MBW’s World’s Greatest Managers series profiles the best artist managers in the global business. This time, two years on from our last tell-all chat, we catch up with Dre London, manager of Post Malone, whose just collected three 2021 Grammy nominations: Album Of The Year for Hollywood’s Bleeding, plus Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year for Circles. World’s Greatest Managers is supported by Centtrip, a specialist in intelligent treasury, payments and foreign exchange – created with the music industry and its needs in mind.
If you know Dre London, or have even just taken a cursory glance at his Insta down the years, you’ll know he’s rather accustomed to a certain existence. The booze, the smokes, the parties. Living the life.
But at the start of COVID lockdown, the booze, the smokes, and definitely the parties, suddenly dried up. London was left at home in Los Angeles, pondering his near-term future. “When COVID started, I was about to get lazy,” he admits. “I was about to sit at home for hours a day, watching the news like everyone else, bing-eating bullshit.”
London could have been forgiven for doing exactly that, considering that his star management client, Post Malone, is having an absolutely huge year… without really needing to try. (Post’s just been nominated for three 2021 Grammys, while his record-breaking 2019 hit Circles recently surpassed 60 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.)
Instead, London started jogging, and then switched to a strict keto diet. He credits this decision, in a very direct way, with giving him bags of energy over the past six months.
He’s needed it.
2020 has been a transformative year for British-born London, and his company London Entertainment. With no shows to play, no studios to visit, and no boozy soirees to put a dent in, he’s turned his attention and energy to a raft of new entrepreneurial endeavors.
The most successful of these non-music undertakings has been Maison No.9, the rosé wine brand launched by London and Post Malone (in conjunction with Global Brand Equities) early in the summer. London says the tipple has become the fastest-selling new wine in the USA.
It’s definitely been well-received: a quick glance at wine buff website Vivino shows that Maison No.9’s 2019 vintage currently carries an average review of 4.2/5 stars.
It also led to the gratifying image of Post Malone, aka Austin Post, adorning the cover of Food & Beverage magazine during its June launch month, replete with inked hand and face markings, and a debonair suit.
Other launches from London Entertainment this year have included TygaBites, a delivery-only restaurant chain from Rack City and Taste hitmaker (and Dre London client) Tyga. Delivering “delicious, oven-baked, boneless chicken bites” across the US via the likes of Uber Eats, London says that TygaBites has been “one of the big successes of COVID lockdown”.
London and Post Malone know a couple of things about livestreaming, of course, having hosted Post’s hugely popular online Nirvana tribute concert in April, which raised over $500,000 for the United Nations COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, while winning praise from Dave Grohl and Courtney Love. (Speaking of Post Malone’s charitable nature, in April the artist straight-up gave $1 million of his own money to various good causes, just because, with recipients chosen by his fans via the Community app.)
Here, MBW chats with London about why his various non-music successes in 2020 are rooted in what he’s learned in music – and why the entertainment business will never be the same again…
How has the pandemic changed your approach to business?
Things have changed a lot. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial, and maneuvered around the idea of: ‘Anything can happen, so be prepared for the unexpected.’ But I was never prepared for this.
One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re recession proof, and you build your business on the principle of being recession proof, when the opportunity comes, it’s like athletics: ‘On your marks, get set, go!’
“We figured: what were people doing more than ever during this time? Drinking.”
Me and Post launched Maison No.9 wine at a time when people thought that it was crazy to launch any products. But we figured: what were people doing more than ever during this time? Drinking.
Also everyone’s attention was in their phones, in the digital world, so it was actually the perfect time to [make a splash] with a new wine, while spending less on marketing.
Did you apply some of the marketing techniques you’ve learned in music to Maison No.9? It has over 160,000 followers on Instagram, which is unexpected for a wine brand.
That’s exactly what we did. People told us that we might be stuck with cases if we failed! But we didn’t get stuck with nothing; we came out the gate and sold 50,000 bottles in pre-order in the first two days. That’s insane. That doesn’t happen with wine.
We also turned a younger generation onto what’s traditionally the [preserve of] aristocrats. Everyone knows wine experts are snobby. We went to the south of France, to the chateau, and the people there were staring at me and Post – it wasn’t what they expected.
“Bro, you have a white guy with tattoos on his face walking around with a black guy through these vineyards in the south of France. Those people, looking at us with their noses turned up.”
Bro, you have a white guy with tattoos on his face walking around with a black guy through these vineyards in the south of France. Those people, looking at us with their noses turned up.
Well, now we’ve turned the wine industry on its head. We’re the fastest growing wine in America. And our [online] following is crazy; a wine company that sold for over $500m has like 60,000 followers [Whispering Angel, whose parent was majority-acquired by LVMH for an undisclosed fee in 2019].
Now they have to look over their shoulder at a brand that launched under a year ago.
What led to you and Post making wine in the first place? I mean, I know you both like a drink. That makes sense. But what else?
It was literally that! Post kept spending this money on expensive wine. And I’m telling him, bro, this is made of grapes!
Post and Mark Wahlberg kept spending all this big money on wine, 20 grand, 30 grand. I couldn’t understand it. So we started looking into this wine game, trying to get our heads around it.
“Post kept spending this big money on expensive wine. And I’m telling him, bro, this is made of grapes!”
And then we said: ‘If we’re going to be into this wine lifestyle, let’s really delve into it. Let’s go to the south of France.’
So we went out to Saint-Tropez, Provence, just learning. We didn’t want to just attach Post to someone else’s wine. It couldn’t work like that. We had to create something from scratch.
What do you mean ‘it couldn’t work like that’?
Every single thing we do has to be a natural extension of what’s going on anyway. It’s the same with the Nirvana livestream: that represented a real part of what Post’s about.
I heard Howard Stern was talking about it and I was thinking, argh!, because when Howard Stern talks about you it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. But he was telling middle America that he thought this kid was some hype artist, but that he went into his world for the first time through the Nirvana concert and couldn’t believe how much of a natural Post was, how good he is on the guitar, his voice.
We wanted to make that experience a real one. So it was like, ‘Okay Post. Let’s do this in your living room, by your bar.’ Post wants everything he does to be genuine.
The other part of that was Post [and the band] rehearsed before it like it was a proper show. It wasn’t just thrown together. So when it comes across, you’re looking at something really real, but also really good. You’re able to watch a real performer enjoying performing.
It’s had nearly 15 million play-back views on YouTube now. What did you learn from the sheer scale of it?
Way before COVID, last year, I had this idea around pay-per-view: Post is performing in all these big arenas, but what if he was to play the Roxy on Sunset, but his fans around the world could watch it? Then everything this year started happening, and we were like, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got to speed up this idea.’
The result of that is AUX Live, which is us trying to create the Netflix of live entertainment. We now have over 170 titles ready to go, a network of live shows, and we’re approaching other artists and other types of artists, like comedians, about being on there. Using the experience we had with the [Nirvana] show, we’re able to promote and produce other shows, non-stop.
“Over a million people watched Post’s Nirvana tribute show live; over 250,000 watched it consecutively without dropping off. So I’m thinking: Hold on a second… let’s do the math.”
The idea for AUX Live is that you can access live shows via PPV, but also pay to subscribe to access [the catalog].
Over a million people watched the Nirvana tribute show live; over 250,000 watched it consecutively without dropping off. So I’m thinking: Hold on a second… let’s do the math here.
Do you think that PPV livestreaming as a business model is here to stay? That it’s going to be additive to the music business when live shows for real have returned?
Yes – the game has changed. At least it has for those who want to move and shake.
I decided very quickly this year that I wasn’t going to just sit down and let problems in the world change the momentum of my artists. They’re not dropping the ball, so why should I?
We had to keep bouncing, finding other other revenue streams, other things that were attached to each artist that made sense.
One of those things is TygaBites.
It’s the first celeb-based [restaurant] franchise operating across the US. We’re basically selling franchises across the country to people with kitchens.
That meant, during the pandemic, we helped the restaurant business using [Tyga’s] brand power. We took Tyga’s celebrity background, what he does in music, applied it to people at home wanting to order take-out, and put those things together.
“TygaBites is genius.”
TygaBites is genius. For us, it’s kind of like merch, though obviously it’s food – but it enables people to touch a piece of what their favorite artist is doing. And at the same time, have good nuggets and and ‘tater tots.
TygaBites has been one of the big successes of COVID – huge.
You’ve also launched Kruel London shoes, and you and Post have recently started a CELEBRITY BEER PONG LEAGUE WITH INSTAGRAM. At what point do you stop being an ‘artist manager’ and become what Forbes might call ‘a multi-vertical entrepreneur’?
If you look at my Instagram, it doesn’t say ‘music manager’ – it says ‘entrepreneur’. When I wake up on Monday morning, immediately,
“This kind of a year shows who’s really working for [their artists]: who the real players are, and who’s just watching time go by.”
I’m working on big deals. 2020 has made me more hungry, and more focused. This kind of a year shows who’s really working for [their artists]: who the real players are, and who’s just watching time go by.
Do you think these endeavors, particularly Maison No.9, have been good for Post’s headspace? As in, they don’t only distract from the madness in the world right now, but also mean that you’re not on that music industry album/tour/promotion treadmill?
Bro, it’s been crazy. Post is working on music in a space he’s never been able to before. Prior to [lockdown], he’d been on the road for five years. I didn’t want to hide that from him, but in my head, I had started thinking a lot about the amount of time he was spending on the road versus the time he needed for himself, and to make big hits.
“He’s literally looking at flyers for his shows, making sure he likes them. Do you know how long it’s been since Post looked at a flyer?!”
So in a way this year has been a forced blessing, providing a break without him needing to schedule that in. This is the first time for a long time I’ve heard him say: ‘I can’t wait to perform!’ He’s literally looking at flyers for his shows, making sure he likes them. Do you know how long it’s been since Post looked at a flyer?! This period has made us appreciate the things we already did, but it’s also made us more hungry.
We’ve talked before about the artist vs. label power dynamic. I was wondering what you made of Kanye tweeting his record contracts, and his clamoring to alter record deals that were struck a long time ago.
It made me think about how deals can come back to haunt you unless you get it right first time. And it made me think about how the American music business has dealt with African American [artists] over time.
I was on a call recently, hearing people saying: ‘Do you know how many black artists don’t understand royalties? Or can afford to audit a label?’ Most artists do not recoup from their first record deal. We’re lucky to be in a position to have artists that have [recouped], so I’ve seen the other side of the story.
“Most artists do not recoup from their first record deal.”
In terms of master ownership, today labels need to start telling [artists] like, okay, let’s partner on your masters, have that kind of conversation rather than anyone ending up being the evil guys.
Because when it all falls apart, it doesn’t matter what color you are or where you come from, it all comes down to two words: bad business.
I get where Kanye’s coming from; I’m not saying I agree with everything he says, but I totally understand.
If there was a young manager out there walking into his or her first label deal, what advice would you give them?
Before doing any kind of deal, do a 360 – and I don’t mean a 360 deal. I mean look around, 360 degrees, and understand your worth. How much do you need them, and how much do they need you?
And then start thinking about how much ownership you’ll be walking out with once you sign that piece of paper. Because that’s the only real way you’re going to own your future. That’s not just record label deals, it’s brand deals too. Look at Diddy with Ciroc; no one had even heard of that brand until he flipped it on its head.
“You can’t just sit back and let your label head market your music, with you having nothing to do with it, and then, when it’s out, wonder why it has the wrong perception amongst the audience.”
You can’t just sit back and let your label head market your music, with you having nothing to do with it, and then, when it’s out, wonder why it has the wrong perception amongst the audience. Having ownership means being part of everything from the beginning.
We have DreVision Media [at London Entertainment] now, where we’re doing our own TV, our own movies, and we’re going to be selling them to Netflix, Apple, Amazon etc. We’ve taken that into our own hands, and moved into ownership. I don’t want to let too much out of the bag, but there’s so much going on.
Have you taken on outside investment for that kind of thing, or are you reinvesting the money you’ve made through Post etc?
I’m someone who’s always invested in what I believe in. I’ve always invested my own money into my own ideas – why do I need to go to somebody else? For them to take pieces from me? I’d rather take my own risks.
When Post had his shows in the beginning, it was the same thing. People might have thought, ‘Dre, you’re investing into this business, then Post is collecting the show money and you’re taking a small percentage; you’re literally investing more than you’re getting back.’ But now it’s paid off. So why would I change that model?
A specialist in intelligent treasury, payments and foreign exchange, Centtrip works with over 500 global artists helping them and their crew maximise their income and reduce touring costs with its award-winning multi-currency card and market-leading exchange rates. Centtrip also offers record labels, promoters, collection societies and publishers a more cost-effective way to send payments across the globe.Music Business Worldwide