‘Don’t ever chase the hype. Stick to what you love and you can’t go wrong.’

MBW’s Inspiring Women series profiles female executives who have risen through the ranks of the business, highlighting their career journey – from their professional breakthrough to the senior responsibilities they now fulfill. Inspiring Women is supported by Virgin Music Group.

At UTA, Cheryl Paglierani reps some of the biggest names in US hip hop today — including Post Malone, Cardi B, Offset, 21 Savage and Chance the Rapper, to name a few.

She’s spent the last 17 years journeying through the agency world, building up her contacts book and experience, stopping at WMA, CAA and The Agency Group before landing at her current role in 2016.

Working in music is all Paglierani can ever remember wanting to do. Her career started after graduating from a music business course at the University of New Haven, with an unglamorous receptionist job at dance record label, Robbins.

Desperate to get her foot in the door, she schlepped the hour-and-a-half journey twice a day from Connecticut to New York, getting up at 5am to answer phones and assist people in the office. “I absolutely hated it,” she remembers. “Answering phones is not fun!”

A trainee program at WMA gave her an out and a contact put a good word in to top agent Cara Lewis, who repped Kanye West, Eminem and Rihanna. Paglierani managed to make such a good impression, thanks to being a huge fan of the acts on Lewis’ roster, that she skipped the program and was hired on the spot.

“One day, I was answering phones and the next, I was right in the thick of the music business. It was pretty awesome,” Paglierani remembers. (On her first day in the office, she was asked to call then Kanye West manager, Al Branch — “the most exciting thing that ever happened in my life!”)

This year, Paglierani has Post Malone, 21 Savage with Drake and Dominic Fike on the road. She’s also working with up-and-coming Columbia signing, Jessie Murph, who will embark on her second tour in September.

Here, we chat to Paglierani about what makes a good agent, lessons learned across her career, the state of play in the live music market and her bugbear with the way labels sign artists.

Across your career, what have you learned about what it takes to be a good agent?

You need to be able to think long term. In our business, it’s so easy to get caught up in striking while the iron’s hot and I see a lot of artists make mistakes early on and do things that might be more money driven, rather than longevity driven. Being able to look at where an artist is at and develop a plan for where they want to go, without skipping any steps, is so crucial to artist development. I try to think about every opportunity as a building block to what’s next and how it fits into the overall story.

“I try to intentionally look for artists that are multifaceted and can do things in other areas, beyond just being a touring act.”

You really have to be in it with your clients, not just from a transactional level, which our business can usually be like, but by getting to know them as a person. Where do their passions lie? What makes them tick? Once you know these things and are able to develop more of a personal relationship, that’s how you can be really successful in opening the doors to the rest of the agency. We always want to start with building touring and it all goes back to that, but how do you unlock the doors they might not be thinking of and explore other areas that you have at your fingertips in a full service agency?

I try to intentionally look for artists that are multifaceted and can do things in other areas, beyond just being a touring act. Maybe there are going to be opportunities in film and TV, the gaming space, they’re going to write a book someday or they want to start a podcast. What other things can we do that are authentic to what they’re passionate about? Our job is not just, ‘Okay, let’s book the tour, put it on sale and that’s it.’

What are the biggest career-related mistakes or missteps that you’ve made and what did you learn from those experiences?

There were certainly a few times, early on in my career, where I may have taken on an artist who had a little buzz building [due to] fear that I’d miss out if it became something big. I learned very quickly that that’s no way to operate. I will work one thousand times harder for an artist I’m truly passionate about, versus one who may be having a moment right now but I’m not truly a fan of.

“I will work one thousand times harder for an artist I’m truly passionate about, versus one who may be having a moment right now but I’m not truly a fan of.”

I can honestly say that of all the artists I work with, I’m fans of all of them. I relate to all of them in different ways and I truly enjoy listening to their music, watching their shows or just hanging out with them as friends. I can’t think of the last time I went to a client’s show, and I may have seen it one thousand times, and thought, ‘I can’t wait for this to be over.’ I’m always happy to see it and see how they grow, how it’s gotten better and what’s different about it. I would say to anyone who is in this [business], don’t ever chase the hype. Stick to what you love and you really can’t go wrong.

How has the role of an agent evolved during your career?

It’s changed so much. When I first started, it was mostly about booking and touring. If you’re a really big artist, you may land a brand deal or two, but that was about it. I don’t really remember there being too many artists being in movies or doing all these other things that we see them doing now. Now, everything is about full service. It’s about how we can deliver for our clients in any area they’re passionate about and build new business ventures for them. In many ways, we now operate as an extension of the management team.

I love that because we get to be helpful across the board and the possibilities of what you can create together are endless, when the team lets you in. Our brands team recently partnered Cardi B and Offset with McDonald’s, we were integral in helping Dominic Fike land his role in Euphoria and we built the financial literacy programme with 21 Savage. Web3 just became a whole new area to explore with clients so I think the role is going to continue to change as new opportunities and doors open up.

What’s the state of the live music market in the US post-COVID?

The big challenge is that we are experiencing a time of over-saturation. People’s attention spans are so short and there’s so much being thrown at us on a daily basis, that it’s making it really hard for new stars to break through in the ways they have in the past.

That being said, Live Nation is reporting the biggest numbers they’ve ever reported. So the concert industry is also still completely booming. We went up with the Post Malone summer tour [recently] and sold over 450,000 tickets across the United States for 26 shows. The excitement is still there from a consumer standpoint, I just think that we haven’t fully levelled out the over-saturation of everybody wanting to get back at it at the same time.

If you could go back to the beginning of your career and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?

I heard this quote recently that really stuck with me, which is that your level of success rarely ever succeeds your level of self-development. It’s so true. There are so many things I do now that I wish I would have started doing when I was younger, in terms of self-care. Whether it’s reading more, meditating, I listen to so many more podcasts, journaling, and just talking to yourself nicely. These kinds of things that make you feel better actually make you better at your job. I wish I started doing them earlier in my life. In the beginning of my career, it was like, ‘Go, go, go, work hard and you’ll do great things’. There wasn’t so much focus on mental health or self care.

What impact have those things had on your work?

When I meditate in the morning, I come to the office and the anxiety level is so much lower than on a day I don’t. I’m really able to focus and get through tasks or think through things more clearly. Or I’ll notice that I’ll have different ideas when I’m just sitting in the room in my house that I meditated in for 20 minutes while trying to clear my mind. It brings a level of thinking and reflection that I never had before.

Here’s a big question: what would you change about the music industry and why?

I would change the way artists get signed. I really wish that we’d see labels go back to signing artists for their belief in them as career artists and not just belief in the one song that’s trending on TikTok. Everything has become so data driven and while I definitely think data is important, gone are the days where an artist gets signed for raw talent before having any numbers. I don’t know that we’ll ever get back to that point but if it was something that I had the power to change, I absolutely would.

What impact do you think that style of signing has on the music business?

It leads to the over-saturation of the music space. I struggle sometimes with finding new artists that I’m passionate about. There’s so much to sift through because so much is coming out all at once if the labels have their focus more on, ‘Okay, how can we promote this one song and make it a hit and up the streaming numbers’ versus, ‘How can we develop this artist as a person and turn them into the next Bruce Springsteen or Michael Jackson’.

“Where’s the next Whitney Houston? We haven’t seen an artist of that calibre in so long because there’s so little focus on artist development and so much focus on pushing just the music.”

Where’s the next Whitney Houston? We haven’t seen an artist of that calibre in so long because there’s so little focus on artist development and so much focus on pushing just the music. A lot of times, the song is so much bigger than the artist’s actual persona because it’s not being built at the same time.

Virgin Music Group is the global independent music division of Universal Music Group, which brings together UMG’s label and artist service businesses including Virgin and Ingrooves.Music Business Worldwide

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