A Conversation with Crush Music’s Jonathan Daniel and Bob McLynn

Crush Music’s Jonathan Daniel and Bob McLynn launched their company as a management concern and have since added a label imprint; they do pretty much everything imaginable for their stable of acts, which includes Fall Out Boy, Sia, Weezer, Train, Panic! at the Disco and viral comer MAX, among others. Things are going swimmingly for JD, Bob and team, but appearing on this panic-inducing train wreck of a website may crush their moods.

Fall Out Boy seems like a good place to start, since they’ve had such huge success recently and are such a core part of your company.

Jonathan Daniel: Fall Out Boy built Crush; not only were they our first really big band, but they laid the groundwork for Panic! at the Disco, Gym Class Heroes and Cobra Starship all stemming from Pete’s label, Decaydance [now DCD2 Records]. They took these kids on tour, trained them on using social media to build a following and so on. Fall Out Boy is maybe the most important thing we’ve done or will ever do, because they built the foundation that Crush stands on today.

After their return from hiatus we needed to bring them back at full speed and it was an “all hands on deck” thing here. People always count Fall Out Boy out, but they shouldn’t.

Bob McLynn: They were gone for four years, so of course they should have a different sound, but they are still very much themselves. It’s not manufactured—it’s just Fall Out Boy in a new era. Now a whole new generation is finally getting “it” because the band is back on the radio across multiple genres and bigger than they’ve ever been.

Those guys always have big ideas for marketing and it’s a large part of their success. Our goal is to work with artists whose music we love and then come up with a plan together before we execute.

With [CMO] Dan Kruchkow, the whole marketing department and other managers, we’ve been very fortunate—they’ve all learned their lessons the hard way, just like we did. We built our company with like-minded people, and they’re all in it for the right reasons: because we love artists and we love music.

You had a huge breakout with Sia as an artist, when she’d lately only worked behind the scenes as a songwriter.

JD: We knew of Sia’s work before but she was more of an indie artist; at the time we didn’t know if she would fit here. The spark that sort of triggered it for us was that she said she wanted to write pop songs. When I asked her if she liked pop songs she said, “Well, I like Beyoncé and Eminem.” Anyone who has that level of ambition is our kind of person.

One of our first artists was Butch Walker, who’s an artist, but has also written a lot of pop songs, and we thought she could be our female Butch. That’s how it started. She got it in such an enormous way, it felt like she should make a record for herself—and it could be a sort of “Sia’s revenge album,” since she’d made so many records and not had the kind of success she’d wanted to have. We thought we could do a big pop record, but on her terms.

Bob: When we started with her she didn’t really want to tour much anymore; that’s when the writing for other artists started. She’s made a lot of money writing, and realized she could make a lot more sitting at home in her studio than going on tour. When we talked about the album she said she didn’t want to do the whole dog-and-pony show. We said, “Well, let’s not do that stuff—but let’s be upfront about it.”

So her anonymity became part of her brand.

Bob: It’s really become this larger-than-life thing; if she’d done it the traditional way it wouldn’t be as big as it is. People are really identifying with this mystery. All this social media is great, but some people are sharing too much.

JD: We’re sort of the people who say no for her, but it’s driven by her. I’d love to take credit for a lot of the marketing, but she’s a force and has her own vision. Artists trust us to get their records made and get things through the system, and we trust them to have an artistic vision.

You’ve been working on breaking the young artist MAX, who’s become something of a viral phenomenon.

JD: 10m+ Spotify streams, 10m+ YouTube views, overall he’s clocking over 30m plays of his song. It’s been a really great rollout for a kid; it’s his first time out in the real world.

Bob: We released his song “Gibberish” this spring and we’re already over 100k singles sold. We took a chance and decided to do this on our own terms via Crush Music label. While we love to experiment, we’re very aware success stems from finding the right partners – while Crush Music is management and label services, we have a marketing/distribution deal with RAL; Pete Wentz’s label, DCD2, is a huge strategic partner on working MAX, helping position him on the massive Boyz of Summer Fall Out Boy tour this summer.

His fanbase has really responded well to his headline tour and it’s paving the way. He’s gotten early radio support from SiriusXM Hits 1 and Radio Disney, and now we’ve had some terrestrial stations on board. We feel “Gibberish” is a hit for him but we’re taking it slow and building it the right way. He’s another one of those artists who sings, dances, and is a true performer. When you meet him you want to support him – that has been said to us time and time again about him from press, programming directors, venue promoters, and so on. The new Weezer single is off to a big start.

JD: And it’s such a crazy song! But that’s what’s great: great art is always about experimenting; you have to move forward. Rivers [Cuomo] is a beast – I’ve never met anyone who writes as much as he does. It’s great for us, because we push and he writes more. He doesn’t want to rest on playing The Blue Album and Pinkerton for the rest of his life.

Bob: If he were, we wouldn’t be interested in working with him. They’re a phenomenal band with a great catalog but it’s been a minute since they had one of those real hits. They’re playing to fans they’ve had for years but we’re focused on growing that base and finding new fans. We want a big hit that crosses over and helps them reach a new fanbase again. We’re very involved in the A&R process.

JD: I think if you polled our office, the #1 band they’re a fan of is Weezer. I’ve known Rivers for a while—Butch Walker produced and wrote with him on the last big record. Rivers is a fascinating guy, and we have a dialogue. He’s probably the most scientific of any artist I’ve ever met and he asks a lot of questions. When he started looking for a new manager we sat down and had a good back and forth. He was looking for someone to help A&R his records. The first day we started working with him he sent us a Dropbox with 235 songs! That’s what we want in an artist—wild ambition. It was just like that with Pat [Monahan] from Train, and that’s how we started working with them.

Even though he played you a huge number of songs, “Thank God for Girls” really stands out.

Bob: Yeah, it sounded like Weezer, but fresh and new—which is exactly what we were hoping for. We’re figuring out the timetable for an album. I’m sure there will be more surprises coming in the next couple of months. It’s a new era of Weezer.

How did the revitalization of Panic! at the Disco come about?

JD: We’re off to a good start; first single “Hallelujah” was Top 10 Alternative, and the second, “Victorious,” was #1 at iTunes in less than 24 hours—#1 is always good.

Bob: The band has continued to get bigger. They started 10 years ago and it was like a bat out of hell—they made the cover of Rolling Stone with their first album. From there they had some lineup changes and then they kinda went underground; the last three albums were really about their fan base. We got them back on the map at Alternative with “Miss Jackson,” which was a Top 10 hit. We think “Victorious” could be the song that crosses them over again. The base is bigger than ever—a lot of younger fans are just discovering the band now

JD: They’re the biggest unknown band in the world at this point. They do 5k-10k seats everywhere—and we mean everywhere, including Russia.

Speaking of artists who’ve been around for a bit and are on to new frontiers, let’s talk about Train.

Bob: They’re free agents for the first time in their careers; their Columbia deal is up, although we love those guys and are definitely talking to them about doing the next album.

[Frontman] Pat Monahan has always wanted to do a Christmas album but the timing wasn’t right with their studio albums having success at radio. But they just finished a cycle with a big shed tour and Pat was about to go write, so it seemed like a good time to do the Christmas album. We talked to Amazon, who are big supporters of Train and wanted to do something directly with the band. It’s been phenomenal in terms of the eyeballs they can put you in front of. You can’t really pay for what they do.

It’s so hard to break a new artist or even a new song from an established artist; you have to be strong in all areas, and that’s what we’re building.—Bob McLynn

JD: Train isn’t a band you’d expect to do something novel in this respect, but for us that was all the more reason to do it. Try something new with a band that people definitely know. They’ve been doing this for 20 years and have a huge following. Plus, Christmas and Amazon kinda go hand-in-hand.

Obviously you’re much more than a management company, and have been putting out records and handling a lot of tasks that are typically outside the sphere of managers.

Bob: We changed our name from Crush Management to Crush Music a few years ago. It’s all becoming one thing. Labels started doing 360 deals and taking pieces of touring and other revenue they hadn’t touched before, but for us it isn’t about new streams of revenue – it’s about doing more for our artists. As the business changes you have to get stronger and more competitive. It’s so hard to break a new artist or even a new song from an established artist; you have to be strong in all these areas and that’s what we’re building.

Tell us a bit about how you work on the marketing side.

Bob: We’ve always been marketing-driven; we started in 2002 and slowly added to our team. Dan Kruchkow came in about seven years ago and that was one of our first real marketing hires, and Dan’s built a fantastic team under him doing everything from social media to synchs to video. Gaby Fainsilber runs digital marketing, which is a cornerstone of Crush’s success. We have Brendan Walter in-house, who shot Fall Out Boy’s “Uma Thurman” video, which just won a VMA.

We feel like we’re the Bad News Bears, but we win like the Yankees.”– Jonathan Daniel

We always wanted to have our own radio department so we could have some autonomy, and Capone was our first guy who came in—he was the PD at 91X and is in our L.A. office. His forte is Modern Rock, but he works at other formats; he’s been integral at breaking Big Data and New Politics, and with the resurgence of Panic! and Fall Out Boy at Alternative. Erik Olesen was our next step; we broke Fall Out Boy at radio together when he was at IDJ. He was a great fit for the company; he started in May. It’s been huge to have these guys and Bridget Herrmann, who was at Octone and works for us out of Chicago. They all have their specialties, but they’re all quarterbacking.

We pretty much have a full-service marketing department and have more marketing people than some labels have.

JD: Evan Taubenfeld, who was Avril Lavigne’s musical director, joined us in A&R. That’s the first time we’ve had anyone but Bob and I doing that here. He’s also managing a few songwriters, because you always need more hit songs. One of them, Jonny Coffer, co-wrote that Beyoncé single, “Running,” and another, Ilsey Juber, co-wrote the Major Lazer single, “Powerful.” So he’s off to a good start. Patricia Joseph started here about a year ago running film and TV. She was responsible for a giant Pan campaign for Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness’ “Cecilia and the Satellite.”

The other managers at the company, Dustin Addis, David Russell, Alex Sarti, Rob Hitt, Scott Nagelberg and Jon Lullo are so important because they’re all an extension of us.

And you have a unified process, rather than relying primarily on people you don’t know as well who may or may not be able to get things done.

JD: Yes, but it works in conjunction with labels as well. We can do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of getting heat on a record and then have a label break it at Pop radio, and everybody wins. And it works when we’re doing things on our own, too.

It also works in terms of bands that had prior success and that you could guide into the next phase of their career.

Bob: One hundred percent.

JD: For the most part we do have artists who are self-contained. Our tastes lie in left-of-center pop, or what used to be known as Alternative. Our bands are DIY and want to work hard, so it makes sense for them to have people to work with.

No divas.

Bob: Oh, there are divas.

JD: Practical divas!

How would you describe the way you two work together?

JD: We’re a duo like Hall & Oates. [laughs] Bob’s really tall and I’m short. It’s wild, because we’re so different, we come from different kinds of music, but when we come together on music it’s a real magical force. When we both agree on a song, it’s a big song.

Bob: And on artists. When we’re on the same page on something we know we can fight the world.

JD: Our artists are ambitious and left-of-center—the underdogs. We feel like we’re the Bad News Bears, but we win like the Yankees.

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