Agency for the Performing Arts, which has aggressively expanded its agent base in recent years, and Artist Group International, one of the largest travel agencies in the music business, have merged into a new full-service talent agency looking to take on CAA and WME in the representation room.
The combined company will be renamed Independent Artist Group and will have Jim Osborne, APA’s current president, as CEO. Dennis Arfa, the founder and CEO of AGI, has been named chairman of the music division. The new functions are effective immediately.
The merger will take place with Yucaipa Entertainment, owned by billionaire Ron Burkle, serving as a conduit. Burkle bought AGI in 2012 and has funded APA since 2020. (Burkle also has interests in several other separate music and sports agencies.)
IAG’s board will consist of Osborne, Arfa and Jim Gosnell, former CEO of APA, who will now lead the vertical growth opportunities for the new company as he passes the baton of running the agency’s day-to-day operations to Osborne .
The merger and rise to CEO is a remarkable comeback story of Osborne, a longtime agent who rose from assistant to legendary talent agent Ed Limato at ICM before becoming an up-and-coming agent in the early 2000s whose rise to fame was sidetracked by abrupt exits from that desk and then Paradigm.
He landed at APA in 2011 and, while still retaining his quirky brash style, he also kept his nose to the grindstone by focusing on his selection. It paid off. He was named head of talent in 2018 and president of the agency in 2020. He also brought an aggressive courting and signing mindset to the agency, overseeing a major growth in agents and clients in recent years. In CAA’s post-ICM acquisition, APA hired 21 agents and signed over 300 new clients in an effort to make itself the fourth agency in the Hollywood representation ecosystem and worked its way to a seat at the table as it was about looking for talent. APA’s roster includes names ranging from Gary Oldman and Regina Hall to Delroy Lindo and Mel Gibson to Margaret Atwood and William Gibson.
Burkle introduced Osborne to Arfa in early 2022, sparking a dialogue. Arfa would have liked what Osborne had done with music crossover clients like Mary J. Blige and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, the latter building a producing empire, which led to AGI buying a select list of clients like Billy Joel shared. and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins with APA. That developed into full talks, with APA pursuing its goal of growing into the larger agencies.
“Dennis Arfa and his exceptional colleagues at AGI are revered in the industry for building a spectacular artist base and reputation for excellence,” Osborne said in a statement. “The good news is that we have already established a great working relationship with them through shared representation of some of their most acclaimed artists. This new partnership with AGI and our rebranding to Independent Artist Group is another important step that takes us to the next level in the agency landscape… and we’re not done yet!”
Arfa stated: “This was the natural next step in our evolution and made in the best interest of our valued artists. We admire how Jim Osborne and their colleagues have been industry leaders in creating brand-expanding, non-touring revenue opportunities for their clients and we are excited to build on that success with them and look forward to integrating under the IAG flag.
The acts AGI is bringing to the newly formed Independent Artist Group is a selection of new and old. The list includes Joel, Metallica, Def Leppard, Rod Stewart, Motley Crue, Linkin Park, Jane’s Addiction, Darryl Hall & John Oates, Norah Jones, Neil Young, The Strokes, Smashing Pumpkins, Ghost, Elvis Costello, Cage The Elephant and Five Finger Death Punch.
AGI’s President Marsh Vlasic is named Vice Chairman of the IAG Music Division. AGI COO Jarred Arfa, AGI president of touring Adam Kornfeld and the rest of AGI’s senior agents and staff will join IAG, according to Wednesday’s announcement.
Music touring has become a profitable and enviable asset in the post-pandemic era, thanks to consistent, if not booming, revenue streams. In April, WME bought Nashville-based boutique agency Red 11 Music, which counts Shooter Jennings, Muscadine Bloodline and Turnpike Troubadours as clients.
The merger between APA and AGI was revealed just days after APA parted ways with several music agents, including longtime music veteran and head of music Bruce Solar.