(L-R): Jenna Adler, Caroline Kinzel, and Marlene Tsuchii at CAA's Los Angeles offices. (Photo: Austin Hargrave)
Rob Light, managing partner and head of music at Creative Artists Agency, had a change of heart this year regarding Billboard's Women in Music issue. And, as with most big decisions at the company, his change came from listening to his team. In the past, Light and CAA have simply opted out of the Women in Music nomination process, which specifies that executives must be nominated as individuals, not as members of a team. Since Light and CAA have preferred to focus on the firm's teamwork ethic, they previously declined to submit individual nominations.
"We've always felt that CAA's culture has been team-oriented, and I think we embody that better than anyone in the business," Light says. "So when you single out individuals, it sort of takes away from the culture that we're all working on projects together.
"At the same time," he adds, "I'm blessed to have 15 amazing women who work with me who do great work and interact with each other in a great way. For us it's always been about all of the women here and never about one, so that's why we opted out in the past."
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But when the Women in Music issue came out each year with no representation from CAA, well, that seemed a shame to Light.
"I basically talked to my whole staff, asked them, 'How does everybody feel? For years, we haven't been included. Are you all comfortable if we nominate everyone and then sort of live with the way the die falls?'
"Everyone felt -- which is the beauty of this team -- 'Yes, let's nominate five, and we'll accept what Billboard decides. At least, we can then talk about somebody from CAA that is included. And knowing you nominated all of us feels good.' It was a group decision."
Of the five women nominated by CAA, two made this year's Women in Music list: Cara Lewis, the highly regarded R&B/hip-hop agent who previously made the list when she was an agent at William Morris Endeavor, and legendary agent Carole Kinzel, who is among the most respected agents in the business, period.
Even so, Light is loathe to disregard the success of the other executives nominated by CAA:
Marlene Tsuchii has helped drive CAA's growth in international touring, particularly in comedy. Her clients include Phoenix, Two Door Cinema Club, Beck, Daft Punk, Tool, Beastie Boys, Air, the Stone Roses, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tenacious D, along with comics Russell Peters, Jeff Dunham, Chris Tucker and Sarah Silverman.
Jenna Adler is the agent navigating the tours of Akon, Deftones, Green Day, Grouplove, Imogen Heap, Joss Stone, Lenny Kravitz and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, among many others.
Emma Banks, working alongside Mike Greek, oversees CAA's London office, which five years ago was the first full-service American agency to open its doors in London and has grown from a staff of three to 25. Among Banks' artists is Billboard Woman of the Year Katy Perry.
Of course, Light is reluctant to stop with those five nominations.
"It killed me because we didn't include [marketing agent] Alison McGregor, who is unbelievable at what she does in being the first ever marketing executive at a talent agency," he says. "And we didn't include Erin Culley, who is a film talent agent who only does musicians, who is a specialist in doing crossover and has become one of the most impactful human beings in the business."
The agent business is notoriously tough, regardless of gender, and CAA does indeed seem to provide a platform where women thrive.
CAA just aims to "empower the best people to do their best work," Light says. "That so many of them happen to be women is just a function of them being really talented, regardless of their sex. If you try to hire great people and give them an environment where they can be great, then you tend to win."
Light points out that, with performance often an artist's biggest source of revenue, the agent's role is more important than ever.
"I've been blessed to have a staff that looks at the world with a big-picture point of view, and at the same time really focuses on details," he says.
"These are all women who in their own particular ways have done that.This notion of teamwork is real. We're sitting around strategizing how to get better and be better and what we should be doing for clients."
Light can easily cite the accomplishments of the women at CAA because "I'm in the trenches every day here, and I could rattle off five more women just as easily. They're all incredibly unique people, but they all do slightly different things, and when you bring them all together you think, 'Shit, this is a great business to be in, and I get to work with really smart people.' They've all had good years, [but] they work hard every year. We're just acknowledging it this year because we finally nominated somebody."