In November, at the first Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Bun B, a rap legend from Houston, talked with Sascha Stone Guttfreund, a budding promoter for the state’s hip-hop scene, about the feasibility of an ambitious plan Guttfreund was considering—how to promote two shows by the red hot rapper Kendrick Lamar (pictured above) on the same night in competing Houston venues.
“It’s always a little surreal talking business with Bun B,” said Guttfreund, a co-founder of the promotion and marketing company ScoreMore that now regularly produces hip-hop concerts across Texas. “It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was just thrilled to hear him call me by my first name.”
These days Guttfreund is accustomed to rubbing elbows with hip-hop’s glitterati. The 23-year-old promoter is also accustomed to writing them six-figure checks to entice them to play Texas dates on their national tours.
While giant promoters like LiveNation and C3 Presents generally book more hip-hop shows in bigger venues with better-known artists, ScoreMore has quickly established itself as a boutique promotion agency willing to bet its reputation—and a fair amount of money—on what it considers to be the next big thing.
One of the company’s advertising slogans is “Your favorite rappers’ favorite promoters” and to prove this point, ScoreMore features a video on its website of testimonials by hip-hop’s top-tier of young touring talent, like Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, and Curren$y. ScoreMore produced sold-out Texas dates for each of those artists early in their careers, a move that helped establish a sense of loyalty to his company among major players in the scene.
“We definitely talk amongst ourselves about guys that take care of their business,” said Bun B, who rose to national prominence in the nineties as half of the pioneering Port Arthur-based duo UGK. “It’s easy to promote shows with big-name acts, guys with hits on the radio. But right away, ScoreMore took chances on a lot of great talent in its early stages. Those relationships that they built—not based on money, but on a belief in someone’s talents—paid off.”
ScoreMore’s ability to draw sizable crowds for up-and-coming artists largely hinges on the company’s other slogan: “For students, by students.” In 2009, when he was at the University of Texas at Austin, Guttfreund started ScoreMore with $1,500 he made in tips waiting tables. In the company’s first days, he would speak at weekly sorority and fraternity meetings, talking up local musicians and hip-hop artists. Once the company had traction, he borrowed from the concept of street teams, a business model often used by hip-hop promoters, and hired fellow students to sell and deliver concert tickets to other students. Some student representatives receive college credits as interns, some are paid with free tickets to shows, and others can even earn cash commissions.
“The commission model makes students feel ownership, like they’re a partner,” said Guttfreund, who runs ScoreMore out of an Austin apartment he shares with Claire Bogle, 22, the company’s other principal. “They like our grass roots, bottom-up model of marketing. We’re not spending big money on radio and traditional advertising because we’ve got fans going straight to other fans.”
Guttfreund credits the enthusiasm of ScoreMore’s college representatives for the sold-out club shows Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa enjoyed early in their careers. (Both artists have recently received a bounty of good mainstream press and significant radio play.) And on the back of those early successes, ScoreMore earned a reputation as a hip-hop trend-spotter and can fill a venue based on its own brand power.
“Traditionally, a promoter is somebody behind the scenes that you don’t know or recognize,” said Bun B, who headlined a ScoreMore South By Southwest Music Festival party that also featured Big Sean, Chiddy Bang, and Lamar. “There’s people who come to a ScoreMore show not because of a hit record or industry buzz, but because they have learned to trust and believe in their taste.”
ScoreMore is beginning to capitalize on this cache and is expanding its reach beyond music. It introduced Vintage For The Vain (VFTV), a clothing line designed by Bogle, in December, and Lamar and Kahlifa wore the merchandise during performances to help promote the launch.
But according to Guttfreund, the more important extension of ScoreMore in 2013 will be geographical. He is exploring ways to take his student-led marketing model to cities and universities beyond the south, and to partner with larger brands that want to take their messages and products directly to college campuses.
“We want to build this into a national touring model where we help artists get a college demographic to their shows,” Guttfreund said. “And we can do that for brands, too. We’ve tested the model, and we know it works.”
For more videos of ScoreMore shows, visit their website here.