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The New Bosses 2022: Zoe Williamson, UTA

Concluding a series of interviews with the 2022 New Bosses, IQ speaks to Zoe Williamson, agent at UTA (US)

By IQ on 11 Nov 2022

Zoe Williamson, UTA


The 15th edition of IQ Magazine’s New Bosses was published in IQ 114 this month, revealing 20 of the most promising 30-and-unders in the international live music business.

To get to know this year’s cohort a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2022’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success.

Catch up on the previous New Bosses 2022 interview with Vegard Storaas, promoter at Live Nation Norway. The series concludes with Zoe Williamson, booking agent at UTA in the US.

Zoe Rae Williamson joined UTA in 2016, working her way up from the mailroom to music agent. She helps strategise and book tours and live opportunities for clients like Arlo Parks, St. Vincent, Spoon, Big Freedia, Pom Pom Squad, Nova Twins, Hovvdy, and more. She also covers North American Pride events for artists including Tinashe, Shygirl, and Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, among others.

She finds inspiration in UTA’s collaborative and stimulating environment and holds leadership roles in several company programmes to promote positivity and inclusivity in the music industry. She co-founded La Femme Majeure, an event series focused on empowering women, and Justice Now, an internal initiative to combat systemic racism.

 


You started out in the famous mailroom at UTA. Is this still a viable path for people wanting to break into the music industry in 2022?

Absolutely. I wouldn’t have traded my experience for anything, and there is still immense value to starting in the mailroom at an agency. At UTA, music agents work across the entire company to find opportunities for clients in other business verticals like acting, writing, film, and many other spaces. Since there are so many resources available for clients, it’s helpful to begin your career journey by learning as much as possible about every department, and the mailroom is a great place to start absorbing that knowledge. It’s also important to remember that working in the mailroom or another entry-level agency position doesn’t mean you have to be an agent. So many promoters, managers, label executives, and more got their start working as agency interns, assistants, and trainees. You never know where you’ll end up.

“We wanted to create an environment in which all women – regardless of their levels – could come together, get to know each other, and build community”

La Femme Majeure and Justice Now sound like fantastic initiatives. Can you tell us more about them?

La Femme Majeure (LFM) started off in New York and has since expanded globally. This year, we are hoping to launch LFM panel events in Nashville and London and to resume in-person events in Los Angeles and New York. Many events geared towards empowering women tend to focus specifically on high-level veteran executives and students looking to launch their careers, so we started LFM to create a networking event series that also includes women in the middle of that spectrum, who are succeeding in their current roles while aiming to take the next step in their professional journeys.

We wanted to create an environment in which all women – regardless of their levels – could come together, get to know each other, and build community. The moment you walk into an LFM event, it needs to feel like home. We’ve been able to accomplish that over the years because we go into every event with the intention of facilitating inclusion and warmth. Co-founding LFM with my colleagues is one of my proudest accomplishments. Launching and maintaining the series has been a true group effort, and I feel very lucky to work with such exceptional women.

Justice Now started in 2020 following the police murders of multiple Black Americans, including George Floyd. Quarantine forced everyone to face the reality of how racism still permeates the country. The founding members of Justice Now at UTA have always been communicating about these issues so when the George Floyd news hit, we immediately decided to come together and create structured efforts to combat racism within the industry. We have continually made progress since Justice Now’s inception by increasing inclusivity within the agent training program, creating regular education-focused programming, organising internal mentorship Q&A’s with agents, and more. We are moving forward and it’s important to celebrate those wins as motivation to make more forward strides in years to come.

Do you think the music industry and consumer brands are best exploiting the opportunities that Pride has to offer, or do you think these events should remain somewhat ring-fenced as cultural and educational institutions?

As both a queer person and someone that works at a major agency, it’s important for me to see the benefits of both large-scale, company-sponsored Pride events and more underground grassroots events. Additionally, many LGBTQIA+ artists make a huge portion of their annual revenue during Pride Month through corporate events. However, the LGBTQIA+ community doesn’t stop existing outside of June and other international Pride months, and we need to be creating more year-round live experiences and opportunities to support the community beyond standard Pride months and timelines.

“While it’s important to raise your hand when someone needs help, you can’t take on everything or you’ll burn out”

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?

I could never pick just one! But I will say that one of the greatest highlights has been the friendships and trustworthy relationships I’ve formed and nurtured over the years. It has been, and continues to be, a joy to get to know so many great people within the music space. We’re nothing in this industry without each other. Nothing gets done alone!

If you could offer the 18-year-old Zoe one piece of advice, what would it be?

Not everyone’s problem is your problem. When I was younger, I often overextended myself to the point of exhaustion trying to help everyone in my life, even people I wasn’t close with. While it’s important to raise your hand when someone needs help, you can’t take on everything or you’ll burn out. Also, there are occasions in which other colleagues may be better equipped to help solve an issue. Now, when someone is going through a challenge, I consider my bandwidth and relevant experience before jumping in.

The gender imbalance at festivals has been an issue again this year. Are there any proactive suggestions agents can make to help address these problems?

When agents are pitching a woman-identifying client to a festival buyer, they need to be able to articulate why that particular artist belongs on that specific line-up. It is essential to educate ourselves on our clients’ unique personal backgrounds, bodies of work, and fanbases beyond their gender identity, so that we can provide the buyers a more well-rounded perspective on our artists.

“During the shutdown, people across the music industry had to work together to find new ways for artists to connect with fans and make a living”

As an agent, are there any particular events or forums that you visit to try to discover the next big act?

I’ve always been a big fan of The Fader’s Gen-F profiles, which highlight talented emerging artists, and app-curated playlists that recommend songs by new artists based on my current music preferences. However, word-of-mouth will always be my favourite way of discovering potential new clients because it encourages a sense of community with their other fans, as we’re all helping those artists launch their careers.

What are the biggest lessons that you learned during the pandemic that you can use to help with your career going forward?

I learned that you can’t get anything done in this job without getting in touch with your humanity. Before the pandemic, I thought that I needed to forge my own path for myself and my clients through aggressive negotiation tactics, but that simply isn’t true. You can achieve your goals without trying to force someone’s hand. During the shutdown, people across the music industry had to work together to find new ways for artists to connect with fans and make a living. We succeeded by building collaborative partnerships and trusting each other. Now, I try to work in tandem with others to achieve goals and solve problems instead of trying to assert dominance to force something to get done. A colleague once suggested we should assume positive intent. I really like that concept, and I’ve been able to accomplish so much more in the past two years because of it.

 


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