A triple wick candle flickers on a crescent-shaped desk in the entryway to the office of Scoremore Shows. Behind the desk hangs a large picture of ocean waves. Presumably, for most of the year, it helps create a peaceful vibe, but it’s less than two weeks before Jmblya, the company’s flagship festival, and cardboard boxes loaded with merchandise and swag from sponsors crowd in from every wall.
Scoremore co-founder Sascha Stone Guttfreund walks through the office, his phone buzzing every few minutes. Guys connected to laptops, casually clad in shorts and T-shirts, pop up with questions. Here, in this unassuming office condo in Far South Austin, the 28-year-old University of Texas grad is quietly expanding the company he and Claire Bogle started when he was a hot-shot sophomore into one of the most important and influential boutique event production and music promotion businesses in the country.
With a stacked lineup featuring Chance the Rapper, Gucci Mane and Migos alongside DJ Steve Aoki, Lil Uzi Vert, Snow tha Product and more, Jmblya 2017 is one of the hottest Texas hip-hop bills of the year. It’s set to be a massive affair at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday, May 6.
Jmblya, now in its fifth year, handily doubled attendance in 2016 when organizers moved the Central Texas date (there is also a Dallas show) from the 5,000-capacity Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels to the Austin American-Statesman parking lot, where they hosted over 10,000 fans. This year, Guttfreund says they hoped to hit 15,000 — they bypassed the 14,000-capacity Austin360 Amphitheater to build their own venue in one of the parking lots on the racetrack grounds — but a little over a week out, they’ve already topped that comfortably. He suspects they will hit 25,000 and sell out.
» A-List photos: Jmblya 2016 with Future, Rae Sremmurd
“There’s so much chatter, not just in Texas, in Austin, in Dallas, but in L.A., New York, everybody knows what Jmblya is,” says Ryan Jansen, who recently left a job at William Morris Endeavor, a high-power L.A.-based talent agency, whose roster includes artists such as Drake, Frank Ocean and Pearl Jam, to work for Scoremore.
“From the perspective of an outsider looking in, Jmblya was always a well-curated event and a festival that artists wanted to play, but now it’s become a lot more,” he says.
Jmblya has built a passionate base of fans who feel personally invested. “Our social media is full of people who are just like, ‘I met my best friend at Jmblya,’ or ‘I met these people at Jmblya and we’re going again this year,’” says Edward Castillo, who was the first full-time employee Guttfreund and Bogle hired.
“I’ve been all over the country and seen kids in Jmblya merch. And, like, they know what it is. If I’m in (a Jmblya T-shirt) people will stop me and say ‘Have you been to that?’ It’s been really crazy to watch almost a cult following being built.”
It wasn’t always this way. The first Jmblya was an under-attended disaster that almost sank the fledgling promotion company when it launched in 2013 as a string of club shows in Dallas, Houston and Austin.
“We lost $186,000 and I was done. Finished. Sayonara. No more money,” Guttfreund said by phone from California in mid-April. He was enjoying Passover with his family in Los Angeles in between weekends of the Coachella Music Festival, where rapper and singer Tory Lanez, an artist he manages, was performing. He can laugh about it now, but at the time he was devastated. “I remember being so miserable and so full of doubt like, ‘Oh my god, it’s over. It’s over.’”
As it turned out, what seemed like the finale was the beginning of a youth culture movement.
‘We’re pretty persuasive people’
Guttfreund grew up in L.A. and his first forays into party promotion sound like a racy plot line from a next-generation “90201.” He rented out grown folk nightclubs and charged a cover to his high school peers just to get in. No alcohol was served; he sold them on the opportunity to engage with the city’s splashy nightlife, to see and be seen. “It worked,” he says. “Kids wanted to pay to hang out in these clubs.”
But the L.A. fast life has crashed many a youth. Guttfreund experimented with alcohol and drugs early, and halfway through high school he went into a downward spiral. He defected to a small boarding school in Sedona, Arizona, with a large international population. It was an enriching environment and Guttfreund blossomed. “I went from being a guy that kind of was an underachiever to graduating top of my class,” he says.
At 18, his life goal was to be “Jerry Maguire,” and he decided the best way to chase his cocky sports agent dreams was relocate to Austin and attend UT with a plan to “help, however I could with the Longhorns.”
He gave up a full ride to the University of Arizona, and while his parents were “incredibly supportive,” they also weren’t trying to pay out-of-state tuition. During his first year in Austin, he waited tables at the Texas Land & Cattle Company and sold cable television subscriptions door to door to establish his Texas residency. He also kept a side hustle selling advertising for the student newspaper, the Daily Texan.
Sales, it turned out, was a gift.
“Sascha could sell ice to an Eskimo,” Bogle says.
Guttfreund’s first roommate at UT was Bogle’s best friend from high school in New Mexico. Disenchanted with life at the University of New Mexico, she frequently slipped away to Austin to hang out. After he successfully drew a crowd for a campus hip-hop artist’s CD release, Guttfreund was hired by at promoter to move tickets for a party featuring rappers Shwayze and Tyga, inauspiciously booked on the Monday after the Austin City Limits Music Festival. He activated a street team of students. He hit up the campus fraternities, sororities, social organizations and dorms. It was his first real show and he sold it out.
It was also Bogle’s 18th birthday party.
“It was really, really fun,” she says.
Soon after, Bogle dropped out of college to move to Austin and work on the business.
“Our thought process was, ‘OK, we have pretty good taste in music. Our homies have pretty good taste in music. Like, let’s book something that we want to see and I bet you other people will come,” she says, laughing. “We’re pretty persuasive people. Put us on the street with some fliers and some tickets.”
Hand-to-hand marketing became the company’s hallmark. They worked the streets themselves and built a team of friends to help them. “Kids were buying tickets, not only because they liked the music, but because their friends were showing up at their doorstep and saying, ‘Hey, this is something that I want to do. I’m getting compensated for this. I really like this music and I think you will too.’ And it was effective,” Guttfreund says.
The company’s “consignment model” was not without controversy. Early on, Scoremore faced accusations of pay-to-play marketing, a practice that is widely frowned upon, for asking some local support artists to help move tickets to secure an opening spot on their bills. “We would never charge an artist a fee to perform,” Guttfreund says. “Our idea was that artists should be incentivized to draw a crowd, not only because it would help the show, but also because the performance would clearly be well received if they had their own fans and supporters in the audience.”
These days, Guttfreund says consignments account for only about 5 percent of Scoremore’s sales. He’s looking at ways to revive that arm of the business, but he wants to make sure, “the way we’re going about it is sound.”
In the company’s infancy, Guttfreund recognized the value of creative partnerships. His first sponsor was a DWI lawyer he met through the Daily Texan job. He persuaded the lawyer to underwrite Scoremore’s first couple shows for $1,000, in exchange for having his phone number printed on the wristbands that marked patrons as 21 and up. Guttfreund, then an underage alcohol aficionado, offered a simple pitch: Club-goers would have the lawyer’s number handy should they need it.
They soon landed a home base at a short-lived Sixth Street club called Ace’s Lounge. Guttfreund was hired for $300 a week to book the club five nights a week. “I thought I was rich. I was planning my retirement in the Bahamas,” he says with a laugh.
His early bookings included young rappers Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, but most agents were reluctant to talk to a college student who was clearly green.
“Sascha used to send these long-winded emails like ‘Hey, we really, really love J. Cole. He’s touched our lives and I know there’s a lot of kids in Austin, Texas, that would feel the same way and we’d love to bring him,’ and agents would kind of ignore us and be like, ‘How much money is he gonna make? Let’s talk figures. I don’t care about your sob story,’” Bogle says.
It’s in Guttfreund’s nature to come on strong and some promoters dismissed him as a loudmouth kid, but Matt Sonzala, a veteran of the Austin and Houston rap scenes who was working as a hip-hop programmer for South by Southwest at the time, recognized his potential. “That dude built a network on his own that I didn’t even have the ability to build,” he says. “The UT world and the college world … he and Claire really went in and built a scene. Straight up built a scene.”
Sonzala put in a good word for Scoremore with a few agents and began quietly mentoring Guttfreund. He wasn’t the only one. Guttfreund, who says it’s always his goal to be the “dumbest person in the room,” also sought advice from the principals of Austin’s largest promotion house, C3 Presents: Charles Attal, Charlie Walker and Amy Corbin. “These people have been amazing to me throughout my career,” he says.
Bogle thinks so many power players were willing to help them because they were approaching their work from a place of pure passion.
“We really just wanted to bring good music to good people,” she says. “That was our intention. It wasn’t until later that we had to look at it completely as a business.”
‘The Youth is the Truth’
Soon agents began calling and Bogle and Guttfreund were doubling down on the business. “Whenever I made a buck, I just put it back into the business. If we made $1,000 we used that thousand bucks to book the next artist. It almost wasn’t looking up,” Guttfreund says.
Wiz Khalifa’s manager told Guttfreund he thought promoters in Houston and Dallas were lackluster, so Scoremore began booking artists on package tours routed through Texas. Guttfreund was still in school, so Bogle was the eyes and ears on the ground as they expanded into other markets. When like-minded kids hit up the Scoremore crew begging them to bring shows to their cities, Bogle answered them directly.
“I would respond, ‘Can you get a group of your friends together, and I want to come down and meet with you and talk about potentially expanding. But it has to make sense. I have to have a solid feeling that you guys will put in the work needed,’” she says.
They developed a knack for identifying talent, not just in artists, but also in the young hustlers who wanted to join their team.
“Our model has always been, how can we duplicate? How can we sustain? How can we get the community and the colleges and the kids involved, because that’s really where this is. That’s where the money maker is. That’s where the sponsors are. That’s the demographic the sponsors want to tap into,” Bogle says. “The youth is the truth.”
The company was growing and also developing a reputation as tastemakers. They hosted the first Texas tours for rappers J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. When the artists arrived in town, the Scoremore crew went out of their way to show them Texas hospitality, throwing barbecues to honor them. They gave themselves the tagline “Your favorite rapper’s favorite promoter” and persuaded artists like Cole and Lamar to record video testimonials underlining the point.
In 2011, they hosted a post-SXSW party called Sunday Swagger headlined by Houston rap legend Bun B., hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang and DJ Steve Aoki. The jaw-dropping second line of support players on the flier includes soon-to-be stars Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
Guttfreund lost money on the show but it sparked a vision. “I saw this convergence of hip-hop and dance music. I really thought they were going to come together,” he says.
Later that year, Guttfreund graduated from UT and took a job working on brand partnerships for a clothing label in New York. It was a baller position that lined his pockets with the fat stacks he’d always wanted, but it left him unfulfilled. For over a year, he split his time and his focus between Austin and NYC. He was still trying to build Scoremore, but losing bookings to the larger promotion houses in town because artists wanted to play their festivals. He was young and impulsive with a chip on his shoulder, something to prove.
“I was like, ‘If I don’t do a music festival of rap and EDM, we’re going to go out of business.’ I was like, ‘We need to put our flag in the moon,’” he says. In 2013, he quit the job and moved back to Austin to make it happen. In retrospect, he recognizes he wasn’t really ready, that he was operating out of fear. He was afraid someone else would do it first.
They booked the original Jmblya (spelled Jambalaya the first year) in Houston, Dallas and Austin. The concept was to reflect the food, “a bowl of a bunch of different flavors,” Guttfreund says. EDM and hip-hop are very different music styles, but they’re both loved by kids. The lineup featured rappers Tyler the Creator and Big Boi and EDM artists Zeds Dead and RL Grime.
They did everything wrong. They announced the show six weeks out and set the price point for tickets too high. They didn’t have relationships with the venues they booked so they didn’t land lucrative deals. A week before the event, it was clearly a financial flop. Friends were telling Guttfreund he should cancel, so he called Charles Attal, one of the heads of C3 Presents.
“He said, ‘Listen, only you can make the call as to whether or not you can cancel. If you really believe you are onto something and that there is a brand here and you can afford to take a bath then do it,’” Guttfreund says. “He said, ‘If you’re going forth out of ego or pride, that’s the way people go under.’”
“Would we have lost less money by canceling? Absolutely, for sure,” Guttfreund says. “But we were like, do we want to make this about money? Or do we want to make this about creating something.”
It was still a painful setback and the aftermath was a rough time for Guttfreund, but not his darkest days. A few years earlier, his struggle with alcohol and drugs had come to a head. “I got arrested on campus. I woke up in the hospital not knowing how I got there. I woke up covered in blood, not sure what happened. My life did not look good. It was bad,” he says. At age 20, before he’d ever had a legal drink, he knew it was time to get sober.
“It changed my life,” he says. “By far the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life … when you’re not a sophomore in college thinking that you’re Jay-Z, popping bottles in the a nightclub … and you’re not wasted and making a fool of yourself. Well, things tend to go better.”
That experience was still fresh when the festival failed. “I was still kind of getting my feet on the ground with being sober and graduating from a previous life into a new one,” Guttfreund says. And despite losing a lot of money, he felt more comfortable and happy back in Austin “broke as (expletive)” than he felt in New York.
As it happened, Scoremore caught a lucky break. The first time the crew brought Kendrick Lamar to Austin, a few years earlier, Guttfreund says roughly 80 people came to his show at Red 7 (now Barracuda) “and about 20 of them were friends I begged to come.” But now it was 2013 and Lamar had scorched his way into the national consciousness with his furious release “Good Kid/M.A.A.D. city.” Lamar was loyal to Guttfreund’s crew from their early support. Scoremore handled his Texas tour and those shows kept the company alive.
From there, they kept doubling down, slowly building their way back to health. In 2014, they dropped the Houston Jmblya, the biggest money-loser, and booked a red-hot upcoming hip-hop artist, Chance the Rapper, to headline. With just two dates, they doubled the attendance from the 2013 run. They were back in business.
Looking back, Guttfreund calls the first Jmblya “a great experience.”
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything and we launched a brand, that people love,” he says.
‘Different and alternative’
Guttfreund does not have the vibe of an ordinary person. “He’s a once in a generation player,” says Rich Garza, who has served on the Austin Music Commission and for eight years ran Pachanga Festival.
He’s thoughtful, but intense, buzzing with kinetic energy. These days he works on a treadmill desk, but his day one colleague Castillo says he used to draw on the soles of his feet during conference calls. It was elaborate doodling, repetitive patterns that spread across his skin. He has the kind of mind that moves so fast he needs to be doing at least two things at any moment to stay focused.
The company is growing fast. In February 2016 Scoremore had seven full-time employees on payroll; now they have 17. But even if Jmblya does sell out this year, Guttfreund doesn’t plan to expand capacity going forward.
The festival as it is now embodies millennial culture. In order to go bigger, they’d feel pressure to tap larger, mainstream arena acts. “I think we like being different, right, different and alternative. So I kind of like that we’re smaller,” Guttfreund says.
Instead, they’re likely to expand Jmblya into a touring run that hits more cities, and not necessarily the obvious ones. The new Scoremore model is to host pop-up festivals in underserved markets. Since 2014 they’ve worked on Neon Desert in El Paso and last year they launched, and sold out, Mala Luna in San Antonio.
Over the past 10 years, music festivals in North America have proliferated and permeated pop culture. These days, festivals are huge money-makers for artists. They dictate album release cycles. Hanging out with their friends at an all-day music event is something kids want to do. In a city like Austin, it seems like the festival economy is surely hitting a saturation point, but in many parts of the country that’s not the case.
“Part of being successful in business is identifying the void in the marketplace,” Bogle says. “There’s these markets that aren’t getting the love and the attention that they need, that have fans of artists.”
In addition, Scoremore has launched a music management arm. Alongside Lanez, whom Guttfreund has been working with since 2011, the company signed Houston rapper Trill Sammy last year. Bogle, who splits her time between Austin and L.A., is independently managing the singer Kali Uchis.
They are also exploring different brand partnership opportunities. During SXSW they partnered with Universal Music Group to produce an event at Antone’s and they recently worked with Spotify on an El Paso event.
The company has a lot of moving parts and it’s rapidly picking up steam. So when exactly did Scoremore transform from Guttfreund and his friends into a legit company?
Guttfreund, whose biggest point of pride is that none of his full-time employees have ever quit, doesn’t miss a beat.
“It’s still me and my friends,” he says. “As a legit company.”
The lineup for this year’s festival includes Chance the Rapper, Gucci Mane, Migos, Snow tha Produce, Steve Aoki and Lil Uzi Vert.
When: Gates at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6.
Where: 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd.
Tickets: $99 (adv.)