Talking Biebs, Deals, Chemistry and Other Trending Topics With Scooter Braun

This year saw Scooter Braun pilot one of the most impressive turnaround stories in recent biz history, as Justin Bieber rebounded from once-huge star with a tarnished reputation to the biggest record and tour of his career. That was just one of Braun’s impressive recent achievements as an artist manager; he’s also guided Ariana Grande to ever-greater heights, helped steer Tori Kelly into the mainstream (with a huge Grammy look and nom) and righted the Kanye ship (including the biggest-ever non-athlete deal with Adidas). Now he’s taking EDM breakout (and #1 DJ in the world, per DJ Mag) Martin Garrix to the next level. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the multitasking entrepreneur behind SB Projects, whose management rollup sees him allied with The Creed Co. (Brandon Creed), Sandbox (Jason Owen) Morris Higham (Clint Higham) and OVO (Future the Prince); whose TV and film production projects include not only a hugely successful Bieber doc but the hit CBS series Scorpion; and whose ventures have included “disruptive” projects with Uber and Spotify, among others. Though after talking to us—on his way to the final presidential debate—he’d probably like to Scoot away as quickly as possible.

Because we’re in Grammy season, I thought we’d start by talking about Justin, who has had an amazing run; what’s your strategy, and what do you anticipate for him with respect to the Grammys?
I like to hope for the best. I think it’s very hard, sometimes, with an album that came out last November, for people to remember the significance of that album. I think that “Love Yourself” is one of the best records in a long time, period. I hope what he and Ed Sheeran and Benny Blanco did together is recognized by his peers.

My point of view on Justin’s album is very simple: It deserves all the accolades, and the reason is as follows: He was hated. There’s not a voter out there who was voting for Justin Bieber. Adele is phenomenal, but we all love Adele. Her latest album had 900k pre-orders before we even heard a song. It’s sacrilegious to say anything bad about Beyoncé; we love her. People didn’t love Justin Bieber. They trashed-talked him, despised him. Big executives who are supposed to be on his team told me his career was over. And his album changed all that, to the point where he’s had more number ones on his album than any of the other people we’re talking about, and sold more copies than anyone ever dreamed this album would do.

I think that when we’re judging on the Grammys, we’re supposed to judge based on the music. If we do, this album is undeniable because it made us love Justin Bieber again—a feat that everyone thought was impossible. People told me it’s impossible to make a teenage act that’s hated become an adult. Justin Bieber is at the height of his career; he’s bigger than he was before, based on Purpose, and I hope that people recognize that, put their feelings about him aside and judge him based on the music. I think everyone can agree this was a great album and it deserves the appreciation.

This record has seemed to disarm any reservations people might’ve had.
Yeah, and I think “Love Yourself” in particular is going to be a timeless record. Last year the Song of the Year was “Thinking Out Loud,” and Ed Sheeran just told me that “Love Yourself” worldwide has sold more copies than even “Thinking Out Loud.” He said it was the biggest-selling song of his career.

This album has converted so many people that I think Justin will become a name for a long time at the Grammys. But he hasn’t established himself in that way yet, and I hope that people give this album its just due and help him do that. This album deserves it.

“If Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga had gone through the hard times they went through in the past, their careers might have been over. The gatekeepers might have shut the door on them. But with their social-media reach, the power that they have directly with their fans, you could not silence them. It’s more authentic now.”

The story of the rehabilitation of his image is fascinating.
I think we have a very special relationship that’s deeper than just artist and manager. And we’ve always had a strong belief in each other, and we believe that when we’re on the same page—and for about a year and a half we weren’t—we can overcome anything together. That’s a family relationship.

Was there a moment you can point to now when you were back on the same page and that you were really turning the ship around?
I can’t go into the details, but it was the day he called me and said, “Can you come over?” We were in a very dark place with each other; I was struggling, and going to a lot of meetings trying to figure out how to help him. And something happened—he turned the corner and asked for help. The person who deserves the credit is Justin, because for a year and a half I failed in helping him. It wasn’t until he made the conscious decision, as a man, to change that things started to turn around. In that moment, having that conversation was where we turned the corner. That was over two years ago.

The first conversation we had, I said, “Look, the first six months is about getting you right; then we’ll go in on the professional side.” So for six months we worked so hard on helping him, and he worked so hard on helping himself. There was more and more chatter, more people wanting to take shots; we just had to kind of take them. Then we decided the roast was a way to take all the shots in one moment—we could handle it and let him speak for himself. And then we did “Carpool Karaoke,” and then we started coming with “Where Are Ü Now” and then “What Do You Mean?” We basically said, “OK, we get it.”

Let’s talk about some of these other artists. Ariana is on the cusp of another huge hit; can you retrace how things have worked between you?
We met when she was on Nickelodeon. We had two big #1 albums together. We made a third album together, and when we finished that album we were burned out. We were kind of at a point with each other—there were people in her personal life who were very toxic for our relationship. Those people are now gone, and six months passed and she called me, and we actually stayed close during those six months. There was a period of about a month where we weren’t close, and then we started to realize it was between us. She called me and said “Can we get together?” She said, “I don’t like how certain things have gone, and the chemistry that we have is what I want.” We hugged and that was it. I think that six-month period only made us stronger.

What’s the trajectory for her going forward?
Well she’s got a huge smash now; she can act, sing, dance and play. Look at the great talents who’ve stood the test of time. Her performance on SNL really shows the breadth of what she can do. So I think the sky’s the limit for her, because she really is a special, special talent. We’re already working on new music and reading a bunch of scripts, and I think the next phase for her is continuing to put out great records while expanding upon her acting abilities and potential to produce as well.

Kanye is another instance where things seem to be on the upswing.
Yes, the biggest tour of his career. And this album is incredible. I have an incredible partnership. Izzy Zivkovic, who co-manages Kanye with me, is one of the best—his demeanor and mine work very, very well together, and Kanye really is a genius. I’ve never met anyone like him. And I’ve never been pushed the way Kanye pushes me. It’s really been an honor.


When you came aboard, what did you see as the biggest challenge?
When I came in, he had tweeted that he was looking for help, that he was $56 million in debt—and it was real. We were friends and started talking; at first I was very apprehensive to join. I said, “No, I’d rather be friends,” and he said, “No, you need to do this.” He just made me do it. The challenge was restructuring everything and putting it out properly. I think he had the yin with his image and he needed the yang. This has been an incredible year for him, and it’s just continuing. And I’m really, really proud to be part of someone’s journey that I’ve admired for so long.

It’s such an unconventional career in so many ways.
I think [“Father Stretch My Hands”] is his first big radio hit in a long time, and this is the biggest tour of his career. What we’re doing with Adidas is incredible. What he’s doing with the Yeezy brand is incredible. We have a really good chemistry between the three of us, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.

Someone just sent me a list of the most influential people in the shoe industry today, and Kanye’s on the list [laughs].


As one of the least influential people in shoes, I can appreciate that. Let’s talk about Martin Garrix. How does working with a DJ change the way that you as a manager approach the big picture?
You’ve got to read the marketplace—is it more about live records, and making sure touring is right, and making sure that you’re feeding the fan base in a different way? I really give a lot of credit to Michael George, a manager in our company, who works on Martin day-to-day with me. He just has an incredible philosophy and is so talented and charismatic. I think a lot of our success is also due to the fact that that the [EDM] world is very much about respect. And Martin got a lot of fame very, very early with us. We found him when he was 17, and then at 18 he blew up with “Animals.” We represent people in that world from David Guetta to Steve Angello. They say they love Martin because he does his homework and respects the guys who came before him, and what they built for him. And I think that has a lot to do with his success, along with the fact that he has incredible energy, makes great records and is a great producer.

When you talk about feeding the fan base in a different way, what’s involved with that?
We have a big radio record right now, but at the same time we’re releasing seven songs, one every day this week while he’s at ADE. We’re feeding the fan base on one side, while we feed mainstream radio on the other. It’s similar to hip-hop—someone will put out a mixtape while they’ve got a record at radio.

Let’s take a second to talk about Tori Kelly.
Tori is primed for greatness right now. When the last album came out, no one expected anything; she did 78k the first week, which shocked everybody. And that was before she had ever gone out on a real tour. Now she’s done two major tours, selling out Brixton in London, selling out the Greek in L.A. I mean, she’s doing 6,000 tickets a night and she’s never had a huge, huge hit. So I think what’s really exciting is that this fan base is just dying for her, and we just got a chance to do the movie Sing, which comes out from Illumination on Dec. 21. And she’s the star of the movie, with Seth MacFarlane, Reese Witherspoon, and Scarlett Johansson, and she just shines. It’s an animated film and she plays this shy elephant in this singing competition; she sings a bunch of songs and plays this character, and she’s just phenomenal. The film, I think, is going to be a huge success.

She’s going to grow the fan base even more. I just think that she’s one of the most special voices I’ve ever met, and I’m really, really excited. And we have a bunch of new acts coming up that I’m really excited about.

Say a little bit about SB Projects and having Mike Chester on board, among others.
Bringing in Mike Chester was an amazing addition. Not only because he adds over a decade of experience in the promotion world, and I think when you ask around who is the next generation, his name is at the top of that list. But it’s more—his personality fit with our company and beyond. Our people like to hang out in their off time as much as they do at the office; they’re all really good friends. And Mike is somebody who walks in the office, and you just smile. He’s just a really good dude.

And that demeanor and how he carries himself, I feel has only taken our company to the next level. Same thing with James Shin, who we just hired, who was previously at Sony Pictures; he’s helping in our TV and film department, which we’re growing. We have a head of design, a head of video; we’re full service. I’m very, very proud of the people that work there, they’re really smart, they’re really young and they pushed me, [GM] Allison Kaye and [COO] Scott Manson to another level.


How does Mike function at the company?
People in this world know they’ve gotta deal directly with us because we clear the artist. And we have no agenda; we’re not worried about marketshare; we’re worried about our artist. Combining Mike’s talents with our agenda; with the expertise of guys like Rick Sackheim, Charlie Walk and others. We’re seeing a tremendous amount of success, because you can’t have enough smart people in one room.

Who else on the SB team would you single out?
The whole team’s incredible. The company would not run without Allison Kaye, period. My success is as much due to Allison as anything else, ever. Without her it does not work. Everything that I’m not good at, Allison handles. My success, the accolades, everything else are not deserved without Allison. She is my first employee, she’s known me the longest, and she is by far the most talented person I’ve met in this industry, period.

Let’s talk about the larger management play, and how you see that developing.
I think we help each other out, I think you’ve seen at times Ariana Grande performing on stage with [Jason Owen-managed] Little Big Town. You know the support that Future [the Prince], Drake and I show each other. It’s just about like-minded people coming together and being supportive of each other. We’re all entrepreneurs, we all run our own businesses, but it’s good to have a support system to make sure that we’re able to bring the best to each one of our teams.

“I think a while ago a guy like me would have wanted a label job. And
today’s marketplace I’m not really interested in working with a label.”

And presumably even though you have a ton of leverage individually, you have that much more collectively.
Correct. We’re just stronger together. I’ve probably done more press than any other manager alive, but I only do it when I feel like it’s strategic to our goals. I actually don’t talk about most things, because I don’t think it’s strategic to talk about everything. You should only talk when it moves the needle.

Speaking of where the needle is in the more macro sense, it’s clear that artists and managers wield much more power in the present paradigm compared to even a short while ago.
I think a while ago a guy like me would have wanted a label job. And in today’s marketplace I’m not really interested in working with a label. I think the ambitious entrepreneurs of the past took the label jobs because that’s where they wanted to build, and entrepreneurs of today want to build independently of the labels. And they don’t mind having great partnerships with the labels. I think that’s where you’re seeing the shift go. Before you’d put out one single and you could go platinum on an album—the money was just pouring in. And now we have to adapt, to change; the industry just doesn’t work like that anymore. So with that change in the business, you’ve got to be smarter. I used to jokingly tell my mentors, “Excuse me, but man, you got in at the wrong time.” To me, the challenge has been what it’s always been about: not enough money. I feel like the business is more challenging today than it’s ever been, and that’s exciting.

Even the definition of what a label is has changed pretty radically.
Yup. And I think it’s only going to change more in the next five to 10 years. I also want to change the paradigm of what it is to be an entertainment executive. I can’t tell you how many times after my career started to take off, people met me and expected a douchebag, some guy who was into the fast life. And trust me, I was a promoter; I know all about the fast life. But it’s never been my thing. What I want to show is that you can be successful in the entertainment industry and still be a good husband and father. I want that to be in the forefront, because I find it unfortunate that you look at guys like Richard Branson, who came from the music industry, is one of the greatest entrepreneurs ever, and we know him as this adventurer-playboy. Yet Richard Branson actually has been faithful to his wife for over 30 years and has amazing relationships with his two kids. With the use of social media and everything else, I’d like to show more of that part of my life, so that people can come into this business and not think that you have to turn into some kind of deviant to be successful.

The fans don’t need the traditional media as an intermediary.
I’ll put it this way: If Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga had gone through the hard times that they went through in the past, their careers might have been over. The gatekeepers might have shut the door on them. But with their social-media reach, the power that they have directly with their fans, you could not silence them. It’s more authentic now.

Entertainment companies now have to prove their worth, since artists can go directly to fans.
Absolutely. They’ve got to step their game up like the rest of us.

Let’s discuss Uber and some of your social-media enterprise.
You can help some companies move the needle, like Spotify, and you can be supportive and really helpful. Sometimes you just need an amazing entrepreneur like Travis Kalanick at Uber. You’re thinking to yourself, “This guy will never quit until he’s successful,” and I got to make that bet immediately. I always like to think of myself as an entrepreneur, and I was lucky enough to go into music first. I’m 35 years old, so I like to see where things will take me; I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of some really great companies, investment-wise, because of my curiosity—and the good fortune to have really good friends who are willing to share ideas and opportunities with me. For a long time, I had to find the opportunities, but I think if you carry yourself well and you’re a good person, opportunities will start to show for you.

Bringing it back to the tech sphere, are there developments that you feel are on the horizon in terms of influencing the music marketplace in new ways?
Yeah, I think there are a couple new ones. I never like to speak about it until it happens. I remember when I was on the [Forbes] “30 under 30,” I was 27, and there was this 24-year-old guy on the list with me. No one knew who he was. I called everyone on the list and introduced myself. I thought, “These are my peers, and we should know each other.” His name was Daniel Ek. We became friends and to see what he has done, now leading the marketplace, is really incredible. That’s my point: If you’re looking for the next Spotify, look at your friends. Look at the guy next to you who’s grinding. Because one of those guys is going to be [the next] Daniel Ek.

Let’s get into the merch, sponsorships and other initiatives that you’ve been hooking up. What do you think is paramount when considering one of those kinds of relationships?
When you’re doing a deal outside of your own business, you’re looking to further your reach—can they take it to another level? I think that’s a big part of the Adidas deal; that company has synergy with Kanye’s deal to take that business to a different level. When you’re looking at our merch business, whether it be what Kanye’s doing with The Life of Pablo or what Justin’s done with the Purpose tour merch, they’re both substantial businesses; that’s about making sure that you’re making quality products first, and you’re servicing the fans. Right now, as we’re speaking, Martin Garrix is doing a pop-up shop in Amsterdam with his merch, and there are about 2,000 people in a line down the block.

Thanks for taking the time to talk.
OK, I'll give you my last quote: "I'm with her."