September 8, 2015
Adam Alpert was brought in by Sony Music's Doug Morris last year as CEO of his own Disruptor Records and Disruptor Management (he also has a music publishing company, Selector Songs, at Sony/ATV) after a successful career as a club promoter. He helped The Butter Group open 1 OAK in New York and Las Vegas), managed DJs and producers (4AM) and the discovered The Chainsmokers of #SELFIE fame. The son of interior decorators who loved to entertain, Alpert learned how to throw a great party early on - and put that skill to good use after short-circuiting his plan to become a doctor as a pre-med student at Univ. of Pennsylvania. A true believer in the dance music ethos of super-serving your fan base he learned from the hospitality business, Alpert is committed to providing all the benefits of a boutique and a major music conglomerate, with a fervent belief in creating a fan base that will follow -- and have an emotional commitment to -- his artists' journey. And while his success has mostly been in the electronic music world, Alpert is confident his approach can work "in every genre... which are all blending together anyway."
Did you have any idea that you'd end up at a record label? You were always about building communities.
Looking back, going from throwing parties in New York to working in restaurants to running night clubs to managing DJs, then managing record producers, and finally, working at a music company, it seems pretty logical, but I didn't know it along the way. I have always had a deep passion for music and that's what it's about for me.
A year ago, the idea was for you to bring what you learned from the dance music world about social media and breaking artists to the major label sphere. How has that been working?
This endeavor hasn't been about figuring out whether it could be done, but actually doing it. We've signed several acts and implemented different strategies for those artists and songwriters. What we've stayed true to in all three of our separate companies is to approach the artists from a manager's perspective -- whether we're technically their managers or they're being managed by someone else. We work with them 24 hours a day on all aspects of their career. It's completely blended. We become part of their lives.
It's all about providing your artists with the resources of a major label and the concentrated attention of a boutique.
We call it an indie mentality with all the benefits of a major label. We have full transparency with our artists. We come up with strategies that are as much our ideas as they are theirs. And then we put that into place. The main thing we try to get them to focus on is fan acquisition. It just means connecting.
It's about the depth of that commitment, the stake the fan feels in the artist's music and career?
When the modern-day music fan connects with an artist's music, and with the artist, they don't want to idolize them, they want to be on the journey with them. We have two artists signed to the management company in The Chainsmokers, whom I started with, and another group called The Lost Kings. The Chainsmokers are producers/DJs in their live show, but they mostly make pop music. The label mostly skews pop as well.
How do you go about creating that kind of bond between band and fan?
The first and easiest way is to respond to every one who reaches out and talks to you. That's just the least you can do. We try to go the extra mile and create opportunities to communicate, beyond the traditional meet-and-greet, something fun to do with their fans. Go to the best chili place in town. Or have a hot dog-eating contest. Play video games with them. Taylor Swift invited groups of 40-50 fans to come to her house and listen to her new album in the living room. These modern lines of communication have enabled the artists to be more easily acceptable as real people. I don't want to work with artists who don't agree with that type of attitude.
What's happening on the record label side?
We're doing something quite different with The Chainsmokers. They have been touring for the last two years without coming off the road. During that time, they've recorded a lot of music. For a producer/DJ act like them, which is constantly touring, they're not like a regular rock band on a cycle who put out an album every year or so. The dance music fan consumes music and content on a daily basis. They're online all the time, discovering new music, going to festivals. And we want to be able to deliver that to them. We decided to release a song every single month. That type of thing might be frowned upon by traditional record company strategy. Which one do you go to radio with? Will one release bump into the next, and so on. At Disruptor, we want to build the artist, including all aspects of their career as well as all revenue streams. We decided there were three types of Chainsmokers fans - the band's core fans, dance music fans and everybody else. The first people we wanted to deliver for were fans of the Chainsmokers. We are now three months and three songs in, and the fans are loving it. We want people to consume that music in whichever way they prefer. Specific songs are selling extraordinarily well. We've already targeted a song for the radio campaign.
So you seed the marketplace, gauge the results, before putting the Sony apparatus into gear?
Exactly. Each artist dictates its own approach. We want to maximize that touring revenue, but it's the music that sets the whole thing in motion. It's not just about 360 record deals; it's about actually helping those artists do well in those different revenue areas, not just taking from them. It's going to take a few minutes before streaming revenue makes the industry healthy again.
What are some of your other signings?
We just brought in Life of Dillon, a three-piece British band I found in London, who play very happy, upbeat pop ... they call themselves "acoustic house." It's got a little bit of tropical, a little bit Country. We've decided to partner up with Epic Records. When he heard it, L.A. Reid right away wanted to work with us. The EP just came out. The first single did really well, and we're just starting to work their second single. They're on tour with Meghan Trainor this summer. They just did The Late, Late Show with James Corden.
On the publishing side, aside from Life of Dillon, we've signed four singer-songwriters, one each from New York, Canada and two from Sweden. We've been doing a ton of A&R, putting people together, setting up co-writes, which is fun for me, personally. Seeing a song come together is very rewarding. In the end, we're just signing stuff we think is cool, which makes us smile and want to get behind.
How have you found working within Sony Music?
I love it. What surprised me was the amazing camaraderie within the entire building. It's a real positive place. I have not found a single person I haven't liked. Everybody is very helpful, wants to win, wants to make great music, wants to see other people succeed and is always willing to lend a helping hand. Radio promotion people from the other labels call to strategize. Even the business affairs people. It can be anyone, from Joe Riccitelli to Ashley Newton. It feels like a family and that attitude all comes from Doug [Morris]. And he's treated me the same way. I feel lucky to be joining this great music company just as the industry is making this huge transition
What have you learned from Doug Morris?
He cares more about the music itself than anything else. Another thing he's taught me is how to treat people. On the music side of things, he brings it back to the fundamentals. If a song's being played on the radio and people aren't buying it, it's not a hit. You'd be surprised how many people don't abide by that.
Will we see more electronic dance music formats at terrestrial radio in the future?
EDM is a rather broad term, a word people don't like. For me, dance music is pop music. Say EDM to somebody, and they think dub-step, techno, house or drum and bass ... What's known as progressive house music is mainstream pop, and there is a huge place for that on radio. BPM and Chill on SiriusXM are great stations. There are just so many different ways to consume music. I love my iHeartRadio app. I can listen to any station in any city. I'll listen to The River in Nashville while I'm in New York. Terrestrial radio has that local human connection like no other medium. It's about personalities.