Troy Carter has managed some of the biggest names in the music business: Lady Gaga, Eve, John Legend and Meghan Trainor, to name a few.
Not bad for someone who started out at 13 by handing out leaflets at hip hop gigs in West Philadelphia. Three decades later, he operates out of the slick headquarters of Atom Factory, a California-based entertainment company which manages music, media and tech stars.
Carter’s entrepreneurial drive was shaped by a childhood spent in a small apartment that he shared with his siblings and single mother while his father was in prison.
“My mom was not able to buy us the expensive Air Jordans, so if I wanted something that was a little bit nicer, my brother and I, we had to go earn money for it,” Carter says. “That was my first taste of having my own bit of money in my pocket,” he adds.
Not everything went smoothly on Carter’s road to success. He dropped out of high school to be a rapper in the group 2 Too Many, which ultimately flopped. He was often in trouble, but his family kept him on the right track.
“I kind of reached this fork in the road probably around 17 years old, where I could have gone this way or I could have gone that way. And I think coming from a good family really helped shape that decision,” Carter says.
At first, there was no grand plan to make it as a music mogul.
“I was just a kid in love with hip hop music,” he says. “I love music, I love the culture, I wanted to be a part of it in any way,” he says.
His brief stint as a rapper led him into a job working with Jeff Townes and Will Smith (aka, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince), which paved the way for an internship at Sean Combs’ Bad Boy Records. From there, it wasn’t long before he was managing some of the biggest names in the industry.
So what’s the formula for making a pop icon? Alas, Carter says there isn’t one.
“We don’t make pop stars, we manage pop stars. We don’t take credit for their success, we know we are an important part of the team but a manager is only as good as his client,” he says.
Lady Gaga, he adds, was destined to be a star.
“Lady Gaga is phenomenal. From the first day I met her she was lightning in a bottle,” he says. “She said, from day one, I am gonna be the biggest star in the world. And we believed her.”
Carter and Lady Gaga parted ways in 2013, though the mogul maintains he has nothing but positive feelings towards his former client.
“This is somebody I’ve known since she was 20 years old. We’ve gone through a ton together, so parting like that is a real break up,” he says.
The secret to success? Diversify
Carter diversified his business and started investing in start ups like Uber, Spotify and DropBox.
“Once we started making investments, we realized the same service we provided to artists was applicable to entrepreneurs as well,” he says.
There isn’t one defined path to owning your own business, says Carter. “One of the things I know is you have to really ask yourself ‘do you want to be an entrepreneur?’ Not everybody is built to be an entrepreneur, it’s a very lonely seat,” he says.
But whatever you want to succeed in, passion is crucial, says Carter. In fact, it’s one of the main criteria for any venture — or person — he decides to invest in.
“We look for that fuel in your belly, because you’re going to get your face bashed in this business. Nothing wakes you up like cold concrete,” he says. “When you’re lying there and you’ve taken that blow, the only thing that gets you up is that passion. When the world tells you no, when you’ve lost everything or things didn’t go your way, and you don’t have that Plan B, the only thing that gets you up is that passion,” he adds.
Carter says his goal now is to give underrepresented sections of the society a platform to realize their potential.
“I want to give women opportunities. I want to give blacks opportunities, I want to give young white guys who come from poor communities opportunities. Everybody should have the opportunity — it shouldn’t be limited by background, race, gender or religion.”