Justin Bieber's guy." It's a moniker Scooter Braun accepts with a combination of pride and frustration. He acknowledges the honor - "Justin is the most famous part of our business," he says - while hoping those bestowing it don't see Braun's world as limited to a single teen sensation. Â¶ "As I achieve different things, it will change," Braun says. "One thing I don't like is when someone says I'm at the height of something. You want to accept the compliment, but I'm thinking, 'If you think this is it âÃ'Â€¦'" Â¶ He stops mid-sentence, giving the listener time catch up with his vision for the scope of his SB Projects: management, with hitmakers Bieber, the Wanted and Carly Rae Jepsen as clients; label; publishing; technology; philanthropy; and film/TV production. His moves in 2012 have come quickly and have already borne fruit. In February, he signed Jepsen to his School Boy Records label (she hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 just four months later); in May, he signed a distribution deal for School Boy with Universal
Music Group (which also made him the first entrepreneur in residence at Universal's multimillion-dollar tech initiative, the Global Creative Investment Program); in July, he sold a scripted TV series idea (he won't give details); and he currently has a deal pending for an unscripted show. He's also in negotiations to partner with a TV production company to handle his projects.
In the six years since he opened the doors to his management company/label, Braun, 31, has shown a unique capacity for taking young singers out of the Internet space and landing them on the charts. For all the talk of the need for a new paradigm that flooded the music industry as sales ebbed, Braun has blossomed away from industry structures and its titans. A fast learner who uses models of earlier generations but crushes rules in the social media realm, Braun has found ways to meet the needs of artists and audiences that have eluded more entrenched areas of the business.
"When I look at acts, I look at the worldwide potential," he says on a day that finds Bieber in Japan and the Wanted in Southeast Asia. "And what travels wide is melody. Great songs, great acts .Â .Â . and you can have a very good career for a long time. The Internet is making it a smaller place, but if you don't look at the rest of the world you're shortchanging yourself. You're devastating your potential earnings."
Braun is a matter-of-fact speaker, quick but not rapid-fire, careful to include details that, once added up, reinforce the image of an A-plus student who took notes in nightclubs and basketball courts, hip-hop promotion offices and pop music studios (not to mention social media and video websites). The passion in his voice becomes palpable when he talks about basketball, the New York Jets or his parents; for every other subject he speaks knowingly and with unwavering confidence - the kind that's so convincing, you wonder if any of his facts need double-checking. He has a policy of not talking about any deal until it's signed and sealed.
His approaches - all calculated when he was in his 20s - to social media, film and TV, as well as to singles releases and image control, have put him front and center as a new model. Gone is the image of the balding, cigar-smoking exec with platinum records on the wall. In its stead is an athletic 31-year-old wearing basketball shorts and sitting on a living room couch while his assistant answers emails at the dining room table. The lone sign that the owner of this modern, glass-sided hillside home in West Hollywood, Calif., has a connection to the entertainment world is in a bookcase in the least noticeable corner of the living room. The only trophy in it that he mentions comes from Women's Wear Daily, which honored Bieber in December 2011 for having the world's top-selling fragrance, Someday.
SB Projects, the umbrella organization Braun oversees as its CEO, comprises SB Management, Raymond Braun Media Group, School Boy Records, Sheba Publishing and SB Films. Besides Braun, the company has a full-time staff of eight, led by GM Allison Kaye, chief marketing officer Brad Haugen and COO Scott Manson.
"I was a one-man show, then it became a two-man show and every decision was mine; I like to micromanage everything," he says. "I got to a point where I realized not everyone is going to do things exactly the way I want them to do it. Once I turned 30, it was time to be an adult."
The label has four acts; the management company five, with the Wanted coming onboard for worldwide representation late last year. Bieber and Jepsen will be touring arenas together in North America, doing a 35-show leg from Sept. 29-Dec. 1 and a 14-show run Jan. 5-Jan. 27. Bieber will then head to Europe for 17 shows between Feb. 21-April 6.
Bieber has had seven Hot 100 singles, including "Boyfriend," which peaked at No. 2. His latest single, "As Long As You Love Me," debuted at No. 21 in June and is building steam now that airplay is kicking in. His "Believe" album became his fourth No. 1 set, selling 374,000 in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. As of late July it was the eighth-biggest-selling album of year, with 684,000 copies sold so far.
Meanwhile, Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" has registered eight straight weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 and is the third-biggest-selling digital song of the year, with more than 4.7 million sold. Her second U.S. single, "Good Time," with Owl City, debuted at No. 18 on the July 14 chart.
The Wanted's single "Glad You Came" peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 and is the eighth-biggest-selling song of 2012 in the United States, with 3.1 million sold to date. Its new single, "Chasing the Sun," rose to No. 51 from No. 53 and before that, No. 70. The act was recently in Southeast Asia and Australia; the British-Irish bad-boy band has a handful of North American dates in late August.
"We have a single after 'Chasing the Sun' that I think is a worldwide smash," Braun says, turning on the hype machine for a moment. "It's Bee Gees 2013."
The singles market is the domain of Braun's artists, starting with Asher Roth's "I Love College" and extending into the near future with Matt Toka's debut with 2 Chainz, "Get Money."
Singles, he contends, are there to help "create a direct dialogue with the fan base. If you're going to the shows and they're singing the third single louder than the first, you're doing your job," Braun says. "If they're calling out for [a song] that wasn't a single, you're doing your job. That's the power of social media.
"Do we need radio today? One hundred percent, yes. But if you want to see a song climb at iTunes, you have get to a radio audience of 15 million. Then you've got a chance."
To Braun, the goal is to create artists that fans want to invest in rather than simply listen to. He sees a single's release schedule as a string of chapters in an artist's story. "I'm trying to tell the complete story, so not everything needs to be the climax," he says. "Sometimes you've got to make choices with singles that the radio stations and the labels say, 'Well, that isn't a radio hit.' But you know it's a record that's going to help sell tickets and sell albums, because it's going to make people know who the artist is and invest in them."
The current goal for the Wanted, whose debut U.S. full-length is expected this year, is to show that the members play their own instruments, that each one of them has a distinct personality and that their "dangerous" persona is not a put-on.
To get that message (and others) across, Braun has turned consistently to "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" for early TV exposure. Bieber and Usher were the sole guests on an hour-long "Ellen" in November 2009; the Wanted made its first U.S. appearance on the syndicated daytime talk show; and when Jepsen was booked to perform, Braun called in a favor and got the "Call Me Maybe" singer some interview time with DeGeneres.
"I needed her to speak because people have to get to know who she is," Braun says. "The Owl City record came out and [did well], which doesn't happen to an artist who is just a singles artist. That's a sign this is an artist people want to acquire. Music then becomes an avenue to everything."
It has been for Braun, though it didn't quite start out that way. When Scott Samuel "Scooter" Braun moved from Greenwich, Conn., to Atlanta to attend Emory University in 1999, his initial income-producing activity was being the middle man for a guy who produced fake IDs. He figured he'd get caught before long and looked for another way to make money.
The way he tells it, Braun got into the party-promotion business by asking a club doorman if the venue would pay him to bring a crowd to the club on a Thursday night. When the club agreed, he wondered if it was even legal. On his first night, 800 people showed up and he walked away with $400.
At that first party he met a young African-American actor, Jason Weaver, who offered to show him the other side of town.
"I go on a Tuesday night to the Velvet Room with Jason," Braun remembers. "It's an all-black club - I'm the one white boy - and people are paying $100 a head to get in. That was classic."
Every Tuesday, Braun says, he would spend all of the money he made on Thursdays buying bottles and what-not to impress the hip-hop impresarios who hung out at the club. Ludacris was the first to hire him to throw parties under his name, and before Braun turned 20, he was doing parties for 'N Sync, Britney Spears, Jermaine Dupri and others in Atlanta, Miami, New York and London.
In 2002, Braun threw five after-parties for the Anger Management tour, featuring Enimen and Ludacris. Braun brought in Showtime as a sponsor, a rarity in hip-hop at the time. That initiative impressed Dupri, who hired him at So So Def. "I went to work with him and after six months he made me the head of marketing," Braun says. "I was 20 years old when we started. We did Anthony Hamilton, YoungBloodZ, Usher's "Confessions," [Mariah Carey's] "The Emancipation of Mimi." I dropped out of college and was still controlling parties. That was my life until I was 23."
No matter what Braun accomplished at So So Def, he realized he was stuck with the party-promoter tag. As he puts it, "I didn't want to be saying, 'Daddy needs to go to the nightclub,' when I was 40 years old.'" The stigma of promoters - slimy, drug-dealing, dishonest - started to weigh on him, and the idea that he would be hustling around a club while label executives sat back and enjoyed themselves started to feel wrong, too.
"I decided I wanted equity in the things I did because I realized the clients coming to my parties were more successful than I was," he says.
He left So So Def and the party circuit, bought a one-way ticket to Chile and joined his brother for a month of backpacking. With his BlackBerry. "When I came back I was really focused and I started my own management company and record label," says Braun, who made Roth his first signing. "Four to six months later I found Justin."
Braun ran the numbers and figured he could survive for 14 months, housing Bieber and Roth, shooting videos and recording the two singers. A year passed, and there was little interest from any label in his two artists. Braun saw the end approaching, even calling his father to say that he could return to promoting parties, but "having to go backwards is failure."
At month 13, Roth presented Braun with a song that the engineer Scrappy Stassen said was a hit. Roth, though, was unsure.
"It was 'I Love College.' I went crazy. We did a photo shoot, I bought the 'Animal House' college shirt, put some red cups out, got a local guy to shoot a few shots for me for a hundred bucks," Braun says, his voice picking up the pace. "Got another local guy to build a website for me for a thousand and pretty much risked everything. Got him a publishing deal after 'I Love College' blew up. [It has sold 1.7 million downloads, according to SoundScan.] [Outgoing SRC chairman/CEO] Steve Rifkind gave him a record deal because he thought I'd do marketing for him. I told Steve I would do $20,000 worth of marketing consulting for free if he would give Asher a record deal. We got Asher's advance and then the commission on the publishing deal, and I was back in business."
Less than a year later, Biebermania began to rumble and Braun's profile rose alongside that of the singer. Braun owes it to Bieber for clarifying the perception that it was Usher who'd taken the teen singer under his wing after seeing him on the Internet.
"With Justin I tried to let it be Justin and Usher for a while," Braun says. "Justin became protective of me. People would say, 'You got discovered by Usher?' 'No, I got discovered by Scooter.' And when your name is Scooter, people want to know, 'Who the hell is that?'"
He used Twitter to let people know exactly who he was, attracting more than 1.7 million followers. For a manager, that's a staggering number, but he sees it as being part of the process of transparency and meeting the needs of the audience, especially post-"Never Say Never" that saw Braun in action throughout Bieber's career.
"I started to see how this next generation is very different from generations in the past," he says. "They're a generation of self-promotion. Kids on Facebook and Twitter, from the day they start, are told to promote themselves. And so they're looking to people to whom they could relate.
"A lot of kids started following me [on Twitter] and talking to me and wanting to know how I do things because I was attainable. I'm not talented. Maybe in some ways, but not in an extraordinary, unattainable way. And in movies like 'Never Say Never,' people saw what I did and wanted to learn from that - even more so in movies like 'The Social Network.' It makes people want to be young entrepreneurs. Best Buy comes out with a commercial and it's all inventors [because] kids are interested in that stuff more and more and more, which is great, because that's how we get more entrepreneurs out there." ••••