Scooter Braun on Pop and Politics

Shirley Halperin interviews Scooter Braun.

Billboard news director Shirley Halperin fields questions with Scooter Braun at the Billboard Touring Conference at the SLS Hotel, Beverly Hills. (Photo: Paula Parisi/MaxTheTrax)

A pop act manager’s job is “making irrational people do rational things,” SB Projects’ Scooter Braun shared in a Q&A session at the Billboard Touring Conference & Awards yesterday. As manager to Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Ariana Grande and many more, Braun – whose bio claims he has “broken more new artists than any other music executive in the last decade” – had a surprising amount of practical information to share with interviewer Shirley Halperin, news director at Billboard.

Braun’s recent managerial tasks ranged from running point on Bieber’s Purpose Tour – an artsy presentation that has grossed more than $140 million in the past year – to West’s 29-city Saint Pablo Tour, a theatrical affair that in bigger cities averaged $1.6 million per night.

While both shows involved flying effects – Bieber making an overhead appearance in a glass box, while West’s whole stage took to the air, hovering throughout the crowd – Braun described Bieber as going for something sexier, and  more intimate, while West’s approach was more straight-up extravaganza. As a sounding board for both artists, whose tours overlapped, Braun managed a spectrum of demands that included helping Bieber weather emotional ups-and-downs that resulted in cancelled pre-show meet-and-greets – an decision by the singer that cost the tour an estimated $21 million in lost revenue (at $2,000 a pop).

At the other end of the spectrum, West’s impetuous imagination and appetite for upping the ante was equally demanding. Ideas that might be casually floated in a phone conversations (mobilizing the stage) could quickly evolve to “let’s fly the entire show – I don’t ever have to come down!” Needless to say, West’s adventures had inherent logistical challenges, which at the most mundane level meant things that could normally be achieved by a quick duck behind an amp – like a glass of water or mic adjustment – were no longer easy options.

Braun tried to deflect some of the credit for his artists’ success, saying good managers help artists be more of who they really are. In Bieber’s case, he noted that while the singer cancelled the costly meet-and-greets as being too draining pre-show, the young superstar continued to honor his Make A Wish Foundation commitment at the rate of one per show, making him the most Wish-fulfilling pop star on the planet.

SB Projects' Scooter Braun onstage

Brains and Braun: Manager Scooter Braun urges optimism. (Photo: Paula Parisi/MaxTheTrax )

Stuff like that matters to Braun, honored that evening with the humanitarian award at the 13th Annual Billboard Touring Awards. Halperin shared how Braun, who is politically active, was asked but declined to have a Billboard reporter shadow him election night, a decision he quite happy about in retrospect. Expecting his second child with wife Yael Cohen “any day now,” Braun was perplexed but pragmatic about the Trump win.

“We have been through worse and we’ll get through this,” he said, offering some management advice to the nation: urging people to cross party lines to find common ground, and “heal as fast as we can and come together as people. Donald Trump’s our president. Gotta come to terms with it. Gotta move on.” After a beat, he admitted, “I haven’t really come to terms with it. He did fire Coolio, and now he’s our president. That’s weird.”

The 35-year-old takes a similarly non-partisan approach when it comes to music and management. “I don’t think anyone can do it alone,” he said, noting that he’s willing to argue like heck – particularly with his clients – on matters of principle, but will go out of his way to avoid media wars and petty battles.

“Even if people doubted me, as soon as they want to jump on the bandwagon, sure, I’m like, ‘Sure jump right on!’ I want as many people as possible behind me because we’ve got to sell as many records as we can. I don’t want to go up against anybody. Ya gotta show love.”  Explaining his corporate philosophy, Braun said a positive attitude is one of the most important factors deciding to hire or retain staff. “Negativity can be contagious,” he said, advising “keep that shade off you.”

And when it comes to building contacts, he counseled “your network is not some mogul you’re trying to have a meeting with, your network is who you’re around. You build your network with your peers.” Braun’s sunny pragmatism casts its beam over the future of the music business. Asked how artists will make money in 10 or 20 years, he said, “there’ll always be a demand for music, because we engage with musicians in a way we don’t engage with anyone else. That’s why the biggest people on social media are, for the most part, musicians. Because we feel like we’ve known them, because they’ve given us the timeline to our lives.”

Assessing the various avenues for monetization of music, he is upbeat. “You look at the numbers with Spotify and Apple Music and everything else, and the revenue is slowly starting to replace what we’ve lost with records sold. The touring business is strong, and there’s a demand there. You’ll see touring evolve, with brand involvement, and different stuff. The festival business is growing. There’ll always be a demand for music. So you ask how do we make money in 20 years? I think a master is going to be worth something again. The number one driver will continue to be great records and the things that spring from great music.”

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