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March 31, 2021

The role of artist agencies in the opera industry

Boris Orlob

My name is Boris Orlob, I´m the founder and co-owner of boris orlob management. Some of you may know me from the NEUE STIMMEN Masterclasses of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, where I talked about my profession and gave Q/A-sessions several times. Last year, in fall 2020, we had a surprisingly intense online/zoom format of the Masterclass.  

Most readers here are probably singers. I know how much you all suffered the damage of Covid-19 measures, like theatre closures and continuous cancelling of concerts and opera performances throughout the world. What a mess! I don´t refer only to the financial damage but also to the emotional loss of not being able to perform and show what you have worked so hard on. But believe it or not, this is the same for us managers. We also miss the thrill of the performance, the applause for our artists and the conversations after a show. 

We are all in this together. During the weeks of the first lockdown in March 2020 I personally felt like under shock and tried to bring myself in a better mood by talking to other agent colleagues and our artists. We all agreed that we will need get into action, the sooner the better, and talk to the theatre and orchestra managers and try to find a way for guest artists who have not been paid due to force majeure to receive at least part of their fees as compensation. So, there was a common interest between agents and artists in this matter: since artist agents are paid by commission on the artists’ fee only after the show and payment, we had no income at all during those first months as all cultural activities around the world were cancelled. No performances – no money, it was just that simple. 

After a few weeks we founded the DOKA, an informal group of German speaking managers, and developed a strategy on how to convince theatres to help guest artists. Today, one year later, I´m happy to tell you that our efforts achieved compensation payments in most of Germany´s opera houses as well as many orchestras.  

During that time when no income at all came to our agency, I experienced a huge wave of help from our artists, some of them even offered to advance future commission payments to help us survive, and all (!) of them, even those who had huge financial losses continued to pay their commissions without delay.  

I must say that this year has strengthened my connection with lots of people in our opera world - with opera and orchestra directors who were helpful to obtain compensation offers, with the artists who supported us and gave us strength to carry on and last but not least with the artist-agent community which usually has the reputation of never acting in unison and being primarily selfish.  

We were able to develop a joint action program for the German speaking countries and reach out to other local associations in France and the international managers’ groups like IAMA, AEAA or OMAI

In my eyes it is a great accomplishment that we have achieved this in such a short time and that we have been able to forget about our competition and ranking in the business. And we will continue with our efforts as there are still many issues to deal with for the future. For example, the current contracts for artists need to be revised. Moreover, there is an unbalanced risk distribution between theatres and artists, and the activity of an artist and his/her agent necessary to prepare for a role or contract is not financially valued in any way.  There is still a lot of work ahead of us - and I am looking forward to it! 

In Germany, the status of a freelance artist who works as a guest in a theatre is still unclear. Thus, in terms of labor law, the artist is treated like an employee and pays all the charges that go with it. From a social law perspective, however, he or she does not have the same security as other employees, for example in the case of vacation pay or payments in the event of unemployment. For this purpose, we are reaching out to other associations like i.e. the German artists group “Kreaktiv - Musiktheater stands up” and on an international scale to European, or even worldwide groups of artist managements like IAMAAEAA or OMAI

So, in the end something good may come out of these really bad times, I hope.


My tips to young artists right now in these special times:  

  • Network with each other and support one another in a professional way and exchange your views on the business and your experiences. 

  • Build up positions on how you want to work in the future – A lot of things can be done right now already, and you should be part of it! 

  • As it is not the time for applications and auditions, I recommend using it to prepare good audition videos: try several locations, camera perspectives and looks. 

  • Try to reach out to other artforms and entrepreneurs and learn about them. 

  • Be involved in day-to-day business, watch out what’s going on in the rest of the world, the society, outside your bubble – you may use this later for having a broader background when it comes to work and enriches the creation of your individual (artist) personality  

  • In my opinion, it would not make sense to send your material to agencies now – theatres and orchestras must first be allowed to perform again, at least with a small audience. I am sure it will come in a few months.  

  • Find your own way! The world needs inspiring, feeling and creative people more than ever, in every career field! Broaden your horizon and get a view for many new possibilities! 

What inspired me lately...

- A movie to watch -

Last week, I streamed "The Joker" and I was completely overwhelmed by the acting of Joaquin Phoenix. I think it is a brilliant movie in general but his performance in this movie is one of the best I have seen for years. But attention: it’s a tough movie, better not to watch alone...really frightening...

Any comments? Or do you want to share your story? Feel free to contact us!



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