As the son of veteran agent Dennis Arfa, whose clients include Billy Joel, Metallica, Def Leppard and Rod Stewart, Jarred Arfa felt the pull of the entertainment business early on but wanted to make his own mark. And though he joined the family business, Artist Group International (AGI) — after a stint at Robert F.X. Sillerman’s licensing and rights company, CKX — he didn’t quite follow in his father’s footsteps, choosing to focus on agency management and business strategy instead of the day-to-day work of an agent.
In June, those responsibilities doubled when Jarred, 39, was promoted to executive vp/head of global music at Independent Artist Group (IAG), the talent firm formed when billionaire Ron Burkle’s The Yucaipa Companies merged AGI and the Agency for the Performing Arts, more commonly known as APA. (Yucaipa purchased AGI in 2012 and had been financing APA since 2020.)
The combined agencies now represent approximately 400 acts — a big jump from the 270 or so on AGI’s premerger roster — now that APA’s artists — among them, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill, Ne-Yo, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Cypress Hill and D’Angelo — have been folded into the mix.
That said, Jarred points out that “my role isn’t just signing clients, it’s signing agents” and growing the business as a whole. He also oversees the music division’s day-to-day operations and continues to work with his father, who is now IAG’s music division chairman. (Both manage Joel.)
Jarred, who lives with his wife and son in Manhattan, spoke to Billboard about the changes he has made at the agency. He also sized up his main competition and weighed in on WME and CAA agents’ dissatisfaction with their treatment after their companies’ initial public offering (IPO) and sale, respectively.
How did the IAG deal come together?
[Yucaipa co-founder and managing partner] Ron Burkle made an investment in APA during the pandemic. Frankly, we were not interested in them at first. The way their music department was run was not the way we ran ours, but I also saw they had some nice pieces of business. We met with Jim Osborne, who’s now [IAG] CEO, and we were really impressed by what he did with 50 Cent and Mary J. Blige — reinvigorating their brands through film and TV and how that enhanced their touring. So we started very organically. We decided not to commingle our music departments, but we had some artists interested in film and TV and started working with projects for Jane’s Addiction and Ghost. Eventually, we became agreeable to doing something bigger with APA if they handed the reins over to us in music. We merged, and Jim and Ron bet on me as the guy to help clean up their current music business in terms of who to keep and who not to keep.
How did Yucaipa’s culture affect IAG?
Their mantra has always been to let entrepreneurs be entrepreneurs and stay hands-off in the running of the business. We have one person from Yucaipa who works with us on a day-to-day basis, and then we go direct to Ron for bigger-picture things. When we sold the business to Yucaipa in 2011, I was still in my 20s, and I never felt he judged me by age. It was simply, “Are you smart? Can you get the job done?” If you deliver for him, you continue to rack up credibility. If I email him on something work-related, I’ll usually get a response quickly. It’s incredible, honestly, to have access to someone at that level.
How many clients does the company currently oversee?
In terms of touring, we have over 400 clients. That said, there were another 400 that were cut from the roster. We scrapped APA’s territorial system — which revolved around adult contemporary [acts] — and parted with some of the people in that model that didn’t work with our culture. We shifted some of the workforce and resources to where they were needed, which was their thriving urban department.
AGI was a music-first booking agency. How has merging with an agency involved in branding, film and TV benefited your roster?
Initially, [our music focus] served us well. We got a lot of clients who were promised the world by the major agencies, and when nothing was delivered for them, they’d come to us and say, “At least we know you’ll handle our touring well.” At the same time, it made it difficult to attract younger clients who were looking for [film/TV opportunities] and hoping for a branding deal. We need those other assets now to get us in the room for touring, which the APA partnership unlocks for us. And then we show them how much of a difference we can make on the touring side.
You have said that one of your most important responsibilities at AGI is to “stay neutral.” What does that mean?
It means I’m totally neutral when it comes to how we use our resources. A lot of times when we do sign an artist and I’m involved in the signing, I’m the one deciding which agent makes the most sense for the project because I’m the most versed in our agents’ skill sets and which one’s personality type suits the artist.
Billy Joel’s Madison Square Garden residency was a huge success. How will its completion affect business?
Nothing in our strategy changes. Obviously, you can never replace a once-in-a-lifetime-caliber artist on the level of Billy Joel, but as he recently said, he plans to continue to work after his residency at MSG is complete. We also have many other arena and stadium headliners.
How does IAG stack up against a competitor like Wasserman Music?
They’ve inherited a very strong music business. I think the problem they have — and they can dismiss it all they want, but it’s the same problem we had at AGI — is that they’re attached to a sports business. They don’t have the traditional film and TV core that is so important to so many of our artists. That’s an impediment.
Both WME and CAA have come under fire for how employees were treated during WME’s second IPO and CAA’s sale to Artemis. Agents at both firms were extremely disappointed with the amount and value of the shares they received. What’s your take?
First, I want to acknowledge that CAA’s $7 billion valuation is amazing for the agency business. As far as taking care of their people, when it comes to bonuses, I’ve always believed in the split model because there’s no arguments at the end of the day. The agent knows, based on a set formula, what they’re going to earn. There’s no gray area to be worked out, and that leads to a lot less headaches come those year-end conversations.
You’ve been public about your support of Ticketmaster. What is the government doing wrong in its constant probing of the ticketing space?
They should be focusing on the secondary market. That’s where the real problem lies. But they get lobbied hard by companies like StubHub. As agents, the best we can do is get as much of the high-end revenue for our artists that otherwise would go to the secondary market while keeping enough tickets available at affordable prices. Ticketmaster tools like Dynamic and Platinum are very helpful.
Do you think programs like Verified Fan are here to stay?
As much as I like Ticketmaster programs, this is the one that I don’t think works. Look at the backlash from Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen fans. Ticketmaster is making people take an extra step, and in exchange, the fans believe they’ll get a ticket at a fair price — neither of which is necessarily true. Verified Fan creates this false hope for the fan, and while the intention is noble, it ends up creating a lot more frustration than reward.
How often do you communicate with your father on agency business?
We speak a couple of times a day about what’s going on in his artist world and what his needs are. I would say we spend at least one phone call a day talking about Billy Joel and strategy. It is always a lot of fun.
When you two get together for family events, do you talk business?
It’s a blend. We could be talking about my son for one minute, then it goes back to the business. Then we talk about sports, and it’s back to business again.