Jesse Kirshbaum and the Intersection of Music, Brands, and Technology
Jesse Kirshbaum and the Intersection of Music, Brands, and Technology

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By Lisa Marie

December 3, 2023

Music, Brands, and Technology are much more than buzzwords for Jesse Kirshbaum. They’re the foundational elements of his career, and three passion points which have helped guide his life’s trajectory. After beginning his career developing talent and founding Nue Agency back in 2008, Jesse has grown into a thought-leader within the music industry. Nue Agency is now an award-winning creative agency, with Jesse leading the charge as the organization continues to leverage the power of music to foster deep connections with consumers. Jesse currently authors the leading music newsletter on LinkedIn, and was recently appointed as an adjunct professor at The American University in Washington D.C.. We recently spoke with Jesse, where he reflected on the transformation of Nue Agency since its inception, his ‘Beats + Bytes’ Newsletter, and the special ability that music has to connect the world. 


You founded Nue Agency back in 2008, with your sights set on leading the next chapter of the music business. What inspired you to launch your own creative agency?

Jesse: I created Nue Agency because I wanted to do something new and different from what was already out there. We saw music as this undervalued, underrepresented opportunity to connect the world. We wanted to come up with a music agency for a modern time that really embraced technology, that embraced the college market, that embraced brand partnerships, and just to try and be something different and something forward thinking than what was already in existence. 


During the early days of Nue, you represented an abundance of talent that ultimately grew to become the next class of leaders in music, some of which included Clipse, J.Cole, Meek Mill, Action Bronson, and more. In your perspective, what makes “great” artists such as the ones I just mentioned stand out? 

There's never one breakout moment, one career defining moment. I always am a big believer that success is a part of compounding and compounding in good habits. So an artist that really breaks through and stays broken is someone that just is going to outwork the competition, that is going to have a long term mindset, that is going to build relationships and nurture them, and someone that's going to continue to work on their craft. Obviously, a good song is a great jumping off point, but that's not always the be-all end-all of what makes a great artist. I also really value the live experience. I think that the live show and the live magic is the difference maker for an artist that might not have that “big record”. It’s a difference maker in taking that big record and hype, and turning it into fandom. 


Nue now specializes in scaling brands to new heights and connecting them with consumers in unprecedented ways. What motivated you to pivot from working directly with talent, to working in brand partnerships?

Black Thought wrote a book recently, and he kind of summed it up where every seven years the body changes, and in that case, you should also reinvent yourself in a lot of ways. We represented artists, I represented bands for seven years under New Agency and thought that I'd done a lot, but I didn’t feel like I was really tapping into my true skills as a producer, as a creative, as a writer, as someone that was passionate about innovation as an agent. It's exciting, especially working with artists and working with artists early on in their career as they explode. It was a lot of fun to find talent and to come up with out-of-the-box marketing campaigns, but as these artists got bigger and more successful, I was really limited in the scope of what a booking agent can do. I was basically confined to routing tours, taking dates, getting festivals, and it was fun a couple of times around the block, but ultimately it was a 24/7 gig. I was always on planes, I was working on weekends. There was a lot of competition from the big agencies who were constantly trying to poach my artists, and when you're coming up against a much bigger entity, it's hard. 

I wanted to change the business model to a creative agency, and really do things in an innovative way in the music and brand space. I felt like there was a niche that was missing in the business, that music and brands were kind of an underserved market and kind of an undervalued market when it comes to the bottom line or the P&L on an artist's release. I just started to see that this is a big opportunity. The biggest stories in music during the past decade have been Beats and Dre, Rihanna with Fenty, Yeezy, and just so many of these brand partnerships that ended up being a breaking opportunity for artists. Our agency is set up differently. At this stage, the company is built in a way where we can create and we can be entrepreneurial – we're not your grandpa's agency. We look at this as an opportunity to be as big as our ideas and to create things where we can partner with artists, we can be entrepreneurial with brands, and we can work with startups. This transition ultimately meant that I could still work with artists, still be in music, but have a role where it would work for me for the next decade of my life, where I wouldn't have to be traveling like wild. I look a lot younger at 40 than I do at 30. 


One of the pillars of Nue is leveraging the power of music to make deep connections with consumers. In your opinion, what is it about music in particular that enables these deep connections to take place? 

Music is so visceral, it's so universal. It's the great connector. It's the universal language. People might not like sports, people might not be foodies, people might not really be into high art. But music, everybody connects to. Like when you're born, your heart catches a beat, a rhythm with the universe, and that's how you know you're alive. You can transcend boundaries and countries and cities with the right music. Everybody can listen to it, everybody can have a reaction. So, I look at music as this great connector and great unifier,and I realize that it's the lowest barrier to entry. Also, when you want to shift culture, it's a Trojan horse. A song can get you in rooms or in ears or in earbuds in ways that nothing else can and it travels so fast. I think that music ends up being this great vehicle for culture marketing, and it's kind of the red thread across all marketing plans, or it should be. My whole thesis for Nue Agency is that every brand should have a music strategy and should be thinking about music in some capacity in how their brand relates to their consumers. 


The intersection of music and technology is something that you’re incredibly passionate about. Over the years, you’ve grown to become a well-respected thought leader as it pertains to how Streaming and Web3 have, and will continue to, shape the future of the music industry. Could you give us a hot-take prediction on the future evolution of music tech?

It's really an interesting time when it comes to technology and culture because Web3 is still really taking shape, and it's unclear how it's going to work and the direction it's going to go. But we've seen this with Web1 and Napster where music was at the forefront, and Web2 with social media and Twitter and Instagram where again, musicians were the most popular or some of the most popular on these platforms. We can sure as heck bet that the early use cases that are going to define the paradigm when it comes to the metaverse, when it comes to smart contracts and fan clubs and fandom. When it comes to AI and using AI to create musicians or to enhance musicians brands, you can bet that music is going to be at the forefront of this all. 

I would say my big prediction, though, is that more artists are going to start brands. I think that music is still an important revenue stream, and even more importantly, it's a very valuable piece of IP. But, it is definitely one of the many pieces of the pie that I think artists are going to be focused on when we create multiple streams of income as a modern artist. You don't have to be Taylor Swift or Jay-Z to launch a brand. We're seeing this in the influencer world where you can find a product or a passion point and create a $20, $30, $50 million business in six months to a year with the right team behind you. For me, my focus is that – helping artists to create IP and to create brands. I think that's a business that we've seen some big success on the major level, but we're going to see a lot more success on the kind of mid-tier and emerging level. That's the staple, and that's the area that I would bet on and would want to usher in. 


Beats + Bytes is Nue Agency’s official email newsletter, and provides more than 15K subscribers with a weekly round-up of news and trends within the worlds of music, brands, and technology. How did this newsletter come into fruition, and why should people be signing-up for it?

Beats + Bytes is an iteration of something we used to do early on with Nue Agency, which was these sound control events. We would bring people together around different content pieces or different kinds of ideas in the intersection of music and technology. From that, rather than doing events, we got busy with other stuff, and really focused on doing this at scale with a newsletter. Beats and Bytes is basically a breakdown of everything happening weekly in the intersection of music, technology and brand marketing. I curate it in a way that kind of feels like I'm going to the gym on trends, because each week I'm reading 100 articles, I'm picking ten that I think this audience will appreciate, and I’m writing a POV component to it. Something that's striking, or something that’s on my mind, or something that’s a project that Nue Agency’s working on. I use Beats + Bytes as this kind of communication tool to the industry, but also as a way to provide value, show curation skills, and be a voice for ideas that I think are important. 


What’s something that artists should be prioritizing outside of just creating new music?

I think artists should be working on their relationships with fans. How do you build a relationship with your fans in a meaningful way? It could be social. It could just be your music being appreciated at scale. It could be live shows. But with technology and with the changing landscapes of the market, you can connect with fans now in new ways. If it's utilizing live streaming, if it's utilizing product creation, if it's creating innovative master classes about what your brand stands for, I think that it. For a long time, artists did not know who their fans were except at the shows. Now, they're getting more and more data to communicate directly with fans on a one-to-one level. Artists really need to think about themselves as a D-to-C business and brand, and understand what that looks like when they're building customer service and relationships with tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands to millions of fans at scale. And also, how can they better super-serve those fans to sell them more than just listen to their song? The business is no longer just “listen to my song”. The business is so much bigger, and if they can start thinking about themselves as these direct to consumer businesses, they are so much more powerful. Everything changes when they figure out how to connect deeper with their fans and super-serve them. 


Jesse Kirshbaum Slide 2


What piece of advice would you give to young artists who are looking to land brand partnerships? 

In this day and age, you don't have to be massive to land a brand partnership. You just need to be clear on what your social strategies are. I think you need to be baiting brands. I think you need to know clearly what your brand stands for, who you are, what you're into, create different facets to your personality, and then post accordingly. If you're a skateboarder, add that layer to your dynamic. If you're into fashion, you should be posting about fashion. You should be letting people know that this is a passion point for you. I think we've seen success when these brand partnerships don't look like a sponsorship or pay for play. Yes, that comes with it, but I think we really should look at it as, “how can I help the brand to achieve my goals?”. Really, I think one important understanding when it comes to artists' standpoints is that it's very hard to work with brands, and so they need to be accommodating. If they want to do brand partnerships, they’ve got to understand that brands have a certain set of guidelines, a certain set of regulations, and a certain set of expectations. Not every artist is going to get those deals. It's Pepsi and Oreo. These are companies that are way bigger than any artist on a global stage, and so they really can make a big difference for an artist. But, an artist needs to be very willing to play ball as long as it's not compromising their integrity. 


This past Spring, you taught “The Streaming Revolution” as an adjunct instructor at American University’s Kogod School of Business. With all the knowledge that you’ve amassed throughout your career, how does it feel to have the opportunity to share what you’ve learned in a classroom environment?

It's fantastic. It came from early on when we started a Nue Agency, and were focusing on that college market to find artists, to break artists. It’s wonderful to be back in the college campus environment, but this time as a professor talking about a really interesting kind of subject that I've seen my entire career, which is the streaming revolution. It's incredible to be able to create this curriculum where we're teaching a group of dedicated, smart, passionate business school students about where things have been, where things are at right now, and then where things are going. I really enjoy having the students, and teaching them how to develop their own POV and create their own thoughts on the opportunities and the passion points for the industry. It's something that is a challenge, but it's a great way to connect with kids in a deeper way and help inspire the next evolution of great music executives. 


Jesse Kirshbaum Slide 3


If Nue Agency was to curate a festival that included artists from all eras and genres, what would the lineup look like and where would it take place?

It'd be so fun to do these boutique music festivals. Right now it feels like these mass media events are great for business, but there's this huge trend when it comes to smaller, more gourmet experiences. I would definitely focus on the intersection of content and commerce. I'd love to see panels and performances and live music and comedy and interactivity and food. I think all of that, and art, would make for a really awesome kind of new-wave Outside Lands where you could have all the best of all worlds in this kind of limited capacity. In terms of place, I think I would choose to do it in Brooklyn, New York, or Miami, Florida, or Costa Rica. Or Mexico City. Mexico City is just like a hotbed for trends and I think that it would be really amazing to bring an influential kind of staple or brand into that city that highlights what's going on in Mexico City to a larger room full of tastemakers. Yeah, I mean, I think it really depends on the budget. Right. I would have to kind of run that through and see who the right artists are for the right occasion and then see them in accordingly. There's so many wonderful artists, but we really take curation at the heart to what the objectives are. So, I mean, I could just tell you who my favorite artists are and just make, like, the Jesse K festival, but I kind of passed that point in my life where in this business I look at it all as a production and a P&L and a goal. I would kind of book the talent based on the objectives that we're trying to hit versus my 50th birthday party, which would be a different vibe altogether, and definitely feature a lot of 90s Hip-Hop. 


What’s one book that you would recommend to people? 

I think that probably the most impactful book in terms of being better and bettering yourself is ‘Atomic Habits’, James Clear's book. That book really helped me hone really important compounding skills, because if you're thinking long term – every week, every month, every day – you can just get incrementally better over years. You're going to be so much more powerful as a person. Your relationships are going to better, your health is going to better, your wealth is going to better, your knowledge of art is going to better, and your ability to create is going to better. So I think that's one of those books that really teaches you the science of compounding your habits to make the most impact possible. 


What’s one album that you’d take wherever you go?

My favorite album and go-to is Watch the Throne. I feel like you could put that album on from A-to-Z, and have a vibe set. Even though Kanye is falling out of favor and Jay-Z is an elder statesman at this point in the game, that album takes me to a place, and I pretty much love every song from start to finish. If I was on a deserted island, I could find reasons for each of the songs to really get me pumped.


Jesse Kirshbaum Slide 5


What does the phrase “big ass kid” mean to you? 

A big ass kid is somebody that knows how to have a good time and tap into their inner self – their inner joyful, youthful, uninhibited self. They’ve now grown up, but know that they can still find that little person inside, and have a ball within the playground of life. A big ass kid is someone who can tap into who they are in their essence. The little Jesse, the five year old that's been uninhibited by all of these other lessons of life.


Jesse Kirshbaum Slide 4


If you’d like to sign-up for Beats and Bytes, and receive a curated collection of the best news and trends in music, brands, and technology delivered straight to your dome each week, then click here


You can find Jesse on IG here: @jessekay

Written by: Shamus Hill