By Adriana Gardella
Carlton Fields client Derrick Turton has seen the record industry’s business model shift drastically in the 12 years since he began working with Miami-based rapper Pitbull. He was Pitbull’s first manager and today serves as CEO of Planet Pit, LLC, the artist’s official website, with primary responsibility for managing and monetizing Pitbull’s online and social media efforts. When he recognized that social media would transform his industry, Mr. Turton refused to be left behind. Instead, he became a self-taught social media expert.
In addition to working with Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Christian Pérez, Mr. Turton co-owns EzVip.com, a startup that enables its customers to access and pre-pay for events and experiences online. The company, which was featured on the ABC reality show Shark Tank, was founded by former music manager Al Nelson and is co-owned by Pitbull, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and Daymond John, CEO of fashion brand FUBU. Through his work with the startup, Mr. Turton, 36, has also learned the importance of being able to adapt quickly.
He recently discussed both endeavors, talked about his big break, and offered advice on choosing a career. A condensed version of that conversation follows.
Q. How did you get started?
Mr. Turton: I went to school for culinary arts and thought that would be my calling. But I graduated and found I hated working in restaurants. So, at about 24, I started promoting parties all over Miami and doing marketing for record labels. I met Pitbull while working for Luke Records, Luther Campbell's record label, which Pit was signed to at the time. With the knowledge I gained from working with Luke, I started my own company in 2002, Big Mouth Marketing & Promotions. It focused on grassroots marketing.
Q. Since then, how has the music industry changed?
Mr. Turton: It’s gone from grassroots to digital. When I first started working for record labels, I’d walk all the records into the clubs. Even seven years ago, we were walking into clubs with stacks of records, driving all over. Now records—and even CDs—are irrelevant. It’s all about sending MP3 files, downloading music, and using related technology. The whole business model has changed.
Q. When did you begin ramping up Pitbull’s social media efforts?
Mr. Turton: We started the social media push in 2009, and have spent the last few years building up the machine. When we started, we had 100,000 Facebook fans. Now, we have 26 million, plus six million Twitter followers, and more than one million visitors to Planetpit.com. It's all about subscribers, traffic, and engagement. It's also about working smart. When Pitbull was coming out with a new album in 2011 and didn’t know what to call it, I suggested “Planet Pit,” which is also the name of his website. Online searches for the album helped drive traffic to our site without requiring us to make an out-of-pocket investment.
Q. What was your biggest break in the music industry?
Mr. Turton: It was based on karma. A guy lost his two-way pager in a Miami club. Someone gave it to me and suggested I keep it, but I returned it to the owner, who kept paging, and offering a reward that I didn’t accept. The pager’s owner turned out to be Jeff Sanchez. He’s now an NBA exec, but he worked for Luke Records at the time. Meeting him was a turning point in my life.
Q. How has the business model for EzVip changed since the company was featured on Shark Tank earlier this year?
Mr. Turton: At first, the company focused exclusively on offering access to events at nightclubs in Miami and Las Vegas. But we found that traffic to our website wasn’t translating into sales as we had hoped. We were getting lots of page views from parts of the country outside those areas, not from people who were going to clubs. So we revamped the business plan and expanded into the travel space so we could broaden our reach. Now users will be able to book hotel rooms, flights, and rental cars in addition to events. They can say, “I’m going to be in Miami on X day,” see the events that are going on then, and pre-purchase their night out—all on one website.
Q. What advice do you have for people who are starting out and trying to choose a career?
Mr. Turton: The more things you try, the better. Have an open mind. In college, a lot of people base their career choice on dollars. But it’s kind of whack to hate what you do just to make good money. My life is crazy, but I love what I do.