(From L to R: Philp, Katherine Stanton – U. of Miami, Amber Grimes – Sr. VP of Global Creative for the Capitol Music Group, Michelle Bourisquot – U. of Miami)

Music Biz went to Music Biz in the Music City last week.  Your Professor David Kirk Philp learned about mucho stuff and is now a better person because of that.  As Dr. Esteban Marcone was on assignment, many interviews were conducted with fancy people from the Capitol Music Group, ByteDance (or Tick Tock, as you may know it), Atlantic Records, the Sad Summer Music Festival, and more.

Big thanks to the folks at Music Biz who gave us a room and got college kids from around the country to help out.   And to those college kids who initially volunteered and then disappeared – you blew it!  

Keep an eye out this summer for our Music Biz in Music Biz Sessions Series.

Here’s what is on Professor David Kirk Philp’s mind at this moment.

Billie Eilish – What Can We Learn From Her Team?

Nobody can make it in the music business alone.  Sure, the SoundCloud rapper might upload his song, get that viral thing going, and find label A&R guys standing on his doorstep waving contracts in the air.  But the rapper needs a lawyer to go over the contract.  The rapper needs a manager to be the go-between in the A&R guy/rapper relationship.  The rapper eventually needs an agent to get the gigs and a merch company to design and manufacture the hats and lighters and black t-shirts. 

And let’s not forget the business manager to handle the money, because the manager could very well be a buddy and not Irving Azoff and the buddy could be seeing real money for the first time in his life and get hungry for more than the still-standard 15-20%.  And because it can get boring watching a rapper with no stage experience standing on stage spewing out the lyrics to the viral hit, maybe there are dancers.  And a stylist.  And a choreographer. 

And then there’s the need for a follow up.  The publisher sets the rapper up with some other hot names of the moment who take a chunk of the song, and maybe one of them is the beat-maker, unless our rapper is the beat-maker.  And then the A&R guy hooks up the rapper with three or four featured artists for the next three or four tracks and gets the rapper some features of his own.  And there’s the publicist.  And, of course, there could be “security” dudes who went to high school with our rapper and get on the payroll for doing something, not much, but enough to get a percentage.

That’s a team and how it can work.

Young Billie Elish is doing very well.  She’s the Lorde of 2019, scoring big hits and also receiving praise for her artistry and personal vision.

She wouldn’t be able to do all of this without a great team around her, starting with her brother.  In fact, without her brother and one risky email subject line, we possibly would have never heard of Billie Elish.

Billie’s brother is Finneas O’Connell.  Finneas is older (he’s almost 22; Billie is 17) and, well if you think 22 ain’t old, compared to 17 it can be a lifetime.  You can pack a lot of triumph and failure and heartache and “why not?” into a 5-year period, especially at that age.  In fact, I would argue that in 5 years, Billie Elish will either be the answer to a trivia question or one of the most respected writers/performers/artists/visionaries of the 2020s.

Anyway, the email.  Finneas wrote an email to a guy who is now Billie’s co-manager.  Only Finneas wasn’t writing on behalf of Billie.  He was writing on behalf of himself and his now-defunct band.  But how do you get the attention of a manager, of an agent, of anyone nowadays?  Madonna needs million-dollar holographs for us to talk about her.  If she was trying to make it today, would we care like we did in 1983?  I mean, she would be a Lady Gaga copycat, and being that Lady Gaga just stole headlines for her performance at last week’s Met Gala, would there be room for Madonna?  Is there even room for her now?  The lack of any closeups on her during the Billboard Awards and her “tour” of underplays tells me that the people around her are tempering expectations for her new music.  Considering she’s Madonna and a giant brand, albeit one with some rust on it, there’s always going to be interest. 

But if KISS can sell out 200 arena shows for the next year and a half catering to nostalgia because, we all know, only a small handful of people actually want to hear new KISS music, why can’t Madonna do the same?  She’s doing something very interesting.  Her tour starts with 7 shows at the BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) Opera House.  With a capacity of 2,098, that will be 14,686 tickets.  She grossed over $400 million with her 2008-2009 tour, most ever for a female artist.  You can’t argue that she’s been a draw.  But that was 10 years ago.  Do you think she could gross that today?  Is that the reason for the multiple-night intimate underplays?  Do you think she had to be sold very, very hard on that strategy?  Or is Fall, 2019 about underplays and Spring, 2020 about arenas and stadiums? 

There is a plan there and we don’t see it all yet.  As smart as Madonna is, she’s not doing this alone.  She has one of the best teams in the industry behind her, from her manager, Guy Oseary, to her promoter, Arthur Fogel (Tip: Watch the film Who The F**K Is Arthur Fogel on Amazon Prime – you have to rent it; it’s only available as a digital stream.)

Anyway, the email.  Billie Elish’s brother Finneas wanted to get in contact with a producer for his band, so he sent an email to Danny Rukasin, who was an artist manager.  The email began a friendship that developed into what must now be a very profitable business relationship.  Rukasin is Billie’s co-manager, along with Brandon Goodman.  Look at the picture below, which lays out the team:

That one, ballsy email has led to this.  A deal with IGA, which is part of the Universal Music Group, which is the largest label group in the world, valued at over $40 billion.  Paradigm is one of the top 6 agencies in the world and Tom Windish is one of the most famous and effective.  This team is the real deal.

Behind Billie Eilish: Meet The Managers Behind The Artist’s Global Success

What can we learn?  First lesson is to read the link above.  And read this too:

Why All Eyes Are on Billie Eilish, the New Model for Streaming Era Success

The stuff I’m laying out for you is available for you to figure out on your own, if you wanted.  Read those two articles, think for a bit, and you may come to some big conclusions.  So click the two articles and read.  Then come back to this.  I’ll be here.

You hopefully didn’t wuss out and you did your required reading.  Look again at the pic:

Our lessons. 

First, get a team.   That’s also tied with be unique.  Be fascinating.  Be awesome.  For those of you who are none of the above as an artist (hard pill to swallow but now is better than later) but you want to still be in music, search and you’ll find someone.  I can think of 4 or 5 NJ-based artists right now who are very special and could break through with the right team.  Find your favorite unsigned artist and work with them.  Become the first member of the team.  Educate yourself like crazy.  Then build from there.

One caveat (of probably many): This isn’t easy.  I manage unsigned artists.  You don’t hear them on SiriusXM or your favorite broadcast radio station (yet).  What the hell do I know?  But I’m trying.  And team building.  And educating myself like crazy.  So you have to put in the hours and the passion and the creative juices just to give yourselves a chance.  And that all takes time.  Do you have the stamina?  Does your artist?

The next lesson: Know who would do what on the team.  That’s partly through networking.  Who do you know?  If you’re just starting out, nobody expects you to suddenly become best friends with Michael Rapino (look him up).  But you can use LinkedIn, for example, to connect with a junior agent or a club owner or a local promoter.  You can start small and grow bigger.  But the key is to start.  LinkedIn.  Conferences.  Google.  You can find people and you can connect with them.  But you have to put in the time and you have to try.

An Important Lesson (in caps): IT WON’T JUST HAPPEN BECAUSE YOU WANT IT TO!!!

The next lesson:  Make mistakes.  Try things.  Think.  A lot of your outreach may be through an Instagram DM or an email.  You have maybe two seconds to break through.  If you’re trying to communicate with an influencer, remember SO IS EVERYBODY ELSE!!  What will you say that’s different?  What can you say that is important to them?  It might not matter.  You may not, and probably won’t, hear back.  But you might if you do it differently than everyone else.

Which brings us to another lesson – Think and Plan before you Do.

Every TV show, Netflix binge, Marvel movie is the result of planning, creative thinking, time, and many, many drafts.  You think your first try at a DM is perfect?  Why?  Because it’s easy to just write your first draft and let it go?  Seriously, have you ever thought of writing 3, 5, 9 different drafts of your DM, or your Email, or your Email Subject, before touching/clicking Send?  Did you ever think, ‘Hmm, maybe if I really think about this and then sleep on it and then come back tomorrow it will be better than what everyone else is doing’?  You should.  Why now?  Is your other way working?

Which brings us to the Finneas email I’ve alluded to multiple times before.  I don’t know if he thought it through.  Maybe he did.  Or maybe he was really tired and the subject just came out and he didn’t care.  He just clicked Send and assumed he’d never hear back.  And maybe that’s the way.  To not put any effort at all and just do it once.  Yup, I’m a contrarian to my own words.  But I did learn this lesson in college about getting a girlfriend.  I would try really hard to get a girl.  Of course, that never worked.  Then my friend, Mike, said one night, “You just gotta let it fall into your lap.”  We were not talking about exotic dancing and, you know, stuff like that.  He was saying, “Stop trying so hard.  Just let life happen.  You can’t force everything.”  Literally one week later, a girl asked me out.  I married that girl.  She’s in the other room right now, ignoring me.  But she still hasn’t dumped me, so maybe it was meant to be.

Finneas, at the point of his email, could have been exhausted.  A California kid, he might be stereotypically laid back and “whatever.”  Or he might be artsy (he writes Billie’s songs with her).  The email subject might have just come out of his brain, flowing like fresh water.  Anyway, he wanted to get in touch with a music producer named Eric Palmquist.  He got a hold of Danny Rukasin’s email address and sent out what would propel the careers of Rukasin, Finneas, Eilish, and Brandon Goodman, Rukasin’s partner, while adding cred and profits to Paradigm (and CODA overseas) and Universal.  The email subject?

“Eric Fucking Palmquist”

Do you have the guile or creativity to try that?  Your answer is the final lesson of the day.  Good luck to ya!


For full details about the Music & Entertainment Industries Program, including courses, the minor, and our MBA, click HERE.


For full details about the WPU Pop Music Studies Program, including courses and audition requirements, click HERE.


Professor David Philp is Assistant Professor Music & Entertainment Industries and Popular Music Studies at William Paterson University. He is the co-host of the only FREE advice college radio-based music & entertainment industry talk show in America, Music Biz 101 & More, which airs live most Wednesday nights and is available as a podcast HERE every night (days too).  Your favorite professor is also co-author (with Dr. Steve Marcone) of Managing Your Band – 6th Edition.  Reach him at PhilpD@wpunj.edu or find him on LinkedIn HERE.  The WPU Music & Entertainment Industries program is ranked one of the best by Billboard Magazine.  Don’t believe us?  Click HERE for truth!

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