Category: GEMA, GEMA Externship

Title:GEMA Externship: Where Are They Now? – Isaiah Jones (C’16), United Talent Agency

GEMA launched its annual Externship Program in 2003, a unique experience where Georgetown seniors and graduate students spend one week in Los Angeles or New York during spring break meeting with a number of alumni from a variety of fields in entertainment and media. Over 200 students and more than 500 alumni have participated in the program over its first 21 years and many of the externs have gone on to roles across the media landscape. In our series The GEMA Externship: Where Are They Now?, we reconnect with past Externs to find out how their careers have progressed since graduation.

Isaiah Jones (C ’16), Agent, Comedy Touring & Live Events, United Talent Agency

What was your first “big break” into your industry? Or, what is the most significant experience you have had that has made your success possible?

My first big break came when I was going to take a break from pursuing a job in the entertainment industry. I decided to take a pause to find a higher paying job so I could save more money to put towards chasing a music industry job. So, I had started applying to consulting firms and leaning into the ones that Georgetown was a big feeder school to.

However, as that was happening and I was interviewing, I was fortunate enough to have a paid volunteer opportunity at the Billboard Touring Conference & Awards in November 2016, the Fall after I graduated. This was through the GrammyU membership I had while at Georgetown that luckily didn’t expire until sometime after you graduated. The conference was at the SLS Beverly Hills and only my second time in LA. We all had various tasks while volunteering and one of mine was “guarding” the VIP door. I took that time to learn who people were and what they did and try to start making my own connections.

At the conference, there was an Agency Roundtable in one of the ballrooms. I sat down at one of the tables with a few agents in Hip-Hop and R&B because it was the genre of music I wanted to work in. I met and had conversations with Kevin Shivers from WME, Joe Hadley at CAA, and Chris Jordan at UTA. After telling them I was balancing 4 jobs, two outside of the industry, trying to find my way in the door, I got all their cards and emailed them immediately after the conference.

After speaking with all of them when I got back to D.C. and learning about what a music touring agent’s job was and their advice for how to get real hands-on experience in the music business and help kickstart my career, Chris Jordan sent my resume along. It wasn’t long before I got a call from HR at UTA asking me if I wanted to officially apply. A few interviews later, I found myself being offered the job to be in the next class of their Agent Trainee Program as a Music Trainee, specifically. I started March 2017 in the NY office and was off to the races. That was my “big break” and I’ve been here since.

What was your first job?

My first paying job out of college wasn’t even in the entertainment industry. I was a Data Management and Support Specialist at the American College of Cardiology in the Foggy Bottom area of D.C. by George Washington University. I was answering calls from doctors about their continued education courses and entering data into a CRM platform. That was the weekday job, and then for the weekend I was a Game Master at the Escape Rooms in D.C. in the Georgetown area. They were both just to bring as much money as possible so I could stay afloat and afford having two other industry jobs that either had little or no pay as I searched for a better paying one.

The other two positions I was managing at the time was being Marcus Johnson’s Brand Manager and Booking Agent for his speaking engagements and doing digital marketing for Neo Elite, an entertainment and media company that was started by another Georgetown alum, Zeplyn Tillman. I met Marcus during my senior year after he did a moderated Q&A on campus. He’s a JD/MBA alum from Georgetown and a very accomplished Jazz pianist and businessman. He liked my fire and hustle to get into the industry and appreciated that I was a musician too – drums and percussion. So, he brought me on to help him and I negotiated my pay. First time ever having to do that. We still keep in touch.

The role with Neo Elite paid in experience and exposure in the music industry, which was what I was looking for, and it allowed me to be more involved in the fabric of the DC music scene. Zeplyn and I knew of each other on campus and our relationship built more after he graduated and started his journey in the industry which led to me coming onboard after I graduated.

What do you do in your job now? What is your favorite part of your current position?

I am an Agent in Comedy Touring and Live Events at United Talent Agency. I represent and book our roster of stand-up comedians for their live shows and national touring, as well as our Live Events roster, which consists of acts that are not just your traditional stand-up comedians or musicians that are doing live stage shows and touring. The Live Events clients include talent like podcasters, digital content creators, kids and family-based IP, like Peppa Pig and Blippi, gaming and esports players, reality TV stars, actors, authors, etc. As touring agents, we negotiate the best deals on behalf of our clients to perform and “route,” or map out, their touring on the road in certain venues and the timing of it all in partnership with the artist and management most of the time.

Part of my job is also going out and scouting talent that I / the agency should sign and represent. That could be going out to the comedy clubs here in NY every week to going down a rabbit hole of some digital creator’s content on YouTube or TikTok and thinking about live event possibilities or keeping my ear out for the podcasts that everyone is listening to right now to see if there is a live tour to be thought of for them.

I’ll say two of my favorite things about my position. One is that I get to work with so many different types of clients, from stand-ups to podcasts, to kids and family and everything in between, which allows me to be working at the smaller club level venues all the way up to large theatres and arenas depending on the act. It helps make every day not like any other. I never know what may end up on my desk or in my inbox any given day that may present a new and exciting opportunity.

And two, one of the most important things that keeps me grounded and motivated day to day is that I’m able to use the skills and expertise I’ve been building to help Black talent elevate their careers. There aren’t enough people that look like me at these ranks of the entertainment world, especially in the comedy touring space. There are only a handful of us, and that’s being generous. So, I don’t take the opportunity I have to help shepherd the careers of Black talent at the highest level of representation lightly, and people of color in general. It’s fuels me day to day and is a big reason why I work so hard. This is much bigger than me.

What was the externship experience like for you? Did it have an influence on your career/help kickstart your career?

The externship was the one of the biggest highlights of my Georgetown career. It was the first time I had been to LA, and it really opened my eyes to many possible avenues to work in Music outside of being an artist in the entertainment industry. So, it was a very pivotal moment as I was searching for opportunities after graduation. It didn’t necessarily directly lead to any job offers or internships, but it gave me more knowledge of the roles and companies that I should be considering when applying, which is a major help when there is no one clear path to getting in this industry or knowing every facet you could be working in.

I had an excel grid of industry contacts and companies I wanted to apply to. That list more than doubled after the externship. So, I can say the experience cemented my confidence in knowing what my career path would be after Georgetown and was a huge help in me mapping it out.

What part(s) of the Externship did you find most valuable?

Exposure was key for me, and the Externship provided a ton of that, and it was extremely valuable. Exposure to industry professionals in different areas of entertainment, the settings (office spaces, studios, walking the halls, nightlife, etc.), and the knowledge I got from all the conversations. It’s what made it so enjoyable and worthwhile. Literally, one of the happiest moments of my life, because it was part of me finding my purpose after graduation and it prioritized my day to day for my remaining time at Georgetown.

The food, too! So much good food out in LA and we were definitely spoiled at times haha.

Lastly, I stayed with Cari and Jeff Hilger and their family while I was out there. Jeff is a Georgetown alum and they graciously opened up their home to me in Culver City and it reminded me how much I can lean on the Georgetown alum community on my journey in this industry while I was in school and definitely after. I stayed with them at least one or two more times after graduation when I made some trips back out to LA and was still hustling to find my big break. As a matter of fact, when I volunteered at the Billboard conference in 2016, I stayed with them and they were so excited to have me back and always willing to make any intros that would be helpful. Come to find out, they knew a senior Agent and Partner in Talent at UTA. Small world and a great full circle moment.

What was your experience like attending Georgetown? Were there any particularly formative experiences that were special to you?

It was very tough but also very rewarding. It was a huge culture shock I wasn’t prepared for and the first humbling moment within my academic career. I experienced discrimination from a professor in one of my classes on multiple occasions that was based on prejudice. I use these terms very specifically, as I was a Sociology major and African-American Studies and Music double minor while at Georgetown. It took me awhile to see it, because I was making excuses for it, but it was my first time confronting someone that actually didn’t believe the intelligence I was showing on paper because of my skin color.

I come from a place in VA where the Civil War was fought across the street from my house and there are Confederate flags flying high down the street. So, you would think I may be a bit more acclimated, but it was mostly the opposite. I learned the ugly side of America. One of my biggest lessons and formative experiences at Georgetown. It informed how I stepped out into the world after college and what I needed to do to fuel my mind and be a part of work to help better the experience at Georgetown for people of color.

I wanted to educate and help others who were experiencing this or correct those who were treating me like this in the best way, because some didn’t even know they were doing it at times. It’s part of the reason I was very active in the Black leadership cohort on campus across the multiple clubs and organizations that catered to the community and made the effort to lend any of my time and energy that I could to all the activism for the Black students while I was there.

But on the other hand, I got an amazing education that I still lean on today in my day-to-day work. I also gained a network of alumni that I can call upon and have been immensely supportive of my dreams and goals. I made lifelong friends and have an alma-mater I do like to come back to because not only are there also many good memories, but work that still needs to be done to help those who look like me and also students who want to get into this industry and are now looking at alumni like me for tips, just like I was at that time.

What’s your advice for an undergraduate trying to break into your industry? Is there anything you would tell your younger self now?

Be a sponge and ask questions. Be the most curious person in the room and learn early the value of appreciating long-term gratification. This is one of the biggest marathons when it comes to reaping the fruits of your labor in a career, so you have to build the endurance mentally and physically. When I worked four jobs after graduation, it really helped me get used to the pace of this industry. If there is an opportunity for you to do something of the sort and gain a lot of worthwhile experience while on campus, do it.

This is a thankless job most of the time. Find where your passion lies in this industry while you’re in school and hold on to that, because it’s going to be what keeps you going every day and every weekend that you work to elevate yourself in your field, even during school when you have a million other academic and social things going on.

It’s going to be hard work and an addiction to this lifestyle that helps you excel. The people who are some of the most successful in this industry live and breathe it. Some areas of this industry very much require it and if you want to see success, you have to come to terms with the sacrifices that go along with that in your personal life.

I’d tell my younger self to focus on what gets me going every day and what I love to spend time on when doing nothing else. This would have helped me so much more when deciding what career I wanted to pursue when I started college. If I did that, I wouldn’t have started as a Physics major at Georgetown looking to be a mechanical engineer and maybe pursuing IP law later down the road. I would have saved myself a lot of time from office hours, TA meetings, and the pain from failing at something I wasn’t that intellectually curious about. I would have had a better chance of starting my career in entertainment earlier, having more internships and experiences that helped me land an opportunity right after graduation.

Name someone in your career who has been a valuable mentor or role model to you and why?

Arthur Lewis, who is a Partner and the Creative Director of UTA Fine Arts and Artist Space, has been a great mentor and role model. He’s been able to help me navigate the role my identity plays and will continue to play in my day to day and how I show up in rooms as I level up in my career, while also focusing on doing great work and servicing our clients the best I can. It’s a delicate and tough balance. But he’s also been a great role model in the sense of someone who has such a wide and deep network of industry friends and supporters and business partners and colleagues who admire him so much that I hope to also have one day.

My former bosses, Joe Fucigna and Phil Battiato, were great mentors while I was working alongside them. I credit some of my mental toughness to them since they were the first agents I worked for and that I spent years under learning the touring business for music and several non-traditional touring acts. They took the time to teach me and get to know me that other bosses don’t always do that I think was super helpful when it comes to not skipping steps and knowing the minute details to a tee that will help make you razor sharp when starting to book your own clients. They’re so humble they’ll always say I was the star and they didn’t do that much, but you can’t get far in this industry along and you don’t know what you don’t know. They are a huge part of the genesis of my career, and I don’t let them forget it.