Austin Neal Comes Into His Own: Like His Father (& Grandfather) He’s Breaking Ground With His Own Agency

Austin Neal
– Austin Neal
Courtesy Of The Neal Agency
Austin Neal has entertainment, especially live entertainment, in his blood. Beyond his father, legendary talent agent Kevin Neal, the former Buddy Lee Attractions President and currently a partner at William Morris Endeavour with Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line on his roster, Austin’s grandfather served as Elvis Presley’s original manager, as well as being known as a popular Memphis disc jockey who recognized talent. Grandpa Bob went on to form the original Neal Agency in Nashville.

With bona fides like that, the third generation Neal is perfectly positioned to re-start the family business. As whisperers whispered in early December, Austin began to set up shop in Nashville’s Fort Houston neighborhood and began building the Neal Agency, 21st Century edition. After a long year trying to sort out the fortunes of his best friend and client by way of his father’s stroke, Morgan Wallen, it became apparent both men might be better served somewhere else.

“When I was a young guy working at Buddy Lee as my Dad’s assistant, William Morris was the ultimate,” Austin says. “I thought: IF I can get there, I will have my job for life!”
Funny thing about life: it doesn’t always turn out like you think. With a degree in chemistry and the notion of becoming a doctor after his father tried to warn him away from the business, Neal took the agency job when his dad told Austin he thought his son might actually be good at it.
Working in management for Big & Rich, he met Chase Rice in a bar. Impressed by how the progeny saw the business, Rice convinced his manager Bruce Kalmick at Triple 8 Management to hire Neal away – and that relationship cemented Rice’s eventual place on the younger Neal’s roster.
While his father Kevin was busy booking a young kid featured on Florida Georgia Line’s “Up Down” named Morgan Wallen, Austin was playing video games with a breakout songwriter named Michael Hardy. A year into their epic PUBG (pronounced “Pub G”) battle, HARDY was inching towards a record deal – and he knew just who he wanted to book him.
“Austin has the most confidence I have ever seen in a booking agent. He has a plan, he sticks to it – and he executes every single time,” explains the Mississippi-born rock-country-hip hop hybrid. “His philosophy is: patience builds an artist’s career, and that’s exactly what he’s done with me. 
“He knows how to slowly turn a young artist into an arena headliner with a real fanbase, because he understands the true process of building a true fanbase. He believed in me from the very beginning, and he sticks his neck out for people he believes in. I wouldn’t want to work with any other agent in town.”
That loyalty goes both ways. Neal recognized HARDY’s focus as a writer and ability to pull in unexpected influences. “He had something going on with his songs. With the glasses and his vibe, even before he was going to be an artist, he was someone you’d pay attention to.”
That loyalty was again demonstrated when Austin Neal decided to make his own way as an agent.
Morgan Wallen
Courtesy of The Neal Agency
– Morgan Wallen
poses with his agent, Austin Neal.
When he knew he was starting his own company, Ashland Craft, ERNEST, Riley Green, HARDY, Rice and Seaforth all followed. “I care about them as people, and I want to develop their careers as artists to somewhere that’s going to matter now, but really matter 10 years from now. That’s the thing: we’re all in this together, and my artists know that.”
Then there’s the elephant in the room: Wallen. 
After the TMZ video of an incredibly drunk Wallen outside his home hurling an unthinkable racial slur at one of his running buddies surfaced, the East Tennessean who’d had the No. 1 album in America for five weeks found himself in a tornado of indignation. Purportedly 71 hours into a 72-hour-bender, his inability to clearly articulate an apology that included real understanding of the egregiousness of using that word in any circumstances further stirred the outcry.
Wallen, whose large bars and theater tour had sold out in 30 minutes, “and we were flirting with arenas in a lot of markets,” was cancelled and found himself in career dry dock. Taking time off to meet with BMAC and other Black music industry leaders and artists, Wallen made a stunted attempt to clear the air with an awkward interview on “Good Morning America” with Michael Strahan. Pictures on social media with Darius Rucker and Eric Church would be posted by the artists, a few sit-ins at shows, then what seemed like monthly benefit concerts began easing the man with the No. 1 selling/streaming album of 2021 back into the public eye.
“He’s my best friend,” Austin offers. “Our friendship was forged when my father had that stroke; he was constantly checking in, checking on me. There are so many things I could say; we’ve gone through hell together. And over the last year, when you know who someone really is and you see people saying things that so don’t reflect that, it’s hard.”

While Wallen was removed from WME’s roster, Neal quietly put Wallen’s handful of shows that tested the waters together. For Neal, whose father remains at WME and who thinks of Nashville Co-Heads Jay Williams “as a mentor” and Joey Lee “as an uncle who’s known me since I was diapers,” the circumstances were tough. He respects the agency’s strong ethics policy; he knew his friend was disoriented from the impact of all that happened.
Like his Grandfather Bob, Austin realized sometimes you have to accept reality – and make a new plan. Ironic since Bob Neal signed Elvis for management; then when the radio host took the iconic Sun Records heartthrob as far as he could, he took Presley to Colonel Tom Parker to help realize the singer’s potential.
“We have contracts for shows at elementary schools where Elvis was paid a quarter,” Neal marvels. “My grandfather was there, and he helped build it.”
Grandpa & The King:
– Grandpa & The King:
Bob Neal, Austin Neal’s grandpa, was a radio DJ who was inducted to the On-Air Hall of Fame. Pictured here with the great Elvis Presley, whom he managed early in his career.
Moving to Nashville, the elder Neal started a booking agency so successful, when William Morris decided to open their own office in Music City, they absorbed the Neal Agency. Bob Neal knew how to promote talent and build careers, it was a marriage made in heaven until it wasn’t.
“My grandfather decided he wanted to go back to being independent, so he re-opened the Neal Agency,” Austin reports. “He ran it until he died. And when he did, my father was working there – and Buddy Lee gave Dad a job. The two agencies were both family businesses, and when my grandfather died, Buddy Lee did what you do for family.”
To say artists, booking shows, recognizing talent and building careers is in his blood is an understatement. “My father’s biggest client at Buddy Lee was Aaron Tippin, then he signed this young guy named Jason Aldean. It was the same thing as my grandfather and Elvis, or later Dad and Morgan.”
At 35, Austin never intended to open a boutique agency. But here he is, with three employees, navigating office space, health insurance plans, setting up an LLC and not dropping the ball on a single date. Laughing about the curves, the former athlete admits, “They don’t teach you about these things in pre-med. So, for me, the holidays were spent reading books, figuring out how to set up this business.

“William Morris Endeavour was the place I thought I would always be. I was the guy who loved booking shows, building young acts up, mentoring new agents. I never thought about being the head of the office; I like being in the trenches.”

Realizing his future might be following his grandpa’s steps, Neal recognized the power of friendship and passion for his artists. Now it’s about building a future for his roster, his team and his dreams.

“When I started working with Riley Green, he was playing zydeco in Birmingham, every little place in Alabama, and we had him pull back so he could ultimately play BJCC Arena. And it worked. It’s his hometown, and his college, but he understood what we wanted to do.

“It wasn’t ‘let’s go grab the money,’ because somebody’s willing to pay right now. It’s how do we create the sense that people want you in that arena? And now, he just sold out a whole tour of arenas in the Southeast.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree:
Courtesy Of The Neal Agency
– The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree:
Austin and Kevin Neal.

“The thing is how these artists care about each other. First time Morgan played down in Alabama at Jacksonville State, he was scared nobody’d show up. Riley, who went to school there and was a big deal, hit his social media, telling everybody, ‘You gotta see my buddy Morgan who’s playing here tonight.’ And the people showed up!”

With fewer acts, each singular and invested in the notion “we’re in this together,” Neal understands making things work. For him, it’s not crisis management, but just what needs to happen. 
Pointing to Wallen, he acknowledges, “When we started testing the waters, trying to go out there, there were a few promoters and buildings who were scared. But some great buildings and great promoters stepped in – and we had some great shows last fall.
“Going forward, that’s what I want for all our clients. From Ashland Craft, who’s such a unique singer, to Seaforth, who’re a band you’re going to hear from, ERNEST, who’s just breaking … they’re all here to build.”
And how hard was it to convince them to rejoin the renewed Neal Agency? “It was a bit like that ‘Jerry Maguire’ moment, you know? ‘Who’s comin’ with me?’ You don’t know, but you hope. It was a lot of two-minute conversations, but they were in, which felt great.”