The meat dress. The ubiquitous power pop. The sax solo. Lady Gaga is a culturally dominant creative product, and a commercially dominant one, too. A whole team of designers, producers, and songwriters contributes to her success, but the most important, and perhaps most radical, is her business manager, Troy Carter. He is merging old-time marketing techniques with radically new ones to make Gaga a new kind of star.
A low-profile Philly native in his late 30s, Carter started his career working for Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment and Sean "Diddy" Combs at Bad Boy Records, where he helped promote artists including the Notorious BIG. He graduated to managing his own artists and now heads the Coalition Media Group, which takes care of YouTube star Greyson Chance and his superstar, Gaga.
Carter described his partnership with Gaga as "95-5" to AdAge: She makes 95 percent of the creative decisions, and he 5 percent. He makes 95 percent of the business decisions, and she 5 percent. Whatever the breakdown, it is working. She pulled in $90 million last year, Forbes estimates, thanks to her three platinum albums, multiple successful tours, and huge endorsement deals.
The last decade has been anxious for the music industry, as producers, distributors, and artists fretted about how they would make money in a digital world. Carter and Gaga have shown how. The enterprise includes old-stalwart commercial deals, including contracts with Polaroid, Virgin Mobile, Monster Cable, and Mac's makeup line Viva Glam. But Carter is also harnessing technology to capitalize on Gaga's enormous online following—the Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube fans who made her a true success in the first place.
To promote the album Born this Way, for instance, Gaga Inc. teamed up with Facebook game-maker Zynga to launch Gagaville, a site within Farmville where fans could "unlock" songs before the music hit stores. Capitalizing on Gaga's fashion cred, Gaga Inc. engineered a deal with the flash-sale site Gilt.com to promote the album as well. Gaga's fashion director, Nicola Formichetti, selected a number of Gaga-inspired looks that crazed-fan shoppers could pick up. The sale also included preorders of her album, VIP access to Gaga-related events, and a Thierry Mugler dress she wore on tour.
Now Carter and Gaga plan to streamline and rationalize the notoriously chaotic world of celebrity marketing. Carter has just launched a start-up, the Backplane, that helps artists, musicians, and athletes integrate their social networks. Tomorrow Ventures, the venture capital firm run by Google's Eric Schmidt, is backing the project, and Gaga is a 20 percent stakeholder.