Is Your Song Going Viral? These Guys Would Like to Talk
In January, Danny Kang was stranded in chilly London, waiting to meet the individual responsible for @world_record_egg, the Instagram account that had turned a simple photo of an egg into the most-liked post in the history of the social media platform.
Kang is a talent manager, and he was hoping to convince the mighty Egg to enter into a marketing partnership. But his plan almost immediately hit a snag: He couldn’t make contact with Chris Godfrey, the man behind the account. “For two days while I’m there, he won’t even meet me,” Kang says. “Someone was speaking for him. She would speak very cryptically. I was like, ‘Do you want to meet?’ She’s like, ‘I have to ask Henrietta. Henrietta laid the egg.’ [Godfrey] doesn’t trust me. He thinks I’m trying to expose him. He thinks he’s in, like, MI6.”
This stance was not necessarily a surprise to Daniel Awad, Kang’s partner in the management company Good Luck Have Fun Media. “I personally would never fly to London for an Instagram egg,” Awad says.
“I put Dan in a lot of situations where he gets scared,” Kang quips.
“I’m not scared,” Awad retorts. “I’m just like, what is the end goal here?”
The end goal was to harness the Egg’s reach — it had already shot past 18.4 million likes — and put it to use for Kang and Awad’s clients: Kang envisioned the egg cracking open to reveal either the yodeling phenom Mason Ramsey or the pop agitator Oliver Tree. Atlantic Records was behind the effort, ready to fork over enough money to “buy a house.” But Kang couldn’t get into a room with Godfrey to make his pitch. After two days, the manager started to suspect that the trip was a waste of time — that Godfrey’s silence meant he already had a perfectly orchestrated rollout strategy, with no extra room for Ramsey or Tree.
So Kang was shocked when he finally met the Egg master and found out he was allegedly plan-less. “He was just being anonymous,” Kang says, incredulity creeping into his voice. “What is wrong with you?”
The elevator pitch for Good Luck Have Fun Media is simple. At a time when labels are increasingly focused on identifying viral music moments and then racing pell-mell, sacks of cash in hand, to sign the artists behind them — see Juice WRLD, NLE Choppa, Lil Nas X — Kang and Awad believe they can identify virality faster, and thus get to the source quicker, as they did with Ramsey. The goal: Find someone that’s blowing up, and be the first to slide into their DM’s.
“The beauty of what we do is identify viral things,” Kang says. “We use certain metrics. Part of the criteria we use is [looking at] specific accounts that follow early — you can identify if something’s going to go viral based on who ends up following it early on. That’s one of our little secrets.”
“It’s all just potential,” Awad adds. “Sometimes you see something and the lightbulb goes off, and you see all the moves it’s about to make. Do we hop on this early? It’s always a gamble. You can never predict 100%.”
Divining viral futures is the first part of Kang and Awad’s skill set. The second is developing inventive strategies for bringing additional attention to the acts on their roster — for example, flying to London to negotiate with the people behind bizarrely popular Instagram accounts. This is all the more important since Kang and Awad work primarily in rock, pop, and country music, genres where viral energy is poorly understood and rarely cultivated.
“You gotta do whatever you gotta do these days to cut through because it’s so crowded,” Kang says. “All you can do is hack things, manipulate the algorithms to give you a fire, find different platforms to try and launch something and give it a boost to get to people. Those creative methods to get attention and noise is what we’re specifically good at.”
Both men have extensive practice. Kang, 31, has been obsessed with the internet since college, when his family had financial problems and he had to find new ways to pay for school. He turned to viral stunts.
One of the most successful was an ecommerce website which Kang boosted by making a connection with a popular YouTuber. “Brands hadn’t really figured out product placement yet with YouTubers,” the manager explains. “I was one of the first people to ever put a product in a YouTube video.” (Kang’s constant claims of first-ness are part of his charm, though consistently difficult to independently verify.) Shirt sales soared, and Kang spent months fulfilling orders. “I was skipping classes for an entire semester in the basement of this house just physically packaging these orders trying to every order out before Christmas. I couldn’t keep up — I counted that I ruined 300 Christmases.”
There were other attention-grabbing exploits: Kang created a popular website that re-posted screenshots of funny Facebook moments online and put together a dance group, Fighting Gravity, that managed to place third on America’s Got Talent. He was still in college when he found his first management client, Stephen Swartz, who enjoyed success with a buzzing electronic single titled “Bullet Train.”
“Creative methods to get attention and noise is what we’re specifically good at.”
Awad is 26, a few years behind Kang, but he also spent his college years developing mastery over the levers of online media. While living in Florida in the hopes of qualifying for cheap in-state college tuition, he began to write for EDM Sauce, an electronic music blog. “I got crazy obsessive,” Awad remembers. “I was writing five to 10 articles a day and going to all these shows. Then my friend told me about Hype Machine,” a blog aggregator that was influential among both listeners and labels in the late 2000s. “He was like, ‘if you get people’s music on this website and charting, people will pay you.'”
Awad threw himself into “the underground PR game,” earning $300 for his first campaign. Hype Machine rewarded songs that were posted on the most independent blogs, so Awad created a series of fake personas and applied to write for site after site. He estimates that his small media fiefdom grew to around 10 or so blogs. As his effectiveness increased — “every song that I did would always be in the Top Ten on Hype Machine” — so did his fee: Between $500 to $1,000 for a campaign.
All good things come to an end. Another PR person figured out Awad’s scheme, and Hype Machine brought his blogging career to a close. “I had all the owners of these blogs emailing me, calling me asking, ‘Who the fuck are you?'” Awad recalls. “I was so scared. This was my only way into music, and I thought I fucked it up.”
But the music industry has never been hostile towards creative promotional strategies. In fact, the business tends to reward those daring enough to risk censure to cut through — their audacity is proof of their hustle. Not long after the Hype Machine bust-up, Awad discovered the electronic producer Whethan. “I had dealt with so many managers at the time, and no one seemed to really know what they were doing,” he recalls. So he decided to give management a try: “I can fake this, too.”
Kang and Awad met in L.A. while extracting Oliver Tree — an artist with a brazen bowl-cut, an impressively contort-able face and a gift for deranged visuals — from a previous record deal. The two managers strike a classic balance: Kang is effusive, quick to deliver a lengthy monologue with unflagging passion, while Awad represents a calming energy, butting in with, “alright Danny, you’ve been on a ten-minute Oliver-Tree-riff.” Kang breaks down the division of labor: “Dan’s more on the music and creative side; I’m more on the marketing side.”
“I’m the normal one,” Awad interjects.
“He reels me in,” Kang adds. “If I didn’t have Dan, God only knows where some of these ideas would lead me to.”
Good Luck Have Fun was born in 2016; the management company’s roster now includes Whethan, Tree, Ramsey (who all have deals with Atlantic) and the gravel-voiced singer Mike Yung. The Good Luck Have Fun staff includes five full-time employees who spend an inordinate amount of time on the video app TikTok. Their numbers are augmented by a shadow team, “a larger network of people that we have built relationships with over the years that are hustling and grinding,” Kang says. “These people are essentially A&Rs in their own right, social media influencers in specific niches and pockets.”
“Giant viral moments are just a flash in the pan unless you can figure out a way to build fans out of it.”
The challenge for Good Luck Have Fun now is to launch a career. They’ve proven they can win the race to a viral talent like Ramsey, but to transform viral sparks into a steady commercial flame is another game. Kang acknowledges as much: “Giant viral moments are just a flash in the pan unless you can figure out a way to build fans out of it.” “There still are people who doubt that what we do works,” Awad notes.
The two men believe they are on the right path with Mason Ramsey. Country music remains one of pop’s most rigid genres, and it treats viral talent with a raised eyebrow — sometimes a stiff-arm (See: “Old Town Road”). “A lot of people thought [Ramsey] would go away, that he wasn’t real,” Kang says. Although the singer hasn’t charted a single this year, he embarked on his first headlining tour in the spring, and it will expand into a national run in the fall. “People are coming up to us [after shows] like, ‘we totally did this as a favor to your agents, but we can’t believe how real this is,'” Kang says.
His work with Ramsey also provides regular fodder for jokes. “Call me Country Kang!” he says at one point. Months later, after Ramsey released a new single titled “Twang,” the singer’s co-manager sent a cryptic text.
“Is it too late?” Kang asked.
“For me to change my name to Danny Twang?”
As Ramsey works to win over Nashville’s old guard, Tree has quietly been Good Luck Have Fun’s biggest viral-to-traditional success story. (Whethan also streams well, though he has less of a taste for viral stunts.) Tree’s music is rock-ish — Spotify files him on its “Rock This” playlist — but unlike a lot of his competitors, Tree’s songs actually perform on streaming platforms: He’s amassed over 100 million streams in the U.S. so far this year, according to the analytics company Alpha Data, which Rolling Stone‘s parent company PMC bought in 2018.
Tree also cracked the Top Five recently at old-fashioned alternative radio, earning more than 2,000 spins in a week. “You look at our merch numbers, it’s unbelievable how much merch we’re doing per head,” Kang says.
Those tangible signals of success are what sets Kang off on a ten-minute riff about his artist — it peaks with a description of Tree as “the Andy Warhol of music and memes combined” — before Awad interrupts. Kang gets in one last plug. “People have tried to take this meme world, this influencer world, and flip it into a musical career,” he says. “A lot of them see short term success, a quick blip. But we haven’t really seen someone that will be able to take it to the level that Oliver has.”
Kang’s trip to London ended up being a bust, but not for lack of trying. He extended his stay to wait out Godfrey and his collaborators. “To win their trust over — they thought a lot of people were still trying to expose who the Egg was and who was behind it — I booked a room at the Henrietta hotel in London in the Soho district,” Kang says. “I wanted to show them I wanted to play the game too. It was so expensive, like $600 to book it that day. It’s like, I’m gonna get yelled at by Dan!”
Once Kang made contact with Godfrey, the plans to use the climactic Egg-hatch moment as a chance to boost Ramsey or Tree were discarded. Instead, Kang offered up an elaborate scheme to turn the Egg on Donald Trump. “It was going to be this extended hatch where this Egg would keep cracking until Easter Sunday,” Kang says. “Then Donald Trump was going to come out of the egg and it was going to either say ‘Impeach Donald Trump’ or ‘Fuck Donald Trump.’ It was a political weapon to change people’s opinions.”
Until it wasn’t. A leak hinted at the Egg’s intentions — The Atlantic reported that the anti-Trump advocacy organization Need to Impeach passed on the opportunity to partner with Godfrey’s creation. “That’s what spooked the kid to start fearing for his life,” Kang says. “He went rogue and did his own thing.”
The creators of the Egg declined to answer specific questions relating to their involvement with Kang or their plans for the Egg. In a statement, a representative for the account tells Rolling Stone that “since breaking the record, our mission has always been to make World Record Egg a force for good and to use the egg’s platform to address the topic of Mental Health. We met Danny Kang in January 2019. He was one of a number of people who approached us proactively about potential collaborations. After much consideration we did not end up moving forward with his proposals as they were not aligned with our mission.”
Godfrey ended up linking with Hulu. “I remember almost throwing my body into oncoming traffic [when I found out],” Kang says. (Good marketers tend to have a flair for the dramatic.) “When [Godfrey and I] were talking, he wanted to do something that would put the world in a better place. I just think he made a terrible mistake, doing it the way he did.”
Remembering this missed opportunity occasions a rare moment of dejection from Kang. “Every time I talk about it, it’s like P.T.S.D.,” he says. “Fucking management sucks. Management is like working during the Egyptian times where you’re building giant pyramids for your pharaohs — your artists — brick by brick. It’s so tough. Then when you finally do it, one day they can wake up and say, ‘Hey, you don’t belong here anymore!'”
But if management falls through, Kang has a back-up plan. “If I ever left the game, you would find me starting a Burrata company called Poopoo de Angel — angel poop. Cheese needs some new marketing, doesn’t it? I’d create a viral Burrata company.”
Awad approves. “That’s not even a bad name.”
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