Executive Profile: Paradigm Talent Agency’s Marty Diamond

Marty Diamond
– Marty Diamond

When a kid knocked on Marty Diamond’s dorm room door at the University of Delaware looking for volunteers for the concert committee, the then-pre-med major had no idea his life was about to turn inside out. Given his deep passion for music, artists and creative expression, Diamond began a comprehensive career before being named Paradigm’s Head of Global Music, succeeding the late Chip Hooper.

Before founding the boutique powerhouse agency Little Big Man Booking in 1994, he worked at record labels (Arista, Polygram) and artist management (Bill Graham Management), ran The Ritz (now known as Webster Hall) and forged alliances across the music business to give him a full-spectrum perspective on how artist careers are developed. With a roster that includes Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Halsey, Janelle Monáe, Sia, and Lorde, Pollstar’s 2019 Bobby Brooks Agent of the Year has helped steer Paradigm’s growth through savvy acquisitions on the music side, including Paul Morris’s AM Only and Tom Windish’s The Windish Agency.

A believer in teams, Diamond is quick to color outside the lines in the name of building an artist’s dreams. While an advocate of paying one’s dues in the smaller rooms, he’s helped take Sheeran, Coldplay and Shawn Mendes to award-winning, stadium-sized success – and watched Paradigm be voted the Pollstar Awards’ Agency of the Year the last two years. Leaning deeply across pop, electronic, rock, country, hip hop, Americana and Latin, the full-service agency that spans film, television, literary,  theatrical and more also has a roster that includes Bad Bunny, Billie Eilish, Dave Matthews Band, Imagine Dragons, Kacey Musgraves, Phish, and Sturgill Simpson.

As active in giving back as he is in building careers, Diamond is a Samburu Trust board member, serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the University of Delaware’s College of Art & Sciences, as well as being actively involved with Global Citizen and the Surfrider Foundation. Honored as a family at TJ. Martell’s 2013 Family Day, Diamond will receive the City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage Icon Award Sept. 26 in New York City.

Pollstar interviewed Marty Diamond as the Executive Profile included in the Booking Agency Directory 2019 Summer Edition, available for purchase now. 

Marty & Louis
– Marty & Louis
Marty gets congratulated by Louis Messina of Messina Touring Group, with whom he works closely making Ed Sheeran the top-grossing touring artist of the year, at the 2019 Pollstar Awards Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.

Tell me about your new role.
I have very big shoes to fill, picking up where Chip left off. We’re a music company, and that’s what drives us – especially when it comes to finding great new talent. We’re trying really, really hard to stay that course, because it’s easy to fall captive to being transactional: just signing things and booking dates. That’s so easy – and lucrative – to do.
Every superstar, and it’s easy to forget this, has gone out there and played clubs. They’ve all done those 250-seaters on the way up! Coldplay played clubs. Kacey (Musgraves) did. Billie Eilish, who feels so meteoric, has done this. And hands down, it’s the best way to develop.
It’s a rite of passage, really. 
Or earning your bones. Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Ed Sheeran have all done it. It doesn’t really matter the genre.
Isn’t the fun in the build?
We’re in the development business. But the goal is long-term, superstar clients. Being part of it, though, is the best part. To know 24% of all the Grammy nominations, our clients, swept the big awards was a great feeling.
Brandi Carlile was the most nominated woman at the Grammys. We’ve watched her build and grow. It’s been over time, and it’s been awesome to see because that’s how we try to do this. We’re going to continue to sign great! We’re excited about everything we sign and build – across the board.
How do you do that?
We have a cohesive, well-thought-out, A&R process among the agents. There’s a lot of collaboration and conversation. We all discuss what’s being signed with the managers and the labels, and really try to have a sense of how it’s going to evolve.
And we’re mindful of supporting the next generation, too. When someone on the younger side wants to sign something, we aggressively support it and their efforts.
That coherence by conversation is a big deal for Paradigm.
The agents here aren’t booking things by conventional practice. I can’t tell you how many times we talk about venues, places to play that break the mold instead of doing what’s expected. We’re talking about what the venues are doing, how to push the box – and create an experience beyond just playing a date.
Thanks to Paradigm Chairman Sam Gores and the leadership of this company, we’re continuing to build out the service areas as the landscape keeps changing. Whether it’s something that’s the next obvious step, or something from left field, we’re trying to stay open and be creative.

Marty & Sam
– Marty & Sam
Marty celebrates his Bobby Brooks Award for Agent of the Year with Paradigm Talent Agency Chairman Sam Gores at the 2019 Pollstar Awards Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.
Is Sara Bareilles an example of that?
Exactly. Jack Tantleff, who runs our theatrical department, said he wanted to down sit down and have dinner with her. All I could say was, “Why?” I didn’t know he knew who she was. And he said, “I think she has the magic that makes someone work on Broadway. I’m not sure what that is, but if it moves in that direction, I’d like to be involved.”
I don’t think you can say “no” just because it’s not the obvious thing, or has not come up before. She now has a hit musical (“Waitress”) in its third year, a new record and a tour. “Waitress” begat other successes: “Jesus Christ Superstar” on live TV, hosting the Tony Awards, a book. 
That’s pretty incredible.
We’ve tested the elasticity of not just the artist, but the agents, too – to be nimble, and creative, to think outside the box. By doing the two secondary arcs, from me signing and Larry Webman being co-RA, pushing the envelope, pushing her career down the road, we opened up opportunities for her. The next tour included the Hollywood Bowl and Madison Square Garden, the Grammy for Album of the Year. But this last wave? Sometimes you have to trust your partners. (Jack)’s instinct was right, and look at everything else that’s happened.
At the same time, it’s not just – SNAP! – “I want Broadway!” Or “Get me a deal with Chanel!”
(laughter) People who walk in, going, “I need festivals! I need branding! I need films,” or whatever, don’t realize how much goes into making those (broader realities) come together. There’s a reality of need, of want and especially of timing.

We work collaboratively with entire teams. There’s a lawyer, a manager, a business manager at the very least – and we are trying to work together to maximize what the artist can achieve. And knowing when to go after things.
My job is to protect my clients’ self-esteem as creators, as performers, but especially as human beings. We need to be mindful that artists are people, they’re finite. We need to find that collective balance to grow these careers.
(Paradigm) is a place where the art and the artists are the guiding reason for everything we do. How do we help them realize what they’re striving for? But it’s also how do we protect them from getting ahead of themselves, or failing because things weren’t thought out?
You hope the people work with dream big. I certainly dream big. But you also want to dream big, so those dreams come true.
Can you give me an example?
I remember when Ed (Sheeran) was on his first tour, opening for Snow Patrol in a club. After his set, we went outside, and he asked – very genuinely – “How long until I headline Madison Square Garden?” He meant it, and he wasn’t demanding, but wanting to get a sense of it.
Ed Sheeran is the hardest working person I know. Millions of tickets, thousands of shows later, he’s still striving. He’s constantly creating, and writing. But what’s most special: he hasn’t lost his humanity.
That is special.
Chris Martin and Coldplay are another example. Dave Martin, their manager, they are so unique in that way, too. Keeping your humanity is hard to do. They’ve all managed to do that at the highest levels.
Do you worry – at those levels, but at any level – the idea of greed getting in the way? There’s been a lot of talk about The Great Slump, and can it happen again?
I was on a panel at Pollstar Live! about the Great Slump. Of course it can happen again if we are not careful. I drive a car with a rearview mirror, so I can always be aware of what is behind me.
There are other economic forces, political forces, even social forces that impact our business. It’s not just “how’s the music doing?” So if we’re that arrogant through all of that, it will eventually happen. There’s a point at which the consumer just can’t – and all those factors are a big part of it.

Ed & the gang
– Ed & the gang
Ash Mowry-Lewis, Marty Diamond, Brenda Tinnen, Ed Sheeran and Louis Messina mark another Sheeran sellout, at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., June 29, 2017.
Sometimes momentum stalls.
Sometimes the record isn’t a hit and blowing up everywhere. Then we have to ask: Where are the heartbeats? Those six or eight heartbeats can make a difference.
For my overseas clients, the meter starts running the second they walk out the door. So, how do we nurture the artist in those moments? That’s why the team is so important: because a problem shared is a problem cut in half. The career doesn’t stop because maybe radio doesn’t happen big. And that’s where all the conversations matter.

And you believe that music matters beyond just what’s on the radio.
Of course. I think about when Elton John started. You have to learn from the people who were here before you. What were those Elton John Troubadour shows like? Before the hit records, before people knew who he was, because those shows changed everything.
The way people consume now is different. You can have artists with millions and millions of streams, and it doesn’t necessarily equate to a ticket buyer or record consumer. It’s more when they’re pitching us: you may have 5 million streams across playlists – but that can be passive listening. It’s good info and a talking point, but it can mean very different things.
Vulfpeck are playing Madison Square Garden, and their streaming numbers aren’t so heaven. I can’t explain what they all mean – beyond they’re one way to measure, but not the only way. 
Has the internet and the rise of influencers changed how you do business?
For us? We’re in the artist business. There was a moment when someone here wanted to sign “Influencers.” That’s not what we do: people who’re completely in pursuit of fame and followers. It was completely anathema me.

We want participators, people who are actively engaging people and creating. Laurence Fishburne is an influencer by virtue of who he is, including his work. Zoe Kravitz, the same way. Yes, they’re influencers based on the definition, but they influence people based on the quality of their work, their style, their way of being in the world.

It’s a conundrum.
You’re seeing a migration in the fashion business that’s going back to the arts. People are getting back to wanting actual creative people, integrity in what’s being made. It’s a shift.
It’s kind of dangerous, really.
A lot of is very predatory at times, the pursuit of fame – and what comes with it. You’ve got young kids with cell phones, who’re all about body type and what they have. It’s scary, because it’s all external stuff, and it sucks them in.
We aren’t actively involved in the curation of fame. We’re trying to support artistic freedom, and build it into something sustainable.
In today’s climate, do you think music still has the power and impact?
There’s always cycles – and there’s also the social and political climate.
Look at Nirvana, we saw that moment when Kurt Cobain and the band changed everything.
Billie Eilish feels like that, a bit, with the way she’s connecting with the kids who seem to be facing a pretty lackluster world.
My kids think she’s amazing; her and her brother Finneas, and what they’re doing with the music. Her parents have committed themselves to their career in a way that’s awe-inspiring. Her management team is wholly invested; it’s a deep team. And they’ve got it from all directions, the visual, the music, the social. She’s tapped into something very vital – and they’re (as a team) very mindful of what they’re (conveying).

Paradigm Family
– Paradigm Family
Chip Hooper, Marty Diamond, Paul Morris and Tom Windish are all smiles as Paradigm welcomes Morris’s AM Only and Windish’s The Windish Agency to the fold in January 2017.
Do your kids keep you…
My morning, God bless my kids, starts at 4:30, when I take a year-old puppy out. Then at 6:15 when my kids get up, it’s on. Today, they started with the new Taylor Swift songs. Two girls! The whole chatter this morning was all about “ME!,” and all that led up to it. They’re right on top of everything that’s happening.
I’ve had years working around Taylor’s organization with Paradigm’s clients Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes both being part of her tours. They really are so smart about how they build the anticipation for everything she does.
But my girls know everything! My kids can get in the car, and I never know what they’re going to be into. My daughter bought a T-shirt from a company called Junk Food, a David Bowie T-shirt with Aladdin Sane on it. I asked her what her favorite Bowie songs were, and she says, “Which 10 do you want me to tell you? Which period of Bowie?”
They know who Lowell George is, Joe Strummer and The Clash, Joe Jackson. They’ve been exposed to a lot of music, and they’ve responded to just about everything.
There is something about the power of music to hit the young. Look at you.
I was a truck loader for a Pure Prairie League concert, and went on to the head of the Concert Committee at the University of Delaware. I started out as a pre-Med major, went on to be Communications, but it got complicated because I never declared.
But what really stands out are all those trips to New York City, to New Jersey, to see shows. I tell kids you’re going to remember who you went to those shows with, what they played, more than anything. That’s how much music means when you’re young; it bonds you to your tribe.
And you’ve worked with some of the biggest icons in the music business: Clive Davis and Bill Graham. Can you boil those experiences down for us?
Both were great mentors, who taught me to strive for excellence. I had the grace of working for Clive Davis, who was a very difficult person to work with. He was a perfectionist, an absolute perfectionist. He had an acute sense of detail. I learned the difference between what was good and what’s great from him.
And my time with Bill Graham, it was all about the experience for the fans. He was so smart about that. He knew how someone was being treated by a security guard was a big deal – because when a fan has a bad experience, they’re quicker to relate it to the artist than the venue. Nine times out of 10 it’s not the artist’s issue, but the fan won’t know that.
After all of that, what’s your personal favorite thing to listen to?
I still adore a good songwriter. Damien Rice, David Gray, Ed Sheeran. If you look at the acts on my roster, they’re all song-driven. I don’t sign anything if I don’t really love it. And that’s where I find my passion: the songs.
Any time I’ve stepped off the path, and thought something was going to be big, that adrenaline-rush kind of signing always failed me.
You said one of your pet peeves is being overhyped.
You can get so caught up in it, you lose all perspective. You just have to have it, because everyone else wants it. But is it right for you? For what your company does?
If you step back, how many record company signing wars have turned into write-offs at the end of the year? All that momentum, but then what? And it’s easy to get caught up in.
Well, I mean, you guys just signed Janet Jackson!
There were a lot of high fives on the signing of Janet Jackson. She’s absolutely incredible! And we are so honored to have her. Those big signings are very exciting but, to run a company of this size the signings at every level have to work, have to build, because there just aren’t that many Janet Jacksons.
You have Janelle Monáe. Like Janet Jackson, she really pushes the confines of pop, urban, rock and all kinds of music with her message as much as how she plays it.
Janelle is one of the most fantastic things I work on. The whole Wondaland Arts Society [Monáe’s Atlanta art collective], they’re creative, whirling dervishes. They don’t function with rules. She inspires social change and real discussion. Everything she does is just so inspiring. I’ll lay on a train track for her.
And expensive.
She’s very smart. There was a point where we were going to do a spring tour, and there was this light-bulb moment. She looked at the time between her records (because of her film projects and other commitments), and went, “Let me do some select moments (this year), but let me get back in the creative trench and finish this record.” She recognizes things need to be built and how they’re sustained.
You’re also attracting other iconic business people into your fold. 
Dale Morris and Clint Higham have had one of Nashville’s most successful independent booking agencies all the way back to when Dale was managing Alabama.
We’re very committed to the pursuit of great partners. The Dale Morris Agency with Clint [Higham] Kenny [Chesney], Old Dominion, was a great alliance for us, because they are such craftsmen with how they’ve built those careers. And they’ve done it for years.It’s a lot like Little Big Man.
It really is that way. So, we’re delighted to have them as part of our family. And that idea of continued attraction: people wanting to come here is everything. Artists and agents and executives: if they like what we’re doing, that tells us we’re on the right track.
Is it really that simple?
I talk about zebras and horses a lot. A thoroughbred can run really fast – but it’s only around a circle, right? Zebras look incredibly cool, and they can run in any direction they want. Why don’t people ride them? Because their backs aren’t that strong.
Knowing the difference is critical, to really know where you’re trying to go. This is why the zebra thing comes into play: why shouldn’t we ride artists, but support them? Because their backs – metaphorically – aren’t that strong. They’re incredibly cool and can do unbelievable things. When you’re building the kinds of careers we do, I think the artists and management teams can sense it.