Paradigm Revolt: CEO Sam Gores Backs Down After Music Agents Object to 50% Pay Cut

“It’s a f—ing war zone,” one insider tells TheWrap


Sharon Waxman

Sharon Waxman On the Business of Entertainment

The founder and editor of TheWrap’s take on life on the left coast, high culture, low culture and the business of entertainment and media. Waxman writes frequently on the inside doings of Hollywood, and is is also the author of two books, Rebels on the Back Lot and Loot

As the threat of the coronavirus rose in late March, Paradigm Talent Agency CEO Sam Gores cut the salaries of agents in the coveted music department by 50% — but reinstated them in full after several top agents protested and the agency raised emergency funds, multiple individuals told TheWrap. Gores met with the agency’s music department on March 20 after it became clear that concerts were likely to be shut down for the foreseeable future, according to one agency insider. Gores told the agents he’d be cutting their pay in half, citing the threat to live entertainment of a pandemic-related shutdown. “We were hit by this tsunami at the worst possible time,” one agency insider said. The agents were shell-shocked, knowing that 2020 had lined up to be one of Paradigm’s best years for music-related bookings and believing that they contributed hugely to the talent agency’s financial success. A total of 100 Paradigm staffers were slated for furlough on that same day, and salaries were cut across the company. “They freaked out,” one knowledgeable individual told TheWrap. Several of the music agents banded together and threatened to leave, according to another individual, and complained that they felt Gores had used Paradigm earnings to support his lavish personal lifestyle. “It’s a f—ing war zone,” the insider said. However, a third individual said that out of the top 20 to 30 music agents whose base salaries were cut in half, only two or three were deeply concerned about the overall reduction to their salaries — most of which comes from commissions on talent bookings. Paradigm declined to comment for this story.
Billie Eilish Spotify Grammy Party
Billie Eilish (Getty Images)
Because music is seasonal and makes up two-thirds of Paradigm’s revenue, the agency borrows money during the winter months only to pay it all back and make its profits in the summer time when concert tours are in full swing. Top clients like Billie Eilish and Kenny Chesney were starting their springtime tours on the weekend of March 14, when the pandemic news spread to the point of shutting down concert venues. “On that following Monday we literally started to see revenue go practically to zero,” the agency insider said. To make matters worse, the shutdown of the concert business happened at the agency’s low cash point, with loans floating the company through the flush months of the summer and the festival and outdoor concert season. With expenses and payrolls in the millions of dollars, Gores decided to temporarily lay off staff and make salary cuts. He started with himself, forgoing his own salary on that date, according to the agency. Sam Gores Paradigm Just days later, leading literary agent Debbee Klein — who had been among those furloughed — dropped a bombshell lawsuit accusing the agency and Gores of breach of oral contract, whistleblower retaliation and sexism. Her suit also Gores himself of accumulating “vast personal gains by running Paradigm as his personal piggybank.” Gores used “Paradigm’s expense account as a slush fund to pay for his sexual dalliances with prostitutes,” the incendiary complaint read. Paradigm called the suit “self-aggrandizing and delusional” in an April 9 counter filing and denied that Gores’ former assistant had helped arrange dalliances with paid sex workers at the company’s expense. Paradigm has one of the most prestigious music rosters in the industry and well-known music agents to match — including Sam Hunt (who reps the likes of Diplo, Janet Jackson and Chromeo), Head of Global Music Marty Diamond (who reps Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Sia, Lorde, Alessia Cara, Snow Patrol and more), Matt Galle (Machine Gun Kelly, T-Pain, Shawn Mendes, Halsey), Matt Meyer (Cash Cash, Tinashe, Halsey), Corrie Christopher Martin (Imagine Dragons, Janet Jackson) and Stephanie Miles (Idina Menzel, Jesse McCartney, Jojo), among many more. Under pressure, Gores reinstated the music agents’ salaries to make them whole. “He ended up not cutting people because of negative press on the firings,” the second individual said. “They effectively held him hostage.” But another insider said Gores restored the pay because he was required to do so by the terms of the emergency funding he received to keep the company liquid. The agency’s enterprise value is tied to its top agents, and the unidentified funder required that those agents be made whole, the insider said. The individual declined to say who provided the funding or the size of the investment, but Gores has two billionaire brothers, Tom Gores of Platinum Equity and Alec Gores of the Gores Group. In the end, the interim financing preserved the salaries of the music agents, but agents in other divisions have taken pay cuts. The March 20 layoffs affected the movie, TV literature and music departments. Others who were laid off include senior agents in the music department such as Dave Kaplan, who reps The Black Keys, and Mike Mori, who handles the 1975. Days later, Gores expressed regret over the layoffs that he said “lacked compassion,” which he then followed by setting up a $1.1 million relief fund for affected employees. The moves followed the January layoffs of roughly 30 staffers, including several agents in the music division.