Yesterday afternoon, the scene at NASDAQ's MarketSite in Times Square was something out of a Fellini film, but in place of clowns or strongmen: Buttoned-up bankers, traders, financial analysts, a tight security detail, an exceedingly tall Dutch DJ and the men most responsible for the national proliferation of booming bass, confetti canons and dance-happy youth. They fill the studio space of the world’s second-largest stock exchange because they have quite literally capitalized on the electronic dance music craze of the last couple of years more than anyone has ever thought to. Plus, Afrojack is here.
When asked how the surreal scene here at NASDAQ compares to the circus-like atmosphere of his EDM festivals, like the recent TomorrowWorld, Robert F.X. Sillerman, founder and CEO of SFX, says, “Those are more fun." His company has just completed its “initial” portion of his company’s initial public offering plan, which he explains is "an important element in helping us spread the word about what electronic music means -- I’m happy obviously.”
While the closing price of his SFXE stock yesterday -- $11.89, down 8.54% from its $13 dollar initial offering -- might have made him less happy, Sillerman, a 65-year old who has been through no less than “nine or ten IPOs” in his business career, is unfazed. “My job is to do the best possible job to bring this music and cultural phenomenon to as broad [an audience] as effectively as possible -- the stock price will take care of itself.”
Saved by the Bell: SFX's Sheldon Finkel (center) with Afrojack, Sillerman and Mitch Slater (right) ringing the digital bell of the NASDAQ bell marking SFX's opening day on the stock exchange. (Photo: Zef Nikolla/NASDAQ OMX)
Accompanying Sillerman was some of his rapid EDM acquisition team of SFX vice chairman Sheldon Finkel and Mitch Slater, SFX's vice chairman. The trio has spent a good portion of the last two years assembling the largest "electronic music culture" -- as they call it -- company on the planet. The roll-up has included acquisitions of or major stakes in Disco Donnie Presents, Life in Color, ID&T (whose brands include Sensation, TomorrowWorld and Mysteryland), MMG Nightlife (a management company operating Miami's LIV at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and Story) and an estimated $50 million play for Denver-based electronic music media platform Beatport.
With some $260 million raised during the IPO, Sillerman will presumably continue the buying spree right where he left off. Asked if he plans to acquire more festivals, ticket verticals and/or media, he says only and rather cryptically, “yes.” Prodded further about his past head-spinning acquisitions he says, “If you think your head spun before, you need to go to the gym. We have a lot more to do.”
There are the non-believers who dispute the ectronic music scene long-term market viability and cite the two tragic deaths at this past summer’s Electric Zoo festival as proof while ignoring electronic's music continued presence in the U.S. decades before this latest boom. Made Event, Electric Zoo's promoter, was among SFX's acquisitions listed as "planned" in its IPO prospectus for $35 million in cash and stock for 70% of the business.
But Sillerman takes the safety of his events quite seriously, explaining that he put Dr. Andy Bezos, a specialist in crowd medicine who is the medical practitioner for Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium and the U.S. Open, on his board when he started his company. “Kids will do foolish things -- tragically so,” he said. “Our responsibility is to deal with that and make them safer then they could possibly be at any other environment -- including their home.” Sillerman also said his company is in conversation with “one of the major sponsors” of Electric Zoo for a global sponsorship that is "a hundred times larger" than what they did this year.
Sillerman similarly invokes the business community's validation when discussing today's IPO. “We went on the road to sell 16.6 million and had orders for 300 million shares,” he says. “The proof is in the pudding. I guess we did a good job.”
Which brings us to the question of Afrojack, and why the 26-year old DJ is standing here. The tall, Grammy-winning producer and DJ, born Nick van de Wall, is something of the perfect NASDAQ poster child for EDM’s success and the scene’s international reach. He’s charted three songs on the Billboard Hot 100, including the No. 1 "Give Me Everything" (with Pitbull featuring Ne-Yo, Afrojack and Nayer); had six entries on the On Dance/Play Club Songs, including a No. 1 this year ("As Your Friend," featuring Chris Brown); and hit No. 1 on the Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart with "Take Over Control," featuring Eva Simons -- his biggest selling song as a lead artist, with 1.2 million downloads sold in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. His first album comes out on Island Def Jam either later this year or early next year complete with a Sting collaboration.
“Ive never seen anything like this,” Afrojack says from a waiting room outside the NASDAQ studio. He firmly believes in the benefits capitalism will bring to dance music. "With SFX on NASDAQ and going public, you will see dance music entering the commercial, mainstream world," he says. "EDM will become even better and through this we’ll have way bigger opportunities to do way bigger festivals, way bigger production and have even more creativity.”
Back on the stage of the NASDAQ MarketSite, Afrojack towers above Sillerman Finkel and Slater as they practiced the ceremonial ringing of the bell (even though there’s no bell in sight -- it's more like a digital button). At one point during the proceedings, the men posed proudly with their middle-fingers raised, and the room full of financiers exploded with laughter. It may be the most rock and roll moment the NASDAQ has seen. Then again, SFX is like no other exchange listing the NASDAQ has seen.