Later that day, Carter is sitting in his office, surrounded by various Gaga artifacts (the exploding bra from the “Bad Romance” video, an MTV Video Music Award), and he wants to discuss data and how to own it. That’s largely through direct relationships with Backplane’s launch of Little Monsters, a social network exclusively for Gaga fans. Designed to host in-depth connections among fans and with Gaga herself, the site was created in part with hopes that it could unlock fan data like “time spent” and amount of content created that Facebook and Twitter just aren’t equipped to isolate for artist pages. Many of Atom Factory’s other investments were made with in depth-connections to fans in mind. The same can be said of its management clients—earlier this month, Carter signed Lindsey Stirling, a violinist who became famous for her classical take on dubstep on YouTube and has translated her online following into sales of more than 100,000 copies for her self-released debut album.
“The next phase of data is going to be transparency and also a deep dive into analytics—is it being used in a way that doesn’t violate the trust between the artist and the fans and the consumer and the brands?” he says. One recent example of how Carter is preparing for that next phase of data lies in Atom Factory music client Ceremonies, an indie band whose music Carter shared with Songza to see how fans of similar bands would engage with it. “We wanted to see which songs they’re listening to from start to finish, which songs they’re skipping and which are the best playlists in which those songs could exist,” he says. “That’s helping us realize what sorts of music are going to work at which format, and whether this song should follow the other on a particular release. It’s an ongoing education and we’re learning a lot.”
Little Monsters has also acted as a presale hub for Gaga’s 2013 Born This Way Ball U.S. dates, giving fans an exclusive one-day jump on presales from sponsor Citi and promoter Live Nation. In some cities, Carter says, “we were doubling and even tripling what sponsor presales were and what other artists’ fan sites have done.” That included selling upwards of 6,000-7,000 tickets per show from Little Monsters presales alone, he adds.
No wonder the industry has its eyes on Backplane’s performance. “If Backplane launches successfully, it will move everything forward because Troy’s involved and connected it and developed it,” WME’s Geiger says. “And primarily because it’s written from the music business utility perspective outward, not tech inward.”
Of the trio, Carter is certainly the most vocal about his investments in tech, having spoken at conferences for the likes of Wired, AllThingsD, Ad Age Digital West and, in March, South by Southwest (SXSW) about the intersections of tech, entertainment and big data. Braun and Oseary often make the rounds of the big conferences like DLD (Digital Life Design) and TED, too, though not always as speakers.
“Despite being in music so much, they are all at these events to learn and apply it to their own field,” Spotify founder Daniel Ek says. “Any aspiring manager should take note of that, especially as more and more music is being played online. Troy called me a couple weeks ago about a data insights company he met at a conference, just because it interested him. He’s one of the very few people who’s interested in building data, not just having the data but building tools from it, and that’s really unique.”
Though Carter, Oseary and Braun are cited by many in Silicon Valley as the three most active music executives in startup investments, they’ll have company before too long. “People realize how deeply these guys are thinking about and spending on technology, and that has a really deep impact on them,” Sherpa’s Pishevar says. “Music in today’s form is in fact made of digital bits, which is no different than software. Once you bring it down to the code level, down to the actual bits, then it changes. It’s how you share the experience socially that makes the difference. And that’s why the music guys figured it out first, because the music industry got disintermediated by technology for a while.”
In March, Oseary, Braun and Carter all descended upon Austin for SXSW, with Carter making a brief trip to speak on a panel for Fast Company titled “Generation Flux,” a new term given to the psychographic mind-set of millennials and post--millennials. During the discussion, Carter makes the case for why the music industry has been forced to embody the Generation Flux attitude after having “the luxury of getting our asses kicked for the last 10 years [by digital piracy]. The new generation of music executives and artists—they’re breaking down distribution models, they’re breaking down any sort of barriers or intermediaries when it comes to reaching audiences, and the companies that are sticking to their guns are the companies dying off now. With us, you evolve or die on your business. Nothing wakes you up like cold concrete,” he says.
Less than two hours later, Oseary and Braun gather two black SUVs full of business partners, colleagues and friends for a casual lunch at barbecue ranch the Salt Lick, located about 30 minutes outside of Austin in Driftwood, Texas. It’s Oseary and Braun’s first time at SXSW Interactive, and they’re joined at lunch by Kutcher, SB Projects’ Haugen, “Two and a Half Men” creator Chuck Lorre, actress Sophia Bush, Uber head of global operations Ryan Graves, BBH LA managing director Matt Ross and others. “We’re going to go see a bunch of stuff together today,” Braun says of Oseary, asking Haugen to pass the brisket basket. “There’s a couple companies we both want to see that we’ve been sharing each other. We’re more powerful together than apart.”
Oseary estimates it’s been about 20 years since his first trip to SXSW Music, though. “I’m not very reflective of where I was at a certain time,” he says. “I’ve always worked my ass off since I was 14. I was working at 17 already at [Warner Bros.] and didn’t really look back. And my goal has always been to be able to work with my friends, which is really great.”
Later that night, Oseary and Kutcher host A-Grade’s first SXSW party at the Austin W downtown, and the scene is—appropriately—straight out of Hollywood. Outside, dozens of young startup execs, agents and a few of A-Grade and Oseary’s own partners are frantically calling and texting anyone who can get them in, so limited is the guest list. Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin even gets turned away at one point. But inside, a mix of A-list entrepreneurs (Mark Cuban, Gary Vaynerchuk), entertainment executives (Lorre, Maker Studios’ Courtney Holt) and big brands (Coca-Cola head of global sports and entertainment Emmanuel Seuge) mingle amid a noisy set from Jane’s Addiction and a bar line that requires a very dedicated 15-minute wait.
Though it’s Oseary and Kutcher’s party, Braun is there all night alongside his friend and frequent business partner. His enthusiasm is, as always, unflagging, and it’s clear he’s feeding off the energy of SXSW Interactive, which seemed unbridled and optimistic in a way the music portion of SXSW hasn’t for many years. “I’m here at Interactive because I primarily work in the world of music,” Braun said earlier in the day, “but I surround myself with people whose passion 24/7 is tech and I want to be around them. I want to learn from them. The biggest mistake is thinking you’re an expert because you have one thing you’re good at. I want to learn from everyone and surround myself with people that I love.”