Benjy Grinberg values artistic vision. Since establishing his independent label, Rostrum Records, in 2003, the Pittsburgh native and former executive assistant for Antonio "L.A." Reid has built a mini empire by banking on a core of young, Internet-savvy artists committed to active social engagement, a heavy touring schedule and free mixtapes to help encourage fans to buy both albums and concert tickets.
Grinberg lets Rostrum artists handle their social media accounts entirely on their own, and the strategy has proved successful: Wiz Khalifa's debut, Rolling Papers, was one of only a handful of hip-hop releases in 2011 to sell more than 500,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and late last year, Mac Miller's debut, Blue Slide Park, worked a successful preorder campaign to become the first independent album to bow atop the Billboard 200 since 1995. Both artists have established themselves on the road, with Khalifa grossing $3.3 million from 28 shows and Miller pulling in $1.2 million from 23 shows, according to Billboard Boxscore. "Fans are smart," Grinberg says, explaining his label's hands-off approach to social media management. "Fans know when they're being marketed to. And that's why we never really do it."
Snowballing off a successful 2011, Khalifa and Miller will embark on the joint Under the Influence summer tour, which features opening acts Kendrick Lamar, Chevy Woods and Boaz. Khalifa recently appeared on Maroon 5's "Payphone," which entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 3 and set a record for digital sales by a group with 493,000 singles sold. Khalifa's sophomore album, O.N.I.F.C., arrives Aug. 28 on Rostrum/Atlantic. "We're committed to growing the infrastructure of Rostrum so we can better-serve our artists," Grinberg says. "I want to make sure that we have enough bandwidth for that." - Steven J. Horowitz