By Andrew Hampp | October 17, 2014 8:00 AM EDT
Guy Oseary is unveiling the new Maverick: music’s biggest, most fiercely protected secret of the year, in which he’s rallying eight other top artist managers to partner with Live Nation and potentially reinvent a broken industry
Guy Oseary has proven, if nothing else, that he can keep a secret. From everyone -- the music industry, his colleagues, his clients, even his wife -- and for months now.
But the secret's so important, so game-changing in its scope, that it has given him the rare occasion to be in Los Angeles long enough to accommodate a four-hour-plus block of meetings, keeping at bay a schedule filled with the global itineraries that come with managing superstar acts like Madonna, U2 and Alicia Keys -- not to mention a tech fund with Ashton Kutcher and billionaire Ron Burkle, A-Grade Investments, that has more than 20 companies in its portfolio.
Today, Oseary, 42, has privately invited eight of his fellow music managers to his spacious, Spanish-style Beverly Hills mansion for a barbecue -- and the public reveal, to an awaiting Billboard writer and camera crew, of their first-ever joint meeting as Maverick, Oseary and Live Nation's most aggressive attempt to shake up an industry that has been plugging holes for years. None of the managers' own employees even know why their bosses will be off the grid on this humid October Tuesday.
Joining Oseary are Laffitte Management's Ron Laffitte, I Am Other's Caron Veazey, Blueprint Group's Gee Roberson and Cortez Bryant, Reign Deer's Larry Rudolph and Adam Leber, Quest Management's Scott Rodger and Spalding Entertainment's Clarence Spalding. Collectively, they manage more than two dozen of the planet's biggest artists. And as of Oct. 17, all nine will be joining their companies and rebranding them and their respective employees as "Maverick," a name Oseary's client Madonna gave the label she co-founded in 1992. (Oseary led A&R at the label -- at age 22 -- and became chairman/CEO before it folded in 2007.)
It's a watershed moment for the management community, which has never been about hand-holding and problem-solving. Maverick is convening experts in pop, rock, R&B/hip-hop and country to make an unprecedented bet on the role of live events and technology in music's future. (The managers' clients are just now learning of the new formation.) Leber believes they'll find opportunities "beyond music, such as tech or consumer goods."
For Maverick's principals, the deal couldn't come at a better time. Music's main money source is at its starkest, most irreversible crossroads in history: Record sales hit an all-time low for the Nielsen SoundScan era in August, and year-to-date unit sales have dropped 14 percent in 2014. And with record-label marketing budgets practically nonexistent these days, managers, whose standard fee remains 15 percent of earnings, have taken on chief marketing officer roles for their clients. Witness Apple's $100 million ad push in support of U2's new album, Songs of Innocence, which Oseary secured in place of an advance radio campaign. They're also overseeing tours, as the live sector hits all-time highs -- including this summer's biggest stadium boom in 20 years.
The business incentives for Maverick's nine founding partners, who will leverage their collective assets and skills to build business, are undeniable. They won't detail the financial arrangements among the managers, Maverick and Live Nation, but their creative cross-pollination is already on display. In July, Oseary and Laffitte teamed up to co-manage Alicia Keys, Laffitte is connecting Oseary with radio consultants for the next U2 single, and Roberson is consulting on Madonna's next album with Oseary.
And there are plans for expansion. SEFG founder Shawn Gee, manager of The Roots and Jill Scott, will bring extra R&B expertise to the group. "It's not a closed-door event. We want other like-minded people," says Oseary. His vast Rolodex is drawn from his separate Hollywood talent firm Untitled Entertainment, the must-attend Oscar parties he hosts at home and the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that populate his A-Grade portfolio. "He's one of the most connected people I've ever met," says Laffitte.
Oseary's tech savvy may cement the new unit's legacy. A-Grade is currently valued at $150 million, according to an industry source, and includes investments in Airbnb and Uber. Maverick's members will have a direct pipeline into those resources. Rodger, for example, has key clients (Paul McCartney, Arcade Fire) who own their catalogs and are poised for big moves in areas including copyright administration (A-Grade has investments in Spotify and SoundCloud, while Oseary has a personal investment in digital-rights firm INDmusic.) And Leber has been working with Sherpa Ventures, whose founder Shervin Pishevar helped fund Uber, Warby Parker and Tumblr.
Although declining to comment, Live Nation Entertainment president/CEO Michael Rapino surely hopes all this will help the company reassert itself as a powerhouse following the departure of chairman Irving Azoff at the end of 2012. (He took lucrative touring clients the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac with him.) The Maverick managers, including leader Oseary, will report to Rapino and Live Nation's Artist Nation management group, which houses more than 100 managers overseeing 250-plus acts like Maroon 5 and Kings of Leon. Oseary, Laffitte, Quest and Reign Deer already moved into Artist Nation's spacious new headquarters in Beverly Hills earlier this year, while Blueprint will maintain its New York office and Spalding will stay in Nashville.
Despite the streamlining potential, the Mavericks don't anticipate reductions in staff. Rodger says they'll boost head count: "Hiring a radio promotions team for one artist's album means they're not busy nine months of the year. We always wanted to have digital marketing in-house, because what happens when an artist is off-cycle and you have to fire everybody?" Maverick's not alone in making moves in the management space: Coran Capshaw's Red Light Management brings together 60 managers and more than 200 artists, with holdings in venues, branding, real estate and festivals that push the company's earnings past $100 million. And Azoff, having inked a $125 million deal with Madison Square Garden Media last fall, has been making aggressive acquisitions in comedy, EDM and branding talent, picking up No Doubt and Gwen Stefani as clients as well.
But with the mixed response to U2's free download deal with Apple surely fresh in his mind, Oseary says that "there are still a lot of people who are scared of innovation. There's still a group that's so quick to judge anyone trying [new things], and that's one of our handicaps in the music business. We could all do so much more if a bunch of us got in a room more often."