NEWS from Billboard Magazine
By Karen Bliss, Toronto | May 11, 2015 5:21 PM EDT

Johnny Wright

Johnny Wright, president/CEO of the Wright Entertainment Group (WEG) and No. 83 on The 2015 Billboard Power 100, spoke about a new chapter in his music career he’s calling PopNation during Canadian Music Week in Toronto on Sat., May 9, where he was the day’s celebrity interview. PopNation is envisioned by Wright as a sort of music factory set to include artist development, management, label and distribution deals, tours and web TV.

Wright’s current WEG management roster includes Justin Timberlake, Lance Bass, Akon, Incubus and a host of up-and-comers that are in development at “the compound,” a 16,000 square foot facility Wright has secured in Orlando, Florida.

Sitting down with Ralph Simon — founder and CEO of Mobilium Global Ltd. and who has managed New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, the Jonas Brothers, Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, among others — Wright spoke at length about what goes on inside the compound. “It’s almost like a school,” he said about the regimented classes from vocal and dance training to nighttime studio sessions.

“It’s not a new idea; it’s actually an old idea that I want to bring forth. Back in the day of Motown, Berry [Gordy] had a vision. He had Hitsville — a location kind of what I have, where artists could go and train and be artists. They recorded, they wrote, they rehearsed; and what they used to do is they all used to pile up on a bus together and they had this thing called the Motown Revue, and The Supremes, Four Tops, Temptations, and everybody would go out on the road together. What they didn’t have was social networking.”

“So PopNation is creating that same idea, where it’s one location, at the compound. They might be signed strictly under management; some will be signed to a record deal, because we’re doing independent distribution through Caroline and Universal. But when I sign an act into the record label, it’s not like I’m signing you and you now work for me — we’re joining together in a joint venture, so you are the partner with me and we’re the label together. From that, we’re going to have other PopNation verticals,” which will include radio, TV and tours, Wright continued.

Just this past December, Wright did a trial run of a PopNation Tour. Billed as “Johnny Wright presents PopNation On My Way Tour,” it featured performances by many of the acts signed under PopNation. “We did have a local radio station that was involved, but most of the fanbase that came to this was all through the social networking by the fans of the artists that were on tour. For me, it was kind of like a test to see how what kinks I might need to work out as we move to tour across the country and across the world and I’m glad to say it was a super success.”

The video arm of the ambitious project, PopNationTV, will create web series, specialty shows, and air music videos and other online content. Wright envisions it as “kind of what MTV used to be, where not only the artists that we have signed to PopNation but anybody that we feel are up-and-coming and relevant we’ll put their videos on PopNation.”

There will be PopNation tours — “they’ll be three of them that will go out this year, and, like the Motown days, we’ll put all our acts together and we’ll take them on the road” — and fans will also be connected through their socials and encouraged to participate in the artists’ development.

Wright outlined a plan for a web venture to gauge artists’ popularity through online opinion casting. “They will perform it live at the compound and you can go on our web site and give us feedback on what you think of the song, what you think of the performance. This is one of the tools that we’re going to do for these talented artists to get themselves ready before they actually go on the road and put it in front of people that are paying money to see it.”

Of the acts on PopNation, the band Restless Road, put together by Simon Cowell on X Factor; is “about to sign” to a major country label. Round2Crew, which on their own attracted 2.5 million views of a video in six weeks and had a No. 11 single on iTunes, he said, now have a deal with Atlantic. Dylan Hyde is signed to Motown. 12-year-old Carson Lueders has 1.6 million followers online (“there’s a passion in this kid that I haven’t seen since Justin”); and Katelyn Jae — who won a management deal with Wright after entering an online talent and songwriting competition — is releasing her album, Finally, in September.