Now THAT was interesting.
So I'm at Q Prime, back in October, and I'm checking my e-mail and I get a message from a guy who says he's Lady GaGa's manager. Off the top of my head, I don't know who Lady GaGa's manager is, so I ask Peter Mensch for confirmation of the relationship and when he says it's solid I dial the number in the e-mail and speak with Troy Carter. Who asks me if I'll come speak to his troops.
Today was the day. At Soho House. In West Hollywood. On the cusp of Beverly Hills. About twenty people, around a long slim table.
Funny, there was no attitude. No malaise. Just eagerness and attentiveness.
Troy asked questions.
And his team did too.
But the most fascinating interlude was when the tables turned, when I got Troy's story.
Son of a single mother. From Philadelphia. Came up with DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Even to Bel Air with Will Smith.
Or, what did Bob Dylan once so famously sing, "when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose"?
That's what fascinating about the entertainment business. There's no admission requirement, no basic curriculum you complete to get in. And if you think music business college is gonna get you to the top, you're sorely mistaken. Entrepreneurs are born, not made. Or to put it more accurately, it's who you are, not what you own or who your daddy is or where you went to school that matters. Can you think on your feet? Can you make things happen?
Steve Jobs dropped out of college.
If you want to steer the corporation, you can get an MBA and work your way up the ranks. But if you want to invent something brand new, you've got to go your own way and take the hits. A path many pay lip service to but few ultimately journey forward upon. Because they're just too damned scared. Not only is it easier to go to law school, but it's also easier to make a deal with the devil, the major label, then it's THEIR problem. But you're only successful if it's YOUR PROBLEM!
And believe me, Lady GaGa's issues, her career, her direction, as well as Greyson Chance's, are Troy Carter's problems.
Now you can get a toehold if you've got a famous dad. And there's always someone in Hollywood ready to take your money if you're rich. But if you want to make it forever, you've got to be smart. Really smart. David Geffen smart. Irving Azoff smart.
I was impressed how smart Troy Carter is.
So he ends up going to work for Puffy. When Sean Combs was still using that moniker. What did he do? EVERYTHING! Take out the trash, open the mail. Too many people are too big to do the little things, and they get left behind.
Then he promoted shows in Philadelphia. And made a deal with Sanctuary. And then the English company ran out of money and Troy was out on the street.
That's when he connected with GaGa.
He got her when nobody wanted her. When she'd been dropped from Def Jam. Troy got her a new deal with Interscope. And then…
We talked about Justin Bieber.
It's an interesting question. Do you plan for the long haul? IS THERE A LONG HAUL?
I don't think so. Justin's voice is gonna change. And he didn't write the songs. GaGa wrote the songs. It bonded her to her audience. She blew up. Now?
This is where it gets really interesting, truly fascinating. Troy told me how he was going to launch the new album.
Unfortunately, it was off the record. But you'll see. It won't be long.
But I'll tell you this. His goal is to sell 30 million albums. Maybe 40 million.
Don't laugh. That's the power of the Internet. You can reach everybody. Shouldn't everybody be up for buying your music?
That's what we've got in the world today. Winners and losers. And not much in between. But if you're a winner, what's the limit?
Laugh at the number ones on the SoundScan chart. Amos Lee is never going to be a household word. And neither is that Christian rock band that's supposed to enter at number one next week. But GaGa is already a household name. If Verizon can break sales records in two hours with the iPhone (http://on.wsj.com/igBH89), shouldn't this mania be able to translate to a musical act?
But what's the price?
Troy is an advocate of lowering the price. To get everybody in. That's the future of music. Low-priced subscriptions that EVERYBODY buys. Instead of pooh-poohing this, look at the cell phone industry. Where handsets used to be a grand and calls were a buck a minute. Who needed a cell phone? Wasn't that for Maxwell Smart? Turns out EVERYBODY needs a cell phone, and what it does…you couldn't have even conceived of five years ago.
So how do you get everybody to buy those records…
Not via the radio, not at first. You'd think that radio would be jumping to air new product. But radio is now last. But Troy believes that without radio the project doesn't scale. And believe me, he's interested in projects that scale. He rejects nine out of ten acts that come to him for management.
First it's about the music. If you know you've got a hit, you've got to stick with it. Could take an entire year for the track to become ubiquitous, for radio to finally go on it. Don't get discouraged, don't change singles, either believe in your cut or don't put it out.
And you look for stickiness online. And then pounce.
Are people watching the video? Then instantly go on Twitter and Facebook, start a dialogue, promise to follow the first 20,000 people who follow you.
So GaGa's in a meeting with Steve Jobs…
That's right. Money can't buy you love. Not even fame. But artistry? Everyone wants to be involved with artists, because of the elusive charisma and the fanatical fan base. The doors come open. You've got access.
And the key is not to suck up to the bankers, but to manipulate them to your advantage.
Anyway, Steve shows GaGa….
I don't want to tell tales out of school. But Jobs shows GaGa the latest Apple creation and GaGa says it sucks. Steve didn't like this, he argued. But that's what being a rock star truly is. Being honest. Using your power to say what you think, playing to the audience as opposed to the middleman.
That's what we love. Unfiltered truth. Gimme some truth.
So far, GaGa's been right about that Apple product.
Stick to your guns.
Because of Lady GaGa's success, because of the rabidity of her fan base, doors have opened across the business landscape. She can get a meeting with anyone. Everybody wants to be in business with her.
And it's not about saying yes, but partnering with these enterprises to your greatest advantage.
At some point in the future we'll have acts that sell the equivalent of thirty million records. Will GaGa be the first? She's trying. Maybe.
You've got to think big. You can't worry about Wal-Mart and the old powers, you've got to enter the new world and figure out how to play by the new rules.
Troy Carter impressed me. It wasn't about winning through intimidation, but leading with the best music and then running that ball to the goal line.
We live in an exciting era where everything's up for grabs. If you're doing it the old way, you're destined for the scrapheap.
I believe new players will triumph over so many of the old.
But I also believe Malcolm Gladwell had it right. That the 10,000 hours make a difference. He with the most experience who's willing to take chances, who is not wedded to the past, will win.
Don't decry Spotify, e-mail Shak and get hooked up.
Tweet, social network, sign up for Groupon.
How can you succeed if you're not familiar with the tools?
Music doesn't change. When done right, nothing means more. How do you get the great music to the public? How do you inform and infect them? That's the question.