Industry Profile: Dusty Wright
by Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen
Dusty Wright (aka Mark Petracca) is the host and co-founder of CultureCatch.com, the smart culture audio and video podcasting website, which he says "is the perfect convergence of all of his past experiences: agenting, writing, editing, directing, publishing, producing and performing."
"Providing in-depth interviews with smart culture individuals dissecting art, comedy, fashion, film, music, politics, television, theater, even food will leave you craving for more," he adds. "I want the site to resonate with the audience."
"I want folks to discover new things about the world of pop culture - from the criminally obscure to the perversely popular; not every angle has been revealed," he opines. "I'm not interested in the hype created by high gloss spin-doctors. I'd rather encourage the artists to wax poetically and passionately about their craft, not their next project."
Original audio podcasts and video podcasts on Culture Clash include Les Paul, Tony Visconti, Kevin Bacon, Mark Morris, Duncan Shiek, Susie Essman, Mark Motherbraugh of Devo, Laura Dern, Russell Simmons, Gore Vidal, David Lynch, Bobby Flay, Bruce Jay Friedman, Matthew Modine, Andy Summers of The Police, Ron English, Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks, Bif Naked, Del McCoury, David Cronenberg, Pamela Des Barres, Michael Butler, and many others.
"I just posted a very illuminating interview with Russell Simmons," Dusty enthuses.
Audio podcasts and video podcasts can be downloaded for free from iTunes or can be watched as a QuickTime or Windows Media movie on a desktop, "but once we amass more content, we might charge for the archives like the on-line newspapers," says Dusty. "We've got over 90 audio and video podcasts up on our site right now and about another 20 we need to edit."
Upcoming video and/or podcast interviews that will be posted include Wynton Marsalis, Crispin Glover, Dustin Yellin, Jim Lauderdale, Bob Costas, Donovan, Marcus Leatherdale, James Braly, Lincoln Schatze, and about 12 more smart culture folks.
"Best to check us daily to see what we posted," instructs Dusty. "I wish I could tell you who we have tentatively, but I don't want to jinx the interviews before they happen."
With a B.A. degree in Fine & Applied Arts from the University of Akron in Ohio, Dusty landed in the coveted mailroom of the William Morris Agency in New York in 1981. He eventually worked his way up the agent-in-training ladder. Finally christened a television agent, he was promptly transferred to Beverly Hills.
"I was a TV/Variety agent so I got to rep/work with all of our talent in all areas of the arts," he reminisces. "I'd to book them on 'The Tonight Show,' 'The Merv Griffith Show,' game shows, award shows, etc. From the actors to the set designers, directors, writers, etc. Really anyone connected to the entertainment world in some capacity.
"After four years I tired of agenting insanity and decided it was time to purse my own career," he continues. From managing the rap act The Nastee Boyz and discovering Gang Starr to creating and manufacturing Safety Shorts--unisex boxer shorts with a condom pocket--I dabbled in various entrepreneurial activities in and around the entertainment industry. I finally decided pursuing a journalism/writing career would be a wonderfully stable occupation."
As a journalist, Dusty was the last editor-in-chief of the legendary rock 'n' roll Creem Magazine and the only publisher/editor of Prince's magazine, New Power Generation. He was also the American editor of the London-based pop-culture magazine Don't Tell It. As a freelancer he's written editorials, reviews and stories for People, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, In Fashion, Penthouse, Juxtapoz, Self, Details, Cover, Qi Journal, Women's Sports & Fitness, Fitness & Health, Fitness, Seventeen, and numerous websites.
Dusty also dabbled in broadcast journalism as the on-air personality/producer for "News of The World," a UK-based MP3-TV-The Pulse, which was a simultaneous live Web/TV program providing pop culture and music critiques. "It was about five years ahead of its time," he notes.
He also has written six screenplays, including the romantic comedy Christopher on Columbus. His indie feature, The Gentleman Bandit, was screened at the AFM and Malibu Film Festivals in 2000 and released internationally later that year.
On the small screen, Dusty's done tons of field production work (aka EFP - electronic field production) work for the NBA, ESPN, MLB, HBO, Showtime, Lifetime, etc., and worked on the award-winning ESPN documentary series, "The Season: SEC Football, " a behind-the-scenes stories about life in Division I college football.
"With RCB Productions, we produced mockumentaries for the corporate sector," he notes, "and we're currently trying to finish our documentary on 70's cult glam-rocker Jobriath, as well as developing an Americana Anthology Documentary series that pays tribute to the quirkier side of pop icons/cult figures in our country."
Dusty's also worked on two PBS documentaries, "The History of AM and FM Revolution" (2003) with Miami-based Travisty Productions, and co-produced the award-winning PBS documentary, "Wildwood Days" (2005) featuring Bruce Willis, Tom Verica, Dick Clark, Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, and many others. He also served as the music consultant for the Johnny Depp movie, Secret Window (2004).
And finally as singer/songwriter, he released three solo CDs and one with his folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. Dave Lee is currently mixing their follow-up disc entitled Second Chances (www.myspace.com/GIANTfingers). He performs once or twice a month in and around New York City and has a website (www.DustyWright.com).
So how does he do it all? "Practicing Tai Chi for years keeps me centered and allows for me to multitask," he confides.
Dusty, his wife and two children, a colorful collection of plastic dinosaurs, and 3,000 eclectic music CDs call the Upper West Side of Manhattan home.
Experience & Advice
Let's just say I have so much scar tissue in this new digital world that I'm certain that I'm not finished acquiring even more. That's the price you pay for striking out into any new frontier. One of the biggest mistakes we had to overcome was having enough web hosting storage with a second back-up site. Most legit web hosting companies -- and ours is no exception (www.WebHSP.com) -- offer a robust plan. You don't want your site to crash if you post something that suddenly 1-3 million users want to download. So traffic and the amount of data that needs to be stored or downloaded is a vital component.
What did you learn from being an agent that has helped you with CultureCatch.com?
How to conduct myself in show biz: diplomacy, deal making, follow through skills, not taking "no" for an answer, proper phone skills, negotiating, etc. WMA was like grad school in many ways. Plus, the contacts I made are still pertinent today.
What were your initial feelings when you heard about the YouTube sale?
YouTube was and has been the big Web 2.0 story. It was fantastic because it was content driven Internet deal not just technology. Although everyone is still trying to figure out the copyright issues.
What makes CultureCatch.com unique?
I don't know of another site that offers the quality and quantity of in-depth celebrity driven smart culture interviews. Sure there are magazines that have written interviews with celebs. Perhaps Rolling Stone or the New York Times, but I doubt they're as eclectic as we are. And while we're still growing our brand, we've done so on a budget that is easily 1/100 of their operating budgets. You have to remember that I'm interviewing people in the arts who normally don't have this large a forum, and we're talking global once it's posted on the Web to share their craft or their stories.
My personal interview skills make me a very unique interviewer. Someone called me a "hipper Charlie Rose." I like that. I get very real, no bullshit interviews with the folks I sit with. They're not just pitching their latest product, though if they feel really passionate about it, it might come up. But I'd prefer to talk to them when they're not selling something. I don't always have that luxury, but I do get them to discuss their passions and in doing so it's a much easier and compelling interview. I've never been in awe of celebs either. We're all just people with interesting stories to share. Everyone has one fantastic story to share. I allow my guests to feel comfortable with me and then let it flow.
What did CultureCatch.com have to do with the recent Macworld Expo in San Francisco?
We do live Culture Catch Salons: migrating our content and style into a physical space. At the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, we rented out a huge, raw art gallery space near the convention center and hosted our Salon every day from 5 p.m.-- 9 p.m., after the folks left the Expo floor. We had music: some of the cooler new bands and DJs from the Bay area, art and video art projected on the well, even a live video chat with director David Lynch where we let the audience ask him questions. We've all been to cocktail hours, but this was like, wow--cocktails--thanks to our main sponsor Absolut which even provided us with our own drinks like the Dusty Navel, etc.--but the physical space was a lot more robust. It was visually and sonically eclectic and compelling. Like our website in a physical world.
We did a scaled back version at Sundance, more of music-theme version at SXSW. We rented out a venue and featured 26 bands in four days--bands that we wanted, not bands that were forced on us. Even my friend Gary Lucas played a riveting set with his outfit Gods & Monsters. We've hosted very cool series of events through our partnership with Verizon Mobile at the Gibson showrooms, which is the old Hit Factory recording studio. We did one in early July with storyteller James Braly and bard Mickey Western.
What was working with Prince like?
I met Prince only once when I was the editor-in-chief at Creem in the early 90's, and he was the Artist-Formerly-Known-As. I was the only journalist to interview him that year. I wasn't allowed to bring anything with me - no tape recorder, pencil, pen or paper. I made up this fantastic story a la Alice in Wonderland about Paisley Park and all of the folks that inhabited it for Mr. Glyph. He was shy and polite, and we talked about his music. He played me his new CD -- The Love Symbol Album. We hung out for about 90 minutes or so. Then he was gone, and I was left to hang out in Paisley Park and interview his bandmates and handlers. Later that night I went see NPG drummer's Michael Bland's heavy metal band play.
About six months later he asked me to launch his very own magazine, New Power Generation. I only spoke to his managers; he had three in the two years we published the magazine. Everything was done through a Paisley Park liaison. It was frustrating but that's Prince. He plays by his rules. I would have much preferred to chat with him week to week to find out what he liked or didn't like about what we were doing.
Coincidentally, my managing editor was Steve Holtje from Creem, who is now our CultureCatch.com editor, too. Steve remains a very important person in keeping things running smoothly at our site. Plus, he's an expert on all things classical and jazz -- an important aspect of CC.
How did CultureCatch.com come about?
CC was started two years ago on July 5. It was originally a pilot shot for VH1 that didn't get picked up about five to six years earlier. It was deemed too smart for their network, but with the Internet you can cater to niche markets and not worry about your audience margins like TV ad marketing departments do.
What do you like best about the site?
That it's eclectic and dynamic. The interviews can be with the known, nearly-known or the should-be-known in all areas of the arts. Every day you can find something else that's compelling on our site. We don't try to exclude any user. We want it to be compelling content that is also evergreen. If you listen to an interview that I conducted last year with Les Paul or David Lynch, it will still be relevant in five years. Just as important might an interview with an artist like Rich Jacobs, who has some notoriety in smaller graphic and art circles but will hopefully broaden his audience as time unfolds.
Is there a business model?
Yes. It's based on three income sources: selling gateway ads on our podcasts at the top and the end of each interview; producing Culture Catch-branded marketing events at expos like Macworld, NAB and the Portable Media Expo; and, of course, syndicating our content to conventional media outlets - radio/TV - and new digital areas like Apple TV and mobile devices. We have two major principles in Culture Catch Entertainment LLC--me and my partner Richard Burns--and about a 12-16 part-time staff/freelance staff. We recently finished our biz plan and have a few companies interested in us. Perhaps buying into our brand. We're letting our lawyer sort things out.
What are your demographics?
We've a very dynamic 30-60 year old, 60-40% male/female, college educated with incomes over $100,000. This is a goldmine for on-line advertisers. Very niche specific and not at all what many people told us to focus on when we began. We always felt that folks our age needed a landing site like ours where they could find quality programming day to day.
We've about 100,000 users per month that generally go five pages deep on one given visit. We've grown about 10% every month, very much the Long Tail model. Some of our video content can hit much larger numbers once it gets passed around on Youtube or Google video even Revver.com.
Who was your first podcast?
David Koepp was my very first victim. He is considered one of the most successful screenwriters in the movie industry history. He's written Mission Impossible, Jurassic Park 1 & 2, Spider-Man, War of The Worlds and is currently writing the latest installment of Indiana Jones.
What are the biggest transformational changes in media today?
Time-shifted content: content you can watch anytime, anyplace at your leisure as well as the niche concept of programming -- smaller audiences but more specific to their whims and desires. Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, but just like the iPod is killing traditional radio by allowing the audience to be their own program directors, the Internet, video and audio podcasts are affording the same programming options for the consumer. You can download and carry some of your favorite movies/TV shows/music videos/podcasts and watch/listen to them whenever you please. That's very liberating on many different levels. Rare that a show can draw a huge audience share unless it's a sporting event or some global event.
Where do you see the convergence of media going in the future?
It's nearly here. One held hand device -- iPhone and one screen at the office and one at home that runs all of your programming/work/entertainment -- everything but cook for you. In fact we're working on that cooking idea, but I won't go into it.
What do you think of the iPhone?
I hail the new iPhone. I was in San Francisco during Macworld when Steve Jobs unveiled it. I'm going to buy one very soon. Let's just say that the iPhone has brought the most powerful, sexy computer to your hand. It's computer/phone/media player all in one. It will only get better with more memory, better batteries and live iChat. Dick Tracy's cartoon strip wristwatch is nearly here! With over 200 patents it has crushed the competition.
How often do you perform live?
I still perform at least one to two times live a month in New York with either The Dusty Jaguars or with GIANTfingers. I also played in London a few times. I did do an amazing duo gig at The Borderline with lead guitarist David Waters a few years ago. Great venue.
Where does CultureCatch.com go from here?
CulutreCatch will continue to expand and explore smart culture into originally programming, and we will diversify our programming into other areas, including mobile programming, feature films and music. We will also launch a product line or be affiliated with dynamic products that we will offer for sale or discount on our site. We've already taken one baby step by launching limited edition tee shirts with some of the artists we've interviewed like Ron English and David DeRosa.
Why did you come up with the name Dusty Wright?
I became Dusty by accident in my old post-punk/pre-grunge band Bastards of Execution, aka BoE. Jay our lead guitarist would always break a string at some point during our set, and he'd make me do punked out country song to fill the time while he'd change his string. He'd say, "Now my boy Dusty is goin' get country for you while I fix my git-tar." So I got the nickname. I then formed a roots-rock band with my friend Orville Davis--bass player from the Atlanta-based Capricorn record label act Hydra. We became the Wright Brothers: Orville and Dusty Wright. Then I went solo and kept the Dusty Wright moniker. I'd played in Nashville a few times as Dusty Wright and just decided to use it on my website and CDs. So many people know me only as Dusty in the music biz and now in the podcasting world.
Why did you decide to use the moniker Dusty Wright for the website and hosting duties?
My agent suggested it. Having had some success and web presence as Dusty Wright, he felt that name had good brand recognition. It didn't much matter to me, though my Italian relatives might feel cheated out of our namesake. Some people call me Mark and some people only know me as Dusty, although David Lynch refers to me as Buster!
First concert attended
The Fifth Dimension at the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio in the late 60's. I was with my parents and in the seventh grade. It was a rather pedestrian musical outing, but they were a very big pop band back then. And though I was under whelmed by the show, I was hot for my father's friend's daughter Lucia. I was smitten, but she was a year older and not too impressed with me. I tried to convince her that not only did I have all The Monkees Lps, but my cousin had turned me on to the Rolling Stones and Sly & The Family Stone.
The first rock concert I attended without my parents was the J. Geils Band at the Akron Civic Theater in 1972. "Blow your face out, baby!" Pete Wolf screamed to Magic Dick on his lickety stick. It was the beginning of a long and strange trip indeed. As a high school freshman at Akron St. Vincent -- future home of LeBron James -- it was a crazy night. I quickly realized how live music could transform your soul. The entire venue was on their feet from start to finish. I was in heaven. That was followed by a very mind expanding concert by Hawkwind at the University of Akron's gym a few months later.
First concert worked
Producing a local show for Hammer Damage Band and Unit 5 at a building in Akron, Ohio, circa 1980. My father was converting this old, two-story building into offices. His previous tenants downstairs had been Devo before they split for LA so it was with this in mind that I decided to throw a party for two other cool bands from Akron that I felt deserved a higher profile. These were two of my favorite Akron bands riding on the wave of the Akron sound that been paved earlier by acts like Devo; Tin Huey--Chris Butler would go on to form The Waitresses; Rubber City Rebels; The Numbers Band from Kent, OH; The Bizarros; and ChiPig. It was your typical college keg party with killer music and plenty of slippery floors from the spillage. I don't remember much other than the bands got paid and everyone had a good time, especially me.
First industry job
Pushing a mail cart at William Morris. I was hired before I'd even found an apartment in NYC on Oct. 4, 1981. I'd decided that attending law school at the University of Akron would have choked me of my creative spirit. Jonathan Trumper, now my consigliore, and I started the same day. I had a great time in the mailroom printing up fake WMA biz cards to get me and my friends into clubs and events. Eventually I moved from the mailroom to work for Chairman Emeritus Nat Lefkowitz. And then moved over to Lucy Aceto's desk in TV/Variety working David Letterman Show and Saturday Night Live. Then I earned my agent's stripes and was moved to the Beverly Hills Office where I was a very disengaged TV Variety agent. I aspired to other creative endeavors.
Who were your WMA signings?
My biggest signing was Andrew "Dice" Clay. He made a lot of money and pissed off more than a few feminists along the way. He was a very sweet guy underneath the leather jacket, who was just doing a Fonzi shtick with incredibly hilarious bits with incredibly filthy, disgusting language and jokes. Not one to cotton to L.A.'s car culture, I moved back to NYC a year later and started my writing and music career. The rest is just more of my journey.
Launching my website, CultureCatch.com, and being chosen by Macworld Expo 2007 to put together the entire Podcasters Market symposium for them. This single act totally validates the energy and spirit of the website that my partner Richard Burns and I've put together. It's the dawn of a new day, and, as I'm very fond of saying, the Internet is bigger than the Gutenberg Press. The democratization of information is so vital, viral and prolific that is a joy to work in it, on it, around it every single day.
On a musical front: Singing and playing on stage at the 1997 Bruce Springsteen Tribute show at the Beacon Theater in NYC. My guitarist David Waters and I, now a Fender sales rep, played with the house band. We had recorded a roots-rock countrified version of "Mary, Queen of Arkansas" for a B-side for the Right Stuff/Capitol Records release of Kurt Newman's "Atlantic City" EP. I played my black Rick 12-string (wish I'd never traded that guitar), and David was shredding slide guitar on his Strat. We were the second or third act of the night. It was a sold out performance. Folks thought the Boss might show, but alas he never did. Southside Johnny was there. Richie Havens dug it, and he and I hung backstage talkin' music and songwriting. Picture still sits on my desk.
I've released four independent CDs, and CultureCatch.com has certainly helped me sell some of my own digital product thru iTunes and Cdbaby.com. I'm nearly finished with my second GIANTfingers CD with my music partner and master cellist Matt Goeke.
I prefer not to focus on the disappointments, as there is always many when you're born with an entrepreneurial/artist's spirit. You soldier on knowing that your life is a one long journey and that many chapters will be written.
To keep humor and humility in my life and work. Regardless of how serious, how the entertainment world can be, you need to step back and remind yourself that this is show business, not brain surgery. Sure, there are plenty of ball busters and cretins who'd like you to think that they and their clients are the center of the universe, but it's all about art at the end of the day, and if it isn't, then it's all about some person hyping their brand without any chance of maintaining a long and vital career. One should never get too puffed up on ego and self-worth. Walk with humility and humanity in your heart.
Best business decision
Starting CultureCatch.com. This has been the perfect convergence of all of my past experiences: agenting, writing, editing, directing, publishing, producing and performing.
Best advice you received
"You may not like the rules, but if you're going to play the game, you better master them." I'll never forget this advice. An older gentleman in NYC offered me this advice before me and Stu Fine nearly became partners in Wild Pitch Records. I opted out in the 11th hour, not completely sold on the long lasting merits of hip-hop. I wanted our boutique label to rep all forms of music. Stu wanted to strictly pursue hip-hop. I was working with a Newark act called The Nastee Boyz. You should hear their track "Killer B'z," a 12" we cut in 1986 with Fred Schneider of The B-52s on vocals. I saw a copy of it on eBay recently for $10. I'd been given a cassette by a young man that I really liked so I was very conflicted. That artist was Keith aka Guru from Gang Starr. Stu then brought him to national attention and success without me, of course.
Best advice to offer
Don't believe the hype. There are plenty of people who will sell it to you every which way, but strip it all away, and it's just a big, greasy spin. Keep your soul open to the joy in all of life's experiences, even the toughest life lessons. Don't look back, learn from your mistakes but don't dwell on your failures or missed opportunities.
Pursue your passion whether it's in the arts as an artist or behind the scenes as a manager or agent. Most successful people really have plowed ahead against the advice of naysayers proclaiming otherwise.
Most memorable industry experiences
I was covering the Glastonbury Festival in the early 90s for Creem Magazine. I was the editor-in-chief and had decided that I would conduct the Robert Plant interview. I was a huge Zep fan so I had to do it. Upon arriving from the train station I was to meet him at his hotel and commence with the interview. He graciously offered to drive me around the area, offering me a convincing and thorough history of King Arthur and all the myths and facts. Needless to say, it was a very magical experience. And Robert was gracious and down to earth. Also meeting and working with Prince, but those stories I'll save for my memoirs.
Favorite athletes are week-to-week as I marvel at their gamesmanship from contest to contest. Whether it's LeBron droppin' a triple double or my beloved Browns and Indians scratching out a victory, I remain a die-hard loyal Ohio sports freak. From my college team The University of Akron to the Ohio State Buckeyes, I dream of championships that always seemed out of grasp when I came of age in the 60s/70s. Sure the Browns won a championship in 1964 on the legs of Jim Brown and passing accuracy of Frank Ryan, but I was still a few years away from understanding the diversion and bragging rights that pro sports would offer. I was once the president of the Browns Backers of New York City during the late 80s, when we had Bernie Kosar at the helm and dreamed of the Super Bowl. I witnessed in person the brutal Denver losses -- The Drive, The Fumble -- during the AFC championship games that sealed our agonizing fate. The snow-filled loss to the Marlins at the Jake back in 1997. Watching The Tribe lose game 7 with my friend Harry Spero in New York at his friend Chris' house. It was just another "what-might-have-been" for the perennial Charlie Browns of Northeast Ohio Sports.
Il Due Cippi in Saturnia, Italy. An amazingly simple but elegant little jewel tucked away in southern Tuscany just up the hill from my favorite spa in the entire world. It's here that I can unwind and listen to the ancient voices of my forefathers whisper their poetry to me. Whether dining on truffles or sipping a glass of red wine.
It's not a hotel but a family or friend who takes you in while on holiday. Nothing beats the traveling blues like a home cooked meal by a close friend of loved one; The Inn at Terme di Saturnia in the ancient town of the same name in Tuscany is rather amazing and elegant. The Four Seasons in NYC and Beverly Hills are still pretty special.
What your friends would be surprised to learn about you
I'm basically shy and that I hide behind this Dusty Wright persona to escape their scrutiny.
Industry pet peeve
The shortsightedness of the complacent. Just because you're the proverbial 800 lb. gorilla doesn't mean you should sit on your throne and expect the world to fall at your feet in worship.
If I wasn't doing this…
…I would be stuck in Akron as a college professor or working for the family business in real estate development.
He happens to be a good close friend as well: the honorable Michael Butler. He was/is the original producer of Hair on Broadway and on film. He, more than anyone, has allowed me to look at life with a smile and kind word for everyone, even the most vilified. I've seen him shame folks half his age with a rare air of dignity, courtesy and grace. He is stuff of legends, and I'm so honored to name him as my favorite mentor.
Dusty can be reached at (212) 877-7330; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org