Carter is interviewed by The Financial Times. He talks about the launch of LittleMonsters.com and how data from the many South American fans led to the expansion of a tour there.
Our bet is on the future of micronetworks. Facebook wasn’t wired to build a relationship between fans and artists. It’s more about communicating with family and friends and old girlfriends or your classmates; 51m likes doesn’t mean we’re going to sell 51m albums or concert tickets. [It’s a] misconception when people talk about a direct relationship between artists and their fans or brands and consumers through social media. The reality is that these platforms own the relationship. So as much as you can talk directly to a customer or a fan, you still have this intermediary . . . that controls the data. And at any given time, if they turn it off or they change an algorithm, like Facebook did with its newsfeed algorithm last year, it changes the way you’re able to communicate with that fan or customer
About his abilities as an artist:
I stay away from the arts . . . writing songs, being creative – those are downloads from god. You can’t do data analytics on art.
The importance of hiring outsiders:
My COO didn’t come from the music industry, my vice-president of creative was actually a schoolteacher. It was important we had people who came from an outside perspective, who didn’t come from selling CDs.
Carter and photographer Richardson announce PopWater, a drink that will be marketed as a healthier alternative to sugary soft drinks – an 11.2 oz can will contain 30 calories and 7 grams of sugar. Initial flavors will include apple, orange, pineapple and grape. Richardson will be the brand’s creative director. The product will launch early 2103 in California. Carter says the idea for Pop Water resulted from the various conversations with the big cola producers’ music initiatives.
We noticed none of the brands had music in their DNA. We felt we could build something with relevance to music and pop culture if we built something from scratch. Whether it’s flying to Kentucky with food scientists or flying around the world sourcing the packaging, the last two years has been an education for us in the beverage space…We’re talking to a bunch of music and pop culture icons who’ve tasted the beverage. We’re gonna have a lot of support behind this…The idea is not to be just an endorsement but to be a part of people’s lives. Endorsements, where they’re just one-offs feels like the artists just got a check for it. For us, we set out to make something that’s a lot healthier than what’s in the market. It’s really hard to get 30 calories to taste good.
At Wired 2012, Carter says that despite Little Monsters allowing Gaga to connect with her fans in an unprecedented way, the music industry doen’t care:
They’re not using the data. I can sit down with the guy from Spotify, and he shows me this spike on Fridays as people listen to Gaga before going to the clubs. When I go to South Africa I know to include this song in this set, because I know that’s a fan favourite, and also to take this song out. We’ve never had a direct relationship with an audience. When someone buys a CD we used to count them as a fan, but we never knew if they hated the CD and threw it out the window.
He says that Gaga used social media early because her music would not get played on the radio:
She didn’t look like a typical pop star, and the music was more four to the floor dance music, so radio wouldn’t play it. She’s at 30-something-million Twitter followers now because she had a headstart over everybody. The types of messages she sends are very authentic, so when she sends messages her fans engage. We started buying fan artworks, and including that in our actual merch line in the tour, because we found fans like art from other fans. They know what they want more than we know what they want.
However the media doesn’t define the message:
It’s like a download from God. We were in a meeting with Google, with Gaga and Larry Page, and Larry said to Gaga, ‘Do you ever a/b test your music?’ She replied, ‘Did Picasso ever a/b test painting?
The Economist talks with Carter about how new technology and social media was used to garner legions of fans for Lady Gaga.
It came out of basic necessity… We saw new technology as alternative to reach audiences, opposed to radio… Now, we would much rather build the fan base online and let it grow organically, and let people feel they discovered it before it goes wide to the mainstream…What’s important to me is that there are no intermediaries in that relationship… People think of Twitter as being able to have a direct relationship with their fans… but, it’s really not… because if Twitter goes out of business, or switches off the machine, that’s not your data, not your relationship. So, for us, it’s about really allowing Gaga, or any other artist, to really own that relationship with them and the fans.
Chopra hires Carter as her manager. Carter:
She’s a triple threat—she has the ability to sing, dance, and act which is a rare trait amongst artists. She will be the first bonafide pop artist to come directly out of India. The primary plan is to let the music speak for itself. Priyanka and Red One made a great record that we think will stand on its own. People won’t buy the music just because she is who she is. We want them to buy it because it’s good. PC’s strength is her work ethic. She’s one of the hardest working artists that I know. I was really impressed by the level of dedication she’s given to the recording process. She’s approached it in a manner that a seasoned artist would approach it.
Carter is profiled as one of Billboard’s 40 under 40.
The last four or five years have really been about watching the industry make drastic changes — a lot of it due to what was happening to technology and consumer behavior. We’re looking at companies that are gonna disrupt industries.
Carter gives the keynote interview at Music Matters 2012. He talks about how he has diversified into technology investing:
It’s been a little over a year that we started a fund at Atom Factory. It happened from us taking a risk in terms of marketing and working with young startups, and a even with some of the larger companies that we were working with. A lot of people started approach us about advising us about their companies, and us investing in their companies. We’ve invested in Drop box, Spotify, Socialcam, Voxxer, Uber. It’s maybe a little over 30 companies in our portfolio. We have somebody full time that works with founders and that analysis deals. It’s becoming a significant part of our business. Not just from a financial standpoint, but from an access standpoint — being able to get a real glimpse at the technology that’s on the horizon. Y’know a lot of these guys are going to be the next world leaders…It was done on purpose — prior to stating our fund we spent a year in Silicon Valley.
Carter confirms he is no longer working with Banks:
I can confirm that I ended the business relationship with Azealia last month on very amicable terms. She’s incredibly talented and I wish her nothing short of an amazing career.
Carter helps enlist Nas to become RapGenius’ first verified rapper. Carter:
Our thinking was, ‘You get Nas and a lot of people are going to follow. He’s going to be able to give you great advice on the product. He built so much credibility on the rap side, that now people are annotating presidential speeches, Shakespearean plays, country lyrics. Our bet, and Andreessen Horowitz’s bet now, is that after a few months people are going to be able to utilize the site for just about anything.
Carter is featured on the front cover of Wired UK. The accompanying interview talks about Backplane and Little Monsters, which is in beta and has 50,000 members, with a million invitations ready to be sent out to Lady Gaga fans who had registered online. Carter:
They’re highly motivated fans. This one isn’t for the passive. It’s for the die-hard die-hard. We could go to Facebook for pure numbers. But give us 500,000 really engaged people, and the blast radius will be enormous…Up until this point, we’ve been data dumb. If a kid goes and buys a CD at Best Buy, we have no idea who the person is, how many times they listen to it, or anything like that. But we’re building to the point where one day we’re going to have access to all of the data. There will be a time where we’ll be able to release music through the Backplane, where we’ll be able to release music videos through there, we’re going to be able to sell all our tickets through there. Over a period of time, we’ll be able to build that audience so they’ll know exactly where to come.
She still has a deal with Universal Records. but there will come a time when she’ll release music through her own site. It’s not just going to be about sells. It’s going to be about the streams coming through the site. For us, it’s important to be able to identify who’s listening to what. We want to own that data. We have to own that data…Treating a fan online is no different to treating a fan outside a hotel. They’re not expecting you to walk straight to your car. They want to take that picture, they want to feel that they know you. So when you come to somebody’s profile, and you like a piece of their content, or you compliment them on something that you saw, they remember it.
Banks signs Carter as her manager.
I just switched management.. Literally like three days ago, and have a whole new set of resources to take advantage of. We’re gonna vamp this up and make it official.. No more ghetto mixes and closet recording.. I have a budget now.
Gaga launches LittleMonsters (https://littlemonsters.com/) as an invite-only beta for Gaga’s fans, who she refers to a “Little Monsters”. The site is the first project by Backplane and acts as a social network for her fans. CEO Michelsen says the project, in common with other Backplane project aims to :
Unite people around interests, affinities and movements. Backplane is about bringing together communities and Gaga’s community just so happens to be the community we’re using to learn about proper functionality. We think we can really change the world.
Gaga had called her manager, Carter, after seeing a screening of The Social Network:
She said she’d like to build a social network for her fans, and build a community where they could congregate and have conversations. So I called some of my friends in the Valley.
Carter then talked with Palantir CEO, Lonsdale, which led to the creation of Backplane, which has built the platform for the site. They receive backing from Google Ventures and others.
Carter and Michelsen are interviewed at DLD 12 about connecting with fans. Michelsen:
I’m known as being Troy’s arms dealer in The Valley. So when we use social media we look at these things as reaching the most amount of people, and the power behind it. If you look at Silicon Valley there are big [technology] weapons. Troy and Lady Gaga are the detonators. They have these platforms and the individuals become the network.
Carter on Gaga’s rise:
Our timing was great. Facebook had just opened up. Twitter was on the rise. MySpace built this platform that was specifically for artists. So we were alternative ways. It just so happened that Gag’s voice is so authentic that she used it as way to say really connected with the fans, she never used it as a place to sell, sell, sell.
Carter talks with The Economist’s Bishop at the DLD12 conference (video was not released until May 2012). Carter:
We’re learning that there aren’t any rules. Just when you think you know something a new piece of technology will pop up, or a new company will pop up. And right now with content you just really have to follow the consumer. I recently watched the movie The Artist, which shows the transition of silent films into talking pictures and at that time how disruptive that was, and it just reminds me of exactly what’s happening in the content industry today. We’ve been through several cycles of disruption and this one is nothing new. You just have to follow the consumer…When you have the luxury of having been able to live through cycles you fear them a lot less, and you embrace it,
Under the umbrella of Atom Factory, Carter founds A\IDEA, a product development and branding agency, and AF Square, an angel fund and technology consultancy that holds interests in many technology companies at various stages of growth.
Carter participates in a panel session on digital music Spotify’s Daniel Ek and Clear Channel’s Bob Pittman, moderated by Facebook’s Justin Osofsky. Carter says there is a trend of artists making their music widely available to listen to, rather than putting all the effort into making people buy it.
What we’re looking to do is not just about selling the CD or the digital file. It’s how many people can we get the music to. How many people can experience it? If it was up to me, I’d give away the next album and put it on every handset that I can put it on, to get that scale,. You can’t be scared to fail. Sometimes we’re going to get big results, and sometimes you learn a lesson, make an adjustment and move on.
On how an artist like Gaga would use data-crunching features on Facebook.
For us it’s how do we laser-focus on that, how do we make it less passive, how do we focus on the super-fan as opposed to somebody who just liked one single? The more layers on top of the community, the more sticky it is. For us it’s not about Lady Gaga talking to the community, but it’s about the community sharing with each other.
On mobile extending the concert experience:
People watch concerts like this now [holds up imaginary mobile phone]. For us, it’s how do we extend that experience? Right now it’s very simple: people are tweeting from the concert, they’re uploading their YouTube video…In the next year or so, something we’re working on internally is going to make it a much more interactive experience… not just how you share the experience on the outside of the concerts, when you go home, but how you share it on the inside of the concerts too.
Harvard Business Review publishes a second case study, this time concentrating on the launch of Born This Way.
In March 2011, Troy Carter, manager of pop star Lady Gaga, reflects on decisions made regarding his artist’s concert tour and faces a new set of challenges regarding the launch of Lady Gaga’s new album, Born This Way. Is a huge, expensive launch akin to that of a “tent-pole” movie the best way to capitalize on Gaga’s popularity, or is a more moderate approach that relies on word-of-mouth the right way to proceed? Designed to help students understand the decisions that helped propel Lady Gaga into one of the entertainment world’s biggest names. Written from the perspective of her manager, the case provides rich insights into the artist’s touring, recorded-music, and social-media activities, as well as supporting economic data.
Carter is interviewed by Slate magazine, as part of its Top Right project, which lists 25 Americans who “combine inventiveness and practicality: our best real-world problem-solvers”. He talks about Gaga’s entrepreneurial deals:
Our strategy is that business follows the creative. We’re not out there scouring the marketplace for opportunities. It just happens. If [Gaga] has an idea that works with a song or a project that she is working on, we go look for best-of-class partners to help us execute it. And a lot of businesses bring ideas to us.
About the upcoming release of Backplane:
The problem is: How meaningful is that social media imprint [on Facebook, Twitter, and her own site]? Just because you have 43 million likes on Facebook doesn’t necessarily translate into 42 million albums sold, 42 million concert tickets sold, 42 million pieces of merchandise sold. So this really builds on a concentrated audience, as opposed to making it bigger.
On his other entrepreneurial projects:
I love entrepreneurs. In the tech space, what I found is this incredible energy that reminded me of the early days of hip-hop. Back then, guys were all starting their own companies. It wasn’t about the money. It was about passion for a specific product or project. I’ve just been meeting a ton of smart kids who have a deep passion. I’ve become an advisor to some, an investor in some of these companies, and they’ve been helping me with some of my projects.
Harvard Business Review publishes a case study about Carter’s work with Gaga:
In September 2009, Troy Carter, manager of up-and-coming pop star Lady Gaga, has to decide on a new course of action now that his artist’s planned co-headlining arena tour with hip-hop superstar Kanye West has been canceled. Carter knows that continuing the tour solo comes with huge risks, but scaling it back to smaller theaters or postponing the tour altogether has disadvantages as well. Making matters more complicated, Carter also has to consider the implications for Gaga’s partners, including the concert promoter Live Nation and the William Morris Endeavor agency. What is the best strategy? This case is designed to help students understand the decisions that helped propel Lady Gaga into one of the entertainment world’s biggest names. Written from the perspective of her manager, the case provides rich insights into the artist’s touring, recorded-music, and socialmedia activities, as well as supporting economic data.
Carter is profiled in NYT’s Dealbook. He talks about the upcoming launch of Backplane and the convergence of music and technology.
Technology has long been the driver of growth in the music business from the invention of lacquers, eight-track players, vinyl, cassettes and CDs. In order to continue the growth we have to go back to embracing technology and the way that people choose to consume music.
Backplane is founded by Carter, Michelson, Lonsdale and Lady Gaga. The seven-person project aims to provide a way to organize and power online communities based on certain interests, such as sports teams, musicians, and also bring in feeds from Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. Gaga has a reported 20% stake in the business. $1 million has been raised in angel funding from investors including Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures.
Carter praises Born This Way:
We’re just starting to play music for the label. We’re very excited about it. We’re starting to play a little for people and getting a feel for it, and she’s done an incredible job, a really incredible job.
Carter also says he and Gaga have yet to decide on how to market the album.
Well, you know what, it’s not where I go from a business standpoint, it’s more about where she goes creatively because, truth be told, we built the business around her creative infrastructure and that business that was built is unique to Lady Gaga.
Gaga and Carter travel to Cupertino to meet with Jobs at his request to discuss Apple’s music-centered social network Ping. Gaga and Carter criticize Ping’s lack of connectivity to other social networks, especially Facebook, as well as its design. It is reported that the leave “respecting Mr. Jobs’ overall vision.” After the meeting Carter calls Michelsen, a well-connected technology investor and entrepreneur, to find a platform for entertainers that could help them manage their fan base across all major social networks. Michelsen:
I said why try to find a platform, let’s try to build one.
DeGeneres chooses Lady Gaga’s manager, Carter, and Madonna’s manager, Oseary, to co-manage Chance.
Carter is interviewed in Ad Age magazine about Gaga’s marketing partnerships. At this time Gaga has 2.8 million Twitter followers, more than 5.2 million Facebook fans. Digital-single sales are over 20 million, album sales are eight million. Carter says their partnership is “95-5”:
The only thing I do is manage the vision. Ninety-five percent of the time I won’t comment on creative, and 95% of the time she lets me run the business. The other 5% is where we debate about things like, ‘Do you really want to bleed to death on stage at the [MTV] VMAs?’ She wins even when we do have those debates 5% of the time.
Carter says he doesn’t want Gaga to ever look like she’s endorsing a brand — hence why she’s created products for Universal’s Beats By Dre headphones line, Viva Glam and now Polaroid as its new creative director.
You won’t see her face plastered on any packaging or anything. We’re comparing it to when Tom Ford went to Gucci or Steve Jobs went into Apple and brought a different thought process and taste level in. We’re looking for her to do the same exact thing at Polaroid. It’s not about her putting her name on something — it’s reinvigorating a brand.
Carter founds Atom Factory, a “multi-dimensional entertainment and artist management company” based in Los Angeles, CA, where he serves as chairman and chief executive officer. He says the company can be much more than a simple artist-management firm.
It was more about building a platform on top of music—because music, we realized, sells everything but music.
Carter and Herbert promote Gaga in San Francisco and L.A. Carter:
[Gaga had just been dropped by Def Jam Records. Carter had just been fired by Eve Jeffers, his biggest client. And Herbert had just left his label at Universal to start over fresh] So everybody had something to prove, and nothing to lose. We went from club to club. She was in the front seat of our friend’s truck. Going to four clubs a night, playing for a couple hundred people, between L.A. and San Francisco. She pretty much wore the same outfit for one year. It was something no one had seen before. Top 40 radio was telling us we had to get on dance stations, and it was gay music, not what they played.
Carter called club promoters, designers, DJs, media.
This was hand-to-hand combat
We didn’t have money for the ideas we wanted. We didn’t have people paying attention to us. We had none of that support. But what we had was each other. We had heart.
Facing eviction from his office, Carter is introduced to Lady Gaga by Herbert, the executive producer at her record label. Carter becomes her manager.
Vince is a big guy, and I see him walking through the reception area. And behind him, I see this girl with these big shoes, and big black eyeglasses, and fishnet stockings, and no pants, just a leotard. We hit it off right away. Everything she is today she was when she walked through the door. She just had a point of view. The music was there. You don’t meet a lot of artists with vision, not early artists, not at the beginning.
He was going to lose his house. He had no Christmas gifts for his kids. But at the end of the day, if you’re a good person like Troy is, good things will come to you…People still to this day, they don’t understand, and try to figure it out. We still live in this world where there’s black people and white people, and people say: ‘Vince, you guys are two black guys. Why did you let this black guy be the manager of this white girl?’ Because in music no one looks at color. They just look at each other’s heart. And when you look at that, it has every color in the book.
Sanctuary Urban Group terminates Carter’s five-year contract, as well as those of his Erving Wonder partners, J. Erving, and Tony Davis, before they expired. An eventual settlement closes the chapter on Sanctuary’s alliance with the urban music genre. Carter says the cultures of the two firms were just too different:
Instead of me being able to be creative with the artists, I was sitting in finance meetings a couple of times a week. It killed my spirit as an entrepreneur.
He loses his payday from the sale.
As an entrepreneur you take big swings of the bat. I struck out.
Erving Wonder is acquired by Sanctuary Group Inc., which manages some of the world’s biggest artists. Carter and Erving are appointed as Executive Vice Presidents of Sanctuary Urban. Sanctuary CEO Mercuriadis:
Erving Wonder has made a tremendous impact in both the music and the film world having developed an impressive roster of multi-talented, commercially viable and important artists. Troy and J’s strategic business sense, relationships with the smartest executives in the industry and their ability to brand artists and entertainers made them our number one choice for the development of Sanctuary Urban.
Our goal is to take artists to an unheard of level in the U.S. and internationally. The Erving Wonder/Sanctuary collaboration will create more opportunities to help artists transcend music genres, TV/Film, and establish unique branding options.
Carter and Erving found talent management company Erving Wonder by merging Boy Wonder Management and J. Erving Group. As well as Eve, they manage other major hip-hop and R&B stars, Beanie Siegel, Jadakiss, Sleepy Brown, Angie Stone, Floetry, and Nelly.
Jeffers hires Carter to manage her rap career. Carter makes Eve his full-time job and starts building his talent-management company, Boy Wonder.
Carter graduates from throwing house parties to promoting rap concerts. While promoting a Notorious B.I.G. show in Philadelphia — where Biggie Smalls is a no-show — Carter gets talking to Combs, who had signed B.I.G to his label:
We were having a conversation and I said to Puff, ‘Well, tell me about what you do.’ And he told me, and I said, ‘I want to come work with you.’ ‘Well, your first job is to get me that girl behind the bar.’ And I went and got him that girl from behind the bar, introduced him. So I started interning for Bad Boy.
Carter spends a year and a half with Puff Daddy, taking the Greyhound bus to New York three days a week.
The video for 2 Too Many’s single, Where’s The Party? is released. The video shows the band at a party, and is shot in NYC & Philly by Abbott.
After a year, which included a tour of Chicago, 2 Too Many is dropped by the label. Carter goes to work for Townes in the studio and for Lassiter as an assistant. He sweeps floors, empties trash, carries records, and helps Lassiter’s children with science homework. Lassiter:
There was always something about Troy. Aside from being bright, he had just a special quality about him. You knew he would be successful in life – if he could avoid the pitfalls that existed in Philly.
Chillin’ Like a Smut Villain, 2 Too Many’s one and only record is released. The record is produced by Hula and Fingers, the production duo behind Will Smith’s Summertime. Two singles are released from the album: Where’s the Party? and My Imagination.
Every day Carter walks to Delaware Avenue, to the studio of DJ Jazzy Jeff (Townes) and the Fresh Prince (Smith). One day, a friend who is recording in the studio lets him in. Townes, Smith and Lassiter, Smith’s business partner are in the lounge. Carter:
We literally just walked into the room and said we want to play some music for you. Will told us to go ahead and pop the tape in. [The room was too small for our routine] so everyone went outside and we danced in the snow…They just fell in love with us. We pretty much sucked as a group. They loved us and our tenacity more than anything else.
Every night someone was down there trying to get put on. It was something about these three kids and their personality and sense of humor that we responded to. I don’t remember if we thought they were talented or not. They just didn’t give up…We would just laugh at them. I remember plenty of times driving them home. I would say, ‘How are you getting home?’ They hadn’t thought it through. They didn’t have gloves. They didn’t have a Plan B.
Lassiter and Smith give 2 Too Many a record deal on their WilJam label.
In his senior year, Carter stops going to school. He spends his time on his rap group, 2 Too Many — a name they choose because there were three of them, but always only enough bus fare for one, or food money for one, or whatever they needed or wanted, only enough for one. He also promotes house parties all over Philadelphia, hiring a DJ and charging $1 to $5 a head. His mother, however, insists that he get a diploma or the equivalent, and enrolls him in Job Corps, a federal education and training program, at a rural Maryland high school, where he earns his GED and returns home.
You got a couple of choices: drug dealers were the role models – you didn’t have doctors and hedge fund managers that looked like you. At that time, hip hop culture was exploding . . . and coming from the family I came from, drugs was not an option
Carter’s father, who has remarried, is jailed for 12 years for shooting and killing his wife’s brother after an argument.
That taught me about consequences at a really, really young age.
Despite this, his father and step-mother stay together, and after prison his father rebuilds his life.
[He is] one of my real heroes.
Troy Carter is born in West Philadelphia to Gilda Carter, who cleans surgical instruments at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. His parents divorce when he is two years old. Carter grows up on 52d Street and Larchwood Avenue, in a two-bedroom apartment with kerosene heat and sometimes no running water. His mother says her three boys always had hot meals, love, and high expectations, however she often has to scrape change for bus fare.
You know, we were broke. You can, as a kid, kind of recognize the pain in your mother’s face.
He spends much of his time around the corner with his grandmother, who recalls him writing that he wanted to be a millionaire by age 25, and his granduncle, the owner of a popular shoeshine store who gives him encouragement. Grandmother:
Troy always had a composition book and pen, jotting down what he had in mind to do.
He attends Huey Elementary and Sayre Middle School.
I was always the kid in the front of the line because I was the smallest. and [my fifth grade teacher] used to call me ‘The Big Guy.’ Just by the way she would talk to me, she gave me the sense that I could do anything.
He tests well but prefers the nearby public library.
I read every single thing about the music business.