"We don't discover, we create," proclaims the homepage of At Night Management's website. It's a mantra that founder Ash Pournouri has followed throughout his career -- including making Swedish DJ Avicii into a global star -- but is one he's now turning on its head with his latest enterprise, Self Made, a multi-platform music talent search entirely decided and judged by the public.
"We're giving all the power to people because that's exactly how it is in real life," Pournouri tells Billboard. "Self Made mirrors the realities of the current ecosystem. In today's world, to get signed with a big commitment from a label or a booking agency, you have to promote yourself. No one will give you a big check unless you have proven that you can connect with an audience."
To that end, Self Made offers aspiring and unsigned artists the chance to build a following by uploading performance videos onto the platform that are then voted on by the public. After six weeks, the 21 most popular acts go through to a "development phase," where they will receive online coaching by established artists, producers and influencers. From there, the top 12 will gather in the Swedish capital city of Stockholm for both studio and live sessions, highlights of which will be streamed online and broadcast on a primetime slot on Swedish TV network Kanal 5.
The competition climaxes with a live final, taking place May 27 in Stockholm, with the winner landing a 50-50 record deal with Pournouri's own PRMD label imprint and $25,000 in prize money. Proven hitmakers Carl Falk and Rami Yacoub (Avicii, One Direction), Arnthor Birgisson (Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj) and John Martin (Swedish House Mafia) are also on board and will contribute and co-write songs with the winning contestant. Launch partners include Spotify and European fashion retailer H&M.
"I see tremendous demand out there for a streamlined dedicated platform like this," explains Pournouri, who parted ways with most famous client, Avicii, aka songwriter and producer Tim Bergling, late last year.
"Right now if you want to break through online and promote yourself, you have to struggle for attention among endless funny cat videos, gaming videos, cooking videos and everything in between," Pournouri says, adding that Self Made differs from TV singing contests like American Idol and The Voice, as well as user-generated services like YouTube, by being an entirely music-focused platform where the public exclusively decides who progresses.
"On lots of other talent shows, the filtering process is done by a few select people," he continues. "We're offering the fans the chance to get involved from the get go. We don't dictate anything; we don't dictate who goes into the final, who wins and we don't dictate how the artists should express themselves. We're not going to say, 'This week, you sing a rock classic. This week you sing a country song.' We're allowing the artists to express their own identity, because I think that's the only way you get a real artist to flourish. We don't want karaoke artists. We want the real ones."
At launch, Self Made is only open to singers living in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, although voting is open to anyone in the world. Firm plans are in place to roll out the project on a global level next year, while there is also talk of extending the platform beyond a singing and vocal contest (rappers and MCs are eligible to enter) and branching out into other genres and art forms, becoming a global incubator for talent and artist discovery.
"There's been a frustration on my part with just how slow the [music] business has evolved," says Pournouri, who envisages Self Made becoming the world's first international singing competition. "A lot of the old standards for how deals are made, or what the process is for a struggling artist to break, haven't really evolved in line with the [digital] reality that we're in. With Avicii, we were lucky to come up during a period when the whole scene was turned upside down by digital and social media. This is the next step in that process."