This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Scooter Braun, founder, SB Projects.
Don’tcha just wanna swat Justin Bieber?
While the music industry is supposedly tanking, Bieber's ability to harness his vast online fan base has been unprecedented.
Bieber’s YouTube videos have been viewed more than 750 million times; he has more than 12 million Facebook friends; and more than 6.2 million people follow his every move on Twitter.
Downloads of his songs are over 10 million.
Bieber's breakout “My World” tour has grossed $35.6 million, and moved 740,000 tickets to 62 AEG Live shows.
"When I made the original deal [with Bieber] it was before the record came out," recalls AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips to Ray Waddell, Executive Dir. of Content & Programming for Touring and Live Entertainment at Billboard (Billboard.Biz, Dec. 10, 2010). "It was a pretty large deal, and we had to figure out how to get to that number. We had phase one, which was small venues and theaters, and phase two, which was bigger theaters and cut-down areas, and a phase three, which was full-blown arenas and multiple nights. We never got to phase one or phase two; it happened so fast."
Millions of daughters and moms in America will no doubt be lining up Feb. 9, 2011 for an exclusive "sneak preview" screening for the upcoming 3D film, “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.”
Meanwhile, Bieber is nominated for two Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal album for “My World 2.0,” and for Best New Artist.
Bieber had a deliciously perfect night at the recent American Music Awards, winning all four awards he was nominated for: Entertainer of the Year; Breakthrough Artist of the Year; Favorite Pop/Rock Male (beating Eminem and Usher); and Favorite Pop/Rock Album for “My World 2.0.”
A Caution: Mess with Bieber, and his manager Scooter Braun will follow you into Hell to get comeback.
Braun knows something you don’t know. He knows for 100% certainty that Bieber will be an iconic entertainment figure two decades from now.
Braun famously discovered the teen heartthrob in 2007 through videos that Bieber and his mother had posted on YouTube. When Braun found Bieber on YouTube, he had a handful of videos on his account, with a few thousand views each. Braun was then consulting for an act that Akon had in a production deal, and he was looking at his YouTube videos. Then he came across the video of Bieber performing Otis Redding’s “Respect.”
Braun then tracked down Bieber's mother Pattie Mallette in Stratford, Ontario, and convinced her to fly with Bieber to Atlanta for a meeting.
In his recent autobiography, “21 Steps to Forever” Bieber recalls that his single mother was very suspicious of the pushy guy on the phone until a two-hour conversation revealed much about Braun’s deep feelings about family and morals.
Braun met them at the airport in a purple Mercedes. The three hit it off. Braun introduced the Biebers to Usher and Jermaine Dupri. Braun also signed Bieber, who had just turned 13, to a management deal.
After creating more YouTube videos and building up his online presence, Braun, who had earlier begun also managing Philadelphia white rapper Asher Roth, scheduled meetings with labels. Everyone turned him down saying Bieber was far too young, and didn’t have Nickelodeon or Disney behind him.
At around the same time, though, Usher's road manager asked Braun if he had signed a new artist since Roth, who was now developing strong buzz on the mixtape circuit. Braun showed him Bieber's YouTube clips, and Usher soon called to set up a meeting.
Bieber signed a multi-rights deal with Raymond Braun Music Group, which was created specifically for him. Chairman and CEO of Island Def Jam Music Group L.A. Reid, in turn, inked Bieber to a 50/50 joint venture with Island Def Jam Music Group in late 2008.
Bieber's debut album, "My World” in 2009 debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200. Four tracks—"One Time," "One Less Lonely Girl," "Favorite Girl" and "Love Me"—were released prior to the album's street date. All charted, making Bieber the first solo artist to have four top 40 singles before the release of his debut album. All 7 of the album's songs, in fact, charted.
Bieber’s follow-up album "My World 2.0" shipped platinum (one million units). The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, selling 283,000 copies in its first week.
Once again, four tracks were released to iTunes, and reached the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. "Baby" debuted at #5. The track peaked at #1 in France, and charted in the Top Ten in the U.K., Canada, Australia, Norway, Japan, Ireland, Hungary, Belgium, Ireland, and New Zealand.
There are few people who could have predicted that Braun's career would unfold this way. It was expected he would be a politician or a lawyer.
From Greenwich, Conn., Braun's family is wealthy. He lived in a house with tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a basketball court. He was a star guard on Greenwich High’s basketball team, played Amateur Athletic Union basketball, and was high school class president three times.
Braun recalls being a fan of Michael Jackson’s music as a child. His parents have videos of him at two dancing to Jackson’s records. While his father listened to opera, Braun grew up listening Motown and everything from the Allman Brothers to Dave Matthews Band to Bob Dylan to Biggie.
While a freshman at Emory University in Atlanta, Braun sharpened his entrepreneurial chops in the fake ID market, serving as the link between kids who needed IDs, and the supplier who forged them.
One night out with friends in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, Braun passed by the Paradox nightclub, which was dark. Braun met the manager, and made him an offer: He would pack the club the following Thursday in exchange for the door receipts. The manager agreed. Braun and some shapely female friends then blanketed Emory’s campus with flyers advertising his party, and he hired a DJ for the event.
Over 800 people showed up.
Braun continued to throw parties and his Thursday night events became a focal point of the Emory social scene. By the end of his freshman year, he was making $5,000-$10,000 per party.
Braun bought a purple Mercedes Benz on eBay for $35,000, and began hanging out at the Velvet Room, where many of the city's leading hip hop celebrities hung out. Entrance was $100. Braun would stay until the wee hours of the morning, meeting such celebrities as Ludacris, Fat Joe and P. Diddy.
Braun began booking weekly parties the Riviera nightclub on Thursday nights, which became huge draws.
Then Braun got his big break.
Rapper/actor Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges was about to embark on the national U.S. Anger Management Tour 2002 with Eminem. Ludacris and his manager Chaka Zulu asked Braun to organize parties in New York, Tampa, Hartford, Miami and Atlanta.
That led to producer/rapper Jermaine Dupri asking Braun to join So So Def Records to help out in its marketing department. Braun was just 20.
Within a year, Braun was named So So Def's Executive Director of Marketing.
Meanwhile, he was still throwing his parties, and was consulting with a number of musical acts and companies.
Braun threw a week's worth of parties in conjunction with NBA All-Star Weekend 2003 in Atlanta. He also threw parties for the ‘NSYNC Celebrity Basketball Weekend, and Britney Spears' Onyx Hotel Tour 2004, both in Miami.
After six years of throwing parties, and closing in on being 25, Braun walked away from the party world while he was on top. He also left So So Def Recordings. He wanted to be his own man. He wanted equity.
Braun soon discovered Asher Roth on MySpace. Here was a white Philadelphia rapper attending West Chester University of Pennsylvania as an elementary education major who had posted several freestyle tracks on MySpace. Liking what he heard, Braun signed Roth to his SchoolBoy Records imprint in late 2007.
Teaming up with Steve Rifkind's SRC/Loud label, through Universal Motown, Roth released his first mixtape "The Greenhouse Effect” in 2008, followed by his debut album, "Asleep in the Bread Aisle." Roth's lead single, "I Love College," sold 360,000 digital downloads within four weeks of release.
Having found one act on the Internet, Braun was ready to spring fast when he saw Justin Bieber’s videos on YouTube.
Today, Braun only 29, is currently shopping for a house in Los Angeles. He already keeps a place in New York, in addition to maintaining an office in Atlanta.
Many people smirk when Justin’s name comes up. Most of them haven’t listened to his recordings.
That’s what we deal with. Unfortunately, sometimes the phenomenon becomes bigger than the music. It never gets bigger, but people forget the phenomenon is because of the music.
We live in the world of former teen idols like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.
What about Usher, Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson? These are four superstars who started off at the same age as Justin. There are so many (former teen stars) that have become gigantic megastars. There are so many of them. And all we do is talk about failure. It’s really sad. It’s part of our human nature to exploit failure before we celebrate success.
Justin is nominated for two Grammy Awards. It will be a real test for him since the categories are not voted on by fans, but by his peers in the music industry.
It’s the Grammys. It’s what you work for, and there’s prestige that goes with it. One of the things I worry about the Grammys is that it’s a panel that doesn’t know his music or that he plays four instruments. They don’t know he co-writes and co-produces, that his albums are actually fantastic. But I’m not going to let a panel of people influence what I know that we’ve done. Taylor Swift didn’t win best new artist, and she’s doing okay.
Last year, Justin was nominated for a bunch of Junos (in Canada), and lost every single one. Honestly, I thought that was bullshit. I felt in my heart that it was the Canadian music community saying, “Okay, you are a big star, but you are not credible to us.”
[Justin Bieber was nominated in three Juno Award categories: New Artist of the Year, Pop Album of the Year, and Album of the Year. At the awards, Bieber performed his mega-hit “Baby” with Drake substituting for Ludacris.]
At the recent American Music Awards, Justin took home four awards.
That was an unbelievable feeling. Just to see the classy way he ended it. I was very proud.
Few people have gone through the whirlwind you are experiencing. What’s it like being in the middle of it?
That’s a very open-ended question. Honestly, it’s exciting. People ask me all the time, “What’s it like? What’s it like?” I guess that my best answer is (it’s about) the pride that I take in Justin and my team. The work that we do, and the talent that he has. It’s fun. You take a step back, and you realize that you are part of music history. We’re very appreciative. At the same time, I have no intention on this being the highlight chapter of my career or in my life.
I have always found that when you reach any kind of achievement, people look at you like, “This is it. This is amazing.” But, I live for curiosity of how far I can take it. I think that the real challenge is, someday, being able to have a family, and being a good father. That’s the ultimate challenge. Still, this is exciting, and I love what I do on a daily basis. For that, I think, that I am blessed.
Are offers being thrown at you daily?
Yeah. I get about 5,000 emails a day.
What’s the most ludicrous offer you have turned down?
Nothing is ludicrous. I am a believer that no idea is ludicrous. It just might not be the right place at the right time. I say no a lot though.
[The entertainment collectible company Panini America just released its first line of Bieber-approved collectibles. Included are 150 trading cards, 30 stickers, four unique puzzles, countless bits of must-have Bieber trivia and – drum roll, please – 500 randomly inserted authentic autographs from Bieber himself.]
How big is your staff?
There are nine people. Only two of them are based out of Atlanta and I’m moving them to L.A. I’m in New York, and L.A. mostly, but I’m currently buying a house in L.A.
How long has Justin been out on the road?
There have been 90 shows between June and December (including radio sponsored events). All sold out.
How do you rest him? Even experienced singers sometimes blow their voices or get nodes at such a pace.
We’re walking that line. When I first saw him, he was singing from his throat. I got him to a vocal coach right away, who started teaching him about the diaphragm. He’s much better about (his voice), but he still has bad tendencies.
How often are you on the road with him?
I fly in and out, but I’m there 99% of the time with Justin. You have to make that kind of commitment sometimes, especially with a kid I brought into this. You have to be there.
Why do you have to be there?
More for role model reasons than work reasons.
You truly believe Justin could still be making records at 40?
I hope so. I think it’s about preserving his voice. It’s torn and been beaten up a bit right now, so he’s looking forward to getting some rest.
Justin fights to remain normal.
It’s his biggest struggle at times, and he handles it very well. But, I think it’s scary to him. It is very scary to think that, maybe, for the rest of his life that he is never going to be normal again.
How do you keep he and his family insulated from the media gossip?
Look, you deal with that every single day. You can’t appease everyone. What you can do is make the right decisions for you. You try to do the best job you can to reach out to everybody.
Was “Respect” the YouTube video that first impressed you?
No. “Respect” was the first (video) that I saw and it got me interested. It was his performance of Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” that got me excited.
You convinced Justin’s mother Pattie to meet you in Atlanta with Justin. Did you first go to Stratford?
No. I flew them on my own dime down to Atlanta. I was never to Stratford until this past year. (On trips), we’d go to Toronto, and they would go home (to Stratford), and I would go home.
You cold-called Pattie about Justin?
Yeah. She called me (back) because she got so many messages to call from an unknown number trying to find her. She called me back to get rid of me. I got her talking. We talked about morals and family and what is important and what I saw in her son. I told her, “I’m not asking you to make a decision. I am asking you just come and meet me. I think I can show you a world that Justin could excel in, and go beyond.”
Here she is, a single mom, living in a small town that nobody in her family had gotten out of. I think as a young girl she had dreams of getting out, so I don’t think she really believed me. She didn’t want him in the music business at all because she had heard all of the horror stories, but we ended up talking for two hours. Not about Justin or about music, but talking about family and morals.
Did you not have the “juice” to approach L.A. Reid (chairman and CEO of Island Def Jam Music Group) directly about a deal? You had to bring Usher in to sell L.A. on a deal for Justin.
I had the “juice” to get a deal, I didn’t have the juice to get this deal. Usher is one of the most successful artists that L.A. has had in his career, and Usher is like a son to L.A. So when Usher comes in and says, “You need to check this out, I want you to be part of it,” there is a certain amount of, “You’re my family and I need to do this for you.”
When L.A. met Justin, Asher Roth hadn’t even dropped a single yet. If it was six months later, and Asher had his number three album ("Asleep in the Bread Aisle") and a platinum single ("I Love College"), I wouldn’t have needed that. But at the time I did. I don’t regret it, because I felt that it was the perfect synergy.
You take someone that young, and you are changing their life. That must have played on your mind.
My mother said, “If you do this, it isn’t like another kid, like Asher (and older). You have to become a father figure to this kid.” I have taken that very seriously. I have changed my entire lifestyle for Justin Bieber. I love him like he’s my own blood. I would take a bullet for him, and he knows that. Our relationship goes far beyond music. If he couldn’t sing a lick tomorrow he would still be welcomed in my house every day of his life.
It was still a big responsibility to take on.
You have to understand that I have two adopted brothers from Mozambique. My parents took them into our home as if they were their own kids when these guys were 13 and 15 years old. People always say, “You guys are so great for taking these two kids in your home.” The way my family looks at it is, “Thank God they came into our home, because they gave us so much perspective, and they added such a beautiful layer to our family.” Justin is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I am a better man because of the man I have to be for Justin.
Family is obviously very important to you.
Well, I have a tattoo on my wrist—the only one on my entire body—and it says “family.” It is, by far, my number one priority. I recently had Thanksgiving with my family. My father asked us to go around the table, my cousins and everybody, and say what we hoped to be thankful for the next year. I basically told everyone that the extraordinary life that I have been living for the last year, and the things that I am getting to experience are really a once in a lifetime (experiences). That if you don’t have that family to come home to on Thanksgiving, it’s not really worth anything.
Your father wasn’t pleased years ago, when you dropped out of university.
It was a very emotional conversation. I remember him saying, “Well, you’re cut off.” Then he started laughing, and said, “You haven’t asked me for money since you were 18. I guess that I can’t really stop you, can I?” I said, "No, you can’t.” My family is very proud (of my work). I live by their example. I hope that they are proud because everything that I am today is a reflection of what they tell me.
What did you study at Emory University in Atlanta?
I always like to draw from people that I admire, so I was looking at (Hungarian-American financier, businessman) George Soros at the time. Soros had been both a finance business major, and a philosophy major. I had heard George say that he drew more from philosophy than he did his business acumen. So, I was working on getting a philosophy major, and a business major. I was going to try to do a double major, but I dropped out in my sophomore year.
What was the attraction of Emory University?
I was recruited to play basketball, and then I hurt my knee going into my senior year (in high school). A lot of the mid-level D1 schools that were interested, then told me that I would basically sit on the bench, or I would walk on. Emory was like, “C’mon, let’s go. Let’s rock and roll.” Emory is a great school, and I also liked the fact that it was far away from home. That I didn’t have any family (there) or know anyone there. I felt that I could go down there and not be the kid from Greenwich. Not be the son of Ervin and Susan. I could go down there, and recreate myself. Try to make a success that didn’t have anything to do with where my family was from.
Dentistry was not your future?
That, and, when I went to Emory, I lied and I told everybody that I was from my father’s neighborhood in Queens. I was ashamed to be from Greenwich.
You grew up first generation wealth, but you were embarrassed. You didn’t tell anyone different until you were there six months.
It was actually longer. To be honest, it was about two years in.
Why? Were you trying to have a more authentic background?
Looking back now at 29 years old, I can say the why was that I was foolish. That I didn’t realize that no matter how successful I became, that there would always be some of those haters out there who would say, “Oh, he has (success) because he’s from Greenwich.” The people aren’t going to know the hard work that I put in and the struggles that I went through. I remember being dead broke, but I was making my own money. I was supporting myself.
But those people are right. At the end of the day, no matter how broke I could become, I could always go back to my parents’ house in Greenwich and find solitude. I was fighting that at the time because I had grandparents who were Holocaust survivors who were refugees in this country. I had a mother whose father died when she was 11, and she and her sister became the first career women in their family. They didn’t have any money, and they wanted to make sure that (being poor) didn’t happen to them. My father had a mother who worked in a sweat shop, his dad did odd jobs. My dad was in graduate school by the time he was 20. He worked his butt off to get from Queen’s to Fairleigh Dickinson (University) and the University of Pennsylvania. Here I am the first generation of wealth growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut. To be honest, I was just flat-out ashamed.
[Braun’s Hungarian grandparents were Holocaust survivors who were in the concentration camps. His grandfather was in Dachau, his grandmother in Auschwitz. In 1956, his grandparents and his father Ervin left Hungary just before Soviet tanks rolled in, leading to 34,600 Hungarians being imprisoned or interned. His father was raised in Queens. After becoming a dentist, he married orthodontist Susan Schlussel from Ellenville, New York, and the couple settled in Greenwich where they raised three children as well as two children from Mozambique.
When Braun was a 13-year old student at Central Middle School, his teacher announced a contest for National History Day. One of the categories was video documentary, with regional winners progressing to the state contest and then to the nationals. Braun produced the 10 minute documentary “The Hungarian Conflict” about Jews in Hungary before, during, and after the Holocaust. It won third place in the U.S. finals.
A family member sent his film to director Steven Spielberg’s office, and Braun received a letter from Spielberg saying that he was submitting the video to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where it is still shown.
When Justin Bieber and Braun were invited to the White House this year to attend a press dinner, Steven Spielberg was there. Braun brought up the story of his video and Spielberg recalled his letter.]
In “Welcome To Atlanta,” Jermaine Dupri calls Atlanta the new Motown. An impressive list of urban artists and producers have been based in Atlanta, including Jermaine, as well as Kriss Kross, Another Bad Creation, TLC, OutKast, Kilo, Goodie Mob, Ludacris, Dallas Austin, Lil Jon, T.I., Young Jeezy, and Gucci Mane.
There are just a tremendous amount of creative people down there. Amazing guys like Dallas Austin, and OutKast.
What did you hear when you first got to Atlanta?
All that Lil Jon stuff was really taking off, while Jermaine was having incredible success. Around 2000, the whole crunk thing started to take off with Lil Jon and that movement. It was very authentic to the streets of Atlanta. You had the YoungBloodZ and some big records were taking off at the time. The thing about Atlanta was that it really wasn’t one thing. Everybody was winning. There wasn’t competition. Everybody was being supportive of each other. That is really why I think that there was such a huge amount of success in the 2000 to 2006 time. It was a movement.
Not being New York or Los Angeles, the scene in Atlanta could develop on its own there.
You want me to give you the no bullshit (reason) of why it was so successful? The no-bullshit is that the radio stations of Atlanta were programmed by local guys and they were given the power to put on local people, and experiment with local records. They weren’t told, “This is a national record. You have to play this.” They were allowed to make their own stars that were authentic to the region. When you do that, you start to find stars that stay local to the region, and you start to find people that start to expand—the record becomes bigger than the region and then they (the artists) go national. The radio stations down there, during that time, had more freedom to play whatever they wanted locally than they do now or, maybe, ever before.
A guy like Jerry Smoking B, who was the music director at Hot 107.9 in Atlanta (from 2000-2007), deserves a tremendous of credit for the success of Atlanta (music) during that time.
What happened in Atlanta underlines that urban music really dictates what happens in pop music.
That’s been forever. Elvis (Presley) wasn’t the first one to sing rock and roll like that. Black music really does shape and form pop music. Here’s the epicenter of black music now being in Atlanta, Georgia. You put all of those creative forces together and those influences, and you are going to find some hit records, and they definitely have.
You began running Thursday night shows at the Paradox Theatre in Buckhead. What did you see there?
I just saw an opportunity. Kids going out on Thursday night and I was like, “Well, I could try and do that.” I convinced this guy to let me try, and 800 people came to the first party.
What attracted 800 people?
I’ve always had a knack for building hype. So I built some hype. I got a bunch of very beautiful girls on campus to go out and promote with me. These were freshmen girls that I was friendly with. I said, “If I make any money I will take care of you guys a little bit.” Here I had beautiful girls walking around campus, who were freshmen, telling the senior and junior guys to come.
You went on to throw parties at The Velvet Room.
I went to The Velvet Room. I threw parties there on Thursday night with the college kids, but I would also go there every Tuesday night (to events that were promoted by AG Entertainment’s Alex Gidewon). I would be the only white boy in the room. I started to meet all of the guys in the hip hop community, and the music community of Atlanta there. People were like, “Who’s he?” I would say, "I have my own parties and I’m playing hip hop and rock ‘n’ roll." At the time, and people don’t want to admit it, but I shoot pretty straight, and I can tell you— Atlanta, club-wise, was segregated back then. It was black people come this night and we play hip; and white people come this night and we play techno. I was from the North, we didn’t have any of that. I started creating these parties where I was playing hip hop and rock ‘n roll because that was the format that was working in the North. People like Ludacris, Jermaine, Dallas and all of these guys, they liked New York parties. Being all together, all the different cultures. I had college kids from all over the country who were used to that as well. So that audience played well to what I was doing
You bought a Mercedes Benz for $35,000 on eBay.
Yes, I bought a Mercedes Benz. It was called Aqua Blue, and it had spinners and chrome rims. I will never forget it. I was bidding from my buddy’s room in a frat house. Literally, bidding in the frat house. “I think I’m going to get this car.” My friends were like, “No way, dude.” That classic frat banter was going on as I was buying this car. Two weeks later, this car got shipped to the frat house at the university.
It was certainly extravagant.
I definitely got criticism for it. You’ve got to understand that the priorities of a 20-year old and the priorities of a 29-year-old are so different.
Why did you buy it?
Because I saw the movie “Schindler’s List.” At the beginning of the movie Oskar Schindler didn’t have anything so he created an element of illusion that he did. He had personality, and charm; and he dined and partied with the Germans. He let the German government fund his operation thinking he was somebody who he wasn’t.
I was doing these parties on Tuesdays, and I thought that if I wanted to play with these (hip hop) guys that I have to play like them. So I needed a car like they had. So I found this Mercedes Benz on eBay.
[Directed by Steven Spielberg “Schindler's List” is a 1993 film about Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. The film was based on Thomas Keneally’s 1982 novel “Schindler's Ark.”]
At that stage, you were making your rep and making contacts.
Listen, a lot of the relationships that I made then are my closest relationships now. I made the “Baby” record with Justin and I put Ludacris on it. Ludacris and I met then. We have been friends for 10 years.
Ludacris hired you for a national tour in 2002.
I was doing the parties and we became friends. Chaka (Zulu), his manager, called me. They were going on the Anger Management Tour with Eminem, and they wanted someone to do the afterparties. They wanted them to have different cultures at the party.
They wanted to attract white kids.
They wanted both. They didn’t want it as just one or the other.
On their own they couldn’t attract white kids but with you they could broaden the appeal.
Yeah, maybe. I came on to do the parties, and I was able to pull in a corporate sponsor. At that time, Jay-Z wasn’t having shoe deals or anything else. This was before hip hop had any sponsors involved. I had a contact—Matt Blank CEO at Showtime (chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks Inc). I convinced them to let Soul Food and HBO fund these parties, and we would advertise Soul Food. So we got a corporate sponsor to cover our overhead, and we made a serious profit.
You had launched your first company when you were 19.
I owned my own promotion company called Kryptonite Entertainment. I actually got a letter from (DC Comics) saying that I couldn’t use “kryptonite.” It is what I threw my parties under. I did the Ludacris thing, and people started reaching out to me because they heard about the sponsors, and they wanted to work with me. We ended up being the largest college promotion company is the U.S.
Historically, college promoters have risen to power, graduated and moved on with their lives. Here you were doing parties in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and London while being that young.
Yeah. It’s funny having this conversation because it’s the first time in a long time that I have thought about all of this.
DJ Irie, who is the biggest DJ in Miami, loves to tell people how we first met. How he came to Ludacris’ party (in Miami) because Ludacris and his management invited him. And I didn’t know who he is, I didn’t spend a lot of time in Miami then
But you are a 20-year-old kid throwing these parties.
So DJ Irie comes to the club door—and the guest list says, “DJ Irie plus one—and he shows up with three girls. I told him that he has to pay for two of the girls. He says, “What are you talking about? I’m DJ Irie.” I said, “I don’t care who the hell you are, you are going to pay for two girls.” Then I said, “Are you paying my bills? I don’t think so. I’ve rented the club, and you are going to pay.” He had to sit out there until Ludacris and the others came. The next day on the radio, he said, “I want to tell you about this kid Scooter. I don’t think he’s even old enough to be in the club. And this kid’s telling me…” He talking about how I wouldn’t’ let him in. He jokes about it to this day.
You were 20 when you took the job with So So Def Records. You later suggested teaming 3 Vodka with Jermaine Dupri, who became the face of the brand.
After six months of being a marketing manager (at the label) and running my own company, Jermaine made me the head of marketing. What’s funny is that (3 Vodka Distilling Co.) wanted me to be their regional guy because of my parties and everything else. They were going to give me a royalty. I went back to them and said that I had no interest in doing that. I told them I had started working with Jermaine Dupri and said, “I think that Jermaine could be the face of this company and we can build it out.”
It should have worked a lot bigger than it did. Unfortunately, when I left So So Def was when they really needed the big marketing push. When I left, Jermaine kind of backed out. I wasn’t there. There was nobody to run it, and he just kind of bowed out from it.
You threw a week's worth of parties in Atlanta in conjunction with the NBA All-Star Weekend in 2003.
Alex Gidewon was launching the mega Velvet Room as the first mega club in Atlanta in a new building. It was extremely successful for years. He had Puffy coming in and doing the parties. It was huge and the (24-hour club) Riviera was right across the street. I figured out that there was no way Alex was going to be able to fit all of these people in. Even though he could fit 3,000 people in the club, there would be 20,000 people in the street. So I went to Riviera and asked them to let me run parties at the club. They didn’t want to give it to me. It was like, “Who’s this 21-year-old kid. We know him from his parties. He fills the clubs with college kids, but this is a whole different level.” I showed up, and wrote them a big check.
How could you do that?
My company was successful at that poin,.so I made an investment and we put the parties together. That was just a down payment to rent a club.
The week was wildly successful for you.
I developed a lot of relationships that weekend. I renamed the Riviera, “Scooter’s Playhouse.” I had three of my college buddies outside. Anytime Alex Gidewon at the Velvet Room raised his prices at the door for entry, they’d run back and tell me. So if Alex raised it to $100 to get in, then I was at $50. if Alex raised it to $150; I was at $75.
You sold out Scooter’s Playhouse for four straight days.
I had a private back VIP room with all of the major celebs. Don’t forget my club was 24 hours, so we didn’t have to close. At closing time (elsewhere) all the celebs heard about this one party in Atlanta where nobody could pay to get in that back room. I had people offering me ridiculous amounts to go in that back room with celebrities and I said, “No.” I created an atmosphere at that party. There were dance-offs between some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment. People were just having a good time and enjoying one another. And I developed relationships with many of them.
We had every celebrity you can imagine. Janet Jackson, Jermaine Dupri, Dallas Austin, Ashton Kutcher, Shaquille O'Neal, Lennox Lewis, Chris Webber, Justin Timberlake, Timberland, Missy Elliot, Usher, and Chilly (Chilly Chill). Pretty well everybody.
It was kind of funny being a 21-year-old kid running around saying, “After this, I’m going back to my campus housing.”
You started doing sports promotion for the Atlanta Hawks as well throwing bigger parties.
When I did the Riviera, I made a lot of my contacts. I got all of these celebrity hosts. I ended up doing the ‘NSYNC celebrity events because those guys all came and saw what I was doing. I did parties for Britney Spears, and a lot of different people.
Only a few weeks after leaving So So Def Records, you brokered a $12 million campaign deal between Ludacris and Pontiac. Urban stars weren’t landing big endorsement packages then. That was a big deal.
Yes, for that time. Ludacris had that B.S. going on with Bill O'Reilly, shooting him down and saying stuff that Bill O'Reilly didn’t really understand Ludacris’ brand at all. But the sponsors took heat for it. It was B.S. Ludacris’ agency was trying to get him sponsorships, and it wasn’t working as well. Chaka, who I had a great relationship with said, “If you can get anything done, let me know,” and I ran with that. I was able to get together with someone who knew at the agency. I also called GM saying that I was a student writing a paper on how they do endorsement deals.
[In 2002, Fox News’ Bill O'Reilly called for all Americans to boycott Pepsi products, saying that Ludacris' lyrics glamorize a "life of guns, violence, drugs and disrespect of women.” It was later reported that Pepsi fired Ludacris. However, Braun convinced Pontiac that the O'Reilly factor shouldn't dissuade them from working with Ludacris.]
You weren’t dishonest, but you weren’t truthful either.
I was going for it. I will say that. I meet kids today, and they will say, “I am young and ambitious like you were; I’m just going for it.” But they have to apologize (about their ambition as if) they will do something dishonest. I never (was dishonest) I never would have called Pontiac and said, “I have a deal coming from your competing car company, and I want to bring something to you.” That would be dishonest. But calling and saying that I was doing research as a student on how endorsement deals work. Well, I was a (former) student, and I was doing research. I was stretching it, but I wasn’t going to hurt anyone. If it ever got back, nobody could say that (I was dishonest). I was always very careful about that, but I was definitely stretching it.
Did you know then that you’d go into artist management?
No. No clue. I had no clue that I was even going to go into entertainment. I thought I was going to be a lawyer or a politician. Maybe entertainment or something in basketball. I never really thought about it. I used to DJ back then. I loved music, but I didn’t think that I would be in the music industry.
Putting on parties can be a career.
I’ve met all of the people who have made careers of it. I have the utmost respect for these guys who have turned their businesses into serious corporations. But I didn’t want to have a family where (I’d have to say), “Daddy needs to go to the nightclub.”
Why did you become a manager?
I did all of the marketing jobs, I consulted for a lot of people, and I just thought, “I need equity. Nobody is really going to listen to me until then.” Funny enough, (American twin sisters) Brit & Alex was the project where I realized that. Here I was consulting, and I was trying to convince people about certain things that I saw in them, what they should do with them, and it was like talking to a wall.
I realized that these people were thinking, “Here’s the marketer, but he’s not in A&R. He can’t recognize talent.” There really wasn’t any respect there. People kept saying how Scooter was going to be. This young guy who is going to be this or that when he’s in his 40s.
I’m kind of glad they shut it. I was like, “Forties? Nah, nah, nah. Fuck that.” I felt frustrated, and I thought, “Swell, I don’t have equity in Brit & Alex. I don’t have control of the project. I can’t do it exactly the way I want to do it. I need to go and find guys that are mine completely.” Who told me that then was Jerry Smokin B, the program director of Hot 107.9. He said, “Scooter, you have so much promise. You see everything. If you just had your own artists and, if they were talented, you could really win.”
What did you see in Asher Roth?
Here’s this kid in a dorm room whom I found on MySpace, and he’d never been in a studio. I saw a regular white boy from the suburbs, who is completely unashamed of just being that, but had lyrical talent as good as anyone I have ever seen in hip hop. That is why he’s so respected in hip hop circles. People know that Asher Roth can rap his ass off. I was like, “There’s something there.” And, I knew the college market incredibly well; I knew how to market to it.
As a white rapper, Asher Roth could have gone into the marketplace as either Eminem or Vanilla Ice in perception.
Absolutely. But, I was able to do something in the middle. Now Asher has a sustainable career. He has extreme credibility in the underground circles of hip hop. He has a huge underground following. He tours around. He hasn’t had the huge, humongous success of Eminem, but he has had a number three album on the Billboard chart, and a multi-platinum single. To be honest with you, Asher needs to decide for himself how big he wants to be. There is no doubt in my mind that Asher Roth could be as big as any of these stars.
What I have learned from Asher is that sometimes an artist may not want that (big success). Sometimes, he’s content with being an underground superstar who makes $20,000 or $30,000 a show which is a very good existence as well.
Why was Justin Bieber’s new album “My World Acoustic” released exclusively through Wal-Mart in the U.S.?
I am just managing expectations. It’s not a new album. It's acoustic remakes of nine songs, and one new song ("Pray’). In the States, Wal-Mart is the biggest retailer. We know that we really want them backing us when we come up with our next original album. And most of our retail product is in Wal-Mart, so we wanted a driver. We had nothing to prove on this album. It’s a gift for the fans. We sold 120,000 copies in the U.S. in two days at Wal-Mart. The (label) said if we’d open (the album) wide, and had the whole week (for sales) we could have sold 300,000 copies. I said, “It wasn’t about that. It's about giving a gift to the fan.”
When will the next original Justin Bieber album be released?
Sometime next year.
Will Justin have a career as an actor?
We are reading the different scripts, and we are humbled by the fact that he's not an actor yet. We’d like to find him scripts with people that are credible actors who he can learn and study from.
Will he be taking acting lessons?
Where does your case of reckless endangerment and criminal nuisance charges stand?
There’s a gag order on my case. I can’t go into the details but I can tell you that I am very pleased that the D.A. has re-opened my case, and I think we’re heading in a very positive direction. I did nothing but assist the officer I spoke to within seven minutes of speaking to him. To be arrested five months later was not only shocking but, I think, that it was wrong. I’m grateful to the D.A. for re-opening the case, and looking into it. I hope that (the case) goes away soon.
[In March 2010, Braun turned himself in to Nassau County Police and was arrested on Long Island. His arrest stems from a November 2009 appearance by Justin Bieber at Roosevelt Field Mall which attracted about 3,000 fans outside the Justice clothing store on the second tier of the mall.
When the large crowd, numbering in the thousands, became unruly, police canceled the event and told Braun to send out a Twitter message saying the event was canceled. The police said it took Braun 90 minutes to send two tweets. Braun denied the charges, indicating that he complied with the request twice within seven minutes. Braun faces up to one year in jail if convicted on reckless endangerment and criminal nuisance.]
Do you have the ability to manage another act?
Yeah, if I wanted to manage. I’m one who gets fueled by curiosity. There are lots of things that I want to do. I will say this: I’m not going to take on anything unless I have the time to do it.
You should give Michael Cohl a call. He might welcome another investor for “Spider-Man.”
I just wrote that down. I just might do that. David Geffen’s first Broadway show he ever produced was “Cats.” I like Broadway. I used to go as a kid.
Some of the people you admire, like David Geffen, and Steven Spielberg, are well-known names. Not many outside entertainment know Jeffrey Katzenberg (a partner with Spielberg and Geffen in DreamWorks) or Barry Diller. What is it about those two that appeal to you?
I read a book called “The Operator” that kind of changed my life. Barry Diller and Jeffrey Katzenberg were characters within this book. So each character I took upon myself to look forward into who they were. The more I looked at these men within this (entertainment) industry I gained an appreciation for them because of their hard work and everything else.
[“The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood (2001) was written by Thomas R. King, who initially had Geffen's cooperation, but later that was withdrawn.]
Barry Diller is a flat-out genius. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him, and he is one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. On top of that, he is kind and inviting of other young people who he finds to be intelligent, and hard working. That’s why he’s developed what people call “The Diller Killers.” He not only has the uncanny ability of recognizing his own talent, growing his own brand and his own corporations; but he identifies other people, and he helps nurture and build other peoples’ careers, which is a testament to him as well.
[Barry Diller, the former entertainment mogul, recently stepped down from his post as CEO of his New York-based holdings company, IAC/InterActiveCorp conglomerate. Diller remains chairman and senior executive of IAC. Its brands include Ask.com, Vimeo, Citysearch, Reference.com, and the Match family of dating sites.]
Jeffrey Katzenberg is not only a class act, but he’s hard working. You hear the stories of this guy at 5:00 and 6:00 every morning, having his coffee, reading everything out there, and answering his emails. The guy’s a machine. But what I admire so incredibly much is that Jeffrey Katzenberg is happily married with two loving children (Laura and David). He has an active relationship with both of his kids. To me, that’s the ultimate balance. He’s a family man and a businessman and he came back (as an entertainment executive) in such an incredible way. When people die, if they can say they were a good dad, then they were a success in some cases.
[David Katzenberg, who is the creator of MTV's “The Hard Times of RJ Berger,” credits his father for his work ethic. David was quoted in Details Magazine as saying that his dad "always tells me, ‘if you don't come to work on Saturday, don't bother coming in on Sunday.’”]
Any advice for those just now entering the entertainment business.
Decide right from the start why you are doing it. Don’t figure it out as you are going along. Decide from the start why you are doing it. If you don’t lay that down right from the start, you are going to get lost. You are going to find yourself making the wrong kind of decisions and you are going to find yourself going down the wrong path and you are going to find yourself 20 years into it asking, “What the fuck did I do this for?
Did you know the why right from the start?
That’s my secret.
Was it in order to become a self-made person?
Self-made is too open. You have to define why you are doing it, and create that goal that you are shooting for. If I’m never influenced by money, 99% of the time I will make the right decision.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times.
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