Activist company

Meet the company that amplifies the social impact activism of Lumineers, Dead & Co., other clients

When the Lumineers arrive in Chicago this weekend for their sold-out show at Wrigley Field, they’ll bring more than their exuberant stage act to the audience.

Reverb, a national organization that catalyzes music fans to help address environmental and social issues, will also be featured. So will voter registration organization HeadCount and local nonprofit Almost Home Chicago, which serves people with food and housing insecurity. These organizations will be front and center both on the ground in an area dubbed the ‘action village’ and through video footage on the big screens.

It’s all part of the touring ecosystem of Activist Artist Management, a management company that intentionally and rigorously supports social impact initiatives important to its clients, which also include Dead & Co., Grateful Dead, Michael Franti and Dwight Yoakam.

“It’s very typically an extraction pattern for these music tours for the most part. You walk into a market, sell a bunch of tickets, put on a show, then you leave and go to the next market and repeat that cycle all over again,” says Activist founding partner Bernie Cahill.

“What’s really important to us and our customers is to make sure that we’re not just a mining model, to make sure that we engage with that market before we get there in a meaningful way and then … what are we leaving behind? What kind of story are we telling?

“It’s not like we put together a campaign and a tour and at the very end, when we really have the concept together, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, we should add a charity element,’ it’s not like that at all. And I think sometimes in our old business it was like that. These are priorities, so we treat them as such,” says Cahill, who previously ran the management company. ROAR and founded Activist in 2018 with partners Greg Suess, Matt Maher and Tony Khan, with whom Cahill launched WWE competitor AEW.

Amplifying customer activism while supporting their artistic and business needs is embedded in the Activist philosophy and name. But the business isn’t the only game in town. An ever-growing number of management companies, agencies and promoters, from small stores to Live Nation and AEG, have divisions dedicated to supporting clients’ social impact work. And that’s fine with Cahill.

“It’s a big tent. Although we are called Activists, we are certainly not the first to recognize this as a high priority. Look at artists like Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews. These guys were prioritizing this and creating best practices along the way for years. There are other management companies, and every major agency now has a division to focus on that. And they are making great progress,” he says.

“There is no purity test here; we are not interested. We are interested in people and artists who are authentic, who have an important voice that we support. Everything we do is open-source. We share with other managers. We’re trying to figure out how we can make a difference and we’re excited to be a part of it.

For his part, Cahill plans to keep Activist as what he calls “a big boutique.” The company has approximately 30 employees and nine client artists. It may seem like adding a few more, but only if the team is driven to. “We haven’t signed anyone we haven’t seen yet. [perform] in person,” Cahill says.

Staying smaller allows the company to be more agile and to engage deeply with its partners, even if it opens up new avenues such as the recent opening of an office in Beijing.

“We don’t want to enter a world where we aren’t actively involved in the careers and, in some cases, the minutiae of our clients’ lives. We’re very focused on making sure we have a long-term strategy that will support artists through the album and touring cycles,” Cahill said. “What managers do is we find out what’s authentic and great about an artist, and we amplify that. We have a real streaming success story for the Grateful Dead, for example, and they’re a band that hasn’t released new music in decades.

It’s also about advancing the conversation and action around sustainability, mental health, addiction recovery and more. The Lumineers’ Sept. 3 show at Wrigley will air live and is also being filmed for later broadcast via a streaming service. Reverb and other activism content will travel with all music programming.

“We engage with these nonprofits long after the fact. We keep in touch with them, we host them at trade shows, we use our platforms where we can to give them ongoing visibility,” says Cahill. “She’s a good role model. It works and it evolves. »