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The Chainsmokers’ Manager Adam Alpert Talks Release Strategy & Evolution From DJ Duo to Arena Act

The mastermind behind The Chainsmokers' meteoric rise on their evolution from DJ duo to arena act, and Doug Morris' exit.

DJ duo The Chainsmokers just scored the latest in a string of milestones. Behind The Beatles and the Bee Gees, they’re the only duo or group to have three concurrent top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, among them the Halsey-featuring “Closer,” which topped the chart for 12 straight weeks. The achievement also anoints Adam Alpert, CEO of Disruptor Records and Selector Songs and the architect behind their pop crossover, the status of major music business player.

The 36-year-old helped birth The Chainsmokers by introducing his client Alex Pall to Drew Taggart in 2012. That life-changing moment followed nine years spent as director of marketing and promotion for New York hospitality company Butter Group, after which the University of Pennsylvania graduate moved to management, sensing a market shift. “People started to care more about who they were going to see perform than where they were going,” he recalls of the decision. “They’d rather go see Skrillex in a warehouse than go stare at celebrities in a bottle-service club.”

In 2014, Alpert signed a joint venture with Sony Music Entertainment CEO Doug Morris and launched Disruptor Records, Disruptor Management and Selector Songs. Boasting a roster that now includes The Chainsmokers, Lost Kings, XYLO, Life of Dillon, Vanic and Jocelyn Alice, Disruptor sold more than 15 million singles worldwide in 2016, according to the label.

Plaques for Chainsmokers hits “Don’t Let Me Down” (featuring Daya), “Closer” (featuring Halsey) and “Roses.”
Plaques for Chainsmokers hits “Don’t Let Me Down” (featuring Daya), “Closer” (featuring Halsey) and “Roses.”  Rich Gilligan

Fresh off a Grammy win for best dance recording and five iHeartRadio Music Awards, The Chainsmokers are set to release their debut album, Memories: Do Not Open, on April 7 before embarking on a 40-city North American arena tour with a live band. No doubt Alpert, who lives in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, will fly in more than once to be among the cheering masses.

What are the most significant trends you’re noticing in the pop space?

The blending of genres, which is a product of the way people consume and of artists being open to experimenting with new sounds. Also, people care much more about the meaning of lyrics. The pop songs that seem to break through with real staying power are the ones with connectable lyrical content, like “Closer” or “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots.

What’s the wisdom behind your monthly release strategy?

Everybody knows music is consumed song-by-song now due to streaming. We’ve also realized that people want instant gratification. So we decided to deliver a song every four weeks to our core fan base. The strategy works very well for streaming services, because they are getting regular content, and playlist editors can help you narrate that story month to month. And they know how this artist is performing, where they’d best be placed and how to market them through their other channels. Apple Music and Spotify have been very supportive of that strategy. We’ve found that the monthly releases are causing the artist to go more viral, too. If we didn’t do that, people would forget about us during that time because there’s so much noise. I tell all my artists: If they’re not listening to you, they’re listening to somebody else.

Adam Alpert
The requisite laniard collection. Says Alpert: “The Chainsmokers are painted in the dance-music lane, but they also make pop, rock and indie music. So the music dictates where they go from a live perspective, which can be seen with TV appearances like the American Music Awards and Good Morning America.” Rich Gilligan

How do The Chainsmokers write?

“Paris” is a great example. Drew had a rough lyrical idea — “We go down together” — and on a tour stop last October in Stockholm, I had invited a few writers to the show, including Kristoffer Eriksson, Fredrik Häggstam, Alesso and Sebastian Ingrosso, and a lot of our Stockholm friends came. There were so many writers and creative people in the greenroom after the show that Drew and Alex were like, “Does anyone have a studio we can go to?” Meanwhile, it’s two in the morning and everyone’s half-drunk. Drew, Kristoffer and Fredrik went to the studio, and the next day I got sent “Paris.” It just shows that a lot of it is about timing and being out of your comfort zone.

How do you translate a live DJ set into an arena setting?

The first challenge is that it’s uncharted territory. The Chainsmokers happened to have gotten their roots in dance music and DJ’ing, but as their music as evolved, so has their live show. So they’re bringing a drummer and a keyboardist on tour. There will be a percentage [of the show] performed with live instruments and a percentage that’s DJ’ing. Drew will be singing a tremendous amount of songs, and obviously we’ll have some cameos.

Some have criticized The Chainsmokers for propagating the “bro” stereotype. What is your take?

They’ve been misrepresented many times in the press. That’s all I’m going to say.

A pillow for The Chainsmokers’ Collage EP.
A pillow for The Chainsmokers’ Collage EP.  Rich Gilligan

Doug Morris is about to hand over the CEO reins to Rob Stringer. How will new leadership affect Sony Music?

They are two of the greatest men I’ve ever met. I don’t know anyone in the music industry who cares more about the music itself, and that translates from the top down at this company. Doug has made Sony into an incredible powerhouse. I think Rob will do an excellent job continuing that. I’ve been lucky enough to work very closely with Rob on The Chainsmokers at Columbia Records, so we’ve become quite close and I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him. I look forward to his continued mentorship.

This article originally appeared in the March 18 issue of Billboard.