Thinking Out Loud: Marty Diamond On Ed Sheeran’s Phenomenal Career

– Ed & Marty

The inimitable Marty Diamond, East Coast head of the Paradigm Talent Agency’s Music Department and former head of Little Big Man Booking, has a baller roster which includes Coldplay, sigur rós, Blur, Sia and one Ed Sheeran. Diamond signed Sheeran in the aughts after seeing him in a small British venue and has helped guide his career in North America from clubs to arenas to record-breaking stadium tours. Here, Diamond gets to the essence of what’s made Sheeran so incredibly successful.  

Pollstar: Ed Sheeran’s 2018 was astounding with his record-setting $432 million gross and 4.9 million tickets sold.
Marty Diamond: It’s another level and it’s because that’s who he is. He deserves everything he is getting and then some. He’s got such great artist instincts. And in fairness and respect to Ed, it’s a team effort. It’s Ed. it’s Stu, it’s Mark and Chris and in America, it’s Louis Messina, Keena, Haley, Sarah, and Margot. This is a team effort led by somebody who has incredible grace and dignity and is ferociously talented.
When did you first see Ed Sheeran? 
I signed Ed at a little club in Guildford. I got on a plane and met him. There’s always a standing joke that Ed will say: “If Marty Diamond turns up, and he’s a short, little Jewish guy, I’m going to let him represent me,” which I am a short, little Jewish guy. So God bless Seymour and Sylvia for that one, because I feel like the luckiest guy on Earth.
What do you remember about that show?
I remember that I’m 5’3” and most of the population is bigger than me. I watched most of the show, except for when Ed stood on a chair in the middle of the room, through a guy’s cellphone underneath like an air conditioning or ventilation unit that was dripping on me. And then I remember going backstage and having a chat with him and the rest is history.
Do you think the Divide Tour model —reasonable ticket prices, multiple stadiums shows, one man and a guitar — is a new paradigm?
Ed is a rarity; he’s a beast unto himself. He is nonstop, not only from being spirited, and supportive but also just being engaged with his fans.  
What do you make of his ticketing strategy?
We’ve tried to be really, really mindful of what is a fair price. What’s a fair price for a mom and dad to take their kids to a show? What’s a fair price for two kids to go to a show? We want them to participate and be able to get a beer, a T-shirt and have a great night. I don’t want them to sit there and go, “Well, we’ve paid a lot of money for the ticket.” Ed is very mindful of having an inclusive environment.
It’s amazing he has that kind of awareness at 27.
The other thing to remember is here’s a guy who’s self-effacing, he has a sense of humor and knows who his audience is. He makes fun of the fact that, “I know your girlfriend dragged you here. I know you’re the dad that’s being the super dad and you’ve brought your daughter here. But I’m really not that uncool — I was on ‘Game of Thrones.’ I’ve been on ‘The Simpsons.’” He’s so on it and so self-aware and so hard working.
A lot of artists who play stadiums are 20, 30 or 40 or more years older than him —he seems like an anomaly. 
He has a vision and this drive from when I met Ed in a small club in Guildford and signed him, to sitting on the stoop outside the 9:30 Club when he supported Snow Patrol and he asked me when I thought he could play Madison Square Garden, to the first stadium we did in America at Gillette and realizing that we were in a position to play stadiums across America.
What was your reaction when he asked about MSG? 
I remember sitting on the stoop and talking about it. We were at the third day into his Snow Patrol support tour and I happened to be in Washington, D.C., not only to see Ed and Snow Patrol, but to see Janelle Monáe, who had done the White House Easter Egg Roll for the Obamas. 
And I’m sitting on the stoop afterwards, and he’s like, “So when do you think we’re playing Madison Square Garden?” I think the EP had just come out, the first EP. I got out of my Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly outfit and was tap dancing my ass off, and said, “I don’t know, I think maybe we aim for it at the end of the first cycle.” And we did three, and I remember we put up the first one, it sold out. We had the second one and Ed is a master of his social media. He knows how to talk to his audience. He could give tutorials to people as to how to do it right.
The jump from arenas to stadiums can be a steep one. 
You’ve got to remember he sold 15,000 tickets and the next time he came through he sold 50,000, so he has repeat business. But there’s also a lot of people who were untapped and a lot of people that didn’t get a chance to participate. 

And for me, that’s a really big word: participation and involvement. Those are really big words in Ed Sheeran’s life. He allows people to participate, he wants them involved, and part of that is from pricing to what he puts on stage. He talks to the audience in a stadium no differently than he talks to the audience at Mercury Lounge.
What do you recall from that Madison Square Garden Show?  
I remember standing in Madison Square Garden on the first of three shows that were for all of us, a dream at that point. And the first time he stepped off mic and was singing at the top of his lungs in Madison Square Garden off of the microphone. I mean, we can all talk about somebody standing there with a guitar or being on a stage by himself, now let’s talk about the guy that steps off mic in Madison Square Garden and sings to the place.
How have you seen him grow as an artist? 
He’s constantly writing, he’s constantly interfacing with other artists, and with a smile on his face and an open heart. You don’t get that often. He’s one of the best fucking songwriters I’ve ever dealt with in my life. And a great study in terms of what his peers and what his contemporaries do right and what they do wrong and he has respect for everyone on the team and has a really broad understanding of all of it. 

Back in the day, he was that artist who slept on people’s couches. He’s still that guy. You walk in the dressing room, and it’s him and James Blunt eating fucking wings. And it’s like, he’s that guy.
“Shape of You” seems destined to be one of those classic songs we’re going to be hearing for the rest of our lives.
He’s slipped into the slipstream, he’s in that space. We all go through this thing of passive listening and music that’s out there in the ether in the course of our day. And whether it’s walking in the deli to get coffee in the morning or getting in an Uber, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear Ed.
Will Ed be back in the U.S next year? 
I think Ed’s going to take some time off and write and enjoy his life a little bit, being the workaholic that he is.
What do you envision Ed Sheeran’s next tour will be like?
If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you. We’re checking the tires. I think it’s a little far out. Ed needs some time to decompress and enjoy his life, and I think some of it depends on the music Ed’s making. Is he going to make a death metal record? Probably not.
What’s one of your favorite Ed stories? 
I remember being at his Miami show with my daughter and her favorite song on the record is “Supermarket Flowers.” Ed’s met my wife and kids, he’s been around them. And because she’s that kid, she’s like, “Do you think I could sit and talk to Ed about the set?” And I go in the dressing room, and I’m like, “Hey Ed, got a minute? My daughter wants to talk to you about the setlist.” And he smiles, and comes out and sits and talks to her. 
And then he adds the song into the set, not because of me — because of her. And he literally said, he goes, “I’m not quite sure where this fits in the scheme of things, but a friend of mine asked me if I could play ‘Supermarket Flowers’ tonight.” 
That’s a fucking mensch. You can’t buy that. That’s who this guy is.