Executive Profile: JBeau Lewis, Partner & Agent, United Talent Agency
Jbeau Lewis, United Talent Agency agent and partner, just had one of the best years of his career. Exhibit A: Bad Bunny, who had one of the biggest touring years of all-time in 2022. Exhibit B: Karol G, who just set the all-time touring record for a Latin female artist. Plus, there’s many other reasons, including: Muse, Chance The Rapper, Jason Derulo, Bebe Rexha, LANY, Empire of the Sun and Milky Chance, among others. Also, in May, he was made a UTA partner. Perhaps none of that happens without the Dave Matthews Band (check out Lewis’ tattoo in the photo below), John Mayer, Scott Clayton and Don Muller as well as a risky agency move that’s paid off wildly. Pollstar caught up with Lewis, just before he was to see a Paramore underplay at the Wiltern, to find out more about his fascinating career and his many successes.
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Pollstar: Where did you grow up?
Jbeau Lewis: Dallas.
Dallas has a great music scene with Deep Ellum, venues and that music school.
University of North Texas has a great music school in Denton. I was too young to be an avid showgoer. When I was 15 I discovered Dave Matthews Band, and it was through DMB and the jam scene I discovered live music. From then onwards, there wasn’t a Dave Matthews Band show within eight hours of Dallas I wasn’t at. There wasn’t a live recording of their shows I didn’t have the tape of or wasn’t trading a tape to try and get. That was really what sent me off into the world of live music. That scene carried me through high school and college.
You went to UVA, isn’t that ground zero for Dave Matthews?
It is. Coincidentally, I got an amazing scholarship to UVA, landed in the hometown of my favorite band. Quickly, I found my way to the Light and Coran Capshaw and was interning and hanging up concert posters for their local shows at clubs they owned in Charlottesville.
Were you on Red Light’s street team? That’s probably what it was. I discovered UVA’s concerts committee my first year, which was effectively defunct. My friends and I helped resuscitate it and promoted 30 or 40 shows over the course of college. It culminated working alongside Red Light to promote Dave Matthews Band at the UVA football stadium my junior year in 2001. We did everything from East Coast jam scene like Widespread Panic and String Cheese Incident to MTV’s Campus Invasion Tour with Wyclef Jean and the Black Eyed Peas, pre-Fergie. We did Ben Harper with an unknown opening act named Jack Johnson. We did a bunch of hip-hop, a co-headline show with Common and Xzibit. We had OutKast but they canceled the week before. We did John Mayer, booking him was ultimately my ticket to the music business.
Ironically, another young guy in the Dave Matthews Band scene, who was competing for the same scholarship at UVA but went to Georgia Tech instead, ended up being John’s first tour manager. His name was Scotty Crowe and he called saying, “Hey, I’m working with this guy, John Mayer, we’re coming to Charlottesville next week. He’s opening for Duncan Sheik at Tracks for 200 people or something.” I went, loved the show, met John that night, and we all became friends.
When I wanted to bring John to UVA the next year, I got introduced to Scott Clayton who had just joined CAA in Nashville. Scott eventually became, through a circuitous path, my first boss in the business. My family were all doctors and nurses and, despite doing the concert bookings through college, I was pre-med. I ultimately moved back to Dallas after college and enrolled in medical school at UT Southwestern at Parkland Hospital.
I’m not sure anybody likes the first year of medical school, I certainly didn’t. It just so happened the John Mayer/Counting Crows summer shed tour was in Dallas the summer after med school. Scott Clayton, John’s agent, happened to be in town covering the show. I met him that night and had one of those classic mentor-mentee conversations where he asked what I was doing and did I like it? I was in med school and nope, I hated it. He said, “Well, if you ever really hate it, send me your resume and I’ll keep you in mind.”
A week or two later I said, “You know, what the fuck? I got nothing to lose.” I sent Scott my resume and he called a few days later. He said, “Hey, I got your resume. My assistant just quit, have you ever considered moving to Nashville?” I went to Nashville and spent a couple of days with Scott and it was immediately clear this is what I was supposed to be doing. I took a leave of absence from medical school and never returned.
What did you learn being on the college committee on the buying side and working with agents and promoters?
The short answer is I learned everything. Not growing up anywhere near the entertainment business, you don’t think twice about how or why a show happens. You just buy a ticket and go. Working on the concerts committee, you see the business from the ground up. I remember staying up overnight and literally building the stage, working with tour managers and understanding what a rider was from production and hospitality standpoints.
Unbeknownst at the time, I learned a lot from all those Dave Matthews Band shows and trading tapes. I had a library in my bedroom and each had a venue and city on the side.
It was like I experienced artist development vis-a-vis DMB without knowing it, watching their growth from clubs to theaters to arenas and amphitheaters. By the time I worked for Scott, I already knew the names of the venues from trading tapes. Once I got to college, I started to understand how the business worked from a logistics standpoint, but also how deals were made, artists were valued, careers were developed and how different parts of the live experience fit together.
Did they throw you in the mailroom at CAA?
I went to work for Scott in Nashville for nine or ten months as his assistant. That was a quick education working under someone as talented as Scott and understanding his approach to signing, booking and development was fascinating. Then, CAA was only in L.A. and Nashville. Ultimately, they said they were impressed with me, but if I wanted to grow with the company and not be a country music agent, I needed to move to L.A. I waited for my lease to run out and moved in the summer of 2014. Then I went straight into the mailroom.
What desk did you end up on in L.A.?
I worked for Don Muller, so in terms of rock, I was working for the guy who represented the biggest rock bands in the world. It was Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, System of a Down, Weezer, Pearl Jam and on and on.
What was it like working for Don?
It was incredible to work with those big names and equally incredible to watch and listen to Don operate. He and Scott were two really powerful agents but approached their business in very different ways. Scott was more analytical and with Don it was Don’s way or the highway and he had the leverage and the roster to do that. It was fun place for me to sit because none of the promoters wanted to fuck with Don so they’d call me to play good cop. For his developing level acts, I was able to take much a bigger responsibility and learn alongside some of those younger clients. Don signed Hot Hot Heat out of Canada when I started and I effectively became the lead and got to learn as that band grew and others as well. That was in my early days in L.A., so myself and the other aspiring agents would be out going to three shows every night and having Jack in the Box for dinner at midnight.
The glory days. Who were some of your first signings?
My first signing was Brett Dennen, an incredible singer songwriter from Ventura County. He was part of the Hotel Cafe scene, the Cahuenga scene in Hollywood, which was really fertile. Seeing where many of those artists have grown to from that scene and running around together as we were all trying to get our careers started, is cool. Brett was first and shortly thereafter I met a young girl playing acoustic guitar with some big songs who needed some help named Katy Perry.
Yeah, I befriended Katy and her manager, Bradford Cobb, probably around probably 2006. I’d been in L.A. for maybe two years, and we were all hanging out in the same circles and scene and helped Katy book some early shows at Hotel Cafe and Viper Room and places like that. And that’s what evolved into working with her.
Wasn’t she a Christian singer back in the day?
She had been a Christian singer in Nashville, but moved to L.A. a year or two before I met her to go a little more straight pop route. I met her around the time she signed to Capital Records. I remember we had taken her on, Mitch Rose and I were working with her together and Mitch had a long time relationship with Steve Jensen, who was managing her alongside Bradford at Direct Management. They were trying to get a single to go and we put her on the Warped Tour in summer of 2008, I think. While she was on the Warped Tour “I Kissed a Girl” went to No. 1, the first big hit she had.
Wow. Who else did you sign?
Around then, Dave Klein and I, who were good buddies at CAA, came across Empire of the Sun who was exploding in Australia. They had a mind-bending theatrical live show we saw videos of and convinced Huston Powell of Lollapalooza in Chicago to give them a shot, which was incredible. That set them off on a massive career with huge festival stages and headlining the U.S. At the same time, I was helping some senior agents at CAA with acts like Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, Ludacris and clients like that. I was all over the map from a genre perspective, but that’s where I wanted to be.
When did you leave for UTA?
I left in the summer of 2014. I’d gotten to know Jeremy Zimmer, CEO of UTA and other folks there. A couple of my good friends outside of music had left CAA for UTA and given me entree to some folks there. My then girlfriend, now wife, was working at UTA in the digital group. I had a bunch of touch points and it just happened to be around the same time Jeremy and the board had decided it was time to invest in developing a bigger music department. Their premise was to develop this department and be the first and best full service music department—which was about so much more than just the standard touring side of the business to where artists and their ambitions across all parts of the business, brand partnerships, film, television, books, theater, sports, you name it, could really be serviced. That really resonated with me. Having that opportunity at a still relatively young stage of my career, to be a leader and at the forefront of something I thought had massive potential, was ultimately too good to pass up.
Which clients did you have when you came over?
Honestly, I had signed Milky Chance about a month before I left and that was it. It was a super-challenging point in my career, because I went from being able to sell the name brand of my previous agency and their massive roster and history to coming to a place that frankly most people in the music business had never heard of before. The department was tiny and the experience and the team was effectively non-existent. So, it was tough. At the same time, I couldn’t have been more fortunate. When I got here, the people who raised their hands from around the company who wanted to be deeply engaged and help us grow the music department were partner level agents from every other department. To be able to take on artist pursuits with the head of the talent department, head of the alternative TV department, head of the digital department, the CEO, those are heavy hitters that I could roll with. It presented a really different front for us relative to what I’d been accustomed to, which was just going out with a few different music agents.
Who was head of music at that point? Had they gotten The Agency Group?
No, Rob Prinz and Nikki Wheeler were here for a few more months, but the overlap was relatively short. I reported directly to Jeremy and it was about a year prior to our acquisition of The Agency Group. We did some hiring: Chris Jordan from WME, who’s still here and doing amazingly well, was really our first proper hire and a few other folks. Then The Agency Group opportunity came around in 2015 and then David Zedeck came in 2017. I was really employee zero in a lot of ways.
That must have been the most challenging part of your career, what did you learn from that experience?
Honestly, it felt in a lot of ways like a blind and naked jump into the unknown. But at the same time, it was exhilarating. I knew I wanted to better myself and I learned how to actually be really good at my job, how to connect with other people and how to really sell what I believed in, which was the thing that differentiated our company and myself from the competition. I have nothing but the utmost of respect for CAA and all my colleagues there, but the company has been doing it at such a high level for such a long time that as an individual agent there, in a certain sense, you don’t have to be as good as you are in a new environment where you’re selling something that people aren’t as familiar with.
What was it like when The Agency Group came on?
Truly exciting, honestly. I remember vividly the day the Agency Group deal came together. Going to their offices in Century City along with Jeremy and other board members and getting to know everyone there. I remember early meetings with senior agents and talking about integrating the two companies. You’re talking about an independent music booking agency, the biggest in the world who had great clients and amazing music agents, but didn’t have capabilities outside of touring. The other side, you have UTA who had a nascent music business but incredible capabilities outside of touring. So fitting the two together and immediately identifying ways we could expand the business was thrilling. It was literally UTA Music from day one.
How about when Zedeck came?
Bringing David in was a whole new level for us. He and I had been friends at CAA while we overlapped. He obviously left to go run Live Nation Global Touring for a few years. And then having the opportunity to bring in someone as experienced and seasoned and amazing at his job, to lead us to our next step was the best thing that could have happened to us.
Beyond Milky Chance, who else did you sign there?
The band LANY was an early signing I identified before they even played their first show. Six years after I signed them, they’ve already played their first handful of arenas and amphitheaters. We did a couple of years with Mariah Carey, which was incredible. We represented Chris Brown for a minute, and that’s how we got to know Mike G, who ended up working here after he and Chris parted ways. I felt like every day was a new beginning in certain ways and we were trying to form something out of effectively nothing through hiring and acquisitions. I’m thankful all the time for the many wise choices in the people twe brought on board. Whether it’s David Zedeck or Mike G or Toni Wallace, we made great choices and got really lucky to have the people we have.
Was 2022 the best year you’ve ever had with your roster?
No question about it.
Bad Bunny’s story is amazing; we’ve reported on it all year. How’s it been working with him and his team and having such massive successes?
In a few words, life-changing. To be a part of it is humbling. We’re all grateful to be here and have the opportunity to work with him, Noah (Assad) and their team. And really “team” is the word. He’s one of those artists where it doesn’t work without a team. We’re convinced over here that agenting is a team sport. Without a full team, we don’t have the opportunity to represent someone like Bad Bunny. I’m doing this interview, but I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with him without Toni Wallace, who runs music brand partnerships and Nigel Meiojas, who’s an incredible agent and does all of Bunny’s film and TV work here. It takes all of us, plus a whole host of other people at the agency, to make that operation go in partnership with Noah and his team at Remas.
I saw Bad Bunny at SoFi in September and it was spectacular. People in beach wear, standing on their chairs, singing every lyric, crying, intense fandom. The production was amazing, too, him flying around on a palm tree and fireworks throughout. It was really something special to witness. Is it like that for every show?
It is, and it’s beyond incredible. I’ve never witnessed an artist have that depth of connection with fans. I really think it’s because he’s just unshakably himself all the time. He is just so genuine and authentic and wears his heart on his sleeve and puts the music out that he connects with and represents Puerto Rico and his roots in such a way that it’s really hard to not feel it. It transcends all borders and languages and any sort of label you could put on it, it just feels good. I remember hearing Un Verano Sin Ti for the first time and having this crazy sense this was just something different on a level I’d never heard before. It’s just like he’d already been on a rocket ship but the catapult from this last album was unlike anything the world’s ever seen.
How did the decision to move up from arena to stadium in the same year happen?
We’ve gotten a lot of ink for having two tours in the same year, but let’s also be real that had it not been for COVID, that arena tour would’ve happened at least a year prior. You put out so much music during the pandemic when touring wasn’t an option that those projects really needed to see the light of day from a live perspective. In April 2021, when we put “El Ultimo Tour del Mundo” arena tour on sale, which ultimately started in February of ’22, what we saw from a numbers perspective were indicative of demand being off the charts. When you look at a ticketing queue for a show that can hold 17,000 and there’s 300,000 in the queue, it’s certainly suggests there’s a lot more meat on the bone to be had.
I remember the conversation with Noah Assad the day of the arena tour onsale, where we both said, “We gotta hold stadiums for next year.” I think it was that day in April 2021 I first started talking to stadiums for this year. I give Noah and Benito all the credit in the world, they have such foresight, and vision as to what they want to do, they’re always ten steps ahead of everybody else. The plan to go on the arena tour, release the album, a month after that tour ended, and have a stadium tour that would start a couple months after that, was hatched 18 months ago at this point. We’ve just been working toward the execution of it.
What do you think Bad Bunny’s astronomical successes says about the power of the Latin market?
I keep saying I feel like I’ve had a front row seat to a cultural revolution for the last few years. I come from a Hispanic background. My mother’s Hispanic, a native Spanish speaker, so I’ve been among the culture for a long time. But I don’t think the majority of English-speaking Americans give nearly enough credit to the power of the Latin demographic and the Latin world. If this isn’t an eye-opening experience for everyone in the music business and beyond to realize the world is a lot bigger than the United States of America and a lot bigger than those of us who speak English, then they’ve lost the plot. It’s not as if we’re just selling the most number of tickets, we’re breaking gross records in nearly every venue we play.
How did you get him as a client?
Coincidentally, I met him and Noah through my wife, who is the CEO and founder of Stem, which is the best digital distribution and accounting company on the planet. Prior to Bad Bunny’s deal with the Orchard, Stem was distributing his music. UTA identified the Latin world was something we wanted to go hard after and my wife originally made the introduction to Noah. After that introduction, along with Nigel and Toni, that was really our pursuit team. We had early meetings about what Benito wanted to accomplish in touring, but also very much beyond touring. Learning about his goal to be on the screen and act resulted in his role in “Narcos: Mexico.” His desire to build a sneaker empire, hence the deal with Adidas and on and on. Really, all that work across all the different areas of the entertainment business, is what earned us his trust and his overall business.
You also have Rosalía through [former WME agent] Samantha Kirby Yoh, who is often one of the smartest people in the room. What’s it been like working with her and having her on the leadership team?
She’s a force, honestly. I had known her a little bit for a long time, but certainly not as well as I do now. She brings an artistic sensibility and an activist personality and a straight shooting mentality that’s refreshing to be around on a daily basis. She adds a perfect dynamic to our team and our leadership here at the company.
And how is it having Scott Clayton back in your world?
It’s an incredible full circle moment. Scott and I have stayed close through all these years but to have him, and not just Scott, but Matthew Morgan and Buster Phillips, and Brett Saliba, a bunch of the folks I that I started with in Nashville what’ll be 20 years ago next year, all on the same team, is just so fun.
You were named partner in May, what did that mean to you?
Honestly, I’m grateful for the recognition. It’s very gratifying to be recognized as a leader and now as one of the partners of the company and to have come this far from eight years ago starting here effectively fresh without much of a department and without many clients. I’m proud of all that we’ve built as a team here. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished on my own and it’s nice to be recognized.