When Green Day, Weezer and Fall Out Boy announced their joint “Hella Mega” tour earlier this week, many quick-witted industry observers noted that the three artists have something in common beyond their status as three of America’s biggest rock bands: They’re all managed by Crush Music.
And as Green Day and Fall Out Boy noted in a recent interview, they are both also at the end of their major-label deals: Green Day will release the last album on their Warner Records contract early next year (the group has been with the label since 1993), and Fall Out Boy, which released their first album with Island in 2005, is already at the end of theirs. (While reps for Crush, Warner and Island either declined or did not respond to requests for comment, a source close to the situation confirmed to Variety that the two groups are “technically” out of their deals.)
As luck would have it, Crush Music has a label — in fact, Weezer has released its last four albums on it via a distribution deal with Atlantic, which enables them to benefit from the support and infrastructure of a major label while still owning the masters. It’s a model that has become increasingly common in recent years, as streaming and the Internet — not to mention increased awareness of the benefits of artists owning their masters — have empowered musicians and eroded the leverage of the majors. Powerhouse management firms like Q Prime and Roc Nation have for years operated their own labels and partnered with majors for distribution; many artists who own their masters, like Motley Crue, have their own imprints (and their manager owns a full-service independent label).
If Green Day and Fall Out Boy were to follow Weezer to Crush’s label, it creates a potential situation where a management company’s imprint could become one of the biggest rock labels in the business — although that title is fainter praise than it would have been a decade ago: This situation takes place amid a long recession for rock music, which fell far behind pop and hip-hop/R&B in popularity many years ago.
While Crush cofounder Jonathan Daniel tells Variety “There’s not a story here yet, though I appreciate the creative sleuthing” and declined to comment on whether the company could or would want to get into the label business so deeply, there are a number of reasons why such an arrangement could make more sense for artists at this level than a major label deal. The groups are all strong live draws and still enjoy solid chart success — Fall Out Boy’s last three albums reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200; Green Day has had three No. 1 albums, including their most recent, and several Top 5s; two of Weezer’s four albums on Crush/Atlantic reached the Top 5 — although those numbers don’t mean what they used to, either. And while the groups can still crank out a respectable hit single, contemporary rock remains weak on radio: Fall Out Boy’s most substantial hit came four years ago (“Centuries,” which reached No. 10 on the Hot 100), and even a sizable hit like Weezer’s popular 2018 cover of Toto’s “Africa” only peaked at No. 51 (although, notably, that song was released as part of the Crush/Atlantic Records partnership, proving that the model can deliver a radio hit).
Still, those are not the kinds of numbers that get a major label CEO’s pulse racing — but conversely, do these groups, which have established fan bases, deep catalogs of hits and are young enough to tour for decades to come, even need a major label, which is most beneficial for breaking artists and radio promotion?
“Green Day doesn’t have to sign to a major label,” says Allen Kovac, founder of 10th Street Entertainment and the Eleven Seven Label Group and Motley Crue’s manager. “I consistently advise artists to avoid the majors. [Crush] puts out records just like we do. In today’s world, if you make your own music and have a fan base, you can always find a partner to do radio and streaming promotion. My deals enable the artists to retain the rights to their masters, and all profits are split 50-50 after marketing costs.”
However, a manager of several notable rock acts takes a different stance. “Green Day is a massive, worldwide mega-brand, and having the global infrastructure of a major label to push and promote a new release for a band of this caliber is important,” the manager tells Variety. “Nowadays, it’s all about visibility on a massive scale, and that requires resources that very few indies or artists can attain themselves.
“The reality is, [an album] is a marketing platform for a tour, so why not accept that and use one of the biggest ad agencies in the space?,” meaning a major label.
However, he notes that such advice would only apply to established rock acts. “If you’re not Green Day, good luck,” he scoffs. “Majors don’t give a sh– about alternative rock because it doesn’t have massive streaming numbers and it isn’t ‘cool’ right now. So majors are doing what they do: chasing hits and trends.”
Will Crush — which also manages Sia, Lorde, Panic at the Disco, Lykke Li and many others — take the plunge and further develop this artist- and management-empowering business model? Time will tell — but with solid fanbases and a synergizing tour on the horizon, the company and the three artists are in a strong position.
Additional reporting by Roy Trakin.