Breaking Shawn Mendes: Manager Andrew Gertler on Superstar Client's Rise

bb18 2019 - do not reuse
Allison Michael Orenstein
“Really, the only shows I’m not at are when I’m taking a little time off for something personal, like a family wedding,” says Gertler, photographed July 18 at AG Artists in New York City. “I use the road as my office.”

"Shawn will be on top of something new because his friends are," the AG Artists founder says. "He goes home and discovers new things and brings me new ideas that feel right to him."

Andrew Gertler's office is in New York City, but he's spending most of the summer on the road with his star client, Shawn Mendes, as Mendes' arena tour weaves its way across the American Southwest. On the mid-July afternoon after a show at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, he and Mendes, 20, "stayed in Park City and had a little day in nature, which was very nice," says Gertler, 30. And with six more weeks of North American shows, followed by runs through Asia, Australia and South America, Gertler won't be behind his desk much for the rest of this year.

That's fine with Gertler, a Chicago native who attended the University of Vermont before getting a job at Warner Music Group and moving to New York. While there, he discovered Mendes, a then-14-year-old from the Toronto area singing cover songs on Vine, and signed him to a management deal -- and in 2014 helped get him a recording contract with Island Records.

Since then, Gertler has helped turn the pop-rock singer-songwriter into one of the biggest voices in mainstream music, with three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart, including his 2015 debut, Handwritten. Mendes' current tour, which kicked off in March, has grossed a career-best $40.2 million so far, according to Billboard Boxscore, with more than half its dates remaining.

This year Mendes also launched two singles -- "If I Can't Have You" and the Camila Cabello collaboration "Señorita" -- to career-best No. 2 debuts on the Billboard Hot 100 and became one of the faces of Calvin Klein's "I Speak My Truth" campaign, all while readying a highly anticipated fourth album.

Although Mendes is not the sole client of Gertler's management company, AG Artists -- Gertler also reps Chicago rapper Rockie Fresh -- his career has skyrocketed to such a degree during the past half-decade that his manager plans to follow the Jon Landau-Bruce Springsteen model, with one client as the main focus. That's why Gertler is traveling with Mendes for much of his tour -- weighing in on rehearsals, tweaking aspects of the production, helping to incorporate just-released hits into the setlist. As Gertler puts it, "I would rather have two or three things over the lifetime of my career that I can point to and say, 'Those are some of the biggest things that have ever been done,' than 20 things that were medium-sized."

What was your biggest priority for Shawn this year?

Our No. 1 priority for 2019 was to cement Shawn's touring career as an artist who's going to do this for 20 years -- to make sure we filled those arenas and put on a show that fans were going to be over the moon about. We wanted to highlight the fact that he really is an amazing rock frontman as well as an incredible pop superstar. The music he has released, and some of the brand deals we've done this year, like with Calvin Klein, have been us wanting to make sure we're putting forward something authentic. This year has been about further cementing who Shawn is and bringing that forward more into the public consciousness.

Shawn is playing nearly 100 arenas in 2019. Do you think he might graduate to headlining stadiums soon?

That's the goal. We want Shawn to be a stadium artist around the world, but we're always very careful about not overplaying. On this tour, our expectations were, "Let's go test the first stadium and see what happens," and we were confident we could play a stadium in Shawn's hometown, Toronto. That sold out instantly. We then put on sale a few South American stadium shows, and those were instant sellouts as well. The demand is there. So next time it could be a combination of arenas and stadiums [or all stadiums]. We're also in no rush -- he's 20.

Do you think about a more traditional management setup in terms of being based somewhere and diversifying your roster further?

If you look at the amount I was on the road on the last tour, it was probably 100%, and now it's 90. That still seems like a lot, but I'm very conscious of the fact that Shawn is young and that he and I share a goal to make this as big as possible. A lot of the managers I admire spent the earlier days with their artists hitting the road hard, like Irving Azoff, who spent a ton of time on the road with the Eagles. My view is that I have time to build my business, but there are still goals that we haven't reached that I want to make sure happen before I turn and say, "Hey, I'm going to go do this other thing." That has been my mindset from the beginning.

With opportunities like the Calvin Klein campaign, how conscious do you have to be about Shawn's age, and what does and doesn't make sense for his fans?

What we've faced from the very beginning has been, how do we pass up the things that are really great business opportunities right now but may not look so great a year from now? Our thought process has always been, "If we do this deal today, are we going to be happy looking back on it two or three years from now?" And when you're working with a 15-year-old artist, the amount that person grows and changes over the course of even a year is incredible. There are things we look back on, I think like anyone, where we're like, "Oh, that was a little bit lame." But at the end of the day, that thought process has been what has guided us and what has helped us turn the right things down and then move forward with the right opportunities. The Calvin campaign was just perfect timing for where he's at in his life.

As an artist who started on Vine and is now that app's greatest success story, how interested are Shawn and you in emerging technology?

If there's something that feels natural for Shawn to put his stamp on, or to utilize as a means of putting out content, he will. Shawn will be on top of something new because his friends are: His best friends from home in Toronto are in college and living their normal lives. He goes home and discovers new things and brings me new ideas that feel right to him. What we've been paying more attention to is the data that is provided by some of the bigger platforms, whether that's music platforms like Spotify and Apple, or Instagram and YouTube. Alongside the label, we're actively studying that data and providing Shawn with recommendations -- and that always comes back to how I'm going to implement it naturally.

What's the most recent disagreement you had with Shawn, and how did you resolve it?

When we were preparing to release "If I Can't Have You," he and I had a week's worth of back-and-forth on whether or not to fast-track this song so we could get it out at the top of the North American tour. We had a bit of a disagreement over how fast is too fast: Should we shoot a video now, to release [with the song]? I was saying, "Let's get this video done, because that will be the catalyst for this song to take off," and he said, "Well, I'm not going to compromise creatively," and rightfully so. I'll commend Darcus [Beese] and Monte Lipman for saying, "Andrew, we need a video, because this could be the biggest song of Shawn's career." I relayed that back to Shawn, and he said, "You know what? Let's shoot the video in three days." We released it with the song, and I think now we're both like, "This is the best decision we ever made."

This article originally appeared in the July 27 issue of Billboard.


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