Industry Profile: Troy Carter
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Troy Carter, Founder, Chairman & CEO, Coalition Media Group.
Troy Carter is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Coalition Media Group, a full service production company and artist management firm based in Beverly Hills.
As the management and marketing architect of Lady Gaga’s dazzling career climb, he is also a very smart cookie.
Carter began his career in his hometown of Philadelphia as a teenager, working for Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince (Will Smith). Then, he worked for Smith and James Lassiter’s Overbrook Entertainment.
In 1995, Carter joined Bad Boy Entertainment where he worked in the marketing department under Sean “Diddy” Combs, with artists such as Notorious B.I.G.
His career in entertainment management began with his Philadelphia-based firm Boy Wonder that handled Eve and Beanie Siegel. In 1999, he co-founded Erving Wonder Entertainment, which represented such major hip-hop and R&B stars as Eve, Beanie Siegel, Jadakiss, Sleepy Brown, Angie Stone, Floetry, and Nelly.
In 2004, Erving Wonder was acquired by Sanctuary Group, where Carter served as director and executive VP.
In 2005, Sanctuary Group’s World/Sanctuary Urban Group terminated Carter’s 5-year contract, as well as those of his Erving Wonder partners, Jay Erving, and Tony Davis, before they expired.
An eventual settlement closed the chapter on Sanctuary's alliance with the urban music genre. Sanctuary Group also closed its urban records unit; and sold Music World Entertainment, Productions and Management back to Mathew Knowles.
Carter then went down the yellow brick road, and met up with Lady Gaga, with whom he formed a sensational collaborative alliance.
When “Telephone” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it became not only Lady Gaga’s sixth #1 on the chart, but her six consecutive #1, making her the only artist in history to do so.
Lady Gaga's album "The Fame" has just returned to the Top 10 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart, jumping from #12 to #6 with help from a Gaga-themed "Glee" show aired the previous week.
When did you and Lady Gaga start working together?
We started working with Gaga three years ago. I met her through Vince Herbert. She signed through Vince’s record label (Streamline Records, a joint venture with Interscope) right after she was dropped by Def Jam. She walked through the door looking like a superstar. My exact words were, “Who the fuck is this?” She played her music, and everything was there.
Your background is rap music. What did you learn from working with rappers that has helped you in the pop world?
I have been fortunate in my career to work with a bunch of wonderful artists who I really like and who I respect. I have learned a lot from each person that I’ve worked with. You learn resilience. Coming from rap music, you’ve gotta be tough to make it in that space. It is still a relatively young form of music. It is finally reaching a point of maturity, but being there from the early days, we had to make up the rules as we went along. So now, moving into the world of pop music, it’s a lot more structured and a lot more disciplined. But I think that the people really lack hustle. That was the hustle that I was able to get from rap music.
People think Lady Gaga is an overnight success; she’s not.
No. She has put in the work. She has really put in the work. This was years in the making. Gaga has a work ethic. Gaga hustles. She understands all of that. One of the problems now is that we have a very lazy business. People are lazy. That girl gets out there. When we first started I didn’t know anything about pop music. She didn’t know anything about touring or anything like that. Guess what? We treated Lady Gaga like a rap act. She was out there doing three shows a night.
There are pop acts today playing to audiences of 16,000 people without selling a record.
That’s a humongous mistake. It’s not fair to the artist. You can’t skip a step. People take the discovery process for granted. Fans want to feel like they have discovered you, and part of that discovery process is having the patience to start small.
People forget or don’t know that she had success as a songwriter beforehand.
She’s a musician. She’s a songwriter. She’s an incredible songwriter with great lyrics and great melodies. She has been producing most of the new album on her own. It will probably be released sometime in the middle of next year. She is going to collaborate with RedOne and with some up-and-coming producers. But being a songwriter is the core of who she is.
Lady Gaga has also become a brand.
I wouldn’t say that she’s a brand. I would say that she is an artist. And real artists come along…if you can find one in a decade, you are lucky; especially an artist that you feel can last 40 or 50 years. So even more than treating her as a brand, I would say that you treat her as a real artist.
[Within a year of her rise to fame, Gaga pulled in Virgin Mobile as a sponsor of her Monster Ball tour; created her own brand of headphones, Heartbeats by Lady Gaga, with her record label Interscope; and landed her own (cherry pink) lipstick as a spokeswoman for Mac Cosmetics' Viva Glam. Earlier this year, she was tapped by Polaroid to become the brand's creative director, hired specifically to develop new products.]
How involved are your label partners in Gaga’s career?
Jimmy Iovine (chairman of Interscope/Geffen/A&M Records), Steve Berman (president of sales and marketing, Interscope/Geffen/A&M Records), and Vincent Herbert and I talk pretty much every day. They are very involved in the strategy. We work together as a team, so it’s not just about someone working for them. They actually care about the artist development. Gaga is an important artist for that company (Interscope).
Some major artists still push for a DIY strategy.
Labels bring a global infrastructure. You have to have a machine working for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What other artists are you managing?
Right now, just Lady Gaga on my own. (Madonna manager) Guy Oseary and I are working on a new project together, Greyson Chance.
[Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres announced May 26th that she’ll be signing “Paparazzi” YouTube sensation Greyson Chance to her new record label, eleveneleven being formed with Telepictures Productions. On the show, DeGeneres welcomed back Greyson where he performed his original song “Broken Hearts.” At the end of his performance, she announced that she’ll be starting a new record label with Greyson as her first artist. His YouTube performance of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” has racked up 25 million hits to date.]
You spotted Greyson Chance on YouTube performing "Paparazzi?”
Everybody spotted him on YouTube. Our art director sent the video to both me and Gaga and told us to check it out. Coincidentally, Guy Oseary called a few days later telling me that he and Ellen were partnering up. Ellen was going to be the record label; he was going to be the manager. He asked if I was interested in doing (management) with him.
There were also rumors of you and Diddy (Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs) co-managing Nicki Minaj.
There was some discussion. We just decided it wasn’t the right thing. I am a big fan of Nicki’s. I love Puffy to death, but it just didn’t work out.
It wasn’t that Gaga stepped in and told you not to do it.
That was an internet rumor. She and I laughed about that one.
Internet rumors have suggested she’s been unwell during her world tour.
If Gaga gets a hang nail, it is reported as a broken arm. The media reports have been hugely exaggerated. Her schedule is pretty easy compared to where she started off at.
You must be pulling back on some things and saying, “No, we will do this in a year or two years.”
Or ten years from now. The thing is, this is an artist who should have a 40 or 50 year career. You just realize that you can’t do everything right now.
There’s always the potential for overexposure. How do you pull back Lady Gaga’s activities?
It is just about managing it all. The most important thing is that the music has to stay good. As long as the music is good, people will buy. It is the just the quality of the content. Lady Gaga is an incredible songwriter. She is an incredible live performer. As long as the quality is there, people will want it.
How much time do you spend on the road with Gaga?
I am on the road with her 80% of the time. Usually, when I come home, it’s to handle (business) back east or do meetings or whatever. But I am usually on the road with her.
Gaga had to wait for her big record sales in the United States.
Canada and Australia were the first two places she broke. Once we started going into Europe, Sweden was one of the first places in Europe to go. We have done two touring cycles in Australia and the Far East, we just came back.
How did you take advantage of those international markets opening up?
Jimmy Iovine at Interscope always looks for that one spark to start the fire. Once we knew we had a hit in Canada, it was just matter of spreading it out a bit. We spent a lot of time in Canada.
What she said recently on Larry King made a lot of sense about our philosophy. You know what? We just aren’t going to throw out another album and assume it’s going to do well. One of the things that played a huge part in the success of this last campaign was us having the ability to really go in and spend time in each market. We want to be able to do that on this next album.
How long will The Monster Ball Tour continue?
This Monster Ball Tour ends in April of next year in North America. She’s in Europe right now. She’s back in North America at the end of June. Then she’s in Europe again in the Fall (2010) and North America again at the top of next year. Live Nation has the entire tour. Arthur Fogel (chairman of Live Nation's Global Touring division) is producing.
It takes a good 2 1/2 to 3 years to go around the world twice. I just got a telephone call this morning talking about setting up some things up in China next year.
[Arthur Fogel's team only came onboard with the Monster Ball Tour in February. His Live Nation team usually plans tours more than a year out. After her run through Europe, Gaga hits North America on June 28 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. She'll play arenas through to September, with a stop at Lollapalooza in Chicago in August. Then, Gaga returns to Europe through the end of the year.]
What other personal artist managers do you stay in touch with?
I talk a lot to James Lassiter who manages Will Smith. I talk to Benny Medina a lot. I talk to Guy Oseary a lot. I will talk to Paul McGuinness. Paul is a legend. He’s the model.
For global touring, he’s the manager to be talking with.
You can’t be a manager and want to build a touring act and not respect what Paul has done with U2. With this Live Nation deal, we have done a similar (production) deal with Gaga. (Live Nation) pretty much invented net touring deals. To be able to produce something on a mass scale like that is amazing. When Paul and I sat down three or four months ago, he basically gave me his knowledge from the Zoo TV Tour all the way up to what he is doing now. It’s been helpful.
Did that include any insights in cycles of touring?
From research, you kind of get to know when you can go to a market, and when you can’t go into a market. It is basically from the gut, and from a lot of research.
A decade ago, Black Eye Peas were breaking down barriers by going to international markets just for promotion.
will.i.am is a very smart, progressive guy who feels that he can take over the world. He’s going to look at a globe, spin it and point his finger at the next place that he wants to go. Those are the kind of artists that we need.
Was there disappointment after Gaga’s joint concert tour with rapper Kanye West was suddenly canceled last year?
We were all excited about it in the very beginning. But we respected Kanye’s decision to go and work on a new album, and to take some time off.
You still decided to take Gaga out. The Monster Ball Tour began four days after the release of “The Fame Monster.”
We didn’t have a choice to go out. We were still in the middle of an album cycle. We were building a touring career. We had to take a step back and say, “We’re not going to take this to arenas. Let’s not skip a step. Let’s take it into theatres and then we will get to arenas on the next step.”
You must have taken a deep breath at that point.
A really deep breath. It had a lot to do with me trusting Gaga as an artist to be able to pull the creative together as quickly as possible, and me and William Morris (William Morris Endeavor Entertainment) sitting down and pulling together a tour in a matter of weeks. We had no choice.
How difficult was putting together the 9 minute “Telephone” video directed by Jonas Akerlund?
We call it a painful labor with a beautiful baby. That’s the creative process. It was a lot of work but you gotta put the work in to be able to come out with product like that. She and Jonas have an incredible working relationship.
[Lady Gaga’s eye-popping "Telephone" video, directed by Jonas Akerlund, took three days to shoot and almost two months to edit. The video garnered lots of buzz; for its partial nudity, girl-on-girl kissing, and for its product placement--showing Lady Gaga making sandwiches with Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip.]
Why do a 9 minute video?
It’s expensive, and time-consuming.
It takes the same amount of time to shoot a shitty video. It is just that the prep time that has to go into it is a lot longer. Jonas is incredible at editing. It doesn’t take him a long time to edit. It’s the prep time that is challenging. You want to spend two or three months planning something like that. A lot of the things that we do, we try to spend as much time planning them as possible.
When you formed Coalition Media Group, it was as a full service production company as well as an artist management company. Is film and television production still a focus at Coalition?
Yes, it is a big focus at the company. We have one show, “Youngins,” that we’re producing with Overbrook (Overbrook Entertainment) right now. That comes out in September. We have a Bravo pilot in the works. We have about seven pitches that we are going after in the next six to seven months, so we are definitely excited about the television division.
How many people in the company?
We have 8 employees in all. Most of the resources are in marketing. We have our own in-house tour marketing department and our own marketing department. We also have a separate company called Think Tank Digital Marketing that handles all of our on-line marketing.
Does Coalition Media Group do outside marketing?
Oh yeah, we deal with every major record label. We do Lionsgate Films. We are doing stuff with Disney and Pepsi. We are doing the U.S. Census Campaign. It’s a great business.
Are people coming to the company for its expertise in marketing to the urban community?
None of it is urban marketing. Most of it is mainstream marketing. I wouldn’t consider it urban. What we’re doing for Pepsi is the Pepsi Refresh (Project) campaign. But most of it is pop (marketing). I think they are looking at what’s been done before with us. We have done (marketing for) Black Eyed Peas. There’s nothing pop about the Peas. We have done Lady Gaga. There’s nothing urban about Lady Gaga. We are doing Sade. Nothing is urban about Sade.
You provide marketing that is vibey.
That’s what I think. We know how to reach youth culture, and I think companies are recognizing that.
Coalition Media was formed in 2006 with you, Tony Davis and Jay Erving after you three left Sanctuary Urban Management.
It’s just me now. We decided to go our separate ways. Jay had his office in Atlanta; Tony had his office in St. Louis; and I was based in LA. It was just a little difficult to run the company in three different parts of the country.
You had done that with the management company Erving Wonder with Jay.
Yeah but Jay and I were in Philadelphia together. When I came out to LA about 7 years ago, Jay was spending the majority of his time in LA as well. It had always been the two of us.
You had some good artists; Erving Wonder was handling Eve, Jadakiss, Sleepy Brown, Angie Stone, Nelly, and Floetry.
We had a really cool boutique company.
Erving Wonder was a merger. You had the management company Boy Wonder previously.
Exactly. It was Boy Wonder—I had Eve and Beanie Siegel at the time—and Jay had his businesses with Floetry and a couple of other acts. Jay Erving and I were friends from Philadelphia. We just decided to merge the two companies. We were right next door to each other and we were already doing some things together.
Why did you move to LA?
We sold a television show to UPN with Eve that we executive produced. When you executive produce a television show, it’s really a hands-on job. You really have to be there.
[In 2003, Eve starred in the UPN television sitcom, “Eve,” as a fashion designer named Shelly. The show lasted three seasons until it was cancelled in 2006.]
You oversaw deals for Eve with Geffen Records and for the 2002 film, “Barbershop.” How difficult was it doing those deals while based in Philadelphia?
It wasn’t really difficult. I spent a lot of time in New York and I would fly to LA frequently to sit down with the record label. To be honest, it was just as easy as doing it now. It wasn’t that difficult.
Sanctuary Group’s Music World/Sanctuary Urban Group abruptly sacked you, Jay, and Tony in 2005. Any bitterness?
They are good guys over there. Merck (Merck Mercuriadis, former CEO of The Sanctuary Group) and I still stay in touch. Mathew Knowles and I remained friends through the process. Those guys aren’t doing so bad themselves, individually.
Was that not a low point for you? You each had five year contracts terminated. What went wrong?
I wouldn’t consider it a low point for me and my partners at the time. We did great deals going in and we were able to get out of our contracts within 18 months, keep our clients and start new businesses. At the same time, I was able to learn the international business from my colleagues at Sanctuary while there.
That was missing in your portfolio at the time. That’s one of the reasons why you made the Sanctuary deal.
Exactly. I went and I learned a lot from those guys. I was able to apply that to my new business.
Did the urban music business not fit into Sanctuary’s overall business?
I don’t think that it fit into where the business was going in general. I think that one of the larger problems is that you can’t segregate music like that. Where we are now, with the industry being very global, kids are listening to Lady Gaga, Drake and Jay-Z all in the same iPod. Kids don’t segregate music, so companies that segregate it, they are going to be less successful.
Major labels segregated music for decades by having urban departments.
You can’t segregate music.
The internet has done what radio wasn’t fully able to do; that is fully desegregate music. Even radio formats were a form of segregation. The internet broadens the scope of the market.
It absolutely does.
With the internet, acts break internationally faster than they did even five years ago.
I sat on a panel with Scooter Braun, who manages Justin Bieber, a couple of weeks ago. He spoke about when Justin recently got off the plane in Australia how kids were already at the airport, and they knew the music. It was all through the internet.
We experienced the same thing with Lady Gaga when she first went to the UK. We went for the record first in America. While we were having success in America, we underestimated how well her music had done virally in the UK. She played at a club there for 300 people, and over 1,000 people were waiting outside. This was without us even servicing the record.
If something goes viral on the internet, is it hard to gauge?
Over the past year it has been easier for us to gauge, but I still don’t think that there is an exact science to it. It has been a lot easier for us to gauge because we just pay more attention. We look at the blogs, we look at the message boards, and we see where the information is coming from.
You’re from Philadelphia. What makes that city so magical as a music centre?
You’ve got guys like (producers/songwriters) Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (Philadelphia International Records) there, and we had Lawrence Goodman and the guys from Pop Art Records. We have had not just a lot of artists, but producers, label owners, and people who have really cared about the music. It was passed on. I just hope that tradition continues.
[Lawrence Goodman founded Pop Art Records, the first hip hop label in Philadelphia history. He was involved in the careers of artists such as Will Smith, Salt-n-Pepa, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté, Galaxy, Cool C, Steady B, and Three Times Dope.
Lawrence’s son Quran "Q.G." Goodman has produced records for such artists as 50 Cent, Missy Elliott, Mary J. Blige, Ludacris, Nas, Amerie, Will Smith, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Beanie Sigel, Daddy Yankee, Slick Rick, Kurupt, and Mobb Deep.]
Did you know Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff while growing up?
Kenny Gamble has been a mentor to me for a long time. Their office is a magical place – you feel it walking in the doors.
[A Feb. 2010 fire at Gamble & Huff’s fabled Philadelphia International Records label destroyed about 40% of the memorabilia the two had collected from 40 years. But it did not seriously damage the recording studio that had birthed the “Sound of Philadelphia” with classic recordings by the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, Teddy Pendergrass, Michael Jackson and the Jacksons, Patti LaBelle and Lou Rawls.]
In 2006, you bought the music publishing catalog, copyrights, and master recordings of Pop Art Records.
My mother grew up with Lawrence Goodman, the owner of Pop Art Records. When Lawrence would come back to the neighborhood and visit his family, he used to bring Roxanne Shanté, Salt-n-Pepa, and Biz Markie. All of these guys used to come by. I’d sit on the steps and watch these guys and dream about being in the record business. To be able to purchase the catalog when it became available, that was like a dream come true.
Salt-n-Pepa were a major breakthrough rap act in the ‘80s.
Salt-n-Pepa were great. We own the very first song that they ever recorded [“The Show Stoppa,” the female answer to “The Show” by Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew]. Salt-n-Pepa was one of the blueprints that we used for the Eve project, in terms of being able to break a black female into mainstream. Salt-n-Pepa and Queen Latifah were my blueprint for that.
You grew up in west Philly, which gained some fame through the theme song to the NBC sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” in which Will Smith sang, "In West Philadelphia, born and raised."
Rap music is one of the most creative genres of music we have right now. Afro Americans have a long history of creating great art out of something that is negative…inner city violence and drugs.
I think America has a bigger problem. America has an education problem. I think that the education problem just spills over into a lot of different areas. I was born and bred in west Philly, which is probably one of the craziest neighborhoods in America. So I know it, firsthand. Before rap music came along, there was still that violence in the neighborhoods. I think that rap music has served as a magnifying glass to everything that has happened in the urban neighborhood.
Right now, to me, (urban neighborhoods are) at an all-time low. I have never seen it this bad. I think that what needs to happen right now is that…I think that (the government needs) to focus on education. They definitely do.
Some of the problems go back to the introduction of crack cocaine two decades ago.
Absolutely. The current generation of prisoners, they are the crack babies. These are the kids that were raised by their grandparents. Either their parents were on drugs, or sold drugs and were arrested or whatever. These were kids that I grew up with. I know it, firsthand.
What education do you have?
A GED from Job Corps (an education and training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that helps young people earn a high school diploma). My mom was fantastic. She is still part of my support system. I have two brothers; one older and one younger.
How crazy do they think your life is today?
They are amused by it. They love it. I think that they still want me to get a real job.
Was your introduction to working in the music business?
I was working with Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince (Will Smith). I would carry records for Jazzy Jeff. I was Jeff’s assistant for a while. That was my first foray in the music businesses. I was about 16 or 17 when I started working with them. I was the go-fer. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were really one of the first rap groups to really break into mainstream outside of Run-DMC.
How did you come to work for Bad Boy Entertainment?
I was a concert promoter in Philadelphia. I was promoting shows for Notorious B.I.G. and I met Puffy.
Working for Bad Boy, you didn’t stay in Philadelphia.
I used to commute from Philadelphia to New York three days a week on the Greyhound bus.
Philadelphia was Larry Magid’s turf.
Larry, of course, is a huge pioneer in Philly for (concert) promotions. This was pre-Clear Channel and Live Nation, when independents still existed in that market. Rap wasn’t really on Larry’s radar, so we would promote probably 60-70% of the rap shows that came through the market.
Few mainstream promoters would touch rap shows in those early days.
You couldn’t get insured anywhere. Insurance was tough. People didn’t think that the acts and management were reliable enough to invest their resources in. For us, we didn’t know any other music at the time, so it was a natural fit.
Rap gigs were few and far between for most rap acts.
Those days were tough. There wasn’t a lot of infrastructure in place, but there were successful tours. Lyor Cohen and Russell Simmons had Rush Artist Management, and they used to take and tour all of their groups. They had Fresh Fest, where they would take all of their groups and put them on tour together, Eric B. Rakim, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, EPMD, and Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. They would build these incredible tours based off of combined resources. With everything under one roof at the time, it was much cheaper to do. Def Jam has been great with this, and Lyor is a genius. Look at what they did with the Hard Knock Life Tour or even with the Cash Money Ruff Ryders Tour. There have been a lot of successful, iconic rap tours, there just haven’t been enough of them.
In the past three years, rappers like Jay-Z and 50 Cent have been playing to audiences around the world. Nobody would have predicted that five years ago. The internet broke down those barriers.
Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.