Control LA has become a household name for those who are a part of the electronic music community in Los Angeles. Celebrating 10 years this year, they have hosted events with DJs of all genres and stature. Founders Chris Alba and Ryan Jaso do more than just putting on events. They have started to build a music branding and creative empire in the city, forming a new larger company Control Forever. It combines The Cult Creatives, a creative agency, Super Evil Genius Corp, a digtal marketing company and Control LA all under one umbrella.
With all of these moving parts for a large and growing business, we talked to Chris and Ryan about their decision to create Control LA, the benefits of scale for them, the diverse projects they can work on and more.
Why did you decide to pull off this merger of sorts?
J: Well, I think collectively as we neared our 10-year anniversary of Control, Chris and I had gone out and done individual projects. Chris had his music project, and he and Lyndsay Alba also started The Cult Creatives together; they filled a gap in the marketplace by servicing up-and-coming musicians that really needed a brand identity to match the quality of the music said artists were putting out. I had Technique Management, and later I joined ATC Management; it was a great business and I learned a lot over those 12 years of managing artists. However, in the end, we both realized that we had written our first real “hit song” together, if you will, with Control, and we both realized that when we’ve worked on projects together they have all been really successful. So, we joined forces in 2017 on The Cult Creatives, which is a full service creative agency. We have worked with many prominent names in dance music, hip-hop and R&B over the last two years, and it has really taken off.
The most recent addition is our digital marketing, Super Evil Genius Corp. Early on with Cult, we realized we didn’t want to offer anything if we knew we weren’t going to be proficient in doing so. Therefore, we decided to simply create content, but not deploy it. In September of 2018, we linked up with Colby Reis and knew that if we were going to build out a digital marketing and social strategy side of the business, he was our guy to rally around. We launched that division initially with Galantis and two other acts in just six months. We now have 5 account managers and 17 clients. So, to recap…Control Forever is our media channel and podcast network, which is the parent company of The Cult Creatives and Super Evil Genius Corp; all of the arms of the business really work synergistically, and we seem to find new ways every day of how one benefits the other.
C: For me, it started with the idea of choice. Choosing whom you work alongside and what clients you take on is a freedom that is paramount for me personally. So, when we started building the marketing arm of our business, it was a no brainer to work alongside the team at Super Evil. It was a team of incredibly talented and intelligent snipers. What they were offering and the skillsets they had were extremely complimentary to what we were already doing with brands at The Cult Creatives. Cult creates the story, and Super Evil makes sure it’s told the way it’s meant to be.
What is some of your favorite work that Cult and Super Evil Genius Corp have done?
J: For me it’s two-fold. One, it’s really the team we’ve been able to assemble internally because I really think we have some of the best people working here, and everyone has fully bought in to what we are trying to do. I’m especially proud of the work we have done with Party Favor over the last couple of years; we were really able to add a ton of value to his brand. For Super Evil, there are a lot of great stories, but I think in general it’s the tangible value we’ve been able to provide for festivals. We’ve worked on Oasis (Morocco), RHA Fest (Mexico), Desert Daze (Lake Perris), and Northern Nights (Northern California). With Colby’s history in the festival space coming from Live Nation and Hard, we were able to increase the ticket sales from previous years on every festival property we have been apart of. It’s a great feeling at the end of the day because you can actually see the tangible value you create for the client(s).
C: There’s so many I’m proud of. All the projects are like our children, but a few that jump out are: 1. We just finished shooting a content piece for Audemars Piguet (a Swiss luxury watch manufacturer whose cheapest watch is $17,000). Our concept there was to take the world of golf, the art stylings of James Turrell, and progressive electronic music and combine them into one. It sounds crazy, but can’t wait for everyone to see the result. 2. Last year, we worked on all of the design and collateral for Goldenvoice and Blurry Vision Fest (an all hip-hop music festival in Northern California with Migos and SZA headlining). We created the entire design language for the festival from top to bottom. 3. DJ and band branding work is rad. Both companies work with a wide variety of DJs, artists and bands. Some of the fun ones were Party Favor, Destructo, Graves, MadeinTYO, Chris Lake, Galantis, Alison Wonderland, 4B Two Friends, Disciple Records… There’s a bunch of brands we’ve worked on in this space, but those were some that stick out and some of my personal favorites.
How are you going to get all of these various companies and agencies to work together well?
J: The entire thing is predicated on everyone truly helping everyone. When a project needs to get done, the companies all rally around one another to really exceed the expectations—even if it’s not someone’s account because the thought process is really team first. A huge component to everything we wanted to build here was the company culture being put above everything else. We’ve turned down incredibly talented people because we didn’t feel like they would be a fit with what we are trying to build, and at this stage in my career, I want to work with people I want to work with. It’s as simple as that. It goes both ways all the time, and honestly up until this interview, our business card has been the work itself. So, if the work isn’t good and the client isn’t happy, the reputation will always precede the work and we always lead with that as a company’s ethos.
C: For me, the hard work is really done in the interview process…thinking about who you are adding to the team. Many of the people we have at the agency are people we already knew or have worked with previously on projects, but there are many we didn't know, too. We spent a fair amount of time getting to know them, their stories, and their dreams. We have a very specific company culture that is our own at Control Forever, and we spend a lot of time getting to know those people that we can potentially bring into the agency. The people we work alongside are hardworking, intelligent, professional, and most of all kind individuals. Again, going back to my previous point about choice and working alongside people you genuinely enjoy working with. It makes the work better, it makes the work exciting, and I think it makes people excited to come to work every day. So, the short answer is we look for people we believe would work well with our existing group.
Was and has there been a tough transition period to get everything on the same page?
J: In the beginning, it was trying to explain to people that this is a huge asset and a resource to help artists, but also to help artist managers. A lot of what I wanted to instill and bring to the table when I made the transition from management was to make sure we were giving managers what they needed without having to reach out to multiple creatives to do various projects. With Cult, we have everything in house; we can do music videos, logos, motion graphics, photoshoots, headshots, merchandise design and production. We also allow clients to plug into our machine, so to speak, and we can really help managers and artists move without having to worry about creative. More importantly, there are so many talented artists out there, however, so many times we see such incredible art, but none of it actually tells the story of the artist—which ultimately doesn’t push the brand forward.”
C: Actually no. I think with any business there’s the tweaking and learning phase, but I’ve worked with Jaso for so long now that we know how each other works and what our super powers are. We adjust as we go, learn from doing, and give each other space to build. I think the transition for me going from being a DJ/producer who was living in music studios and traveling, to now working in an office on Control Forever/Cult/Super Evil was an interesting transition. However, I really love it…being able to have a proper regiment of exercise, meditation, and a health-focused diet every day has been game changing for me.
What has been the biggest benefit you have seen thus far of the larger agency?
J: Costs. We find that our pricing is more than competitive in a world where traditional agencies are fighting against the old guard of massive overhead and the inability to adapt to the speed of social media, as well as the music industry. We feel our knowledge and background in music allows us to thrive in any industry we step into.
C: Teamwork makes the dream work, and often the bigger the team the bigger the dreams you can reach.
What is the greater objective of Control Forever?
J: The short version is we hope to be able to make creative content for ourselves with Control Forever, via our podcast network and video properties. We want to be able to tell the stories that we feel aren’t currently being told. Our flagship podcast, High and Dry, with Jason Ellis, Mike Catherwood, and Katie Ellis is something I’m particularly proud of on the network. It’s hilarious at times, and incredibly insightful and thoughtful at other times without pontificating. We’ve also had some incredible guests on the show. Our other shows, Neon Black (which I cohost with Seb Webber and Cheyne Gilmore, and we talk about the state of the music industry and pop culture), along with Creative Control that Chris Alba hosts, and Live Forever that my wife hosts, all round out a versatile and unique network.
We now have a whole house filled with amazing creative individuals and artists. Creative Directors, Art Directors, Brand Strategist, Graphic Designers, Motion Graphics, Editors, Copy Writers, Digital Marketing Experts, Film teams, Photographers and Photo Editing Teams, Audio/Music Teams, Web Development, and so on. It’s a big crew, but we all constantly talk about dreams and inspirations of things we want to build and create. The purpose of Control Forever was to create an outlet for all of our creatives to make things we cared about. Content series, videos, podcasts, short films, written articles, illustration pieces, music, art, etc. It was a hub for all of to make and house things that mattered to us. So, the greater objective would be to continue to grow and continue to create. This would also be the greater objective for my own life.
When acting as a promoter, how do you balance being in tune with trends and trying to set them yourself?
J: It’s really about trying to catch the trends on the way up, which has become harder and harder with the competition in LA. We really have to get ahead of stuff more so than before. Although if you’re too early, you might as well be late because you’ll be hosting a dead party. All in all, I feel like we did set a lot of trends when we started Control, which in doing so has allowed us a lot more creative freedom today because our core audience trust the decisions we make from week to week.
C: I think it’s a few things: awareness, listening, and knowing where to dig. Awareness is meaning to know where you are in life and in the scheme of things. When Jaso and I were booking Control in 2010, I was a DJ traveling, playing shows, and making music everyday…living in the trenches. He was a music manager who was spending all day everyday hanging out with industry types, agents, label managers, A&Rs, etc. So, between the two of us we heard things. It was natural because we were living it. We got really lucky because it seemed that we had a sense for which waves were coming and when. Now that we are a bit older, we still have all of these amazing people around us every day that put us onto new music and trends. So, for me at I least, I look to people whose taste I align with that may be more in the trenches than me and can help me discover. I try to be aware of where I am, listen, and to touch on where to dig. There’s a great book called Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim where he talks about going where people aren’t and building where people haven’t.
With your lineups, how much do you pay attention to gender diversity?
J: The core focus of what Control has always been about is getting behind talent at an early stage. In the early days, we booked artists like Kid Sister, Rye Rye, Annie Mac, and Krewella before they had really popped in the US. Also, as recent as last year, we had Nicole Moudaber grace the decks. I’d go so far as to argue that women are pushing music forward more than their male counterparts in 2019. Three of my top five of the year so far are from Lizzo, Sharon Van Etten, and Billie Eilish.
C: It’s funny. I think depending on the year people would say things like, “Oh Control is that dubstep party right?,” or “Yeah, I know Control…they do the trap shows.” We definitely had a lane that was very progressive and electronic, but we worked hard to be as diverse as possible. One week, we’d be disco and the next week progressive house; the week after that was drum n bass, and the next week could be hip-hop. To us, it has never been about gender, sexual preference, or genre…If it’s cool, it’s cool. We usually align with music and artists that are going against the grain.
What are future projects Control Forever will be able to take on because of its size? What is in the works?
J: The High and Dry podcast is just getting started—it debuted just two months ago, and it already popped up in the top 40 of most downloaded podcasts on iTunes. There’s A LOT more where that came from; we have some amazing guests in the next few weeks on the show.
C: This one we can’t talk too much about, as there are so many things in the works and I don’t want to spoil any of it. However, for now check out Neon Black and High and Dryon from our Control Forever network. They are two amazing podcast shows that you’ll get hooked on quick. Check out ControlForever.com and the Control Forever Instagram for the articles, as well as news bits that are happening in music and culture. Also, keep an eye out for things with that CF logo… a lot coming.
How did you get in the business?
J: I fell into it to be honest. I started throwing shows 13 years ago as a way to market the clothing line I was the marketing director for, and realized that music and creative is where I want to be full-time. Even though I’m not managing anymore, I’m still getting my music “fix” by being involved in brand creation and direction.
C: I’ve always been interested in building things…and how art and commerce work together to create emotional moments. I’d say how I “got in” was I just started DJing shows. I was the kid who showed up at venues with vinyl (yep, vinyl) in my trunk, and would know who the different promoters at the different venues were. I’d let them know if their DJ didn’t show up or was late, I’d be happy to jump on and play for free. I just wanted to play back then, but I think it’s how I still operate. I don’t ask for permission; I like to define where I want to go and then just show up. Showing up is everything. How can opportunity find you if you aren’t there?
What is your advice for someone trying to stay in the business?
J: I’ve always said to Chris, if you can last 5 years at something, you’ll have a real chance at success. We are only two years into the Control Forever / Cult Creatives / Super Evil Genius Corp venture, and we have a long ways to go. However, we’ve worked with nearly 100 clients in that span and we are just getting started.
C: One of our good friends who we work with at Control Forever, Seb Webber, walked in our office one day and said, “You know how you build a big business boys…? Stay in business.” We are long game guys. The way we build takes years. So, it’s about staying the course. There are always going to be tough moments and shit days, but it’s important to be passionate about what you’re working on. You’ll need the passion to carry you through.