Disruptors is an ongoing interview series that highlights industry executives and creatives under 35, who are rewriting the rules of the game and moving the cultural needle in the digital age. In this edition, Juliette chats with Connor Treacy of Palm Tree MGMT.
Music manager, nightlife entrepreneur, tech investor, and entertainment executive Connor Treacy, has staked his reputation on an unwavering ability to always keep things poppin’.
From competitive tennis player to elite party planner running LA’s nightlife scene as part of Justin Bieber’s crew to working A&R at Interscope and developing Yungblud into a platinum-selling recording artist, in his short career, Treacy has leveraged gut instinct and learned business savvy to turn himself into one of the entertainment industry’s most innovative young players.
His most recent venture, Palm Tree MGMT, which is a collaboration with Norwegian DJ, singer, songwriter, and producer Kygo and EDM manager Myles Shear, sees Treacy stepping into the role of music manager fulltime and carving out a place for himself at the helm of young Hollywood’s next frontier.
You were born in Venice, California. I understand you used to coach tennis as a teenager and that you got started in the entertainment business by using your earnings as a coach to rent out big mansions in the Hollywood Hills to throw parties. Is that correct?
Yeah. So basically I’ve been playing tennis since I was probably 10-years-old and growing up I played every day after school for four or five hours. I didn’t turn pro, but I was pretty legit. I was nationally ranked and I got to play in a number of big tournaments. A lot of people actually don’t know about that because I’ve kind of kept that hidden. But, I was at least making $50 bucks an hour teaching tennis lessons, so it was a pretty good way for me to fund the new business.
Where did the initial idea to throw these parties come from and what prompted you to think such a thing was even possible to pull off as high school/college student? That shows a certain level of confidence on your part.
There were a few things that happened. First, in 10th or 11th grade, I kind of became the guy that knew where all the parties were at and so I’d text out the address or whatever. Then as I was going from my senior year into my first year of college, that’s when things really started to pop off.
The party that kind of made me was when I was a freshman in college. Basically, there was this kid that I was teaching tennis lessons to, and his parents had a mansion in Beverly Hills, so he was like, ‘Yo, I want to throw a party.’ And I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ We called it ‘Project X’ and invited 100,000 people on Facebook.
According to the LA Times, 500 people showed up but it felt more like 1500 or 2000 people because it was huge. It got a ton of coverage in the press, which I did not anticipate was going to happen, the cops came, they sent the SWAT team in, and there was almost a riot in the street. It was nuts.
One of the reasons it got so much hype was because I’m pretty sure the party happened on the same night that the actual Project X movie was released in theatres. It was in and around there anyway. Actually, one of the actors from the movie showed up.
For a bit of context, right before the party actually happened, another kid had hit me up and was like, ‘Yo, my parents are going out of town. Let’s do a party.’ But, it was supposed to be for the same weekend. So I said, ‘Look, we already have this house locked in, we’ll use your house as the after party house for a couple people to come later and chill.’ What ended up happening was initially all these people went to the first house in Trousdale Estates, but it was a misty night and I guess one of the kids hit a neighbor’s car when they were driving and so the cops shut that party down kind of early around 10 or 11pm. So, really shit went down at the second house in Holmby Hills, because then you had a bunch of kids that got mass texted the address and they all went there. That’s where all the news footage was from.
So this insane party happens and kind of puts you on the map. What’s your next move?
The thing is, when I was growing up, I was never really a popular jock dude, but I wasn’t a nerd either. I was always just a pretty well known kid in my grade, but after that, everyone was like, ‘What the hell? This is crazy!’
When that happened, I just felt like, ‘Okay. I don’t want to lose this.’ So, I took the money that I made from that ‘Project X’ party, and I started booking acts off of Google and renting out 18+ nightclubs.
There was this one place in LA called Dim Mak Studios, which is owned by Steve Aoki. He was cool with me renting it out for four or five nights, weeks in a row, so I did. I booked guys like YG, who at that point wasn’t big yet, and I think I paid like $2500 or $3500 bucks. I also booked the dudes that did the song ‘Teach Me How To Dougie.’
At the time, in 2012, I was going to Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, so I also started throwing all the college parties there. Plus, I was doing downtown LA warehouse parties, so it sort of became a big combo mix. I kind of made a giant concoction of the three crowds – the Beverly Hills mansion kids, the Cal Lutheran college kids, and then the downtown LA underground warehouse scene, and I was doing all of that at once.
How different were those crowds and how did you balance them and learn to cater to what they were individually looking for?
Look, what I try to tell people is that although I’m from LA, I’m not from the Hollywood famous crowd. I didn’t grow up rich. I came from a middle class kind of vibe. The house party crowd was kids that I went to Santa Monica High School with and that got mixed in with the Beverly Hills crowd. Whereas the downtown LA crowd was kind of like your underground hipster, Odd Future kind of a crowd. Then the Cal Lutheran crowd was primarily regular kids from Middle America that wanted to go to college out there mixed with some locals as well. And so it was different. I mean, honestly, it’s way harder to get people to go to the 18+ paid parties in Hollywood where you’re booking acts. When you have a mansion party or you do a college party, everyone goes to those. The downtown LA stuff is more like you have to kind of earn credit in the streets for being about that. Then once you hit it culturally, it’s kind of like a movement that grows organically. So the hardest thing was just balancing it all. I didn’t want to have too hardcore of a fan base in one area more than the other because I didn’t want to be known as just being the downtown warehouse guy, and I definitely didn’t want to just be the guy that peaked doing high school mansion parties. So, that was kind of where my head was at.
Eventually, as word got out, you were approached by popular 21+ LA club Bootsy Bellows to book events for them. You had really only been booking events for a year or so at that point and you weren’t even of age yet.
Yeah, when I got hired by Bootsy Bellows I was still 20-years-old. What happened was, the promoter for Bootsy Bellows actually hit me up to see if I wanted to do my 21st birthday at the club. From there that’s how I met the main promoter and I basically finessed my way into getting a job. Once I got my foot in the door, that’s when I kind of stopped doing all the other parties because it was like, ‘This is where it’s at.’
I should note that, a year prior, a few months after I turned 19, I got sober. Two months after that, that’s when the whole ‘Project X’ thing happened. So, booking these parties kind of became my new addiction. I really dove into it, and I kept trying to make it bigger and bigger. I think that’s why it happened so fast.
As a newly sober young man who was trying to get a foot in the door in the party culture scene in the heart of Hollywood, was it difficult for you to be around that kind of thing at that point?
It was difficult because I’m not just some guy that stopped recreationally drinking. I go to meetings, I have a sponsor, and I do the program.
What sort of challenges did you face as a young person trying to make a name for yourself in that space?
At that point, the hardest thing was just knowing how much I was supposed to make and how to make a profit out of the whole thing. In the beginning, I was getting smoked by all these managers and club owners because I didn’t know the cost of anything. You have to imagine, there were so many managers who felt like, ‘Who is this 19-year-old kid that’s booking my artist into a nightclub that he’s not even legally allowed to drink alcohol in?’
But, I didn’t start this thing to make money, right? My dad’s an electrician and my mom’s a hairstylist, so they had no experience in the entertainment industry. I kind of just liked the feeling of putting things together and seeing people go, and it just became my thing.
In saying that, those early experiences really helped me with the artists I work with now because I can relate to them when they’re new to town, and they don’t know how to negotiate deals and that sort of thing. When I was first starting out, I got taken advantage of by a lot of people, but I’m not like that, you know what I mean? I try to be fair and realistic with all of the artists I meet.
Your 20s can be a trying time without the added pressure of having to convince people to take you seriously. How do you navigate coming up against people who give you a hard time based on your age?
I didn’t come up the conventional way. It’s not like I like started working as an intern for some company, and so that owns me. I’ve kind of always been a rogue agent, and it’s been like that since day one. A lot of people don’t like that they can’t control me. So, I deal with a lot of that.
But, I honestly just try to focus on being a good person and doing a good job and letting the work speak for itself, right? I go with my gut on a lot of things and that has made me really good at reading people. Also, I just try to surround myself with people I trust and people that I think are on the right path. At the end of the day, I work super hard and I know that I will always have things poppin’.
Interestingly, my whole mentality and the approach that I take with a lot of things, that was informed by my time playing tennis is a major way. I think one of my greatest strengths is that I’m willing and able to do hard tasks for years on end without really talking about them or complaining and just finding a way to get them done. You have to remember, when I was doing all those early events and parties, I was a full-time college student, I was playing on the tennis team, and I was ranked nationally. I would be throwing a warehouse party in downtown LA and collecting all the money at 3:30 in the morning, and then I’d have a tennis match with my team at eight o’clock in the morning and I’d have to drive to Thousand Oaks. Sometimes I’d have to sleep in my car on the side of the freeway because I’d be so exhausted. So now, I just don’t get distracted by the noise.
Playing sports definitely promotes a certain level of commitment and discipline. It also helps to unearth a sense of self-confidence that often comes with discovering what you are capable of.
Definitely. And, by the way, I know this gig is not for everyone. I have a very up and down life. One year might be a really big high and then, you know, this year comes around and everything’s shut down. But, I didn’t sign up for a safe life. I dropped out of college in my fourth year to become a nightclub promoter, so that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
How did you become involved with Justin Bieber’s camp?
Basically, what happened was, when I left Bootsy Bellows I think in July of 2014 while I was still a junior in college, I went over to work at 1OAK nightclub because they were the brand new hot club in town. That’s where I became friends with Justin and sort of took on the role of being his point guy as far as booking all of his parties and events. I would travel with him and we’d go to different places. From there, I became the go-to guy for the whole young Hollywood crowd.
Everything was moving so fast that I decided to take a year’s leave of absence from college. I really only dropped out because they weren’t offering online school and I was only taking Capstone classes. Actually, as a side note, I just got accepted to Penn State, so I’m probably just gonna finish up my degree online. Just so I can mentally check it off the bucket list.
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I imagine working with Justin at that point in both of your careers was an education as far as being able to get a first-hand look at the insane amount of work that goes into turning someone into a bonafide superstar.
Yeah. I learned a lot from the Justin Bieber stuff. When I first met him, it was pre-Purpose. So, that was at a time in his life where half the people loved him and half the people hated him, right? I’d be texting people and it was questionable in the beginning. Then when his Purpose album came out it was such a big deal; he just blew up to even bigger heights than was ever imaginable. But, I also learned what it was like when you are friends with someone like Justin, and all of a sudden everyone is jumping around and wants to be friends with you too. So again, just going back to what I said about always having things poppin’. Nobody moves out to LA to just be best friends with people. Everyone is out here to win and trying to achieve their own goals, so you have to keep things moving and always be thinking about the next thing. But, regardless, I learned a lot from it. I met a lot of people, including producers that worked on Justin’s music that I have now gone on to connect with my own artists, and that’s really how a big portion of my career took off.[Connor currently manages 14-year-old pop dynamo Haley Sullivan, whose strong soprano vocal stylings have already drawn comparisons to both Christina Aguilera and Ariana Grande. Her song “Opinion” was produced by friend and Grammy-nominated producer Maejor who is best known for his work on Justin Bieber’s Purpose album. “Opinion” racked up over 4 million plays on TikTok within weeks of its release.]
Pretty soon after that Interscope Records approached you. How did that unfold?
Well, my friend, Justin Sterling, who now is head of marketing for Shawn Mendes, he was working there at the time, and he had hit me up. Basically, he was like, ‘Yo dude. The people at Interscope want to talk to you.’ I said, ‘Okay, cool.’ But, I honestly thought that they were just gonna ask me to be the promoter who brought out artists like Selena Gomez and other big acts they had signed.
So I go into the office, and the president at the time, Neil Jacobson, brings me into a room and I start explaining everything to him. He’s like, ‘Holy shit! You’re a superstar.’ Meanwhile, I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is this guy talking about?’ He was the stereotypical music guy with the man bun. [Laughs] He goes, ‘Do you know what an A&R is? I’m like, ‘I have no idea what that is.’ He’s like, ‘Do you want to work in music?’ And I was like, ‘Sure!’ Because I didn’t really have time to think about it. So, he just said, ‘Great! You’re hired.’ I couldn’t believe it. I just thought, ‘Holy shit. This is crazy.’
When Interscope asked you to go through their emerging artist roster and select an act to develop, you must have felt like, ‘These guys can’t be serious hiring me off the street like this.’
Honestly, that’s kind of been the theme of my life. Usually, right when I think things are about to go to complete shit and I’m done, that’s when God throws me the craziest Hail Mary. [Laughs]
Ultimately, you chose Yungblud, who has since become a platinum-selling artist. What about him spoke to you?
When Interscope asked me to look through their roster and pick what I wanted to do, I found this kid Yungblud that was pretty much a rock act, but he only had two songs out, and 2000 followers on Instagram at that point. We ended up doing a dinner at CATCH in LA and as soon as I met him I just thought, ‘Oh yeah. I can make this kid famous.’
I honestly kind of just blew him up the same way that I came up with all the warehouse parties. I had this friend that would DJ and bring all the people to my parties, and so I had Yungblud perform at one of his shows in downtown LA in front of like 1000 people. That was one of his very first LA shows. From there we sort of slowly made our way through the Hollywood circuit. By the time Halsey came into the picture and they collaborated on ‘11 Minutes,’ which became a massive hit, that whole thing was probably a year-and-a-half to two years later.
In and around the same time you started working with Interscope, you also partnered with your friend Diesel Peltz to begin developing the location-based social app, Twenty, is that correct?
Yeah. The concept, at least in the beginning, was meeting up with friends in real life at events and concerts. The narrative has changed a bit now because of COVID-19, so they’re working closely with different state governments on using the software for finding testing facilities and doing all that kind of stuff, which is pretty fascinating.
How I got involved with them was because I knew the guy who owns the app, which is Diesel. His dad is Nelson Peltz who is a big deal New York business guy. He is Chairman of the Board of Wendy’s, he’s on the board of Procter & Gamble and a bunch of other big companies. Anyway, Diesel showed me his app and I kind of said, ‘You know, it looks like a social networking version of the Find My Friends app and I can see it working because I see a lot of girls I know already use it.’ I had a meeting with them and they showed me their whole deck. Roc Nation, Live Nation, Madison Square Garden, Tao Group, and Endeavor all invested in it. I met the whole team and DJ Khaled was a partner in it. So they basically brought me in, I became an equity holder in the company, and I helped with marketing. I brought in Kaia Gerber, her brother Presley, and her dad, who is now on the board of the company. I brought in the singer Bazzi and a few other people. I helped put together this hoody thing with Doctor Woo, which we gave away to charity. I also helped plan the launch event and we got LeBron James to come along with a bunch of other people, so that was my involvement with it.
Right now, I think it has something like three and a half million users. It’s been ranked Top 10 for its category on the App Store. And, last time I checked, it had raised upwards of $40 million bucks.
From there you left Interscope and moved into music management full-time. Your first client was Haley Sullivan who you discovered on Instagram after she got some love from Ariana Grande. Talk to me about that.
So basically what happened was, I walked into Interscope one day, I sat down on the couch and the first thing I saw when I opened Instagram was this video of Haley singing a cover. I clicked on it and I saw that Ariana Grande had just commented on it. She was like, ‘Oh my god, baby. I love this.’ Or something like that. And then she literally shot up from like 5000 followers, she gained millions of views, and all these people were posting about it. So, I fly her and her family out to LA. We end up working out a deal because I was an A&R at the time. We start putting together some songs, this and that, and then I ended up having a face-to-face conversation with my boss, Neil. He was like, ‘Look dude, if you really believe in this, you should just go for it.’ So, I quit in October of 2019, and decided to manage her full-time.
Not long after that, you were approached by Kygo’s manager Myles Shear and you guys decided to form a management partnership, which is now Palm Tree MGMT. How did that come to be?
Well, when I left Interscope, I was pretty much riding dirty for like six months. I was just by myself managing Haley. I wasn’t working with anyone. Myles, who I’ve know for almost five years, came and met with me and was like, ‘Dude, I don’t care what I have to do, let’s just partner and do this together. I believe in you and I think we can do this.’ At that point, I was like, ‘Look, I’ll be honest with you, bro. I love you, but I put a lot of my own money and blood, sweat and tears into doing this thing. I just don’t know. I think I’m gonna try and take my chances.’
I waited a couple of months and in the meantime, I was at a dinner with Haley and Myles happened to randomly be at the same restaurant. He text me and just said, ‘Bro, that girl’s a superstar. Please, let’s do this.’ So, we met again and he was like, ‘Look, dude, what do I have to do?’ At that point I kind of had this gut feeling like if I do this with him this is going to fast forward my career by two or three years. So, I said, ‘Fuck it. Let’s do it.’
Myles has been really helpful. He brought in this really great production group called Dreamlab and they’ve done a lot stuff for Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. They’re executive producing Haley’s whole project, and Haley’s actually in LA right now working on that. So, that’s what’s going on right now.
We’re also managing this great kid Caleb Peters, who I found in a similar way. I was online and I saw his cover video of “Sweater Weather” by The Neighbourhood, and it was just going off. He got something like one and a half million people on it. And then I saw Alec Benjamin commented on another one of his posts and I was like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ So, I called Myles and he was just like, ‘This kid is unbelievable.’
We started talking with him, and by the way, we haven’t even met the guy in person yet because all of this happened during the quarantine. But, he’s a whole separate animal because he works out of his own recording studio at his place in Detroit, and he produces everything himself. So, he’s been just sending us tracks. We released the first one already, which is called “Carousel,” and it recently got featured on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist.
You guys started your new management venture right as the pandemic hit. Has that affected the trajectory of your first year in business at all?
For me personally, the quarantine kind of worked out perfectly in that I was looking at this year as a complete building year anyways. I knew it was gonna take at least a year to really work this thing out, and so it really hasn’t changed anything for me. As far as Haley goes, we weren’t going to be touring at all this year regardless, so we’re just continuing with recording as planned.
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I think for anyone out there, right now it’s important to try and find the positive in all of this. I’d say try and focus on one thing that you really want to own and plant some seeds for the future in terms of what you want to bring to fruition.
Talk to me about your approach to music management, what Palm Tree MGMT brings to the table that other music management companies don’t, and what your larger goals are for the company in a post-COVID world.
As an artist manager, I want to own the best ‘cool new young X,’ so to speak. That was what I did in the promoting world. I always owned young Hollywood. I had Justin Bieber. I had Martin Garrix. I had the best young X for each sector of the entertainment industry. Now, with the whole music thing, I want to represent the best young pop singer, the best young indie artist, so I’m focusing on young artists that I know will be the next best thing in each category.
Plus, I feel it’s an advantage to find artists when they’re super young. For example, I started working with Haley right after she turned 14. I knew that I could literally mold her into becoming a monster by the time she’s 16 to the point where other girls her age are going, ‘Wow. How does she have this much swag?’ Mind you, she’s a cool girl all on her own and she posts what she wants to posts. That’s all her. I’m just there helping her know where to shop, where to hang, because my experiences have enabled me to know better than anyone what is cool in Hollywood.
The thing is, I wish I had someone to point me in the right direction when I was coming up, you know? In the beginning, I was pulling up to the club in a Ford Explorer with a huge dent on the front of it, a really crappy button-up t-shirt, and not knowing what was going on. No offense to Ford Explorer [laughs], but that’s kind of what happened.
But, regardless, I kind of just have this crazy desire inside to be successful. I don’t really have a five-year plan or anything; I’ve kind of been winging it all along and just going with it. I didn’t know music was in the cards, and I don’t know what’s in the cards after this, but my goal for this year and next year is just to blow up as a manager, kind of how I blew up as a promoter. So, that’s kind of the vibe right now, and I think it’s possible. I think it’s gonna work.
Lastly, you are involved with a number of causes including First Book and Feeding America. I understand that one of your larger goals is to eventually be able to expand your philanthropic efforts in a much bigger way. Talk to me a bit about those long-term goals.
Yeah totally. A while back, I saw a documentary on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and I just thought it was super inspirational. I liked the fact that he almost had a bulletin board of key issues and he was like, ‘Alright, number one. We’re gonna go to Africa and put in a bunch of pipes so that people have plumbing for toilets.’ And then they made it happen. I’m a very linear, point-by-point person, so I thought that was a cool approach to making a difference in the world and getting things done.
I mean look, I’m not a multi-millionaire or anything like that, but I’ve had a four bedroom house in the hills, I’ve driven every kind of car you can think of, I’ve worn nice clothes and jewelry and done all that, and the truth is, I don’t think that stuff is important. What people don’t understand is, sure it’s cool, but you get over that after a week or two, you know what I mean? The really cool thing, once you have the money and the influence, is to be able to take a step back and look at real life issues, figure out how to fix them, and then go out and get it done. I may not be in a position right now to be able to make a major impact the way some others can, but that’s what I’m working toward and where I’d like to be down the line.