Back to basics: launching a boutique agency

Libby Abrahams, formerly senior VP at IMG, is setting up her own artist management agency. It’s a daunting but exciting challenge, she writes

I’m setting out on my own, and launching a new artist management agency, Keynote Artist Management. I keep being asked ‘why now’, and the honest answer is I felt that I was looking for a new challenge. Call it a midlife crisis, perhaps, but after more than 20 years working for some of the most prestigious artist agencies in classical music, I came to a point where I was craving something new and setting up my own smaller boutique agency seemed a really obvious, natural step.

I went back to basics and reassessed what I was good at and what I wanted to do. It turned out to be very simple: I want to manage international artists and their careers.  As with all larger companies, the more senior you become, the more removed you are from what you actually enjoy doing.

I hope that running a smaller set up will allow me more time and space to focus on fewer artists, and to develop other ideas beyond the concert booking cycle. That’s not to say I wasn’t able to do this before but I guess I wanted to see if I could do it differently.  The industry has changed so much over the last 10, even five years, and I want to be able to change with it.

It’s great to be working with Hélène Grimaud (pictured), Teodor Currentzis and Tomáš Hanus straightaway – all core classical artists who embrace change and strive for new challenges, ideas and collaborations.

I am really excited to explore different ideas and to create new partnerships for our artists. For example in December this year Hélène will collaborate with the artist Douglas Gordon to explore the beauty of water. Douglas will create a large-scale installation on which Hélène will perform a programme of water-themed works by creating a confluence of live music and visual art that allows audiences to experience this celebrated music in a refreshingly new way.

In September, Teodor’s recording of The Rite of Spring will accompany Romeo Castellucci’s vision of this work premiering at the Ruhrtriennale – a project that they have been creating since 2012. Tomas is currently working on a new edition of Janáček’s The Makropoulus Case for Barenreiter to be published later this year and will be used for the first time at Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, which he will conduct.

Libby Abrahams
Libby Abrahams

The biggest challenge was deciding to take the leap to leave IMG and to set up on my own. It is a daunting prospect and anyone who has set up their own business will no doubt tell you the same. Leaving a big company and your salary is terrifying, but once I made the decision and secured investment the nuts and bolts of setting up have gone surprisingly smoothly. Well, almost – who knew how long it took to open a bank account!

I’ve been pretty lucky though with all the support from colleagues, especially other small agency owners, and this has helped me through the whole process. I feel that the major challenges lie ahead: taking on the right artists, growing the brand and making savvy business decisions. I think the most exciting thing is the unknown and what might be around the corner.