The Road To Success With Wiz Khalifa & Mac Miller
Peter Schwartz, the booking agent for the two non-stop performers and Wiz Khalifa's road manager Will Dzombak speak to the work ethic and love of showmanship that's been in the making for several years.
Timing is everything. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Rostrum Records can attest to that. When Wiz Khalifa released his debut street album Show and Prove in 2006, there was a spattering of attention. When he dropped Deal Or No Deal three years later, he began beeping on Hip Hop's radar, with close to 6,000 first-week units sold on an independent label. Around that time, Rostrum signed another Steel City native in Mac Miller, who quickly followed the Wiz blueprint of constantly recording and looking for crowds to perform for.
Less than two years later, Wiz Khalifa is one of 2011's biggest stars. He has a gold album in Rolling Papers at a time when superstars frequently fall short of the feat. Meanwhile, Miller and Rostrum released On And On And Beyond, a digital EP in the last week of March that sold over 10,000 first-week units. Rostrum artists have a self-made success rate that is astonishing the industry.
Many can argue how pivotal the Internet has been in promoting Wiz and Mac. However, with close to a decade in collective performing experience, chances are that these emcees have rocked a stage in your town in the last three years. Although both artists may represent a changing sound in Hip Hop, they may have more in common with the road warriors of the 1980s than the reclusive acts of the last decade. HipHopDX wanted to look closely at this formula and spoke to the pair's booking agent Peter Schwartz of The Agency Group, and Wiz's longtime road manager Will Dzombak. These two men can tell you first-hand that this movement may have been supported by likes, retweets and views, but it was born with a stage.
HipHopDX: Will, when and how did you get the tour manager position?
Will Dzombak: When I was 19. I was working with Wiz [Khalifa] for like a year then, and we went on a summer tour that we’d put together ourselves, just Wiz and I. In the middle of that, it probably became official. That was the summer of 2008.
DX: Peter, when did you discover the talents of Wiz and Mac?
Peter Schwartz: I discovered their talents… I was introduced to Wiz by a friend around early November 2009, it was someone who was working on the Deal Or No Deal album and was like, "You gotta check this guy out, he’s incredible," and I ended up meeting Wiz and his manager Benji [Grinberg] at my office. We had a good meeting; then he was playing Highline Ballroom in New York City the next night and I went to the show to see him live in action and he really blew me away and that was a moment where…you know we’d already said that we were gonna work together, but having seen the show I was extremely fired up and excited and knew there were some really incredible. There was something really special with Wiz happening in that venue. It was exciting, I could tell it was something special happening.
DX: Was it something you could pinpoint and specifically say or was it just the energy in Highline that night…
Peter Schwartz: I mean, in the club, it was definitely the energy of the room, his performance kinda matched with the energy. I’d heard kids were lined up, waiting in line since the early afternoon to get in when doors open, which you don’t find happening that often I don’t think with the regular Hip Hop shows I’ve been seeing and booking for the last 20 years. I’ve gone to so many New York shows, I don’t usually see that. And the crowd was definitely a mix of Long Island, New Jersey, Manhattan… It was definitely a different crowd than I was used to seeing, and they were high-energy, knew all the words. He delivered a great show and it seemed like they were both really feeding off the energy, but I was looking at the crowd going, "Wow, this is different." I could kinda just tell where this guy could go, if worked properly, and that was really the first exciting, eye-opening moment. Another piece of the puzzle that really got my attention also, was his activity on the web and just how many MySpace hits he had at the time each day and it was just a very impressive and rapidly growing number… I’d say that caught my attention just as much as the show.
DX: So you saw the show then went back and did research…
Peter Schwartz: I basically did a little checking on some other places he had played on his own and really came up with a strategy for how we were gonna get his touring going and that was basically by hitting the road in January, this was Thanksgiving weekend [of 2009], and so the plan was to start touring January, in mid-sized venues with lower-priced tickets. Sell out the shows and go again and add bigger sizes. We set up that plan and I have to say we executed it perfectly. He ended up doing like, 140 shows, a big number.
I was introduced to Mac [Miller] through Wiz’s manager, because they have the same manager- so he told me of this other great client, played me some music I was absolutely floored. I said, "This guy has some really special qualities. Let’s go with the same formula we did with Wiz," and again it's just been working incredibly.
DX: Will, how did you and Wiz meet each other and build this professional relationship?
Will Dzombak: I was promoting and booking shows up at Penn State [University] and Wiz and I had a lot of mutual friends, so I brought him up for a show. He and I talked that night and I just started booking more shows for him, outside with people I knew and it just built up from there.
DX: What’s the day-to-day process in road-managing Wiz?
Will Dzombak: It’s fun and it’s hard work because we work everyday. If we’re not doing a show, we’re working on or we’re shooting the new movie he has [High School] or recording or just something else to keep the project going. So it’s just a good experience. We’re always working, always moving, we do something everyday.
DX: What was the day-to-day process like before he really blew?
Will Dzombak: I was still in college so um, theew were just a lot of phone conversations and e-mails, and back and forth. I was a full three hours away from Pittsburgh, where Wiz was, so you know, we had to use the Internet. There was a lot more e-mailing to set up things.
DX: Peter, what was the first step that you took as Mac’s agent?
Peter Schwartz: Mac was the same. They were already doing a couple dates, and booking on their own, I kinda took those over. I became the contact for all his social networking. You know…"For booking contact Peter Schwartz," and I definitely started seeing incoming interest, and at the beginning I’m going through all those inquiries and weeding out the ones that are real and worth looking at and which ones aren’t. And there’s a high volume of those coming in, whether it’s fraternities to colleges, clubs, all sorts of things and doing different types of events. At the same time, we really decided, "Let’s make a plan- the same thing as with Wiz. Let’s put Mac on the road and in clubs," and really it became me booked out as opposed to just fielding calls, so you know I did my normal job of routing up dates for him and he started in January- I started with Mac back in September of , so he mainly did a lot of spot dates and things, towards the end of the year, we packaged him onto a couple of shows supporting Wiz, which went great.
I started seeing the fan response out there and saying, "Alright, he’s definitely ready to go on his first-sized venue tour." So we started routing it for January and he literally has been on the road from January all the way until [May]. In that time, he did 90 shows, 60 of them were headlining and I would said just about all of them were sold out and the other 30 were college dates that he did with Wiz on the Campus Consciousness Tour. So he has been extremely busy, through that time, his buzz is growing and we’re selling out venues many of them well in advance and making a very big statement that you know, Mac Miller’s a growing force to be reckoned with and he can really sell tickets and the kids want to see him so we’re just continuing to build on that.
DX: So he’s working the majority of the year.
Peter Schwartz: Yeah. I cannot give he and Wiz enough credit for their serious work ethic… It’s an agent’s dream. [Laughs]
DX: It seems you guys lucked up, especially with one of the artists being a self-proclaimed weedhead…
Peter Schwartz: They’re incredible, and I’ve been booking Hip Hop for 20 years. I’ve represented artists of all kinds, some of them are extremely motivated, some of them are extremely not and obviously I can do the most if I have people that want to work, and Mac and Wiz are totally hard workers and of course they want their time to record and a little bit of rest and family and all, just like anybody… but they are really… I think Mac’s gonna end up doing close to 170 shows this year, just an incredible amount of dates.
The great thing is, there’s so much demand for them, they could really be booked every day of the year, it’s so good that they’re willing to give it as much time as they do. I think it pays off too, ‘cause if you’re willing to work and work with the plan then the plan will work, you know? So now we’re moving up for Mac playing 2,000, 2,500-seat venues within the first year of touring so… Then Milwaukee’s 4,000 so we’re doing it even bigger, but we’re taking it one step at a time and we really like the method of making sure that we sell out the shows and then build it up and come back bigger. Not just go to big places ‘cause they’re big and not have them full.
DX: In a recent interview regarding Wiz’s fast ascension to fame he credited “building relationships with promoters” as a big part of his success. How did you guys manage to do that?
Will Dzombak: We just hit the road and took shows wherever we could. We weren’t worried about how much money we were getting at that time, we just wanted to do shows, get our name out there and be seen by everyone. So just e-mailing and seeing where a lot of small Punk bands were playing, we would play in the same clubs and just tour like a Rock band.
DX: What would you say is the key element in his success to date?
Will Dzombak: His drive, definitely. There hasn’t been a day in the last five years where he hasn’t done something to benefit his career in some way, he’s always coming up with new ideas, he’s creative…so definitely his drive.
DX: You never have to keep Wiz’s motivation going?
Will Dzombak: I never have to do that. Ever. He is completely self-motivated, he always wants to work and so do I, that’s why we all work so well as a team together.
DX: Was there ever a point where, as the agent, you had to maintain the buzz?
Peter Schwartz: For them?
Peter Schwartz: Not a bit. Never. I’m definitely blessed. They just have such good momentum I think, they’re different in what they talk about, and then they’re obviously, being a black artist and a white artist, you know, they have their differences of course in so many ways, but I think their work ethic and the way they do things are similar and I’m sure that a lot of that is attributed to them coming up together and their management Benji, the publicist Artie [Pitt], and myself, there’s a team, a whole group of us that kinda helped develop this things and if you have a good team. Like, I’m working my tour side and I always know that they’re gonna do a good job of releasing the right song at the right time, just handling their things at the right time.
Mac is on Twitter, and Wiz has so many followers on Facebook and on Twitter, so I feel like they’re always actively doing their thing, they’re making good music, they’re in high demand, so I’m pretty lucky in that I haven’t had to do anything except fend off a lot of interest and try to make the best choices for them that I can but, so far there’s been no need to help the buzz grow.
DX: Great thing.
Peter Schwartz: Yeah, it’s a great thing. Great artists, great material, great management, they’re a touring success… I think it’s just a lot of ingredients that are all working nicely together.
DX: There is Freshman cover for XXL that came about, but would you say that was Mac’s pivotal point of success, or was it before then?
Peter Schwartz: I don’t know how it came about personally. I assume he was selected because of his buzz and what he’s been creating in the past year. He definitely fits the bill. I don’t know what it created in the global scene, but in my touring world, I don’t think it really changed much for me. When he was on the cover and my phone didn’t ring more… I think it helped in giving him great exposure, and put him in as a lead new guy, I think that was really a good look to be put in that category. And Wiz was there, Yelawolf…there are a lot of good acts that come off there, and of course there are one and two that really take off in the end. So I’m sure it did help, and I know he was really pleased and proud to be on there, I think it was just one more good thing.
DX: What was Wiz’s pivotal point of success?
Will Dzombak: When we got on our first official tour with The Agency Group [the Deal or No Deal Tour sold out 47 out of 50 dates]. No one from our town was touring like that, and it was a huge tour that was nationally publicized, so for me that was when I knew it had reached an epic level.
Peter Schwartz: I don’t know… I was on the plane a week or so ago reading this XXL article, it was a chronology of the things that have happened for him within the past year, and It was a really interesting thing to look at, as it was taking me back through the whole year. There really were a lot of different… I don’t know the one. Hmm… I think all his touring was a huge thing, obviously "Black and Yellow" was such a massive anthem. I’m a [New York] Jets fan, so I of course think back to the Jets/ Pittsburgh [Steelers] game with them playing at the AFC game. I thought that was so pivotal. I remember when "Black and Yellow" started selling, I think one week it sold 300,000 copies and when the manager told me that, I remember just standing in the store like, "Oh my god…" you know? It was funny because most of the touring that we did last year was all booked and going before "Black and Yellow," really exploded, and he’d already finished the Waken Baken Tour and sold out 60 cities, that was such a big tour and at that point "Black and Yellow" was just getting going. A mix show song.
Once that tour was over and you think like, "Wow, look at what he’s done before that material even starts to explode." To me, it’s just so pivotal, then this material just became so big and mainstream and there he is playing at the championship game and you’re just like, "Whoa. Where is this thing going?" [Laughs] And then I kinda flash in my brain to standing at Coachella in April and seeing him play to a sea of 40,000 people and it’s kinda like, "There’s the answer, this is where it’s going." Just for him, it’s just a lot of good things coming together and culminating what I think is gonna be a really great, long career for him.