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Can Evan Bogart’s Seeker Music Become the Next Great Independent Music Company?

Seeker Music's burgeoning indie empire is supported by a wide range of catalogs, from Run the Jewels to Christopher Cross.

Betting big runs in Evan Bogart’s family. His father, the late Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart, was known in the 1970s for being as extravagant as the acts he worked with, including Donna Summer, The Isley Brothers, Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield — to name a few. And his penchant for gambling both in the casino and with his label made him one of the disco era’s most successful and outsize businessmen.

The relation between father and son is obvious: Evan has his dad’s face,  entrepreneurialism and golden ear. And most recently, the 44-year-old has made a gamble of his own: launching an independent music empire of catalogs and front-line publishing and label acts, Seeker Music.

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Certainly, in the last few years, there has been a flurry of high-priced song-catalog acquisitions by music companies and financial institutions. Though Seeker never formally announced its dealings, it has been quietly keeping pace since its founding in 2020, winning big-ticket bids for certain rights in the master and publishing catalogs of Run the Jewels, Ginuwine writer Troy Oliver and Christopher Cross, among others.

As Bogart walks through the beginnings of Seeker’s forthcoming creative campus, consisting of only exposed beams and freshly laid drywall, his excitement is palpable. “I think there’s a wide-open void right now,” he says. “I watched Big Deal, SONGS and Downtown come off the market, and I think there needs to be another great independent. We can do that.”

Bogart’s career in music began when he was in the eighth grade, promoting shows for childhood friends like Adam Levine at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. It was the start of an impressive run in the business, including a stint in the A&R department at Interscope Records when Jimmy Iovine was at the helm, a job at talent agency APA routing West Coast club tours and, in his free time, trying his hand at pop songwriting for a girl group he was putting together. Though the group never panned out, the second song he ever wrote — initially intended for the act — did. It became the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 “S.O.S.,” a surprise hit for then-newcomer Rihanna in 2006. As Levine puts it, “It’s like he woke up one day and decided to write a smash for Rihanna. People don’t just do that.”

The success of “S.O.S.” was pivotal for Bogart’s creative career — but perhaps more importantly separated his identity from that of his father, who died of cancer and lymphoma in 1982 at age 39. “It was the moment when I realized I’m telling my own story now,” he says. Today, his experiences as a songwriter inform his current perspective as CEO. “My rule of thumb is only buy or sign projects I wish I wrote,” he says. “If that’s true, I’m going to treat them like they’re my own songs.”

He applied that same level of care to his business dealings in the 2010s, like his management venture with Live Nation’s Vector and Boardwalk Music Group (a name he took over from his dad), which has signed acts like songwriter Ricky Reed’s artist project to JV deals with majors. Now a longtime friend of Bogart’s, Reed — who has most notably developed and written with Lizzo — says Bogart was “one of the first executives to believe in me and maybe more importantly, to challenge me.” 

Bogart adds that being a recovering addict, after getting clean in his early 20s, has also greatly informed his outlook on the business: He now sponsors artists and others in the industry who are struggling. When Bogart first started attending Alcoholics Anonymous, he recalls being given “commitments” for meetings, like sweeping cigarette butts outside the building or setting up folding chairs. He says this kind of selfless, often unglamorous work was instilled in him at a young age. “ ‘Be of service to others’ was like a motto for AA,” he says. He guides Seeker with the same intent: “How can I be of service to a songwriter I sign or a catalog I acquire?”

Bogart holds the creative control of the catalogs and front-line talent he signs, while Downtown handles administration and M&G, a London-based private equity firm, foots the bill. He became acquainted with M&G in 2019 when former BBC executive and a consultant for the firm, John Smith, asked him to grab coffee. Smith, along with Rich Christina (svp, A&R and venture partners, Warner Chappell Music) and Ruby Marchand (chief awards and industry officer, Recording Academy), were all tapped as consultants for M&G to see if there was an opening for the firm to get into the already crowded music business. After Smith, who is now Seeker Music’s chairman, and Bogart got to know each other, the former wrote a report to M&G executives, explaining that there was in fact space for the financial firm to enter the music business — but only if they were to hire a person with the care and creativity of Bogart.

The Seeker approach more resembles the strategy of a creatively driven music publishing company like Primary Wave than a financial firm looking for a hands-off, long-term investment. “We only buy catalogs we think that, under this ownership, we can do interesting things with,” says Smith. This is part of the reason, Smith adds, that Seeker Music’s strategy is to not bid on the tip-top percentage of catalogs. “I do think there’s a danger that you can pay too much with those,” he says. “Right below that level is where we’re interested.” (The company initially focused on catalogs that sold for less than $5 million but has since moved toward much bigger deals.) 

Currently, Seeker’s business is 95% catalog and 5% frontline, a ratio that Bogart says will even out more in the next few years. COVID-19 hampered his original aim for parallel advancement with new talent and catalog deals because he says he “invests with heart before money,” which was hard to do when he was forced to meet with talent over Zoom.

But now, standing in Seeker’s soon-to-be office and studio space, Bogart rattles off some of his dreams for a long future — from hosting summer Friday showcases at the campus to enacting an “open door policy” for any creative in need of a place to work for the day. He knows this is an opportunity to create a musical empire in his own image. His pedigree alone suggests he was predestined for this, and yet it’s the biggest bet Bogart has made so far. He swears that, in good time, it will pay off: “We’re built to play the long game.”

A version of this story will appear in the Nov. 5, 2022, issue of Billboard.