Q&A with UMEM Program Alumnus Who Works as Paula Abdul’s Assistant/Coordinator in Beverly Hills

Ashley Barber with Paul Abdul

Ashley Barber, an alumnus of the UM Entertainment Management program who works as Paula Abdul's assistant and coordinator, recently did an interview with UMEM.  His answers offer insight into how he got such amazing jobs in the entertainment industry and include some words of wisdom for current students in the program.

Where is your hometown?  Belgrade, Montana

How many years did you spend in UMEM?  3

Who/what was your favorite speaker/project?  Maria Brunner, Gretchen Fox, James Yelich, Jeremy Sauter, Brian Knaff and Mike McGinley. My favorite project was the Festival on the Oval, when a UMEM classmate and friend, Hannah Heilicher, and I flew in a helicopter over the Oval and dropped out swag to the students below.

What were your most memorable program experiences?  One of my favorite memorable experiences was going to the Pollstar awards with a small group of UMEMers in February of 2012 (back when the conference was in L.A.).  It was my first time going to an entertainment conference and awards show, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It ended up being an incredible experience! I was able to go with my classmates and volunteer for the conference and also go to many of the panels and Q&As.

I feel like that trip was the culmination of the years and many classes at UMEM. All year in class, we had watched class lecturers and learned about what being in the industry was like.  This trip allowed us to network and ask questions and feel like we were a part of that industry. The trip was exhausting but very rewarding. We were volunteering and going to panels from 8am-5pm and then networking and attending cocktail events until the wee hours of the morning. We all barely got a few hours of sleep a night, but the contacts we made and the lessons we learned were invaluable.   

What do you do on a daily basis at your job, and why do you love it? I work for Paula Abdul as her executive assistant/coordinator. I interface with the highest levels of her management, legal and production team and carry out jobs and projects from preproduction to completion. I love this job because every day I learn something new, and every day I meet new people and am able to grow in the industry. 

What skills or lessons did you learn in the program that have helped you in your career? I think the biggest lessons I learned were to work hard, be a good communicator and to network. I’m not just talking about when you’re invited to things like Pollstar or when you’re at your respective internships. I mean after the 401 or 402 classes when you have those amazing lecturers speaking in the room with you.

During class, ask as many questions as you can. After class, go down to the front and talk to them. If you’re lucky and get invited to drinks and dinner with the lecturer, take the time to talk to them about their experiences and career.

All of those things helped me feel and embody a level of vicariousness and professionalism and when I moved to L.A. I didn’t feel like a fish out of water. I felt that I was at a higher level of understanding and a better level of confidence than someone who had just graduated and didn’t have any of those experiences. 

Do you have any advice for current program students about the path to success? One of the biggest things I’m constantly hearing in the entertainment industry is how a lot of the younger generation of people are entitled and arrogant. I’m not saying everyone is like that, but we live in a time where technology and social media makes a lot of us complacent, entitled and arrogant.

So here’s my advice: Expect to start at the bottom of the ladder and slowly work your way up. You might get lucky and be the next Mark Zuckerberg and take a small company out of college and make it into a billion dollar phenomenon. But most likely you’re going to be like every other manager, agent, producer and director that had to start off as an assistant, PA or in the mailroom and slowly work their way up. Nothing happens overnight, and having the wrong attitude or entitled persona can easily land you out of a job. Be humble, work hard and know that it takes time to move up and be promoted. Perseverance and initiative are better recognized in the entertainment industry than ego and entitlement.

Tell us a little about your journey since leaving school. Other jobs and activities that have contributed or help lead you to where you are today. Since I moved to L.A., I was lucky enough to land a job as an assistant to Michael King, producer and founder of King World Productions (Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Oprah, Hollywood Squares, etc.).  After Michael retired, I took a position as an associate producer and junior talent manager at a boutique talent management company in Beverly Hills. After six months, I was recruited to work for Paula Abdul as one of her key team associates with her company Abdul, Inc.