A music industry success story

by Emily Kelleher

October 16, 2017

Natalia Nastaskin, head of U.S. music operations at United Talent Agency, spoke as a guest of the Bandier Program

A photo of Natalia Nastaskin and Bandier director Bill Werde
Natalia Nastaskin takes questions while Bandier Program director Bill Werde moderates Saniya More

Natalia Nastaskin, who started her law career helping Russian war veterans copyright their memoirs, now represents household names such as DJ Khalid and A$AP Rocky. She visited campus Oct. 5 to speak to students about her role as the head of U.S. music operations at United Talent Agency, and what it takes to make it in the music industry.

On her journey toward becoming a successful lawyer, Nastaskin said, “I’m probably the least likely candidate or person to get to where I’ve gotten to.” She moved to America from Moscow at eight years old, and was so shy that she would miss her stop on the subway rather than ask people to move. While settling into life in the states wasn’t easy, Nastaskin relied on music to help her overcome the culture shock. In school she made friends by sitting next to the kids with Queen stickers on their notebooks. When her parents gave her 50 cents every other Friday to buy pizza, she’d skip lunch and save the money to buy records, rushing home to translate the lyrics with her Russian dictionary. It was only by playing American records over and over again and imitating their pronunciation that she lost her accent.

“Music to me was how I grew up and how I became a person and how I learned how to exist in this country,” Nastaskin said.

While Nastaskin had dreams of becoming a teacher, her parents insisted she become a lawyer. When she relayed the message to the guidance counselor at her inner-city school, the guidance counselor said point blank, “Our kids do not go on to become lawyers.” Not one to disobey her parents, Nastaskin went on to law school anyway. She described her time there as “complete rage, every single day.” But she found solace in Guns N’ Roses and eventually made it to graduation.

Still unsure about the career path her parents had chosen for her, Nastaskin was working at an international trade law firm when a friend suggested she marry her love for music with her law degree. After an interview at the Recording Industry Association of America, there was no turning back.

“I knew from that moment that I wasn’t wrong about wanting to pursue a career in music,” Nastaskin said. “Even if I have to be a receptionist here, I am never leaving.”

After three interviewers told her she’d need more experience to be hired, Nastaskin opened her own legal practice representing musicians. She sold ads in Russian newspapers to attract a wider customer base and drafted her own contracts because she couldn’t afford the pre-written forms. She made herself constantly available, often lowering her fees so that she didn’t have to turn away any clients. She says her success came from word of mouth, zealously representing her clients and communicating openly with client’s labels.

“I want everyone to win,” Nastaskin said. “But I want me to win more.”

She slowly built up a network of clients until one of them, The Agency Group, hired her as director of strategy and business development in 2009. In 2013 she was named the CEO of the U.S. branch. She moved into her current role at United Talent Agency in 2015.

Since then, Nastaskin’s been featured on Billboard’s Power 100 List and their Women In Music list for three consecutive years, but is still hesitant to call herself successful. When asked how long it took for her to feel like she’d made it, she replied, “It hasn’t happened yet.”

Emily Kelleher is a sophomore magazine major at the Newhouse School.