Canadian Music Industry Expresses Surprise, Sadness About UTA Closing Its Toronto Office
The Canadian music industry is still in shock over the announcement yesterday (Aug. 1) that talent agency UTA will close its Canadian office in Toronto.
Despite its acquisition and absorption of The Agency Group (TAG) -- which had originally opened the Canadian outpost -- two years ago, the staff and roster of the Toronto office had largely remained the same. CEO Ralph James and COO Jack Ross had stayed in place during the transition and continued in their duties as UTA Canada rather than TAG. Fellow agents Zaed Maqbool, Rob Zifarelli, Adam Countryman, Stefanie Purificati, Andre Guerette, Adam Kreeft and Rob Thornton, plus long-time director of operations Jean Wilkinson and executive assistant Lorraine Webb also remained on board at the company, serving as familiar faces on the front lines of the live scene in Canada, visible as much at small clubs as at major arena shows.
As Billboard’s story circulated, many in the Canadian music industry began to offer comments about the blow the office's closure will deal, but primarily wishing all the staff well. A recurring theme, one presented yesterday by Ross in an interview with Billboard and echoed by others: a certainty that everyone would land on their feet and continue what they do best, finding, developing and booking Canadian talent.
Billboard spoke to more than a dozen promoters, label executives and managers who worked regularly with the UTA Canada team to get their reactions about the office's closure.
Jonathan Simkin, head of 604 Records/Simkin Artist Management
"When Jack and Ralph started the TAG Canada office all those years ago, it had a profound impact on the Canadian agency business. Up until that time, the agency game in Canada was basically a monopoly. TAG shook the Canadian agency scene to its roots, and it has never been the same since. The spirit of competition between TAG and SLFA [The Feldman Agency] has driven the business, and has created opportunities for other agencies such as Paquin. It has given artists a choice, and therefore forced all agencies to super-service their clients for fear losing them to the competition.
"Personally, TAG has been hugely significant to the careers of many of our artists. Marianas Trench, Nickelback, the Zolas and Carly Rae Jepsen are just some of the acts that I have worked on closely with the TAG Canadian office. I hope that the people in that office can find a way to continue doing what they do. On a human level, I am friends with many people in the office, and wish them the best. Whatever ends up happening, I am sure most of the agents will find good situations; they are too good not to. This is the end of an era and it will be interesting to see what comes next.
"Final thought: Forgetting the intriguing business aspects, these are also good and decent people, many with families and children. So on that level, it hurts. I think most of them will land nicely on their feet, however this all goes down, but nonetheless it's hard to see friends go through that kind of ordeal."
Chris Taylor, global president, eOne Music; head of Last Gang Artist Management
"eOne has had an amazing run with TAG and UTA with management on Lights and Arkells. There are a bunch of great people there that I am sure we will continue working with in the future. UTA and The Agency Group before them were part of a strong agency ecosystem in Canada, finding and helping to develop amazing talent in this country. I'm sure many of the team there will continue that work under a different setup. Those agents have it in their blood."
Elliott Lefko, vp, Goldenvoice
"I've known Jack Ross since I was 25 and Ralph James and Rob Zifarelli for about the same amount of time. They have always been so supportive and encouraging. Whenever I went to their office in the East End of Toronto I would always bring ideas about projects to them and they would never fail to listen and make it happen. That's all you can ask of people. I can't wait to -- borrowing a quote from Michael Cohl -- begin the next adventure with Ralph, Jack, Rob, Zaed and Country."
Yvonne Matsell, promoter and co-founder of NXNE
"The closure of UTA's Canadian office is a huge detriment to the live music scene in Canada, which continues to be a hotbed of talent. This decision will affect so many people in the industry, from bands, managers, promoters to live venues. I've worked with both Ralph & Jack for many years, since day one of TAG, prior to the UTA merger. They, and the rest of their employees, have been nothing but supportive of me as a club and festival promoter and have always helped me with all of my startup club ventures. They have also been very receptive to any of the acts that I have recommended to them. It's a sad day and this decision seems very short-sighted."
Michael Hollett, co-founder and managing director, NXNE
"There are many great people who have been working at UTA Toronto who myself and my colleagues at NXNE have been working with long before UTA ever set up here, and I look forward to working with them long after UTA is gone. I tend to think Canadian artists are best served by representation familiar with conditions 'on the ground,' by how things operate in Canada, how audiences respond and how venues and promoters like myself work. A lot of talented people lost their jobs today; they won’t be out of work long."
Dan Steinberg (a.k.a. Steiny) founding partner, Emporium Presents
"Ralph, Jack, Rob, Zaed and Adam are the backbone of this industry. I have no doubt they will land on their feet, doing what they do best: booking amazing live music."
Kieron Roy, president, Arts & Crafts
"The agents and staff at UTA, and before that at The Agency Group, have played pivotal roles in the careers of many artists from the Arts & Crafts roster. We are grateful for their contributions and optimistic these relationships will continue. While the closing of the Toronto office marks the end of an era, it reinforces the idea that change is the only constant in our business."
Rob Lanni, co-president, Coalition Music
"We currently have two acts on the Canadian roster -- Justin Nozuka and Proud Sons -- and have had a number of acts represented by The Agency Group and UTA over the years. It’s sad to see a major player close its doors and we were surprised to hear the news. We’ve built some amazing and long-standing friendships with everyone over there and I hope our paths will cross again."
Allen Moy, president, Divine Industries
"Change in our business is a daily occurrence. Corporate takeovers, mergers, name changes, rebranding. It is all about the people. I have been working with Ralph, Lorraine and Jack since it was just a three-person office. The live business is healthy from where I sit. I expect there will be some transition and business will continue. There is enormous interest in live appearances and live music in this country."
Craig Halket, industry consultant, former MuchMusic/CMT executive
"This is very sad and disheartening news. Such a strong, well-established team and one of the foundations of the great Canadian scene. Hoping Ralph, Jack, Lorraine and the whole team land on their feet or continue on in some capacity."
Nick Farkas, vp, concerts and events, evenko
"For the past 20 years, Jack and Ralph have built an incredibly talented team and have had a huge impact on the fabric of the live touring industry in Canada. I have always loved working with them and they have taught me a lot over the years. I look forward to seeing the next incarnation of their adventure."
Jim Cressman, president, Invictus Entertainment Group
"Don't be fooled. The people in that office aren't leaving the business regardless of whatever happens at the macro level at UTA. They're too valuable to the artistic ecosystem in Canada, and for the majority of them, deal-making is in their blood."
Ron Sakamoto, president, Gold & Gold Productions
"Of course it's sad to see the Toronto office of UTA close, but that could be straight economics. I do know one thing: I have know Ralph for over 44 years and most of the others for a very long time and they are accomplished agents. I feel confident that wherever life takes them, they will continue to be successful."
Michael McCarty, chief membership and business development officer, SOCAN
"The former Agency Group made a massive contribution to the Canadian music industry and SOCAN members in particular benefited from Ralph, Jack and the rest of the team’s unwavering commitment to developing Canadian talent. I have no doubt that they will find a way to continue their mission and will soar to even greater heights."