In this challenging anomaly of a year, Kirk Sommer and WME’s music department didn’t stop for a second. The division’s reach expanded and further decentralized as Lucy Dickins in London and Scott Clayton in Nashville were named music co-heads alongside Sommer. This happened rapidly while major executive talent joined the team, including Aaron Tannenbaum, Caroline Yim and Zach Iser, Dana Jeter and Andy Duggan. The division also bolstered its commercial department with forward-thinking execs like Ikenna Ezeh and Andres Paz Micheo, Leyla Kumble, who rejoined the Music for Visual Media teame; and they launched Legends, an estate management department led by music vet Phil Sandhaus.
On the artist side, too, WME helped usher newer artists to stratospheric heights including Olivia Rodrigo, 24K Goldn, Masked Wolf, and AJR, who all topped the charts. This they did all while adding other talent to their roster including 100 Gecs, Andrew McMahon, Andy Grammer, Brantley Gilbert, Camilo, Charlie Puth, Chase Rice, Cyndi Lauper, Future, Luke Combs, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Richie Hawtin, Shakira, Sofi Tukker, Teyana Taylor, Tokimonsta and Willow Smith among many others. Legends announced the management of the estates of Notorious B.I.G., Eartha Kitt, Peter Tosh, the CBGBs brand and Andy Kaufman with more to come.
“What is great about WME is that we’re all about working together, trying new things,” says Sommer. “We’re always looking to identify new opportunities, and move quickly. If something works, we put more into it.” It’s a business ethos the music department co-head developed long before he started working with a superstar roster that includes: The Killers, Adele, Arctic Monkeys, Sam Smith, Miley Cyrus, Marshmello, Weezer, David Byrne, Demi Lovato, Ellie Goulding, Morrissey, Steve Aoki, Hozier, Lewis Capaldi, Pet Shop Boys, Paolo Nutini, Michael Kiwanuka and the late Amy Winehouse among others. In fact, well before his quick ascendance out of the famed William Morris mailroom (and a brief stint before that at Delsener-Slater), he began his music career as a promoter of sorts in the hyper competitive New York market while attending NYU. Here, in his own words, Sommer explains.
I always loved music. All genres. I loved great voices, songs and sounds. I played some instruments but never practiced enough because I had too many interests. The head of my school music program knocked my stand over with his baton out of frustration sending my sheet music flying. He had a slight temper and I don’t know if it was directed at me but I probably deserved it. I also always liked to work and earn money from a young age. I went door to door, shoveling snow, raking leaves, washing cars, painting apartments and doing minor construction, anything to make a buck.
While at NYU, I stumbled upon a new restaurant called Tsunami a few blocks from Washington Square Park. It was a nice, new space but an absolute ghost town. I wasn’t sure how they would keep the lights on. I asked the owner, “What if I helped bring people in? Could we work something out?” He said, “Absolutely, let’s talk about it.” I booked a friend’s jazz trio to create more of a vibe and got the word out. People came through the door to eat and drink, it was buzzing. In exchange I had a few meals and made some money. The drummer from that trio was hailed as one of the top 5 jazz drummers in New York and the reason I quit playing in the first place, his name is Daniel Weiss. I recently read some advice Daniel gave to aspiring musicians: “Practice hard, practice harder when you feel like you have nothing left in the tank.”
The next place I helped populate was on 13th near University Avenue. Some mutual friends said, “Let’s have a party and charge a cover.” It was a small place, we had a line of people around the block all night. At the end of the night, they said, “Here you go,” and gave me an envelope of cash. I’m looking at the envelope and thinking, ‘There is more envelope than cash, I think I brought most of the people.’ They said, “Let’s do this again.” And I said, “Sure, but I’m running the door. I’m bringing in someone to run the list, handle the cash, and I’ll settle at the end of the night.” They said, “Fine.” We did that for a few weeks, it started getting busier and the demand grew.
Then there were myriad places on different nights of the week with a variety of partners. It was a pyramid of networking. People wanted to come to whatever and bring their friends. And then there were people who wanted to make money, too, so they started promoting to their networks. And if their guests paid, they received a piece of that income. Some of my first experiences with dynamic pricing was when we were nearing capacity. On occasion we had poetry reading or known talent perform and it became more event-based as opposed to just social settings.
For me, it wasn’t about going out. I liked networking and connecting people and loved the business components. Finding the right partners and venues, structuring the deals, seeing a plan come together, then settling at the end of the night and making sure talent was compensated fairly.
I was fortunate to collaborate on occasion with some people that had far bigger businesses and who have become some of the biggest executives in the hospitality industry today. I chose my path because I wanted to be closer to the music and help cultivate great talent. I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I want to do and have the platform that we have. There is nothing better than working with great people around great talent.