IMG Artists Chairman Guilty Of Securities Fraud

The 4/15/2009 edition of The Dallas Morning News published an article by Brendan Case that reports former Dallas hedge fund manager Barrett Wissman “pleaded guilty to securities fraud in connection with his role in an alleged kickback scheme involving New York state’s largest pension fund.” In 2003, when talent management agency IMG decided to jettison its classical and jazz roster, Wissman stepped in as a major investor and eventual Chairman of the spinoff, IMG Artists. Those familiar with the business will recognize that IMG Artists is one of the largest artist management agencies in the US…

prisonerNeedless to say, Wissman’s guilty plea does nothing to push back against the notion that guest artist fees have risen to what some are calling startling levels. In fact, guest artists like those represented by IMG Artists can draw demand over $100,000 per performance and over the past decade, those average fees have been increasing at rates that far exceed other orchestra stakeholders.

Given the public and political backlash against those responsible for what has been portrayed as moral and criminal abuses of the US financial system, Wissman’s involvement in criminal activity of this nature may very well serve as the gateway for heightened scrutiny into the how the for profit business of artist representation conducts business and extracts revenue from the nonprofit world of professional orchestras.

Once again, those familiar with the business are well aware of what might come spilling out if that Pandora’s Box is opened. Ultimately, if this comes to pass, IMG Artists and its artist representation peers may end up fighting against a cultural mutation of “AIG syndrome.” Stay tuned…

Postscript: If time permits, I’ll try to include some historical perspective on artist fees into this year’s Orchestra Compensation Reports in June.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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