Keynote Q&A: Gary Gersh



Keynote Q&A with Gary Gersh
JW Marriott Level 2


Add Gary Gersh to the list of executives who started out in the mail room. Gersh was only 19 when he worked briefly in the Capitol Tower mail room, but this wasn’t his intro into the music business. Fibbing about his age, he got his first job at a record store when he was 14 – so eager to be in the business that he accepted vinyl rather than a salary. In three years, he had graduated to head buyer and helped build what became a chain of 30 Licorice Pizza record stores. After the chain was sold, Gersh went to work at Capitol Records. At age 23, he was added to the A&R staff at sister label EMI, where he signed David Bowie, the Stray Cats and John Waite and became VP/General Manager. These are only the first two chapters in Gersh’s storied 40-year career.

Gersh was a key figure in jump-starting bands in the Seattle rock scene. He was a founding partner of The David Geffen Company where he signed numerous acts including Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Counting Crows, and Peter Gabriel. Gersh returned to Capitol/Blue Note in 1993, and as president/CEO he helped establish the careers of Radiohead, the Beastie Boys, and Foo Fighters. In 1999, Gersh transitioned from major-label executive to artist manager when he and John Silva founded G.A.S. Entertainment Co. There he worked with Beck and Rage Against the Machine and many of the artists he had worked with at Capital, including Beastie Boys and Foo Fighters.

In 2006, Gary created The Artists Organization (TAO), where he was able to draw from his vast knowledge of the business to create a new model of artists management. TAO handled a wide spectrum of creative and business opportunities for its clients ranging from forming non-profits and partnering with worldwide brands to helping artists launch fashion lines, open restaurants and reach new global markets for sponsorship. TAO was home to a diverse portfolio of artists and businesses including John Legend, Lenny Kravitz, Soundgarden, and Portugal. The Man, as well as graphic arts company Poketo and clothing company Imogene & Willie.

On the other side of the table since 2015, Gersh now operates in the live space as President of Global Touring and Talent for AEG Presents. He oversees the company’s growing touring business, and brings experienced leadership skills and his talent of managing and enhancing ongoing relationships between artists, their agents, managers and other business associates. He works closely with AEG Presents talent buyers, it’s festivals, and all of its global offices. Gary’s hands-on approach with buyers, artists and their teams is focused on creating new business relationships and opportunities for touring.

It takes more than a title to be a player in the music business, and Gersh has built a reputation as someone who can spot and nurture talent. “It’s not about what you’ve done before but about being open enough to grow with the time and put the best people at the table and deliver as a team,” says Gersh. “I love music, but I also love business and growth and the opportunity to build, and all those things collide in one place at AEG.”

There are no hard-and-fast rules about how to win the entertainment business, but if you’re looking for a playbook for success, you could take a page from Gary Gersh’s.