At Work With Ina Jacobs, a Live Music Pro Who Needs No Job Title
This is the tenth installment of Rolling Stone’s series At Work, in which we explore the fast-changing music business from the perspective of a different industry leader each week. Read earlier pieces in the series here.
When John Mayer was just a promising new guy with a ton of potential, he needed a tour accountant — you know, that person who handles all the money and figures out where it goes — so his team called Ina Jacobs. Similar things happened with Nickelback, Mumford & Sons, Swedish House Mafia, One Direction, and a slew of other artists. Jacobs is a self-described “Jane of All Trades” for top-tier talent agency CAA, where she serves as an expert consultant in the live music space. She doesn’t have a job title, but her name itself is something of a title in the industry.
Jacobs started as an assistant to both the manager and owner of New York’s iconic rock club CBGB’s. After convincing her friends in The Jesus Lizard (a ’90s rock band that Jacobs still considers to be one of the greatest of all time) to let her drive their van and sell their merch, she became a tour manager and eventually a tour accountant. This woman knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak — and she’ll hop on the phone to coach a rookie through the digging at any hour of the day or night.
Explain the type of role you hold at CAA.
I’m sort of the resident expert in operational and financial logistics of global touring and live events. I provide deep analysis in financial forecasting, and I also help develop best practices across the music department in daily business and initiatives. I consult with our IT department. I educate within the company. I help bring them up to speed when it comes to the mathematics of the deals and things like that.
I’m like your overall, go-to “1-800-ASK-INA” — whether it’s “I need to get merch into Canada. How do we do that?” or “What’s the best way to mitigate taxes in Belgium?” It’s all over the place, but I’m sort of an in-house expert. I work with our tour managers and tour accountants on the road. We’ve got a lot of young rising artists. They have crew members, who may be of the younger generation that haven’t been educated. I wasn’t educated! I had to educate myself. I have tour managers who call me all the time and want me to look over the settlements. They’ll say, “Hey, A) How can I learn from this? And B) What would you do? Help me.”
Back in the ‘90s, when I started, there wasn’t even a music business program at school. There was maybe one book out there, but it didn’t really cover touring operations. There was a bit of “fake it ‘til you make it.” Then you just get out there and you learn it. After 25 years on the road, there really isn’t anything that you haven’t experienced.
“When I was a kid, I was totally obsessed with math, so I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll be an accountant.’ But a CPA. We didn’t have the Internet. I didn’t even know that tour managers existed, let alone tour accountants. In the Eighties, ‘tour accountant’ wasn’t in the Encyclopedia Britannica.”
The role requires a highly qualified person.
Now that I’m doing it, I absolutely think that it’s a no-brainer. It’s a great way for us to support our artists. I think it’s fantastic. Kudos to CAA for figuring it out. When they approached me about it, I was like, “I don’t want to be an agent!” And they were like, “Oh, no no no. We don’t want you to be an agent. We want you to be you. You just do you here. And instead of you doing it for one artist, you’re gonna do it for all of our artists.” It’s awesome. I mean, I get to sleep in my own bed every night and still do what I totally love to do? Yes, please.
What made you choose a lifestyle on the road? What pulled you in that direction?
It wasn’t a choice. That’s like asking a musician what made them a musician. I was born to be on the road. I was a nomad — I really loved to travel — I was really good at math and I loved music. When you put those three things together, it’s the perfect recipe for a tour accountant. It was everything that I wanted in life — travel, mathematics, music, community, the live-event experience. When I was a kid, I was totally obsessed with math, so I was like, “Well, I guess I’ll be an accountant.” But a CPA. We didn’t have the Internet. I didn’t even know that tour managers existed, let alone tour accountants. In the Eighties, “tour accountant” wasn’t in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
I saw my first concert and I was just looking up at that stage thinking, “What is this? And what’s happening behind the stage?” I actually didn’t care about the musicians, per se. There was this fascination with what was happening behind the stage. I needed to know, and my curiosity just made me tenacious.
Describe your experience with John Mayer.
I was a tour manager for nine years, predominantly with support acts on larger tours — or a lot of club tours. I was with an amazing band called Jackopierce for three years. We did probably 200 shows a year. We just hit the road and it was nonstop. That’s when I really got to dig my feet in. When you have the opportunity to work with the same artist for a long period of time, you get to hone in on your skills. There’s a comfort level there, and you become a well-oiled machine.
Not long after that, I got the opportunity to work with John Mayer right at the beginning of his career, and I had a ten-year run with him during the rise of his success. That was my first job as a tour accountant. I didn’t want to be a tour manager anymore — the babysitting aspect of it wasn’t really resonating with me. I embraced the business aspects and the finances. I loved that.
I was really fortunate that I had worked with three gentlemen in the John Mayer camp in different capacities. Scott Clayton was the agent for John Mayer, and he was also the agent for Jackopierce. Rit Venerus was the business manager for John, as well as Medeski Martin & Wood, who I had worked with previously. Michael McDonald, who was John’s manager at the time, and I had crossed paths many times. The three of them came together and said, “Let’s hire Ina as the tour accountant.” I was so excited. Being a tour accountant was my dream, and at the time, I wasn’t aware of any other woman tour accountants. I didn’t have anyone to call, I didn’t have anyone to look up to, so I’m really grateful to those three gentlemen for helping me tell the world that a woman could do that job. And maybe there was another woman out there somewhere far off, but I don’t know where she was. I wish that I could’ve found her to help me commiserate.
I remember the first soundcheck with John Mayer. I was sitting in my office on the first day of the tour. He started playing the guitar and I just looked over at everybody and was like, “Wait a second… Is this who I’m on tour with right now?” I realized instantly that he was a genius.
And One Direction?
That was epic. It was two and a half to three years of stadiums with the top-grossing act for those two, consecutive years. It’s definitely the highlight of my touring career. That was an opportunity that I never thought I would be able to have, given the fact that there are very few people out there that have the option of doing a world, stadium tour. And those people are mostly men.
Are female tour accountants at that level unheard of?
If there were other women doing tour accounting for worldwide stadium tours, I was not aware of them. I don’t want to be the person who says, “I was the only one,” but I don’t know of any that were working on the artist’s side. There were definitely women on tour, working on the promoter’s side, but for the artist?
There are more now than ever before, and I am so happy. Many of them are my dear friends. They’re killing it. But at the time, and in the capacity that I was doing it, I wasn’t aware of anyone else. Probably one of the hardest hurdles for me was that being a woman was the barrier in front of the touring industry — especially when it comes to being a tour accountant. When I wanted to be a tour accountant and I was trying to get jobs as a tour accountant, there was a lot of pushback: “We don’t put women in charge of our money. Women aren’t tour accountants. They’re production assistants and wardrobe girls.” It was even hard, at that time in the Nineties, to be a tour manager. There were very few of us.
I never saw myself as a woman doing the job. I just always felt that I was the best person for the job, so it always blew my mind when people would make a comment about me being a woman. I’d be like, “Well, you’re observant… Okay, let’s move on. I’ve got a job to do.”
Generally speaking, what’s the first thing you do every single day?
I wake up at about 7 a.m. I press snooze a few times, as one does. I check my emails, of course. I put some KCRW on and grind up some coffee. I probably pop in a few pieces of my jigsaw puzzle that’s always on my table, just to have a moment of zen.
I make my lunch for the day, and I usually connect with the European offices. Because of the time difference, I try to get them before I hit the road and go off to work.
Walk us through the schedules of your craziest days.
My life is so schizophrenic. I work with Riot Games’ [multiplayer online game] League of Legends, so I’m likely either venue planning, forecasting or negotiating their world championship series or regional events — and that can be in Europe, in America. I help them work on those plans for the years to come, because we usually work a year to two years in advance. I might be lecturing the assistants on the art of the deal, the mathematics of touring or how settlements work. The next minute I’m looking at any of our artists’ tour offers, comparing deals that are being presented by Live Nation and AEG and making recommendations to the agents. Maybe I’m sitting in on a meeting with an artist and assisting in explaining what those deals look like, or settling a show for Bill Maher or Diana Ross, or taking calls from our tour managers and helping them with settlements. Usually, the day will end with going to a show, seeing what’s out there and what people are bringing to the table, and hopefully reconnecting with my crew friends out there who are still on the road.
But then, on a moment’s notice, I could get a call to hop on a plane to help settle a tour for our artists in need. Last month — with just under a week’s notice — I was off to Japan to settle Queen and Adam Lambert on their sold-out, four-show stadium run. I did the same for Justin Bieber when he was playing stadiums in Australia on his Purpose tour. I love when this happens. I get a taste of my road life again, and settling shows is my favorite! Once a roadie always a roadie.
“Agents are having to reschedule a lot of stuff, but I’m still there to assist them in any way during the deal-making process … What’s incredibly frustrating, though, is it feels like you’ve built this beautiful house, and now you have to take it down. A lot of thought, care and synchronicity goes into planning a tour. It’s a dance.”
How has your routine changed amidst the coronavirus crisis? Is this situation affecting your work directly?
Yes and no. Agents are having to reschedule a lot of stuff, but I’m still there to assist them in any way during the deal-making process. I’m the agent for League of Legends, and I’m working on their forecasting right now for the years to come. We had upcoming events happening and we’re having to look at canceling. We had two regional events in spring that we unfortunately had to take down. My days feel pretty much the same right now, actually, because what I do helps support all of our agents and assistants — except, of course, I’m doing it from home.
What’s incredibly frustrating, though, is it feels like you’ve built this beautiful house, and now you have to take it down. A lot of thought, care and synchronicity goes into planning a tour. It’s a dance.
How do you stay positive in a time like this?
Music heals, and I believe it will win in the end. I think everyone is really excited and looking forward to being able to go out and see music again. I genuinely am a glass-half-full person. I’m a solutions-based, super-positive person. There’s a lot more ease in that. This is just a blip. I know that we will be able to get through this. I just want all of my friends and family to stay safe.
I’m super inspired by what all the musicians are doing. There are so many musicians coming together and putting together benefits, so many people live-streaming and bringing music to fans’ homes because they can’t go out. We’re like the doctors of the soul, and I feel like we’re working really diligently to provide healing opportunities for the fans when we can all come outside again and enjoy music. I believe that when people are put in a position that forces them to think outside the box, that’s when creativity really strikes. It’s so easy to wake up, go to work and do what we do every day. You get into this routine, and it gets very comfortable. I think sometimes that’s when creativity can become stagnant. When presented with a situation like this, inspiration begins. They have to figure out what everything is going to look like in a very different way, and they might actually find that there are better ways to go out and do it. There might be better ways to communicate with your fans, there might be better ways to bring opportunities to people who otherwise can’t get out of the house.
It really brings a community together. Obviously, I’m not happy that people are getting sick and people are dying, but I am inspired by the creativity that is going to come out of this. I really believe things are going to change for the better. Communities are being formed and music is being brought to the masses.
Are crew members going to be able to find work during this time, though?
I can’t 100% speak to that. I believe there are people currently having conversations around how to support that support staff, but it’s a little too early to have the answers. It’s happening this week. I do know this is at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds — managers care about their crew, musicians care about their crew. And, you know, this goes beyond the music industry — just look at Broadway, the entire live events industry, independent contractors around the world. There are efforts being made by lots of people to try and figure out how we can support those people.
Coronavirus matters aside, what’s the biggest issue in the industry right now?
I’ve always been on the artist’s side of the street. I think the biggest issue that faces the music industry is the secondary ticketing market. Those scalpers drive me nuts. It’s hard for me to swallow. Artists want to throw their own party. It should be theirs to throw in the way that they want.
There are definitely steps that you can take. It requires a lot of energy, though. I hope that municipalities and whatnot will find a way to support artists, so the secondary ticketing market doesn’t get too crazy. Only the face value of the ticket [goes to the artist]. It’s really frustrating, because artists care so deeply about their fans. Pricing of a ticket is important to the artist. It’s a conversation that agents have on a daily basis, and artists want to bring real value to their fans. Their compensation is directly related to the price of the ticket. When artists make conscious decisions to come up with a fair ticket price for their fans, they would like the fan to buy the ticket at that price. It’s really frustrating when the scalper gets in the way of that. It’s unfair to the fan.
What advice would you give to young women looking to get involved in the live music business?
Approach every task at hand with curiosity. Let passion and positivity be your driving forces. Focus on being solutions-based, and never take yourself too seriously. We get to wake up every day and work in music. Have fun!