Philly isn't the pop-music center it used to be. Could a deal with a major pop- music label bring it back?

That's what Fame House, the 5-year-old, 40-employee, Philly-based digital-marketing agency that handles merchandise, promo and festival services for Eminem, Pearl Jam, Tiesto, sports store Mitchell & Ness, hopes from its recent $1 million sale to Vivendi's Universal Music Group, which reps pop stars like Taylor Swith, Kanye West, Adele, Coldplay and licenses their work.

Universal bought Fame House from bankrupt SFX Entertainment, a New York electronic-music show and digital-content producer that listed on the New York Stock Exchange three years ago but filed for reorganization in February. The buyer said in a statement it hopes Fame House will do its thing for more Universal acts.

"Universal is the perfect partner. They have the biggest and best artists. And our DNA is to serve artists," 
Fiebach told me. The deal "puts us at the forefront of this industry."

Universal's capital, cred and connections "give us the ability to cement Philadelphia as a key player in the music industry," he added. "We want to carry on that legacy into a new chapter, and within an evolved industry that we are helping redefine."

The city "has such a rich music history.  From Gamble and Huff, to Patti LaBelle, to The Roots," Fiebach told me, in his office upstairs in the nerd-funky ex-Corn Exchange Bank at 2d and Chestnut.

The city still produces big artists, like Meek Mill, he notes. And music ventures like Milk Boy -- "label, venue and retail."  And music-related businesses like CID, the ticketing agency that offers VIP treatment for summer music festival-goers who like to rock out but prefer pop-up rental comforts to hippie-style mud.

But Fiebach sees potential for more: As a music-business center, Philadelphia remains "the only major metro area where you can be in New York, in the center of the business world, in 90 minutes, when you need to," then head home to "focus and do our thing."

It's also a good place, he says, to hire "amazing tech talent and marketing talent," without having to worry they'll quick jump overboard to local competitors, says Fiebach. He's brought in interns and recent grads from Drexel, Penn and Temple, and notes that local software employers like Curalate are helping build the Philly tech talent pool.

Fame House was growing before Universal took over, says Freddie Morris, director of social media and digital marketing at LA-based Career Artist Management. "The first build for us was Maroon 5's Tumblr." The agency went on to promote Maroon 5 tours and singles, and the splash page for CAM artist Robin Thicke, with more deals in the works for next year. 

Fame House also helped promote Justin Bieber's recent Purpose tour, and sold out all the merchandise on the tour Web site.
The firm's specialties include keeping artist product moving between tours. For example, "we're doing something special" for early client Eminem, said Fiebach's colleague Eric Hahn. He showed me a brick from Eminem's childhood home on Detroit's suburban Eight Mile Road, celebrating an anniversary of the Marshall Mathers LP, and cased in a clear plastic cover.
Fame House sold 650 bricks, labeled "Authenticated," at $350 each, Hahn says. Plus "dog tags made from the wood in the house." 

The firm has satellite offices in NYC and LA, with retail services (tshirts, jackets, package fulfillment) outsourced to firms in Detroit, Atlanta and Britain. Mostly, "we're going to grow here in Philly," Fiebach says, where he grew up playing ball at the Star Garden courts, 6th and Lombard, as a diehard fan of Sixers star Allen Iverson (an A.I. jersey is enshrined over Fiebach's desk.)

Fiebach's personal-professional connections in Philly helped seal the Universal deal: His father Robert Fiebach and Gerald Riesenbach, both partners at Cozen O'Connor, represented Mike Fiebach and Hahn in the Universal sale. Fiebach's father-in-law, investment banker Michael Mufson, advised through his firm, Mufson Hunter Howe.

As one of SFX's most marketable assets, Fame House was "the first company to get out of the bankruptcy, in a 363 (asset) sale," Fiebach recounts.

The sale "could have gone 15 ways. I'm glad this is where we landed." 

(Revised)