Casey Wasserman: ‘We pride ourselves on being relentlessly consistent’
Casey Wasserman last week told delegates at the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) about the modus operandi of his hugely successful multimedia empire.
“One of the things that define Wasserman as a company – and something that is a mantra of mine – is being relentlessly consistent,” he said last Wednesday (27 April) during The Hot Seat: Casey Wasserman.
“I always tell our employees that being really good for a short period of time is something a lot of people can do,” he continued. “Being relentlessly consistent for a long period of time is really hard – that’s one of the things we pride ourselves on. I think it’s what makes us good at what we do – whether that’s the way we work for our clients, the way we engage with each other as coworkers or the way we pursue opportunities.”
“The other thing we learned early on is that you can’t buy client lists. Our job is to build a great culture and attract and retain great people. If you sacrifice either of those things for a client, it’s not a sustainable business.”
Wasserman attributes one of the most important pillars in the company’s culture to his grandfather, Hollywood titan Lew Wasserman.
“He was a big believer that bad news gets worse so you better deal with it. We’ve built a culture of Wasserman that rewards and supports employees for being vulnerable and talking about their problems so we can fix them and move on from them and learn from them and not let them really hurt you.”
Over 20 years, Wasserman has established itself as one of the world’s leading companies in the areas of brands and properties consultancy, sports talent representation and music artist representation.
“The more time we spend worrying about our competitors, the less time we spend doing our job”
Last week, the company’s booking agency, Wasserman Music, acquired Paradigm UK, around a year after Wasserman acquired its North America live music business.
Referencing his mantra, Wasserman previously said that he had coffee with Paradigm’s founder and CEO Sam Gores “once a week for multiple years, trying to buy the business”.
He says his relentless pursuit of Paradigm “put [Wasserman]in a position to take advantage of the opportunity when it arose”.
In the past, both UTA and CAA have attempted to strike a deal with Gores but, though Wasserman admits that he’s “pretty competitive, he says he hasn’t given much thought to his competitors.
“The truth is, I spend very little time worrying about my competitors because I’m incredibly confident in what we do and the people I get to deal with every day,” he told ILMC delegates. “The more time we spend worrying about our competitors, the less time we spend doing our job. I hope [our competitors] spend a lot of time thinking about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
Speaking about the philosophy behind his hands-off leadership style, Wasserman said: “We don’t operate an agency to create structures and bureaucracy because that’s not how agents work – on the sports side or the music side. Our job is to put the guardrails in, let them do their job that they’re incredibly good at and give them resources to do that, and help them when they need help and otherwise stay out of the way.”
“We’ve got this team of really talented executives who are all going in the same direction. Yes, they have their own philosophies or work ways but there is a sense that we’re all going in the same direction and we’re out there together. I feel like we’re going to battle with this team.”
ILMC 34: Top agents discuss post-pandemic landscape
Session chair Tom Schroeder (Wasserman) recounted his first ILMC experiences when he was accosted by private jet brokers who were not exactly relevant for his jungle acts. As a result, he said he wanted to make this year’s agency session a little more accessible for all.
Jon Ollier (One Fiinix Live) spoke of his recent experience with the start of the Ed Sheeran tour and the excitement around it, noting that outdoor shows appear to be more exciting than those indoors.
Looking for the positives in the current state of live music, Schroeder reported that young acts who have come through the pandemic appear to want to have a lot more ownership of their careers, with Lucy Dickins (WME) agreeing that there is a culture shift happening among the younger generation.
Ollier opined that it’s not just a generational thing, but also financial, as lots of people are buying tickets late, meaning that promoters have to take a leap of faith in investing in their events in the hope that people do turn up at the last minute.
The agents said [ticket] prices are not likely to come down as the artist’s costs have also increased
Sally Dunstone (Primary Talent) told ILMC that avails appear to have reached a saturation point, making it tricky to get to that next step with new artists. But she said this forced agents to be more creative and look to work with different venues, for example.
“We have to advise the artist on how they get to that next step in the career and if that means telling them to wait, rather than go out now and do a tour that could harm their long term prospects,” said Dunstone.
She said that her decision to switch agencies was down to the pandemic, thinking in a more entrepreneurial manner and searching for new opportunities – a sentiment echoed by Ollier who launched his own agency, saying that it was the CAA ethos of exploring new avenues and trying to always find a brighter path, that had prompted him to decide to establish his own venture.
Looking at the year ahead, Ari Bernstein (ICM Partners) observed the effect that festivals might have on other touring, highlighting radius causes and the like as issues that need to be discussed. He said Covid had made him look around for all the other revenue sources that his clients as artists could benefit from, which was something that would strengthen the sector going forward.
Schroeder said the new breed of young manager wants their agents to be a bigger part of the artist’s journey
Bernstein agreed with Schroeder that the price of living is going to squeeze the fans and there will be an impact that we are yet to experience. He also cited the war in Ukraine, rising costs and higher ticket prices, but accepted that it is now part of an agent’s role to negotiate those challenges.
On the thorny question of ticket prices, the agents said those prices are not likely to come down as the artist’s costs have also increased. But they said acts are already looking to tour with smaller productions in a bid to save money, as well as considering sustainability matters.
Schroeder said the new breed of young manager wants their agents to be a bigger part of the artist’s journey, rather than just a cog in the wheel.
Dickins also applauded the entrepreneurial spirit among young acts and younger agents. “The artists that tell me what they want to do, not the other way around,” she revealed. “There are things they are telling me that I think ‘shit, I’ve got to read up on that,’” she added.
Turning to the future, Dunstone predicted that in three to five years’ time the business would be fully recovered and progressed from where it was pre-pandemic. “People are looking at content differently now,” she said citing acts that have done well through the likes of TikTok. “I think we’ll see a fresh batch of new headliners in five years’ time, that have come through the pandemic,” said Dunstone.
“The artists that tell me what they want to do, not the other way around”
Ollier joked that Dickins would be working at his agency in three years, but on a serious note, he said there would be a period of natural selection with artists, events and probably even agents.
“Change is good,” said Dickins. “It’s been boring to see the same headliners at festivals for 15 years. I’m excited about the change and I’m embracing it – it’s already happening.”
Schroeder noted that while festival programming had improved, diversity in the actual industry itself was poor, with Dickins agreeing that the business needs to be a lot better.
Schroeder concluded that this summer will be bumpy but that agents need to navigate it. Ollier said, “The art is going to get better and better, no matter what us industry idiots have got to do.” That struck a chord with his fellow agents, with Bernstein believing that there will be more doors opening for revenue streams than ever before, as people embrace entrepreneurial ideas and think outside the box.
Wasserman revels in branding opportunities for artists
New live music power player Casey Wasserman believes his company’s experience in working with brands will be the number one opportunity for its many new artist clients, following its multi-billion dollar acquisition of the Paradigm Talent Agency’s American assets.
As chairman and CEO of Wasserman Media Group (and the president of the Los Angeles Olympic organising committee), which includes newly rebranded Wasserman Music, he said buying Paradigm at a time when there is no live music was an easy gamble. “To be able to buy an agency that had scale, like Paradigm’s US business – and the UK business is not far behind for us – was a unique opportunity,” Wasserman told delegates at Pollstar Live! yesterday (17 June).
“Timing is luck. We didn’t buy a music business because we could get it cheap. We bought a music business because we believe in the music business – and we believe in it for the next 20 years – and opportunity to own a business with a great group of people and a great set of clients fits with how we think about the world.”
Appearing on stage alongside Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke and C3 Presents’ head promoter and talent buyer Amy Corbin, during the conference’s final keynote conversation (Reviving Live, What’s Next?), Wasserman said adding close to 50 music agents to his company’s existing 130 sports agents was a great deal.
“On the work we do for our brands, music is a big platform – it’s artist driven, it’s event driven, it’s festival driven, it’s building driven,” he stated. “The science behind what makes dollars valuable in the sports world and the music world and the cultural landscape is very similar, and we think one of the big opportunities that we have is that we are amongst the leaders in helping brands spend their dollars. I think it’s the biggest single opportunity for artists from the connectivity inside our company. Our ability to understand what the brands want and what the artists will do, and bring those two together, will create a lot of value for the artists.”
Noting the company’s strengths in data analytics, Wasserman added, “As our team likes to say, ‘the world is drowning in data and starving for insight.’ We think the insights we can offer on top of the data that everyone spews is as valuable to an artist as it is to an athlete or it is to a brand, and we’ve already started to do that. Most of the time I’ve spent with our agents is in thinking about brand connectivity and brand relationships, and for us that always starts from the data.”
“We think the insights we can offer on top of the data that everyone spews is as valuable to an artist as it is to an athlete”
Leading the panel, Oak View Group’s Francesca Leiweke-Bodie congratulated C3’s Corbin on selling out 450,000 tickets for Austin City Limits in record time. Corbin admitted that working from home was akin to being “in an isolation chamber,” unable to bounce ideas off her team, making the challenges of organising this year’s event considerable. “We had no idea that we would sell out in just three hours. The appetite was insatiable, and that’s promising for our industry.”
She added that with such C3 events as Lollapalooza to organise, amidst a tour landscape that will be the busiest ever in 2022 and 2023, her team are already working on festivals well into the future. “The traffic I’m seeing in 2022 is pretty crazy, so we’re being forced to get out ahead of it and at least secure the headliners… the sooner we can get started the better.”
Meanwhile, with seven arenas due to open in the next 18 months, Oak View Group’s Leiweke revealed they will announce “about ten more” in the near future. And with Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena set to open in October, Leiweke took the chance to speak about the sustainability challenge that the music industry is facing.
“We have about a ten-year window where if we don’t solve our planet and sustainability, and what we’re doing to ourselves, the whole Earth is going to disappear one day,” warned Leiweke.
Applauding Amazon chief Jeff Bezos for coming up with the idea of a carbon-neutral arena, Leiweke continued, “Climate Pledge [Arena] is the first step; UBS Arena will also be carbon neutral, but will take more time as we have existing utilities we have to deal with. But we are committed ultimately now to make sure that for our industry we are a platform and we’re going to invite everyone up in October so we can share with you everything we’ve learned about how we can be carbon neutral, how we can help make this Earth a little bit better, and how we can lead the charge at making everyone understand that we have a few years to change this and if we don’t, we’re going to lose this battle.”
On a more upbeat note, Leiweke concluded that the industry’s recovery from the pandemic lockdown looks like it could be phenomenal.
“The amount of content that’s going to be out there is going to be spectacular and the amount of demand is the best we’ve ever seen,” Leiweke noted. “There’s new leadership and a new direction on how we ultimately maximise the value of touring for an artist by thinking outside the box. I think we’re now living in the golden age for live entertainment.”
Wasserman Music, Twitch launch livestream series
Wasserman Music has partnered with Twitch, the Amazon-owned livestreaming leader, to launch There is Light, a new virtual concert series and music discovery platform.
Kicking off tonight (4 May) with a performance by Perfume Genius at the Lodge Room in Los Angeles, There is Light will present 20 shows from independent music venues in the US and UK across the summer. Other confirmed headliners include Best Coast, Jade Bird, Cautious Clay, Creeper, Orla Gartland, JpegMafia, Porches, the Snuts, and Two Feet, with more to be announced.
The There is Light concerts, all of which will be free to view, will take place on Tuesdays at 8pm ET/5pm PT in the US and Sundays at 8pm BST in the UK, concluding on 28 September.
Each live stream will run for 90 minutes, with a 30-minute pre-show featuring an opening act followed by the headline performance. Following the headliner’s set, there will be a moderated Q&A where artists will engage with their fans and the Twitch community.
No live, in-person audiences are planned, though this is subject to change based on local Covid-19 conditions and protocols, according to Wasserman Music, which launched last month following Wasserman’s acquisition of Paradigm Talent Agency’s North American music division.
Sam Alpert, SVP of marketing at Wasserman Music, says: “In creating a branded series, our goal was to find turnkey opportunities for artists within the livestreaming space, while also creating a destination for the indie music community to hear some of their favourite live acts and discover new ones from all over the world. With the launch of the There is Light channel, Twitch is providing the perfect medium for artists to engage with their fans and the Twitch community, and we are looking forward to building it with them throughout this series and beyond.”
“Twitch provides the perfect platform for artists to showcase new material in the absence of live opportunities”
“Independent artists have created some of the strongest and fastest-growing communities on Twitch,” says Will Farrell-Green, head of music content at Twitch. “These artists deeply understand the impact of building and connecting with a loyal fan base. Our partnership with Wasserman Music will give indie artists a dedicated home on the service where they will have the opportunity to introduce their music to Twitch’s global audience and interact with fans on a more personal level.
“During what continues to be an incredibly difficult time for the music industry, we are thrilled to offer new ways to support music artists as well as the reopening of several prominent indie venues.”
Twitch is known for its dominance in the videogame livestreaming space, hosting 91% of all gaming streams, though its concert streams grew exponentially during last year’s lockdown, shooting up 385% in April 2020 alone.
Anna Bewers, agent for Creeper and Orla Gartland at Paradigm Agency in London, says: “The livestreaming space can present complex logistics, and we wanted to create a seamless solution that allowed artists to reach new audiences globally when touring hasn’t been possible.
“It’s so important, but increasingly difficult, to keep musicians active, but Twitch provides the perfect platform for artists to showcase new material in the absence of live opportunities.”
The initial There is Light headliners and venues is as follows
4 May: Perfume Genius, Lodge Room (Los Angeles)
11 May: Best Coast, Lodge Room
18 May: Two Feet, Lodge Room
25 May: JpegMafia, Lodge Room
15 June: Porches, Sultan Room, New York
27 June: Jade Bird, Lafayette, London
29 June: Cautious Clay, Sultan Room
25 July: Creeper Lafayette
1 August: Orla Gartland, Lafayette
8 August: The Snuts, Lafayette
Wasserman Music launches in the US
Casey Wasserman, chairman and CEO of US sports representation giant Wasserman, today (21 April) announced the launch of Wasserman Music, the new booking agency formed following the completion of its acquisition of Paradigm’s North American live music business.
Wasserman Music will operate as a business unit of the wider Wasserman organisation, led by Casey Wasserman; his existing executive management team; and senior ex-Paradigm execs Marty Diamond, Jonathan Levine, Jackie Nalpant, Sam Hunt, Corrie Martin, Lee Anderson and Matt Rodriguez, who will oversee the business on a day-to-day basis. Tom Windish, Joe Rosenberg and Lori Feldman, also all formerly of Paradigm, will round out the team, providing business development and operational and marketing support.
The new company launches with more than 130 employees and a healthy balance sheet, with plans to “expand assertively as the live entertainment business rebounds in 2021 and 2022”, according to a launch announcement.
“I have worked side by side with this remarkable group of people to build a blueprint for success and I am continually impressed with their tenacity and care for both their clients and the business,” comments Casey Wasserman (pictured). “But most important is our shared commitment to cultivating a culture of forward progress so this new business appropriately reflects the artists and fans we serve.
“This is a dynamic opportunity to create new collaborations between the family of brands and talent that Wasserman currently represents in a meaningful and impactful way, and I am excited to get started.”
“This is a dynamic opportunity to create new collaborations between the family of brands and talent that Wasserman represents”
Artists on Wasserman Music’s roster include Kenny Chesney, Coldplay, Billie Eilish, Imagine Dragons, the Lumineers, Dave Matthews Band, Janelle Monáe, Kacey Musgraves, Old Dominion, Phish, Ed Sheeran, Lorde, Sturgill Simpson, Black Pumas, Brandi Carlile, Tyler Childers, Kaytranada, Normani, Run the Jewels, Tash Sultana, Diplo, DJ Snake, Flume, Jack Harlow, Odesza and Skrillex.
Launch focuses for Wasserman Music include a new partnership with the organisation Color of Change, which works to promote greater diversity in the live music industry, and the establishment of a ‘music-meets-method’ model which supports artists’ touring, content, partnerships and enterprise plans with the company’s in-house analytics and insights platforms.
The music unit also presents an opportunity for Wasserman, which works with some of the world’s biggest athletes and sports stars, to connect brands with its new roster of music clients. “The result will be a turbocharged consultancy that delivers perspective to brands considering an investment in the high-return touchpoint of music,” says the company in a statement.
“The combination of music, sports and lifestyle representation will serve to propel Wasserman’s existing signing, servicing and selling capabilities and opportunities,” it adds.
Paradigm confirms Wasserman acquisition in North America
Ending nearly a year of speculation, Paradigm Talent Agency has confirmed it has reached an agreement in principle to sell its music business in North America to Casey Wasserman’s Wasserman group.
The deal, which IQ reported earlier this month was close to completion, will see Wasserman take over Paradigm’s profitable music assets, as the agency seeks to raise funds amid the ongoing shutdown of all international touring.
Wasserman, a sports agency which manages a reported US$4.2 billion worth of contracts for athletes, sports broadcasters, team coaches/managers and others, has been in talks with Paradigm since at least last summer. It is understood the former Paradigm music business will sit as a semi-independent operating unit under Wasserman, likely named Wasserman Music.
Paradigm founder and CEO Sam Gores revealed in June that he had turned down a “historic” offer for Paradigm to be acquired by rival agency UTA. Since then, he has reportedly handed over the day-to-day running of the business to his younger brother, Tom, with the younger Gores seeking to recoup the investment he had made in Paradigm through his company, Crescent Drive Media, via a deal with Wasserman.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed by Paradigm, though Variety estimates the value of Paradigm’s collective music operations at between $150 million and $200m. The Beverly Hills-based agency’s music roster includes the likes of Coldplay, Shawn Mendes, Billie Eilish, Ed Sheeran (US), Kacey Musgraves, David Guetta, Sia and Imagine Dragons.
“This represents an important transition for the incredible music agents of Paradigm”
“This agreement is a win for all parties and a vital step on the restructuring path we embarked upon more than a year ago,” says Sam Gores in a statement. “It represents an important transition for the incredible music agents of Paradigm and the artists they so brilliantly serve. We are huge fans of Casey Wasserman and the company he’s built, and I am very pleased that he and his team will be at the helm of this important business line.
“It’s both thrilling and bittersweet to reach this agreement, transition to a new era for Paradigm, and initiate a stabilising solution during a global pandemic that has created an existential crisis for our industry.”
In addition to his work with Wasserman (formerly Wasserman Media Group), Wasserman also formerly owned the Los Angeles Avengers American football team, and led Los Angeles’ successful bid to host the 2028 Summer Olympic games.
Wasserman’s move into the music space echoes the career of his grandfather, Lew Wasserman, who was a booking agent at, and later head of, Music Corporation of America (MCA), which he turned into the biggest talent agency in the world. Later, MCA bought Decca Records and Universal Studios, divesting its agency business and laying the foundations for Universal Music Group.
Paradigm–Wasserman deal ‘close to the finish line’
Paradigm Talent Agency and US sports agency Wasserman are believed to be close to finalising a deal that would see Wasserman take over Paradigm’s music business and assets.
Wasserman, led by founder and CEO Casey Wasserman, has been in acquisition talks with heavily indebted Paradigm since at least last summer, with Casey believed to be keen to absorb Paradigm’s usually profitable music division into his Wasserman business, which manages US$4.2 billion worth of contracts for athletes, sports broadcasters, team coaches/managers and more.
He also formerly owned the Los Angeles Avengers American football team and led Los Angeles’ successful bid to host the 2028 Summer Olympic games.
Reporting in June, The Wrap described how Tom Gores, the younger brother of Paradigm founder and CEO Sam Gores, had assumed “functional oversight” of Paradigm. The younger Gores is believed to be looking to recoup the investment he made in Paradigm through his company, Crescent Drive Media, via a deal with Wasserman.
According to Variety, Paradigm had a debt load of around $80 million as of May, run up over a 15-year period of acquisitions, including agencies Peninsula Artists, Little Big Man, the Windish Agency, AM Only and the UK’s Coda Agency.
Sam Gores revealed in June that he had turned down a “historic” offer for Paradigm to be acquired by UTA.
“It feels to me like it’s going to go on another month or so”
Speaking at ILMC today (4 March), legendary artist manager Irving Azoff, who joined Ed Bicknell for the (Late) Breakfast Meeting keynote, revealed that the Paradigm–Wasserman deal is close to completion, predicting that a tie-up between the two companies would be announced later this spring.
“It feels to me like it’s going to go on another month or so,” said Azoff, who worked for Casey’s grandfather, Lew Wasserman, at Universal Music (then MCA) in the 1980s.
Azoff said negotiations with Wasserman began after the UTA deal fell through: “A lot of the agents felt they weren’t consulted and didn’t want to move to a bigger place [UTA],” he explained, “and then Casey came on to advise Tom [Gores] on what to do with the agency.”
“They’re working out some some sharing arrangement on revenues, but most of the agents, as I understand it, intend to move over to Wasserman,” he continued.
“I would say they’re there – they’re close to the finish line. But, as you know, it’s not over until the fat lady sings.”
Paradigm’s music roster includes the likes of Coldplay, Shawn Mendes, Billie Eilish, Ed Sheeran (US), Kacey Musgrave, David Guetta, Sia and Imagine Dragons. The agency, headquartered in Beverly Hills, did not respond to a request for comment.