Interview by — Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen
Todd Frank is CEO of 4Star Entertainment, LLC in New York, representing acts such as Steve Harvey
, Deborah Harry
& the Fish Sticks
, Lisa Lisa, Cedric The Entertainer
and The Trammps, among others. Todd started out in the live entertainment business while still in college, working at Spotlite Enterprises, one of the largest comedy agencies, from 1990-92.
Working with Jerry Seinfeld
, Paul Reiser, Jay Leno and Damon Wayans to name a few, he moved on to Charles Rapp Enterprises through 1995 where he co-managed comedians Frankie Pace, Lennie Schultz and Electra from American Gladiators, as well as a talent buyer working with such artists as Eddie Murphy, Taylor Dayne, C+C Music Factory, Ziggy Marley, Run-D.M.C., and Chaka Khan.
From 1995-97 Todd worked at Delsener/Slater Enterprises where he became a talent buyer/producer working with Sheryl Crow, Cher, Peter Frampton, Van Morrison, Andrew Dice Clay, Crazy For You Broadway production, Deborah Harry
, James Brown, De La Soul, Luther Vandross, and "The Crew from The Howard Stern Show" tour.
In 1997 he joined Metropolitan Entertainment Group. During his two-year tenure, Todd became director of special events and a talent buyer. Among the artists he worked with at MEG were Bob Dylan, Steve Winwood, Seal, Sting, Backstreet Boys, Salt 'n Pepa, Gipsy Kings, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Goo Goo Dolls, Jethro Tull, Rusted Root, Lenny Kravitz, Mix Master Mike and others.
In 1999, Todd decided to venture out on his own,and started....
How is the corporate market now compared to five years ago?
The downturn in the economy has had an impact on this business, as you would expect. Events are still being held, but the over-the-top scenarios we were seeing during the boom have gone. Unfortunately, one of the easiest areas for companies to save money is on the talent that they bring in. Less money is definitely being spent on the artists, and this tends to create downward pressure on the pay scale for the industry as a whole.
Which do you prefer - buying or selling talent?
I prefer being an agent and selling talent. There are so many creative opportunities out there for artists to develop their careers - film and television are huge, and the industry as a whole is much more fluid than it used to be. The cross-selling potential for any given artist all depends on a great agent that can see that potential and make a leap.
Do you miss managing talent?
Yes, its a very nurturing relationship, and I did enjoy it. I'm just taking that energy and putting it into the deal side, the business side.
What kind of artists are you looking to sign to your agency?
Artists that have a niche or "hook" - something-current
Your First industry job?
Spotlite Enterprises, a talent agency in New York City. I was 20 years old, and I had been working for myself through college producing and booking shows. I got the Spotlight job because I met the VP out at a comedy club while I was checking out new acts. I went with Spotlight because they represented a lot of comedians - Jay Leno, Damon Wayans, Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Riser, to name a few.
- Making shows happen for big artists and broadening their careers by introducing them to new venues has certainly been a thrill - I booked Sheryl Crow into Atlantic City for a sold out show which was her debut in the major casino market. The same with Destiny's Child, as well as KISS. The casino business is a fabulous venue for these artists, as it doesn't require the same output as touring and gives them a chance to maximize income and take advantage of what creative downtime they get, while broadening their fan base in a market they wouldn't normally play.
- On my own, 4Star Entertainment has produced Kiss, k.d. lang, Hootie and the Blowfish, Destiny's Child, K-Ci + JoJo, Doobie Brothers, Huey Lewis & the News, Bruce Hornsby, Ray Charles, Damon Wayans, Russell Simmons Def Comedy Jam, Sarah Brightman, among others. In the past year, or two, I've been focusing on the agent side and going back to my comedy roots to do it with Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, and Sherman Hemsley.
- This has been challenging but an absolute ball to see how solid comedy is for these artists, and how many opportunities are out there with a little imagination. The music agent side of my business also includes Deborah Harry and the Fish Sticks, Lisa Lisa, The Trammps, and Carol Channing, who has a new book out. My father Barry Frank, who was a recording artist with the Sammy Kaye Orchestra and a solo artist with Columbia Records, would always bring me along to these events. He always felt I would be a great agent.
Do you have career disappointment(s)?
I produced a New Year's Eve show at Studio 54 in New York City, and the club owners decided they didn't like the turnout and stiffed the acts. The deposit didn't cover the full amount, and I ended up swallowing it out of my commission structure.
After working at Spotlite for about a year, I was determined to break into producing, and I wanted to do it in a big way - the biggest producer in Manhattan at that point was Delsener/Slater. I made the initial contact with Ron Delsener by trying to sell him a 1970's tour package, and we hit it off. Convincing Mitch Slater was another story. It took weeks, and even after I started I had to sit on a cardboard box for a month until they finally ordered me a desk.
Best business decision?
The best decision I've made was opening my own company. Being on my own has forced me to constantly think "down the road", about where things could go, and where I want to be, and to get into different areas to expand the business. For instance, I'm working with David Pullman, the genius who invented Bowie Bonds, on several potential projects that will help expand my business.
Best advice you received?
Frank Russo, who produced Michael Jackson for years on the East Coast, sat me down and convinced me to make five year goals - to sit down and write out a plan, and then review it, make changes and set a new plan. It keeps you focused and keeps you honest with yourself. Norby Walters, who represented Marvin Gaye among others, told me "if you've represented an act for three years, you've done your job. It's the nature of the animal to move around." My goal obviously is to keep someone forever, but this reminder of reality has helped a lot.
Best advice to offer?
Advertise what you do - in any medium available.
Most memorable industry experience?
I produced the Last Dance at Studio 54 (live concert and album) - the final show before this legendary club closed. The new owners were all set to start literally ripping out the club, but I felt we needed one final send-off. I managed to hold off the new owners for a month and in conjunction with WKTU, I produced an amazing night that had people lined up around the block.
What friends would be surprised to learn about you
I played ice hockey in college. Guess that's how I learned to take a beating and stay focused.
Industry pet peeve?
Loyalty is in very short supply in this business.
If I wasn't doing this, I would be...
… an attorney, probably.
The most memorable … the people I think of most often, and learned a great deal from, are Ron Delsener and Norby Walters.
Todd can be reached at: e-mail: AgentToddny@me.com ; Web site: www.agenttoddny.com