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CAA: bridging the UK-US gap

Category: Burns News
Article Date: November 12, 2007 | Publication: Music Week | Author: Paul Williams
Source: Music Week

Posted by: admin


A year on from opening a London branch of the US-based Creative Artists Agency, Emma Banks and Mike Greek, a "perfect fit of chemistry and like vision", are making serious transatlantic inroads for a wealth of UK- based talent

A contacts book rammed with top movers and shakers is worth its weight in gold in this industry. So, when you have direct access to some of the entertainment world's most powerful artists and executives, almost anything is possible.

Just ask Emma Banks and Mike Greek: a year after leaving their longtime agency home of Sanctuary - and now Universal-owned Helter Skelter - to head American powerhouse Creative Artists Agency's (CAA) first-ever London office, the pair are only now realising the possibilities of tapping into a star-studded roster that includes such superstar names as Jennifer Aniston, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Spielberg.

Having a direct route to these kind of names and their representatives is starting to pay dividends for the most unlikely of Banks and Greek's artists, among them Eddi Reader. The singer has been with Banks for years but found her dream of getting involved in a proposed movie about her beloved Robert Burns move nearer thanks to the pulling power of CAA in the States.

Banks recalls that Reader, whose admiration of the Scottish bard was demonstrated when she recorded an album of his material with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 2003, was immediately on the phone when she discovered a Burns movie was in the pipeline.

"It's a very big deal for her," says Banks, who was then "bombarded" by YouTube clips and other information relating to the film as Reader lobbied that she had to get involved with the music. Within the info, the former Fairground Attraction star presented an important snippet: the movie's leading man was Hollywood actor Gerard Butler, who just so happened to be on CAA's books. Given that, Banks was straight on the phone to Butler's agent in the US to tell him about Reader's desire to get involved.

"Within 24 hours I had spoken to Gerard Butler's agent, who spoke to the film's director, who was vaguely aware of who Eddi was," says Banks.

While a final decision on whether Reader will be involved is still being awaited, Banks notes, "The very fact that we were able to get in direct contact with the director of the film is something that wouldn't have happened without this set-up. Other people have to go to music supervisors."

The Reader episode is one small example of what is proving to be the difference Banks and Greek's being able to plug into one of the world's biggest entertainment agencies is making to their roster of clients, which also includes the likes of Jamie Cullum and Newton Faulkner.

Despite its status as one of the world's biggest and most successful agencies, CAA and its executives still like to make a big deal about the personal touch they give to their artists. While Rob Light, a US- based co-chairman of CAA and its head of music, recognises the incredible growth enjoyed by the company since it launched in Beverly Hills back in 1975 by five talent agents previously working at the William Morris Agency means it is now ridiculous to describe it still in terms of a "mom and pop" business, he is keen for his company not to be seen simply as a huge corporate machine.

"This big company is a really personalised human thing and it's easy to get lost in these big-sized companies, but when somebody like Eddi is passionate about something, with her having access to the director we can really make a difference," he says.

The Reader story is also an illustration of just how effectively Banks, Greek and the American base of the company are working together. This comes as no great surprise to Light, who describes the pair and CAA as a "perfect fit of chemistry and like vision"; that relationship is also strengthened by the fact that, prior to the pair being appointed, there was already a shared roster of artists that included Jamie Cullum, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kraftwerk.

Light, a 24-year CAA veteran, reveals his company had been seriously thinking about expanding into the UK for two years, but the vital ingredient, it seems, were Banks and Greek themselves. "I don't think we would have made the move if the right people weren't available," says Light whose company's arrival in the UK was followed just three months later by fellow US giant the William Morris Agency setting up shop in offices at Centre Point in Central London.

From the UK pair's perspective, the opportunity to be part of a company that could offer so much more than simply being a music agency was an important persuasive factor for them to leave Helter Skelter and sign up. "We have a great relationship with our artists, but anytime something came through that wasn't a gig we had to pass it on to someone else," says Banks. "We started looking at ads in magazines and noticed there weren't so many models. The people in adverts were people like Keira Knightley. It's about personalities and I think CAA opened that up to us."

Despite the London base's nearest office being nearly 3,500 miles away in New York, Banks describes a close working relationship that, thanks to the likes of video conferencing, almost makes it feel like the American operations are just on another floor of their Hammersmith building.

"When you're able to see someone in the meeting it makes a great difference," says Greek. "You get more of an idea of what is happening and being talked about in the offices."

This transatlantic link is already starting to pay dividends for Banks and Greek's roster of UK acts in the US, among them The Automatic (known Stateside as Automatic Automatic ) who secured a spot on the touring and extreme sports Warped Tour in the US during June and July through CAA. "They've now got a foot in the market, which is probably going to assist them," says Greek.

Among other possible promotional doors that CAA can open to UK artists is the still-influential Saturday Night Live. Lorne Michaels, the creator and executive producer of the long-running NBC networked US TV show, is on CAA's books, which, while Light says that does not guarantee an automatic booking, it at least means their name is put forward for consideration.

Then there is CAA's LA-based music agent Brian Loucks, who stages what are called the Living Room Sessions at his home in the Hollywood Hills where he invites influential TV, film and music people to watch artists literally perform in his living room. The line-ups so far have included the likes of James Morrison and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs playing to an intimate but extremely powerful audience.

But the benefits of CAA's UK-US link are by no means just travelling in one direction. Back in London, the agency is also quietly building up its UK representation of US artists which, through Helter Skelter, already included the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers. Norah Jones, whom CAA already represented in the US, has since the London office launched expanded her relationship with the agency by signing up for the UK.

Although Light says CAA is not deliberately looking to poach acts it represents in some markets but not in the UK, the Jones deal is a further illustration of how the American giant is benefiting from having a London presence. And, as it moves into its second year here and beyond, those benefits are only likely to further increase.

 


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