Scooter Braun’s rise to fame is the stuff of legends. His once claim-to-fame was the discovery of Justin Bieber, but since then, he’s managed the careers of A-list stars such as Carly Rae Jepsen, Psy, Black Eyed Peas, Martin Garrix, and Tori Kelly. Now the rock star manager has a new client on his hands–Kanye West. His company SB Projects now includes a record label called Schoolboy Records, a music publishing company (Sheba Publishing) along with several film/TV and tech projects. Recently Braun sat down with Papermag to talk about how he started his career, the artists he’s worked with, and the one thing he regrets most in life.
On his childhood
I was a little bit rebellious and I was very social, but I was also a homebody. I never really changed. I mean, I’m 34 and I still call myself “Scooter,” right? But when I’m home, I kind of like to be alone for a little while, and I like to think about things by myself. When I’m out, I’m very social, and I’ve kind of always been that way since I was a kid. But I always do things my own way, which when I was a kid would always get me in trouble. You know, I remember when I was a kid and the teacher thought I was cheating because I had the answer on the math test, but when she looked at my work it didn’t make any sense to her. And I said, “No, I didn’t [cheat], let me show you,” and I showed her, like, this roundabout way that I solved the equation. And she said, “Why would you ever do it like that?” and I said, “Why wouldn’t I?” I’ve always wanted to do things the way I want to do them.
On Justin Bieber
My biggest career obstacle…That [first] year and a half with Justin was very hard. You know, I love that kid, and I had never been through anything like that before with someone. And for a year and a half, I felt like a failure. Every single day was a battle. That was the hardest moment in my career, because it was also very personal. I learned a lot about life, about success, about people. And I’m really proud that he came out on the other side, and I’m really proud of the people on our team — we were all really like family [to] him. And no one gave up, no one budged. And when you look at who’s around him now when we’re having this huge success, it’s the same people that were around from the very beginning. And, you know, the people that came in between, they’re all gone. And I think it’s because we held firm by our values and our integrity, that we were not OK with it. And when he needed to turn somewhere, when he was ready, we were the people that he turned to. And you know, I actually received a lot of credit for the turnaround, but I would like to repeat what I said to you, which is that for a year and a half, I failed. The reason why things have turned around and why Justin is having the success that he is now is because he made the decision to change. And the person who deserves the credit is him.
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On Kanye West
I would say that one of the big misconceptions about him is that people think he’s selfish, but he is one of the most giving human beings I’ve ever met in my entire life. That guy would give you the shirt off his back. My job in this relationship is to be a balance for him, and to push him, because he pushes me like nothing else and also to help with the politics of things, and to protect him. To be someone that can say “no,” especially to a lot of people who take advantage of him. Because he’s a true artist, a true genius, and he is the ambassador to creativity. If someone is creative and has an idea, he will stop at nothing to have that idea see the light, because he loves it, but sometimes, because the stuff costs money, that’s my job to help in that category — to help run it like a real business, because the upside is just tremendous. I think my help with Kanye is that he likes honesty and I’m brutally honest. And I think that he appreciates that, and because I have no problem challenging him, he has no problem challenging me. That’s why we respect each other. I can tell you, he is a very, very, very special person, and culturally so incredibly important. And I feel like one of the things I want to do in my time working with him is to make sure people get to see the guy that I get to see.
On the biggest regret of his entire life
It literally was a very defining moment in my life. I was probably in 8th grade and I was at basketball camp — it was like one of those 5-day sleepaway camps where you go to play basketball, and these three guys were really cool at the camp, and they were a year older than me. And they befriended me because I was good and I was going to play in the all-star game at the end of the week, and they liked me because I could play. And I thought it was so cool that these older guys [liked me]. And I went to their dorm and they were talking shit about this kid in the dorm who was my age who I hadn’t met yet, because, I don’t know, he was quiet. And they were like, “Let’s break into his dorm and fuck with him.” And I was like, “Really?” So they kind of pushed in his door, and then they threw all of his shorts in a pile, and they were like, “Yo Braun, pee on it!” And I knew it was wrong, and it was completely out of my character. I had never allowed bullies [to peer pressure me] as a young kid, but for some reason that day I succumbed to peer pressure and I peed on the kid’s shorts. And I was ashamed of myself. And, you know, the kid had to wear a bathing suit, and the camp basically was like, “Who did this?” And I felt so guilty, I just couldn’t live with myself, so I turned myself in. But I wouldn’t name the other boys, I wouldn’t turn them in, I wouldn’t rat them out. I only turned myself in. And the camp said because I turned myself in they would let me stay, but I would no longer be allowed to participate in the all-star game at the end of the week. And turns out, I stopped being friends with those guys instantly, because I no longer thought they were cool, and I became friends with the kid [whose shorts I peed on] because I apologized to him, and I told him how sorry I was.
And we became friends. And at the end of the week, even though we were friends, his mother came up to me and started yelling at me that I was disgusting. And my dad came over and said, “Why are you talking to my son like this?” And she said, “He peed on [my son’s shorts],” and my dad said, “My son would never do anything like this,” and he turned to me, and he said, “Right, Scott?” And I just looked at him and he knew instantly, “Holy shit, my son is guilty.” And he was not pleased, obviously, but that moment I have never, ever, ever forgotten. And that’s the only moment of my life that I’ve ever regretted. Because I think being embarrassed and having regret is only when you do something malicious. You know, I’ve made mistakes, but [except for that] they were never malicious. I don’t regret those [kinds of mistakes] because I learned from them. I regret this one because I knew better. And it was malicious, and I knew what I was doing was wrong. And I just promised myself from that point on that no one would ever peer pressure me into feeling like that again … [Since then, in my career,] the amount of drugs I saw, the amount of offers I’d been given, I had never ever [accepted] … I take pride in telling someone, “That’s not me.” And, you know, the one regret I have is that I was weak in that moment, and that was the one time in my life I gave in — that moment.
Read the full interview on Paper Mag.