The road to UTA was a circuitous one for Mike Guirguis, better known as Mike G, one of the top agents working in music today with a roster that includes Young Thug, The Kid Laroi, Burna Boy and Wizkid, among others. The Los Angeles-born and -bred industry veteran, who’s of Egyptian descent, started out in radio, segued to management and landed at UTA in 2017, where he capitalized on relationships built over his 20-plus years in the business. The diversity of his experiences, from doing sales at L.A. hip-hop station Power 106 to guiding Chris Brown at NiteVision Management, gave him a perspective from multiple purviews that have served him well. So when UTA cofounder and CEO Jeremy Zimmer came calling, and Mike G was looking for a chance to reinvent himself, he says, “Something in my heart told me that was the right play.” Coming up on five years at the agency, Mike G took some time to reflect on his journey, and to look ahead to what’s next for touring.
When you first went from management to an agency, did you feel like you had enough institutional knowledge to hit the ground running?
Mike G: I had a really great relationship with UTA and would constantly refer them clients, so I was familiar with the building and very comfortable because I knew the people. And I felt confident because, when I was a manager — specifically, with Akon, one of the first clients I landed — I focused on his live business. So it did give me a foundation. I was on tour with him and Usher and learned that part of the business. And when I started working with Chris, I was very hands-on with the agent and with Live Nation. So I did have enough knowledge, but like anything else, there’s a learning curve. I had to learn the 500-capacity or 300-cap rooms because, at the time, I had come from a world of amphitheaters and arenas and the deals were bigger. But I embraced it because you can’t stop learning in this business.
What was something you had to adjust to in terms of workplace culture?
To be at staff meetings. As a manager, you’re traveling, you’re working from the house, you’re very independent. Fortunately, I did radio sales for almost 10 years, starting when I was 23, and I was wearing a suit and tie going to work everyday. So being in radio and then the 11 years I was management, those two lifetime experiences actually helped me transition into the agency.
Who do you look up to in the music industry?
One person I admired is Jerry Weintraub. His autobiography really inspired me. His whole theme in life was, how do I reinvent myself every 10 years? He started at an agency with Lew Wasserman, then became a concert promoter, then a film producer. One of my goals when I got to UTA, and I told this to Jeremy Zimmer, in that I really wanted to reinvent the music agent position. Because I didn’t come from the mailroom. I came from a different world and I look at things from a macro perspective. I feel that’s the future of representation. Every agency will pitch you a 360 model, but we actually really do it. We get TV and film and brand and digital, and we try to stay ahead of the curve and surround our clients. That’s the model that will consistently help us grow our clients and our roster.
The production of hip-hop shows seems to have gotten bigger and more elaborate in recent years. What’s the driving force behind that?
Your production is elevated as your guarantees and finances elevate. It depends on the offers coming in, but when you look at the last five years, whether it’s Drake’s show or Ye’s show or even J. Cole, the production continues to get bigger and bigger. Look at Young Thug, who I’ve been working with since 2018, from his first shows at the Shrine [Auditorium in L.A.] and all the way to his headlining show at Lollapalooza, the production is just elevated.
Young Thug wasn’t originally scheduled for the headlining slot at Lollapalooza. How did it come about?
Thug was scheduled to play the main stage that Sunday at 4 p.m., which is a great slot. And then there was a situation with DaBaby. I was at Soho House in Chicago and I got a call from at midnight on Friday from Houston Powell. He was, like, “We want to move Thug to the headline position, can you make it happen?” I said, “Give me 15 minutes, let me talk to management.” And I got on the phone with Geoff Ogunlesi, we discussed the scenario, I thought it would be a great look that was going to help elevate Thug’s brand and status in the festival world. And 15 minutes later, I called Houston, and I made it very easy for him. We got it done. It was very smooth.
Australian The Kid Laroi seems a good example of the fast-track to arenas and festival gigs, where he’s essentially skipping over playing clubs. How do you view artist development from the agency side?
Laroi is a very special artist — almost an anomaly. We didn’t think we were going to play any festivals in 2021. We were just going to focus on the music and build his live business in 2022. And what I found out is, the more you say no to buyers and promoters, the bigger the offers you get. When we received Reading and Leeds, third to close to Post Malone and playing in front of 100,000 people, we were, like, we have to do this. And that really set everything up — it created so much momentum.
When “Stay” came out, we did a lot of pop-up shows — where 3,000 fans showed up at the Palladium [in L.A.] — and there were 4,000 to 5,000-seat theaters in the U.S. and in Europe, where he could have probably gone bigger. We bet on him to do arenas in Australia, and he did multiple arenas, but we did our homework in the marketplace. We talked to all the local promoters, we saw how he was growing exponentially on Spotify and what he did on radio. We went up and the tour blew out instantly. I think he sold a quarter of a million tickets between the U.S., Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It’s going to be a good year in ’22 and we’re going to set everything up for a big 2023, targeting major amphitheaters and arenas.
You represent a number of African artists who do big business in the U.S. Is it a challenge for them to travel here and put in the time in front of American audiences?
For Wizkid, we’ve been wanting him to tour out here since 2019. And he never really wanted to. He was just waiting for the right time. Then when he dropped “Made in Lagos” in 2020, he came out here where there was a big demand. Burna Boy, too. There are challenges with travel — they move around; they’re in Nigeria, Ghana, London… With Burna Boy, he’s been traveling for the last four or five years, really building his touring business. I remember first signing him in 2018, he came out here and played the Roxy and the Gramercy Theatre — small rooms and we really did the work to build it. So, yeah, it is challenging, but it’s not impossible. And as long as there’s communication and there’s a plan in place, all these amazing acts will continue to tour in the U.S., Europe and Australia.
One of the biggest records last year was Wizkid’s “Essence.”
Wizkid and Tems — that will always be my summer record. We were in Cabo San Lucas celebrating [SB Projects president] Allison Kaye’s 40th birthday. Laroi was out there, so was Justin Bieber and DJ Tay James, and that was the record they kept playing the whole time. Tay kept saying, I really want to get Justin on the remix. So I get back to the States, and Justin had already cut the record. It was, like, the most productive vacation of all time. We came away with a hit record that went top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The unpredictability of the COVID pandemic has meant cancelations and postponements; what’s the protocol when it comes to the talk you have with managers and artists?
We definitely have those conversations with clients and managers. They see what’s going on every day, when tours or shows are getting postponed for safety reasons. And it’s honestly not a difficult conversation. It’s just the world we live in. Everyone’s accepted that we’ve got to be aware and be careful. I think for us, we’re staying positive and pretty optimistic.
What are the prospects moving forward?
Look, I think touring is going to continue to grow. Obviously, there was a stoppage with COVID, but the rules being applied to venues and backstage, just as it is for stage crew and artists, will continue to be implemented. That’s the world we live in. But I have no doubt that there’s a real appetite for live music, events and sports. We’re going to get back to a good place.
When it comes to music being born out of the digital world, like through TikTok, do you see a future in that?
Absolutely, there’s a future in that. Ten or 15 years ago, the way you broke artists was on the radio, and that required a pretty big budget. This is just a new platform, and our business has always evolved. So you have to embrace change. Also, breaking an artist is one thing, but it’s what you do after. How do we build a plan? How do we get you on the road? How do we procure brand deals? … We’ve got to be ahead of the curve.
What about NFTs? Will you one day be booking a virtual tour of Bored Apes?
I’ll say this: we did a deal with Young Thug and Meta for Oculus, and the experience of going into an auditorium — where there’s different viewing channels and you actually see a live performance — was insane. I felt like I was at a Thug show. I don’t think anything will ever replace live touring, but I do believe there is going to be another component for an artist to perform and generate revenue and continue to grow.