HotStar: Owl City

Let’s introduce Adam Young – aka Owl City – not through his backstory but through numbers.

First, music sales. As of Sept. 29, in all of Universal Music Group, Young was in second place in singles sales, behind Miley Cyrus. In third place were the Black Eyed Peas.

Then there’s the tour. All the 500- to 1,500-capacity venues on Owl City’s current jaunt are either sold out or about to be.
As for radio, Owl City’s “Fireflies” is No. 1 among requests on several formats.

Finally, digital sales. The single from the full-length Ocean Eyes sold 68,392 units online in one week, not including the 650,000 that iTunes gave away – making it the second-most popular “single of the week” in history.

Now let’s introduce Owl City through the business team.

Creative Artists Agency’s Brian Manning, Jeff Krones and Fall Out Boy / Panic At The Disco agent Andrew Simon are all over the project. So are Brian Loucks, Stephanie Langs, Christine Belden, Laura Hutfless, Maribeth Abels. CAA has thrown major sponsorship, marketing and television/film power behind this quiet, God-fearing 23-year-old Baptist.

“I got a call from Rob Light last week,” manager Steve Bursky told Pollstar. “I’ve never met Rob. He was just saying how excited, obviously, the agency is across the board. Basically said it’s fun having a young band and a young manager and seeing so many people rally around it.”

Owl City even has a fan in music industry columnist Bob Lefsetz, who recently devoted an OTT love letter to “Fireflies.”
“Some things are immutable. You’ve got to show up for appointments on time,” Lefsetz wrote. “But I couldn’t get up from the computer, I needed to hear ‘Fireflies’ one more time. And then again. And again.”

All of this for an admittedly private young man from Owatonna, Minn., who only recently took his first airplane ride and recorded all of his music from his parents’ home and put it on MySpace.

Young was basically loading trucks for FedEx and Coca-Cola, dabbling in community college and experimenting with musical ideas on his computer – not trying to be a rock star. He made an EP, Owl City, that was sent to iTunes and CD Baby. It drew enough attention to get noticed by Universal Republic.

Eventually Young met Bursky, and it was time for Owl City to perform live. That was going to be a chore.

“By the common definition, I am the ‘shyest’ person ever to walk the face of the Earth,” Young wrote Pollstar, feeling more comfortable with an e-mail interview.

“I had no friends in high school. I didn’t eat lunch with the other kids. I can remember going through entire weeks of school days without opening my mouth or saying a single word to anyone. People dismissed me as being shy or insecure or weird.”

Because Young likes to be by himself, he was “disgusted” that he would have to perform live – not that he wasn’t capable, just because he preferred things the way they were.

“I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit stubborn. I hated the idea of touring because I hated the idea of ‘acting’ or, in a sense, pretending to be anything other than who I really was.”

There was also the issue of converting lush, electronic music to a live format. But Young ended up getting booked for two shows in February at Minneapolis’ Varsity Theatre and at Chicago’s Schubas Tavern. They weren’t fantastic but something interesting happened.

“He texted me on his way back to Owatonna,” Bursky said. “He said, ‘This was amazing. I can’t wait to do more. I can’t wait to go back out.’”

Young has since traded his laptop for guitar and keys and has a band that includes a backup multi-instrumentalist, a drummer, a cellist and violinist.

“We put up a Salt Lake City date really late, after the whole tour had been announced,” Bursky said. “The promoter didn’t know who Owl City was, and was really hesitant to put us in the market. It was a Sunday [show] and he was really concerned given that Mormons don’t go out on Sundays. And in 10 days we sold through 800 tickets. He said he’s never seen anything like it and he moved us up to a 2,000-seater.”

According to Bursky – who is also known for managing the unique story that is Dispatch – there are similar anecdotes from coast to coast. And he’s made it clear to promoters to avoid spending money on radio and strip ads. This is strictly an online affair.

“The ones who are listening to me and investing in Facebook social advertising are blowing out their dates,” he said. “These online campaigns are proving to be incredibly effective and saving them a ton of money.”

After wrapping his U.S. October dates, Young will travel to China and Japan, and maybe take a jaunt to Australia. He returns in 2010 for an even bigger tour with holds already secured for 2,000- to 3,500-capacity venues.

Is Young comfortable with all this touring? He didn’t mince words.

“I love it,” was the reply from Owl City.