A week before the controversial cancelling of Lady Gaga's Indonesia "Born This Way" tour stop, her manager Troy Carter was the keynote interview at the Music Matters conference in Singapore earlier this month. Carter, who is the founder and CEO of the multidimensional artist management company Atom Factory Inc., spoke about Gaga in Asia, establishing relationships with international territories, life after labels, and how his company, which admits to having a "a really weird, loose structure," is getting involved in tech world.
Music Matters Conference Recap: Troy Carter; Spotify; The Rise of Asian Music Fests
The hot topic on everyone's mind was first and foremost about the Indonesia show where religious extremists threatened violence if the pop star were to perform. Carter explained that he saw the situation as national conflict, not Gaga-specific, "The way I see it is it's less about Gaga than it is about what's really happening in the world right now as a whole. This is a microcosm. I just feel like it's a generational divide." Carter added a biblical reference saying "But Jesus Christ got crucified, you know?"
Carter also mentioned the juxtaposition happening in the country, "What's very interesting about Jakarta, we sold more tickets there and the fastest amount of time than probably anywhere else in the world. And we haven't had this sort of resistance in any other market."
Moving on to Asia as a whole, Carter spoke to the differences between Asian and American audiences, "In Asia, it's a very, very loyal audience and it's an audience that really, really loves music. What Gaga has been able to do in America is she's really built an audience of superfans there, but outside of the superfans you live and die on Top 40 radio in America. But Asia's one of those markets where you're greeted by a thousand of people at the airport, thousand people at the hotel. They want to buy the merchandise; it's not a passive audience at all." Adding that while this audience is extremely reactive, it is an expensive feat.
But a big theme of the interview was about Carter's emphasis on long-term, authentic relationships with different territories. "For us, it's not about music sales and it's not really specifically about ticket or merch sales, it's about building a real, long-term relationship with an audience. And what that turns into, ends up turning into ticket sales, merch sales, and whatever kind of recorded music [sales], but it's really about that relationship."
He continued, "It's mindboggling to me that you look at some of the older, legacy acts that have never played India before just because there wasn't money in India and the decision to go there was a financial decision versus an artist development decision." Carter says Gaga will play India shows though, "Truth be told, we won't make any money playing India. But it's one of those decisions we had to make for long-term growth.
Moving on to the relationship between artists and labels, Carter speaks candidly about what type of artist should sign, "If I'm an electronic DJ and I'm selling 50,000 tickets or 20,000 tickets a night and I'm making $300,000 and I'm building this group of fans. There's no way in the world I'm signing with a record label because that audience they're not purchasing CDs. That audience is probably 95% digital I'd be willing to bet." But when it comes to pop, "it's a different cost structure. It's moving yourself around the world so it kind of depends."
Another theme of the interview was on technology with the recent Wired magazine cover star. Carter explained how Atom Factory Inc; recently started a fund for taking risks with start-ups and larger companies investing in "a little bit of 30 companies" including Dropbox, Spotify, Socialcam, Voxer, and Uber. Carter says that, "It's been a significant part of our business. Not just from a financial standpoint but also from an access standpoint and being able to get a real glimpse of the technology that's on the horizon. A lot of these guys are going to be future world leaders."
Carter cites the reason they are going to lead is because of their ability to "disrupt." These are the types of ideas that excited him he explains, "With Uber for instance markets like New York, San Francisco…Uber's a company that's come along and disrupted the transportation industry. Spotify's disrupted digital distribution. We're just looking for companies that are going to come along and disrupt the industry."
Carter revealed how he dismissed the possibility of becoming a musical disrupter with Gaga recording her music in different languages, "We talked about it and I guess the big thing was, it has to be an authentic experience. You can't fake it. For the fans and for the artist, I think its just important that its an authentic experience. More than just a language-specifically, I think it's a respect for the culture more than you having to speak in their specific dialect." He pointed out, "
There's a reason you can go to Indonesia where you've never spoken their language and you can sell 50 or 60,000 tickets to these kids or whatever because this is the language that they're speaking [touches heart area], they're feeling the movement. I think it's less about the dialect than about what they feel."
Carter, who is also developing acts like Kaskade, Greyshan Chance, Bollywood Star Priyanka Chopra, and new boyband Mindless Behavior, also spoke about how artists' use of social media must also be authentic. "It's very important, it's your voice and it's you talking to your audience. You don't even necessarily have to be tech-savvy, but you better know how to tweet. You better know how to put up a YouTube video. That's just as important as touring was twenty years ago, this is how you're building your audience."
As forward thinking as his ideas may be Carter is a firm believer in the album cycle model. He explains, "When you look at Boyz II Men 'Cooleyhighharmony,' that was a three-year cycle. They probably did a year and half promo tour. To be able to go around the world takes a long time. To go continent to continent, you're meeting the people locally, you're going to their restaurants, you're eating their food, it means a lot when you go into their countries. Our plan with both albums that we released so far was to be really able to take time and tell the story." Adding that other 90s acts like TLC used this model and became huge successes.
Still for all he has accomplished with Lady Gaga being the diamond in the crown, he still feels she's in the first stages of her career. "No. No…she's a 200 pound toddler. She's a 200 pound toddler," he said adding that the singer herself felt the same. Sticking to the theme of his interview, "It's the reason why when we come to Singapore, we are going to be in Singapore for a little over a week, we're going to spend time. It's important to us that we weren't coming into a market, playing really quick, and leaving and going on to the next place. It's about diving deep with the fanbase, diving deep in these local territories."
Looking to the future, he concluded the question, "I don't feel as though she's made it yet. If you ask me this question 25 years from it might be a different answer, but she's got a long, long way to go."