Whitesell And Paisley

The Pollstar Live! Conference originally included a conversation between Kix Brooks and WME co-CEO Patrick Whitesell but one-half of the equation had to attend to a personal matter at the last second. That meant somebody had to step in and take his place. 

Photo: Barry Brecheisen

Enter the client of Rob Beckham, Brad Paisley.

Not only does the country music star play to sold-out arenas, direct videos, win Grammys and host awards shows, he also knows a thing or two about the music biz.

Paisley and Whitesell arrived with 3×5 cards filled with questions for each other.

For Paisley, it was a chance to ask questions about his agency while a crowd listened in.

“You recently acquired sports company IMG,” Paisley said. “What’s in it for me?”

To be fair, the acquisition is still months away, but Paisley’s point was WME has many avenues that help an artist’s creativity.

Paisley is about to direct a movie he has written.

That came about by calling Whitesell, whose clients include Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Whitesell razzed Paisley a bit about the “pitch.”

He told the country artist to produce a 10-minute presentation. Paisley called back a week later and said, “I wrote it.”

A treatment? “No, the script. I wrote the script.”

“He wrote a 120-page script,” Whitesell said. Paisley asked, in the five years since merger of William Morris and Endeavor, what was the biggest change that Whitesell has noticed?

“There’s the expression ‘Culture eats strategy for lunch’ but we live and breath that philosophy,” Whitesell said.

WME is all about the culture.

For an example, he cited the company’s Christian Muirhead’s idea to change the company retreat from a bitch session to something more along the idea of a TED talk.

“We have speakers come in,” Whitesell said. “And we had 25 or 30 guests from IMG who just came to hang out. They said, ‘Oh my God! Your culture is unbelievable. I saw more people here from IMG than I do working for them for 10 years.’”

Whitesell’s questions to Paisley included asking the country music star to expound on his ventures to the U.K.

Paisley is playing venues the size of The O2 these days, but it’s because he spent years building the market.

“I think I may have had one No. 1 at the time,” he said. “And I was doing festival runs with Reba headlining. .. There was a big white thing on top of my head that they didn’t understand. But now there’s a hunger.”

The two agreed that even though country music is as hot as ever, the boundaries are blurred with the young folks.

“We have a lot of young people at WME and I ask them what they listen to,” Whitesell said. “When I was younger, either you listened to rock ‘n’ roll, country or whatever, and that was it. Now I’ll ask them what they’re listening to and they’ll say ‘I like Brad Paisley, Drake, Calvin Harris – and The Rolling Stones.’”

Paisley wrapped up the event with a nod to his production values.

“There are no iPhones out there that do it justice,” he said. “Fortunately, you still have to go see it live.”