Nicole Barsalona: On Women In Music, Managing International Artists & Frank

Nicole Barsalona in 2021 backstage at her management client Prateek Kuhad’s show at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Photo by Michael Zorn / Courtesy N. Barsalona

To have a successful and enduring career in the live industry takes vision, leadership, innovation, a network of relationships and perspective. It’s a trait that takes decades to develop and few executives in this business have it in the abundance Nicole Barsalona, a successful artist manager, the President of Women in Music and a member of the Board of Music Managers Forum-US, does.

“I started working with Steven Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band and got thrown in the deep end working with those guys and being out on the road,” says Barsalona of her first gig in music. Having front row seats to one of the greatest touring machines in the history of live, one would think, would be one the best educations in the industry, but for her, that was just the tip of the music business perspective iceberg.

“My dad was a brilliant, brilliant guy,” she says of Frank Barsalona, the legendary proto music agent widely revered who did nothing less than help create the modern live music industry as we know it today.

“He saw something when he was at GAC (agency),” she continues. “He saw rock and roll happening and was like, ‘Wait a second. I feel like there’s something going on here.’ He went to the heads of the rock department and was like, ‘Can I get involved?’ He was in the mailroom and they were like, ‘Kid, rock and roll is dead. You can take the whole department, run with it.’ And he was like, ‘Okay.’ So he got involved in the first Beatles show. He brought over the British invasion bands”

Frank went on to book the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, The Who, Herman’s Hermits, Mitch Ryder, Led Zeppelin, Springsteen, Grand Funk Railroad, Tom Petty, Van Halen and U2. In 1964 he launched Premier Talent and expanded package tours with 15-minute sets to full-length shows at larger venues. This he built while developing a national network of regional promoters that included Bill Graham in San Francisco, Don Law in Boston, Larry Magid in Philadelphia and Ron Delsener in New York.

“Bill Graham and him used to stage these arguments on the phone that were just for show,” Barsalona says, “just to get people riled up to see that they were like really negotiating against one another. There was a lot of theater in all of it.”

Nicole Barsalona with her father, Frank Barsalona, a pioneering music agent who repped Led Zeppelin, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and U2 among others, at the 2002 Nordoff Robbins Gala. Courtesy N. Barsalona

Those thinking Premiere was a boy’s club, however, would be dead to nails wrong, “My father hired women to run the business,” she says. “He had Barbara Skydel, who was second in command after Frank. She did everything. Frank was the one sitting on the floor with Tom Petty’s manager showing him a map…and Barbara would walk by and say, ‘Is anyone working here? Who’s running this company?’ Jane Garrity was third in command at Premier and there were other senior women. By the time I was around in the ‘80s, it was all women running the show.”

Another critically influential woman in Nicole’s career was June Barsalona, her mother, who left London at 18 to move to the U.S. and become a rock journalist, which wasn’t then the norm. “She did the first U.S. interview for a UK publication with The Beatles,” Nicole says. “My parents met through the Beatles. She added legitimacy to my dad, who’s like the Italian American from Staten Island. These British bands came over and were like, ‘Oh, well June is from London. She knows what’s going on.’ We used to have some of the greatest artists of all time over for dinner.”

Despite the remarkable meals, Barsalona had no intention of following in her dad’s footsteps. “I wanted to run far from it,” she says, “but I ended up just taking that job with Steven (Van Zandt) and falling in love with everything about it. My first job I would leave at 11 p.m. and he’d be like, ‘Oh, taking a half day…’ There was no expectation I was going to be working on anything other than 24/7.”

Barsalona took a couple of years off, caught her breath and decided to do something else in the business. “I really wanted to be on the artist management side, work more creatively, brainstorm and do strategic planning at the early stages of a career.”

Enter Everyday Rebellion Ent., Nicole’s management company, with clients that include Prateek Kuhad from India, Mark Wilkinson from Australia and most recently Raye Zaragoza, “an incredible woman, part Native American, part Japanese and a great singer and huge advocate for Native American rights.”

While with Everyday Rebellion, Barsalona discovered an invaluable resource. “Women In Music provides tools and resources to women so that they can step into rooms and feel empowered and it’s not like the old boys club,” she says. “I had this contract on my desk for a client, it was publishing, and I knew nothing about the publishing world. I reached out to the Google group and said, ‘Anyone here in music publishing can you give me 10 minutes on the phone?’ And it was really empowering.”

Women In Music now has chapters all over the world from L.A. to Japan to Romania to India, to South Africa as well as mentor and internship programs that stress inclusivity.

“We source diverse candidates who didn’t necessarily go to a four-year college for music business. Four of the first 10 interns in our pilot program were hired to full-time positions because the companies were blown away by their talent.”

Barsalona says a book is in the works about her father who died in 2012. “Steven Van
Zandt, before my dad passed away and got really deep into dementia, was like, ‘We need to get all those stories out of him.’ Steven had someone follow him around and record all his stories. So we have binders of Frank stories and interviews with Jon Landau, Larry Magid, Don Law and others telling their stories—it’s just a treasure trove.”