For the past 20 years, public relations agency Biz 3 has grown from a scrappy endeavor operating out of a closet to a powerhouse in the music industry, representing an eclectic mix of clients including Run the Jewels, Daft Punk, J. Cole, Lauryn Hill, and Skrillex. When the music business started to undergo seismic shifts across distribution and promotion around 2008, Biz 3 actually prospered by diversifying its offerings to include management, consulting, etc., all of which has since continued to develop in major ways. Just recently, the Biz 3 landed a consulting gig with Google and has started doing press with its first-ever sports client, Chicago Bull Jimmy Butler.
Biz 3’s growing dominance within music and beyond has been expertly stewarded by founder Kathryn Frazier, who, on any given day, is leading her company from inside her parked car–never mind the fact that she’s mere feet away from Biz 3’s Los Angeles-based office.
“Maybe it’s because I’m an only child and was a latchkey kid but I’m used to being alone, and when they’re in there blaring rap music and they’re all talking I feel so distracted,” Frazier says. “I have to be very compartmentalized in how I get things done. That’s why putting myself in the sensory deprivation tank that is my car helps me to really knock out the work I need to do.”
Sending emails and answering calls (including the one for this interview) from the confines of a BMW 528 is a tad unconventional, yet that’s precisely Frazier’s M.O. For two decades, Frazier has managed to grow Biz 3 by not running her company according to status quo guidelines. The challenge for Frazier now is trying to define and support the work that Biz 3 does when the business itself is continually evolving.
After graduating from Michigan State University, class of 1992, Frazier had every intention to head to grad school in order to become a therapist, but as a self-described “super, hardcore indie rock nerd,” she got sidetracked with music and wound up moving to Chicago. A few odd jobs later and she found herself working for local legend Joe Shanahan, music promoter and owner of the concert hall Metro. It was exactly what Frazier thought she wanted: to be in the thick of Chicago’s music scene learning from someone like Shanahan who, at the time, was working with bands like The Smashing Pumpkins. However, a friend at Interscope but doing press for indie bands on the side was all the inspiration Frazier needed to realize she could strike out on her own.
“I remember [Shanahan] said I’ll pay you $30,000 a year and then we’ll own this company together and we’ll split everything,” Frazier says. “The day before that was about to happen I backed out on him and said, I’m so sorry but I don’t want to do major label bands. I don’t want to work really hard and give half my money to someone else. I’m going to do this by myself.”
Frazier was pulling in about $500 a night from her side hustle as a server in a high-end restaurant (“I didn’t know shit. I lied and said I knew about wine. I bought a book and learned it in a weekend.”) And she managed to secure a free office, i.e. a closet, in the indie rock venue The Empty Bottle–all of which allowed her to get Biz 3 off and running, albeit on a rocky and mostly pro-bono road.
“I felt like I was a nonprofit for years,” Frazier says. “I have this really great roster that’s of value and I’m of value and I shouldn’t have to waitress for eight years while I have this company. That was my biggest misstep: under-valuing what I should be asking for.”
Biz 3 eventually found its feet with early clients such as Will Oldham, Frontier, Aesop Rock, and Company Flow and early employees including Saturday Night Live alum and Portlandia star Fred Armisen and Mekons member Sally Timms. In 2008, however, Frazier found herself in a bit of branding emergency for Biz 3. CD sales went from slipping to freefalling as record label execs scrambled to adjust to the growing presences of digital.
“When the music industry started to tank, I was like I’m not going down with this ship,” Frazier says. “The major labels really shook out some dinosaur behavior. I’m not saying those people were bad, but I think all that overpaid, comfortable, old school music bullshit went out the window because everybody got humbled”–humbled, and in Frazier’s case, creative, too.
Biz 3 rode out the tempest mainly because departments had to hire out after massive layoffs, but Frazier also took it as a sign to diversify. The Biz 3 team has expanded into art direction, film, tech, sports–just to name a few areas–all of which, to Frazier’s estimation, hasn’t watered down the brand.
“When I first started to diversify people were worried that I’m not going to be focused on press anymore. I think we squashed that pretty effectively because when you work with Biz 3 now, you’re not just getting press you’re getting all my connections that we have,” Frazier says. “It’s important to not stay too much in your lane. We know how to do what we do which is tell a story and bring interest. You could be like, ‘I have this new hot sauce empire–do you want to work with me on it?’ If we care about it and it seems interesting to us then we’ll do that.”
One of the most beneficial lessons Frazier has adopted in growing Biz 3 past its boundaries is the philosophy of surrender.
“Surrender doesn’t mean being weak and giving in–surrender means going with where you can be taken,” Frazier says. “I’ve been investigating grad school [again] so that I can get my degree to be a therapist. It’s something I have a passion for and that I will totally apply that in what I do [at Biz 3].” To some effect, Frazier is already a therapist to her staff and clients–and a life coach and a transcendental meditation guru.
Part of Frazier’s surrender mentality has also meant dissolving the traditional walls of professionalism. Since having her two sons, ages 13 and 8, and eventually co-parenting them with her ex-husband all while building Biz 3, Frazier found her center by doubling down on self-care, and spreading that gospel to everyone around her. “I’m basically on a daily level trying to do cognitive therapy on myself. I go to shamans. I’m really into all of that, and I bring that to my artists,” she says. “I’m spending time getting them to a healthy, happy place, which then means they can function better and get the business that we need done.”
“She creates a safe space where people can evolve and be who they want to be,” says long-time Biz 3 employee Dana Meyerson. “But also if she doesn’t like that you smoke cigarettes she’s going to let you know that. Or if she thinks, why don’t you try you know eating healthy? She’ll make you a kale salad. She’s very maternal and she’s very into helping people grow.”
And Meyerson of all people should know: She started at Biz 3 as an intern 12 years ago and is now a partner, working with clients including A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown, and Phantogram.
“It’s not about ego for her at all,” Meyerson says of Frazier. “She’s not like, I’m the owner and you guys are the peons that follow me. For her, she wants people to be empowered. She wants people to be independent. She wants people to thrive and grow because that always leads back to our company doing better.”
One of the reasons why Frazier is aggressively diversifying Biz 3 is to build a sustainable company for her employees. Frazier knows the team she’s assembled is indispensable, so she’s consistently raising the ceiling of what Biz 3 is capable of to keep everyone engaged.
“Biz 3 isn’t me–Biz 3 is absolutely the human beings that have been in and out of there over the last 20 years and who are super passionate about it,” Frazier says. “It’s not like they’re making crazy money because there’s been a cap on what you can make doing music publicity, which is why I’ve been aggressively diversifying Biz 3 these last years, to bring in a lot more income so that I can get people into a different place.”
The continually evolving state of the entertainment industry has left so many either flailing wildly in distress or sinking resolutely in stubbornness. Keeping Biz 3 malleable is how the company has lasted for 20 years and will continue to be the key to possibly another 20. Frazier may be a little unorthodox–not to mention a little cramped in that car of hers–but clearly she’s doing something right.
“I’ll keep saying it but surrender is my mantra,” Frazier says. “There’s such a free flowing thing going on with Biz 3 right now–[we’re] headed into the wild frontier and I’m super amped about it.”