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Mac Miller: The Billboard Cover Story
At one in the afternoon, kids were already lining up around the block in Denver's trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Nine-and-a-half hours later,
But among Miller's listeners back then were Grinberg and Pitt. Miller befriended them and he hustled relentlessly, with people like Pittsburgh producers E. Dan and Big Jerm, who were working with Khalifa. In 2009, a year after his first show, the buzz that Miller and then-manager Quentin "Q" Cuff (who freelanced for local hip-hop magazine Jenesis and knew how to connect the right dots) had been building in the Pittsburgh area sparked Grinberg and Pitt's serious attention. Combine those DIY efforts with a handful of pending courtships from other labels, not to mention Miller's imminent plans to drop his breakout set, "K.I.D.S.," and, Pitt says, the rapper forced Grinberg and Pitt's hands.
"People started talking about him [early last year], which caught our attention," he recalls. "'K.I.D.S.' was [Miller's] best work so far, and he really wanted to work with us."
Miller still has pretty much zero radio rotation. He's occasionally heard on local mixshows, on stations like WUSL (Power 99) Philadelphia and WQHT (Hot 97) and WWPR (Power 105.1) New York, and played by SiriusXM DJs like Static Selektah, DJ Green Lantern and Tony Touch. He's released the EP On and On and Beyond, which has sold 54,000 copies since its March 29 release, according to Nielsen SoundScan. There have been singles with impressive sales-among them "Donald Trump" (404,000), "Knock Knock" (316,000) and "Frick Park Market" (150,000)-on the label in the past year, as well as free mixtapes like his "Best Day Ever" (released in the spring) and "K.I.D.S.," which promptly came out after his signing to Rostrum last summer.
For "Blue Slide Park," out Nov. 8, there isn't a major co-distribution deal in place, as Rostrum has done in the past, most notably in 2005 for Khalifa, who signed deals with Warner Bros. and Atlantic Records in 2007 and 2009, respectively. But Miller boasts a whopping 176 million views on his YouTube channel, where polished, energetic videos for tracks like "Donald Trump" draw attention even from the Donald himself, who recorded a 40-second video response of his own, calling Miller "the next
Meanwhile, the 68-date Blue Slide Park tour, which kicked off Sept. 22, has sold out 24 of its 25 1,900-capacity-average shows. Miller's last tour, a three-leg international stint, experienced similar sales, though the venues averaged capacities of 600, then 800, and then 900 on each leg. Blue Slide Park's kickoff show, at New York's Irving Plaza, sold out in three hours. Thirty of the remaining 43 dates have sold out in advance. By Agency Group booking agent Peter Schwartz's calculations, Miller is on track to sell out all but two of the tour dates-if Schwartz's estimates are correct, he'll have sold 99% of the tour's tickets (an increase from the last tour, which averaged about 96% across its three legs). Running at about $22 apiece, that's more than 110,000 sold. Most ticket holders, as was clear in Denver last month, are in their teens or early 20s.
"Knowing your demo is a key ingredient in successfully booking someone," says Schwartz, who books acts like Khalifa, Big K.R.I.T. and B.o.B. "We know [Miller's] demo is under 21, so we don't put him in 21-plus-type venues where his fans can't go. This whole young crowd is really coming out in force to shows lately. It's exciting."
It is something. Fourteen-year-old girls wait in line to scream-some even sob -- as Miller hops between the Ogden and his tour bus parked across the street that afternoon. Miller/Most Dope T-shirts and hats fly off the tables at shows. There are few acts who can boast the fervor of Justin Bieber's "Beliebers"-and Miller fans, who have yet to hear a fully produced album, are definitely in the running.
"We're building a story because they're all sold out," Schwartz says. "If we were doing 70% sales, it wouldn't be as big a story . . . [$22] is a great price point for these [young] fans. We could probably could make tickets $35, and they might still sell, but maybe not. It's [been] important to stay focused on the plan and know that the next-size [venue] will come, and not rush it." Schwartz says plans call for bumping up the average venue size to a 5,000 capacity for Miller's spring tour.
To offset the $200,000 out-of-pocket cost (according to Miller) of his two buses, the team recently negotiated a $75,000 branding deal with Mountain Dew. It includes a Mountain Dew Green Label Sound -- released single by Miller and a stage setup with the crew's performance water bottled in Mountain Dew containers and a bright-green logo -- emblazoned fixed-gear bicycle.
"When we look for artists to partner with, we look for people who embody that do-it-yourself ethos in their work. Mac is a perfect fit," says Hudson Sullivan, brand manager for Mountain Dew at PepsiCo. "Mac is known for his tight connection to his fans, which is something that is also really important to Mountain Dew. As we see it, working with an independent artist like Mac is a win for everyone-the artists get support for their work that they might not find from a traditional label. Fans get to experience great shows and original tracks, and Mountain Dew gets to be a part of it."
It all fits in well with the way things have been going for Miller. "Fans are smart these days," Grinberg says. "They know exactly what's going on, and they can tell when they're being marketed to. Authenticity is what the fans are grasping onto. They can tell [Mac] is genuine, that he's just being himself."
"People try to categorize me," Miller says. "I love the fact that I'm in some of my favorite magazines . . . But, in all reality, your opinion doesn't mean any more than anybody else's."
"It's important that new artists don't worry about critics because we could be on the road together for the next 10 years off of these three CDs," Cuff says, adding, "I don't see this slowing down. These kids are invested . . . and when you have that kind of relationship with your fans, who gives a fuck what anyone else thinks?"
Miller eschews labels like "frat rapper" that have been circulated online. And he dismisses criticisms that his music is bubble-gum pop. "I'll never pretend I have an inspiring story like certain people," he says. "There are people here to tell inspiring stories, people like Kendrick Lamar or Big K.R.I.T. who have deep messages about things that... I can't say. It's not my place to say... I just make music that's hip-hop. I'm not here to be a teenybopper sensation. I make music because I love making music. So whoever wants to love it, that's who I want as my fans."
The boisterous teenagers outside the bus weren't, after all, a one-time thing. Their presence, the unfazed members of Miller's team say, is par for the course. They also happen to be the reason the course exists in the first place.
"Kids -- they're so much more excited and willing to spend their money," Miller says. "A 25-year-old dude is not going to be sitting at his computer, waiting for Mac Miller tickets to go on sale. These kids are lining up at 10 a.m. for a 9 p.m. show."
Miller doesn't have a problem placing his fate in the hands of those teenagers-they want his blend of practicality and swagger. "It's really up to my fans, which is why I love them, no matter who they are," he says, adding, "I bet Benjy I'd sell a hundred thou' my first week. If we [do], he has to shave his famous beard."
And if he doesn't? "Oh, I don't have to do anything. He can't get mad at me if I don't sell that many."