The entertainment exec also talks Justin Bieber, Kanye West and more.
interview by Abby Schreiber / photography by Harry Eelman / Styling by Chloe Takayanagi
27 June 2016
The entertainment exec also talks Justin Bieber, Kanye West and more.
As the founder of SB Projects, Scooter Braun has launched and managed the careers of clients like Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, Psy, Karlie Kloss, Black Eyed Peas, Steve Angello, CL, Martin Garrix, Tori Kelly, The Knocks and, most recently, Kanye West. Along with music management, SB Projects also includes a record label (Schoolboy Records), a music publishing division (Sheba Publishing) and several film/TV and technology ventures.
Is there any singular moment or experience for you that you credit with launching your career?
I would say Jermaine Dupri's mother firing me. The story always goes that me and Jermaine parted ways, that I sort of left, so that's for the best. But the truth is that I had talked with him a couple of months earlier about [the fact that] I was thinking about leaving, and I had all of these ideas and I didn't think that they were listening to me. We were like brothers, and it was a really easy conversation, and he said, "No, I don't think you need to [leave], we'll figure it out." So I was already kind of planning to depart, and one day his mom was in the office -- his mom ran it -- and she was saying how we all just take advantage of her son, [she was] just joking around. But it got to a place where it became insulting. And something was said that was incredibly insulting, and I told her that it wasn't appropriate. And I was very kind and cordial about it, but I was like, "I'm not going to be OK with what you said." It was extremely inappropriate, and it [wasn't] OK. And the next day I came in and she put a letter in my mailbox saying that I was fired. Jermaine told me, "Oh, I'll be here in a couple of weeks," but he wasn't going to stand up for me. And I looked at the letter again, and I realized that he had signed it. And he was like, "Oh, give it a couple of weeks, Mom's just upset," you know, and I just said to myself, "This is why I need to start my own thing again, and I need to believe in myself."
I was very confused, and my brother happened to be backpacking in South America, living in $5-per-night hostels and taking 15-hour bus rides across South America, and I wrote him an email that he got in a café, and he said that I really needed to backpack. So I went to the store, bought the stuff, and got a one-way ticket to Chilé, and I didn't return for 5 weeks. And that was my reset button. I came back a new man, and that was a very big turning point. And within three months of coming back I discovered Asher Roth, and four months after that, Justin Bieber.
Do you or did you have a mentor?
You know, coming up in Atlanta, I didn't really have a mentor. My mentor was my father. I've always turned to my father for advice, but he knew nothing about my business, and he had no friends in that business. So my mentor was reading a lot. I read books about David Geffen and Richard Branson. I read interviews with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Lucian Grainge and Doug Morris. And what ended up happening was [that] my career continued to grow, and I had people like Chaka Zulu, who managed Ludacris, he helped put me in the business, and I had friends like Shakir Stewart, rest in peace, who really looked out for me. I had people like Steve Rifkind, who gave me my first record deal for Asher Roth and who I became very close with. But what ended up happening was that when I became successful, I started to meet the people I studied. So I met Lucian Grainge, and we became very, very close. I met Jeffery Katzenberg, I met Richard Branson, and then one day my phone rang and my assistant said, "You know, you have lunch with David Geffen next week." He was one of those people who was like, "Yeah, we should get together," and I was like, "Well that's never going to happen." And then it turned out that he had his assistant set it up. And I would say that Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen and Lucian Grainge, these are all guys that I talk to at least once a month now. It's come full circle. I studied them, and now I have them in my life and they've become mentors. But still, to this day, I would say my father is the person I speak to the most.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment to date?
What would you say is the biggest motivator for you in terms of achievement or success?
Now? My son [laughs].
What about before you had him?
I just think that before I had a child, my motivation was [that] I wanted to leave an impact on the world, because David Geffen told me, "You know, in a hundred years no one's going to remember me, so they sure as hell won't remember you, so don't have an ego." And that was great advice. But the thing that I disagreed [on] with David was that I believe in legacy, and yeah, they may not remember me, but they can feel my impact. And that's good enough [for] me. Because when I die, I die. I'm not here to see if they remember my name. But I want to leave an impact on the world that is worthwhile, that's significant and makes a difference. And I want to close my eyes on that last day of life and know I did that. And when I had my child, you know, I was actually able to feel my mortality for the first time. Because I thought to myself, "Here I am, holding this person in my arms. I've never met them, I don't know them, I don't know their personality, they don't know me. And for 33 years I've worked so hard to be a man in this world, and this person doesn't know me, yet I love them more than anyone I've ever met in my life." For the first time in my life since I was 22 years old, I have an employer. I work for my kid. I wake up every morning with a purpose of trying to be somebody in this world that he can look up to.
This and splash photo, Scooter wears a suit by Calvin Klein and a shirt by Dolce & Gabbana
What do you do to relax and clear your head?
I play basketball to clear my head, I meditate and also ... my wife taught me the difference between micro and macro time, and sometimes people think, "Oh, that person's successful because they're so busy." Just packs the schedule, boom boom boom. But I like to plan more in the macro time, where I tell myself, "Look, this block of time, plan nothing." And that's like an hour or two where I don't make any plans and I'll just sit around. I might go on Instagram or Facebook or read something or watch a game or FaceTime with a friend or literally just sit and put my head down to think. And it's those moments when I have real innovation. It's those moments when I have moments of clarity, where I come up with something. Because when you're going back to back to back, you don't have time to think…
What has been your biggest career obstacle?
My biggest career obstacle ... That year and a half with Justin [Bieber] was very hard. You know, I love that kid, and I had never been through anything like that before with someone. And for a year and a half, I felt like a failure. Every single day was a battle. That was the hardest moment in my career, because it was also very personal. I learned a lot about life, about success, about people. And I'm really proud that he came out on the other side, and I'm really proud of the people on our team -- we were all really like family [to] him. And no one gave up, no one budged. And when you look at who's around him now when we're having this huge success, it's the same people that were around from the very beginning. And, you know, the people that came in between, they're all gone. And I think it's because we held firm by our values and our integrity, that we were not OK with it. And when he needed to turn somewhere, when he was ready, we were the people that he turned to. And you know, I actually received a lot of credit for the turnaround, but I would like to repeat what I said to you, which is that for a year and a half, I failed. The reason why things have turned around and why Justin is having the success that he is now is because he made the decision to change. And the person who deserves the credit is him.
He made the decision to be ready to change.
Yeah, something happened. He woke up one day, and he called me, and he said, "Can you come see me?" And we were not on great terms, because we were fighting every day. And he looked at me and said, "I don't want to be like this." And we figured it out, but I had been trying to figure it out for a year and a half. The change happened when he decided he was going to change.
Now that you're working with Kanye, what things would you say you've learned from him, and what things do you think he's learned from you?
I would say that one of the big misconceptions about him is that people think he's selfish, but he is one of the most giving human beings I've ever met in my entire life. That guy would give you the shirt off his back. My job in this relationship is to be a balance for him, and to push him, because he pushes me like nothing else and also to help with the politics of things, and to protect him. To be someone that can say "no," especially to a lot of people who take advantage of him. Because he's a true artist, a true genius, and he is the ambassador to creativity. If someone is creative and has an idea, he will stop at nothing to have that idea see the light, because he loves it, but sometimes, because the stuff costs money, that's my job to help in that category -- to help run it like a real business, because the upside is just tremendous. It was something I wasn't sure if I was going to do at first, and I'm very, very glad that I decided to do it, because I can tell you: He truly is a genius, and it's inspiring every single time you're around him and talk to him. And I talk to him a lot now [laughs], but I also can tell you that he's literally all heart, and he's one of the kindest people I've ever met ... I think my help with Kanye is that he likes honesty and I'm brutally honest. And I think that he appreciates that, and because I have no problem challenging him, he has no problem challenging me. That's why we respect each other. I can tell you, he is a very, very, very special person, and culturally so incredibly important. And I feel like one of the things I want to do in my time working with him is to make sure people get to see the guy that I get to see.
What were you like as a child? Was there anything about your personality or interests growing up that could have predicted the path you ended up taking?
I was a little bit rebellious and I was very social, but I was also a homebody. I never really changed. I mean, I'm 34 and I still call myself "Scooter," right? But when I'm home, I kind of like to be alone for a little while, and I like to think about things by myself. When I'm out, I'm very social, and I've kind of always been that way since I was a kid. But I always do things my own way, which when I was a kid would always get me in trouble. You know, I remember when I was a kid and the teacher thought I was cheating because I had the answer on the math test, but when she looked at my work it didn't make any sense to her. And I said, "No, I didn't [cheat], let me show you," and I showed her, like, this roundabout way that I solved the equation. And she said, "Why would you ever do it like that?" and I said, "Why wouldn't I?" I've always wanted to do things the way I want to do them.
The new King of Pop
Is there anything you regret?
It's funny, I just spoke at a school last week and they asked me this question, and there's one thing I regret, yeah. And it literally was a very defining moment in my life. I was probably in 8th grade and I was at basketball camp -- it was like one of those 5-day sleepaway camps where you go to play basketball, and these three guys were really cool at the camp, and they were a year older than me. And they befriended me because I was good and I was going to play in the all-star game at the end of the week, and they liked me because I could play. And I thought it was so cool that these older guys [liked me]. And I went to their dorm and they were talking shit about this kid in the dorm who was my age who I hadn't met yet, because, I don't know, he was quiet. And they were like, "Let's break into his dorm and fuck with him." And I was like, "Really?" So they kind of pushed in his door, and then they threw all of his shorts in a pile, and they were like, "Yo Braun, pee on it!" And I knew it was wrong, and it was completely out of my character. I had never allowed bullies [to peer pressure me] as a young kid, but for some reason that day I succumbed to peer pressure and I peed on the kid's shorts. And I was ashamed of myself. And, you know, the kid had to wear a bathing suit, and the camp basically was like, "Who did this?" And I felt so guilty, I just couldn't live with myself, so I turned myself in. But I wouldn't name the other boys, I wouldn't turn them in, I wouldn't rat them out. I only turned myself in. And the camp said because I turned myself in they would let me stay, but I would no longer be allowed to participate in the all-star game at the end of the week. And turns out, I stopped being friends with those guys instantly, because I no longer thought they were cool, and I became friends with the kid [whose shorts I peed on] because I apologized to him, and I told him how sorry I was.
And we became friends. And at the end of the week, even though we were friends, his mother came up to me and started yelling at me that I was disgusting. And my dad came over and said, "Why are you talking to my son like this?" And she said, "He peed on [my son's shorts]," and my dad said, "My son would never do anything like this," and he turned to me, and he said, "Right, Scott?" And I just looked at him and he knew instantly, "Holy shit, my son is guilty." And he was not pleased, obviously, but that moment I have never, ever, ever forgotten. And that's the only moment of my life that I've ever regretted. Because I think being embarrassed and having regret is only when you do something malicious. You know, I've made mistakes, but [except for that] they were never malicious. I don't regret those [kinds of mistakes] because I learned from them. I regret this one because I knew better. And it was malicious, and I knew what I was doing was wrong. And I just promised myself from that point on that no one would ever peer pressure me into feeling like that again ... [Since then, in my career,] the amount of drugs I saw, the amount of offers I'd been given, I had never ever [accepted] ... I take pride in telling someone, "That's not me." And, you know, the one regret I have is that I was weak in that moment, and that was the one time in my life I gave in -- that moment.
You've never forgotten it.
I've never put myself in that position since. And I regret it, but at the same time it was a very defining moment in my life that helped me become a man.
Lastly, since we're interviewing you for the 'Sexy' issue, have you ever been driven to succeed by the desire to impress a romantic partner?
Hell yeah! [Laughs] My wife. I've been driven to convince her to marry me! My wife is out of my league, she's spectacular, she's smart, she's beautiful, she's wonderful, like, she's such a better person than me. So when I looked at her, I was like, "That's it, I'm done." I was not trying to get married, I was not even trying to be in a relationship. I was out of a relationship, and I was going to take the next couple of years to just be single -- and by the way, I was living the single life -- but I met my wife and I told her on the first date, "I think I'm done. I think you're it." And I canceled all the other dates. And yeah, I was driven to have a real life because I met the person I could finally have it with.
Grooming by Paul Blanch at Opus Beauty using Oribe Haircare
Location: Studio 1444