Executive Profile: 5B Artist Management CEO Cory Brennan Taking Knotfest On The Road, Megadeth To Sea
– 5B Artist Managemnet
CEO and founder Cory Brennan
Cory Brennan’s 5B Artist Management has become a heavy force, with major clients including his own-managed Slipknot, as well as other rock mainstays like thrash legends Megadeth, punk heroes Pennywise, groove metal growlers Lamb of God, and influential Danish metal crooner King Diamond (as well as his original band, Mercyful Fate).
Brennan was the one to sign Slipknot, as a product manager for Roadrunner Records. When label A&R VP Monte Conner told him he needed to take a meeting with a new band, Brennan mostly just wanted to get on with his day.
“I kind of told Monte, ‘Look, I’ve had a really busy day. I don’t have time to be in any meetings,’” Brennan says. “Begrudgingly, I let him play me a VHS video, and there were more people on stage than there were in the audience. They were hitting each other, they were screaming. But it was a different intensity than I had ever seen in my life.
“The only thing I could harken it back to was when I saw Rage Against The Machine playing in L.A. in 1992 in a tiny club. It was like that energy and that thing that draws you in. You don’t really know what you’re watching, but you know it’s something that’s going to be very special, and so I ended up in this meeting and Clown, Joey the drummer and Paul Gray the bass player walked in and Clown extends his hand and says, ‘How does it feel to meet your first platinum band’?”
Slipknot has gone on to achieve cult status and then some, with frontman Corey Taylor leading the band to now headline its own Knotfest festivals across the globe and as well as the recently wrapped traveling “Knotfest Roadshow” tour this summer, which grossed just shy of $16.8 million on 30 dates with 405,591 tickets sold, according to Brennan.
The response was bigger than ever, with fans waiting hours in line to buy merchandise and check out the Slipknot museums at each stop, good for $20 per head across Slipknot and Knotfest events, according to 5B, which has its own record company, a festival division and an in-house marketing agency all under its roof helping to put together events as varied as the Megadeth-topped Megacruise to Hermosa Beach Summer Series in Southern California.
Slipknot hits Sacramento this weekend for the Danny Wimmer Presents’-produced Aftershock Festival, and has Knotfests in Mexico, South America and Japan as well as a full European tour leg coming up.
This interview is part of Pollstar’s 2020 Artist Management Directory, which can be purchased here.
null – 5B Artist Management
The 5B team takes a hike and gets some fresh air on a company retreat last year. L-R Top: Jenny Douglas, Josh Sribour, Cory Brennan, Stephen Reeder, Brad Fuhrman, Adam Foster, Bob Johnsen. Bottom: Kim Schon, Brit Buckley, Chris Shields, Justin Arcangel.
POLLSTAR: The new Slipknot album, We Are Not Your Kind, seems to be a hit, and even overtook Taylor Swift on the charts.
Cory Brennan: I don’t think there’s anybody better than the 5B team combined with Slipknot to properly release a record. It’s very hard in this world to create a moment right now and as much noise as there is all around us I really feel we’ve created a moment. And it’s definitely driven by the music. I think from the band delivering great music, we’re really challenged on my side to come up with great ideas to really get that out to the world in their own special way.
The music is always so relevant when they do it. They never sound dated, they never sound tired, they’re making relevant music, they’re taking chances, they’re taking risks. And, I think the music more than anything keeps them relevant and moving forward.
A lot of peers that started with them 20 years ago are making the same records they made 20 years ago. Slipknot’s evolving and challenging the audience, and challenging themselves.
The tour numbers seem to kind of bear that out too. It’s just as strong as ever.
Not as strong as ever, it’s never been bigger. They’re averaging I’d say 15,000 tickets per market, as a headliner. And, some of these shows are as high as 20,000, and actually in San Bernardino’s case, 30,000. The numbers are staggering, it’s not just simply staggering, they’re early. So, people are buying, and buying these tickets early.
For all of us in the music business who know about ticket sales, it’s a lot of work and it’s a grind. But this tour honestly hasn’t been a grind. It’s all been natural. Whether it’s the European shows you put on sale – arena shows this summer surrounded by other festivals sold out in a week. The U.S. shows have a similar pattern, whether I look at the ticket sales, streams, merchandise sells on the road – there’s some nights in this North American tour where they’re doing $24 a head. People are in line for an hour and a half to buy T-shirts because the venues simply weren’t prepared for the demand to be at this level.
For example, the show they played in Denver, we had 33 sellers in the venue to sell merchandise and finally that was the trick that made it work. I think the other shows before they weren’t prepared. They knew Slipknot was a big band and had been to this venue before, but it’s never been this rabid with people just demanding this merchandise. They miss sets by Behemoth and Volbeat, and even part of Slipknot’s set to buy a shirt. It’s great, but it’s also frustrating for me because I see our fans being mistreated by being in line for an hour and a half. It needs to be a better experience.
Are they having a good time out there?
They’re still excited to have fans come up to them and you see Corey Taylor, you see Clown, you see Jim Root. There’s just as approachable now as they were 20 years ago because they’re really the same people.
They’re still mad at the world and pissed off that people aren’t allowed to be individuals. And, that’s what most of the music is about. Slipknot’s singing about fuck the world, stand up for yourself, don’t be bullied, be an individual, be OK with being an individual and we got your back.
How did the idea for the Knotfest Roadshow tour come about?
Knotfest has been a destination festival only, and this summer when we booked the Slipknot tour, we were trying to think of ways to make it more cultural, more exciting and offer more to the fans. So, we got together a great package of four bands – Behemoth, Volbeat and Gojira, four very different rock and metal bands.
And, for guests, for a traveling festival, you can’t add all the bells and whistles you do in a destination festival, there’s simply not enough time in the day to set them up every day and tear it down and move on to the next city. So, with the Knotfest Roadshow, the things that are important to us are having a great main stage, having a Slipknot museum and having some different sites, decorations that maybe made it unique to Knotfest.
So, when you walk in that amphitheater, you didn’t just feel like you’re walking in to see any other band. You walk into something that just tells you from the moment you enter the venue. This is Knotfest.
There’s a Knotfest museum and you’ll walk in and see all the archives of Slipknot’s 20 years, whether it’s masks, uniforms, stage pieces, elements of album covers. It really is historical and a special thing for the fan.
How about the standalone, band-operated Knotfests?
Knotfest has happened now since 2012. I think there’s been 12 of them as destination festivals and we’ve done three in Mexico City, Mexico.
The last one, A Perfect Circle was one of the headliners. Slipknot didn’t play it. Then we’ve had Japan three times and for the first time this year, we broke into Europe and did it, in France, as Knotfest meets HellFest.There became a time in probably 2010 when we started talking about the idea of Knotfest. Because at that point I think Ozzfest probably ran its course as a current traveling tour. And, there was an opportunity for Slipknot to kind of curate their own festival. But, rather than it being a traveling festival at that time we purely focused on making it a destination festival and tried to make it more, to use current buzz-worthy terms, experiential and immersive, back in 2012.
We did it in the U.S. at first and then I started seeing opportunities to take it to other parts of the world. We were very strategic at first where we didn’t want to go in and compete with other major festivals. We don’t want to go into England where there’s Download and there’s enough big festivals. So, we decided to go to markets where there weren’t really established metal and rock festivals, like Tokyo, Japan, like Mexico City, like Bogota, Colombia.
And, last year in Bogota, we did not play it for the first time. Slipknot didn’t headline. It was Judas Priest that headlined, and we sold 25,000 tickets and it was the first hard rock festival, first metal festival ever in Colombia. In Colombia they were very nervous. There’s a misconstrued conception or misconception of what metal fans are, and I think in Bogota they were worried. They didn’t know how metal fans would react to having a festival there. And, honestly, there was not one arrest, there were no fights, there were zero problems. And for us, we packed the place out and it was an amazing experience for everybody. This year Slipknot is going to go down and headline it. Knotfest has never lost money and that’s always been great. We also have a couple artists that do artist-themed cruises and that’s been really successful and fun to be involved with.
Carrying the torch for Ozzfest makes sense considering the band’s relationship with both Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne.
Katja Ogrin / Redferns – Slipknot
Katja Ogrin / Redferns – Slipknot
[Ozzy’s Son] Jack Osbourne was really into Slipknot. So, he brought Ozzy into the second stage one year at Ozzfest. And he’s like, dad, you’re never going to believe this. You’re going to watch this band.
So, Ozzy was at the show every day sitting basically behind the speaker racks watching the band from behind. And, it was really cool how Ozzy and even and Sharon and the whole family took Slipknot sort of under their wing, or at least did everything they could to make them have success because they believed in it.
The Osbournes noticed what a lot of fans did pretty early, then.
On their first record, there’s a song called “Wait And Bleed,” and I think that really showed that Slipknot could be heavy but still have a big melodic chorus. They’re not one of those metal bands that started out really heavy and then became more commercial over the years.
They’ve always had that side. They’ve always wanted to play arenas and stadiums. They were never writing music to play in their basements or to play in small clubs. These guys, they were from the middle of nowhere in Iowa, but they had a worldview that I’ve never heard anybody have before and they were going to do it. They were just going to do it. They were that determined creatively.
And, for me it was just trying to help carry out that vision. They were the first metal band Elektra Roadrunner ever had on MTV. They were the first really heavy band on KROQ radio in L.A. There was really this kind of overwhelming reaction and there’s still that reaction around the world. It is pretty amazing to be part of and I’m very thankful. I mean, as a fan and especially on a business level, I’m really fortunate.
How do you handle when people maybe don’t take Slipknot seriously?
When you say that it makes my blood boil. And I hear that every single day. Every single day I hear it. It makes my blood boil. I have heard it for 20 years. It’s a common misconception with what Slipknot are. I mean, they wear masks and they play metal music, and some of the vocals are really aggressive. But if you sat down with these guys, they’re artists, they can talk about poets, and they can talk about writers, filmmakers. They’re pure artists that live it and breathe it every day. They just happened to be drawn to rock music, and extreme rock music. But if you listen to the records, there’s a lot of ethereal moments in there, a lot of metal moments in there. There’s really deep storytelling in there that you can really connect with, whether you’re 15 years old or 45 years old.
I want them to play at the Grammys, I want to get them to play the Super Bowl and I think there should be a spot on there for them. The gatekeepers are my biggest fight. The gatekeepers that control who plays the Grammys, who gets on the radio, who gets on TV. Those people are my biggest battle in the world. Because if it’s not promoters. Slipknot have played with the Lumineers, they played with Kanye West, they played with pop bands and rock bands and all this stuff. The promoters get it. It’s the other gatekeepers in this world that still have to be explained what Slipknot is and who their audience is.
How about the band’s non-musical business and artistic endeavors?
Corey’s released three New York Times bestselling books. Clown’s released a book, Clown’s directed a film, Clown’s had art gallery openings. All the guys in the band are successful in other individual projects. And, I think it’s a creative bug in them and it’s also the business bug in them. We just recently put out a
Slipknot whiskey, it sold 9,600 bottles within the first five days. And, it’s, you know, honestly I know artists who ought to be in collaborations all the time and Slipknot never wants to be kind of known as being the band that puts out the most merch items. The whiskey came about a really natural way. It’s as authentic as it can be in terms of artist involvement. If it can be a real business and help generate some revenue, they’re ultimately not generating all this money to put into their pockets. They want to have good lifestyles, but they’re putting it back into the band and investing into the stage show and everything else they do.
I’m sure doing your own festivals helps with that.
Yeah, I think Slipknot got to a point where they didn’t necessarily need to give the parking money to somebody else or the food and beverage money. It is a business, it’s a real business and there’s real dollars at stake. We’ve earned it, too.
Management to me is a Wild West and the music industry is a Wild West. I work in a genre that is a little bit subversive and we can’t rely on the mainstream trends or mainstream outlets to generate revenue or to get fans or develop a band.
I think the most important thing and the biggest things that I’ve seen change is 90% of the workload at this point falls on a manager. If you’re a really good manager, you have the resources, whether that’s branding, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s creating artists properties, whether it’s media exposure.
That’s all from my office. We do all that. And, for every artist we look after, we really take that under our wing and take control of that. And, when we can work with a record company or promoter as a partner, amazing. I love doing that. But, if that’s not possible, we have the abilities to do it all on our own and are happy to be doing it that way. We have a real digital department and we have a digital marketing company.
Branding has been very important for us, for the artists in a lot of ways. And, branding can be a beer, which is 9 million bottles of beer to this point. Yes, we make money from streaming, but we don’t make the money that Cardi B or Twenty One Pilots do.
In order for my artists I represent to make a living like I feel that they should at this point in life, we have to be smart and have to think of other ways that they can make a living outside of just being on the road 300 days a year. Because for Slipknot or for Megadeth to be on the road 300 days a year, it ain’t going to happen. So, we have to be smart to come up with different ways to generate revenue and to connect with an audience. And, whether it’s through beer, whiskey, festivals or whatnot, that’s on us as managers to think strategically about and conceptualize.