Hey! This week’s memo is a bit longer so let’s get right to it.
We have a guest post from Polina Marinova Pompliano (The Profile) on music exec Troy Carter, a breakdown on Drake’s longevity, and why Death Row Records is potentially switching hands…again!
5 Lessons from Troy Carter’s Relentless Determination
I’m Polina, and I’m the founder and author of The Profile, a media company that profiles the most successful people and companies in the world.
Every Wednesday, I publish The Profile Dossier, a weekly deep-dive on a prominent individual that takes you on a journey from their greatest triumphs to their most gut-wrenching failures. Each Dossier documents the lessons they’ve learned along the way, and how you can implement them in your own life.
One person whose path to success has been neither linear nor straightforward is talent manager, entrepreneur, and investor Troy Carter.
Troy Carter grew up in West Philadelphia with a single mom. His father went to prison for murder when Carter was just 7 years old. Carter dropped out of high school to pursue a failed rap career, and he ended up as a local concert promoter for then-upstarts like Notorious B.I.G.
Through sheer persistence and grit, Carter landed an internship at Bad Boy Records, and later went to work with Will Smith’s business partner James Lassiter in Los Angeles. He was fired and sent back to Philadelphia, where he discovered a 19-year-old female rapper named Eve who was in need of a manager.
He helped Eve become a commercial success, but he made some mistakes along the way. Eventually, Eve fired him in 2007. The loss put him close to bankruptcy. His house was foreclosed upon, cars were repossessed, and he barely had enough cash for gas.
And then he met Stefani Germanotta.
She was wearing fishnet stockings and big sunglasses, but she had even bigger ambitions. After performing several songs, she cut to the chase, telling Carter: “I want to be the biggest star in the world.”
Germanotta had been recently dropped by Def Jam Records only four months after she signed with the label. But Carter recognized something in her no one else did — pure talent. He took her to Spaghetti Warehouse where they spent three hours talking about life, career, and music. She became his newest client.
It took Carter a full year to help get Germanotta’s song played on the radio. That song was, “Just Dance.” And just like that, Stefani Germanotta transformed into Lady Gaga.
Carter became known for spotting talent early — and not just in the music industry. As a serial entrepreneur and investor, Carter has invested in some of Silicon Valley’s hottest startups, including Uber, Lyft, Dropbox, Warby Parker, Spotify, Gimlet, and Slack.
Here’s what we can learn from Silicon Valley’s favorite talent manager:
1. Find your first 50 fans
Beyonce’s Beyhive. Taylor Swift’s Swifties. Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters.
These are all devoted cult-like fan communities. Carter and Lady Gaga were pioneers in that they developed a philosophy called “The First 50,” which referred to finding the first 50 most loyal fans.
Gaga first became popular in New York’s LGBTQ community, so she played four to five clubs a night to make sure that they felt connected to her on a personal level. The ties became stronger, and ultimately, her “superfan” base snowballed into hundreds of millions of fans around the world.
Even before she exploded in popularity, Gaga engaged with fans on social media, met them at her performances, and took their feedback. “For us, it’s about, ‘How do we build an authentic audience and grow it very, very organically?’ It’s slow bake versus the microwave,’” Carter says.
2. Create inflection points
The biggest myth about Lady Gaga’s career is that it was an overnight success.
Carter and Gaga spent a year convincing Canadian radio stations to play her song, “Just Dance” before he was able to convince a station in Buffalo, N.Y. to put it on air.
There was no single thing that put her on the map — it was just many small wins that led to her seemingly big breakthrough. “It was a series of inflection points,” he says. “It wasn’t one explosive thing that just happened. It was us planting seeds in every place.”
In the early days, momentum is critical.
3. Form a personal board of directors
You’re never too old or too successful to have a mentor. Carter has mentors across music, tech, and business. “My mentor will never ever tell me what I want to hear, even when I need it,” he says. “You know how sometimes you just need a bear hug? He won’t give me a bear hug. That’s why I could trust his advice because there’s no skin in the game.”
The key is finding people who aren’t intimately invested in your journey and can give rational, level-headed advice. “It’s always important to have a personal board of directors,” Carter says.
4. Remember that there is no shortcut to success
When Carter met Lady Gaga, he knew she would be successful because he saw her work ethic. He had seen that same work ethic in some of his favorite artists. Their capacity for work was unmatched.
Many people never even get close to their goals because they live in the theoretical — not the practical.
“If your job is to sweep floors, the only way those floors are going to get swept is if you put the broom on the ground. If your job is to code, you need fingers on the keys,” Carter says. “So whatever it is you do, you actually have to do the work. You can’t just talk about it. You can’t be philosophical about it. You have to get the physical work in.”
5. Use failure to propel yourself forward
Carter grew up in poverty with his mom often struggling to pay the electricity bill. But his grandmother always said: “You can’t fall off the floor.” When you start from nothing, there’s nowhere to go but up.
One of Carter’s mentors told him that you can use failure as a headwind or a tailwind. “Failure breeds fear, and fear paralyzes people, which makes you go into a downward spiral,” Carter says. “But how can you use that same exact energy to propel your forward?”
Even when you feel like you’re in a losing fight with life, Carter says, you’ve got to find the strength to throw that one last punch. Because that final punch may be your winning ticket.
When James Lassiter fired him, he found Eve. When Eve fired him, he found Gaga. When Gaga fired him, he found his love for tech investing. Remember, you can always bounce back.
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This guest post was written by Polina Marinova Pompliano from The Profile, a weekly newsletter that studies the world’s most successful people and companies. Sign up here to get it in your inbox this Sunday:
Drake’s Longevity and Why His Run Continues
Last week, Drake’s three-track release Scary Hours 2 EP held down the top three spots of the Billboard Hot 100. The Drake era is far from over.
It’s year 13 of Drake’s run. People have waited on Aubrey Graham to fall off. The Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne The God has an ongoing bit on Drake’s “decline.” Some of his takes have merit. For instance, when’s the last time anyone checked for Dark Lane Demo Tapes? But most of his takes sound like Fox Sports’ Skip Bayless reaching, reeeeeaching for ways to hate on LeBron James. The questions are always the same: Can Drake keep this up? Will he still be on top in five years?
In 2026 though, Drake has a better chance to dominate than most of the rappers out right now.
He took advantage of perfect timing. The 34-year-old rapper rose up at the perfect time: the height of the blog era, the start of streaming, and the tail end of monoculture in music.
Blog era: So Far Gone is one of the blog era’s most successful mixtapes. Drake gained a passionate base of influential rap fans who were early adopters. The OVO Sound blog also introduced millions to The Weeknd. It solidified Drake’s importance with millennial tastemakers, many of whom have even more influence in today’s culture.
Streaming: Drake had a strong presence on SoundCloud when the “SoundCloud rapper” era was at its peak. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, What a Time to Be Alive, and Views were all big factors in Apple Music’s early growth. And Scorpion got so much promotion on digital streaming providers that subscribers complained and got refunds. Drake and the DSPs have that Procter & Gamble – Walmart level dependency that is hard to come by.
Monoculture: Drake, much like Taylor Swift, rose to fame at the tail end of monoculture. Before social networks, media, and technology became what they are today. He was a household name before the landscape became more fragmented. It’s much harder for today’s rising stars today to reach the levels of fame that Drake has.
Adapt and attach. Drake hops on the latest trends and attaches himself to the hottest artist out. He toured with Future in 2016 when “March Madness” was still played everywhere. He toured with Migos when the group was at its peak popularity. He jumped on Travis Scott’s biggest song”Sicko Mode,” and now he has several songs with Lil’ Baby. The rising artists love to collab with Drake because they believe he gives them a stimulus package.
But how did that stimmy work out for BlocBoy JB? Or Majid Jordan? PartyNextDoor? When the “Hotling Bling” artist collabs with most other artists, Drake’s not stimulating their economies. It’s the other way around. Drake is the economy.
Drake’s seventh studio album, Certified Lover Boy, will drop later this year. It will be the biggest release of the year, by far. He can outsell any artist not named Taylor Swift, and it might stay that way for a while.
Death Row Records Getting Sold… Again?
Since Death Row Records filed for bankruptcy in 2006, the famed record label and its catalog have had quite the journey:
2008 – bought in auction for $24M by Global Music Group, but the deal fell through
2009 – bought in auction for $18M by WIDEawake Entertainment
2012 – WIDEawake’s parent co goes bankrupt. Needs to sell
2013 – bought by eOne for $280M
2019 – Hasbro buys eOne
2021 – Hasbro plans to sell eOne Music
Death Row Records is out here getting traded like Trevor Ariza. Maybe if Suge Knight was all in the video… dancing, then Death Row wouldn’t be in this position!
The bigger news though is the potential sale of eOne Music—one of the largest independent record labels and music companies whose catalog includes The Lumineers, Game, Chuck Berry, Ghostface Killa, Lil’ Kim, and many more.
eOne’s parent company, Hasbro, likely sees this as an opportunity to cash in on the music catalog shopping spree. Since the pandemic, tons of music catalogs have been sold because of low-interest rates, better consumption data in the streaming, the attractiveness of non-correlated assets, absence of touring.
In 2019, Hasbro, the toy company that brought us Mr. Potato Head, bought all of eOne—including its film, TV, music, and more, for $3.8 billion. It’s unclear how much eOne Music specifically was valued at the time of the sale, but it was likely much less than the $600 million that Hasbro now asks for.
A bidding war? Executives at both Hasbro and eOne are likely entertaining offers from various suitors who would love these catalogs. Investment funds like Hipgnosis and Vine Alternative Investments have bought these catalogs up. Meanwhile, traditional rights holders like Universal Music Publishing Group are trying to block the investment funds and buy the catalogs as well.
2021 has continued the frantic pace of catalog sales that we saw in 2020. This deal won’t be the last one we see.
Read more about Hasbro’s potential sale on eOne Music in Billboard.
podcast rewind: Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad (2020)
Last week I ran the April 2020 podcast episode with Dreamville President, Ib Hamad. Ib and I talked about how he and J. Cole built Dreamville, the impact of the Dollar & a Dream Tour, planning a music festival in a pandemic, and separating the Dreamville brand from Cole himself.
Tap in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else you get podcasts.
Coming soon from Trapital
- Podcast with Dame Ritter. The Music Entrepreneur Club and Funk Volume record label founder came back on the pod to discuss four myths about the current music industry, his experience managing musicians vs comedians, and more.
- Essay on Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. Next week! Get ready.
Told you today’s memo was longer. But it was still shorter than the Snyder Cut so I’m good.