Next week, the EDMbiz Conference & Expo descends on Las Vegas. For the first time, this year’s event will feature a panel from the Creative Artists Agency, led by Rob Light, partner/managing director/head of CAA Music, and Darryl Eaton, co-head of contemporary music at CAA North America. The two will be joined by Maria May, Hunter Williams, Mac Clark, Bobby Koehler, and Jazz Spinder for a discussion at 1:15 p.m. on June 15.
Billboard recently caught up with Eaton to talk about his time at CAA and why the agency decided to host a panel for the first time this year. Read excerpts from the conversation below.
How did you get your start in the music business?
I was an intern at Columbia Records when I was in college and managed a couple artists on the side. I tried to get a real job after school, and ended up working for Reuters. I found my way into the CAA mailroom, started there 24 years ago. It’ll be 25 at the end of this month. I’ve been working in the music department here since, I believe, 1992. One of the first projects I ever got involved with as an upstart agent was starting the Warped Tour. Punk rock was my chosen art form in my early ears. I started representing acts in that genre.
In the last three or four years, we wanted to invest heavily in the electronic music world. I was kind of tasked with really establishing it as a division and part of the company. We’ve always represented certain high-level or iconic artists in the genre, but we started a concerted effort to really increase our footprint and investment in the area. That was my job to get that going. Now I’m one of the co-heads of the overall music department in addition to running the electronic department.
What was the transition like moving from the punk rock space to the electronic space?
It’s all about music at the end of the day. I was attracted to it because it had that DIY underground element to it, which was what originally attracted me to the punk rock music scene as a kid. It just felt exciting and interesting and on the edge — outside the standard commercial world of music.
I’ll be dead honest with you: It’s been a tremendous learning experience. It’s always fun to get curious again and really peel back the skin on the onion and getting to meet the people who wanted to help us be better versed in the scene. I know my limitations, and there’s no way this is gonna be something I’m going to be able to orchestrate or run without finding really talented and creative individuals with a vast history and knowledge of the music.
Who were some of CAA’s big early electronic clients?
Back in the day: New Order, Kraftwerk, eventually Daft Punk. Once we started the electronic division, a lot of our crucial artists came over with our agents. Hiring Maria May in our London office was pivotal. She brought 20 to 25 years of experience in electronic music and represents David Guetta, amongst many, many others.
Why decide to have this panel?
Interestingly, the electronic space is one of the only areas in the CAA music group where we’re not incumbent. There are other places that have a lot more clients in the space and have been at it with a real concerted effort for a longer time. We’ve just had so many great signings and artists that are breaking out. We wouldn’t have wanted to do anything like this until we felt like we had great momentum. Internally we’ve felt we really hit our stride.
In just three years, we’ve gone from just me and Rob Light to 15 agents and about 35 people in the department just working with electronic music. It’s taken us a while, but we’ve been meticulous about the way we’ve expanded. We’re very protective of our culture and want to make sure we keep the spirit of collaboration going forward with all our agents.
Was there a specific turning point where you felt ready to do this panel?
It was a gradual shift. You don’t want to talk the talk until you can walk the walk. We’ve had a lot of great signings this year: Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Luciano, Robin Schulz, GRiZ, Pretty Lights is having a big tour, the meteoric rise of The Chainsmokers, who are every bit a mainstream artist. They were just getting started when we started working with them. Now they’re sell-out, arena-level artists.
How do you work on maintaining that collaborative spirit that you’ve identified as one of the keys to your success?
It’s a delicate balance, and one we’ve been really protective of. When we first talked about getting into this business, we were well down the road with acquiring another agency that had been in the business for a long time. It went down to the final seconds of the deal, but what really kind of messed that part of it up was that they wanted to maintain a certain level of autonomy and didn’t want to be part of the collective — which we find helps us bring our artists’ careers up. To really utilize the assets of the company, you have to be part of his holistic group and intermix with each other.
Do you feel confident about the future health of electronic music?
Absolutely. Certain subgenres ebb and flow. New subgenres break out all the time. It’s in a constant state of metamorphosis. And this move to live [performance], where we’ve had our biggest strengths — now producers and musicians are constantly trying to bring more live elements to their work. That’s going to be a huge growth area for us, and it’s one that we’ve cut our teeth on.