At the time of this interview, Christian Clancy was on his way to Best Buy.
The co-founder of 4 Strikes Management and manager of Frank Ocean was coming off of an eventful seven-day period, during which Ocean revealed via Twitter that his highly anticipated Def Jam debut "Channel Orange" would be released on iTunes a week early at midnight on July 10 - much to the dismay of Target, who opted not to carry the album due to the unannounced exclusive. So perhaps it's no surprise that when Billboard reached Clancy while driving in Los Angeles Monday afternoon, he pulled over while en route to buy a copy of "Channel Orange" at the nearest Best Buy.
Though Clancy initially didn't want to comment any further on Target's decisions, he nevertheless feels passionately about the extra effort Ocean and the team at Def Jam have put into making the physical copy a unique experience.
"I would argue this is actually perfect - no promotion, you have a week of this incredible word-of-mouth and then you get a deluxe package with additional sh-- on it for retail. There's incredible art and it's not in a jewel case. I don't know what else to argue about it. I just disagree [with Target's decision, but] it's not my business."
Having first gained attention for his appearance on albums from Odd Future and Tyler, The Creator (both of whom Clancy manages at 4 Strikes along with wife Kelly), Ocean is now on track to double and potentially triple sales of those acts' respective first weeks (Odd Future's "The OF Tape Vol. 2" sold 40,000 its first week out this spring, and Tyler, The Creator's "Goblin" bowed with 45,000 in spring 2011.) Billboard.biz caught up with Clancy in between stops on Ocean's U.S. tour, which hits San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dallas this week before stops in New York next week and a high-profile set (and after-show) at Lollapalooza next month. Below are excerpts from the conversation - see next week's Billboard, out Friday, for more from the interview.
Billboard.biz: As Ocean and others confirmed last week, the plan all along was to release the album a week early as an iTunes exclusive. Approximately when did you lock in that deal?
Christian Clancy: It's always been a moving target. He was really inspired by what Kanye and Jay did [in releasing their "Watch the Throne" a week early], and I think in this day and age it's funny. Not that being called "genius" or "smart" is a bad thing, but you know a business is in trouble when common sense is referred to as "smart." The truth is in this day and age with leaks and everything that goes along with that it seems to me that with an artist like this kind it makes all the sense in the world. It's been his plan from the jump. How it was navigated was always a moving target, and there was a lot to maneuver around and stuff like that. We have a very great relationship with Def Jam, and they really have followed his lead. Frank has incredible intuition. I'm an intuition guy. When you have an artist who has as good an intuition as he does, you follow it.
Why was "Fallon" the ideal place for Frank's first TV performance and to essentially break the news of the iTunes release?
I think "Fallon" has been good to us, it felt like the right place to do it. It wasn't much deeper than that. It just kind of worked out. It's not much deeper than that, it was just important for people to see what he does. He's an artist that emotionally connects, and the best way is to sing live and that was important. It all worked out and timed out perfectly. Not to diminish what's happened, but it's funny when people who think beyond that, it really is common sense.
We can't talk about the last two weeks without talking about the July 4 Tumblr post and the impact it's had. Did you have any discussions with Frank about that before he posted it?
My comment on anything related to that is that it was all 100% Frank and the post in and of itself is better than anything anyone can ever say. And it all goes back to the album.
That is an insanely personal decision. It's something I can't relate to and can only offer support and follow his lead. That's all I can say about that. If anyone has questions they should just read the Tumblr post and listen to the album. What else could anyone possibly say?
I agree that the post and the album speak for themselves, but certainly we wouldn't be looking at sales figures quite like this had the post not happened.
To deny its impact would not be not very intelligent, but it could've gone any number of ways. The courage to do that knowing it could've just as easily gone another way is so amazing. But I don't like to get too involved in that side of his personal life whatsoever.
You tweeted, and later deleted, your frustration over Target's decision not to carry the album following the iTunes exclusive. In the absence of Target, have any other retail partners stepped up to the plate in the last week?
I can't insert myself in Target's business... It's a business decision that I totally disagree with, but I'm not in their business. They're in a TV and microwave business. It's their right to make business decisions and I'm not part of those conversations. I just think that, again common sense would say this might be a smart way to do things for people who have great word-of-mouth and a brand that they've built. Let's not underestimate the fact that this is a guy who has done all of this with an iPhone and a Tumblr page. This is a guy who has the number-two album and number-one or two in 11 countries literally with an iPhone and a Tumblr page. Literally. I don't want to take away anyone's help, but when it comes down to what he has done it's all come from his iPhone and Tumblr page and obviously the music right? It's the antithesis of a campaign.
I think there's so much to learn for myself, for the business, there's so many chapters in this book that everyone can learn from. You can't apply it to every artist, obviously everyone will try and… I don't know if "copy" is the word but find their own version of their own normal mantra. Art is art and individual. At least for me, I remember when other people I was working with would say "let's just do what Lil Wayne did." Uh, one problem - you're not Wayne. Stuff is not made to be copied, it's not an exact science at all. So all myself and my wife Kelly, who basically runs point, all we had done is follow his lead and his intuition. And that's our gigs. And play chess the best we can.
As you look back on the past week, what else stands out for you?
Today I woke up really thinking about this. You look at the machine of the business and you have a guy who has an iPhone, a Tumblr and a good team. Again, assuming the guy is talented as Frank. You can't have an iPhone and a Tumblr and suck. It's not gonna get you anywhere. That's not to diminish Def Jam and the team, but to me that's the story. Everything has come through him and his own words, his bio was written by him, everything is him. The machine is a supportive machine, not a "let's blow this out" machine. That's where I give Def Jam so much credit, that they're surfing with us. I'm just grateful and happy to be along for the ride. And to get to do it with my wife. I think God felt bad for me because I'm an Eagles fan, but he's throwing me some bones. I'm so grateful and happy for Frank.
See next week's Billboard, out Friday, for more from our interview with Christian Clancy.