As one of modern music’s most successful managers, Scooter Braun brought his experience Midem on Thursday (June 7) for a keynote interview that was as equally riveting for its industry expertise as it was its behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
Speaking to a packed crowd, the 36-year-old exec touched on his relationships with Kanye West and Justin Bieber, as well as what drives his success and how he managed to put together the One Love Manchester benefit just two weeks after a terrorist attack killed 23 people at an Ariana Grande concert last year.
During the hourlong conversation with Variety executive music editor Shirley Halperin, Braun recalled West telling him about nine months ago, “I think you are the Kanye West of managers” before adding, “That’s the biggest compliment I can give you.”
“And, because I know him, I was like, ‘Damn, thank you,'” Braun recalled.
Braun — who said he still sees himself as “the 19-year-old kid in the music industry trying to prove something” — spoke at times with self-deprecating humor, while emphasizing that he likes breaking rules and that he likes it when people don’t believe in him. “It charges me up to work harder,” he said. But now, with too many successes to list to his credit, as his company SB Projects will soon grow to 100 people with TV and film departments, a tech incubator and more, that sort of underestimation happens less and less. “Now when we have an idea and people are like, ‘Oh that sounds good,’ I don’t really know what to do,” he mused.
Of his relationship with West, Braun cautioned, “I always get nervous explaining Kanye, because only Kanye can explain Kanye.”
He went on, confirming that they are again working together — after in April West said he would no longer work with a manager and they would part ways after two years — but with some clarifications.
“He’s my friend and I’m his advisor,” said Braun. “He’s always hated the word manager and we get along because I hate the word manager, because that’s not what I do. I don’t manage artist, I partner with them. If an artist tells me, ‘You work for me you’re my manager, I tell them fuck off we’re done.'”
Braun explained that West had been more frustrated with the title “manager” than their relationship per se and did offer Braun the opportunity to work for him exclusively — something Braun was not interested in doing. A few weeks of explosive news where West repeatedly put his foot in his mouth, making statements that included a now infamous remark to TMZ that slavery was a choice, then the two spoke again and decided to get back together.
“We still work together and I’m kind of in the same role, but I’m more of an advisor,” said Braun. “It was more about wording than anything.”
Braun was also sure to state that he disagrees with a lot of things that West says and will often tell him so, while calling the musician a “creative genius” and emphasizing the musician’s “very, very big heart.”
“We have very long intelligent conversations about those disagreements and most of the time the things that he says that upsets people isn’t what he means,” he said. “He actually will agree with what I’m saying, but it’s how he articulates it in a moment where he’s live. And part of that has given him a tremendous amount of fame but the best version of Kanye is the version that I get: It’s the 7:30 in the morning conversations where it’s us for 30 minutes to an hour every morning where I’m just talking to him and he is the best listener of anyone I’ve ever worked with. i know that’s kind of hard to believe, but Kanye West if you interrupt him, always stops and goes, ‘No I want to know, I want to know the information.'”
Braun continued, “He’s also the only artist that will let you get off the phone no questions asked: ‘Hey I gotta go.’ ‘OK cool.’ Because he’s got kids and a wife and he understands people have their own time. He’s very thoughtful of others and he listens and I told him, if there’s one thing I can do for you and I hope for you whether you get mad or not is I want to help translate you to the world so they can understand who you really are.”
Throughout the conversation, Braun emphasized the importance of building relationships and not defining oneself by professional success. “Don’t get your self worth out of what this business gives back to you,” he said, discussing the perspective he has gained since becoming married and having two sons and the importance of building relationships.
And while he couldn’t offer any significant updates on Bieber, except that he is hoping to get him back in the studio (“Because, I’m like, ‘Despecito’ was great but come on.”) he spoke to the artist’s maturing and achievements on a personal level.
“He’s really just growing up,” said Braun. “He’s found God, he’s found his humanity, he’s walking around without security because he’s fighting for normalcy … he’s being a human. I think what’s next for him is a lot of growth, I’m sure he’s going to make another great album, we announced an animated movie that he’s going to voice and produce, but I think he’s figuring it out.”
As Braun’s first superstar client and one of the world’s top acts, Bieber transcended much of the Braun’s storytelling, from his trying to get record labels take Bieber’s 66 million YouTube followers seriously early on to their demands that he perform on Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee‘s “Despecito” remix in Spanish, despite concerns in all directions it would inhibit the track’s success. “We broke a record in Korean,” he said, noting PSY‘s massive hit “Gangnam Style,” “do you know how many people in this country speak Spanish?”
Speaking on the song’s success, as well as the potential for similar international hits, Braun said, “The next generation is a global generation and they’re also a genre-defying generation. They just like music. Because we could only acquire so much music, we were all influenced by the music that was in front of us and that’s where our taste came from. This next generation gets all music, so their taste is coming from all different types of music. I think the opportunity as an international artist is greater now than it’s ever been before.”
Braun also said that once he and Grande — who he called a “hero” for taking on the “burden” of “carrying that show” just two weeks after her fans were murdered at one of her shows — confirmed they would put on the One Love Manchester event, Bieber was the first act he called asking to join the bill. From there it was Katy Perry and the Chris Martin of Coldplay, who Braun said helped him “understand the sensibilities of Manchester” and played a major role in putting the fundraiser together. Soon, he had to turn away big acts who wanted to participate, instead asking them to send in videos saying they stand with Manchester.
“It’s a weird thing when you’re telling huge artists, can you send a video?” he said, adding the concert will go down as the “most important show I’ve ever been a part of.”
While they did have to put money into the event’s production, Braun said all of the acts paid for their own travel and accommodations. What’s more, when the London Bridge was attacked the day before One Love Manchester was set to take place, Braun revealed that for about five seconds he considered canceling the show, “and before I could even think about it, Chris Martin texted me, ‘Please don’t cancel the show, it’s more important than ever.'” From there, he said every artist started texting with similar messages.
Aside for his chart-topping behind-the-scenes success, Braun was featured with the keynote and honored with the inaugural Miden Hall of Fame Award for such philanthropic efforts as this, as well as the Hand in Hand benefit telethon for Hurricane Harvey relief last year and more. He explained the importance of giving back like this was instilled in him at an early age, recalling his mother bringing the family to volunteer at soup kitchens on Christmas (his family is Jewish and they were not celebrating) or donating presents on four out of Hanukkah’s eight nights to charity. When he got older and started promoting shows, at his mother’s recommendation, one in four shows would benefit a non-profit.
“I’m just a firm believer you don’t get blessings unless you give them,” he said. “It’s like a glass of water and for some reason the big guy upstairs keeps pouring water in my glass and if i don’t pour it into others’ it overflows and makes a big mess.
“What’s in it for me is with everything that’s happened to me at 36 years old, I can’t really make sense of it, I don’t understand how I was in that position to see [Bieber] on YouTube and know what to do. I don’t understand how I was in a position that I ended up getting to sign a slightly overweight Korean Man and sell 22 million records of ‘Gangnam Style.’ Or ‘Call Me Maybe’ [by Carly Rae Jepsen] or ‘Glad You Came’ [by The Wanted] or Ariana Grande or the fact that no one had Tori Kelly signed with a voice like that or going out with our first TV show and it becoming Scorpion. I’ve just gotten lucky so many times I know it isn’t because of me. Anybody who says they make their own luck is an asshole.”