Jay Williams, Partner & Co-Head, WME Nashville

The Negotiators

Executives whose expertise, influence, track record and success command respect and make things happen.

Jay Williams
Partner & Co-Head, WME Nashville

WME Nashville co-head Jay Williams leans into his clients’ passions. Sure, he’s the go-to guy for blue-chip country superstars Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Brothers Osborne and Chris Stapleton but, just as importantly, the hometown guy who started in William Morris’ mailroom is as committed to giving back as he is turning fledgling artists into stars on their own terms.

This year, Williams quietly led more than 105 employees – across WME, IMG, Endeavor Content and PBR – in a Habitat for Humanity build that totaled 72 hours over eight days and resulted in a home for a charter school teacher and single mother with a young daughter. He also rounded up physical support from BMI, CMA, Music Row, Red Light Management, Riser House Entertainment and Triple 8 Management, as well as fiscal support from Outlaw State of Kind, Chris and Morgane Stapleton’s charitable fund.

“My parents were always super, super involved in the community when I was growing up in Cleveland, Tennessee,” Williams tells Pollstar. “My mom helped start and build a center for AIDS patients in our small town in Tennessee in the ’80s when a lot of people in that part of the world were ignoring the disease. They taught me the importance of helping others. I don’t understand how people don’t have the drive to even out the score when they’ve been so lucky and blessed.”

Citing Rick Shipp and Keith Miller as early mentors and Greg Oswald and Rob Beckham as people who taught him an agency head’s responsibilities, Williams recognizes there’s more to his role than signing artists. 

“There are plenty of great selling agents,” he acknowledges, “but they may not be the best team players. There was no training when I started; you learned by observation. Now we invest a lot in these kids coming up, and it shows.”

As trends go, he believes, “There’s room for a few of the [megafestivals] to be very successful, but I find the smaller, especially artist-curated, festivals are where things are moving. I think we need more of those. I don’t even flinch around 10,000 people [in that environment] but, at 80,000, it stops being about the music.”

As for the shifts in consumption, “There are no gatekeepers. People can find anything they want at any time. I get three, four calls a day on [bluegrass sensation] Molly Tuttle. People are finding it. But,” he adds, “there’s still no substitute for people’s passion.”

Hot Takes

Favorite Laminate:

Allman Brothers at Starwood Amphitheater, 1992.

Best Advice:

“Never get between an artist and the spotlight.” Norman Brokaw

What Would You Say to You Friends At Labels/Radio:

Play more women.

Where Can You Be Found During A Show:

Front of house, side stage.

Pet Peeves:

Ticket requests.

Upcoming Artist To Watch

Caylee Hannack.

Technology That Most Impacts Your Life:

Plane wifi.