Firebird takes flight, acquiring a stake in Red Light Management – with more deals on the way

Nat Zilkha and Nathan Hubbard

At the top of this year, Music Business Worldwide told you we’d be keeping a close eye on the moves of Nat Zilkha – a respected deal-maker with proven pedigree in the music industry.

US-based Zilkha left his role as a Partner at KKR in December 2021. He’d spent the previous 15 years at the investment house, where he was instrumental in various major music-related deals involving the likes of Ryan Tedder, BMG, and others.

Announcing his departure from KKR last year, Zilkha teased that he would soon be launching “a new, entrepreneurial endeavor focused on the music industry”, while maintaining his role as Chairman of Gibson Brands (and also continuing to act as a senior advisor to KKR).

If you checked Zilkha’s LinkedIn today, you’d learn that following his departure from KKR, he became co-founder and Executive Chairman of a new business called Firebird Music Holdings. He describes this Aspen, Colorado-headquartered firm as an “artist-centered, music-focused media company”.

Over the past few weeks, MBW has been learning more about Firebird, and its strategy to buy its way into fast-growing music companies – particularly artist management companies – of various shapes and sizes.

We’ve learned via our sources, for example, that Zilkha’s co-founder in Firebird is Los Angeles-based Nathan Hubbard, a former CEO of Ticketmaster and a former global head of Media & Commerce at Twitter.

We’ve additionally learned that Firebird’s primary backer is Raine Group, an existing investor in music companies such as SoundCloud, C3 Presents, and Amuse.

(In addition to its own M&A activity, Raine has been an advisor in recent headline-grabbing deals including music gaming company Harmonix’s sale to Epic Games (2021) and Alamo Records’ nine-figure sale to Sony Music (also 2021).)

Firebird and its logo now appear on Raine Group’s website, within its investment portfolio.

The biggest move that Firebird has made so far?

According to multiple sources with knowledge of the matter, it’s acquired a significantly-sized minority stake in one of the world’s most established artist management companies: Red Light Management.

Red Light was founded by Coran Capshaw – who continues to lead the company – 31 years ago.

Today, Red Light runs multiple offices on both sides of the Atlantic, representing artists including Alabama Shakes, Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Dave Matthews Band, Interpol, Lady A, Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, Phish, The Strokes, and many more.

(MBW contacted Coran Capshaw for comment on this story but didn’t hear back ahead of publication.)

“Firebird is going after at least a handful of management companies right now, and not just in the US. They seem to have a large stack of capital to play with.”

MBW source

Outside of Firebird’s acquisition of its stake in Red Light, none of its other deals have yet broken cover.

But we do know for sure there are other deals: One MBW source with knowledge of various M&A approaches made by Firebird in recent months said: “Firebird is going after at least a handful of management companies right now, and not just in the US. They seem to have a large stack of capital to play with.”

A slide within a deck recently sent out by Firebird to acquisition prospects and seen by MBW states that “Firebird has artist management at its core”.

This approach, says the deck, enables Firebird to “benefit from all revenue streams” surrounding an artist, including “streaming, live, IP sales, etc.”.

On his LinkedIn profile, Nat Zilkha writes: “We built Firebird to align with premium talent and empower them with shared passion for music, modern brand activation capabilities and scale financial capital.

“We partner with artists, managers, independent labels & publishers and technology providers to create an integrated ecosystem where creatives thrive.”

During his 15-year career at KKR, Nat Zilkha led or co-led KKR Credit from 2013 – 2020, during which time assets under management grew from $13 billion to over $80 billion. He also co-founded KKR’s Special Situations and Opportunistic strategy.

Zilkha’s additional leadership roles at KKR have included overseeing KKR’s Public Equity investing strategies and acting as a senior member of the North American Private Equity business.Music Business Worldwide