Milk & Honey now represents Travis Kelce and 80 other sports stars – but its world still ‘revolves around the songwriter’

Credit: Blake Young
Milk & Honey's Lucas Keller (left) and Nic Warner (right)

Having turned 10 last year and now fast approaching 50 employees, Los Angeles-based Milk & Honey has just pulled off its biggest deal yet.

The company – best known for its representation of music songwriters, producers, and artists – has this week confirmed its acquisition of VMG Sports.

The buyout brings 15 NFL athletes onto Milk & Honey’s books, including one you’ve probably heard of, wherever you live: Travis Kelce.

That’s a global celebrity right there who (obvious romantic interest aside) has nothing to do with the music business.

So what’s going on at M&H?

The deal builds on Milk & Honey’s existing sports talent agency business, launched in 2021, which M&H founder/CEO, Lucas Keller, has been quietly building with an executive team of 20 dedicated employees.

With that, the firm now represents over 80 athletes in total – nearly the same volume as its music roster.

According to Keller, the VMG move crystallizes his company’s growing stature in the big-money world of sports entertainment.

Yet the “backbone” of Milk & Honey’s global operation, he says, remains the same: music and, more specifically, songwriters.

“As we grow our stature across the world of entertainment, our influence and ability to advocate on behalf of songwriters – the leverage we can use on their behalf – only increases.”

Lucas Keller, Milk & Honey

“Songwriters are as big a priority for us as ever,” says Keller, speaking to MBW following the VMG announcement. “If anything, they are an even bigger focus for us. At 10 years we continue to dig deeper and deeper into music.”

Adds Keller: “I think some folks look at the stature of the sports world and wonder if we’d abandon music, but it’s anything but that. We just realized that we can offer the same great advocacy, personal service, and guidance to athletes that we can to music talent.

“As we grow our stature across the world of entertainment, our influence and ability to advocate on behalf of songwriters – the leverage we can use on their behalf – only increases.”

Milk & Honey launched in 2014 with one client – Keller’s friend and business partner, who became kind of a godfather to the M&H roster – David Hodges, then best known as a member of the band Evanescence.

Hodges has since gone on to create songs with/for superstars, including Ed Sheeran, Carrie Underwood, and more – with his work selling over 150 million records.

Meanwhile, Milk & Honey’s roster in music has mushroomed.

Run a finger down the Billboard Hot 100 in any given week and you’ll quickly find a song penned or produced by a Milk & Honey songwriter, from Hodges to Oak Felder, Stuart Price, J. White Did It, Jamie Hartman, Andres Torres & Mauricio Rengifo, Jenna Andrews, and more.

In addition, over the past eight years, the company has quietly built its artist representation business – led by Dave Frank (pictured inset) – with an emphasis on DJs/dance acts.

The 30-plus artists repped by Milk & Honey today include acts such as Oliver Heldens, Benny Benassi, Massano, Chris Avantgarde, HI-LO, Gioli & Assia, Wuki, KAS:ST, Slushii and recent signing Maya Jane Coles.

The company’s artist roster will cumulatively play over 1,500 shows this year, including over 50 in Ibiza this summer.

Joel Corry, who boasts a number of international hit singles – including UK No.1 Head & Heart with MNEK – recently signed to Milk & Honey via the company’s London-based office, run by Ant Hippsley. (Corry is managed by Dave Frank alongside London-based George Corton.)

Other British signings at Milk & Honey include multi-Grammy award winner Stuart Price, plus Easy Fun, Tom Mann, and The Elements.

“Joel marks our commitment and flag in the ground to represent great UK artists – and there will be more,” comments Frank.

When Keller started Milk & Honey, he was glad to hang up his past life managing rock acts – switching it for an experience he refers to as a “higher-octane version of touring and artist management” via the dance space.

Keller adds “When we started our electronic division, we had a thesis of cross-pollinating our great songwriter roster with artist talent.

“DJs are touring producers and so the electronic dance artists we manage get to ‘jump the line’ on access to the best songs from our writers. For years, we’ve been putting a lot of hit songs into the [DJ/dance] community and will continue to… but Milk & Honey artist clients get priority!”

Keller is passionate about A&R and expects talent management companies like Milk & Honey to play an increasing role in the creation of hits in the years ahead.

“We have great relationships with the major labels, but as they contract in size and become more data-driven, great A&R is going to have to happen outside of that system,” he says.

“This is why we’ve invested in a 16-person, in-house creative A&R team inside our ‘management’ company – with a fully-staffed administration department that tracks and chases every deal we do.”

“We predict that [the centralization of A&R administration at major labels] will create a bottleneck for talent and access to producers. Companies like ours will have to step in and take up the slack.”

Lucas Keller, Milk & Honey

He adds: “We’re particularly seeing a drive at the [majors] to centralize A&R admin across labels right now. It might be economically sensible for them but it will make each of those labels spokes on the ‘corporate wheel’ even more than they are now.

“We predict that will create a bottleneck for talent and [access to] producers. Companies like ours will have to step in and take up the slack.”

Milk & Honey’s Lucas Keller & Nic Warner (credit: Blake Young)

Milk & Honey’s songwriter-producer roster has in recent years co-created global smashes like Dua Lipa’s Levitating, BTS’ Butter, Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee’s Despacito, James Arthur’s Say You Won’t Let Go, and more – totaling what the company boasts as north of a billion equivalent album sales.

With five offices – Los Angeles, London, New York, Nashville, and Dallas – and employees in 15 states in the US, Keller claims that “no other music management company has [Milk & Honey’s] footprint and on-the-ground access in multiple key markets”.

He adds: “We export more songs to the international marketplace than any other songwriter producer management company.”

Are there any common threads between representing songwriters, artists, and athletes? Keller says yes.

“It’s quite simple: Our job is to raise all of our client’s brand value and help them tell their stories to the world.”

In addition to its talent representation business, Milk & Honey has been a serious player in the music catalog space over the past few years – both by selling catalogs for its own clients, and as a third-party broker in the middle of deals.

Keller estimates that M&H’s brokerage business has overseen over $250 million in catalog transactions since 2020.

“We have become one of the industry’s foremost experts for pop songwriters selling in that $2 million to $40 million range of deal,” says Keller. “It’s a very regular business for us, and we believe we’re one of the best out there at doing it.

“Also, we know our lane: we leave the nine-figure ‘iconics’ deals to the investment bankers and entertainment lawyers, but we can really help active current pop songwriters who are selling.”

The main focus for Milk & Honey, though, remains getting songwriters and producers onto hits – and then getting them paid.

With that in mind, we ask Keller about a hot-button topic right now: Spotify’s plan to re-categorize its current Premium subscriptions as ‘bundles’ – i.e. music plus audiobooks bundles.

Via this recategorization, Daniel Ek’s company will be able to pay out a lower mechanical royalty rate in the US for each of these subs, thanks to a 2022 agreement with publishers.

“Songwriters are tired of being lied to. It’s bullshit.”

Lucas Keller, Milk & Honey

Says Keller: “Spotify may have a good point about bundles, and they’d also say their margins are too thin. Lest we forget that the major labels were in business with Spotify from the beginning, and I think there’s good reason to blame them [for this situation] as well.

“I think they should all get in a room and figure it out, but the ultimate result should not be to take from songwriters.”

Adds Keller: “Songwriters are tired of being lied to. It’s bullshit.”

Speaking more generally about the economic situation for writer/producers he represents, Keller says: “It’s a changing world right now, where the writing is on the wall for FM radio. As everyone knows, there is a chasm between what a No.1 radio song was worth for a songwriter or producer versus a billion-stream record on Spotify.”

He adds: “You can’t just sit back and complain about that fact. It’s our job as songwriter and producer managers to be progressive about how to stack out businesses for producers and writers so that they aren’t just reliant on publishing money from streaming.

“It’s deeply important to Milk & Honey that being a songwriter is still a job in the next decade.”

Nic Warner, Keller’s business partner and General Manager of Milk & Honey, gets the final word: “The next 10 years managing songwriters is actually the most important. There will be more change in how writers get paid and it’s going to get difficult; the next 10 years won’t be like the last 50 years.

“Serious songwriters and producers will need the most experienced managers they can find.”Music Business Worldwide