1978: Rob Light’s 26-year tenure as CAA’s head of music really has no equal in the biz. He has long been among the tiny handful of execs whose names are synonymous with the live business.

Rob has said that witnessing a Bruce Springsteen concert at age 18 clarified his career path, and it wouldn’t be long before he was on that path. At Syracuse University, where he was “concert chairman,” his fellow students included John Sykes and Phil Quartararo; Sykes went off to CBS Records and Phil Q to A&M. Rob started in the ICM mailroom in 1978, and in short order he snookered his way onto the desks of storied agents Terry Rhodes and Shelly Schultz. In the spring of 1979—at the tender age of 22—he became an agent himself.

In 1981, Sykes, Bob Pittman and Les Garland approached him about a job at a new cable venture that would play music videos. Rob thought it was a stupid idea and passed; MTV launched that summer. He also turned down a gig at Columbia tendered the following year by Arma Andon and Phil Sandhaus, though he did recommend a young college buyer from Iowa, Jack Rovner, who got the job. 

A NEW ERA: Five years later, in 1984, Tom Ross, head of music at ICM and then considered the top music agent in the business, was poached by Michael Ovitz to build the CAA music department. Ross moved Rob to L.A. to join him at the agency. The three acts they brought with them were Hall & Oates, Rick Springfield and Fleetwood Mac; within the first year they’d secured America, Jackson Browne, Earth Wind & Fire, J. Geils Band, Herbie Hancock, Jefferson Starship, Rickie Lee Jones, The Kinks, Bette Midler, The Motels, Prince, Lou Reed, Supertramp and Styx. CAA would add one major act after another to its roster on the way to becoming the preeminent music agency of the ’80s and ’90s.

When Rob arrived, Mitch Rose was already at CAA as an assistant in the agency’s TV department. A huge music fan, Rose moved over to the music department and, after some time in the trenches as an assistant, was upped to agent himself. Rose, alongside such heavy hitters as the late, great Bobby BrooksMike Piranian (at whose desk Rose had worked) and Carole Kinzel, was among the top agents at the firm in its early years.

SHOWING UP AND BLOWING UP: 1997 was marked by Ross’ notorious feud with SFX Entertainment chief Robert F.X. Sillerman, whose $1b drive to roll up regional concert promoters nationwide followed a similar buying spree of radio stations. The fight boiled over when Ross took to the podium at the Concert Industry Consortium in 1997 to rail against Sillerman, lamenting that the latter “destroyed the business I grew up in,” and decrying an overall “corporate” drift in the industry.

Ross was a huge personality, given to occasional erratic behavior, which—in combination with the Sillerman contretemps—ultimately led to his exit from CAA after Ray Daniels fired him from Van Halen for not showing up one too many times and Ross refused a huge offer to share U2 tour monies with Michael Cohl. Cohl ended up doing the tour without CAA’s involvement, which represented a major loss of revenue and prestige for the latter—and even more importantly, marked the end of U2’s involvement with agencies for decades to come.

But Ross' departure was also fueled by changes at the agency and in the biz overall. Ovitz left for a high-profile tenure at Disney; Ronny Meyer also left, and the “young Turks”—Richard Lovett, Kevin Huvane, Bryan Lourd, Rick Nicita and David O’Connor—came to power. The loose, rock & roll vibe Ross preferred was now supplanted by an array of “button-down guys,” a cultural shift he disliked and distrusted.

LIGHT AND HEAT: In 1998, when Ross exited CAA, Rob took the reins as head of global touring. His starry client list has included Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, Bon Jovi, Red Hot Chili Peppers and, yes, Springsteen. He has earned renown for his innovative approach to dealmaking, his trusted relationships with artists and his intuitive ability to adjust to changes in the marketplace. During his tenure, CAA became the big kahuna of live music and comedy, with more market share among the top 100 touring acts than the next four agencies combined. Rob was voted “Agent of the Year” by trade publications more times than you’ve had hot dinners.

ICM was acquired by CAA in 2022 after a long decline; the mighty WME has been through mergers and foment at the top and a revolving door at the music division; troubled Paradigm was absorbed by Casey Wasserman. Other agencies saw major transitions, notably in music. But CAA’s music team sailed on with the key players largely unchanged over multiple decades. Rob’s colleagues give him much credit for the sense of stability and security that pervaded there.

Rob has long been one of the most fervent evangelists of the power and importance of the live experience—and remains as energetic in advocating for it as he was in 1975 after experiencing the Boss in concert. Now, having completely transformed CAA’s music division, he passes the torch to the new leadership team of Banks, Eaton and Roskin, stepping into the role of managing director. Word is he'll continue to sign acts and advise key clients on strategy.

It’s time to say it: Rob is the GOAT, and his backstory is a mini-history of the modern industry. And of all the machers in the biz, he is one of the true mensches.

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME: Tom Ross’ thesis about the corporatization of the business was borne out by subsequent events. In 2000, Clear Channel Communications bought SFX in a stock deal valued at around $4b. Five years later, with the DOJ’s antitrust division breathing down its neck, Clear Channel spun off its live-music wing, which was dubbed Live Nation. CC’s radio holdings, meanwhile, were sold off to Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners in 2008 and subsequently became iHeartMedia, under the leadership of Pittman.

In 2010, the DOJ approved the LN-Ticketmaster merger; Irving Azoff served as chairman (having already merged his Front Line Management with Ticketmaster), while Rapino became CEO of the combined entity. Live Nation Entertainment would later enrage the Swifty army and bring Justice back into the fray as Bruce Springsteen superfan Merrick Garland vowed to break up the company.

Now read part two, in which two of Rob's contemporaries launch an unusual new venture.