How Aloe Blacc Outfoxed Simon Fuller (From the Magazine)

Aloe Blacc performing at the Bud Light Hotel in New York on Jan 31.

Photo: Greg Allen/Invision/AP

This article first appeared in the February, 22 issue of Billboard Magazine.

Self-management isn’t for the faint of heart, but Aloe Blacc certainly seems up to the task. The 35-year-old singer, best-known for delivering the soulful vocals to Avicii’s worldwide smash “Wake Me Up!,” is due to release his major-label debut album, "Lift Your Spirit," on Interscope on March 11, and, hot on the heels of solo success with the song “The Man” (which rises 21-17 on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 and has sold 906,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan), recently inked a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell said to be worth nearly $2 million. That’s on top of a major synch in a national campaign for Beats Music headphones, believed to be excluded from the Warner/Chappell signing and itself worth six figures.

Blacc has been hailed as an artist with vision and a songwriter with limitless potential, and to say that he’s played his cards right would be a gross understatement. Not only did he collect what one person privy to the publishing deal called “an absurd” advance, he pocketed the sum without paying commissions (typically between 10% and 15%), having severed ties with manager Simon Fuller just prior to signing on the dotted line.

According to sources, Fuller, a creator of “American Idol” who counts David Beckham, Annie Lennox and Carrie Underwood on his artist roster at XIX Entertainment, didn’t have a written contract in place with Blacc (not unusual for the British music vet who’s made his share of handshake deals -- among them Lennox, a client of 25 years). And while Fuller is credited with discovering the singer, landing his deal with the Universal Music Group label and getting him on the Avicii track, Fuller now only stands to profit from revenue shared with Interscope and XIX Recordings, a label launched specifically to release Blacc’s recordings and licensed to UMG worldwide. (A rep for Fuller denies that XIX had been acting as Blacc’s manager, noting that “our business isn’t set up like your traditional Hollywood managers and agents.”) A Blacc source says, “Aloe’s relationship with Simon Fuller is very healthy. Simon has been nothing but supportive through Aloe’s transition to self-management.” 

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Loyalty doesn’t always pay in the music industry; that’s nothing new, but Blacc’s bold -- and some might deem traitorous -- maneuvers are surprising even the most seasoned of insiders. “He comes off as a business person and not an artist,” says one such source who’s had prior dealings with Blacc. “He thinks he’s smarter than everybody.” Another adds: “He was self-serving, greedy and, ultimately, not a very nice person.” (Sounds like the makings of a solid manager.) Blacc declined to respond.

By contrast, Blacc comes across as human in the media and on TV shows like NBC’s “The Voice,” where he performed “Wake Me Up!” in October 2013. (Blacc will return this season as a mentor to Adam Levine’s team.) A graduate of the University of Southern California, where he studied psycholinguistics, and a native of Laguna Hills, among Orange County’s more hoity ZIP codes, the savvy Blacc has seemed gracious about the success he’s found after nearly 20 years in a career that dates back to 1995. When Avicii neglected to mention Blacc’s name during his American Music Awards acceptance speech for favorite EDM artist, Blacc (who has a co-writing credit on “Wake Me Up!”) shrugged off the snub, telling the Hollywood Reporter in December 2013, “It’s fine. I enjoy being the mystery man behind the song. It’s paid off for me in really beneficial ways.”

Indeed it has for Blacc, to the tune of some $380,000 so far in U.S. airplay and mechanical royalties for album and track sales, according to Billboard estimates -- profits he doesn’t plan to share with an official representative, opting instead for salaried employees to handle day-to-day management duties.

And what of Fuller, 53, who, having put together the Spice Girls, is no slouch himself when it comes to breaking a global act?

In a statement to Billboard, he says: “Aloe is a unique artist. He defines what an artist can achieve in these ever changing times. He is in control of every aspect of his career and chooses his partners very thoughtfully. There is no aspect of his career that he isn’t in complete control of and he should be an inspiration to all artists. I am proud to be in partnership with Aloe and to have seen him over these past few years evolve into one of the world’s most important new artists.”