Anyone who is a fan of electronic dance music (EDM) knows of Avicii. He was ranked No. 3 in DJ Magazine’s annual top 100 DJs in the world list for 2012 and 2013, has two Grammy Award nominations and is one of the highest-earning DJs in the world.
However, behind every person that’s reached mega-success is a backstory and people that helped them get there. For Avicii (real name Tim Bergling), there was one man in particular that helped put him on the map early in his career. The world-famous DJ told Elite Daily in a 2013 interview:
“I was always really driven … But when I met Ash he took me to a whole ‘nother level … Like when I met him he really took me out of nowhere and built my career. I wouldn’t be here without that.”
Ash Pournouri is a serial entrepreneur who’s always had a passion for business. Unfortunately, he was plagued with misfortune early in his career. His first project, a software solution to help protect computer users from getting their files shared illegally, failed to raise funding. His second project, software that would enable high quality music to be streamed on mobile devices, was stolen from him. His third project, a wireless backup solution for mobile phones, amounted to nothing after he paid developers $90,000 to develop the software, which ultimately didn’t work. It was these failures that helped Pournouri realize the importance of having total creative control and being completely hands-on with his projects, an attitude he brought with him when he began working with Avicii.
Pournouri discovered Avicii back in 2008 when the Swedish DJ was just 18 years old. He told Vegas Seven in a 2012 interview:
“After my kid was born, I found this kid Avicii from Sweden. I didn’t know his age, but I really loved his melodic comprehension, and could sense a talent that was rough and unfinished. We met for coffee and said we should do a remix together and see where that takes us. I explained my vision, which he didn’t 100 percent share at the time. He was still in school when we started working together, and didn’t know anything about the business. I told him, ‘I’ll teach you how to DJ, you focus on music and I’ll help guide you.’ It was very unplanned and natural how the partnership came about, and I look at it as my baby, though he is the brand.”
Since then, Pournouri’s helped groom him into one of the hottest acts in music. What’s the secret to Avicii’s success? According to Pournouri: creativity. During the Ultra Music Festival in 2013, Avicii became the most talked-about artist during the festival because he was the only act to bring in a live band to perform. Pournouri’s marketing philosophy was to use the fans to generate buzz, and it seemed to work — months later, Avicii’s hit single “Wake Me Up” became the No. 1 song on Spotify and cracked the iTunes top 10 chart.
Pournouri currently manages Avicii as well as other artists through his company At Night Management. We recently had the pleasure of talking with Ash Pournouri about his own backstory, his partnership with Avicii and how he feels about being attacked by EDM heavyweight Deadmau5.
What would you say was your first entrepreneurial experience?
Probably when I started my own rugby team in high school. I was declared captain and went on to grab seventh place in the Global School Championships in our second year. Even though there was no money involved, it was still a project like any other. I never do anything for the money anyway so the drive behind it is the same.
Tell us some of the most creative things you did to make money when you were still young and hustling.
[pullquote]As a promoter you have to be creative and hustle[/pullquote]I don’t know how creative I was in my hustling other than working really hard. I used to have a sick routine where I studied law in Stockholm Monday to Wednesday, then promoted a club Wednesday night in Stockholm, then took the night bus to Oslo in Norway where I went straight to work to run two restaurants and a nightclub Thursday through Sunday, then hop on a bus back to Stockholm and go directly from the bus to school again. And so it went …
As a promoter you have to be creative and hustle, I guess. So if anything, hustling was being creative with marketing. And in being creative, I used to convince big brands to provide something for the club, like fragrance samples that I distributed on the night, and I would brand the whole night like it was that big brand co-hosting it. Main thing was I made sure everyone had a sick time though, so it was all good and all win-win.
You had a bad experience when you were 19 years old where you pitched a business idea to the company Spray, who then turned around and stole the idea from you. Tell us about that experience and how that changed how you deal with people in business?
It just taught me not to be so naive. At 19 having just come out of high school with my grade scores being what they were, I thought I could take over the world. Not really experienced to deal with the corporate world on that level, I had no idea what I was doing really. It humbled me, while at the same time I was really angry and motivated to vindicate myself from the experience and the embarrassment. And it made me want to learn about my rights, so I went to law school. At the same time I kept an eye on the developments of that idea and once I saw it worked, I could verify to myself that my convictions and ideas had proven to be spot on. That was a receipt of that while my decisions hadn’t been the right ones, my predictions of where the world was heading to was in fact right. And that added to my self esteem and confidence throughout my career.
You initially met Avicii when you reached out to him for coffee. What were some characteristics he had that made you believe he would be a big deal some day?
Nothing, other than the fact that we clicked. I could see us working together as he seemed to like me and I liked him, and he respected me and vice versa. It was a gut feeling that he would trust me to let me to lead, and I wanted to trust him to commit to do what he would need to do.
Share with us a memorable story with Avicii back when he was still coming up.
Well, we had our share of fights. Over music direction, creative direction, professionalism, being on time, working in a specific way, his clothes, my executive decisions, really everything. I had several conversations with him on what it meant to be as big as we were gearing up to be and whether or not he wanted “all this” and if he was prepared to do what it would take. He was obviously very committed, as was I, so it all progressed, but man did we have our rocky moments.
Being a star (and managing one) can be extremely gruelling. How have you and Avicii dealt with burnout?
[pullquote]You really have to prioritize your health more than anything; you can’t help anyone if you end up in the hospital.[/pullquote]I’ve had moments where my head is spinning in thoughts so fast I can’t even speak, constantly analyzing and never stopping to look up when you have clear plans and a super clear vision of where you want to be. It’s hard to stop because that can sometimes mean you over-analyze a situation and become insecure of what you want or how to do something. Over time you learn to deal with it, but it’s not easy. You really have to prioritize your health more than anything; you can’t help anyone if you end up in the hospital.
You never planned to become a manager and to start a management company. How important do you feel it is to have a solid plan in life?
[pullquote]You can have dreams and wishes and visions and goals, but the moment you think you can stick firmly to a plan, it’s over.[/pullquote]Solid? Not the least. Life deals you and you have to navigate with that. You can’t ever control the world, so no point in trying. You can have dreams and wishes and visions and goals, but the moment you think you can stick firmly to a plan, it’s over. You will most probably fail if you can’t be flexible and maneuver obstacles on your path to your goals. John Lennon said something I love: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” A vision is important so you know where you want to be, but firm plans are overrated.
Tell us a little bit about Deadmau5. He’s certainly not afraid to speak his mind and has taken shots at you twice, in an interview with Vibe and another time via Twitter. Why do you think he has a problem with you and your company?
I never take that stuff personally. How could I when I never even met the guy and he knows nothing about me or my business and is constantly getting his facts wrong from rumors and other haters. I do my thing, and people can say what they want. Tim’s been dealing with his share of haters too, and in the beginning it used to phase him. I told him the taller a tree grows, the more wind will hit it. That’s life. I take Joel’s attacks as flattering — who else would put the time into seeking month-old tweets and starting a rant off of them, and then when confronted not even ask you the question to your face like an adult — I think he secretly likes me. His online persona probably works for him, and who am I to hate on that? It’s his thing.
What are some things you’d like to change in the EDM industry?
EDM as an industry (and not music, I’m presuming) will be whatever it will be. You’ll have the different genres moving differently as underground will stay underground and the new commercial EDM will take shape into what hip hop and R&B became when it went full retard — super commercial. I am not planning or wanting to change anything in EDM per se, but in the music industry I want to continue to make things fairer for the artists, producers and songwriters and help the industry understand the consumers instead of fighting them. There’s a long way to go, and no one, no matter how hard they think, has yet found the ultimate long-term solution.
In your opinion, what’s the secret to success?
Hard work, and conviction that what you’re doing is right.
What are some current projects you’re working on?
Lots of stuff going on! Mainly value-driven projects that help the industry and Sweden as a country, but also artists like iSHi and Cazzette who are about to blow up in different parts of the world!
Follow Ash on Twitter @ashpunani