The “My Music Row Story” weekly column features notable members of the Nashville music industry selected by the MusicRow editorial team. These individuals serve in key roles that help advance and promote the success of our industry. This column spotlights the invaluable people that keep the wheels rolling and the music playing.
Jeff Krones is Co-Head of CAA’s Nashville Music Office. He represents many of the world’s leading artists, including Twenty One Pilots, NF, Dan + Shay, Needtobreathe, Brett Young, Ben Rector, Hailey Whitters, Catfish And The Bottlemen, Judah & The Lion, Ben Burgess, MacKenzie Porter, Devin Dawson, The Band Camino, Luke Grimes and Warren Zeiders, among others.
He began his career at CAA in 2004. In 2016, he was named one of Billboard’s “40 Under 40.” In 2017, he was elected to the Board of the Academy of Country Music (ACM). Krones was featured on Pollstar’s Impact 50 list in 2019 and Billboard’s Country Power Players list in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Krones graduated from Furman University with a degree in Communication Studies.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in England, just outside of London. My mom—who passed away about six years ago—was English. My dad was American and he was in the music business as well. He was working in management and met her one night. He ended up moving there and they got married and had us three kids. We moved [to Nashville] full time when I was 13. I had an English accent and everything.
How did you start your path into the music business?
About three years into college, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a sports agent, but at the time, you had to go to law school. I did not like reading books enough to go to law school. [Laughs]
Obviously I’d grown up around some of the music business, but a different part of it. In talking to my dad and some other people I knew, I started to think I should work at a label. The feedback I was getting was that the labels may not be the best fit, but that I might be a really good agent. My senior year, I got a couple phone numbers and one of those was Darin Murphy.
Darin invited me to come hang out in the office [to see what an agency is like]. I did that my senior year and just watched him for two hours. What was really cool was seeing someone who was so firmly in the country music business, but who also had a Gwen Stefani poster on the wall from when he was No Doubt‘s agent. There were all these things that didn’t feel [like he was working in just] one bucket. I loved the energy of that. I got an unpaid internship to start the day after I graduated from college in 2004. That’s how I got to CAA.
Where did you go to college?
Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. My first client was one that I actually met while I was in school: Bear Rinehart, the lead singer of Needtobreathe.
I lived with the kicker on the Furman football team, and Bear was the star receiver on the team. His girlfriend—now his wife—and I were friends. She asked if I would go to lunch to talk about Bear’s music career. She and I put together a press kit with an album, a photo and bio, and we sent it to my dad. He ended up signing on to be their manager. We set up a showcase for them at the Handlebar in Greenville and they got signed to Atlantic Records. When I was starting my internship at CAA, Scott Clayton, who at the time was one of the heads of the office, agreed to let me be their agent if I would do all the work once I became an intern.
They’ve been a client of mine since then. I got them three shows with Edwin McCain in South Carolina for $250 a night and we just put their first arena tour on sale a few weeks ago.
That’s a great story. When you started at CAA, was it what you thought a big agency would be like?
What we tell people when they come into the agency is that it’s a great place to learn about the entire business. You interface with labels, promoters, venues and managers. [Being an agent] is not for everyone, but you can see if there’s a place that maybe fits you better. I think the moment I was in the building, I realized this is probably something I’d be pretty good at and would really enjoy.
The part that I was always trying to figure out is where my place was within the agency business in terms of genre. My first desk was a Christian desk.
When I got the call about coming onto the Christian desk, I called Darin and asked him what he thought about it. He’s said, “Dude, just get on a desk and you’ll figure it out from there.” What was interesting is that there was a faith component to what Needtobreahe did, so it kind of made sense. I had met John Huie and he took a big interest in my career. So [working on a Christian desk] was a way to get around him and show him that I could be good.
What’s funny is 20 years later, [Christian music] continues to be a pretty big theme throughout a lot of my clients and what we’ve built here. Whether it’s on the country side or with big rock bands, they all have a little bit of a through-line that dates back to that first desk I was on.
Tell me about those first few years.
In addition to Needtobreathe, I started working with a couple other acts while on the Christian desk. One of those was Family Force 5. They were an alternative Christian band who would play on Warped Tour. I met a guy named Chris Woltman, who was their manager at the time. Five or six years later, Chris ended up finding and managing a band called Twenty One Pilots. Andrew Simon and I signed them at CAA and they became my first arena band. That was all because I did a decent job when I was an assistant on a Christian desk. Chris and I now actually work on an act named NF, a Nashville-based rapper who just sold out their first arena tour.
Eventually I was recruited into starting a festival division for our contemporary department by Rob Light and Scott Clayton. That was really good experience for me to interface with LA, New York and London. That’s where I got to have a really good relationship with Rick Roskin, Brian Manning, Carol Kinzel and Jen Adler. It was great to see how people worked internally and externally, but also how I could make Nashville feel bigger so I could feel connected to the other offices. This was before Zooms or any of that kind of stuff, so you’d only have a few opportunities to speak to these people if you didn’t actually have active business with them, so that was really fun.
What was next for you?
Taylor Swift called us to ask Needtobreathe to support her entire tour, because they were her favorite band. At the time, they could sell maybe 2,000 tickets and they weren’t really well known, so for her to take an interest in them was big. She was very firmly in the country space at the time, so I think it was the first time I’d really thought about the blending of genres on tours—that those lines had gone away a little bit and that the way kids were listening to music was starting to change.
We did 86 shows with Taylor Swift that year. That opened my eyes to the fact that there was a lot more I could do based here in Nashville. That’s why I raised my hand when we got a call about a new duo in the country space that were pop leaning, Dan + Shay. It just made sense to me to try to be involved, because I didn’t see it as a segmented genre and I think a lot of people still did 10 years ago. They loved the fact that I worked with bands like Twenty One Pilots and was thinking outside of just being booked the way everyone else is. They were the first bigger country act I started working with.
Boy, did they take off.
They sure have. Even though they’re very mainstream accessible, they’re just phenomenal writers. They led me to find a lot of other great writers in town. That’s why the Needtobreathe guys moved here. Bear now lives in Nashville writing with all these people. He’s writing with the same people that another one of my clients, Brett Young, is writing with. They’re all around each other all the time. There’s a pop band we worked with called The Band Camino, who are just phenomenal writers. Jameson Roper, who’s their manager, alongside Dan Smyers and Devin Dawson were the ones [who said we should sign them] because they’re just great writers. That’s the approach [I try to employ] to both the A&R process and also artist development, that you can apply a lot of the same things to different acts. As long as they’re fantastic live and they’re writing great songs, it works.
You were named Co-Head of CAA’s Nashville office in 2021. Tell me about that.
I remember trying to become an agent and I would just be banging on John Huie and Rob Light’s doors asking when I could get promoted. Back then, it was really hard to do. There was a whole process. I know a lot of people want to get into leadership, but I learned a lot from Rick Roskin, who is Co-Head of our contemporary group across all North America. He wasn’t in any official role. Rob Light was always running it, but Rick was always doing things. I realized, “No one has asked him to do that. He’s just getting the job done.” That was something I found myself doing a lot before and during COVID—not only just thinking about stuff for my clients and trying to see how I could be helpful.
At CAA, they want to see that you naturally care about other people or what the greater good is. We rely on the team here a lot. My thing is if we’ve got better people doing better things, we’re all going to look better. I think that’s how I got identified and honestly, it’s a lot more in terms of meetings, but it’s not like I’m doing that many different things because I was taking on a lot of stuff naturally. It’s been really fun.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I like that CAA is betting on people not waiting until everything’s behind you before you can really make changes. It’s been really fun coming out of the pandemic and having some ability to be pretty nimble and make changes, whether that’s changing processes, whether that’s changing people or whether that’s just getting better.
The booking side of it is so fun. The NF tour I was talking about started a few weeks ago in Columbus. I remember sitting with him in our conference room four years ago and he hadn’t really even sold out clubs yet. We have a view of The Ryman and Bridgestone Arena from our office. I told him, “I don’t want to sign people that want to sell out The Ryman. I want to sign people who want to sell out the Arena. We’re going to do that.” He was like, “There’s no way.” [Last] Wednesday, we had at 13,000 tickets sold there. That’s just so fun.
Who would you name as mentors?
Rick Roskin has been a really great one for me. He was somebody I found a little later in life. He helps me see a clear picture of what things could be and have a calmer head on things. In a different way, John Huie has been one. He just loves this so much. Whenever I get down, I think about him and how he is still enthusiastic after this long. That’s inspiring to see. In our Nashville office, Marc Dennis, Brian Manning and Darin Murphy [have been great mentors].
I respect anyone who’s been able to have a family and have that work-life balance, because it’s tough. When I was a younger agent, I got married early and we actually got a divorce after we had a kid. I was at a certain point where this job was everything. I was out every night, I was flying to festivals and doing all this stuff. I just had no control over my work-life balance. We were apart for four years but we got back together and we got re-married during the pandemic. We just had our second kid. Having perspective and balance is something I learned a lot from people like Brian Manning, Rick Roskin and Marc Dennis. You can have kids, go on vacation and be there for them, but also do this crazy job.
I love that. What’s a moment that you’ve had lately that you’re proud of?
We were at the lake over the July 4th weekend and someone was asking my daughter who her favorite artists were. 11-year-olds are very opinionated, but she didn’t know I was listening. She listed three acts that she’s gotten to meet that are her favorite. Two of the three were people I personally work with, Dan + Shay and Kelsea Ballerini. I think that’s cool because I remember growing up in my dad’s household and because of the way music was listened to back then, you didn’t really have access to listen to what you wanted to listen to as a kid. Now, she’s got an iPad and she can listen to whatever she wants, so for her to choose acts that I work with is pretty neat.
One of the things I’m the most proud of is working with pretty much every artist—except maybe one or two—from the beginning of their career. The artist development piece of this job is so exciting. Whether that’s Warren Zeiders, who we signed over the pandemic and is about to take his next big step, or Luke Grimes, who’s just beginning his musical journey after being an actor. It’s really fun to watch each step for each of these acts.
I still remember back when I was at a show with Darin Murphy at The Exit/In. I asked him, “What are we looking for?” He said, “You want to find a star on stage. It’s about who has ‘it.'” I’ve always remembered that moment with Darin at The Exit/In thinking, “I’ve got to go find someone who’s a star on stage.” That was the seed of all of the acts I’m lucky enough to work with and hopefully the next ones I work with.
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