With Sam Smith hitting arena level worldwide with his second album campaign and tour, IQ chats to the promoters behind the shows to discover the secret to his success
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Trailblazers, a series of Q&As with some of the industry's most inspirational figures, continues with WME partner and equality campaigner Sam Kirby Yoh
By Jon Chapple on 06 Sep 2018
Welcome to the latest edition of Trailblazers – IQ’s regular series of Q&As with the inspirational figures forging their own paths in the global concert business.
From people working in challenging conditions or markets to those simply bringing a fresh perspective to the music world, Trailblazers aims to spotlight unique individuals from all walks of life who are making a mark in one of the world’s most competitive industries. Read the previous Trailblazers interview, with UTA’s Natalia Nastaskin, here.
Next up is Sam Kirby Yoh, the UK-born, New York-based head of William Morris Endeavor’s East Coast Music division. Kirby Yoh joined WME in 2004, bringing clients including Fatboy Slim, Björk, Groove Armada and the Dandy Warhols, and was made a partner in 2012.
She is also a member of the advisory board of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which works to increase diversity in the entertainment industries, and co-founder of Noise for Now, which connects artists with organisations dedicated to advancing women’s rights.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I spent all of my student bar earnings going to DJ clubs and live shows. I loved the communal experience of live music. At one of the many shows, I met an agent, Gerry Gerrard, who explained different business roles in the music world. He said I could actually make a living representing the artists I loved – at the shows I wanted to go to.
So, I moved to America to become his assistant.
Tell us about your current role.
I am a partner and oversee the East Coast Music team at WME. I represent artists including Florence + The Machine, Alicia Keys, LCD Soundsystem, Björk, Grimes, FKA Twigs, Alesso, Justice, St Vincent, Galantis, Massive Attack and Sampha.
Who, or what, have been the biggest influences on your career so far?
The artists I have the honour to work with, and all that they create, are the biggest influences on my career.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Being part of a team that works hard to amplify the various creations, both on the artist side and with my many great colleagues here at WME.
What achievements are you most proud of?
Balancing success at home with success at work, most especially when they meet up! I’m always proud of being part of the process of creating unforgettable experiences, such as Björk’s performances in science museums for Biophilia, or witnessing an artist grow into an awe-inspiring festival headliner.
“We still have a long way to go, but I’m energised and hopeful about our future”
As a female in this industry, I’m especially proud of helping drive solutions for equality across our business. Through my work with organisations such as the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Noise for Now and She is the Music, I’m fortunate to work alongside incredible artists and executives who care deeply about promoting inclusivity in the music industry.
While we still have a long way to go, I’m energised and hopeful about our future.
How has the business changed since you started out?
The business has changed completely on so many levels, especially the discovery and accessibility of music.
What, if anything, could the music industry do better?
Diversity. As referenced above, we must continue to push business practices that advance equality through more opportunity, education and mentorship for underrepresented groups.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to make it in music?
It’s different for someone who is creating the music vs someone who wants to be part of the business. If you create, you must always stay true to yourself and take a moment to put together the right team who will protect your vision.
If you want to work in the business, then educate yourself on all of the different roles, be open to all experiences, from studio to stage, and build your peer group. It’s hard work, but fun!
If you’d like to take part in a future Trailblazers interview, or nominate someone else for inclusion, email IQ’s news editor, Jon Chapple, on email@example.com.