Q’s With WME’s Matthew Morgan: Lizzo’s Continuing Moment, Zac Brown Band’s Business As Usual

Matthew Morgan
– Matthew Morgan

As a music agent, Matthew Morgan ticks a lot of boxes. Based in WME’s Nashville office, his clients vary from Bonnaroo-headlining, multimedia star Lizzo to every-year country touring powerhouse Zac Brown Band to up-and-comers like country-leaning social media sensation Breland, festival staples The Revivalists, activist and singer-songwriter Michael Franti and still many more. 

Who better, then, to give his take on the past 15 months and what lies ahead for the concert business?

“I tell everybody, ‘Yeah, we’re busy now but it’s not like we haven’t been busy,’” says Morgan from Nashville via Zoom. “The busyness has shifted, from what felt like constantly playing 3D chess with where things could potentially land to not a lot of live revenue streams to now actually everything opening up and all the opportunities being there and you know when you can actually go out. I love the activity right now.”

Some of that activity includes client Breland, who has collaborations with Sam Hunt, Keith Urban, Nile Rodgers, Tiera, Trey Songz, Dierks Bentley, Thomas Rhett, Mickey Guyton, FGL, and Chris Young — all before his first shows take place.  Breland’s upcoming performances are just as varied, with the 25-year-old genre-bending artist playing everything from hip-hop festival Day N’ Vegas to country’s Stagecoach.

Pollstar: Touring at all is notable in 2021, and Zac Brown Band has a big one, with “The Comeback Tour” kicking off in August. 
Matthew Morgan: That’s super exciting. [WME Music Co-Head] Scott [Clayton] and I have been fortunate enough to work with him since before his first album The Foundation dropped, the one that had “Chicken Fried,” his first big radio hit. He’s a guy that never took a year off. That’s typical of a lot of country artists to at least some level, but he was doing major full-on tours every year. We did a livestream for him from his Southern Ground studio here in Nashville and we decided at the end of it we would throw up the tour dates for this year as kind of a sneak peek. The tour went up great. For a lot of people, it’s kind of a rite of passage to go see a Zac show in the summer, and that kind of underscored how much people missed that. 
How do you figure out whether to go out in ‘21 or ‘22?
At the end of the day, we planned an outdoor tour – stadiums and amphitheaters – and we had to take a leap of faith. He was actually the second major tour after Pearl Jam to pull down last year. He didn’t hold anyone’s money or say we’re rescheduling, we just canceled. We didn’t want to hold fans’ money or keep people in limbo. I think because he was so decisive with that very early, that if we’re doing an outdoor tour and put it on sale, and then have to move it because of continuing COVID issues or whatever, it’ll be the first time he’s asked his fans to move with him. We are very conscientious of that. We were fortunate in the time we picked, the tour starts in August and it looks like everything’s going to be able to play just fine, in a full-capacity range. We also felt we had to kind of make a go for it, and if we couldn’t, it wasn’t going to be a horrible thing to ask his fan base to move once.
His annual Fenway stop is still happening, too. 

Zac Brown Band
(Photo by Billie Weiss/MLB via Getty Images)
– Zac Brown Band
Centerfield: WME client Zac Brown Band will make its yearly stop at Fenway Park once again this August.

He has sold out Fenway more than any other artist in any genre, so it’s a special place for him. We wanted to get that in. He’s playing a Sunday this year, and part of that was because of the crunch we’re seeing, from all the rescheduled stuff from the last basically year-and-a-half worth of inventory that’s having to move in a much more condensed time frame. That one is close to being sold out now. Typically, he does two nights at Fenway. We have done three nights in the past, but that is one of the challenges. Especially looking at ‘22, you have so much stuff, whether it’s a baseball stadium or football stadium, that have to move now effectively for two summer seasons and now into a third summer season with ‘22. Then you have all the new artists trying to come on board and play stadiums. There’s only so many avails, especially with the baseball teams. I think you’re going to see a lot more Thursday and Sunday programming because of that. 
What really can you do about the calendar crunch? Demand is great but there’s only so many Saturdays and so many marquee events to play.
On the headline stuff, every day that goes by we reach a little bit of a larger saturation point on the number of options that are out there for the consumers. Our challenge is to package those as best we can, price them as best we can, and announce them off the back of peak visibility moments, whether it’s a massive music release or media moment or whatever. We try our best to kind of calibrate that so they can be as successful as possible, but then you have to also balance that with so many clients’ true need to be on the road and work to make a living. You just try to have as much of that line up as possible.
Let’s talk about Lizzo, who had a monster 2019 and is now headlining Bonnaroo, Firefly and Jazz Fest. 
We did two separate North America and European tours in 2019, within the same calendar year, one in spring and fall, same markets. So, places like San Francisco, Chicago, New York, D.C. and L.A., in that seven-month period in those markets she did between 25,000 and 30,000 tickets, from the multiple headlines in each one. It was kind of good timing, honestly, for her, the fact that we hadn’t had a 2020 tour planned, just the festival headlines. We did move Bonnaroo, we did move New Orleans Jazz Fest, which I don’t think got announced for 2020. It is especially meaningful at Bonnaroo, she’s the first woman to headline Bonnaroo, period, in its 20-year history, first woman of color to ever headline Firefly, so pretty significant, and it was the fastest sellout Bonnaroo ever had in its history, too.
The festival headlines are going to be fun because she’s going to be incorporating a lot of new elements that she didn’t have previously, a lot more live elements. It’s going to be pretty special what she has cooked up. We have everything plotted out for next year now, pretty far along, so it will be a pretty large global tour. 
In the meantime, we’ve always kind of been looking at all areas of her business and across the agency will find opportunities to plug her into. With the pandemic pausing live opportunities altogether, it allowed us to explore in a whole lot more depth a host of additional meaningful opportunities, like equity plays, NFTs, cosmetic, beverage, skincare, that kind of stuff.
There’s an amazing team of folks here who have incredible expertise in visibility and best-in-class deal-making across that stuff. The other team members here have been super invested with her from day one when she walked in the door. Everything’s been extremely strategic, I’ll say that. Nine out of 10 things that get brought to her, we pass on. Everything is a very best-in-class approach: Has it ever been done before? Would she be the first? She’s got so many ideas. She’s honestly one of the most fun clients to have. I’ve been fortunate to be with her for eight years now. 

Erika Goldring /Getty Images for CMT
– Breland
2021 CMT Music Awards – Show NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – JUNE 09: Breland and Mickey Guyton perform onstage for the 2021 CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on June 09, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.

How about some other clients going out this year?

We just went on sale today with an artist named Noga Erez, who is an absolute superstar, she’s already sold 20,000 headline tickets in Israel this year. She’s setting up for an arena headliner over there. We’re doing a club tour here this fall with a bunch of festival anchors mixed in to that. It’s super exciting and she’s one of the most compelling up-and-comers right now. Also I have Breland, who’s an artist that definitely blurs genre lines but is sort of rooted in country. He’s got a fall club tour as well. He’s such a fun one because I’ve never seen someone embraced in Nashville as quickly as a newcomer as he was. He’s got a new song out with Keith Urban right now. He’s another one that we were able to lean in to a bunch of other areas. We got him a lot of auditions for TV roles, he’s in an upcoming series, he created original music for e-gaming events, we did a Chevy TikTok deal for him and a Tommy Jeans deal.
He’s playing Bonnaroo, he’s playing [hip-hop festival] Day N Vegas, he’s playing Stagecoach, he’s playing Gov Ball – this guy truly can live in these parallel worlds. This tour this fall will be his first headline, he’s never played a live show other than the Veeps livestream he did from the Wiltern, he was the only country artist that was part of that, earlier this summer.  
We got a Cam tour next spring, and Michael Franti going out this year. He was supposed to be on the Kenny Chesney stadium tour that got moved twice, but with so many unknowns we kind of had to scramble to put together a run this fall. He runs a wellness and yoga retreat in Bali, so he had the fortunate ability to spend most of the pandemic in Bali [laughs]. I got Rodrigo y Gabriela going out this fall in theaters, too.

Are things normal yet?
A couple weeks ago I went to Red Rocks and had Michael Franti doing three shows, and then the Revivalists did two shows. I think for me, that was my real first show back. Going into that environment, and looking around in the crowd, it didn’t feel in any way like a socially distanced, reduced-capacity sort of situation. It felt like, “Wow, this is a full-on show,” and it just felt good to be there again and feel like, “OK, we’re doing this again.” I think fans need to have one of those experiences again and then that will give them the confidence to go out and buy more tickets, especially for the people who are a little more tentative about when they feel comfortable getting out in a crowd again. s