One of indie rock’s most sought-after management firms, Salty Management, quietly shuttered its business on Oct. 29, and scrubbed nearly all traces of its social media accounts, website, and publicly listed emails from the internet after a sexual harassment complaint against co-founder Chris Crowley led to a staff exodus.
Salty Management’s co-owners, Crowley and Chad Heimann, decided to disband the business after a woman on the management team, who is in her 20s and had worked at the company for just a few months, made the claim against Crowley during a company-wide Zoom meeting she called on Oct. 19 to announce her departure from the firm.
Prior to the video conference, the woman — who, like several other managers at Salty, spoke to Billboard on the condition that they would not be identified — talked to multiple co-workers to share her distress over a text Crowley had sent to another male music business professional, who is also a friend, indicating his desire to “hook up” with her. Although the woman never asked her co-workers to quit as well, other managers at Salty decided, in advance, to also leave Salty in solidarity with her during the Oct. 19 call. Crowley and Heimann then formally disbanded Salty, likely as a result of the exits of their team. (Neither Crowley nor Heimann responded to multiple requests for comment for this story.)
Crowley and Heimann, who befriended each other in college, founded Salty Management in the early 2010’s as a collective of independent contractors. Each manager worked individually (or with a co-manager or two) to build up the artists they represented – which included indie tentpoles Mitski, Slow Pulp, and Jay Som – but helped each other grow by sharing connections, advice, day-to-day management help and support among the group. (Although Mitski — who did not respond to a request for comment — is managed by Crowley, Slow Pulp and Jay Som worked with different managers at Salty and have never worked directly with Crowley.)
The Salty staff met again on Oct. 29 to discuss how they would formally end the collective, including protocols involving the destruction of company emails and other logistics. The woman – who will be referred to by the pseudonym Stephanie for the remainder of this article — joined in the call.
“My Brain Is a Sick, Dark Place”
The text Crowley sent to the music business professional, which is quoted below, stated his desire to exclude Stephanie from a dinner they were planning with other music business people. The reason: Crowley wanted to “hook up” with her and was concerned that another person who had been invited to join the group would jeopardize his chances by asking Crowley questions about his current girlfriend.
Male Music Business Professional: See if Stephanie or [MALE SALTY MANAGER] want in [on this dinner] too
[REDACTED] is maybe in
Crowley: I’m going to say something that makes me sound like a bad person.
Male Music Business Professional: Hit me
Crowley: I’d rather not do something with [REDACTED] and Stephanie in the event I can break up with [my girlfriend] and hook up with Stephanie because [REDACTED] will just spend the whole time asking me about [my girlfriend]
My brain is a sick dark place
What about [another woman in the music industry] for dinner?
Male Music Business Professional: lol
Crowley hired Stephanie to start co-managing one of his newer acts with another manager at Salty on July 19, 2021. About a decade her senior with an impressive artist roster, he gave the new manager the impression that he was interested in mentoring her and invited Stephanie to join him, Salty colleagues and other music business professionals at gatherings outside of work hours, including concerts and dinners.
Although Stephanie did not learn about the “hook up” text until weeks later, Crowley sent it to his friend sometime between her start date and Aug. 21. (The text is not date-stamped, according to sources who have seen it.) On that day, Stephanie says she invited Crowley and another Salty manager to see a movie and grab dinner in New York before the co-founder boarded an Aug. 22 flight to Chicago, where he is based. The other manager was unavailable, but Crowley still accepted.
Stephanie says the time she spent with Crowley that day was uneventful. So, she was surprised and puzzled to receive a text message from Crowley on Aug. 22 in which he apologized for flirting with her during his trip to New York. She had not found Crowley’s behavior untoward and called him for an explanation. During the ensuing conversation, Crowley once again expressed regret, but Stephanie says he did not shed much light on his reasons for sending the apology. Afterwards, she told her two closest colleagues at Salty about the text, and says she began to wonder if Crowley had ulterior motives when he hired her.
During the three months she worked at Salty, Stephanie was one of two women working above the intern level and both were among the youngest and most junior members of the 11-person firm. A number of sources interviewed for this story described it as a ”boys’ club.” “There’s a known history of women coming in and working with the company and leaving, often with a bad relationship with Chris,” explains one Salty manager.
Some of the women who went through Salty’s revolving door worked with Crowley during a period in which several sources interviewed for this story allege he had substance abuse issues — but they add that they believe Crowley has been completely sober since about 2018.
After becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Crowley’s text about flirting with her, Stephanie took her concerns to Heimann. Salty did not have a human resources department, and Heimann was the only other person at Salty on equal footing with Crowley. Heimann was supportive, but at one point during their conversation, Stephanie says he told her that he suspected she was probably Crowley’s type. She also said that Heimann shared many of her concerns with his co-founder afterwards.
“He Is Charming and Manipulative”
Just after his cryptic apology to Stephanie, multiple sources say Crowley was telling other Salty managers — all of whom were men who had been at the firm longer than Stephanie — his version of what had happened, and shared the “hook up” text he had sent to his friend with two of them. He told a third manager about the nature of the text but did not show it to him.
Crowley also told these men to not mention his account to Stephanie, claiming that she didn’t want to talk about it. One of the men says that Crowley “presented the situation as if he was teetering on the edge of losing sobriety,” and feared his relapse. Others expressed this same concern.
“He is charming and manipulative,” adds another manager about Crowley’s confession. “He made everyone [he told] feel sorry for him.”
Crowley also told these men that he apologized to Stephanie, in part, because his girlfriend had found the “hook up” message. Stephanie, however, still just over a month into her new job, was unaware that so many of her co-workers knew more of the context behind the apology than she did.
One of the managers who had a copy of the “hook up” message shared it with Stephanie weeks after Crowley’s initial apology to her. Realizing the full scope of the situation, she invited Crowley to get coffee on Oct. 17, where she confronted him about the text. Though he was apologetic, she says she felt too uncomfortable at the company to continue. Two days later, she announced her reason for exiting the company via Zoom.
Since the dissolution of Salty Management, Crowley has been telling colleagues that he is a “love addict,” and is attending a recovery program. He is also looking for his next job and is currently in talks with Mick Management – which oversees a roster that includes Maggie Rogers, Carly Rae Jepson, and Sharon Van Etten – although the move is not yet finalized. (Mick Management did not respond to a request for comment.)
If Crowley does sign on to another management company, it’s unclear how many of his Salty artists will follow him. Beach Bunny, which was once co-managed by Crowley, has left him after hearing about the situation from another manager at the disbanded company, and some sources say they aren’t confident his other acts are fully aware of the story behind Salty’s closing. Says one manager from the firm: “If you asked me to give you my word that [his artists] know the truth? No, absolutely not.”
That manager tells Billboard that getting this story out is “very important” to him, “for the protection of the next young woman who thinks Chris is a good person to saddle up next to.”