On The Come Up: Q’s With Hip-Hop’s New Power Agent, Andrew Lieber, Founder Of The MAC Agency
Andrew Lieber prides himself on his perseverance. As the founder of MAC Agency, he has established a 100 percent independent agency that represents some of hip-hop’s brightest young stars, including DaBaby, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Rod Wave, Toosii, Yo Gotti and Moneybagg Yo (to name just a few of the artists he works with).
At 30 years old, Lieber is head of one of North America’s fastest-growing independent agencies, and he was able to shrewdly navigate his company through the COVID-19 pandemic without any layoffs by leveraging his merchandising business into a mask-production pivot that saw him supplying 7-11 stores throughout the country with masks.
Lieber’s path to becoming a major agency head has been nontraditional, and largely through the trenches of the entertainment industry. He began working as a door-to-door salesman in high school selling appliances and other products on peoples’ doorsteps, completely unannounced. It was in that job that he developed his skills as a salesman that serve him to this day, and, crucially, he learned to not be fazed by people telling him “no.”
While studying at Old Dominion University Lieber connected with a colleague who could potentially secure enough funding to produce a film, so he tried to secure $20 million to make a sequel to the film “How High” with Method Man and Redman. While he ultimately was unable to see that project through, that gave him enough of a taste of the entertainment industry that he decided he didn’t want to wait to dive in. He dropped out of school and founded a management company, NOVA Talent, representing small hip-hop artists he believed in.
At this point Lieber knew very little about the music business, but he knew his artists needed to get on the road, so he offered to tour manage for more established artists like King Los and Corey Gunz for free if they would bring his artists along as support. During this period he developed contacts with venues and promoters around the country and learned the ins and outs of the business, being on the road with his artists and other club-level touring acts.
Eventually, Lieber realized, while he could do management, his sales skills were best put to use selling artists and shows to promoters. He fell in love with the work of being an agent and, in order to convince acts to let him book their tours, he found ways to cover all road expenses, i.e. hotels and food, himself. He would do door-to-door sales work on off days, forego his own paychecks, with the knowledge that he needed to develop his reputation.
And develop it did. In 2018 he began working with Juice WRLD, who became by all accounts the hottest young rapper of the year, winning all sorts of streaming platform awards. Lieber had him out on the road immediately.
“Between management and myself, we knew we had to strike while the iron was hot,” Lieber told Pollstar in 2018, when Juice WRLD graced the cover of Pollstar. “Everyone thought we were crazy to go up with three weeks to promote in [these] rooms – this was the first headline run, he’s doing 2,000- or 3,000-cap rooms, with a ticket price that wasn’t cheap. He went out there – he’s such an amazing artist – he crushed that tour. No tickets left on the table. It really was an impactful moment for Juice WRLD and set the table for him. It proved everyone wrong.”
Lieber and Juice WRLD parted ways in 2019 before the artist’s tragic death, but Lieber immediately began working with DaBaby, another rap phenom who had, by almost all accounts, the biggest 2019 imaginable.
DaBaby has been nominated for six Grammy Awards in 2020, was named the best rapper alive by Complex in 2019 and is widely regarded as one of the hottest acts in hip-hop. He is a full-fledged superstar and continues to work with Lieber and the MAC Agency, putting them in a position to sign other major artists moving forward.
And finally, while he was unable to go on record with specifics, Lieber also told Pollstar that at the time of publication he was very close to completing a massive deal to expand the MAC Agency that would potentially provide him with access to a pipeline of “hundreds of millions” in funding.
In an exclusive interview with Pollstar, Lieber discusses his ascent in the music industry, the qualities that have helped him achieve success thus far, his artists and the future of his agency.
You have built the MAC Agency squarely on the rap and hip-hop genre. Why has that been your focus?
Andrew Lieber: That’s what I know and that’s my passion. That’s what I feel I have a really strong finger on the pulse of: Who is hot, who is going to be next. So that’s where we’re really taking over, the hip-hop world.
You’ve said that’s the music you’ve always listened to and what you felt comfortable with, but what have been some of the keys to your success thus far in the genre?
What separates us from the other agencies is that I’m really out there in the field, in the trenches with these guys, starting from their first tours to building them up to arenas and festival headliners. I earn their trust.
So hip-hop is definitely where we plan to take over and then we will start bleeding into the other genres.
And hip-hop is the number one genre in the world right now. There’s a reason we’re finding so much success: there’s always hot, new, up-and-coming rappers.
There’s no other genre coming close to competing with what hip-hop is doing right now, in terms of the culture of the industry.
How did an outsider like you become one of the biggest agents in hip-hop?
Me being the independent guy, the oddball, I have always had to prove myself, from the very beginning of my career to today, and that will never end. I’ll always have to prove that I’m the best agent for these artists’ careers. So I just lower my head, I’m out here working hard every day. I push past the haters and people doubting and continue to show what I’m capable of.
That methodology has shaped how I move, I always have something to prove, I always have to show what I can do. I never just throw a contract up and say “Here, sign this.” I always start my relationship with artists by telling them, “Let me show you what I can do. Let me go make you this money.” And I back it up every time.
It seems like the path you have taken wouldn’t work for most people, but you have a unique ability to not be thrown off when you are told “No.”
100 percent. I pride myself on that probably more than anything else, how persistent I am. I get told “No,” all the time, but I figure out a way to make it happen. If I really want something, I promise you I am going to make it happen. I go after it and I get it.
Do you think part the secret to your success is your experience as a door-to-door salesman?
I say it 100 times in every interview: My door-to-door work set the foundation for the successful business that I have now. It is 100 percent the persistence, figuring out ways to turn the “no” into a “yes.” And I earn it every time, through hard work, not taking no for an answer, and making shit happen.
And any artist I have my eyes on, I will get. Whether it’s now, or when its time, I will get them.
So you have developed a really strong hip-hop roster in the last three years. What is your role with these guys?
When you think of an agent, you think touring, festivals, concerts, etc. I’m much, much more than that.
I’m the guy my artists turn to for anything. I don’t want them hitting up someone else up to find a bus company, to help them with their philanthropy projects, for random things. I want to be their guy for everything, anything that has to do with the business I want to be involved with.
So you see that we not only handle concerts, festivals, but we have a bunch of stuff happening in real estate, cannabis, TV/film, other businesses our artists are looking to get into. I am Andrew Lieber AKA Big Pasta AKA Big Drew. I’m the guy they turn to, to make that money, and I want to be that guy for all my artists. That’s what separates us from the rest, we don’t just handle concerts, we have the merchandise business, we’re not a one-track minded operation, we want to be business partners with our artists in everything they are looking to accomplish in the world.
A lot of these artists are very young, what is like working with some of these guys who are at such different stages in their career?
It really varies from artist to artist. Some have professional management, some still have their family as management. It really depends on the circumstances. Because I find these guys early, a lot of times their teams aren’t set. But one of the first guys they bring into their small inner circle is the agent, because that’s the guy bringing the money. So I often find myself as one of the first industry guys that they trust, and a lot of times I’m helping them build their teams. Right now, two of our top artists, I’m introducing them to business managers, security teams, lawyers, setting them up with meetings. We’re building that trust, I have a good reputation out here and the artists trust me, and who I bring to the table. So I also pride myself on helping these guys build their professional industry teams.
Tell me about your work with DaBaby specifically, who has had an incredible run over the last two years.
null – Andrew Lieber and DaBaby
Andrew Lieber and DaBaby pose for a photo. DaBaby and his team have stuck with independent agent Lieber and the MAC Agency despite ascending to the highest echelons of hip-hop, loyalty which Lieber says is unheard of in the entertainment industry.
There is no one on this planet more deserving of what he’s accomplished in such a short amount of time. The moment I saw him in “Walker Texas Ranger” the song he had, I knew he was a superstar. You just look at him, watch his videos and know he’s different.
I was out here on his first tour literally begging promoters to put up $5,000 to get his first tour.
So many promoters have screenshotted my email begging them, saying “This guy is a superstar and you’ve gotta trust me on this one.” And a lot of them didn’t. But I knew it from day one, he had an amazing manager, now my partner, Arnold Taylor, so with that team behind him, and with how much of a superstar he is, I knew it was going to happen, and I knew it was going to happen fast. And we’ve gone from $5,000 a show to $500,000 a show. We did that. But it’s really because of him, he’s a once-in-a-lifetime artist that’s going to be around for a very long time. He’s smart, which plays a huge factor; he’s super marketable; super talented; and loyal. You already know every agency and their mother came after him, and you know how loyal someone has to be to stick with me. He’s the perfect storm and he deserves everything.
And he has the same mentality as me: It’s going to be awhile until we’re satisfied. In fact, we might never be satisfied. We’re always going to want more and more. So he’s just gonna continue to go crazy, blow up, invest in his own label, have his other artists blow up. For the next 10-15 years he’s gonna stay at the top and take it all the way. There’s no one more deserving, he’s the hardest working person I’ve ever come across, he inspires me every day to be waking up and working as hard as I do for him, because I see how hard he works.
It seems like that work ethic shows just in his catalogue. He’s dropped five full-length projects in the last three years and just released another EP, My Brother’s Keeper.
That’s why he’s at where he’s at in just the last 18 months. We were going full throttle from the moment he broke have continued to press on to the next step and keep the pressure going.
DaBaby also did philanthropy projects this year?
In downtown Charlotte we put on a socially-distanced Thanksgiving dinner, for neighbors in need, without walls. We gave away 300 packages of hygiene products, we did a bunch of turkey dinners. And MAC helped with all that.
DaBaby had a big initiative this year to help his community, so we’re also doing the Kirk Pole event again to give away a bunch of presents. We also worked with Get Out The Vote, we partnered with Lyft and gave free rides to polling stations, we brought out a DJ and made the voting experience a fun time. You know voter suppression was heavy in Charlotte, so he made his voice heard and used his platform to bring people out to vote in the election.
So what is the comeback going to look like for MAC artists in 2021?
The way we are structuring it with our artists is we need to go out and establish X-tier of touring for these guys. DaBaby needs to sell out his arena tour. Rod Wave needs to go sell out his 4,000 to 5,000-cap tour. NBA Youngboy needs to go and sell out the scaled-down arenas or the 6,000 to 7,000-cap rooms. They all have their goals that they need to meet – and we still set our goals very aggressively – and I see this happening, late-summer into the fall.
I think a lot of the touring will be back to normal in the fall. Some we will try to get out there late spring, early summer. I’m hoping these festivals can play overseas in Europe in the summer. But each artist has specific goals in different tiers of touring, and they all missed the 2020 tours they were supposed to be on, so we need to get them out there as soon as possible taking these next steps in their touring business.
So DaBaby and NBA Youngboy have very huge followings who probably pay full price at any time to see them anywhere…
Rod Wave too. I’ve never been to a concert where they know every word of every song. He just had a show at an amphitheater in Orlando, over 4,000 people paid admission and it seemed like everyone knew every word. He is going to have a massive touring and festival career. He sold out every show we put up before the pandemic. We had to pull it down halfway through, but on the first half everything sold out and everything was going to be sold out on the second half, just like the first. Rod Wave is also going to be a spectacular touring artist and his fanbase is spectacular.
He is the 2020 new artist of the year. The last three years I was very confident I had the hottest new artist: Juice WRLD in 2018, DaBaby in 2019 and Rod Wave in 2020. I think there are levels to the XXL Freshmen list that came out and I think Rod Wave is at the top of that. What he’s doing on the ticket side, I don’t think any new artist is touching him.
And my streak is going to continue, by the way, I will have the hottest new artist for four, five and six years in a row.
I don’t doubt it. But it sounds like you are not considering package tours or smaller rooms because of effects of the pandemic on the market. So you are planning on returning at full steam?
My artists are pandemic proof. They are going through this pandemic and they are coming out bigger than they were before, every single one of them. Other people might take reductions, smaller rooms, but not my artists. My artists are all getting increases in money.
Have you learned anything throughout this pandemic as you come on with a head full of steam?
I’m excited about all the ancillary stuff we’ve been doing. During this pandemic I’ve had the opportunity to focus on connecting with more brands and big companies. I’ve really had time to think about what we’re building. This has given us the opportunity to get a huge piece of funding and to focus on other aspects of our business. The merchandise business is bigger than ever, we just did $26 million with Juice WRLD merchandise the last couple months after his album came out.
– Juice WRLD and Andrew Lieber
Juice WRLD with his former agent Andrew Lieber. The MAC Agency helped fuel Juice WRLD’s meteoric rise in 2018 and though the artist tragically died in 2019, he still had one of the biggest albums of 2020.
Also, I’m always on the road when my artists are touring, so I never had a chance to be at the office, to be with the people around me and focus on the foundation growing, all these other aspects of what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ve been given the opportunity to have this year to focus on all this great stuff we’re doing.
As you prepare for growth, do you ever worry the culture of the MAC Agency will change and you won’t be able to give personal attention to artists?
A big focus of ours is making sure what we’re doing now is scalable. A big plan of attack is going to be bringing in a lot more people. We are going to be hiring a lot more to take on all this work we are getting. And anyone I bring on is going to have this same mentality, the way I move will be the way they move, which I feel sets up our artists in the best position possible.
So MAC agents will continue going out on the road with your clients?
I think that’s super important. They have to be there. They have to see what they are booking, they have to see the venues they are bringing these artists to, they have to be there for their artist, big or small.
And if the artist needs water, I’m the first one bringing them water, so my agents better be bringing them water. If they need a towel, you bet your ass I’m bringing them a towel. I’m onstage with them telling them how much time they have left in their set. And we are going to continue doing that, that’s why I have such great relationships with my artists, I’m there, with them and I’m around their age. I’m not some corporate suite-wearing 50-year-old. I’m with them, I’m their boy, I’m the guy they can trust, and that’s the mentality we’re going to continue to have as we bring more people under the MAC umbrella, and they will have to have that mentality as well.
You have had some important partners along the way. Who deserves a shoutout as the MAC Agency moves to this next stage?
Ben Gomez is my right-hand man. There is no one on this planet that I would rather have as my right-hand partner. He is someone I grew up with, we were best friends before this was a thought in my head and now we are business partners. He is out in L.A., he was with me in the D.C. area but he picked up his whole life and moved across the country, and helped our merchandise business blow up in like a year and a half. We are doing tens of millions of dollars in merch right now.
And he doesn’t just do the merchandise, he’s also the guy that’s handling all the financial stuff, contract stuff. He’s really my backbone. And when I’m stressed out, he’s the first person I’m calling. When there’s a disaster, we have to put out a fire, he’s the person I’m calling. This business would not be anywhere near where it is today without him.
Then we have Miska Chehata, she was an early employee for me and she is going to grow into a partner. She left her very well-paying job a couple years ago, took much less money because she believed in what I was building, and without her we wouldn’t be in the position we are now. She’s the left hand, handling everything, really, all aspects of the business. There is nothing too small or too big that she’s not willing to take on. She is someone else I am very grateful for.
Then we have Jamie Adler, who has been with me for about a year now. He was the first agent outside of my inner circle to join MAC. My whole team is people I grew up with and went to high school with who I really trust, and Jamie was the first outside person I let in that I was able to fully trust and he’s been a great agent for 30 years now, doing Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, DMX, Snoop Dogg. He is constantly dropping knowledge, he is always there, always has good things to say, cheers me up when I’m down, he’s someone I love, part of the team, I’m glad to have him and we’re gonna be doing a lot of great business together.
And Arnold Taylor, CEO of South Coast Music Group, DaBaby’s manager. I couldn’t ask for a better partner and I learn from him every day. He’s been very successful for a long time in this world, he’s an important person to the team and you won’t find a more loyal person in this industry. From an independent agent, trust me, loyalty doesn’t come around often.
And John Mathers, he’s the person I credit who got me into the door-to-door sales game, he taught me how to master the craft of selling. So I credit a lot of the success I have today to him.
Do you think being an independent agency will be an advantage on the touring side, as things come back in 2021?
Yes, I think you’re going to see a lot more independent agencies pop up. A lot of [agents going independent] now were telling me how crazy I was for going independent.
But I hope my story inspires others to go after what they believe in. Don’t listen to people telling you it’s impossible because to this day, people are still telling me I’m crazy. Now it’s tough for them to say, I’ve made it pretty impossible for them to do that, but they still do. Go after what you believe in, nothing is impossible, if you really work at it, you can make it happen.
I want to change what an agent is in this industry. I’m not just someone booking tours, concerts, and festivals, I am so much more. I’m the guy my artists turn to, to bring in the money, whether that’s in the touring world, various investments, brand/endorsement deals, I am their guy.
Also I move how I want to move, a lot of these other agents are stuck in a corporate structures but I am nimble, I can do whatever I want, when I want, how I want. I don’t have a boss I need to get approval from. I couldn’t work like that and I would not want to be in that position where I couldn’t move how I needed to.
The MAC Agency also made a major business pivot into mask production during the pandemic. How did that happen?
So we already had manufacturing with our merchandise business, we own a factory in Los Angeles. We quickly pivoted our agency side into becoming a sales force, the merch team made the masks and we sold $4-5 million dollars in facemasks. We were supplying some of the biggest distributors in the country. You know McLane Company, which is the distribution for all the 7/11s in the country, we were their suppliers of facemasks. We supplied all of their employees’ facemasks, and after we took care of their 100,000s of employees, we went into retail, and we got two other suppliers that worked with gas stations and convenience stores.
So it really blew up, it was great. We started out early enough that we were one of the few people to be making them when there was high demand, but then the market got oversaturated. But yeah, while no money was coming in we made a huge pivot and that money really carried us through the pandemic. We profited, but we weren’t gouging anybody, we only made a few cents per mask, we were just able to have the supply quickly when people needed them.
What should we close this interview with?
I love all the other agents out here, I respect them, but if you’re in my way, I’ll eat you.
For me this is a game and I want to be the best. I wake up every day working hard to be the best. If there was a way to hold an agency competition, and rank who is No. 1, I’m going for No.1. I might not be there yet, but I will be, and I think every agent should have that mentality. If this is a game, we should respect each other, but let’s see who is the best.