Samantha Kirby Yoh, Alisann Blood, and Toni Wallace
Partner & Co-Head of Worldwide Music, and Co-Heads Global Brand Partnerships, UTA
In a blockbuster shakeup amid a turbulent year, Samantha Kirby Yoh joined UTA as co-head of music in September, teaming with David Zedeck to oversee the company’s worldwide music operations.
Kirby Yoh joined UTA following a run as head of East Coast Music at WME, where she oversaw a music department representing top talent including Björk, Rosalía, LCD Soundsystem, Florence + The Machine, FKA Twigs, Grimes, Alicia Keys, James Blake, M.I.A., Moses Sumney, Channel Tres, Banks, Massive Attack and The Chemical Brothers and many others. And in a year full of strife, with layoffs, furloughs, changings of the guard and general upheaval in the agency business, Kirby Yoh, working closely with UTA colleagues Toni Wallace and Alisann Blood, prioritized not only getting back to business but making the business better.
“Internally, one of the group’s most impactful accomplishments was the launch of Justice Now, a task force founded by several young agents and executives in the wake of the George Floyd police murder,” Kirby Yoh says. “Justice Now aims to reverse systemic racism in the industry through four pillars of education, mentorship, empowerment and fearless imagination.”
Those efforts extend to gender and ethnic diversity and inclusion as well.
“I am also proud of the growth of She Is The Music, an organization I co-founded which has continued to build equity in female representation,” Kirby Yoh says. “As a partial result of the SITM team’s efforts, more female artists are creating and getting credit for their music. Additionally, I am honored to be supporting Noelle Scaggs (see page 38), who founded Diversify The Stage in 2020 to increase representation of BIPOC, women and LGBTQIA+ individuals within the industry.”
The core element of any music agency’s business – brokering live appearances – was challenged by 2020, but UTA’s music department has spent recent years ramping up its branding and sponsorship efforts, with huge successes like Post Malone’s PostyFest, which in 2019 counted 20 sponsors thanks to Wallace and Blood.
“I am particularly proud of the incredible branding team we have built,” says Wallace, co-head of Global Music Brand Partnerships. “Even with the ongoing pandemic, our team has closed over 300 artist partnership deals and our business has grown by 25% year over year in 2020.”
A “small sample” of the department’s accomplishments is long enough to fill this space, with high-profile branding and events deals for superstar clients such as Bad Bunny (Corona, Cheetos), Post Malone (Pokémon Virtual Concert, Monster Energy), Chance The Rapper (General Mills, Verizon), Jason Derulo (AT&T, College Football Playoffs, ESPN), recent signing of the platform Verzuz (Doritos), Timbaland, Dominic Fike, Common, SAINt JHN and still others.
“Fortunately, we never experienced a slow period over the past year,” Blood, co-head of Global Music Brand Partnerships, adds. “Even in the early days of the pandemic, while budgets and services might have been fluid, artists and brands never stopped working together. We were consistently creating innovative opportunities with our clients and we remain bullish that brand partnerships will continue to thrive when live music returns.”
Wallace says it’s a personal goal to add a causal initiative to any brand program, including raising money for frontline workers and local communities, such as Post Malone’s Nirvana tribute last April, which she says raised more than $500,000 for the World Health Organization.
“The future of brand partnerships is in creating 360-degree partnerships across all facets of both an artist and brand’s business that stem from a place of passion and authenticity,” Wallace adds. “Not only is this what resonates with the artists and their fans, but it also reaches and creates new audiences for brands. The younger generation of artists and fans are very savvy, so the days of just slapping on a logo are long gone. We have built our music brand partnerships team similarly to a branding and creative agency to ensure that we are set up for the long-term.”
With branding successes being crucial to both clients’ and agents’ businesses in 2020, Kirby Yoh stresses the importance of improving the business from within as the live industry hopes to regain some normalcy in 2021.
“It is so important to provide equal opportunities for everyone, and to bring all voices to the table – including perspectives from diverse independently owned venues, promoters, festivals, vendors, crews, agents and more,” Kirby Yoh adds.
“We have to invest in our community and be representative of those we have the honor to represent.”
Diversity and inclusion efforts have ramped up across the board in the music business, but UTA has taken social justice initiatives a step further with Justice Now and its four pillars for inciting change.
“Through a four-pronged approach to making change, employees in the Justice Now task force work to dismantle boundaries or limitations based on social or racial identity,” Wallace adds. “Organized by Aicha Forbes-Diaby, Zoe Williamson, Kiyomi Calloway, Christine Lee, Bowie Chen, Brian Escobar, Keshia Floyd, Kevin Bhatia, Nicole Schoen, Haley Fairman and Tara Vickers, the force’s main pillars for inciting change are ‘Education,’ ‘Empowerment,’ ‘Mentorship’ and “Fearless Imagination.’
“We have hosted a number of programs and events throughout the year that have centered around these four pillars. We have a very exciting agenda for 2021 and this work would not be possible without the incredible dedication and passion of the Justice Now team.” Justice Now hosts monthly meetings for the agency’s global music group, which consists of nearly 100 agents and executives. Topics have included the origin of race, the history of voting and elections in the U.S. and UK and Black influence on the origin of music.
“It has made me proud to watch some of my colleagues create and implement the rollout of Justice Now with senior leaders like my partner, Toni Wallace,” Blood adds. “This task force is working to dismantle boundaries and limitations based on social or racial identity. I truly believe they are the next generation of leaders moving our industry forward, and I’ve had the privilege of working with them in the field of mentorship, an area I’ve always been personally passionate about.”
Overcoming complex issues that plague the music business will be no small feat, but neither was overcoming 2020. It’s therefore no surprise that, when asked what helped – and continues to help – her get through a very difficult period, Wallace says each other.
“We all do this because we love it and because we want to be of service to our clients, colleagues, and communities,” Wallace says. “It’s a privilege to work in this field and I am humbled by our UTA team and UTA’s leadership. We have unwavering support from our CEO Jeremy Zimmer, our board, and Co-Heads of Worldwide Music David Zedeck and Samantha Kirby Yoh. UTA’s culture has always been family oriented and I can’t imagine working anywhere else.”