Neil Jacobson, Head of TMAC the SPAC — Future 25
This story appears in Rolling Stone‘s 2021 Future of Music issue, a special project delving into the next era of the multibillion-dollar hitmaking business. Read the other stories here.
Neil Jacobson calls himself the best salesman in the music business. It’s not without reason. Over the course of his two-decade career, he’s pushed multiplatinum records like the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”; more recently, he’s brokered lucrative catalog sales for the likes of Jeff Bhasker and Brendan O’Brien.
Now, the salesman is looking to buy. Earlier this year, Jacobson founded The Music Acquisition Corp. (TMAC) — billed as the music industry’s first special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC). He’s raised $230 million to take the company public, using a focus on music to spur more growth. Such a concept would have been ill-advised 10 years ago, when the music business was facing an existential crisis, but it’s skyrocketing these days, and Jacobson says the time to capitalize is now.
“The great boom of the music industry is upon us,” he says. “This is it, this is the one. There’s been a couple times in the past where you could talk about music-industry revolutions creating opportunity, but nothing like this. I’ve never seen the power to the people brought to the level it’s brought now, while at the same time allowing institutions themselves to be pivotal.”
Next to NFTs, SPACs have been perhaps the trendiest new business strategy of 2021, with big celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal and Alex Rodriguez starting SPACs of their own. It’s a somewhat reverse merger strategy, in which a private company looking to go public with less regulatory obligation merges with the SPAC, which is itself already a publicly traded company founded with the intention of using its publicly traded funds to buy companies. (Billionaire Bill Ackman’s SPAC is now working on a deal to buy 10% of Universal Music Group as a SPARC, taking things a bit further yet into alphabet-soup territory.)
Jacobson jumped on the trend early. He’s been mum on the names he’s got on his list, but says TMAC has spoken with a hundred companies. It is not limiting itself with one type of firm, either: It’s looking at acquiring those that specialize in music — like labels and publishers — as well as music-technology companies, consumer-facing ventures, and social media companies.
He cites Beats by Dre headphones, co-founded by Jacobson’s mentor and former Interscope boss Jimmy Iovine, as an inspiration for how he’d like to shape his acquisitions.
“I watched Jimmy build Beats by Dre and saw what he did with that,” Jacobson says. “It was about using the power of music culture to drive another product to the next level. I want to do that with our SPAC as well. We want to find a company that’s ready to go public and use a music strategy to perpetuate their growth. Some SPACs are seeking more control, but we’re different in that in our DNA, we want to be a wild card where a company can use our expertise in the music business and capital, and we can help in every way possible to be the best board member they’ve ever had.”
And Jacobson’s SPAC ambitions are the just latest in a considerable pivot the executive has made over the past year and a half. At the end of 2019, he left his post as president of Geffen Records to start Hallwood Media, a producer and songwriter management company. Through Hallwood, he’s been an active figure in the booming catalog acquisition business, brokering major cash deals for his celebrity-artist clients with hungry buyers like Merck Mercuriadis’s Hipgnosis Songs Fund, which has been on a roll snapping up legacy copyrights (and was also highlighted in an earlier Rolling Stone Future 25 list.)
Jacobson started the management company to keep closer to the talent, which he says is crucial for success in times of great disruption in any business. Streaming and song discovery are just the beginning, he says. Tech advancements are rapidly changing the way music is made, who has access to it, and the amount of creators who have a chance at taking a stake. Many of those future music writers and producers will need a boost just to keep up or have a better shot at the game. Tat’s where he’ll come in.
“I don’t think people have realized how much the tech community has deconstructed the creation of music,” Jacobson says. “These companies have been able to disrupt the 88-key keyboard or the six-string guitar and have allowed musicians to not be determined by the dexterity of their instrument. Taste execution is the future of the music maker, and music is no longer only for instrumentalists. Anybody can be a creator, and that is a good thing.”