Spotlight: SKAM Artists' Sujit Kundu Is Hustling for Lil Jon, Pete Wentz, Amber Rose & the 'Blue-Collar' DJs

D Nice / Derrick Jones
Sujit Kundu

"A lot of people want the end result but they’re not willing to put in the work to get there."

At first, Sujit Kundu was skeptical of naming his Los Angeles-based DJ/talent booking agency SKAM Artists -- an acronym for Sujit Kundu Artist Management that also happened to “sound so shady,” he recalls telling the friend who suggested it. “Do you think Coke is going to write a check to scam artists?” But when this friend added that he could make T-shirts with Lil Jon -- an actual client, then and now -- on one side, and “I’m a SKAM Artist” on the other, Kundu said, “I’m in.” Not only did he print T-shirts, he bought advertising on billboards.  

Since Kundu tasked his friend with naming a company that he envisioned could be “the next Sony or the next Pepsi” 15 years ago, the ambitious and tenacious Orange County, California, native has grown SKAM’s roster to over 80 artists, including Taryn Manning, Mustard, B.o.B, Swizz Beatz and Cassie. With his company, Kundu also pioneered a successful model for what has become one of the most lucrative and rapidly growing subdivisions of the music industry: Las Vegas residencies for open format and hip-hop DJs. This year, Kundu is expanding beyond Sin City (where he does much of his business) with brand-new offices in Miami and Atlanta, Billboard can exclusively reveal. In addition to SKAM, Kundu has worked with artists including Meghan Trainor, Fifth Harmony, Future and Khalid at Epic, where he was senior vp promotion under L.A. Reid. Currently, he’s a consultant for Reid’s new venture, HitCo, and handles radio promotion independently for artists including Tyga and Ciara

Despite coming from practical stock -- his mother is a loan officer, his father a retired engineer and his older sister a doctor -- Kundu was born a hustler. “When I was younger, I used to sell baseball cards or Garbage Pail Kids, or do a lemonade stand,” he says. “Music is just where I ended up, but I could do real estate or sell cars.” The son of Indian immigrants, Kundu grew up as an outsider in a predominantly Mexican-American community at the height of L.A.’s party crew era in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Watching and learning what his neighbors were doing, he began putting on raves himself. “They kept throwing parties and they kept failing,” he says. “A lot of people want the end result but they’re not willing to put in the work to get there.” 

Because 'all good Indian kids must be a doctor or a lawyer,' Kundu started out attending the University of California Santa Barbara’s pre-med program. After a year, he switched majors to business and economics, and began booking shows and handling street promotion for labels. “There was a quick opportunity to make money again and I went right back to it,” he says. “The first year I didn't book anything, then slowly I started to book acts. The first couple were electronic artists that had one or two songs on the radio. Then as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg started to come up, I booked hip-hop.” There he met Damion Young, aka Damizza, who would go on to become a legendary record producer and the director of programming at L.A.’s Power 106 and New York’s Hot 97. The two of them teamed up to launch Baby Ree, a record label, booking and management agency, and publishing company with early clients DJ E-Man, Richard “Humpty” Vission and Bad Boy Bill

Kundu and Young eventually parted ways, with the former taking the management and booking side with him in 2004. He began booking DJ Vice and DJ E-Man on weekends at the Hard Rock Hotel’s foundational nightclub Baby’s. By the time TAO Las Vegas came to Kundu to book some SKAM artists for residencies before its official launch, DJ Vice was charging $4,000 a night to play exclusively at one venue, four times the going rate for TAO New York. (It would only be a few years before another nightclub, Pure, poached DJ AM for $20,000 a night.) Around the same time, Lil Jon, recently of Usher’s “Yeah!” fame, reached out to Kundu on MySpace. “At the time, there weren’t 50 DJ agencies,” Kundu says. “The CAAs or the William Morrises of the world weren’t in the business. I was kind of the only game in town for not-electronic music. There were maybe one or two other guys in town at the time [doing open format] and at the time I was probably the biggest one, and [Lil Jon] decided that he wanted to DJ in that world. In my mind that was like, ‘Oh shit, this is the real deal.’” 

Now, Kundu maintains a SKAM staff of eight to 15 in his office in Los Angeles, where he’s also built a handful of recording studios. Two years ago, he launched a record label, which has since released tracks by SKAM artists LA Leakers, among others. He’s branching out to Miami primarily to better-serve his clients in that city, including DJ Irie, and get a foot in the door of its lucrative nightlife scene. “It’s so competitive now that you need somebody on the ground to manage those relationships,” he says. “I'm not going in and out of those clubs every day. Sometimes just by being there, the opportunity arises.” Kundu -- who still uses a Blackberry and maintains an “inbox zero” policy -- speaks to many of his clients on a daily basis on the phone and through email, but turns his phone off at night. “If something happens in the middle of the night, if I don’t answer, they’ll figure it out and I can deal with it the next morning,” he says. 

This sort of tough-love philosophy extends to new clients Kundu is looking to sign as well, which often come to him through word of mouth or are referred to him directly. One recent example is Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, who was looking to get back into DJing and found Kundu through Steve Aoki’s manager, Matt Colon. Nick Cannon also recommended Amber Rose, who was making $7,500 for one-hour appearances and needed an agent. “Just by cleaning up her business back-end side of it, I got her to 30 [thousand],” he says. Rose, in turn, recommended Blac Chyna for appearances at strip clubs. “Whereas Amber had a plan, Chyna had nothing,” he says. “I hung up with her and Amber was like, ‘Chyna says you don't like her.’ I was like, ‘I don't not like her, I just didn't see a business plan.’” (After meeting in-person, he signed her.) 

“We’re the blue-collar workers,” Kundu says. “We don’t have the big $500,000 a night DJs. We’re the ones that are doing the day-to-day stuff.” 

SPOTLIGHT

A lot of people want the end result, but they don’t want to put in the work to get there. It’s a lot to put together an event. You’ve got to find money to do the party, so you’ve borrowing money, or you get an investor, or someone has money. Then you have to figure out where to do it and what to do.

Talent is going to come and go, but those agents and promoters and venue owners are going to remain consistent probably longer, so you've got to be really upfront about everything. A lot of agents now, they just go for the money and that’s somewhat shortsighted because when you need the benefit of the doubt they might not be there for you.

When you're tired, go to bed. Because staying up and drinking coffee and doing all that, you're just not productive. 

I believe in the McDonald's business model. My office, I own the real estate with the bank. My studio, I own the real estate with the bank. In Miami, we're just going to be an extension of DJ Irie's office so I didn't need to do a real estate play there yet. I was looking at buying an office condo in New York, but when I'm looking at the place I'm just thinking to myself that I would never be able to sell it because anybody who needs four or five offices would just do a WeWork. I'm just having a hard time wrapping my head around New York and the cost. 

As a collective, we're much stronger than as an individual. I built seven studios and I don't think anybody would've spent the money to build one, but when you put seven of them together, it makes sense. As an agency, I've kind of realized that in order to be successful we need people on the ground, which is why I’m trying to continue my forward-thinking in opening this Miami office. 


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