Ask any music business veteran to name the biggest mogul of the past three decades, and chances are slight they won’t say Irving Azoff.
Others have run bigger companies and some may have earned more money, but in terms of reach, influence, power and the ability to inspire fear, there’s really no competition. He’s been a world-beating, fiery-tempered artist manager for the lion’s share of what he acknowledges is his 50 years in the music business. Yet he’s also been CEO of two major record labels (MCA and Giant) and head of the world’s largest live-entertainment company: Live Nation, whose merger with Ticketmaster he oversaw. He’s currently running, co-running or overseeing five companies: Full Stop Management, with a roster including the Eagles, Bon Jovi and rapper Travis Scott; a sprawling live-entertainment firm, Oak View Group, which includes arena alliances and a multitude of services including ticketing; a performance-rights organization, Global Music Rights, which manages the songwriting earnings and copyrights of tunes by Bruce Springsteen, Bruno Mars, Don Henley and Prince, among others; a joint venture with Jim Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Co. that includes the L.A. Forum; and an investment wing. And who knows what else he’s got his hands in.
While these ventures indicate Azoff’s picks for growth areas — management, live entertainment and publishing — all of his past experience comes into play. “We’ve always seen our role as being the CEO of an artist’s businesses and their life, and to do that, I think the experience of being in these other businesses is invaluable,” Azoff tells Variety. “As a manager, you’re not going to do a great job for your artists if you don’t have clout.”
And since Azoff stepped down as CEO of Live Nation at the end of 2012, his management roster has grown to span three generations: what he calls the “young squad,” including Scott and former One Direction singer Harry Styles; the “middle squad,” with Gwen Stefani and John Mayer; and his personal “sweet spot,” the legacy artists, ranging from the Eagles and Journey to Bon Jovi and Steely Dan. He’s a master at getting top dollar for all of his artists but particularly the Eagles, who many thought would retire after the death of founding member Glenn Frey in 2016. Instead, they regrouped with Frey’s son Deacon and country star Vince Gill, and their forthcoming tour is hitting 11 stadiums and 43 arenas. It has already brought in “north of $170 million at the box office,” says Azoff.
While he’s earned more than enough to fund several opulent lifetimes, retirement is nowhere to be found in Azoff’s near future. “I teach two things to all of the managers when they’re talking to a potential artist: One, every decision you make has to be in the best interest of the artist — in the long run, that will always be what’s right for your business as a manager,” he says. “And two, we’re very fortunate that we’ve made a lot of money, so when an artist asks us to help them chase their dreams and goals and they’re realistic, we say yes.”