Music's Top Business Managers: The 30 Best Money Mavens in the Industry
"Private planes are the worst choice out there."
Making money in the music industry is hard enough for artists and executives. To help them spend smartly, invest wisely and (legally) keep as many of their dollars as possible from the taxman, they turn to business managers.
The task of managing artist income has become more complicated than ever, as revenue flows from more sources than before, thanks to the rise of branding deals and streaming services, for example.
Of course, there are endless places to spend money, and investment opportunities are limited only by the imagination. Money manager Mike Vaden, asked about the more unusual places stars seek to stash their cash, replies: "Do you mean the vintage brandy collection, the 1955 Airstream travel trailer, the 18th-century pistols or the Russian art?"
To compile this list, Billboard surveyed industry sources, including executives who rank in our annual Power 100 list, asking their choice of the top players in the money-management field. For large firms, we feature the partners most frequently cited by those sources.
BILL ZYSBLAT, 65
“If you have to be an accountant,” quips Bill Zysblat, the 65-year-old founding partner of RZO, “you want to be me.”
The low-key Manhattan resident and father of three has been involved with the business affairs of The Rolling Stones since 1975 and launched RZO (Rascoff Zysblat Organization) with partner Joe Rascoff in 1987. Today, the New York-based RZO has 35 employees handling the business dealings, from the finances of global touring to tax planning, of about 30 clients, including the Stones, U2, Sting, Shania Twain, David Byrne, Joe Jackson and Luis Miguel, along with the estates of John Lennon and David Bowie.
Bowie, who died in January, was a long-held client and close friend. Zysblat calls the artist’s death “the saddest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life.” Zysblat’s business accomplishments with Bowie were many; the best known was the creation of Bowie Bonds, securities backed by the 25 albums that Bowie recorded before 1990.
The groundbreaking deal “had to be the single most significant financial move coming out of one conversation with a client,” says Zysblat. He adds that Bowie Bonds “played out far better than projected. The bondholders won, David won. It was a true win/win, which doesn’t happen often in our business.”--
ANTHONY SALEH, 30
Saleh is the rare artist manager (he represents Future, Alina Baraz and Nas) who also is known as a savvy investor. “I want to make sure I don’t come off as a business manager,” says the Beverly Hills resident, who is quick to credit those who do guide the finances for his acts. Saleh, a protege of Atom Factory’s Troy Carter, has teamed with Nas to run Queensbridge Venture Partners with some $15 million under management and a piece of rising companies including Dropbox, Lyft and MakeSpace. The fund’s expected internal rate of return: 25 to 30 percent.--
MICHAEL KARLIN, 62
MICKEY SEGAL, 59
Managing partner, Nigro Karlin Segal Feldstein & Bolno
Nigro Karlin Segal Feldstein & Bolno has seen growth in each of the past 25 years, including a 10 percent uptick in 2015. These five executives are among 26 partners at the firm, whose clients are said to include Drake and Pharrell Williams (NKSFB declined to confirm its roster). Offering an example of the company's acumen, Segal recalls guiding one client in the sale of his business in a way that saved $30 million in federal taxes, while recommending an investment to another client that returned 20 percent annually for three years. And Segal, who lives in Arcadia, Calif., and served three four-year terms as the town's mayor, has other sweet investment tips: "The maple syrup and honey business," he says. "The demand for the product is surprisingly substantial."
FRANK BUMSTEAD, 74
JAMIE CHEEK, 45
CHUCK FLOOD, 71
MARY ANN MCCREADY
President/co-founder/owner/business manager, Flood Bumstead McCready & McCarthy
Flood, Bumstead, McCready & McCarthy is the go-to firm for financial guidance for such top artist managers as Clint Higham, who represents Kenny Chesney. Blake Shelton and Keith Urban also have been reported as clients. Among FBMM's best moves of late have been to "develop substantial endorsement arrangements with our clients," says the Brooklyn-born Bumstead. Cheek, raised in Nashville and London, emphasizes "my partners that I pull in, to get the best advice" to clients. McCready, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, laments that deals now offered to new acts make it "difficult to support themselves." For Flood, the father of two, a recent high point was "celebrating our 25th year in business."
PETER FAIRLEY, 67
"Every day presents a new challenge," says Fairley, citing an artist who got an IRS assessment for $2 million in back taxes in 2015. Fairley confirmed it was an error; the IRS had treated bank transfers as income. The real damage? "A thousand dollars. The client was extremely happy." The Manhattan resident doesn't name his clients (although Wilco has credited him as its financial manager). A chartered accountant in the United Kingdom and a CPA in the United States, he says, "Understanding both countries has been invaluable."
W. ERIC FULTON, 53
Founder/managing partner, Fulton Management
Fulton works with an eclectic client roster that includes Hall & Oates, Meat Loaf, Colbie Caillat, Jenny Lewis and Sarah Watkins. With expertise in such areas as foreign tax credits, the Los Angeles native and father of three also offers advice that hits closer to home: "We had a client put 70,000 dollars into his child's college savings plan instead of buying a new Tesla."
TODD GELFAND, 58
WILLIAM HARPER JR., 58
STANLEY LIM, 46
RONALD E. NASH, 57
DAVID PHILLIPS, 48
Partners, Gelfand Rennert & Feldman
In the half-century since Gelfand's father started the firm, Gelfand Rennert & Feldman has grown to include more than 300 employees in five offices, in and around the music capitals of New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, with clients reportedly including Bob Dylan and Will Smith. Gelfand, a New York native and father of three who lives in Santa Monica, says Gelfand Rennert & Feldman has "successfully navigated the changes in the music industry" amid the rapid evolution of "formatting, delivery, touring, digital [services]" and more. "The challenges that face the music industry," he says, "we have addressed through our long-standing relationships."
BERNARD GUDVI, 69
Founding partner, GSO Business Management
Gudvi remembers when tracking artist income was relatively straightforward. "But with millions of streams coming from all different services, it has become very complex," says the father of two (and grandfather of three), a Vietnam War veteran who still displays his dog tags. He has been associated with such acts as Nickelback but declines to name his clients. "We have really beefed up our royalty department to understand how the money is flowing -- and chasing it when it isn't, but should be."
MICHAEL KAPLAN, 45
Partner, Miller Kaplan Arase
"I'm the business manager who tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear," says Kaplan, a Studio City resident and father of three, who explains why he's willing to tell clients when their spending is outpacing their income. "At the end of the day they're going to look at me and say, ‘Where did all my money go? What happened? You were advising me.' " His proudest accomplishment of the past year was helping a client with a high-end branding deal. While declining to reveal details, he says, "When it got done, we were extremely happy."
DAVID LEVIN, 58
CEO, DL Business Management
For Jessica Simpson, Levin led the acquisition by Sequential Brand Group of a majority interest in The Jessica Simpson Collection, which has reported annual retail sales of some $1 billion. A father of two and graduate of the Fordham University School of Law, Levin this past year also helped guide the finances for John Legend's renewed agreement with music publisher BMG and Chrissy Teigen's venture into cookbook publishing with Cravings, a New York Times best-seller. For any client, Levin says he'll only step in when "their proposed spending [is] not in their best interest."
MATT LICHTENBERG, 58
Partner, Level Four Business Management
Lichtenberg says that most financial managers agree on the worst money move for an artist: "Everybody's going to say the same thing: private planes," declares the New York native who now lives in Pacific Palisades, Calif. "Private planes are the worst drug out there. By the time you realize you can't afford to buy [one] it's usually too late." The father of two, whose clients have included Limp Bizkit and The Smashing Pumpkins, has a clear goal for his clients, and it has nothing to do with planes: "To keep financial security in their lives."
Executive director, FFO
Rudolph has been cited as the financial adviser to high-net-worth executives including Apple's Jimmy Iovine (although he declines to confirm his client roster). An international tax attorney who grew up in South Africa, Rudolph joined FFO in fall 2015 when his firm Capell Rudolph merged with FFO, an affiliate of Focus Financial Partners. He describes his work as "a creative outlet. Creating a tax strategy, you have to navigate the legalities as well as the numbers."
SOLOMON SMALLWOOD, 47
Owner/CEO, TSG Financial Management
Managing finances for Justin Bieber, Chris Brown and, for many years, Usher has brought Smallwood income that he has given back, in part, to help build a homeless shelter in his native Atlanta. "We've managed to transition 50 families off the street," says Smallwood, the son of a minister. He also guided Usher's minority investment, a decade ago, in the Cleveland Cavaliers -- allowing Usher to bask in the glory of the team's NBA championship in June.
LOU TAYLOR, 50
CEO, Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group
Taylor is proud of her work with Britney Spears' manager, Larry Rudolph, to set up the singer's Las Vegas residency at the Axis at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. The show has grossed $82 million since it opened in 2013. "To Britney's credit, she was willing to take the risk." Taylor boasts an all-star roster of clients, including Steven Tyler, Gwen Stefani, Meghan Trainor, Florida Georgia Line, Martina McBride, Desmond Child and now Jennifer Lopez for her Vegas residency.
MIKE VADEN, 64
Principal, Vaden Group/Elliott Davis Decosimo
When one of Vaden's clients wants to spend excessive money, "we have to have a prayer meeting about it," quips the Tennessee native. He doesn't name his clients but has been cited in the past by acts from Clint Black to The Kentucky Headhunters. The top money mistake that artists make, he says, is "spending today what they think will come in tomorrow. Because the peak income years are just that: the peak."
Senior managing director/co-owner, Provident Financial Management
Vuylsteke is constantly "trying to add value and not just crunch numbers" for acts including Shakira, Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers. He also values his long-term relationship with two key executives. Guy Oseary, manager of Madonna and U2, "has been a client since he was 18 and saw my name on his favorite albums," he says. And Ron Laffitte signed on when he previously managed Megadeth. "We went skydiving and jumped out of a plane with Dave Mustaine." The most unusual investment by a client? "Goat sperm," says Vuylsteke. "I did not make that up."
DAVID WEISE, 49
Senior partner, David Weise & Associates
"Our client Carole King celebrated the 45th anniversary of her Tapestry album with a concert in [London's] Hyde Park," says Weise, a father of two, who also reps Coldplay, The Weeknd, Jack White, Deadmau5, Usher, Megadeth and Skrillex, among others. King's performance called for a splurge, as Weise flew many of his firm's staff to England for the July 3 show. For clients seeking his guidance on spending, "I tell them 'no' quite often," he says. "But at the end of the day, it's their money."
KRIS WIATR, 44
President, Wiatr & Associates
"Everything I've done that's successful is less about turning a profit," says Wiatr, "and more about investing in an artist I believe in." For the Kentucky native, who now lives in Nashville's Brentwood suburb, that perspective has allowed his 18-member firm to boost the fortunes of clients like Lee Brice, Craig Campbell and Chris Stapleton. His goal for all acts he represents, he says, is to teach them "to be the CEOs of their careers."
VICTOR WLODINGUER, 63
Partner/practice leader in music business management, Citrin Cooperman
"We are a concierge service," says Wlodinguer, whose clients include Q Prime Management founders Peter Mensch and Cliff Burnstein, The Strokes and Interpol. The Argentina native negotiates tax-withholding agreements for touring artists, so the IRS doesn't hold back 30 percent of concert grosses. "I have to tell you: I have some clients that are very smart about these issues."
CONTRIBUTORS: Ed Christman, Chuck Dauphin, Andy Gensler, Steve Knopper, Robert Levine, Gail Mitchell, Melinda Newman, Cathy Appelfeld Olson, Alex Pham, Ray Waddell