Some 26-months ago when David Zedeck joined United Talent Agency to head up its music division from Live Nation, it was a very different department. For one thing there were 20% fewer festival bookings; and 40 less hires and promotions. There were also fewer stadium and arena acts (including the Jonas Brothers, Post Malone, Illenium, Spice Girls among others), developing acts (Tierra Whack, Scarypoolparty, Dirty Honey), and “multi-hyphenate” clients, as Zedeck likes to call artists who’ve added film & TV (like Action Bronson in Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Nicole Scherzinger as a judge on “The Masked Singer”), branding partnerships (Post Malone x T-Mobile), artist-curated festivals (YG’s The Boogie) and other non-touring deals to their portfolios.
"I am proud of how David has brought a sense of unlimited possibility to our group. In two short years under his leadership our music business has grown exponentially."
When we speak, Zedeck’s just come off a five-nighter – “Wednesday night I saw a perspective client; Thursday Dominic Fike played the El Rey; Friday night the (ill-fated 2019) Dodgers played; Saturday night a client was at the Roxy; and the day after I took 40 colleagues to an LAFC game in the afternoon and drove to Anaheim to see the Jonas Brothers.” That’s not an unusual week for the indefatigable 54-year-old Global Head of Music.
Here, just over two years into running UTA’s music division, which came two years after UTA acquired The Agency Group and really began its expansion into the music space, Pollstar sat down with Zedeck to take stock of his two-plus years.
Pollstar: What do you consider the hallmarks of your tenure? David Zedeck: There are many. We saw the growth of the DJ and the electronic business and found Circle Talent’s Kevin (Gimble) and Steve (Gordon) who we really like as people. We really hit it off talking about artists, philosophy, goals and made a deal to acquire their company. They are fiercely independent and entrepreneurial. Who they have, who they’ve signed, the work they’re doing for their clients is just spectacular. I’m really proud of the work of my team. All of my colleagues have done such a great work. What Cheryl’s (Paglierani) done in a short time with Post (Malone) and his manager Dre London and Austin Rosen certainly ranks up there. He had a small amount of followers and now he’s arguably the biggest solo star in the world. The work our team has done taking clients to another level – artists like Illenium, 21 Savage, Young Thug, DJ Khaled in addition to arena clients Guns N’ Roses, Muse, the Jonas Brothers is incredibly impressive.
What about on the artist development side? We’re really proud of working developing acts like how Ken (Fermaglich) and David (Galea) started with Paramore and where they are now. Clients like Foals and X Ambassadors have had a great trajectory over the last four or five years. And that’s always been the spirit of the agents here. If you look at our artist development business it’s across genres and venue size.
Who has UTA signed in your two-plus years? We’ve signed a diverse roster of acts including: Chance the Rapper [x-U.S.], the Jonas Brothers, Young Thug, Pitbull, Common, Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Toni Braxton, Tierra Whack, Bush, Trace Adkins, Sublime with Rome, Scarypoolparty, Pendulum, Knife Party, Lil Pump, Burna Boy, Matt Stell, Jamiroquai, Cheat Codes, Nicky Romero, Sean Paul and others.
How about artists working outside of touring? We are especially proud of the work we are collectively doing on the non-touring aspects and can point to work across our speakers bureau, the TV/film team, our lit team, brand partnership, voice overs and music placement. When we’re talking to an artist they tell you, “I’ve always wanted to do something in the movies, or wanted to work in another discipline,” it’s incredibly gratifying to fulfill that dream. And each of these are areas of their career that build upon each other.
What has been your highlight?
Certainly being part of the Jonas Brothers re-forming and working with John (Taylor) and Phil (McIntyre) again, and putting together, if not the top, one of the biggest tours globally this year, is a personal joy.
As this issue is going to IEBA in Nashville, can you talk about UTA’s presence in that market? The big news is two weeks ago we announced we’re moving the office from where it was at the time of the Agency Group acquisition to a great new landmark building in Nashville. We took our time to find the right space that furthers building our presence. Curt Motley, Greg Janese, Nick Meinema and Lance Roberts, run the office with a client roster that includes Toby Keith, Trace Adkins, Steve Earle and Clint Black and a number of other up and coming artists we’re really proud of. Matt Stell just had the number one county single. You look at Jimmy Allen and artists like Logan Mize and Blanco Brown, artists that we started with pre-album and taken to new levels of success. Blanco Brown was just in Australia where he stole the show at C2C. He also showcased at the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg – they’re not just U.S. artists but they have global appeal.
What about UTA’s international strategy? I’ve represented almost all of my clients on a global basis. And, I’m just as comfortable booking a tour in Southeast Asia as I am in South America or North America or anywhere. When I was at Live Nation, I worked with Arthur (Fogel) and Michael (Rapino) building a worldwide touring group. Many of the promoters at Live Nation are people I worked with, and in some cases, I started out with in the business in the ‘80s.
Where did you get your start in the business? I started in 1986 at a company called Norby Walters and Associates, that quickly changed names to General Talent, GTI. I worked for both of them, one at a company called Pyramid and one at an agency called Famous Artists Agency. At Famous, I started my own agency called Renaissance which, after I took on a partner, became Evolution.
Who were your clients? At Renaissance it was with a lot of R&B, hip-hop which is what Famous Artists was known for. We represented a lot of European based artists like 2 Unlimited, Culture Beat, Dr. Alban from Sweden and early U.S. house. I wasn’t the responsible agent, but with my colleagues I booked a lot of DJs and dance music artists like Robin S, Inner City and Mr. Lee, who was on Jive Records, out of Chicago. What came out of that for me was Backstreet Boys, and ‘N Sync and Britney.
And you worked with some of the biggest execs in the business. Yes, Clive Calder owned Jive Records and Barry Weiss ran the label for him. And Johnny Wright managed ‘N Sync and Backstreet. And Larry Rudolph still manages Britney. Barry and Clive were with Backstreet and then signed Britney. And then ‘N Sync joined the label after they weren’t on RCA – so all three were on Jive.
What did you absorb working at that level? I learned early on that it fuels what I like to do which is go global. Music is a worldwide phenomenon. I view the opportunity globally. Those were some of the biggest bands in the world at the time and they played arenas and stadiums on six continents.
When did you get to CAA? In 2004. That was my first experience at a full-service agency. It paralleled the rise of a lot of our superstars becoming multi-hyphenates as they became more than recording artists and touring artists. They were all looking for opportunities to extend their businesses, be it in brands, endorsement fees, film or television, books. To be there was a real education.
Who were your clients then? It was Justin Timberlake, Hilary Duff, Selena Gomez. I signed Justin Bieber and One Direction.
Are screaming teens and tweens a normal thing for you? The younger shows are more high-pitched. This Jonas tour is the loudest tour I’ve ever heard. It’s insane. Nobody sits. They’re engaged, sing all the words and stand up on the first song and stand through the last song. It is a phenomenon.
And then Live Nation, how did you end up there?
Before Michael (Rapino) ran Live Nation I sold to him when he had Core Audience in Canada. And he was a buyer when he ran Clear Channel in Europe. I hadn’t worked as closely with Arthur Fogel, but admired what he had done through the years. He’s top of the game, a world-class tour producer and promoter. I had an opportunity to sit a lot with those guys. We talked business, philosophy and artists. They offered me this great chance to join the company working with them putting together a world-wide touring group. They had offices in every major market, they built up a big international portfolio of companies and festivals. Arthur ran the world-wide touring platform and it was a business they wanted to expand and I worked with him on it.
Which artists were you working with? I was working the group of tour producers, Ryan McElrath, Brad Wavra, Omar Al-Joulani, Steve Herman, they were doing multiple tour dates. I was working with them to expand from North American touring to worldwide. I worked directly with Ariana Grande, Black Sabbath, Slipknot, System of a Down, One Direction, Five Seconds of Summer, among others. It was a great five years, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
How did you come to UTA from Live Nation? Jeremy (Zimmer, UTA CEO) and I chatted about a year and a half after he acquired The Agency Group. It was the agency’s big push into music. They hired a couple of people and it quickly went from having a very small group of agents to a much bigger group divided up into different offices around the footprint of The Agency Group. The idea was to work to develop the music department there. I really love being in business with the artist, guiding, directing, working, strategizing and especially now in the world where multi-hyphenates are more of the norm than the exception. To work with them across the various disciplines of their careers was a great opportunity. What do they want to do? Do they want to do podcasts? Do they want to be doing film or television? Do they want to have a start-up venture and their own brand, their own business? The opportunity, to be involved in and to run a music group in a full-service agency was incredibly appealing.
How is the music department’s leadership structured? Natalia (Nastaskin) is GM of the Global Music Group and Neil (Warnock) is Global Head of touring. Our leadership team, which is comprised of three to four senior agents from each office, are indispensable and lead throughout the division. Additionally, the music group includes department heads with a specific focus, for example tour marketing, colleges and festivals to name a few.
Can you quantify your successes in metrics? The department has hired or promoted over 40 employees, including the development of the non-booking group. We also had 20% more artist festival bookings between 2017-19 and we’re trending higher for 2020. And we saw a 10% increase in total artist bookings for 2017-19.
What does your attempted acquisition of Paradigm last June mean for UTA’s music strategy going forward? We’ve heard rumblings the merger may be back on, any comment? We have a lot of respect for the team at Paradigm. They’ve built an incredible business and agency. We’re always on the lookout for great opportunities that will serve the artists we represent and we’re disappointed this one didn’t work out.
How are you using data internally to inform your business decisions? UTA IQ uses state-of-the-art data and analytics to generate insights to benefit our clients across touring, digital strategy and broader business opportunities. We’ve used data points to improve positioning on festivals, enhance social media and digital footprints and quantify a client’s reach and fan engagement.
In this incredibly competitive market, it can be pretty cutthroat. How do you deal with the challenge of the revolving door? I say the only constant is change. I think you do great work with the artist every day and not represent by fear. You have to be straight and honest with your clients. You can’t represent from a position of fear of being fired. When you look internally, we have a culture where people want to work together and be collaborative. The hope is that everybody wants to remain but again it’s being in the music business and in the touring business and it’s a very big business right now. People look at what other people are doing. The client is simply making sure they feel represented in every area they want to be represented in. When you surround someone with a team and they feel their needs are being taken care of and being proactively met with opportunities, they stay.
How do you summarize your first two years? I came here to lead and develop this company’s music group. There are goals we set and we’re hitting them. It feels really great where the agency’s at. If you think about it, it’s not the same UTA music it was two years ago.