Agency Intel: WME’s Michael Coughlin Talks King Princess’ Big Year, Lewis Capaldi And More

Michael Coughlin
Courtesy of Michael Coughlin
– Michael Coughlin

From building acts up from clubs to stadiums and looking back on how he worked his way through WME’s mailroom, to being an agent at the Nashville office, as well as his prior tenure at The Bowery Presents and Front Line Management, Michael Coughlin’s unique perspective on the industry allows him to balance a genre-diverse lineup and figure out what’s best for his artists.

As 2022 aims to find live music returning in full swing, Coughlin is ready to get his signings on the road. With a roster that includes King Princess, Lewis Capaldi, Inhaler, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Ashnikko, Cleo Sol, Eric Nam, Genevieve Stokes and many more, this year is looking to be Coughlin’s biggest yet.

Pollstar: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey from the mailroom to becoming an agent?

Michael Coughlin: It actually began before the mailroom at WME. Believe it or not, I started college as a pre-med student, and I finished college as a film major. So, things really changed for me along the way. I started booking our school’s on-campus entertainment, funnily enough, alongside a classmate and friend, and now client, Eric Nam. During my time in Boston, I started interning for Josh Bhatti and then at Bowery Presents when they opened up a Boston office. After school, I moved to L.A. and I interned at Front Line, which at the time was Irving Azoff’s management company. I spent a lot of time working for Jeffrey Azoff. And between working for Josh in Boston and Jeffrey in LA, I was continually inspired by the fact that nice guys could make it in a tough industry. They really showed me that kindness isn’t a weakness; it’s a strength. I started in the mailroom in 2010, I was promoted to agent in 2014. I moved to Nashville with my wife in 2017 and was made partner in 2021 along with welcoming twin boys in 2021. 

How has your experience working with the Bowery Presents and Front Line influenced you as an agent?

I think it really gave me a holistic approach. I’m not just thinking about booking dates. I think like a manager; I think like a promoter. I try to approach everything with a view to answer everyone’s questions ahead of time. To not put people in situations they don’t want to be in or shouldn’t be in.

My time at Bowery, I sold merchandise. I sold tickets. I did load-ins. I really did every gig you could do at a venue. At Front Line, I handled fan mail, uploaded songs to streaming services and I shipped out merchandise. So, I have a lot more experience than coming in and starting in a mailroom and really only focusing on booking shows. And I’m proud of that. I think it helps me be a better agent. It helps me understand artists better.

WME has an agent trainee program. Did you go through that program yourself?

I did. I became an agent trainee in 2011. It was remarkable at the time, and it’s only gotten better. I’m actually one of eight members of the leadership team which oversees the program company-wide. Not just music, but film and television and books and commercials and so on. It’s been remarkable to see how it’s developed and grown. In particular over the pandemic, we took the program and completely overhauled it. We can’t meet in person and we’re on virtual sessions. We gotta figure out how to still make the most of people’s time to give them the experience that they need and deserve. Over the last couple years, we’ve been fortunate to have incredible guest speakers, including the Brothers Osborne, Mark Wahlberg, Matthew McConaughey, Justin Timberlake, Jack Black, Guy Fieri, Simon Sinek and many more. It’s been remarkable.

What was your experience going through the program?

It was awesome. I got to hear from promoters that I didn’t know on a global scale. I got to hear from clients and managers that I would otherwise have no access to. I got to hear from agents that later became my mentors. I got to really get my hands dirty with projects and exercises that teach you to think in new ways and make you into a great agent.

And what have you specifically been doing within the program?

Specifically with the music trainees, we really try to involve them in things they wouldn’t otherwise be involved in. So, we give them exercises on booking tours and representing clients and plugging clients into new areas. Outside of the trainees’ core disciplines, we send them on field trips to meet with artists and managers and production managers and festival bookers really with the view to give them experience booking tours.

What else is going on for you all at WME’s Nashville office?

We’re planning a return to live music. We were fortunate enough to get back to work late last year and return to festivals and stages, but 2022 continues that in a much bigger way. Personally, I have acts that are about to have big years. In 2020, Lewis Capaldi was about to tour the entire year on the heels of two massive No. 1 singles with 10 billion streams. He had an arena tour with Niall Horan, sold out headline dates, a list of festivals. Losing 2020 was a massive blow. 

King Princess was originally intended to support Harry Styles last year and has managed to not miss a beat. She had a Gucci partnership last year, she was the face of the Calvin Klein pride campaign with big billboards in New York and L.A., she’s had virtual performances for brands and colleges. And this year she’ll release her sophomore album with a hell of a touring year lined up. She’s playing arenas with Kacey Musgraves and Shawn Mendes, stadium shows with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Strokes, and 30 headline shows on top of that.

King Princess
Taylor Hill / Getty Images / Governors Ball
– King Princess
King Princess performs at Governors Ball Music Festival at Citi Field in Queens, N.Y., Sept. 25, 2021.

How did you strategize planning King Princess’ upcoming headline tour with all of her supporting dates?

We wanted to put her in front of as many people as possible. Mikaela’s goal from the start has been to headline on her own stages, on her own tickets, on her own marquee coming into 2022. We were presented with a handful of opportunities, and it’s going to put her in front of so many people, so many new friends and Mikaela Straus, who is King Princess, is such a force. She really commands any stage she’s on and any situation she’s in. She’s a total rockstar. The first half of the year, we were able to come and play in front of massive amounts of people in situations that are new to Mikaela. And that really made the back half of the year easy because to play 30 shows in major markets on her terms, her shows, her stages, with her production, hopefully with hordes of new fans that she’s made from these other diverse opportunities. Fans at Kacey’s shows are different from the fans at a Shawn Mendes show and are very different from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Strokes shows. 

Another one of your clients is Inhaler. Can you talk about their impact as a rock band?

Emphatically, the rock band still sells tickets. Their 2020 tour became a 2021 tour, both of which were canceled. And they’ve finally been able to start touring the States to support their debut record, and they sold 3,000 tickets in L.A., 2,500 tickets in New York, and sold out shows in Boston, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta. It’s really exciting to see. I think there’s a narrative out there that rock ’n’ roll is tired and not exciting and not selling tickets, and that’s not true. I think Inhaler is one of the exciting young rock bands out there.

What has been your strategy to build up an act from playing clubs?

The goal with any act I represent is to have them headline, have them sell their own tickets on their terms. There’s a lot of different ways to get there. If an act comes out the gate with the ability to sell their own tickets at any level, whether that’s 100 tickets, 500 tickets, or 1,000, we seize that opportunity and we go. If they need some assistance doing that, then there’s opportunities to put them in front of us to support. Festivals can also accomplish that, put people in front of the right crowd at the right time in the right markets. It can have big rewards. You never skip steps. We want to play the right venues at the right times.

Back to Lewis Capaldi – how has it been to watch his career continue to evolve as you’ve been working together?

It’s just exciting to see people keep discovering Lewis. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t get more time in North America as his songs were exploding. He was just about to in 2020 when live touring all came down. He was about to be discovered in a big way in North America. And it was a big blow. But he is a presence and he took this time to really hone his creativity. He’s gonna be back in a big way. Lewis is the type of act where you put him in front of anyone and he wins the room, whether that’s through his vocals or his content.

So many of your artists are spread through a variety of genres. How do you approach working with different acts depending on the genre?

I’ve joked that I have a pretty genre-fluid roster and I don’t really consider genre. I have rock bands like Inhaler and The Revivalists, I have Eric Nam who’s a K-pop act and Ashnikko and King Princess in the pop lane. Dean Lewis and Genevieve Stokes and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Cleo Sol. It’s all over and I’m really proud of that.

You’ve also had plenty of new signings throughout the past two years. That must be really different for you to not see these acts hit the stage until just now?

Well, everyone’s been a little different. When we started working with The Revivalists, they jumped right in and they were very resourceful and they wanted to get out there and play shows. So, they did a lot of social distance stuff or virtual. We made use of every time period we could. On the other hand, Eric Nam was a new signing and he took the pandemic to make new music. And this new tour that starts in late January are the first shows we’ve ever booked for Eric here in North America. So it’s exciting to finally see something that we’ve been working on come into fruition.