Jesse Kirshbaum – CEO of Nue Agency

Vision, homework, hustle, sales, collaboration, and execution. Then, analyzing, testing, reevaluating, and ideally building it bigger if it works and starts gaining momentum.

For more than a decade, Jesse Kirshbaum has been at the forefront of the music business, specializing in securing talent for concerts, tours, and endorsement deals for his clients and brand partners internationally. Jesse founded Nue Agency — a creative music agency that was recently named to the Inc. 500 as the third fastest-growing media company in America — to sit at the center of music, brands, and technology.

Jesse is also the co-founder and visionary behind SoundCTRL, the authority in music technology culture, news, and events. It features op-eds, first-look interviews, behind-the-scenes looks at startups, and much more. SoundCTRL’s newsletter goes to more than 10,000 music tech influencers and enthusiasts weekly and is syndicated on the television network Fuse.

Jesse is the executive producer for the hit digital series CRWN and the annual FlashFWD Awards, which honors premier stars in music technology. He sits on the advisory boards of Magnises and Bombas, as well as Social Media Week and Digital Media Wire, where he shares a dynamic enthusiasm and passion for shaping the new music business.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

I’m madly in love with music and the music business. I had worked in the industry for a while, but I wanted to start something different from what was out there. The music industry was drastically shifting. There was a new paradigm clearly emerging with the digital revolution, and we wanted to be on the cusp of the future. We wanted to create a new way of looking at things by embracing disruptive technologies and social media to enhance our offering. That’s why I created the New Universal Entertainment Agency. Then, it was pronounced “Nue-A” (“new way”). We recently shortened it to Nue because we don’t love the connotations of the word “agency.”

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

The beauty of working in such a creative industry is that no day is the same. Every day feels like a new adventure, and every week, we have different goals and tasks at hand.

I try to build stability with a dedicated meditation practice in the morning. From there, I’ll check email and usually have a barge of urgent fires or opportunities that have arisen that require immediate responses. From there, I’ll look at my calendar and map out my day. If I’m in the office, it’s a healthy balance of responding to emails and moving projects forward with meetings and calls during the day.

At night, I’ll usually catch a show or pop into an event. But I would say I’m out of the office a day or so a week covering a show, pitching an idea, or stoking my creative fires on adventures with clients, friends, or colleagues.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Vision, homework, hustle, sales, collaboration, and execution. Then, analyzing, testing, reevaluating, and ideally building it bigger if it works and starts gaining momentum.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I love the wearable technology space. I feel like there’s so much opportunity to run more optimally through all of the power of the technology being made and all of the data that’s becoming readily accessible though it. I’m excited to see this trend grow and disrupt every vertical, from home appliances to driving cars. I’m especially excited to see how it will enhance concerts and the way people experience music.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Mediation is helpful in dealing with the stresses of building a business and the day-to-day grind. I’ve been doing Vedic and transcendental meditation for more than two years and try to do it twice a day every day. It’s helpful to take time out to think and reconnect.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

The worst job I ever had was handing out Teddy Grahams at the Galleria as a temp. I learned pretty quickly about hand-to-hand marketing. You had to have no shame in this gig. Walking up to strangers and families and offering them free product samples was definitely a test of my hutzpah. I didn’t like the way the company that hired us treated us, though. The people were rude and unappreciative.

I learned a few lessons there. First, I learned how to treat your executors — that attitude translates. I also learned what works and what doesn’t (to some extent) in hand-to-hand product marketing. Third, I learned that I can be a lot more effective and passionate about selling a product that I believe in.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Occasionally, I romanticize the idea of starting at a big firm. There’s something interesting about the huge shops and the leverage they have, even though I’m sure that starting there can feel compartmentalized. I’ve always gone the boutique route, and it’s allowed me to accelerate my growth, keep my hustle mode on, and keep my skills as sharp as possible. On no day can I rest on my laurels. Plus, I’ve gotten to hone my skills as an entrepreneur. But I do think it would be interesting later in my career to work with a bigger operation with more manpower and leverage behind my projects and ideas.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Read as much as you can that’s relevant to your space, highlight what you read, take notes, and figure out how you can practically apply it to your craft. Keep connecting those dots. I find that reading the trades is as important — if not more important — than networking on a consistent basis. Although, in this industry, it may be a little less fun.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Up until about a year and a half ago, we were a boutique booking agency that was known for signing and developing talents’ live brand strategies and touring careers. It was an excellent way to work closely with emerging artists and learn many facets of the industry. However, I ultimately felt like being a booking agency wasn’t tapping our creative potential as an agency.

Even though we had a lot of success and worked with some amazing artists early in their careers, we were limited to the artists we were representing and really just to their live careers. And as they got bigger, we were marginalized even more.

So we changed the focus of the firm. Although it was tough to give up the revenue, we don’t represent artists anymore. I feel a lot better about the direction of the firm and our role in the industry. It’s allowed us to really spread our creative wings. When we go to work every day, it feels like we’re building a bigger business in which the sky’s not the limit, but only the view.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

As a young booking agency, we were quickly getting a hot reputation for finding and developing talent, especially in the college market. One of my clients, Mike Posner, who was going to Duke University and playing shows on the weekends, introduced me to a young duo called Chiddy Bang that was attending Drexel University. I was taken aback by Chiddy Bang’s creative spirit and its first EP that isn’t out yet in the U.S., so I agreed to represent the group.

We busted our asses to build live touring buzz, especially in the college and tastemaker markets. We took Chiddy Bang from being a $150-a-night act to consistently bringing in $35,000 and sometimes $50,000 per show without even releasing an album or having any major radio support.

But being a small booking agency in a cutthroat industry was hard. We were constantly fighting off bigger competitors who were willing to cut rates or dangle carrots, such as film and TV opportunities and endorsements. But the truth of the matter is that those opportunities aren’t a given if you’re at the bigger agency; it’s really about the artists’ trajectory and how hard their team is willing to hustle for them.

As Chiddy Bang’s stock kept rising, pressure kept being put on us as it was being hit up left, right, and center. And right before its debut album was slated to drop, the duo was promised an opening slot on a Kanye West tour if it left our agency.

The tour slot never happened, but we still ended up losing the act. It was a bummer after so much sweat equity that we put in. It was a real learning experience for me. From where we sat on the totem pole, it was hard to compete and win on the level we wanted to play in. Plus, I wasn’t as inspired by just working in the live space, especially as an agent. It felt like a marginalized role in the overall vision for each artist. It was time for us to change the conversation about the agency.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Honestly, I think every party is better if you book a DJ. It would be cool if someone could build a service to book a local DJ so your party doesn’t rely on playlists anymore.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

Lately, I’ve had a hip-hop dance teacher come to my apartment building once a week to show me some of the hot new moves. She’s an amazing teacher who’s a legend in the Bronx and has a rich cultural appreciation for hip-hop. Her name is Deena “SnapShot” Clemente.

Not being a trained musician, these sessions allow me to hear and connect with the music in a more meaningful way and feel the depth of each song. I love it. I hear songs from a new perspective now and appreciate music more than I ever have.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use the basics, including Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive. I also use Pocket and Bitly. The music services I use are SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Music. I also subscribe to Pollstar and CelebrityAccess for updates on the live space and Next Big Sound to keep my finger on the pulse of artists on the rise.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Right now, I’m reading “Exponential Organizations” by Salim Ismail, and it’s blowing my mind. It teaches you how to build a killer new business model and provides best practices for the technology that’s defining a new era in how business is done.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Aubrey Marcus is the CEO of Onnit, a vitamin and health company based in Austin, Texas. Onnit is focused on “total human optimization.” Aubrey is my cousin, and I’ve been close to him my entire life. He’s really turning into a leader in the fitness and consciousness movements. He’s willing to lead by example and put himself on the line to try new practices and remedies for the good of all.

Alex Kirshbaum is my business partner and brother. It’s always been a dream of ours to build a business together. Although we’re cut from the same cloth and love and respect each other, we’re different in a lot of ways, so he brings a different perspective. His vision and ability to execute make him one of the best young creative executives in the world.

Toby Daniels is one of my best friends. He’s the founder of Social Media Week and is truly on the pulse of social media innovation. He’s a wordsmith and serial entrepreneur who’s always challenging me to question, think through everything, and push myself to new heights personally and professionally. We meet regularly to keep each other’s visions on track.

Elliott Wilson is the greatest hip-hop journalist of all time. I get the privilege to work with him on a regular basis. He hosts and co-produces CRWN, our hit web series that interviews the biggest names in music. Elliott has reinvented his career from a print magazine editor to the next generation of digital cool by leveraging social media to stay visible and on the pulse. He’s a guy with values and a tremendous worth ethic. He’ll always be involved with what’s hot or relevant in hip-hop.

Funkmaster Flex has been the No. 1 radio DJ for over 20 years. In such a competitive world, Funk has been there from the beginning and has stayed in the No. 1 slot day in and day out while working a grueling schedule. Twenty years deep, he seems sharper, smarter, and hungrier than ever. I don’t know how he does it!


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