Despite never showing his face publicly or signing a proper record deal, Marshmello is one of the biggest stars in the world, with a YouTube subscriber count exceeding that of Taylor Swift, Drake, or Beyoncé. The DJ would likely not be where he is today without the guidance of Moe Shalizi, who’s been by Marshmello’s side since Day One — back when he was still wearing a helmet made from a chopped-up yoga mat.
Shalizi saw the helmet — which has since been upgraded to better materials — as a calling card. He turned it into a costume piece at Spirit Halloween Stores. It was also Shalizi who negotiated the deal with Stuffed Puffs Marshmallows, now a popular marshmallow brand at Walmart, and who encouraged Marshmello to dive into a hard-ticket tour early on, selling out 500 to 800 capacity rooms as a relatively unknown figure. “We blew that out on announce,” he recalls. “A year later, we ended up doing three nights at the Shrine — 15,000 tickets — and two nights at Red Rocks. We started with hard tickets right off the bat to really establish the brand.”
Marshmello started out as a quiet kid from Philly. Shalizi was a University of California-Riverside finance major who grew up in Section 8 housing and spent his teenage years immersed in rave culture. They met when they both moved to Los Angeles, and they launched Marshmello’s brand in 2016. The entrepreneurial Shalizi left major management company Red Light, where he worked as an employee for four years, to become his own boss and start the Shalizi Group at the end of 2018.
Last year, Shalizi made headlines when he turned Marshmello’s gaming hobby into a new business — calling up the Fortnite team to get the DJ to host the video-game platform’s first in-game concert, which broke an activity record with 10.7 million viewers at the time.
Now, in perhaps the most hectic and confusing year the music industry has ever experienced, Shalizi has refused to let Covid-19 derail his company’s plans. Marshmello couldn’t tour, so he focused on launching a children’s animation series on YouTube instead. He also released a song with Halsey, “Be Kind,” and partnered with Postmates, donating $100,000, which Postmates matched, to give back to all the drivers who were risking their health to deliver food during quarantine times. Alesso, also a Shalizi client, wanted to keep fans engaged during dark times, so he crowdsourced vocals from fans for a remix of “Midnight” — his song with Liam Payne.
“A lot of people give away their audience to a brand,” Shalizi says. “If a brand pays you a million dollars for a social post or campaign, well, guess what? They just touched your entire audience for that million dollars. They got what they wanted. They’ve leveraged everything they need from you. Whereas if you leverage that for yourself, you can potentially get a lot more down the line.”
Shalizi’s also an investor and board member at Triller — a social media app, similar to TikTok, that’s fueled by easy-to-edit video snippets. “TikTok has always been really juvenile,” Shalizi says. “When I stumbled onto Triller a year or so ago, I noticed that the urban community was on there so heavily and organically. I noticed that anytime I’d find a dope rapper, their Instagram would have Triller videos but no TikToks. These gangsta rappers who would never do a TikTok are on Triller.”
As for the Shalizi Group, the immediate goals include hiring more people and focusing more closely on talent development and growth. Shalizi doesn’t seem too worried with the specifics, though; he says the secret to his success is always trusting his gut. “As an entrepreneur, you can analyze what the pros and cons of any situation are, but at the end of the day, your gut will always steer you in the right direction.”