One of the most fascinating aspects of Independent Artist Group, the new agency formed from the merger of Artist Group International and Agency for The Performing Arts, is Jarred Arfa, who was named Executive Vice President, Head of Global Music at the new full-service agency. Arfa, 39, who held a similar role at AGI overseeing operations and working on business development, is something of a quiet force with an incredibly well-rounded perspective of the live business. This, without exaggeration, is because he has spent a lifetime in the business thanks in large measure to his father Dennis Arfa, one of the most successful and innovative agents to walk a building.
As a toddler, Jarred had front row seats and backstage passes to the highest echelons of the live industry getting to know the likes of Billy Joel, The Beach Boys, Joan Jett, Rodney Dangerfield and Andrew Dice Clay. Along the way, he built personal and professional relationships with managers and promoters, including Rick Franks, Jimmy Koplik, Andy Hewitt, Jay Marciano and Jimmy Nederlander, among others. But Arfa also paid his dues, working alongside other paragons of the industry, including Mitch Slater, Bob Sillerman, Marsha Vlasic, K2’s John Jackson and Ron Burkle. Here, Arfa discusses his career, his business philosophies, the APA merger and the bizarro world of Elvis Presley tributes.
Pollstar: When did you first get involved in the live industry?
Jarred Arfa: It’s all I ever knew. I grew up in Billy Joel’s dressing room. There’s literally video of me telling Andrew Dice Clay his jokes back to him when I was 4 years old. Growing up, I had a natural curiosity. When my father (Dennis Arfa) was on calls, I was always listening in and asking questions, sometimes saying, “Why wouldn’t you do it this way?’ We have a lot of similarities, but there’s also a lot of differences.
What’s your relationship like with Billy Joel?
Billy is an inspiration. He’s incredibly humble, and as amazing as he is, he’s a regular guy and it shows. It’s like if this person who’s done such extraordinary things can be this humble and this normal, the rest of us can be, too. It’s been the honor of my career working with my father on his behalf on his Madison Square Garden residency, there’s nothing I’m prouder of.
Is your father, who is something of a legend in this business, your mentor?
I’ve always admired and learned from him, but there are also other people I’ve learned from over the years, whether it was Mitch Slater, who passed away and who I worked for, or spending time with Ron Burkle and the Yucaipa team. I don’t look at any one person as a mentor, I take from a lot of people I was exposed to in the business. I got to be around the best managers, the best promoters and you take from those people, too. When you’re a kid and you’re going to the Yankees game with Cliff Bernstein and Peter Mensch, you can pick up a lot.
What was it like working with Mitch Slater?
Mitch was partners with Ron Delsener. Basically, Mitch joined Ron at a young age and Delsener was competing with John Scher in the New York area. Mitch came in and wiped the floor with everyone and basically brought Ron back to number one. Mitch was a smart guy, who sold instead of just staying on as a concert promoter. Bob (Sillerman) kept him as his COO for CKX. There are a lot of brilliant entrepreneurial concert promoters and concert agents, but Mitch was more than that. He was a diverse businessman. Bob saw that in him and he was COO of the company. Mitch was my direct boss, he trusted me at a very young age to help operate the Muhammad Ali and Elvis Presley estates. He was an incredible mentor, I just can’t speak more highly of him. I miss him very much.
Sillerman looms large in this industry and disrupted it like nobody else. What did you think of him?
Bob was probably one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever been exposed to. No matter the topic or meeting, he was always five steps ahead of the next person in the room. To be 23 and sitting in meetings with this guy who had just sold SFX to Clear Channel for some $4 billion, was an unbelievable experience. It was the perfect way to start my career because it was a small company with a lot of brilliant people, some of the brightest people I’ve ever met in my life worked at that company.
You also mentioned Cliff Bernstein and Peter Mensch from Q-Prime.
They’re incredibly talented managers I’ve had the privilege of getting to spend time with. There’s other managers, too, Allen Kovac with Mötley Crüe and Mike Kobayashi who’s been with Def Leppard for quite a while. There’s a handful. But just watching their careers and some of the amazing things they’ve done is quite inspirational.
What was your first job in the industry?
My first job out of school was working for Sillerman when he owned the Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali estates. My first job was to license the unsanctioned Elvis Presley tribute artist contests and basically get them under the estates’ control, create events based around the annual Elvis week tributes and monetize them. Looking back now, it was one of the wildest experiences. There should be a documentary about the craziness of the Elvis tribute world. But I killed it in a space that was literally bizarro world. I think I made half a million dollars the first year licensing contests.
When did you come to AGI?
I came to AGI in 2011 when CKX was starting to fall apart and saw a lot of investments going into the music industry. At that point, AGI was totally independent. The idea was I was not going to come in as an agent, but was going to raise financing for the company and roll up other independent agents and agencies and build the company. Within a year of me being there, we identified and made the deal with Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa.
So you’re not routing or negotiating deals?
My job is operations. I do some agenting work specifically with Dennis and Billy and some other artists. I can probably speak more fluently about sponsorships and ticketing than most of the industry. But in general, my goal here is to operate and grow this department. If the head or co-heads are busy with their own clients, I don’t know how they can take the time to manage and grow the team. A lot of times at the big agencies it becomes about servicing the person in power. I don’t have that problem. My job is to identify who needs services, who should be connected to who and do everything I can to help the agents win. A lot of the trust they have in me is because I never had skin in the game and wasn’t competing with them. I also do business development and help grow the company because of my experience with Ron and Bob.
What’s it been like working for Ron Burkle and Yucaipa?
We’ve worked with Ron now for 12 years. It’s been incredible to have access to him and hear his stories and learn how he thinks. There are very few people in the world who have accomplished what Ron has accomplished.
How would you describe your business philosophy and management style?
We don’t want to just throw darts at the wall and hope they stick. We always want to sign artists who have a chance of being career artists, not just a flash in the pan. We’ve never wanted to sign a thousand artists. We want to sign the best artists and the biggest artists. We always like to say we have the most headliners per agent than any other agency. We’re small, but we want to continue on a bigger level with IAG. As for management style, these people are adults, they’re good at what they do and let’s support them where we can. The goal isn’t to micromanage. I think they enjoy that, and it’s been a successful model.
What are some of your proudest moments building out the company?
One was bringing in John Jackson and the team of K2 in. They fit in seamlessly with our agents, which we saw from afar. Getting Marsha (Vlasic) and Nick (Storch), which was early on in my tenure, changed the complexion of the agency because those are two of our strongest agents. Certainly, Marsha is one of the most iconic agents in the history of the business, so that was a huge move for us.
Can you talk about Marsha for a second, she’s a legend.
Marsha’s one of the most tenacious people I’ve ever met. I have an incredible relationship with her and probably speak to her three times a day and I have so much respect for her. I think Marsha is a great curator of talent and knows the right rooms and how to develop up-and-coming artists. She has amazing instincts. I don’t think there’s anyone better in the festival world, and her roster is amazing. And her personal relationship with her artists goes back and they call her directly and that’s become more and more rare. She literally will take a bullet for her clients. She believes in them so much, and it drives her to do as much as she can for them.
So where does IAG rank amongst your achievements?
This really is the perfect marriage and the next step of the evolution of AGI.
We were always very cautious about doing other things with our artists outside of the touring lane, which we do so well, but we were intrigued by Jim Osborne
(CEO of IAG) and Kyle Loftus (head of scripted and non-scripted content for IAG) because of what they did for artists like Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent. We tried a couple projects with them for some of our artists and every time they delivered. It made a marriage very intriguing to us because we could further monetize our artists’ careers and offer them other financial opportunities that others hadn’t been able to. They also have a similar ethos, they hustle and grind like we do. It’s the perfect next evolution for our agencies,
and it opens up growth opportunities in a lot of different ways.