How Direct Management Group Helped Katy Perry Reach Her Goals
How Direct Management Group Helped Katy Perry Reach Her Goals

When Katy Perry first visited the Los Angeles offices of Direct Management Group in early 2004, she did cartwheels.

"And then the splits," manager Bradford Cobb recalls. "She didn't stop for the receptionist.

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"That makes you pay attention," co-manager Martin Kirkup adds with a laugh.

And that's exactly what Kirkup, Cobb and the Direct Management Group team have been doing ever since, helping to guide Perry through the challenges of her early career to her current status as global superstar. Pleased? You betcha. Surprised? Well . . . not entirely.

"To us, it's not remarkable that she's hugely successful-without sounding like wise-asses, that's why we signed her," Kirkup says. "We really believed in her and felt she had huge potential."

"What's amazing is this all happened in four years," he adds. "It's been a really fun trip for all of us."

And, Kirkup and Cobb hasten to add, their primary job has been to follow Perry's lead and help her realize the vision she brings to them.

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As Cobb-who was introduced to Perry by producer/songwriter Glen Ballard-puts it, "Nobody 'made' Katy Perry. It makes us cringe when we hear people who don't know or don't realize Katy writes her songs.

"From the personality in each of them, it's clear to anybody who's paying attention that she is the driving force behind what she does creatively. Almost all the creative decisions are Katy's. When she asks our opinions we'll give it, and sometimes we offer it unsolicited. She's involved in business decisions, too, but she trusts us to make good business decisions for her and, creatively, it's all Katy."

Kirkup adds, "One of the big misapprehensions people outside the business, and some inside, have is that record labels or managers or somebody else has a Svengali kind of influence or a magic wand.

"That pretty much doesn't happen-and certainly not with Katy," he says. "You're much better off with an artist who has a really strong vision and gives you something you can work and build with."

Perry unquestionably had that when she came to Direct Management Group. Cobb and Kirkup still marvel at hearing such songs as "Ur So Gay" and "Thinking of You" at their initial meetings, and how, Cobb says, "she'd keep coming back and play us something new she had that would be really, really good."

But the vision wasn't clicking with Columbia Records, where Perry was under contract at the time while working with Ballard.

The management company inherited a challenging situation, and job one was to navigate that in Perry's best interest.

"It was very difficult," Kirkup says. "There were people there who really got Katy and really believed in her, but there were a lot of decision-makers who really didn't get it and who were unwilling to fully commit. We finally had to have a conversation . . . And we had the greatest respect for them. They thought about it, and they let her go."

Ironically, Cobb notes, Perry had just written her next two songs: "I Kissed a Girl" and "Hot N Cold," which, of course, both became No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100.

While her management company looked for a new deal-eventually landing Perry at EMI, where then-Capitol Music Group CEO Jason Flom "got it straight away"-Kirkup and Cobb also worked to keep Perry's spirits up. "There were discouraging moments," Cobb says, "because when you're [20], a month seems like a year."

Nevertheless they kept her busy, continuing to write songs but, more importantly, playing live around Los Angeles, especially at the Hotel Cafe.

"Some of our advice to her was to really hone her skills-skills she already had, but to keep playing and getting better and better as a live performer," Kirkup recalls.

"We didn't have to motivate her; she motivated herself. She'd come in every couple of weeks and bring her acoustic guitar into our office and say, 'You guys have to hear this,' and have something new to play for us. It was always exciting. There was never a feeling we were floating dead in the water."

The live regimen came in handy when Perry signed on for the 2008 Vans Warped tour, an eyebrow-raising move. But Cobb says that "doesn't seem far-fetched to us, even to this day."

Kirkup notes there's "a real punk ethos with Katy," as well as a fearlessness to put herself in a position where her tuneful if cheeky pop wasn't necessarily the norm. "Getting up there onstage and winning over a crowd who were there to see punk bands every day was something she relished," he says.

Another key move came in November 2008, when Direct Management Group offered Perry for the MTV Europe Music Awards after the previously schedule host pulled out.

"This was just after 'I Kissed a Girl' had become a hit. She was barely on the radar," Kirkup recalls. "We and the international guys at EMI pushed very hard and gave them the pitch about how great she could be as a host-and, bless them, they took a huge leap of faith and let her do it."

Ascending from the floor on a giant stick of cherry ChapStick, Perry killed it that night in Liverpool, England, picking up the best new act trophy in the process. She was, not surprisingly, invited back to host the next year's show in Berlin.

Kirkup and Cobb also note that Perry had "a laser-sharp focus" on what she wanted to do with Teenage Dream, working on the album in quick fashion.

"I was a little surprised that the direction was so pop, but she knew exactly what she wanted and she never wants to repeat herself. We trust her vision, and after that our job is to make sure it's fulfilled."

What Perry does next will be "guided by the music," according to Kirkup. She's writing again, and as usual, Cobb says, "she has a very clear sense of what she wants to accomplish. Once she records some songs, we'll start formulating a plan with her."

And, Kirkup predicts, Perry's trajectory will continue in an upward direction.

"There's a whole team of people here that works on her 24/7," he says, "and all of us know you've only seen the tip of the iceberg so far. There is so much more talent the world has not yet seen from Katy, so much depth, that we're very confident when we think about what's ahead for her." ••••

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