The Story Behind Katy Perry’s Rise To Fame

Business analysis of a modern pop star


This business case analysis explores the theme of the building and shaping of the ‘brand’ that is Katy Perry; the ‘pushing’ of her music the ‘product’, through the mass media to a particular demographic, from which her fan base developed and evolved. Eventually achieving substantial record sales and profit (Lathrop and Pettingrew, 1999). The commercial success of Katy Perry is beyond dispute, she is the first artist to ever have at least one song ranked in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 for a full year (Rolling Stone, 2011). She has received 60 prestigious music awards and is reputed to have amassed a personal fortune of $48 million from the time of her Christian roots and debut album with Red Hill Records. She started writing and singing her own songs from just 15 years old (Celebrity net worth, 2011).

Katy’s business strategy has not always been clear and that may have contributed to the earlier difficulty in reaching and selling to her target market. Kate Hudson started in music as a Bible belt singer targeting the Christian market. Reflecting back on her earlier career from 2000 to 2003, she told The New York Times that she “wanted to be a [gospel singer] Amy Grant” (Govan, 2011). Today the brand Katy Perry and her product, target a completely different demographic audience to the Christian market. As a result she continues to be described in the popular press as a highly polarising figure, known for her strict Christian upbringing and unapologetically using sex to sell her records (Huffington post, 2010). Kathryn Elizabeth Hudson was born on the 25 October 1984. Her mother is Mary Perry and her father Keith Hudson, a preacher. At the date of this report she is 27 years old. Her performing name was changed to Katy Perry so as to develop her personal brand for her target market (Govan, 2011). This report identifies the impact that Katy Perry’s change in strategy had on her career to transform her from a struggling artist, singing Christian songs to being a global pop sex symbol with millions of fans signed by Capitol Records (MTV, 2010). The Katy Perry strategy has been applied to other talented singer songwriters struggling to get started in the pop business. The Matrix, a music production team, who were one of the production teams instrumental in rebranding Katy Perry have also ‘masterminded’ other struggling female pop stars’ careers, like Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavigne. Avril Lavigne even started of as a gospel music star, from a religious family, performing in church like Katy Perry (Govan, 2011). Katy Perry’s success has once again demonstrated that music strategy is about establishing a clear overall direction and then adapting a carefully choreographed image and brand identity, whilst using technology to consolidate market popularity among a particular mass demographic (Lathrop and Pettingrew, 1999).

This part of the report develops the analysis of the Katy Perry’s brand and is divided into 3 parts. (i) Teamwork; (ii) Brand Building; Defining the Product and its Audience; (iii) Product Promotion and Distribution.


Most artists don’t like business. They prefer to work on the creative side of their music instead. Successful recording artists are generally supported by a team, who will deal with the shaping and production, the finance, brand development, PR, sales and marketing and distribution of the artist’s music (Passman, 2006). The key people responsible for Katy Perry’s business strategy, in the last 11 years, from the start of her career in 2000 to date were her teams. Katy’s business strategy changed as her production and pr/marketing team changed around her. The key people in any music artist’s business team are their personal managers, business managers and production teams (Passman, 2006). Katy Perry was no exception to this rule. These people (the business team) have to concentrate on the brand and structure of the business to make musicians career a success (Passman, 2006). This report will also discuss the details of rebranding Katy Perry as being ‘cool’ in the paragraph entitled – Brand Building; Defining the Product and its Audience – below.

Katy Perry’s Teams

Katy Perry was supported by different business teams and collaborators throughout her career. Each team had a different idea of her brand and what her music should sound like and be about. The report further develops this point by tracking the teams responsible for shaping the Katy Perry brand and product from the start of her career in the music business to the date of this report.

First Business Team

Her first business team was the Evangelical Church and Music Label, Red Hill Records based in Nashville, Tennessee. Their strategy was to shape Katy into a Christian alternative to Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears because they saw a space in the market for her in that position (Govan, 2011). Her music was shaped by co-writer Brian White who worked for the label. Her marketing and sales coordinator was Philip Von Wrede. Her business managers were Jennifer Knapp and Steven Thomas from Alabaster Arts*. This team were all focused on the Christian music market and the Katy brand and music was shaped to target the Christian audience (Govan, 2011). This business strategy did not work for Katy. Red Hill went into liquidation in 2003 and her debut album sold only 200 copies. Red Hill’s business strategy was too specialist. It ‘had chosen to separate itself from mainstream’ choosing only music that carried a Christian message. It lacked ‘adequate distribution’. Red Hill only had distribution in the Christian market and avoided the general market altogether. Also there were rock elements to Katy’s songs. Katy as a product did not gel with a traditional Christian sound (Govan, 2011).

[*On the 02 August 2014 Mr Steven Thomas, CEO of Alabaster Arts, commented on this article posted on 21 Dec 2013. His comments, which can be found below are important since he provides a first hand account of the early management of Katy Perry’s career]

Glen Ballard

It was the mentoring by Glen Ballard that really began shaping Katy’s successful business strategy. When Katy moved to Los Angeles in 2001 she did so to work with Glen Ballard who had worked with Shakira, Christina Aguilera and Aerosmith. Her performance name was changed from Kate Hudson to Katy Perry and her ‘cool’ persona, the sexual, rock, pop and electronic tone of her music and the targeting of the Generation Y demographic was deliberately developed by Glen Ballard in Los Angeles (Govan, 2011). Mentored by Glen Ballard, during 2001 and 2003, Katy recorded songs with several successful producers and artists that were considered ‘cool’ such as Printz Board and Mickey Avalon. With Printz Board she recorded the song ‘In Between’ which was about a man that sees her as just a one night stand. She also recorded ‘Speed Dialling’ whose lyrics are about using drugs to numb pain. It was as result of this particular shaping of Katy’s brand that got Island Def Jam interested in Katy. Island Def Jam is one of the edgy, cool record labels. With artists like Rihanna and Kanye West under management. Although they signed her in 2003 it didn’t last long because, ironically, Island Def Jam couldn’t see her as the ‘feisty pop artist’ (Govan, 2011).

The Second Team

The second business team consisted of Columbia Records and a production team known as The Matrix. The Matrix introduced the electronic sound into Katy’s product. (Govan, 2011). Throughout this period Katy was still mentored by Glen Ballard and was now fully embracing her sexual femme fatale brand. She recorded a song in 2005 ‘All I’m Selling is Sex’. The lyrics included, “I’m a lady good for one thing maybe…”, which were as far away from a Christian artist as you can get (Govan, 2011).

The Third Team

The third and final business team that consolidated Katy’s business strategy were the Capitol Records team who signed Katy in 2006 (Govan, 2011). Capitol Records, a fully owned subsidiary of EMI, was until November of this year, one of the four major music labels (Capitol Records, 2011). Getting signed by Capitol finally completed Glen Ballard’s business strategy for Katy as a ‘cool’ artist since like, Island Def Jam, Capitol Records also produced cool edgy artists like Snoop Dog and Lil Romeo. Straight away Katy was assigned to a legendary producer, Dr Luke, who produced Kesha and Pink (Lewis, 2010).

In 2010 talking about his collaboration with Katy in ‘California Girls’, released on Katy’s latest album Teenage Dream, Snoop Dogg says “I worked with Katy because she is a bad bitch”. Being called a ‘bad bitch’ by Snoop Dogg and being co-produced by Dr Luke and Max Martin, was the result of the ‘fiesty pop artist’ business strategy of Glen Ballard (Govan, 2011).

Being signed by Capitol Records gave Katy access to EMI’s largely massive North American sales and distribution network. EMI’s sales and physical distribution network was valued at $30 million in 2008. This does not include their sales and marketing and digital distribution divisions. This has obviously helped in Katy’s business success. Terra Firma who bought EMI in 2007 sold its recorded music division in November 2011 to Universal Music Group for $1.9 billion making there just 3 major music labels. Ironically Universal also owns Island Def Jam Records. Katy now has access to the massive distribution network of Universal, if the deal is approved by regulators. Universal will own 36 percent of global recorded music market share (Knopper, 2011).

Brand Building; Defining the Product and its Audience

The business strategy behind Katy’s success was the change in her branding from targeting the Christian market to targeting the generation Y (13-29 year olds) demographic. In order to reach Generation you have to understand what drives them and how you can reach them. (Van den Bergh and Behrer, 2011).

What drives the Y generation?

The five key underlying youth drivers are summarised in the acronym CRUSH: Coolness; Realness; Uniqueness; Self-identification with the brand; and Happiness. In this report we are only going to consider coolness, which is the main driver according to empirical evidence (Van den Bergh and Behrer, 2011).

According to experts on brand building Gen Yers are stimulus junkies who look for individual empowerment. Glen Ballard and Capitol Records change of Katy’s image from obedient Christian girl to ‘bad bitch’ was deliberately designed to appeal to Gen Yers.

According to ‘How cool brands stay hot’ coolness originates from the way you dress, you walk and you talk. Your looks, skills, movements and language contribute to your ‘cool’ image. According to a survey conducted amongst 500 Gen Yers at the end of 2007 in Europe: 51 per cent of Gen Yers perceive a brand as cool when it is attractive to them; 55 per cent when it has an air of novelty and originality (Van den Bergh and Behrer, 2011).

By 2005 Katy Perry’s brand including her wardrobe had been relaunched as original and novel. She was also marketed as a sexy, feisty, starlet. Her wardrobe became more revealing and her lyrics more sexual and rebellious. She began selling, “sex, songs and sensationalism” (Govan, 2011).

Examples of her provocative sexual image include:

(a) 2008 when she was photographed at an after party embracing and kissing a girl on the lips and she told The Herald Sun Australia that she had a crush on a girl when she was younger;

(b) 2009 Grammy awards in a fruit – adorned dress;

(c) 2010 MTV music awards where she wears flashing the flesh in a sheer dress;

(d) On her Teenage dream album she is completely naked in the clouds of cotton (Govan, 2011);

(e) In 2010 she stripped topless for the UK magazine ‘Esquire’ (Huffington Post, 2010).

It could be argued that the mystery surrounding her sexual preferences; quirky dress sense and sexually provocative appearance are all part of her deliberate business strategy to target the Y Generation. Katy’s business strategy also changed her music into a blend of rock, pop and electronic sound. This new sound can be credited largely to Glenn Ballard and The Matrix in 2005 with the introduction of technology and the electronic sound into her music, as seen in the album ‘Teenage Dream’. It gave Katy the uniqueness that was a key driver for the Y Generation demographic (Katy Perry Fan, 2011). The combination of the transformation of her image and music proved to be the right business strategy in building Katy’s brand and finding her target audience.

Product Promotion and Distribution

This report will now consider how Katy’s business strategy reached the Y generation in Product Promotion and Distribution. “In the United States there are over 70 million people in Generation Y with over $200 billion in purchasing power” (Van den Bergh and Behrer, 2011).

The 13 to 25 year olds in Katy’s generation grew up in the Internet age, WAP, MP3, Blogging, You Tube, Web Social Net Working are common place. Music was the first sector to recognise the potential of social networks. Many artists build an initial following through MySpace before even being signed by a record label and Katy Perry was no exception (Philips and Young, 2011).

To reach the Y Generation Glenn Ballard, The Matrix and Capitol Records had to develop Katy’s brand and her songs for the media and devices through which that generation consume music. Even before Glen Ballard and Los Angeles in 2000, Katy already understood that she was a business and needed to use the Internet to build and protect her brand.

The following are examples of Katy’s savvy harnessing of the Internet to protect and promote her brand and to distribute her music:

(a) Katy’s first single ‘Ur So Gay’ recorded when she was signed with Capitol Records became a sensation on the internet, although it struggled to reach the charts. Capitol Records distributed ‘Ur So Gay’ as a taster single, available for free download from her website. She also recorded and released a video for ‘Ur So Gay’ on MySpace on 20 November 2007 (Govan, 2011).

(b) In 2005 Katy had posed for Terry Richardson for a CD Cover with a knife. In 2008 on a visit to the UK this picture was on the front page of every tabloid newspaper. The tabloid spread the story that Katy was glamourising knife crime at a very sensitive time in the UK on knife crime. Katy used her blog to reply, posing with a spoon to her cheek on her blog she said “I do not condone knife crime but I do condone eating ice-cream with a spoon” (Govan, 2011).

(c) The video of her single ‘Thinking of You’ was released on You Tube in 2009. It received 18 million hits (Govan, 2011).

(d) She is in the top 3 on twitter based on the number of followers (Twitaholic, 2011).

(e) Her fans can still enjoy free downloads of ‘Last Friday Night’ and ‘I kissed the girl’ on her MySpace page. Even though she penned both songs early in her career (Govan, 2011).

(f) Katy Perry was No 6 of the best selling global digital singles in 2010. She sold 6.7m units of the single ‘California Girls’ online (IFPI, 2011).

Katy Perry has defined herself as a Gen Y brand, with a genuine and unique personality, which is the key driver in what Generation Y consider as ‘cool’. This will ensure that she enjoys a sustainable place in the hearts of this business savvy demographic. Blog Critics say of her that “In an industry plagued with cookie-cutter corporate groups, Katy Perry stands out like a beacon in rough seas” (Govan, 2011) However it is established wisdom that a music career has a limited run (Passman, 2006), so Katy Perry may eventually outgrow her demographics or they may outgrow her.


Lathrop, T. and Pettigrew J., 1999. This business of music marketing and promotion. New York: Billboard books an imprint of Watson-guptill publications Stone, R., 2011. Katy Perry Talks Body Image, Fame and Politics, Rolling Stone, [online] Available at [Accessed 5 December 2011].

Celebrity net worth, 2011. Katy Perry net worth. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 December 2011]. Govan, C., 2011.

Katy Perry a life of fireworks. London: Omnibus Press Huffington Post, 2010. Katy Perry Topless: Strips For Esquire UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 December 2011].

MTV, 2010. Katy Perry calls record label ‘idiots’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 December 2011].

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Meet Dr Luke, the producer behind smash hits for Katy Perry and Kesha. The Guardian, [online] 14 August. Available at<> [Accessed 8 December 2011].

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Copyright PAIL Solicitors 2012


2 Responses to The Story Behind Katy Perry’s Rise To Fame

  1. Steven Thomas says:

    Hi. I was the CEO and owner of Alabaster Arts, the first management company for Katy. May I please suggest that there is a missing link in your historical account. We signed Katy after she was already signed to Red Hill. She was sixteen. We could see that the path she was on wasn’t working and that she would never, ever fit within the Christian music subculture. It was our intention and task from the start to migrate Katy from the Christian Music subculture into the mainstream. To that end, we opened an office in Los Angeles.

    I bought Katy her first decent guitar, a Taylor 810. I then got her an apartment in Beverly Hills with Jaci Velasquez, a Grammy winning Latin artist whom I knew. I then leased her a red Volkswagen Jetta from Santa Monica VW. Most importantly, I initiated talks with Glen Ballard who was interested in signing Katy to his fledgling Java Records, a vanity label within Island Def Jam, distributed by Universal. We had many meetings and phone conversations, and eventually Mr. Ballard bought out Katy’s contract from Red Hill.

    Over the next year, Glen and Katy worked on songs (2005-2006), but nothing surfaced that we felt was a hit. We flew to Tokyo with Glen to do a grand opening of the Tokyo Celine store, a brand of LVMH. It was on this trip our paths began to differ. I saw Katy as a career singer songwriter, similar to Alanis or Dido, thus my decision to pair her with Mr. Ballard. Katy wanted to go over the top pop. Soon after the Tokyo trip, my company and Katy agreed to part amicably. I hack the dubious distinction of dropping the artist who would later become the world’ stop selling female. At the time and still, I believed it was the right decision.

    Katy proved me and others wrong. My hat is off to her.

    I sincerely hope you will make note of this transition period. I did not like the Christian music subculture then or now, and my entire motivation for signing Katy was to migrate her out of it, which I did.

    Steven W Thomas


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