of how it is to be in their shoes. Just check out all the comments on this video. These are the people you work for. Maybe listen to them?
Peace and love ❤️"

Which elicits Schrire to quote-post this comment to her Stories and say, "This is important to unpack for everyone in the jazz community." She then leaves her last comment in the thread:

"@cyrilleaimee Firstly, I'm a musician and a booking agent. My insight runs pretty deep as to how taxing it is to be a touring musician. But it is a musician's choice to tour, either a lot or a little, because there are other ways to earn income from one's music that don't require a large portion of time to be spent on the road. All jobs, in every sphere, have downsides. Part of me wants to say, 'Do you know how lucky you are to be able to travel with your music?' I think you know you're lucky and I acknowledge we can have work we enjoy and still want conditions to improve. Secondly, taking commissions off the top does not result in agents lacking incentive to route efficiently and economically. That's illogical and unfounded. Routing is difficult-sometimes it works out and other times it doesn't. But the musician is ALWAYS able to decline an offer if the routing makes no sense, especially if there's no anchor date. Thirdly, having an agent or a manager or a label IS a privilege. These are not guarantees for most artists (look around, the minority of musicians have one of these things nevermind all three of them). They are gifts. This doesn't mean an agent or manager isn't grateful for their dayjob or the enjoyment of their job. It simply means that helping hands are always a luxury. Sure, they cost money, but they allow you more time to practise or not be stuck behind a computer emailing. This is the very definition of a privilege. Lastly, I cannot imagine you saying, in person, to your manager or agents, 'Don't forget that you work for me and not the other way round and try to recognise the privilege you have of being able to work for a great artist.' These conversations are important and I thank you for having this publicly. This is the only way we move the needle forward. But one has to understand the ecosystem. A good agent or manager works WITH the artist. A big distinction. And if you see it otherwise, then you don't have a clear picture of how these collaborations work. Xx"

Schrire's closing remark on her Stories was then:

"I understand Cyrille's point of view. I know that it's shared by many. But it's important to get into the nitty gritty here of what everyone's job entails, from musicians to agents to managers to labels and beyond. It is a privilege to work in jazz period. Whether you're touring or recording or teaching or doing arts admin (being a jazz booking agent is so wildly niche-I think about it daily. What a privilege to have any day job in jazz of jazz is the music one loves!). Good conversations to have. Feel free to weigh in and we can discuss further ✨ "

So, what do you think? I would need to take time and a second edition of AABA to add my own thoughts.

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