The curtain that lays over popular music has been slowly unraveling, and due to the nature of social media and analytics, the way that corporations find musicians has become as easy as logging onto Twitter. One minute they are an unsigned, local act, and the next minute Beyoncé or Drake have put their song on Instagram — pushing their 15 minutes of stardom into the speed of light.
The nature of the A&R has changed, and with literally everyone with a keyboard acting as a gatekeeper, the definition has evolved with it. This drastic shift has caused the New York City-based marketing, public relations and management company GFCNY to branch out and connect with southern-based Crowd CTRL to form the OMO. OMO translates into “child” in Nigerian, and the word serves as the impetus of their overall mission statement.
The OMO, creative agency and collective, brings together a bi-coastal mix of 20 to 30-year-olds to find artists that represent a certain void in popular music. “We all met in 2010, when we managed production duo FKi. They introduced us to Sean Famoso McNichol and Tunde Balogun of CrowdCTRL,” said marketing manager of GFCNY Steven “Steve-O” Brown on the creation of the OMO. Steven’s family ties to one of the members of the duo (Saucelord Rich is his brother) started the family structure of the collective, but Steven and GFCNY’s start came much earlier than that. “We started [in 2005] and our first artist was Mickey Factz. The Internet wasn’t booming. No one really knew.”
From there, he and co-founder Saint Louis got to work promoting his artists in new and unchartered territory. “We didn’t have money, but we all had computers. We sat in the Apple store and promoted our artists.” From there, GFCNY grew to work with a bevy of artists from Big K.R.I.T. to Mila J. “Our goal with the company was being able to have a brand for the culture that [represents] what’s original,” said Saint. Steve-O, alongside Cinematic Music Group’s Johnny Shipes, founded such events as The Smokers Club tour.
Atlanta-based management company Crowd CTRL make up the second half of the OMO. The company is headed by Sean and Tunde, who practically grew up together (“We hated each other [in high school],” said Tunde), rising through the ranks of the music industry and working with the likes of Que and Ludacris‘ Disturbing Tha Peace. “They always treated us like we were equal; we were always teamwork based,” Tunde said of their relationship of GFCNY.
Crowd CTRL — who represent the eclectic breakout Atlanta musician Raury (who just snagged a spot on XXL‘s 2015 Freshman Cover) alongside LoveRenaissance (managment, marketing and creative) and GFCNY (publicity and marketing) — have always believed in the mantra of doing it all themselves. “I work from my house, for lack of better words,” says Sean. “Sometimes my roommates look at me and say, ‘What’s your plan for today?’ and I say, ‘You’re looking at it: me, my laptop and my cellphone.”
The acrobatic and flexible identity of both companies leads to “really long phone calls” according to Tunde, but also gravitated them toward the orbit of Virginia based singer D.R.A.M., who’s viral single “Cha Cha” has garnered the attention of everyone from Snoop Dogg to Beyoncé.
Tunde, who admits that he’s “always on the Internet,” said that he found the singer from Pigeons and Planes and was a fan from the first song. “I found him online on Monday, and flew out to see him on Tuesday,” Tunde said. The familiar nature of the crew has been crucial to managing the young artists and steering them on the right path. Bringing Raury into the fold was a case of the team of Crowd CTRL and GFC joining with Raury’s Love Renaissance to create a familiar home for the eclectic artist. All the parties were already in tune with each other’s abilities, so they decided that joining the monstrous teams together would be best. “[Sean] introduced me to Raury’s music through the “God’s Whisper” video, and I said, ‘Let’s go,'” Steve-O said. Raury signed to Columbia Records in September 2014.
The vetting of their roster is a mix of those types of spontaneous moves, and also the understanding that analytics aren’t always the basis of an artist’s popularity. “Now [there’s] all these [types of] analytics, metadata and this crazy shit that steers people away from the actual authenticity of the music,” said Saint. Big budgets have taken away from the actual groundwork involved, something that the OMO have mixed into their unorthodox philosophy of creative management.
The term “industry plant” has caused a lot of tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorists to throw out their own hackneyed ideas on how artists are signed, completely negating the fact that almost every artist has a team or a machine behind them to get them noticed. Raury’s rise in particular has been a sore spot for many. He seemingly came from “nowhere” to being seen with Kanye West, KiD CuDi and more. He’s also received placement on XXL‘s 2015 Freshman List, where he wore a shirt labeled “Industry Plant,” a not-so-subtle jab at his detractors that think he somehow paid his way into it by the industry machine.
“I think the ‘industry plant’ shit is stupid,” Steve-O said. “Nas had a team. Biggie had a team… were they industry plants? We built these connections by being in the industry long enough to [create the opportunities].” The OMO see the speculation and they are answering it loud and clear by continuing to stand behind their method of development — because it’s working.
Sean likens their creativity to a rare generational milestone that they all share: “We were born being able to use Napster, but were also around when CDs were selling five million copies. CEOs are stuck in the past… and we don’t operate the same way because we came up in such a dynamic era.”
The idea of fitting inside of a corporate structure with a decidedly un-corporate theme has been working for them. They are all still learning and rearranging the rule book. “I want to make sure that young people realize that there’s opportunity for everybody,” Tunde said. “You have to move like you want to be around for 15 or 20 years… you may not sign with someone [then and there] but you will come across them again one day.”
As the stock of their artists rise exponentially, the OMO’s influence on the landscape of music management and promotion is being felt. The team has been effectively countering the old and worn out corporate model and even huge mainstream artists are starting to notice the fruits of their labor, and it seems like the youth are finally starting to take over. Sean adds that, “we’re experienced enough to understand the people that marketing people are trying to reach. We’re more or less bridging the gap.”