Agencies generally rule the music industry with music agents as the front liners. Today, Tara Joseph interviews top music agent at United Talent Agency (UTA), Heulwen Keyte. She explains to us the process of becoming an agent, what one does, and what its differences are to being a manager. As with any profession, relationships are key to growth and success. Heulwen notes that in making new clients and building relationships, networking and socializing are paramount. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, she proves to us that with perseverance, experience, skill and the right amount of support, anything is possible.
Listen to the podcast here:
Life of a Music Agent with Heulwen Keyte
I’m super excited about every guest I have on the show, but I feel particularly excited about our guest. Not only is she incredibly smart, successful, highly respected, and a delightful person, but she also embodies what For Love and Music is all about. As a top music agent at UTA in London, specializing in classical crossover and performing arts. She is also married to one of the world’s leading baritones. Here she is, my dear friend, Heulwen Keyte. How are you?
I’m amazing. It’s great to do this. Thanks, Tara.
It’s an honor to have you on. I’m one of your biggest fans. I think that you’re the best in the business at what you do. I have to have you on because we’ve got so much to talk about.
This would be a good catch up for us, if nothing else. It’d be fun.
How did you fall in love with the classical world? How did that all happen?
It started early. It’s all in my family. My mom was a music teacher and my dad was an opera singer. My brother’s a musician. It was part of the family growing up. I knew I loved the industry from an early age. I never quite knew which part I would necessarily end up in, but definitely, the passion for working in the industry was there from an early age. It’s exciting. I was a performer myself. I was on the more classical side of things, but I did dance. I did a few shows and things like that. I definitely dabbled in a bit of pop and a bit of musical theater, but generally, it was on the classical side that I felt I could perhaps become a bit of an expert in. That was what I focused on.
I’ve spent more of my career in the music business, in the classical world as well or classical crossover. People say to me, “Why? How not pop?” For me, I find it more interesting. It’s a much more sophisticated world. Generally, the people are nicer. I do think that anyway.
From my side, it’s the breadth of opportunities. The classical crossover musical theater, all these artists can do. It’s not to categorize, but it’s not a release an album, tour an album and go off-cycle for two years. All of our guys tour all year round. They’ll tour with the albums; they’ll do special events and they’ll do corporate events. They’ll do film roles; they’ll do that more of the commercial pop and rock festivals and they’ll be special guests and they collaborate. It’s certainly the creative side of the music business. I equally wouldn’t want to work on any other side.
Are you a particularly musical person? Tell us about you, your childhood and music.
I’m definitely not sporty, but I loved my dance and my singing lessons. I also played the piano and the harp. I kept all of those things going all the way through even when I was in university. I did do music at university as well. I was singing and dancing and jazz hands as long as I possibly could.
I didn’t know you were a bit of a dancer.
I did shows at uni, so that’s 21.
Tap, modern jazz and ballet. I did all of it. I have a four-year-old girl called Rose who I have to go and buy her first pair of tap shoes. I’ve said to her, “Mommy has a pair of tap shoes. I need to find them so that we can have a go together,” which should be cool. It’d be quite funny.
Can she sing?
She can sing. She’s quite well-balanced. Sometimes, you can see that she’s intently listening to even Disney and the soundtracks. When they’ve got classical orchestral scores, you could see that she’s taking it in, this layering of emotions. In the Lion King, when the king dies, she said that she can feel that this is sad in the music. She can feel that this is when they get married. It’s definitely a kickback to what we do in the industry. Even from that young age, she feels the music. She absolutely emotionally feels the story and the narrative musically without having to see the actual film footage. It’s been great revisiting some of those things with her.
For those people who are reading who may not be as well versed in the music industry as we are, how does someone become an agent? What does a music agent do? What’s the difference between a music agent and a manager from your perspective?
In terms of getting into the industry, what I did was I just applied everywhere. I applied to labels, management companies and venues. I’ve got experience in a number of those areas. I’ve got my foot in the door, a management company, IMG at that time. From there, I loved working with artists. I loved booking the shows and that was a hybrid in the cool classical world where they have a manager and an agent that often do both roles. I saw what was going on in the crossover world and saw the value of working with a commercial classical crossover artist. If you apply the pop principles, which are to have experts in their fields during each role, the value and fun that can come from that in terms of being collaborative. I moved from being a core classical agent and agent manager, all in one, to being a music agent. The definition of that now is I book all the live shows up at the corporate events, especially events, anywhere where there is a live performance element.
I’m proactively planning the touring. Where are we going to go in the world? What venues? What’s the capacity is? What the ticket prices should be and meet and greets. All of those marketing campaigns, and rollout. I’ll work with the managers, with the record labels and all the other partners involved to roll out that process. There are also incoming inquiries. If you’ve got a popular act, people are phoning us and emailing us to book them so you’re dealing with those as well. The manager encompasses everything day-to-day with the artists. They’re the ones that have a full overview of what’s happening in the artist’s career. What’s the vision for 2, 3, 4 years’ time in terms of the brand, partnerships, the music, and the TV? How do you pull those things together as a manager? My live element goes into that channel. We work collaboratively to make sure that we can maximize all those things and have maximum impact and maximum success.
You and I have worked together on various different projects over the years and I’ve enjoyed it. I’m excited about new projects on the horizon. You’ve started a good few years ago. Do you feel that the whole landscape has changed since you originally became an agent?
Yes, it definitely has. It was much a record label business when I first started. It was all about if you were signed, who you’re signed to? What was the album campaign? As a live agent, you are working off that template. Nearly twenty years on, we’re less reliant on the recorded music that our artists release. Less alone, the fact that they’re releasing through all the platforms. The live business in many ways, drives the whole artist career both financially, predominantly, a lot of their incomes more than it ever did before. We equally have artists that don’t have a recording deal at all. They are touring and self-releasing. They’re putting stuff out on Spotify and on YouTube. We have partners and promoters around the world where we were able to talk based on stats and based on analysis of where we can see that popular, how we reach those audiences and how we tour. There’s a different model now. If there is an album campaign, we will work both, we can do that. There were many different avenues to market than there was when I first started.
Do you have people within UTA who are looking at stats all day and doing due diligence with social media and all of that?
Absolutely. We have the most unbelievable UTA IQ department that do exactly that. That’s everything from spotting trends, what areas of music might be the next thing and to specific artists that are popping up on channels. We can bring them in on specific questions sometimes. We have an artist going to us and we think they should be higher on the billing than the promoter is suggesting. We’re able to work with UTA Q2, delve into those stats and come out with not only the stats, which sometimes can be a bit bamboozling in terms of just the numbers, but turn that into a real narrative of why we think our client should be on a specific billing. Therefore, often paid accordingly. UTA is a big film and TV company, so they did the wealth of knowledge that we have about the trends in other areas through department costing and things like that. It’s something that all of us and the music department are learning from and working with teams on. We’re lucky.
You’re all over on UTA, aren’t you?
Are you still traveling a lot? Now that you’ve got a little one, are you traveling less?It's the people you work with along the way that are going to change the whole ethos of the music industry and be balanced. Click To Tweet
No, I definitely still travel. As an agent, we don’t travel as much as managers in terms of having to be at every show. Certainly, first and foremost, it’s a relationships business. You want to be not only with your client and your managers, but you want to be with the promoters and the labor partners. That’s how you keep clients. That’s how you make new clients and make new relationships. I do have a mix. I do have a lot of UK based artists, which means that I have the pleasure of seeing them a lot, which is great. I have a lot of American clients that UTA worldwide binds that we embrace when they come and do their international touring and work with our partners across the pond on that.
As you know, this podcast is called For Love and Music. I always have to throw in a little bit of love when I’m speaking to my various fabulous guests. As I mentioned in your intro, you are married to one of the most well-respected baritones in the world, Gerald Finley and love and music came together for you. Did it?
I called this For Love and Music because those are the two reasons that I moved to the US. For you, love and music came together. How did it all happen? Tell us the story.
The story there is when I was working for IMG Artists, he was represented by that agency. We knew each other from there. After I moved here to an agency group, and then UTA, we had this great friendship and it went from there.
I remember when you got married.
I have two enormous, fabulous stepsons. When I was first in their lives, they were 10 and 14 and now, 23 and 27. We also have a little girl who is four.
You were saying that she sings. The singing is coming from her father, I presume.
I don’t know because we all sing around the house. She hears him practicing but she’ll tell him that she sings louder and better than him, which is quite funny. It’s a musical household. She loves her music. He has an international career, so he’s traveling around the world. Luckily, he’s home for the next few months. He’s at Covent Garden and then he’s back in New York at the Metropolitan Opera. I sound like I’m his agent. That’s the one thing from day one. People thought when we were first together, “That’s going to be tricky. She’s going to be agenting him.” We’re too busy in our lives and have a nice time outside of work to spend time over dinner talking about careers. Thank goodness. On the other hand, it’s certainly helpful for me to have an understanding of the demands that go into doing what he does. The commitment that he has to make to travel and be away from us and to do what he does. We travel and join him where we can and then we enjoy the times when he has to work at home and we can have no time together. Certainly, being in the industry definitely helps.
Sometimes, it can be tricky when you’re in the worlds that you and I are in, in a relationship where one or other of you is traveling much and the other one’s left behind and it’s like, “Oh my God.” The other one may not be in the industry and therefore, doesn’t understand the demands on the other to simply make their career operate. It must be a nice position for you to be in. For both of you, you understand.
We generally try not to take ourselves too seriously. It’s a crazy world, this music industry and it can be exactly as you would expect. It can be dramatic and you just have to take it with a pinch of salt. There were many fabulous sides to the industry.
We’re lucky. Talking of For Love And Music, has love ever guided you to make an unexpected decision in your career?
I don’t think so. I’ve always been supported to make my own choices in terms of where I wanted to work and what I wanted to do. I haven’t gone transatlantic in the way that you have. Saying that, my husband is Canadian, so who knows? We could definitely end up on that side of the pond at some point. I don’t think there’s been that real big moment.
Canada is lovely. You can do a lot worse. Do you have a song that resonates romantically with you?
I don’t think we have a particular song. We definitely have artists that we’ve enjoyed together that means something to us. We’ve had moments. We had Clare Teal, for example, who is amazing. She performed at our wedding and that was UTA’s Neil Warnock’s gift to us at our wedding. She and all of her music hold a place dear to us. We grew up separately both in choirs. A lot of that choral music is something that we hold dear to us. That’s all the way through to Carpenters and at that time, Corinne Bailey Rae that we played. George Benson, who we went one time, we had the privilege of going to Ronnie Scott’s show. We’re three seats from him. There’s definitely been some real love of music moments of artists that we’ve enjoyed together.
As an agent, are you constantly on the look to sign new artists? Is there a particular artist that you’ve always had your eye on? How does that work?
All of those things. You rely on your relationships in the business. The hard work that you put in all the way through, the relationships that you build that when people assigning new stuff, you hope that people will always think of you. That’s about networking and being visible. Absolutely, in this time that we now live in, it’s about immersing yourself in music as much as you can and listening to as much stuff as you can to the extent that even now, I’m beginning to do a podcast. I’m beginning to listen to more podcasts. UTA has a big digital talent side of the company so I’m involved in touring some live tours of these podcasters. Our team in the States often help these people put together and how will that live show come about? How will it translate from a podcast to a live audience that people want to come and see? There’s a number of those tours that I’m working on.
It’s funny to sit here doing a podcast and think of all the things that potentially are in the future for La La Landed with my lovely partner, Dani or For Love And Music. Who knows what could happen?
I don’t think any of these podcasters that we’re working with thought that they would ever turn into a live show. Honestly, a lot of them were in their bedrooms and just two girls having a chat. One of which is a crime podcaster where they would chat about unsolved things. They’re both picky and all that and your turning into a live show.
Dani and I were approached about a year ago by an entertainment lawyer here who knew what we were both up to individually, but also knew what we were doing collectively with the TV stuff that we’re doing, which is the other side of my business. Neither of us had ever thought about doing a podcast. He introduced us to a big podcasts syndicate and they’ve been amazing. It’s exciting. For me, I’ve never been in front of the camera, so to speak. I’ve always been in the background until now. We’re enjoying this experience and talking to people such as yourself. It’s good. Tell us about a defining moment in your career.
That’s been a lot of musical highlights from when you work with an artist. At one point, you’re not selling any tickets. There are those live moments, but in terms of my career progression, it was the moment when I was the agency group, which is part of UTA now. Completely out of the blue, I was asked to join the leadership team and that was totally unexpected. I’m always striving to do better. I knew I was doing good, but I didn’t quite realize how it was being perceived as a company. Not only that they want to celebrate the work that I was doing with the artists and my team and my department, but they wanted to make this step up and take a leadership role in terms of the growing of the London office. That was the first time where I thought, “I must be doing something right.” I’ve relished that challenge.
Tell us a little bit more about that. How do you embrace that role on a daily basis?
I’m one of the group of us who is on the leadership team here in London and we divide and conquer those roles. I’m quite involved in the HR and recruiting process. We have six monthly intern programs. We have 5 or 6 interns that come through twice a year, effectively. We’re already interviewing for our next intake, which will be January 2020. We see that program as being a pathway through the company. We’ve had 3 or 4 to 6 from last year who are now full-time employees of London office working from Neil Warnock’s office. One of them is working with the marketing and branding team. There are lots of different opportunities. I’m heavily involved in the recruiting process.
Also, the general PR team, the profiling of what we’re doing here at UTA. How we want to be perceived? How we want to celebrate some of the initiatives that we’re doing? Who do we want to get on panels at conferences? How do we shout about what we’re doing in a positive way? Generally, communicating, networking and socializing within the industry. How do we do all of those things? It’s an excuse for more socializing and that’s never a bad thing in this industry. We just want everybody to enjoy and we want to give everyone the tools that we can. Everybody works hard so we want to give everyone the support and the tools they can to do their jobs properly. Some of that is operational and some of that is benefits. I’m part of that bigger team.
How has it been as a woman in what has been a male-dominated business? How have you found that experience?
It’s funny because I never thought about it. IMG is quite a female office situation. It was only when I came to the agency group and I didn’t think about it at all. I suppose I did go to one of our first music agent conferences at the age group and that was probably the first time where I walked into a group of probably 50 worldwide agents at that time. I was one of four females out of probably 50. I went, “Hang on.” From that day onwards, especially here in the London office, we’ve got five female agents here in the London office in our branding team. Across UTA, we’ve got leading females. We’ve got fantastic employee inclusion groups that have women’s initiatives, which I’m part of leading here from London. I feel as a company, we’re making great strides in that because we want to be at the front of that.
There have been moments where there’ve been leading male figures in the industry. I had to fight that much harder because they probably didn’t respect me from day one. I had to prove myself which wouldn’t necessarily have happened if I was a man. Now, for me, it’s about supporting people going forward. That’s what I’m focusing on more than anything else. It’s what we’re doing here and hopefully, people will stay at UTA. If they don’t, it’s the people you work with along the way that are going to change the whole ethos of the industry and be balanced. It’s slowly happening and not quick enough. If we make sure we put the groundwork in all levels, hopefully, we will get there.The music industry is a crazy world. You just have to take it with a pinch of salt. Click To Tweet
What’s next for Heulwen? What’s your five-year game plan?
Honestly, I’m excited about seeing UTA grow. We’re proud to represent many artists who have multifaceted careers and I’ve enjoyed embracing these other areas to represent artists who are in musical theater, in film, in podcasts and on music touring. I’m excited to see how I can be a part of that moving forward. There’s the work-life balance thing. I hope that I can continue to be the best that I can. I hope that I can be the best that I can for my little girl and her experience in the world and my family life. All of those things. It’s definitely the work-life balance continues to be tricky thing, but you just give your all and we’re lucky to be in the industry, so just embrace it.
We’re lucky to be in the businesses that we’re in. I know for a fact because you are great in what you do. I’m not just saying that to be nice. For you readers, she is the best at what she does. I know that you’re an amazing mom. I’m sure you’re an amazing wife and an amazing agent. I’m grateful to have had you on the show. Thank you. For readers out there, if you have any questions or anything like that you’d like Heulwen to answer, fire them to me at LaLaLanded.com. If I can, I will forward them on. Thank you, Heulwen. It’s been a great honor. It’s been a lot of fun. Thank you. You can check us out on our website, on Instagram @LaLaLandedPodcast and on Facebook at La La Landed. Until next time everybody, thank you and thanks again to our fabulous guest, Heulwen Keyte.
- Gerald Finley
- IMG Artists
- @LaLaLandedPodcast – Instagram
- La La Landed – Facebook
About Heulwen Keyte
Heulwen Keyte is an Agent at the London office of leading talent and entertainment company United Talent Agency (UTA). As part of the music leadership team, she helps to elevate the music department in terms of short and long-term strategies and overall positioning within the wider music industry.
Specializing in Classical Crossover and Performing Arts, Keyte is a key architect within the genre, representing over 20 of the largest acts including Alfie Boe, Katherine Jenkins, Collabro and The Kingdom Choir. Keyte created and grew the division after joining UTA in 2006 by identifying an opportunity in the previously underrepresented genre, which is now the strongest Performing Arts division in any major talent agency. The division now represents artists including The Piano Guys, Alexis Ffrench, Aled Jones & Russell Watson, Hacienda Classical, Nitin Sawhney and many leading West End and Broadway stars. Keyte’s clients have sold over 100,000 tickets in the UK alone so far at the end of Q2 for tours in 2019.
Keyte graduated from Anglia Ruskin University with a Bachelor of Arts in Music. Shortly after graduating she was offered an intern position at IMG Artists. Her passion and hard work were rewarded with a promotion to Assistant and eventually a Manager. During the six years she spent at IMG Artists she worked with many of the world’s leading Opera Singers. From IMG Artists, Keyte moved to what was then The Agency Group and has been with UTA for 12 years.