Crowd Surf: Two Women On Digitally Marketing & Managing Some of Music's Biggest Names
Ever dream about working with music’s biggest names, traveling, meeting, creating, and living out your once fangirl dreams?
Well that’s exactly what Cassie Petrey and Jade Driver of Crowd Surf are doing. To say that these two badass women are slaying the game when it comes to digitally marketing and managing some of music’s biggest names is a huge understatement. With clients such as Andy Grammer, Alabama, Becky G, and wait for it, the Backstreet Boys, these woman are true trailblazers. Both being recognized as Digital Power Players in 2018 by Billboard and Cassie, listed on Forbes & Billboard 30 Under 30 as well as included by Variety in the Hollywood’s New Leaders in Digital list in 2017. These women have even being featured panelist in entertainment and business conferences including SXSW.
So She Slays had the absolute pleasure of chatting with them on all things music, lessons learned, how they got to where they are and so, so much more.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
Cassie and I met in college and we both knew that’s what we wanted to do. We were both just really big fans of artists and loved going to concerts and traveling around to see as many concerts as we could. It was a natural passion that we both wanted to try to make into an actual career. We were both going to MTSU for Recording Industry Music Business programs, we had dorms near each other and we kind of met through classes. We started early, essentially started with cold calls and doing some work while still in our dorms and then in our college apartment while we were both in school and working at Warner Brothers Records in Nashville. We just hustled really young, and tried all aspects of the music industry. For me, I worked in radio a long time before I knew Cassie and then I had a mentor that was from the management realm. I know Cassie worked with distribution, record labels and booking. We saw a really big opportunity when Myspace became a household name, Cassie was like, “Why aren’t major label artists using this?” She had the thought to ask if she could run some Myspace pages and it really all kind of started from there. The passion for the music industry was already there and combined with seizing an opportunity based on a trend we saw happening. Digital could have not been what it is today in our society, luckily it was and we stuck with that and I think we’ve been really good at being innovative and staying on top of the digital trend over the past 13 years and here we are.
BEING SO YOUNG AND IN A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY, WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE PERSONALLY AND HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THEM?
You know I think it’s interesting because I think the older we’ve gotten the more we’ve felt the challenges of that. I would say especially the first half of my 20s you’re not competing for as big of a seat at the table just yet so you don’t feel it as much because you’re not as close to the “glass ceiling” so it’s not as challenging. I would say hitting the past five years of my career, kind of hitting 30 and beyond, being a little bit older and sort of having a lot of really great things Jade and I both accomplished as a company, it’s kind of felt harder to take that next step at this point more so then at the beginning of our career. When you get to the point in your career where we’re at a lot of stuff really does become relationship based. And it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault but it’s kind of weird for me to go to dinner with a bunch of dudes and I don’t really want too. It’s hard to compete with and to develop relationships with men that are higher up in the music industry when it’s easier for them to take a guy my age out to dinner or go golfing than it is a woman my age for a lot of different reasons. So that’s where you really start to feel the pressure and challenges of growing your career more.
Another thing that I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that I think women are just as bad at discriminating against one another as men are. I think sometimes as women when dealing with issues with colleagues and things like that it’s important to challenge yourself as a woman when you’re speaking to another woman to ask yourself, “Would I treat a man like that?” Because I think a lot of times the female community needs to pull their weight in the movement as well. These are some of the challenges Jade and I are struggling with and how do we sort of move forward in our careers.
One aspect of our careers is artist management and it’s really hard because there aren’t a lot of really big female artist managers that have the creditability and fame of like Scooter Braun, Irving Azoff, Johnny Wright, Guy Osear, or people like that. There are no women operating on the public persona level and fame that those people have and I see why many women are not there. It becomes exhausting to fight that fight to reach that level in their careers.
WHAT CAN WE AS WOMEN DO TO HELP COMBAT THESE ISSUES?
I think we are trying to figure that out. What I’m trying to do right now for other women is to encourage them to keep going. I think that’s the best thing we can do for each other right now especially women in their 30s who are trying to hit a higher level in their career. And don’t just talk about what’s happening but also do what you can to be there for other women. Something I started doing is that on music industry power lists, especially the 30 under 30 and that sort of thing, is the percentage of women to men is sad. You would think that the gender issue is going to get fixed in the younger generation. A couple years ago when I was on Forbes list of 30 under 30, I was the only female business person in the category. They picked 10 people and there were nine men and then me. And then my friend who is on the list this year, Adrianna, she is the day to day manager for Miley Cyrus, she too was the only women on the list. I always complain about this and I thought, you know I’m always complaining about it I’m just going to start nominating every woman I know that is awesome. Because at least if I’m nominating women for these accolades then at least I’m trying to do something instead of just complaining.
Another interesting thing I found in going through this process of nominating is that so many women respond to me with comments like, “Do you think they would really want me on the list?” “Do you think I’ve done enough to be on the list?” I’m then like, “Look at last year’s list, you’ve done more than any of these people on here. Why do you think you don’t deserve this?” Another thing that I’m trying to work on being better at and I think all women should work on being better at is knowing that you deserve your place on those lists and don’t feel guilty about it. Because any guy I’ve ever talked to about this say they don’t feel guilty about trying to get on a list. I think more often then not we do feel guilt and I don’t want us to because we’ve accomplished just as much or more then other people on that list. That’s something else I’m trying to do to help that problem.
ACCOMPLISHING SO MUCH AT A YOUNG AGE, HOW DID YOU AVOID BURN OUT? HOW DID YOU BALANCE EVERYTHING?
Oooo, it’s hard.
(laughing) I think the biggest thing Cassie and I have at play is that we knew really young what we wanted and although it seem insanely unobtainable we convinced ourselves that we were going to make it happen. For me, I blame being stubborn because there was no Plan B. But really at the core of it we didn’t choose a random industry, it was so specific what we wanted to do and the goals were so high that there was no time to burn out because we hadn’t reached them yet. I think the first seven or eight years we didn’t burn out because we hadn’t gotten to the finish line. Then you get to the point where you start reaching goals you set that you thought would take a lifetime and took a decade, that’s where I think it’s easier to burn out. For me, I accomplished so many things by the age of 35 that I thought would take my entire career. Now it’s in a place where I’m having a hard time things that I’m as passionate about as I was when I first started. So I think it’s a constant looking for things that keep you excited and because I feel like I haven’t found that at the same level it’s easier to burn out. Now that doesn’t mean that I would ever choose a different career over this but I think it’s like when you talk about a marriage, there is this honeymoon phase where it’s so exciting and fun. Just like that I think there is a honeymoon phase to a career and I think that for me kept me going for a really long time. Now at 37 I’m trying to find those new things that I can work on that make me feel just as excited as I was when I first started. I think the whole looking forward to vacations, mental health, and normalcy in my life has been such a bigger deal to me in the past few years to find things that essentially keep me happy and don’t burn me out.
WHAT’S IT LIKE GETTING TO WORK WITH SOME OF MUSIC’S BIGGEST ARTISTS?
We are very grateful for the talent we get to work with. I think some people ask us what our dream project is and I have a hard time answering that because we work on a lot of our dream projects. I think my answer to that now is that it’s finding an artist that no one knows about and being a big part of their career and making them a legendary, well liked artist like the ones I loved growing up. In terms of dream projects I think Jade and I both loved Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys and to know and talk with these people and get to be apart of their career in some ways, it doesn’t feel real sometimes. We are very grateful that the universe has brought these kind of projects our way.
ANY BIG PROJECTS IN THE WORKS?
We are working with a big Latin start right now, her name is Becky G. She is massive world wide and she has videos with over one billion views, we’ve known her since we was like 14 and she is insanely talented. She really has hit her stride in the urban Latin market and is releasing great English music too. But I think a project like that for us is really interesting because it’s something different than just straight pop in that you get to learn more about the Latin world. We also have a lot of younger teen acts we work with that I feel would be like the Jonas Brothers, the Demis, Mileys, and Arianas of their generation and it’s so exciting to be involved and hands on in those projects. In the next decade we will be able to grow and watch them become global super stars.
WHAT DID IT TAKE TO CONSTRUCT YOUR COMPANY FROM THE BEGINNING TO WHERE IT IS NOW?
I think it goes back to us seeing an opportunity, where there was an idea and tried it and it started working. Obviously many people have giant careers in the digital side of the industry and we’ve been lucky enough to take that and expand the management, the publicity, creative services and all of that. But it was really seizing that opportunity and in addition is that we were a service industry and we didn’t have overhead besides a computer. We could essentially do our jobs from anywhere, we didn’t have to rent an office right away as long as we had a computer and our brain we got to do it. I’m still proud to say from this day that we haven’t borrowed money from anyone, no bank, no parent, no nothing. It’s been hard because of that. We never had a giant excess of money to be a startup, it was very much paycheck to paycheck like, “Here’s a client, they are going to pay $1,000 we’re going to split it, can you pay your rent, can you pay your rent? Okay great!” I mean there was a time I got my car repossessed because we were low on money and Cassie was kind enough to share her car with me for a year till I figured out how to get a new one. We’ve just been through all of that together but I think we both had the same mentality as to why the business has succeeded because we’ve always had the same goals and the same kind of outlook on success and on life. It was two of us to start and we did have a lot of interns in the beginning and some of those people have been with us for years and years. And with interns we’ve always strived to give them a good experience and nurture them and help them build careers like we did.
IN BUILDING THIS COMPANY WHAT WERE SOME OF THE BIGGEST LESSONS YOU LEARNED?
Getting paid isn’t as simple as it sounds. You really have to be on people to pay your invoices and sometimes people don’t pay them at all. You have to put precautions in place to protect yourself from those types of situations. And another thing in regards to finances is that just because someone says they’re a financial advisor or an accountant doesn’t mean they are and it’s important for you to know enough about your finances to be able to identify when there is a problem. We’ve moved financial teams throughout the years and every time we’ve uncovered problems that the last team was creating.
LETS TAK ABOUT YOUR PODCAST
The podcast is called, How I Got Backstage, and it comes from the idea that getting backstage was like heaven. It’s really not that exciting back there (laughing) but having that pass made you feel so good when you were younger, it seems like it’s this mysterious thing people don’t really know about and we really use it as a metaphor to talk about the music industry in general. So the term refers to us but it really refers to the guests we have each week which all do something in the music industry. We had costume designers, we’ve had artists on, managers, publishing, and people like that but the podcast basically tells the story of what people do on an everyday basis. It think the main catalyst for this podcast was that when Cassie and I knew what field we wanted to work in there was very little information about what was happening in the music industry. How to get into it, what steps you take, it’s still kind of has a mysterious vibe but we wanted to be a place where we could be real. Tell our stories, our struggles, our passions and how they played into everything but also give information to young girls and boys to answer their questions of, “How do I do this?” “How do I get your job?” It’s funny because I did the same thing when I was younger, I would go up to tour managers and ask, “How do I do what you do? I want your job.” And I wasn’t getting as direct of answers as I would’ve liked back in the day so when kids ask me that now I take the time to answer.
WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
I think I would tell my younger self that karma is real and that everything that goes wrong for you or every failure that happens really does happen for a reason. Everything that feels like a setback really isn’t and it pans out and ends up being the way it’s suppose to be. To not take everything so personally, I think a lot of times when I would get rejected I would think it was because people don’t like me or that something was wrong with me or my personality but it’s not that and there are always other reasons. That people are making decisions based on themselves and aren’t really thinking about you or whether they like you or not. And that you can only do your best and if you truly feel like you did then you should feel good about yourself.
Everybody does not want the same job that I want or the level of success that I want and I’m glad that I found Cassie who does. But it took me years to understand that every assistant did not want to become the owner of a company or become a high level manager which was really hard for me to understand and frankly I had to just accept. But once I accepted that and realized that people can have different levels of jobs in their life and that everybody’s career doesn’t run their happiness like I think it does for me a lot of the time that’s okay and that’s a fact and you don’t have to be disappointed that not every person you hire does not want to work at your level.
DESCRIBE YOUR SLAY.
It’s the fact that like three nights ago I was backstage with the Backstreet Boys and like a little kid who says, “I want to be an astronaut” that’s how I felt at one point in time. That me being a nobody kid, with no money, from a town nobody knows could be there and do that and have my best friend with me and do this whole thing…I’m living things that I thought were absolutely childhood dreams.