Jordan Kurland is a co-founder and partner at Brilliant Corners Artist Management, which has offices in San Francisco, New York, and Seattle. The company represents a diverse array of musical artists including Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service, Toro Y Moi, Best Coast, Soccer Mommy, Real Estate, New Pornographers, Josh Ritter and Pup. Kurland is also a partner in Noise Pop Industries, which produces and promotes events including the Noise Pop Festival throughout the greater Bay Area. He was one of the founders of the groundbreaking boutique outdoor music festival Treasure Island, which ran from 2007-2018.
Kurland currently sits on the board of directors of three non-profit organizations: McSweeney’s, Stern Grove Festival, and experimental art and performance space, The Lab. Previously, he served on the boards of 826 National, Marin Headlands Center for the Arts, the Bay Area chapter of NARAS, and Revolutions Per Minute, an organization dedicated to connecting artists with social causes. Additionally, he spent five years on the board for the Independent On-Line Distribution Alliance (IODA), which was ultimately acquired by Sony.
Kurland is actively engaged in politics. He was on the entertainment advisory committees for Barack Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, and has launched several democracy-focused projects with author Dave Eggers since 2004. Most recently, Kurland and Eggers created the digital compilations Good Music to Avert the Collapse of American Democracy (Volumes 1 and 2), which raised over half a million dollars in forty-eight hours in support of the organizations Fair Fight, Color of Change, and Voting Rights Lab. Kurland also worked with the Biden campaign on the #TeamJoeSings benefit performances in advance of the 2020 US general election. Other projects include The Future Dictionary of America (2004), 90 Days, 90 Reasons (2012), and 30 Days, 30 Songs (2016).
Kurland has contributed writing to publications including Billboard.com and Boing Boing. He has a son, Theo, named after Thelonious Monk, a Bernese Mountain Dog named Bella who loves swimming in the ocean, and his favorite song of all time is “I’m One” by The Who.
Where did the idea for Brilliant Corners Artist Management come from?
I figured out while I was in college that I wanted to work around music and after a few internships, that I specifically wanted to manage artists. I was fortunate that within a year of graduating I had a job at a management company in San Francisco. I didn’t intend to live in the Bay Area as the music business was and still is, centered in Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville. At the time I thought it would be a unique opportunity to learn about a secondary market and then move back to LA or NY.
I fell in love with San Francisco, stayed, and in 1999 launched my own company, named Zeitgeist Artist Management, with a few upstart clients. Like most businesses, it was a struggle for the first few years and it wasn’t until 2003 when I was hired by Death Cab for Cutie that I found real success. Until that point, I had felt like a painter who couldn’t find the right medium. I felt I was a capable manager but whether bad luck or bad timing, none of my clients were breaking through.
Death Cab was already a successful independent band, and immediately our biggest client, but they were far from a household name. That changed with the release of their fourth album, “Transatlanticism,” in the fall of 2003. Given their trajectory, over the next few years, I hired more people, picked up more clients, and built a company. We remained Zeitgeist until late 2017 when we merged with three other managers and changed the name to Brilliant Corners Artist Management. The name is derived from one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite artists/composers, Thelonious Monk.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
This is not a typical day in ‘normal times,’ but this is what my day has been looking like since March of 2020. I get out of bed between 6 and 7 am. I make a cup of pour-over coffee, put on a record, and read a book or the New York Times on my iPad. This wakes me up while easing me into the day. I then meditate for a brief period before diving into work.
The bulk of my day is spent in front of my computer or on the phone. Communicating with clients, record labels, booking agents, business managers, attorneys, etc. During Covid, since I am not seeing people, I try to reach out to at least one friend in my industry per day. These days, my work usually wraps up by 6 pm. There is an ‘on-call’ element to my job so I do take calls in the evening and respond to emails as needed.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Collaboration is the key to bringing ideas to life. As a company, we work closely to develop and implement ideas.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Youth. I have a lot of faith in the next generation. I started noticing the creativity, collaboration and engagement in social issues a few years ago. This was furthered last summer during the BLM protests and then seeing all the energy and engagement around the Presidential Election. There’s a lot wrong with our country and society but it’s inspiring to see people, at such a young age, own their ability to enact change.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Diversity of interests. Music has been a driving force in my life since I was six years old and I feel incredibly fortunate that I have spent my entire adult life working in this industry. However, it is often the things that I am doing outside of my role as artist manager that helps to keep me inspired.
Since the early 2000s have dedicated my time as a board member to several non-profits. This, along with the projects that I’ve worked on around politics have been so, so fulfilling. I always learn things and meet people from these ‘extra-curricular activities’ that I am able to bring back into my role at Brilliant Corners.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Try to stay in the present moment, this is where opportunities make themselves available.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Radiohead hasn’t made a great album in 20 years (since ‘Kid A’). They are one of my favorite bands of all-time but …
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be honest and treat others how you want to be treated.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Invest in people. Whether as clients or employees. Surround yourself with people that you enjoy, trust and believe in. Strong relationships elevate us personally and professionally.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Losing a key client nearly a decade ago. I know it happens to just about everyone in my business (and others) but I took it personally. I overcame it by moving forward and continuing to work hard for my clients as well as bringing in new ones. I survived, the company survived and we have continued to grow and flourish. I know it’s a cliché, but we do learn more from our failures than our successes.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
An on-line music recommendation service. Not one controlled by algorithms but a real live human being who recommends albums. Music fans used to go to their local record store and the clerks were knowledgeable about what albums were likely to appeal to a customer. With record stores being scarce, this would be a way for a music consumer to interact with someone via chat or Zoom and learn about music they might not normally be exposed to. I don’t think it’s a big moneymaker but we can do better than Spotify playlists and Amazon recommendations when it comes to discovering artists or records.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Mack Weldon Ace Sweatpants. They are comfortable and durable. I’ve been getting more use out of them than I ever thought I would given Covid-life. I now own multiple pairs.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We started using Basecamp a few years ago and it’s been a great way to work on projects, share ideas, relevant articles, music etc. It has been especially helpful given that we have all been working remotely for nearly a year due to the pandemic.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recently read “In Love With the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. I’ve read a good amount about mindfulness and spirituality but this book differs in that he explains the practice and philosophy in simple and modern terms while wrapping the teachings inside a compelling narrative. It is a reminder of how fleeting life is, the importance of practicing presence and being open to new experiences.
What is your favorite quote?
“The person who doesn’t scatter the morning dew will not comb gray hairs,” Hunter S. Thompson
- Invest in people. Surround yourself with those you trust and believe in.
- Be present and open to new experiences.
- It’s important to have interests outside of your career.
- Have faith in the next generation. They have earned it.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.