Backstage Pass: karsten witt musik management

Celebrating 20 years karsten witt musik management

As international classical music artist agency karsten witt musik management celebrates its 20th anniversary, we go behind the scenes with Founder Karsten Witt and Managing Directors Maike Fuchs and Xenia Groh-Hu 

Karsten Witt, it’s been 20 years since you founded your company. You had held important positions in the music business before, as Director of the Vienna Konzerthaus, President of Deutsche Grammophon and CEO of the Southbank Centre. 

What was the idea behind your vision when you started karsten witt musik management in 2004?

KW: We wanted to run our own company with a small team, independent of politics and boards, and create an umbrella for all the things we were passionate about: supporting artists and promoters internationally and helping them to realise their dreams of a fulfilling musical life. For me personally, this meant returning to my beginnings as founder and manager of the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie and all the ensembles that grew out of it. Even then, I saw management as a service provider to the musicians. It’s a nice coincidence that this year also marks the 50th anniversary of this orchestra.

What makes your company different from other artist managements?

MF: I think it’s our holistic approach. Unlike most other agencies, we don’t represent artists locally, we only do general management, which keeps us in close contact with our artists. At the same time, we work closely with promoters worldwide: concert halls, festivals, orchestras, opera houses, etc – ultimately, we all depend on their success.

Your Berlin office is now one of the largest of its kind in Germany, but you still describe yourself as a small company?

KW: It’s true. We started with four people and now we are about 20. It’s the consequence of pursuing everything we were interested in. Like other major managements, we represent conductors, ensembles, instrumentalists and singers, and we also tour orchestras and multimedia projects. Unlike other managements, we also work for over 20 leading composers, and we promote concerts in Berlin and at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. All these activities require different skills and different networks.

And last autumn you started your own academy.

XGH: We have always been working as advisers. After 20 years, we feel that we have gained experience from which other people can benefit, both musicians who are managing their own careers and future arts managers. The first courses we ran were very successful. We also learned a lot ourselves by reflecting on our experience and structuring our knowledge.

What has changed in these 20 years and what impact has Covid had?

KW: In 2003, the year before we started, I had the experience of SARS with an Ensemble Modern festival in Taiwan. So, we always had an eye on the force majeure clauses in our contracts. But of course, nobody was prepared for this global pandemic. Unfortunately, with Brexit, the disaster in the Middle East, the war in Ukraine and growing isolationism in the US and elsewhere, the political reality does not sit well with our cosmopolitan classical music world. The closure of Russia, visa problems in the US and the soaring cost of flights to Asia don’t make our lives any easier either.

And what has changed in your company?

XGH: Fortunately, we are enjoying a strong continuity both with our artists and our staff, which is becoming more and more international. More online meetings after Covid are definitely a benefit. Some colleagues are working from home up to two days a week. We even have people in Paris and Copenhagen. Recently, when our office rent was due to go up by 50%, we moved to a slightly smaller but more central space. We are very happy with our new premises which includes a large meeting room that we can use for our academy and even for small concerts.

How do you see the future?

KW: For the first time, I am optimistic that the new technical means, AI, will be an advantage. In the past, the multiplicity of communication channels and the fact that all new technologies are primarily used to create more options for their individual users have increased the complexity of our work, but this time we could benefit.  

Do you think that managers will still play a significant role when direct communication with your artists is becoming ever easier?

MF: It depends on us. Busy artists will always require assistance. And we can still be useful as competent advisors to both artists and promoters. We can even help reduce carbon emissions by devising clever tours and residencies. Logistics was a key function of impresarios when travelling was much more time-consuming and tiring than it is today. It is again becoming one of our most important tasks.

KW: To be honest, I am less worried about the future of artist management than about the future of programming, where meaning and artistic quality are becoming less relevant than entertainment value and branding. Yes, I am convinced that we have an essential role to play.