KKR music hotshot, Nat Zilkha, leaves investment giant to launch ‘new endeavor focused on the music industry’

Anyone who reads MBW will know that KKR is beefing up its presence in the music industry at a rate of knots.

First came the launch of the investment giant’s music-rights-focused fund, Chord Music, in October – and its $1.1 billion acquisition of a portfolio of music rights from Kobalt.

December then brought the news that KKR’s “strategic alliance” with BMG had seen the two parties jointly acquire a bundle of rights associated with hard rock icons, ZZ Top.

Before all of this, this time last year, KKR acquired a career-spanning catalog from multi-Grammy-winning songwriter/artist Ryan Tedder – now housed within Chord Music – for a reported $200 million.

The Partner at KKR who was most visible in that Tedder deal, and in the announcement of KKR’s $1 billion-plus partnership with BMG last year, was Nathaniel Zilkha.

As a 15-year veteran at KKR, Zilkha has long been seen as a prominent music-facing executive: In addition to spearheading recent music rights deals, Zilkha is Chair of Gibson Brands.

KKR took control of historic guitar brand Gibson in 2018 as part of the latter firm’s bankruptcy process, in an agreement led by Zilkha.

This transpired to be a very timely takeover, with guitar sales soaring during the Covid pandemic: Gibson racked up the largest “order book and sales backlog… in the company’s history” last summer, according to Bloomberg.

It’s no wonder Nat Zilkha has a career connection to music: before he joined KKR in 2007, Colorado-based Zilkha was songwriter and performer in the New York-based band Red Rooster, which put out three studio albums.

Now, a new professional chapter awaits Zilkha: he announced over the holidays that he is leaving KKR, with intentions to to launch his own music-focused (very likely music rights-focused?) new entity.

“After 15 truly special years, I am retiring from KKR at the end of this month,” Zilkha wrote on LinkedIn in December. “I leave very grateful for the opportunity I have had to work with such talented, high integrity people and for the mentorship of Henry Kravis, George Roberts, Joe Bae, Scott Nuttall, Mike Michaelson and others.”

“Over the coming months I will be announcing a new, entrepreneurial endeavor focused on the music industry.”

Nat Zilkha

Added Zilkha, who will remain a Senior Advisor to KKR and the Chairman of Gibson Brands: “As many of you know, I’ve always loved music.

“From driving around the country playing guitar in bars and clubs as a recent college graduate, to more recently serving on the boards of the Apollo Theater, Save the Music and acting as the Chairman of Gibson Brands for KKR, music has played an important part in my personal, philanthropic and business life.

“Over the coming months I will be announcing a new, entrepreneurial endeavor focused on the music industry.”

Zilkha’s tenure at KKR stretches back past 2013, when the investment firm sold a 51% stake in BMG for around a billion dollars to the music company’s now-sole-parent, Bertelsmann.

Questioned last year by MBW about that sale decision, Zilkha said: “There were many considerations as to why we sold [in 2013]; it was a great partnership for us and BMG, so we look back at it with absolutely no regrets.

“Now we’re looking forward, not backward – and we’re looking at a landscape [in music] where we think there’s an abundance of opportunity.”

During his 15-year career at KKR, 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