Few high school students are having a better fall than Martin Garrix.
Yesterday (Nov. 17), “Animals,” the 17-year-old Dutchman’s breakthrough EDM track, hit No. 1 on the official UK charts during its first week of commercial release, beating Lily Allen and Ellie Goulding to the top spot.
Today, Scooter Braun Projects (SBP) confirmed to Billboard what had been widely rumored: Garrix is SBP’s newest client, and will be handled by SBP agent Michael George. He joins a roster that includes Ariana Grande, PSY, and, of course, superstar Justin Bieber.
Even at a company known for signing teenaged talent, Garrix’s age caught Braun by surprise. “I thought Mike was fucking with me,” Braun says, after George told him about his then-16-year-old discovery.
Garrix will make his first official appearances stateside this February during a two-week headlining tour. A series of singles and probable collaborations are expected, but no release dates have been set.
Garrix becomes SBP’s first EDM client in a split worldwide management deal with MusicAllStars Management, a sister company of Dutch label Spinnin Records (Afrojack, Nicky Romero, Bingo Players), which first released “Animals.” Garrix was already signed to Spinnin when he met Michael George, then a recent hire of Scooter Braun, who was scouting EDM talent during Miami Music Week this past March.
“There was just something about the charisma and his personality that really shined through to me,” George says of his first meeting with the young producer. “When I went home, we Skyped and – I’ll never forget – he came on Skype and said to me, ‘Bro, bro! I’ve had this melody in my head, I couldn’t sleep! I need to send you the song!’ And he sent me the demo version of ‘Animals.’”
“Animals” began circulating as an underground track last spring, without Garrix’s name attached (his identity was revealed by Billboard in May). It has gone on to spend 18 weeks on the Dance/Electronic Songs chart, currently in its peak position at No. 8. It’s been on the Hot 100 for eight weeks peaking at No. 75. Garrix came in at No. 17 on Billboard’s 21 Under 21 in September – all without ever touring the U.S. or even playing an official gig.
Partly because of Garrix’s age, George and Braun nurtured the relationship with the young artist slowly. Spinnin and MusicAllStars, helmed by Spinnin co-founder Eelko van Kooten, took the lead until a co-management deal – the first of its kind for MusicAllStars – was formalized and Garrix was ready to make a formal play for U.S. success. While Braun remains intimately involved, he is emphatic that Garrix is primarily under the auspices of George, who Braun says he hired as part of an effort to credibly leverage his company’s pop success into the ever-expanding EDM market.
“We started our EDM department because I believe in Michael George,” Braun explains. “I spent the first three months flying him all over the country thinking, this guy’s just partying. Then he came back and he had a vision with this kid, Martin. I would never have gotten into EDM this early if Mike didn’t look at me and say that’s what he loves. Mike brought Martin and Spinnin into our lives and I couldn’t be more grateful and more proud of that.”
Even though “Animals” is an entirely instrumental track, it continues to rise at radio. Braun and George had considered adding a topline to “Animals” (some of the industry’s top songwriters are said to have been asked to write on it) as the track made its way from underground favorite to festival staple, to radio fodder, but for now that idea has been shelved.
“It’s something that radio programmers in all these different markets were apprehensive about and didn’t necessarily believe could be done or would work,” George says of the track’s lack of a lyric or vocal hook. “Initially the idea was, ‘Hey let’s go find a topline, that way it’s more digestible to the public.’ But I think, given that the original is working, a topline would be a secondary thing if it happens at all.”
In October, during industry confab Amsterdam Dance Event, the kingpin of Dutch DJs, Tiësto, premiered Garrix’s next single, “Wizard.” Though it’s already making waves in Garrix’s online fanbase, the track won’t likely be formally released until 2014. For now, the focus remains on pushing “Animals” and looking ahead to Garrix’s first stateside tour this February, the brevity of which allows the teenager to maintain a semblance of normality as a high school student.
“We give extra attention to his busy agenda and make sure he can still go to school and spend quality time with his friends and family, who are very important to him,” van Kooten explains – a sentiment echoed by George.
“He doesn’t need to grow up too fast. We’re not into a sprint; it’s a marathon. It’s important for him to be spending time with his family,” George says “It’s not about how many shows we can book. That’s the long-term goal but we’re not in a rush to get there. Letting him still be a 17-year-old is important.”
Nonetheless, Garrix is regularly traveling around Europe each weekend, playing sold-out shows around the continent and hob-knobbing with Calvin Harris and Ms. Grande at the EMAs. All that, however, could just be a warm-up for when Garrix comes stateside next year as an SBP artist.
Even though George was brought to SBP to scale the business with EDM in mind, Braun does not see the future of his business defined by any specific genre, but rather the quality of individual talent.
“Any of my young managers who come into the company – if they have a belief in something, I want to back that belief blindly,” Braun says. “We’re always looking for greatness.”