KLBM describes itself as “fiercely independent.” A boutique business management firm staffed by a 10-person team, KLBM serves some of the top talents in music, sports, TV, and entertainment. Headquartered in Los Angeles but with offices in Nashville and Seattle, the firm prides itself on helping creatives structure their craft into a sustainable business model.
Managing Director Kristin Lee founded KLBM over seven years ago, after previously working at top firms such as Gelfand, Rennert, and Feldman, and NKSFB. The daughter of accountants who happened to love classic rock (dad) and new wave (mom), Lee knew how to operate a record player by age five.
At our weekly “Insider Sources” series, we got a chance to talk with Lee, as well as KLBM’s Operating Manager Steven Palin on Clubhouse last Thursday. We discussed both Lee and Palin’s background in entertainment business management, the relationships the firm develops with the clients, and why business management is an essential part of how entertainment runs.
Lee believes that a performing background helped set a “different level of understanding.”
Lee grew up in an environment where music “was absolutely necessary for life.” She spent long hours listening to the record with her grandparents, and her heavy music background inspired her to play live music herself — she was a touring artist for a few years and now has nearly 20 years of experience in the music business.
Her background not only as an accountant but as a performer allows for a unique level of empathy between her and her client base.
“Playing music, touring, unless you’ve been in those trenches, it sets a different level of understanding,” she said. “My clients appreciate it because I know what they are going through. I know how it is to start somewhere small and grind your ass off day after day then finally see this turn around where the money starts growing and everything changes. Seeing my clients blossom, I can’t even describe how cool that is to me.”
Being there for that sheer level of growth can lead to some pretty close interpersonal relationships between the firm and the clients. The client, as well as their families (Palin says a client’s mom called them right before this event), have the firm’s number saved. For some business managers, it is easier to keep clients at an arms-length. In an industry base where a lot of clients are young creatives, it can be hard to explain the intricate details, rules, and guidelines that go into managing tax law, accounting, and money.
Navigating the interpersonal in business management
While Lee understands and sets clear boundaries between herself and the clients, she believes that especially in this industry, it is important to be blunt and set the record straight.
“I am data-driven. I put the information in front of my clients and present it in black and white, showing them that ‘you did this, you made this happen.’ This is a human being, this is their life, and they’ve given me a lot of responsibility over it.” she said.
Especially for a lot of clients, money really does inform a big part of their lives. Lee states that for some clients, it hasn’t sunk in that they are essentially a business. They are the face of a business that is run by many different people, and for many clients, Lee tells them that “at the core of this structure, you are a company, and you need to look at it this way in order to have a career.” Because of that, it can sometimes be counterintuitive to leave clients out of the loop in their own finances. Lee has worked with clients through the buying of their first house, their first major shows, their first big purchase free of debt — major life milestones.
“We don’t take clients on we don’t want to see win,” Palin (who got his own start in music assisting in a local punk show in the 8th grade) said. “We are fans of these people, so it informs the kinds of clients we bring on, and it makes us want to see them do well.”
Palin’s role as Operation Manager highlights how much KLBM, as a boutique agency, values a good workplace culture. A fairly unique role in business management (as most firms do not have this position), Palin is, in Lee’s words, “the glue that keeps everything organized.” Given that KLBM is a 10 person team, everyone’s background, expertise, and personality greatly inform how well KLBM works as a unit.
The glue that holds the industry together
The firm’s client base, according to Lee, has actually served fairly well under the pandemic. She attributes it to firstly, how prepared the team was to work remotely, but also pushed the artists she was serving to explore different revenue streams. Unable to tour, many clients have turned to Patreon, developing new merch, or even creating new art, such as new albums, or even filming a new music video-turned-short-film.
Under Lee’s leadership, KLBM has helped clients through some of their most major milestones. They’ve helped them navigate press events, and now they’ve helped them to survive the uncertainty the pandemic has cast across entertainment.
After seventeen years in this industry, Lee believes that business managers are essential to entertainment — the combination of technical and interpersonal skills needed to survive this space makes business management the “glue” that holds entertainment together. Because of its boutique status, KLBM is able to take clients from all walks of life. The team is able to build their client base, yet stay a size that keeps Lee from feeling “out of touch” from the ins and outs of her client’s lives.
“Business management has always stayed quietly in the corner, not speaking without being spoken to,” Lee said, “I say fuck that because my job is cool, it’s important and absolutely necessary for any artist’s career and I want to talk about it.”