Adam Leber has long held on to what he calls an “old-school mentality” — that ”representation is about the talent, not about yourself.” But when the company you work for, Maverick Management, collectively handles 40 of the biggest stars in music (Madonna, U2, Paul McCartney and Shania Twain among them) and is named manager of the year for 2016 at the Billboard Touring Awards (founder Guy Oseary accepted), a little celebration is certainly in order.
Leber, a Queens native who shares a roster with partner Larry Rudolph that includes Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Steven Tyler and, as of January, Fifth Harmony, got his start running the street teams at hip-hop bastion Loud Records (“I was like an animal,” he boasts). That led him to manager Johnny Wright and *NSYNC, who hired Leber to handle sponsors for the boy band’s tour. Some nine years of touring followed in various capacities, for Dixie Chicks, Ozzfest and Spears, through whom he met Rudolph, a lawyer and her longtime manager.
Leber has been at Spears’ side for her career highs and personal lows (“You can kind of tell when Larry and I are out of her life,” he says), after which she emerged victorious, launching a Las Vegas residency at Planet Hollywood that has grossed $95 million since 2013, according to Billboard Boxscore. Cyrus’ career also has thrived — 2013 release Bangerz has moved 1.1 million copies, according to Nielsen Music — and Fifth Harmony is at 1.6 million equivalent album units of its 2016 album 7/27. The 39-year-old sat down with Billboard at his West Hollywood office.
In the two years since Maverick launched, how is the collective working out?
The managers at Maverick all have amazing success stories, but we all do different things. When Britney wanted to do a more urban-leaning record, having Gee Roberson [Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj] by my side was invaluable. Steven Tyler was doing a country record and Larry and I leaned on Clarence Spalding to help educate us on Nashville and the country market, because we didn’t know it and he certainly did. Being able to cross-pollinate the flow of information is amazing. We’re the first stop for so much of what’s going on in the music business.
Does it get competitive between individual managers?
I can’t think of a single instance when two Maverick managers have gone after a client in a competitive manner. When an artist has come up, we’ve gone after them in a unified fashion. This is a group of guys that like working together. Taking a little less of a percentage to work with a partner like Gee is fine — I’m ok with it, it’s more fun that way. … And you have to give Guy [Oseary] credit for recognizing that this symbiotic environment could exist.
What is the biggest issue plaguing management these days?
Keeping the audience engaged for an extended period of time. You have so many media platforms vying for people’s attention every minute of the day that it’s hard to keep them focused to make a transaction or buy a ticket or listen to a song — you’ve got to hit that immediate gratification. That’s the way the consumer thinks now. There’s no waiting. Once upon a time, you would set up marketing campaigns, but you almost have to work backward and against it. If you don’t make enough noise, you fail. Today, you have to stay so much more conscious of everything around you — politics, movies that are coming out, Netflix series that are streaming, sports — to find that one tiny window for your artist. It’s brutal.
Miley Cyrus has one of the most-watched videos in history. What’s your take on the music industry’s battle with YouTube?
The problem is some of the gatekeepers are forgetting that the dollars come from these artists. And the artists are smart — they now have direct relationships with these platforms. We know there are dollars flowing and we need to protect the artists in those situations. Our business has been disrupted, but it hasn’t been corrected.
Miley has gone from Disney star to chart-topper and now is a coach on The Voice. What was your involvement in her reinvention?
I wish I could take credit for some of the brilliant decisions she made along the way. I think she just needed a solid partner. She’s a visionary, she knows exactly what she wants to do, who her audience is and she’s a master at connecting with that audience. The dynamic is so good because she sets them up and I knock them down. With respect to The Voice, she loves giving back and helping people, and the show plays into that perfectly. She just wants those kids to get their shot. The producers will tell you, she’s the most hands-on coach they’ve ever seen. She’s there on off-camera days, on the phone and emailing with these kids 27 times a day. She’s boots on the ground.
Fifth Harmony, which came together on the short-lived X Factor in the United States, has beaten the odds as far as prefab girl groups are concerned. What has it done right?
It’s the music; they have hit after hit. And I think they’re likable and relatable. But look, managing five girls is not easy. It’s brutal, and I give major props to Dan Dymtrow in our office who deals with them. Every group is going to have problems. The lifestyle isn’t really conducive to friendship. Touring is grueling and takes its toll. You hope to keep people working together as long as you possibly can without the whole thing imploding.
Who or what do you credit for Britney Spears’ comeback following her 2008 breakdown?
When her parents got involved, that changed everything. We spent so many years trying to get her back on track — from a health perspective, not just a business perspective. It was a tumultuous time. When her father got back into her life, I personally think it saved her life. With that structure in place, we were able to rehabilitate her health and her career.
Her Piece of Me residency in Las Vegas will soon pass the $100 million mark. Was the widsom behind it related to the exorbitant costs of taking a pop show on the road?
It was more of a lifestyle decision than a financial one. Larry, Britney and I were in Australia when she told us she was getting a bit tired of touring for as long as she had, and coupled with the fact that she’s a mother, she was getting wary but she still wanted to perform. So I started to think about all the territories where you could do a standalone show: New York, London, China maybe, but Vegas is so transient. The challenge was that there were no contemporary acts in Vegas — it was where artists went to die, to a certain degree, or you were a heritage act at the height and she wasn’t there yet.
We wanted to build the ultimate pregame destination in Vegas, so we played with this idea of a hybrid nightclub and a theater. Planet Hollywood was the only one that had a venue they were planning to gut and renovate. Our audience, which is 21 to 45, they’re not using Vegas to go to a show. Maybe they go to dinner but they’re going out to party. We wanted to make a perfectly timed show where you can comem, get f—ed up, and then go out at night and it’s working incredibly well.
You are not a fan of exclusive deals — why?
Because I don’t believe you should punish your audience for choosing a platform they like. Artists are cutting off a significant percentage of their audience. It’s like you just smacked that kid for making a decision on technology. That’s not fair. You want consumption, and by closing off part of your audience, you’re only hurting yourself. With Britney’s [latest] record, a nonexclusive was the way to go.
How has consumption, versus a transaction, changed the business?
It’s a fragmented business. I’m predominately in the ticket sales business so the thing I care about is consumption. How they consume it is how they consume it. If they steal it, they steal it. If a billion people steal a record and it translates into a million tickets next year, then that’s good for business for me, unfortunately. And that goes to this conversation of a broken structure. You have your record sales over here and the rest of the business over here, and one is not driving the other directly.
Of the major digital players, who do you think will come out on top?
It’s hard to bet against the 800-pound gorilla — Apple — and its 300 billion dollars. Spotify has an incredible user base, and kids love it … And it’s finally starting to take steps to really understand the artist community. Bringing in Troy Carter was a smart move, because he really gets music. I don’t know if you can bet on one winner. Both will have significant market share, and the competition will be good for the music business.
What about Tidal?
Jay Z is really smart and will figure out some exit strategy.
And Lyor Cohen at YouTube?
Brilliant. These platforms taking on smart people that can navigate the music industry is really smart in respect to taking steps to merge technology and the music. They’ll work together if they can coexist. It’s something I’ve questioned for a long time — why the labels didn’t take on really smart tech people that understand technology. The labels are in the technology business; they always have been whether we think of them that way or not — the record is technology, the cassette or a CD is technology. In the last two decades, they haven’t navigated as a technology company and it’s hurt them. If they had operated as a technology player 20 years ago, we’d be in a really different place.
Management is 24-7, 365 days a year. How do you stay sane doing it?
I love the adrenaline rush of being able to affect culture — that these projects bring happiness to millions of people on a global scale. Maybe it’s narcissistic, but there’s something incredibly powerful about it. The thing I love more than anything else is that 30-minute window between the opening act and the headliner, when there’s this energy and buzz in the room and you can feel it. I f–ing live for that.