Bieber will release "My World 2.0" -- his second album in less than five months -- March 23. Once again, four tracks have already been released to iTunes, and at press time, two have reached the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. ("Baby" has charted the highest, debuting at No. 5.) Though Bartels and other label executives declined to give a specific sales projection, IDJMG plans to ship 1 million copies of "My World 2.0" in its first week of release -- a stark increase from the estimated 300,000-400,000 copies shipped of "My World" in its first week.
"I've heard the forecasts, which make me smile because they're a lot higher than what they thought last time," Braun says. "Last time, the Universal research team told the label that we would sell 30,000-60,000 records from Nov. 17 to Dec. 31. ["My World" sold 728,000 through SoundScan's last chart week of 2009.] Now they have a different outlook, and part of me is nervous because it's easy to be underestimated and then prove people wrong. It's not as easy when they have such high expectations."
Those expectations, however, are the result of Team Bieber's ability to harness his vast online fan base in ways unprecedented. "So many artists have Internet traction but are not able to attach anything to it and make money," Def Jam executive VP Chris Hicks says. "We monetized almost every corner of 'My World' -- every record we released charted. That's why we sold albums and not singles over the holidays. People could feel confident that they were buying into a burgeoning superstar."
Video: Bieber sings "Baby" live onstage for screaming fans.
Like most young artists, Bieber has a back story that reads more like creation myth: Canadian musical prodigy teaches himself to play the drums at age 3, becomes a YouTube sensation at 12 by covering Chris Brown and Ne-Yo hits. His mother fights off pushy managers until finally choosing Braun, who immediately positions Bieber at the center of a bidding war between Justin Timberlake and Usher. Usher wins, IDJMG chairman/CEO Antonio "L.A." Reid gives the green light, and voila -- Donny Osmond reincarnate.
The real story, not surprisingly, is a little more complicated. Braun says that when he first found Bieber on YouTube, he had only "six or eight" videos on his account, with a few thousand views each. "I was consulting for an act that Akon had in a production deal and I was looking at his YouTube videos," Braun recalls. "The kid was singing Aretha Franklin's 'Respect,' and there was a related video of Justin singing the same song. I clicked on it thinking it was the same kid and realized that the 20-year-old I was watching was now 12."
Braun, who started out as a party promoter in Atlanta while attending Emory University, left his post as executive director of marketing at Jermaine Dupri's So So Def Recordings at age 23 to do independent consulting and start his own music business portfolio, Scooter Braun Projects. At a basketball game shortly afterward with Ludacris manager Chaka Zulu, Braun mentioned that he wanted to discover and break three acts: the next breakout white rapper (he signed "I Love College" MC Asher Roth two weeks later), an all-female singing group and a young kid who "could do it like Michael Jackson -- sing songs that adults would appreciate and be reminded of the innocence they once felt about love." Watching those videos, Braun was sure he'd found his young charge. He eventually tracked down Bieber's mother, Pattie Mallette, by calling the town's school board and convinced her to fly with Bieber to Atlanta for a meeting.
"That was the first time either of them had been on a plane," Braun says. "They weren't a wealthy family...his mom worked different jobs and their grandparents kind of helped out, so they got by."
The three hit it off, and Braun signed Bieber, who had just turned 13, to a management deal. The next step was to find a major-label partner, which proved difficult at first. "Everyone said 'no,' " Braun recalls. "They said, 'He's an incredible singer and an amazing talent, but he's too young and he doesn't have Nickelodeon or Disney behind him." Among the earliest execs to show serious interest in Bieber was then-Epic president Charlie Walk; Sony had recently formed a partnership with Nickelodeon, under which the label group and cable network would jointly produce music-themed programming and albums. Walk approached Doug Cohn, the network's senior VP of music marketing and talent, about doing a show with Bieber, but there was nothing available, and Epic subsequently passed.
Braun next approached Justin Timberlake, whom he'd met while throwing parties for 'N Sync. "I wanted to bring in another artist to put his stamp on Justin, and I thought Timberlake might understand the space. I went to him, and he was 100% in."
At around the same time, though, Usher's road manager asked Braun if he had signed a new artist since Asher Roth, who was developing strong buzz on the mixtape circuit. Braun showed him Bieber's YouTube clips, and within a day Usher called him to set up a meeting. What the R&B star didn't realize, however, was that he had already heard Bieber sing a few months prior. "I said, 'You've met him already,' and Usher was like, 'I thought he was your cousin or something,' " Braun says. The second meeting with Usher took place the day before Bieber and Braun had their final meeting with Timberlake. Usher brought in Hicks to seal the deal with Reid, who himself had signed Usher as a young teen.