This following excerpt on the split between Lady Gaga and manager Troy Carter is from the new issue of Billboard, which features a cover story on why Michael Jackson's touring business is bigger now than ever, the publisher's quarterly on Sony/ATV's market dominance and Warner/Chappell's country surge. You can pick up this issue here. Subscribe to Billboard here.
Lady Gaga and Troy Carter, her manager since 2007 at his firm Atom Factory, may have parted ways this week, citing creative differences. But executives involved with “Artpop” say it’s largely been business as usual in the days since Gaga’s split with Atom Factory on Nov. 4.
Carter and other members of Gaga’s management team were expected to be part of a call yesterday morning (Nov. 7) regarding plans for Gaga in 2014. The company was helping to seek potential last-minute brand partners for a live-streamed concert at a Gaga event dubbed artRave this Sunday, Nov. 11, after a planned sponsor pulled their media spend at the last minute. The concert will still stream on Vevo, however, at 11:30 p.m. ET, a half hour before “Artpop” hits iTunes on November 11.
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Carter and Gaga, through a rep, declined to comment for this story, but it’s been a hectic week in the lead-up to “Artpop.” Things were looking great for the project by the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 3. Lead single “Applause” continued to pick up steam at radio, and climbed to No. 7 on the Hot 100 the week prior. Album track “Do What U Want” had been so rapturously received upon its release on iTunes that it became the album’s last-minute second single over the planned “Venus” and debuted at No. 13 on last week’s Hot 100. And fan excitement for this weekend’s artRave event in New York City -- where she would premiere “Artpop,” its companion app, exclusive sculptures from Jeff Koons and a live-streamed concert -- was high.
But by the time Gaga appeared at the YouTube Music Awards around 6:30 p.m. ET to perform “Artpop” track “Dope,” dressed like a ‘90s grunge rocker in a flannel, a brown wig and a trucker hat with the song’s title in the form of the NASA logo, something felt off. She was visibly emotional, dedicating the raw piano ballad to her fans as tears streamed down her face. Online, 4,000 viewers who’d tuned into the livestream of the Awards clicked away, and fans speculated wildly about what was really happening.
Around the evening of Monday, Nov. 4, reports surfaced that Gaga had parted ways with Troy Carter, her manager since 2007, citing creative differences. Though sources declined to comment to Billboard about whether the split with Carter was related to the emotional performance, the two had been having rifts in recent months – including a reported fight around August’s MTV Video Music Awards that one source describes as a “blow out,” but was later resolved.
Despite all the fracas in the days leading up to “Artpop”’s release, all parties who spoke with “Billboard” remained confident in the viability of Brand Gaga and the album’s potential. “The thing with Gaga is she’s constantly pushing her art forward, and the creativity never stops with her,” says Steve Berman, vice chairman/head of marketing at Interscope. “Her songs are like paintings and she works on them until the end. We just streamed the album on iTunes the other day, and I think she’s still working on it. It’s so important to her fans that she puts her heart out there that is the best that it could be.”
Brands are embracing the opportunity to take “Artpop” to the masses, too. Kia came onboard first with a massive 2013 ad campaign that began airing during the VMAs featuring the Kia hamsters dancing to “Applause.” Beats By Dre synched “Do What U Want” for a TV campaign that began airing in mid-October. Opening track “Aura” was featured in trailers and a lyric video for “Machete Kills,” a Robert Rodriguez movie in which Gaga co-stars. Planned third single “Venus” will get another big look from a major retailer later this month. And, as reports were expected to be confirmed at the Nov. 10 ArtRave, Gaga will perform a song in space in 2015 as part of a new partnership with Virgin Galactic, making her the first person to do so.
“It’s about exposing different songs on the album to as many people as possible, sometimes without her as the face,” says John Janick, president/chief operating officer of Interscope. “Everyone was huddled together as a team throughout the process to do everything possible to be interesting and innovative in bringing this to market.”
An Artpop app will hit iOS and Android devices day of release, Nov. 11, as well, featuring custom content for all of “Artpop”'s 15 tracks -- including the opportunity to remix the songs using the vocal and instrumental stems, share them with other Gaga fans and socialize them on a 3-D editing system. The app was created by Relative Wave, the developers behind Bjork’s similarly innovative “Biophilia” app in 2011, and developed over the course of more than 12 months. “It’s kinda crazy because she played me five songs last year that even in their early form sounded so close to the album version now,” says Relative Wave founder Max Weisel. “We wanted to make an app that has long-lasting value, and focus on ideas that would work bringing people together and interacting. We didn’t want people to look at this in the same class as other music apps.”
As for the future of Atom Factory without its superstar client, it’s become clear in recent years that Carter had been setting up the company with enough diversified investments and ventures to set itself up far beyond a reliance on doing deals that were Gaga-based. In addition to a management roster that includes John Legend, Priyanka Chopra and rising YouTube star Lindsey Stirling, Carter has become an influential investor presence in Hollywood’s “Silicon Beach” tech scene alongside fellow music managers -- and frequent business parnters -- Guy Oseary and Scooter Braun. Carter currently has a portfolio of over 50 companies in Atom Factory’s AFSquare Fund. PandoDaily recently reported that Carter has set up a fund valued at $75 to $100 million to ramp up his investment activity, a figure Carter would not comment upon.
Gaga remains a partner in several AFSquare companies, primarily Backplane -- a social media platform that launched her Little Monsters fan community in 2012 that has attracted investment from former Google president Eric Schmidt, and more recently, Coca-Cola, Billboard has learned. But Carter, who started making startup investments in late 2010, told Billboard in January of this year that Gaga hasn’t been part of deal conversations since mid-2011. “ At the very beginning, before we were reputable investors, that’s what people came to us for -- they’d want Gaga to tweet about something or whatever,” he said. “Now they come to us the same way they would come to any other fund in the valley.”
As for how all the additional publicity of the past week might help Gaga sell albums, no one wants to win more than the singer herself. One partner who wished to remain anonymous said, “Gaga told me when we first met, ‘People torched me for speaking my mind on 'Born This Way.' I just want to make hit pop songs [with “Artpop.”]' She knows she has nothing without great songs.”