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Famed Music Exec Troy Carter Talks Music Industry, Entrepreneurship at Drexel Event

From working with the Fresh Prince to Lady Gaga, West Philadelphia’s own Troy Carter has learned a thing or two about how to make it in any industry.

Troy Carter

March 9, 2015

by Joseph Master and Zach Epstein

Music mogul and entrepreneur Troy Carter might have deep local roots, but his reach is about as global as it gets.

With strongholds in the music industry managing acts like John Legend and Meghan Trainor and in the tech space, where he holds the reigns for AF Square, an angel fund with interest in 75 tech companies including Spotify and Dropbox, Carter could be considered a mogul. Perhaps a Svengali.

But during a lively discussion Monday before a packed house in Westphal College’s URBN Annex that touched on everything from Lady Gaga to Uber, Carter made sure to acknowledge his local roots.

“I grew up 10 minutes from here,” Carter said. “West Philly, born and raised. Grew up right around the corner from Jazzy Jeff.”

From his childhood home to working with the Notorious B.I.G. and Bad Boy Entertainment to the Westside of Los Angeles where he now servers as CEO of music management agency Atom Factory, Carter built his career by breaking down walls. From music to technology, artistry to enterprise, Carter sees few differences — just synergies.

“There [are] so many similarities to managing artists and also providing service for entrepreneurs,” Carter said. “So my job over the years in managing artists has become chief strategist on their team, but also a mentor in their lives.”

Even within technology companies, Carter sees walls crumbling and lines blurring.

“Now, we’re starting to see this convergence. Is a company like Netflix a content company or a tech company? What’s going to happen with SoundCloud or Pandora?

“My dream in the music business is to see our ‘products’ scale in the same way we have seen Google and Twitter scale,” he said. 

For Carter, who this past August was named the Close School’s Dean’s Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship, the discussion was just the first of many opportunities he will have to speak candidly with Drexel University students.

“I’m excited to be a part of the Drexel family,” he said.

Troy Carter

Here’s some of what Carter had to say:

On music distribution:

“Streaming is inevitable. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle now.”

“I am a firm believer in the ‘app as an album’ strategy.”

On using data to make decisions in the music industry:

“We’re one of the few industries that’s not using data to make real decisions. It’s scary to people when you talk about data around art, but it’s another of those things that’s going to be inevitable.”

On how he doesn’t spread himself too thin:

“So the secret is, my mom had triplets. So there’s three of me.”

“It’s all about team. The same way we’re selective about developing artists, we’re selective with our employees and we put a huge amount of time into executive development.”

On taking advantage of opportunities, even if they disrupt strategy:

“If I get a call saying, ‘Hey, we want John Legend to do the Super Bowl in February,’ guess what? I’m releasing an album in February. Get in the studio right now, and we’re going to take advantage of the opportunity because the opportunity presented itself." 

On similarities between identifying artists and entrepreneurs:

“I’ve gotten really lucky in my life because I follow my intuition on people. I didn’t have any sort of formal education or anything like that, but I think I’ve always been good at understanding people and staying next to really talented people. And it’s the same thing with entrepreneurs.”

“All of the artists that we’ve signed, and every company that we’ve invested in, comes from a trusted source.”

On what sets him apart:

“Hustle. That was the biggest thing for me. No one’s going to out-hustle me.”

On balancing work/life balance:

Carter is a proponent of work life “integration,” rather than “balance.”

“My son’s first soccer game, I missed a luncheon with President Obama. I thought, my son only gets one first soccer game, I could probably get to meet the president again. I hope!”

“I do meditate. My hobby, I love backgammon. So I play backgammon… nobody knows that.”