This is a company that generated a multimillion-dollar idea out of empty space. A company that was started by people that weren't legally old enough to purchase liquor. A company that might've altered not only the trajectory of the careers of a handful of modern day rap stars, but the way that rap concerts are booked/routed/promoted through the Southern part of the United States in general. And it all started with smoked signature sirloins.
"Before we started ScoreMore, I was a waiter at Texas Land and Cattle," says Sascha Stone Guttfreund, 24, who, alongside Claire Bogle, 21, operates ScoreMore from their Austin apartment. It's a less-than-four-year-old concert promotion company that grows exponentially in influence by the hour.
Guttfreund is talking while looking at a telephone speaker waiting for someone on the opposite side to pick up. When that someone, a front-desk employee at the Hilton in downtown Houston, does, he stops talking about foodstuffs and leans forward toward the phone. He offers a slight smile, his business instinct strong.
SLIDESHOW: Rap Capitalism: ScoreMore Shows
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"Hey, how are you? What'd you say your name was?"
"Hey, nice to meet you. This is Sascha. Listen, I'm trying to get the Wi-Fi code."
"Okay. That's a $15 charge per room, sir," the other end says. Guttfreund leans in further.
"Is there anyway we can get that comped? We rented 17 rooms here this weekend," he notes warmly.
Tonight is a special night for ScoreMore. What started as a small company has grown into 80-hour workweeks and an almost unexpected amount of triumph. Sixteen of the rooms he mentioned are filled with either ScoreMore employees, of whom the total count has grown to more than 100 in a handful of different cities, or close associates and friends and family. The 17th room, that one belongs to Kendrick Lamar, an L.A.-based rap savant who spent large portions of 2012 becoming the most beloved, most buzzed-about rapper in the United States. His debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, is largely (and correctly) being referred to as brilliant. It sold more than 242,000 copies its first week, is up near 700,000 copies sold total, and has established him as a legitimate music superstar.
ScoreMore has scheduled two shows for Kendrick tonight. He'll perform an early show at Warehouse Live around 9:30 p.m. (it sold out weeks in advance), then a separate show at House of Blues around 11:30 p.m. (it also sold out weeks in advance). It's the first time in recent history anybody can remember anyone doing two shows on the same night at separate venues and (hopefully) will springboard ScoreMore fully into 2013, which will (hopefully) be their biggest year yet.
In addition to the 120-150 shows they're planning cumulatively for Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Lubbock and more, ScoreMore has also teamed up with Red Bull to play tastemaker for a handful of shows with them. There is talk of entering new markets, optioning new ventures, etc. And they even have a proud new business claim to tote, though they rarely do: In the last quarter of 2012, a private somebody offered to buy ScoreMore. There were two commas in the offer. And it wasn't enough.
Those things, plus the Kendrick shows, they equal the potential for something incredible. And everyone has obviously worked very hard to make the perpetual success of ScoreMore a static reality.
And all that is great and wonderful and exciting, but only one thing is important right now:
"So what can I do to get this Wi-Fi?" Guttfreund asks. "There's no 'They Just Reserved 17 Rooms So Let's Give Them Some Free Wi-Fi' hookup? That's not a thing?"
"Okay. All right. Well, thank you," Guttfreund ends.
He walks back to the bed and sits. On it is an open laptop that shows the prospective route for a tour ScoreMore's been asked to facilitate for the Grammy-nominated rapper Wale. A few miles away, Bogle is completing the sound check at Warehouse Live for Kendrick's first show. A tiny slice of the ScoreMore army shuffles about, in and out of doors down the hallway and through the lobby. And, despite not starting for two and four hours, the shows at both venues already have kids lining up, with the Warehouse Live line already unfurling itself all the way down the block past and around the rear parking lot.
It's definitely going to be a special night for ScoreMore.
"Yeah," Guttfreund confirms. "A waiter."
In 2009, after saving up $1,500 waiting tables as seed money, Guttfreund and Bogle started ScoreMore. Guttfreund was a student at the University of Texas. Bogle, an acquaintance he'd met through a mutual friend, was a student at Austin Community College. The two clicked instantly. ScoreMore made sense to both without trying really all that hard. It didn't matter that neither of the two had a tremendous amount of experience in the field, because the success of the company was secondary. Their ambition was simply a byproduct of their own interests.
"In the beginning, it was just who we wanted to hear," Bogle says via phone a handful of days after returning from Los Angeles, where the two met with Red Bull. "There were a lot of acts out there that we wanted to see that nobody was bringing here. We wanted to bring them so we could see them."
So they plotted.
ScoreMore's first show was a seemingly meek one. For $2,000 (Guttfreund had earned an additional $500 doing a bottle club promo for a nightclub), they booked Afroman, most famous for his 2000 hit "Because I Got High." The show cost ScoreMore the entirety of its bankroll. Despite being scheduled for Mother's Day (and despite it being Afroman), it was largely successful.
"I still remember the number," Guttfreund says proudly. "We sold 430 tickets. I'd done research for it. I felt confident. I knew what his fan base was, and I knew where his fan base was, so that's what we marketed towards."
Afroman ended up earning bonus monies, and ScoreMore landed in the green.
From there, things grew organically but quickly.
The two actively began applying what they were learning in school — Guttfreund was pursuing a degree in communications; Bogle was in a music business program — to their business. They developed business plans, short-term and long-term goals. After a while, they formed student-led street teams, recruiting handfuls of kids to sell tickets and promote shows. They even arranged for UT students to earn college credit for doing so. Eventually, practical academia couldn't keep up.
"I had one of my instructors tell me, 'What you're studying is what you're living in life,'" remembers Bogle. "He said, 'I think you should take some time off and really pursue it.' He basically told me to stop going to school [laughs].
"I was feeling that, but I needed some reassurance," Bogle continues. " Like, the classes I was taking, some of them were just wrong. The textbook would be ten years old. We'd be talking about marketing, and there wouldn't be anything in there about Facebook or Twitter, and that's such a large part of what we were doing. I was confused. When he said that, it was just like, 'Holy shit.'"
ScoreMore's business plan, one they have executed from apartment startup to national acclaim, is as simple as it is unassailable: They identify indie rappers who have developed a medium amount of fame on the Internet — acts who are known by nearly all the major blogs and hip-hop sites but are not known enough to warrant big-money deals from major record labels — and then book them to perform in, and through, Texas and Louisiana. Their roster sheet of clients, all of whom were booked well before their ascension, reads like the first few rows of this year's MTV Video Music Awards. To name a few:
There's the aforementioned Wale, signed to megastar Rick Ross's label. There's Big Sean, formerly signed to Kanye West's label and currently signed to Def Jam. There's Mac Miller, whose 2011 album, Blue Slide Park, touched the spire of the Billboard albums chart (the first to do so as an independently distributed debut since The Dogg Pound's Dogg Food did so in 1995). And there's Jay-Z protégé J. Cole.
"J. Cole, I love that story,'" says Guttfreund. "We were the first ones to book him on a tour down here. Like, we were driving him around in a pickup [laughs]. He's J. Cole, he'd never go for that now. [laughs] But so we book him, and he's performing, and the shows are great. He has one, and he gets off stage and is in the back, and he's got his head in his hands, and he's like, 'I can't believe these people know the words to my songs. This is so crazy.' And that's really when that connect came: All of these guys have such loyal fans. Nobody is booking them here. Let's do that. Let's really be the first to bring these guys."
So that's what they did. And that's what they do. They do it so well that they were profiled recently on the regional pages of The New York Times, with Bun B praising, "ScoreMore took chances on a lot of great talent in its early stages. Those relationships that they built — not based on money, but on a belief in someone's talents — paid off."
In the worst-case scenarios, those relationships act as spines for the company, which isn't even really all that "worst." (Guttfreund is fond of telling the story of the time a rapper sent them a check for several thousand dollars because his show didn't go as well as everyone had anticipated it would.)
In the best scenarios, they maintain those relationships with the acts as they grow into fame, earning their trust (and business) later when agencies like Live Nation Entertainment and AEG Live, the two largest entertainment bookers in the world, begin to notice.
The first time ScoreMore booked Kendrick Lamar, back before he'd been cosigned by Dr. Dre and before he made 2012's best rap album, he required a fee that was approximately 6,000 percent lower than it is today.
"It's pretty simple," says Dave Free, who manages Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and a handful of other LA-based rappers, when asked why they've chosen to continue to work with ScoreMore as Kendrick has become one of the most famous rappers in the country. "ScoreMore does good business. They were the first ones to book us on a tour that took us to multiple cities. They understand how to market an out-of-town act to new cities."
Chamillionaire, Grammy-winning rap recluse, is in the backroom at Warehouse Live eating time before Kendrick's first show. He is talking to Devi Dev, an MTV personality and former 97.9 radio DJ, about being an introvert in what is likely the loudest, most extroverted way anyone has ever discussed being an introvert.
"I don't like Twitter, because it creates an open dialogue with people I wouldn't normally have an open dialogue," he says to them but also kind of to everyone else. "And what's really crazy to think about — just think about this: If you're on Twitter all the time tweeting about what you're doing, then tweeting becomes what you're doing." There are 13 other people in the room. At least of three of them are in the middle of tending to their own Twitter feed (presumably quoting Chamillionaire in hope that he'll retweet them to his nearly 1 million followers). Also milling around backstage are rappers Trae Tha Truth and Bun B.
It is only 9 p.m., but out front, the showroom at Warehouse Live is all the way full. DJ Mr. Rogers entertains the crowd before Kendrick comes on. Guttfreund is speed-walking through various parts of the venue, stopping to touch hands with what appears to be every fourth person.
Right around 9:30, Kendrick's DJ sets up. The crowd's energy picks up. Shortly thereafter, Kendrick wanders out onstage and everyone loses their goddamn minds. For an hour, Kendrick performs. He is a king. When he hits the most undeniable moment of his hit "Backseat Freestyle" (when, in the opening moments of the sing, he shouts, "Martin had a dream"), it feels as though Earth knows nothing else except that line; all of everything rumbles as the room shouts it back at him. The only time Kendrick breaks character is to chastise two girls who are henpecking at each other. "If you're gonna fight, then fight," he semi-jokes. "Otherwise, chill out and let these people enjoy the show." For the duration of his performance, he owns the crowd.
After his set is over, Kendrick slides offstage and into the back section, reciprocating high-fives and hugs. Someone hands him a bottle of water and reminds him he has to do the entire thing again at the House Of Blues in 60 minutes.
"Okay, look...okay, fine."
Guttfreund is worked up. He's been moving around and talking to people for the last few hours, and this is, for sure, the most excited he's appeared. He is standing up, his hands moving with the cadence of his words. His mouth, turned up but also sort of pulled down at the corners, and his eyes, bright and busy, are relaying a half-amused, half-incredulous hybrid mood. And it's all because of a jacket.
"You wanna know what happened with Tyga? It's the most ridiculous thing. This is crazy. You're gonna laugh. I'll tell you."
On April 12, 2012, Tyga, a nebbish rapper whose brilliant mega-single "Rack City" had earned him a hearty amount of buzz (and, eventually, a double platinum plaque), had a show scheduled at Warehouse Live here in Houston. ScoreMore had put the pieces together, which is just a different way of saying that the venue was proper stuffed; a heaving, energized, throbbing swarm of late teens and early-twenty-year-olds stood shoulder to shoulder waiting for him. And waiting for him. And waiting for him.
Tyga had already missed a scheduled meet-and-greet earlier in the day and had postponed his flight to Houston from San Antonio until slightly past the last possible moments.
Guttfreund's words are packed together tightly as he remembers the night, but they're not uncoordinated. They're not slow, but they're not at their peak, either: They're a bushel of 5,000-meter-race runners on their third lap.
When Tyga arrived at the venue (a couple of hours past his scheduled performance time), he was told he needed to hustle up, that the openers had long since performed and the DJ grown stale. But Tyga pushed back.
"Apparently, his jacket is super important to him. He wouldn't go on without it. Like, he just wouldn't. You know where his jacket was? On his tour bus."
His tour bus was en route from San Antonio, where Tyga'd no-showed a performance.
"I was like...," Guttfreund says, turning his palms up and pushing his eyebrows toward his hairline. "So we waited. The bus finally got there so he got his jacket. He put it on. Then he went out there, and he wore it for one song. One song," he reiterates, holding up an index finger for extra clarity. "He took it off right after that. It was unbelievable."
He smiles and shakes his head.
Within the ScoreMore camp, the Tyga/jacket story has become legend.
Concert promoters have all sorts of similar tales: the no-shows, the strange requests, the prima donnas, etc. That's how ScoreMore is the same as all the rest. But only the successful ones seem to share foresight, and that's how ScoreMore is the same as the elite.
L.A.'s Adam Weiss, for example, was able to turn his company, Ham On Everything, into his full-time job after he combined the appeal of warehouse parties, which traditionally soundtracked themselves with house or other EDM, with hip-hop music. "Nobody else was doing that. I kind of just copied what I saw the hipsters doing, I just used hip-hop. People seem to like it."
New York's Peter Oasis, who since 1997 has run New York's LiveNDirect, a company that promotes and books concerts, as well as manages several music acts (and, incidentally, has since teamed with AEG Live), followed a similar Do Something That Nobody's Doing template with niche DJ nights early on.
"What they've [ScoreMore] done isn't easy," says Oasis, who first learned about ScoreMore when it booked one of the acts he used to manage. "Booking and promoting shows isn't guaranteed. It's not uncommon to hear stories about people getting an inheritance or coming into some money and thinking it's an easy way to double their money. Many times, that's not the case. It's real work."
This month, Wale will find out if he's won a Grammy for Best Rap Song ("Lotus Flower Bomb"). Before that though, he wanted to go to the Super Bowl, so his team called ScoreMore.
"Wale said he wanted to go to the Super Bowl," explained Sascha at the end of December 2012. "He also said he wanted to make some money, so they called us and asked up to set up a little mini tour around the same time."
On January 14, press releases popped up on the Internet advertising that Wale was going on a tiny five-city tour between January 27 and February 1. At the top of the flyer, all caps: "SCOREMORE PRESENTS."
Guttfreund says they chased a Big Sean concert for "quite a while" before he agreed to one (beyond guaranteed monies, they offered travel expenses, food expenses, driver, etc.). Now these are the sorts of things that happen now almost willy-nilly.
Tonight, Guttfreund and Bogle are in Houston to hand out tickets to their team for sales. They are gathered around a large table near the back corner of Grand Lux Cafe near The Galleria. ScoreMore has more than a dozen people in Houston with whom they regularly work, but some are missing; their eight primaries, however, are all in attendance.
In person, it's easy to see how Guttfreund and Bogle have made ScoreMore so prosperous — for the aloofness of Guttfreund's disheveled hair and the lackadaisical strides that make up Bogle's gait, the twosome are an unforgivably smart, insightful pairing.
After ordering, they begin questioning the group, asking what everyone thought was done well in 2012 and what can be done better in 2013. When concerns are brought forward (communication with everyone isn't convenient enough; it's hard to move across all of Houston to sell tickets), they are addressed quickly and concretely (establish an email listserve; designate areas of the city to specific individuals). After that, they conduct a round robin question setting to see what new rap acts are popping up regularly so they can book them where they need to be booked. (A neat little trick: Guttfreund figured out how to use Facebook to tell which areas of the country a rapper has the densest population of fans. He uses that as one of the main indicators when establishing where to, and where not to, book an act. He asserts that ScoreMore earns money on more than 80 percent of its shows.)
Guttfreund and Bogle thank everyone for coming and for their thoughts, then they let everyone know that they'll be receiving pay increases in 2013. They pay for everyone's meal, and that's that. They don't discuss the deal they've just signed with Redbull — details: The energy drink company handpicked four tastemaker booking agencies to participate in an event called Sound Select where they'll join together to promote a few shows; ScoreMore was chosen.
They don't really discuss the extent to which their big Kendrick Lamar night was successful. They don't even discuss the upcoming changes ScoreMore's going to make in its business model. ("There is a new generation of electronic music and hip-hop," says Bogle. "They're going to mesh. It's inevitable. In the past five years, the radio has evolved. You used to have all these different categories. Now you basically have hip-hop, country and top 40. The worlds are colliding together, and we want to be the first to facilitate that experience.")
ScoreMore is growing bigger and stronger every day. Everyone understands that implicitly.
The second Kendrick Lamar show is as rambunctious as the first. House of Blues is beyond full, and the crowd reacts exactly the same as the Warehouse Live version of itself did.
Guttfreund is a blur. His phone never stops buzzing. At one point, J. Prince's son, Jas Prince, calls, asking for tickets for dozens of people. He disappears into the back of the venue until the concert's over.
Out in the crowd, Guttfreund's father, an Oscar-winning filmmaker, watches the surroundings from the VIP area with pride. He talks about Sascha the way every proud father talks about his son, but he does so with a clear sense that his son isn't like most. (Papa Guttfreund is like a character drawn up for a movie. Everything he says is done so in a calm, entirely confident voice, so it all sounds amazing. On the car ride to the show, he discussed a variety of topics with a startling amount of insight, reaching from the filmmaking culture as it pertains to El Salvador to the validity of the multi-racial pop-rap group Chiddy Bang.)
After the show is over, after the venue has cleared out and after everyone has determined that the night was largely fantastic, Sascha and Bogle and the rest of ScoreMore take stock.
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The only thing more clear than how tired the team looks is that the last eight hours are concrete proof they're developing something great. There's really only one question left to ask:
At 24 years and 21 years old, why did you two turn down the opportunity to be self-made millionaires?
"Because I love this job," Guttfreund explains. "It's my career. We've built up something special with ScoreMore. That offer was just more motivation to go-go-go."
Then a pause. And then the kicker: "And if they're willing to pay that now, there'll be a bigger check in the future."