Touring Without A Label, Branding Deal
EDM and Hip Hop In The Morning (from left to right): Jason Miller, President, Live Nation New York; Chang Weisberg, Founder, Guerilla Union; Peter Schwartz, Agent, The Agency Group discuss. (Photo: Michael Seto)
"The manager's gotta drive the car not let the label drive the car -- that's where trouble happens." That statement, from The Agency Group booking agent Peter Schwartz, speaks volumes about the current, booming economics of hip-hop and EDM artists who break out in the touring space with little to no help from traditional record labels. It was a topic discussed to varying degrees in panel "EDM & The Hip-Hop Revival: WTF's Going On Here And Can It Last?" at Billboard's Touring Conference Wednesday, moderated by Billboard EDM correspondent Kerri Mason.
| "if you're building a tour audience organically and on the internet and you're starting to do numbers keep your money...."
Lee Anderson, AM Only
In Schwartz's case, labels can no longer dictate the timing of a tour for artists who can already fill mid-sized or even large venues and amphitheaters. "[When the label drives], you've got your tour set and the record's pushed back, what do you do? It's still imperative they're a piece of the team and orchestrated accordingly."
AM Only agent Lee Anderson pointed out, however, that "if you're a young act with a tremendous amount of talent and no one knows you yet, the visibility of a major label can get you form 0 to 60 pretty quickly. But if you're building a tour audience organically and on the internet and you're starting to do numbers keep your money."
Chang Weisberg, principal at indie promoter Guerilla Union, even dangled one of many artists' most-feared business terms. "The labels would be better to scoop up some of those rights. I know it's a bad word, but 360 deals, when the right artist is on the right label and doing things in synergy, it makes the promoter's life easier. There are also great artists not on a label that will never need a label."
Case in point: Pretty Lights, who's become a staple on the festival circuit without a traditional label deal to his name. "Your revenue can come from the road and maybe an endorsement deal," Anderson said.
The Panel (from left to right): Lee Anderson, Agent, AM Only. Hunter Williams, Agent/GM, Progressive Global Agency. Shawn Gee, President, Blueprint Group/SEFG Entertainment. Jason Miller, President, Live Nation New York. Chang Weisberg, Founder, Guerilla Union. Peter Schwartz, Agent, The Agency Group. Kerri Mason, EDM Correspondent, Billboard. (Photo: Michael Seto)
The topic of branding in EDM, unlike the more brand-saturated hip-hop, is still sensitive -- albeit rampant in marketing categories like apparel, spirits and wireless. To Anderson, it's all about adding value, especially on the festival circuit. "Maybe Jet Blue is slapping their logo on something that's useful for a concert dollar," he suggested. "It's all about making an artist's life easier. Whatever it is, they're great to tap into and we can say, 'We're gonna need this money because we want X Y and Z on the road.' If the deal doesn't make sense and if it's a smart artist they tell them to take a hike."
To Blueprint Group co-CEO Shawn Gee, endorsement deals for megastar client Lil Wayne are pushing big brands to take more risks. The rapper's DeWeezy deal with Mountain Dew was signed "seven, eight months after he was let out of jail," Gee noted. "Five years ago we couldn't even think about having that conversation. But Pepsi realized the strength of Wayne's brand and they wanted to leverage some of Wayne's juice in order to change their brand perception in the market. They understood they needed to take more risks to reach this fan."
Building an international touring footprint is also key as hip-hop stars become global names -- and sometimes even bigger draws than in their home country. Gee shared the example of one unnamed client (Nicki Minaj?), who just wrapped a UK arena tour but "when we played the States we played theaters because that's what she was worth at this point in time. As a representative, we have to make sure we're playing long-term."
And though social media has made it easier to quantify the fanbases that unsigned artists are cultivating on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere, determining which ones to anoint as the next star still hasn't gotten any easier. "I could pitch ten white rappers a day who have 30,000 views on their new video, but how do you know which one is going to be bigger?" said Schwartz. "There isn't the perfect answer. You gotta use the bits and pieces you have on each one."
Throw Your Hands In The Air: Lee Anderson, Agent, AM Only; Shawn Gee, President, Blueprint Group/SEFG Entertainment; Jason Miller, President, Live Nation New York; Kerri Mason, EDM Correspondent, Billboard; Peter Schwartz, Agent, The Agency Group; Chang Weisberg, Founder, Guerilla Union; Hunter Williams, Agent/GM, Progressive Global Agency show their colors. (Photo: Michael Seto)