This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Ross Atamian, owner Philip Citron Inc./co-founder Parachute Concerts.
It was recently announced that Northeastern-based Parachute Concerts, co-founded in 2015 by university friends Ross Atamian and Ilario Altamura, had struck a strategic alliance with the investment firm Magna Entertainment.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the deal underscores that Parachute Concerts is a growing force in live music in America.
Magna Entertainment has reportedly invested approximately $300 million across public and private markets since forming in 2009. Among its investments have been with the fan-funding service PledgeMusic of which it acquired a “major position” in 2016; the biographical sports film “Bleed For This” (2016); and Loud & Proud Records in 2017.
Upcoming Parachute Concerts shows include: “PJ Masks LIVE! Time To Be A Hero,” as well with dates with Carol Burnett; Ja Rule, Ashanti, Ma$e, Chingy; Yanni; Aretha Franklin; and “Dancing With The Stars” Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Valentin Chmerkovskiy, and Peta Jane Murgatroyd.
Just announced are a pair of Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band dates at The Chicago Theatre (Sept. 22), and the Boch Center Wang Theatre in Boston (Sept. 17).
Among Parachute Concerts’ past shows have been Avicii, Tony Bennett, Ringo Starr, and the “I Love The 90s Tour.”
The son of veteran independent Massachusetts’ promoter Ed Atamian, president, Elite Entertainment Inc, Ross grew up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. He started DJing in high school as DJ Rizz. He continued DJing while a student at Hofstra University in Long Island, taking up residencies in various nightclubs on Long Island, and New York City.
Following a short stint in advertising, Atamian has lived in New York City since 2005. He worked concurrently for Chaplin Entertainment Inc.–a leading boutique agency specializing in booking contemporary music artists on programs with symphony orchestras throughout North America–and with Philip Citron Inc. (PCI)–the latter a booking agency which Atamian took over last year, and which he operates as a separate entity—while also working as DJ Ross Rosco, with more than 600 events to his credit.
Why did you and Ilario decide you needed an investment in Parachute Concerts from Magna Entertainment?
Well, growth is important to us, and growth is obviously defined by a bunch of things. In our case, to have the financial backing of a company such as Magna affords us the opportunity to grow with volume which is something that is very important to us over the next few years.
I think that growth is the cornerstone (of business), and it is important to be able to extend our reach with the volume of shows that we do. We know how this business works, and we need to have the cash flow to do that.
[Magna Entertainment describes itself as “bringing the rigor and diligence of Wall Street to the entertainment industry.” It has reportedly invested approximately $300 million across public and private markets since forming in 2009. The company’s CEO/founder Joshua Sason is an ex-musician who was signed to various record and management deals as a teenager.]
You and Ilario see opportunities still on the table?
Other promoters, in your opinion, are leaving those opportunities on the table?
Yes. That is a fact.
It has been argued that despite the live music business greatly expanding in recent years that a plethora of middle-aged executives are making many of the determining decisions. They have staked out their territories and only innovate enough to hold onto their market share. Obviously, there are clever people working in the sector, but there are also numerous relics content with the status quo.
That is an interesting read, and I think that, like with anything generational, the business will continue to shift. When you look at a 20-year-old seeking to get into this business, are they looking to get into it so they can have their name on a flier, and book the shows they like, or are they looking to get into the business for the right reasons? That is certainly something that, even in my mid-30s, that is important to me. A lot of my friends joke, “You don’t book like a 35-year-old. You book like you are 35 to 55.” To me, it is important to book shows that my contemporaries will know, and to do that with a 35-year-old mind; but to also think, and to expand on that. That is reflected by the portfolio of shows that we do. So, if there’s an older promoter that might be focusing on a sub-sect, I would like to talk about “I Love the ‘90s” which we did a whole tour on. A lot of promoters, a lot of promoters passed on “I Love the ‘90s.”
For many promoters, their idea of nostalgia is the ‘70s or the ‘80s.
Well, I think you hit that right on the head, if I can speak frankly. I’m 35, and Ilario is 34, and that was our time. It was even a few years before our time, sort of being ‘80s babies, and knowing that the resurgence has come around of that stuff. Half of those acts could do club shows. But it (the resurgence) just came around a couple of years ago. Their audience base–in the mid-30s to the mid-50s–is now established with families. They have the disposable income. You put a night of nostalgia in front of them–and this is not a disco show; this is not a soul show; and this is not an ‘80s tribute–this is a ‘90s rock tribute show of acts that people grew up with, and the nostalgia factor came right back around, and it killed.
[The “I Love the ‘90s” tour features performances by a revolving line-up of iconic ’90s artists including Vanilla Ice, Salt-N-Pepa with Spinderella, All 4 One, Color Me Badd, Coolio, Tone Loc, Rob Base and Young MC.]
The first wave of North American modern rock promoters in the ‘60s that Premier Talent Agency’s Frank Barsalona developed were then the Young Turks. Many are active still. Then there were the Young Turks working punk, hip-hop, and jam music who have also grown older, and are more mainstream now. There are Young Turk promoters today, but they likely don’t have full access to the entertainment system nor access to major financing. If they are hungry and aggressive, they are booking clubs, or booking festivals for someone else. It’s harder today to make that jump from a grassroots level to being a major player. Promoters in their 30s will likely be viewed as being a risk by most acts and venues.
Both your backgrounds and experience allow you and Ilario to work within an available niché. There aren’t many like you working at your level as independents.
Well, that’s a very nice thing that you say. You do what you do. But indirectly, that’s what we go for. If that opportunity is not there chances are we are not going to pursue it, but we still put our heads down, and we do what we do. Indirectly, the hope is what you just said. I think you are right. It is something that we are really trying to capitalize on.
It takes awhile for anyone to establish themselves.
It takes a while and, even if they have the bucks (in backing), it’s still a matter if they have the chops. Concurrently, on the other side, with a young agent who is doing what they do, there might be a kind of distorted mode of business just because of what you just said. Maybe, it’s because they can’t connect with the people that they are dealing with now. The 31-year-old agent. But one thing that I can tell you is that it is great to be able to work with my contemporaries in this business that were assistants with me, and to have them all come up in the business. I’m doing what I’m doing, and they are all agents. It’s a beautiful thing.
A coincidence that you and Ilario attended Hofstra University in Long Island as did Magna Entertainment’s Joshua Sason? He graduated Magna Cum Laude with Distinctive Honors and serves on the board for its Center for Entrepreneurship.
That is nothing more than a sheer coincidence, but it is always nice when you establish that connection. When you meet somebody and get into that, it’s always nice to know that you have a connection.
How quickly did you figure out the shared connection?
It was established fairly quickly once we all got down to history and stuff. It’s nice when you run into that in any situation.
How long did it take for the Magna Entertainment investment to come to fruition?
It happened over the course of several months. I can’t give you the particular timeline because I can’t give you the exact dates. But it was a year-long process. It wasn’t a multi-year negotiation.
Magna Entertainment’s portfolio includes Tom Lipsky’s Loud & Proud Records imprint which has a roster of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blues Traveler, the Winery Dogs, Rick Springfield and the Delta Saints, among others.
I am aware of them. Yes, I am.
Any potential synergy between Parachute Concerts, and Loud & Proud?
Yeah. I think the great part about being in this business is there is always synergy if you can find it in the right places. You get excited when you see that your investor is also taking rights like that, and they have those kinds of connections because there are always synergies to be made in this business whether it is us establishing some kind of connection with the artists they are working with or whatever it might be. These are all good things. No question about it.
Did you and Ilario meet through DJing?
No. We met randomly. Just as friends at Hofstra University in the early 2000s. When we met, I was DJing and I could tell that he had similar interests in promoting and doing club stuff. I was in the clubs DJing. In addition to becoming friends, we took on certain initiatives including promoting shows around Long Island.
Ilario has a B.A. in business, management, and marketing. What is your degree?
My degree is in communications with a minor in marketing as well.
A strategic match-up between you two for sure.
Yes, you could say so. It is an interesting synergy. Ilario is more operations based, and I do a lot of the booking. Certainly, neither one of us are relegated to one role. Let me make that clear.
You don’t have a big staff at this point?
Correct. It is just us. We have an office in Stamford (Connecticut), and I have an office, Philip Citron Inc., which we can talk more about. I’m at 51st and Broadway (in Manhattan). We work out of both (offices) but we do have an official office out of Stamford, Connecticut.
As Parachute Concerts, you two seem to carefully select both what may be considered underserviced markets–such as Bangor, Maine or Rochester, New York–and are quite selective in booking in major markets. Like promoting at The Chicago Theatre as you are for upcoming Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band, and Carol Burnett dates. You seem to very carefully figure out what markets, and acts to chase.
It is something that we take very seriously. In addition to making sure that we have a relative presence in the majors (major markets) when appropriate, the secondary market business is a big focus for us. We spend a lot of time identifying and going into key secondaries. We almost treat certain key secondaries as…..
Well, I don’t want to give away…
I bet you don’t.
But I can tell you in all frankness that there are many markets in the Northeast that are underserved, and aren’t relegated to certain genres. You can go into upstate New York, for example. It’s just not a country market. It’s just not an R&B market. Not just a children’s show market. These places almost have the consumer demand of a Boston, if you will, on a relative basis.
North America’s urban footprint has been transformed over the past two decades as the population has shifted away from the inner city. People are commuting via Amtrak and car from further and further outside major centers. Or they have retired to outlying towns. There are towns 100 miles outside New York and Boston that are likely valid music markets though they may be untapped.
I think that you hit that right on the head. It’s a work in progress from the promoters and the agents because sometimes the promoters almost have to tell the agents, “You can play 55 miles away from the next city in play. These two markets co-exist. I can take you to two towns in Massachusetts, and you can play both.” It speaks to your point that certain secondaries are becoming so populated that they can handle these shows. We both know that a bad show can’t sell in a big city, but the right show can sell in three secondaries.
Throughout the greater Northeast, secondary market booking opportunities are as plentiful as ever. We are seeing agents’ willingness to book tighter runs. Using Pennsylvania as an example; many of the secondaries within are afforded great booking opportunities, mainly due to the ability to segment advertising through dedicated media, and more importantly, by continually retaining the loyal audiences who value experiencing live music intimately at their favorite local smaller market venues. It’s a no-brainer to put an act in Lancaster (Pennsylvania) and then take the same show to Easton (84 miles away) all while coexisting and affording the act to still take their bigger money Philly date. Agents rely on our secondary market offers just as much as we rely on them to deliver high-quality talent to us.
As well, you may catch a major booking if an agent has a date open for a premier band touring.
Well, that’s exactly it.
Venues don’t want dark nights if they can be open because of costs while touring bands often don’t want a night off due to costs of transportation and hotels for the band and crew. If their agent can pick up a date, they are happy.
That’s it. You are absolutely right. “We don’t mind giving you the Tuesday to pay for the gas.”
The Northeast corridor has traditionally been a highly competitive market consisting of such high-flying players as Live Nation, AEG Live, The Bowery Presents, Great Northeast Productions, and MassConcerts.
Like with any business, you are going to have a level of competition…
C’mon, this is an ultra-competitive region.
You couldn’t be more right. The concert business, however, is absolutely a competitive market, especially for an independent of any stature. It doesn’t matter how we are regarded; as an independent or if we are more under the radar as a regional independent, there are associated challenges. In the case of being a regional independent, you couldn’t be more right. We are always not only just going up against the Live Nations and AEGs of the world, we are also going up against aggressive theatres that can pay top dollar.
While the major promoters have traditionally held exclusives to many venues—either by purchasing that access or through long-standing relationships—a lot of venues, feeling the tight market pinch, are now more open to working with multi-promoters. Exclusives still exist, but there are more open houses.
You couldn’t be more right. We are really seeing that on a national level that a lot of venues welcome you with open arms. They want the rental even if they are booked by a major. They will still take the rental but, more so, what is important to us is that when we are going in as renters we want the proper box office support. We want the proper marketing support. We want to know that they want us in there. You can usually get the gist (of a commitment) in the first phone call. But to your point, the venues are increasingly welcoming you (as outside promoters) in and if you go to them with good product, and they are good to take the rental—if it’s free—knowing that we are willing to take the risk. Then it’s a win-win for everybody, and it’s good business. And it seems to be working.
Meanwhile, providing further competition is that almost every municipality or community today has an annual festival of their own.
That is it. Every city has an aggressive buyer, and they are having an aggressive festival. Just putting the festival business aside just for the moment, there’s the sheer level of traffic that is going through–use the Northeast as an example–secondaries. Agents more than ever are understanding that you can go into Pennsylvania, for example, and play four markets that can co-exist with each other, and still go to Philly and then go to D.C. I think that while there is always increasing competition, especially with what we do, there are opportunities. And that is kind of the core what I do at PCI with my clients is to make sure to aggressively identify and get in the mix of buying, and concurrently the same at Parachute.
Despite recent roll-ups of such long-time independents as The Bowery Presents and Frank Productions by Live Nation, you obviously believe there is still room for independent promoters In North America.
Absolutely. Absolutely, there is. I think that there is always room.
Yes but under what conditions? The market is not as fragmented as it once was.
I think that things will never be the same as they were. The way that I look at things is our model is our model, and it is something that we are holding fast to. I can tell you by experience that if I am doing daily business, and if I feel like I am losing all my shows to an individual promoter, if I can’t get back into a venue with the volume that I have been doing, I’m going to see that, and I ‘m going to feel that, but the fact of the matter is that over the past few years our model has held steadfast. It is something that we are very bullish about. We are going to continue to be aggressive, and go head-to-head where and when possible on certain shows. Whether or not that means going up against like-minded competition or against the bigger promoters. It is something that we are incredibly aggressive about. I think that is a kind of wind in our sails for ail to see that there are opportunities out there for independents. The big guys aren’t doing everything. So as long as you can identify what to do, where to do it, and subsequently when to do it, there’s certainly a (business) model there.
Will you broaden your footprint? You don’t now stray out of your Northeast base.
We will go anywhere in the domestic U.S. As simple as I can put it there’s no boundaries in the domestic U.S. to where we will go if, in fact, there’s an opportunity for a show.
Among Parachute’s past events have been shows with Avicii, Tony Bennett, Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band and, as you earlier mentioned, the “I Love The 90s Tour.” Upcoming are such shows as “PJ Masks LIVE! Time To Be A Hero,” as well with Carol Burnett; Ja Rule, Ashanti, Ma$e, and Chingy; Yanni, Aretha Franklin, and “Dancing With The Stars” Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Valentin Chmerkovskiy, and Peta Jane Murgatroyd; and Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band.
The children’s show “PJ Masks” isn’t something I’d expect you to book.
I’ve got to tell you that in addition to going into certain markets in the same breath we pride ourselves on really diversifying the talent that we present. It is important to us that we do touch as many genres as possible.
There’s no reason why a promoter should be relegated to one genre. By no means is it (our strategy) an application of the big promotion companies’ models but, in the same regard, it is very simple. If you look at a Live Nation or AEG there are no boundaries to what those companies present. Why should there be boundaries to a smaller shop? With that being said, there are obviously talented independent promoters around the country that are very good, and centric in presenting the genres that they love, be it comedy, urban or country. If there are opportunities to be able to work across the board to identify all of those genres why relegate ourselves?
[“PJ Masks” is an animated children’s TV series produced by Entertainment One, Frog Box, and TeamTO. The series debuted on Disney Junior in the U.S. on Sept. 18th, 2015. PJ Masks is based on French author Romuald Racioppo’s picture book series “Les Pyjamasques” which debuted in 2008. Since then 15 titles have been published to date.]
The Hey Stamford! Food Festival is a Parachute Concerts’ event?
Yes, the Stamford Food Festival is a product of Ilario and myself. Last year was our inaugural year. They have a beautiful park in Stamford, Connecticut, River Park. This event was something that like most ideas grew out of a smaller thing that sort of went bust, and then grew to be a full-scale event. Last year was incredibly successful. We had almost 5,000 attendees. It was a ticketed event.
A $10 ticket was very reasonable.
The average ticket was about $10. It was a few bucks more, but that was the point average. This year we are in the process of booking some great national talent of bands. We are really going to turn it into an even bigger event. We couldn’t be more excited about what has come about for this year.
Was it a weekend event last year?
No, it was only a single day (Saturday, Aug. 25th) event. This year is also going to be a single day event, but we are working on something to happen on Sunday (Aug. 26th) as well, which is in its conceptual stage.
You worked concurrently with Randy Chaplin, and Phil Citron for years.
I was working for Randy for many years as an agent. You could say from 2005 to almost 2016. A long time. I started in 2005 as an assistant to Phil Citron.
You worked for Phil first?
No. Phil and Randy shared office space. I got hired to be an assistant. My time was spent going between Chaplin Entertainment and Philip Citron Inc.
Phil and Randy, two giant figures in the live music space.
There you go which was an amazing education because one side I was seeing the way that an agency was run in Randy who specializes in symphonic bookings and stuff like that; and, on the other side, I was seeing the buyer side from Phil where we were representing clients. So you really have got a full spectrum view of the booking process.
In 2005, when you got the call to work with them, you were then with an ad agency.
I was at Arnold (Arnold Worldwide) in Boston. I was a year out of college.
What were you doing at Arnold?
I was working on brand promotions on Fidelity Investments. They had an ad initiative with Paul McCartney. So he was on tour, and Fidelity was tied in as a brand. It was very exciting.
[Boston mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments, struggling to attract aging baby boomers to invest, had turned to Sir Paul McCartney to help market its mutual funds. McCartney debuted in a 30-second television commercial on ABC-TV during a NFL football game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders. It was the first time McCartney had ever given personal footage to an ad campaign.]
I worked briefly in an ad agency when I was starting out. I didn’t last long.
Technically, I didn’t either, but I got that call to do that job (with Randy and Phil). Then everything picked up, and I moved to New York.
Years earlier, Phil had been the leading music executive at William Morris in New York, overseeing the bookings of James Taylor, Rodney Dangerfield, Julio Iglesias, Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, Tom Jones and others. He’s married to publicist Liz Rosenberg who worked 39 years at Warner Bros. Records and went on to represent Madonna, Cher, Stevie Nicks, and Michael Bublé.
Phil has been around forever. He’s a legend, and he’s my mentor in this business. I’d love to give you a quick snapshot of what Philip Citron Inc. was, and is. As you said, Phil in the early ‘80s ran the William Morris music department out of New York. He then established Philip Citron Inc. which was a niché business that focused on only representing the buyers and not representing artists.
Serving as a middle agency between agents and promoters.
Essentially. Still, that’s not a word (“middle”) I like because of the connotation
That is, in essence, is what it is though. Balancing the needs of independent promoters, and the needs of acts and their agents while playing the role of the honest broker.
That’s a fair point. That’s what Phil did for many, many years. The connection here is that my father (Ed Atamian, president, Elite Entertainment Inc.), who has been an independent promoter for over 25 years, was a client of Phil’s since the ‘80s. A friendship was formed there in addition to a close working relationship as well.
Phil was widely considered as a masterful power player.
Phil really taught me the nuances of everything that I know about how to properly book and everything that you can imagine that goes into a deal and what not. Phil taught me everything that I know about being a buyer.
How to negotiate?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. I say that with a quiver in my voice.
How good was he?
The best. He still is.
Didn’t Phil retire last year?
Hey look, life is a negotiation.
You now operate Philip Citron Inc. as a separate entity?
I do. As of last year, when Phil retired, I took over the business. The company name is still Philip Citron Inc. It still very much exists.
Your father Ed Atamian is still active as a promoter.
Exactly. I would say in the Northeast, including Upstate New York and Massachusetts. As the years went by, as I took a more active role at PCI, I would do the buying for many of his clients. So I include my father in my business influences. It was just something natural and organic.
You and your father co-promote shows under the shared Elite Entertainment Inc. and Parachute Concerts banner?
My father…it’s funny because there’s the booking side, and then there’s the presenting side. What I’ve learned from my father is invaluable about presenting a concert. Everything that goes involved with the bones of execution and just generally speaking about how to be a promoter. That’s been invaluable. You put this all together. And you put it in the pot and you go.
At what age did your father finally say, “I will listen to you?” Did it ever happen?
Yeah. That’s a funny question. My father always respected the vision that I had as it continued to manifest itself. There was father’s love. I would say probably in early 2010 is when one I took an active role in helping to run his company, but also I took on the booking duties for Elite Entertainment–twofold– I think that is when he took me seriously and listened to what I had to say.
Your father became a promoter quite late in life.
He did. My family is a car family. Atamians go all the way back to Atamian Ford (Atamian Ford of Boston) in Boston. They have been in the car business for many years. It was in the early ‘90s when my father decided that he was going to take on promoting full-time.
[The Atamian family has sold more than 14 new car manufacturers in Massachusetts. In 1924, Nish Atamian traded a horse and trailer from a milk company in exchange for a brand new Dodge. This marked Atamian’s first new car sale. In the years following, the Atamian family has held franchises for Dodge, Ford, Hudson, Rambler, Nash, American Motors, Cadillac, Pontiac, Isuzu, Suzuki, Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen, and Honda.]
Everybody turned your father down to help with his shows, except Phil.
Phil was a great friend to him then and really took him under his wing to get his full-time career started.
Meanwhile, you are thinking, “Now I can go to all of these concerts.”
I’ll tell you. I was just getting into Hofstra. I’m like, “Wow. This is great.” You are right, like you said. “Let’s get some concert tickets. Hey dad, this is great but can you get me some concert tickets?”
Your brother Kirk didn’t enter the entertainment business?
No, my brother Kirk did not.. He’s a manager for one of (New England Patriots owner) Bob Kraft’s companies. He works out of Gillette Stadium as director, business process solutions for IFP (International Forest Products), which is Kraft’s paper company.
Have your DJ days as DJ Ross Rosco come to an end?
The running joke is that a DJ never retires. I don’t take bookings anywhere near like I used to, but I do still play certain concerts, and bigger private events when opportunities arise. Even after 20 plus years, I still love playing in front of big crowds, and at high profile events.
You’ve DJed over 600 shows including doing sets alongside Aretha Franklin, Fat Joe, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, the Stylistics, the Bluenotes, and Big Pun.
My DJ past is kind of the cornerstone of me getting into the music industry, and realizing that I might have some insights for being in the industry.
While Ilario and you were students at Hofstra University, you did club promotions mainly on Long Island under his company Velvet Rope Entertainment.
Post-college, we got more aggressive and did clubs throughout Westchester County, New York, Southern Connecticut, and most importantly in Stamford, Ilario’s hometown). We ended up doing hundreds of club events from 2007 to 2014. Once the EDM boom hit in 2012, we expanded the model into larger, hard ticket situations, and formed Midnite Society. We did a number of larger room EDM shows from 2012-2014, including a six-show arena run with Avicii in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, University of Rhode Island’s Ryan Center, University of Massachusetts’ Mullins Center (in Amherst, Massachusetts), Binghamton (New York), and Rochester (New York).
In 2009, you were the opening act for a run of Northeast dates with Robin Thicke and Jennifer Hudson. Robin’s manager had asked to see your prospective playlist, and he obviously liked what you had in mind.
Yeah, the DJing thing…I have always loved music. Always, and DJing has been a passion, a hobby. All of the above. As I got older, and I was in the (music) business and you book a show and it becomes organic when you are talking to your colleagues who have already toured. They know you DJ. They will call you up. I was an energetic 23-year-old that didn’t mind driving 200 miles to open up a show. Then you see an opportunity with Robin Thicke with a small stipend, and that’s the stuff that gets you going. My father did the first date on the tour in Albany (New York). They needed an opener. They threw me out there. It went well. At the end of the night, they said that they needed an opener for the whole Northeast. So with stuff like that you got out and you say that you hope that you don’t suck and you got out…
It’s not, that you hope you don’t suck. It’s, “You better not suck!”
Alright, I agree with you. You better go out there, and you better execute. Those are the things that get me going. Up until a couple of years ago, I went up to the New York State Fair, and I did a grandstand show for Rihanna and Pitbull. Playing for 10,000 people. There’s no energy in the world that can compare to something like that.
You have also DJed shows with Jay-Z and LL Cool J working alongside people in the hip-hop and rap genres. So you have to know your stuff.
Well, I can tell you that I pride myself on diversifying myself musically and knowing every type of music and once again I correlate that with the booking side—but my love is hip-hop and R&B and funk music. Soul music. So when the conversation from the booking side or the DJing side goes to all that, that’s kind of my central point.
Being a DJ was a route into the music industry that was emphatically not through your father. Still, he obviously influenced you.
That’s exactly right. Anytime that you admire what your father does, and you are able to take interest in it, however, is great. I was 12-years-old sitting in a box office watching him doing a settlement. I didn’t really know what I was watching but knowing that I was enthralled by it. As you get old and you start to establish your own identity at 16 years old, and it’s time to get a job and your parents give you a loan to buy DJ equipment, you take it pretty seriously.
You started out at a Sweet 16 party in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts?
You couldn’t be more right. You are absolutely right about that. It was just that. A Sweet 16 party.
So while in high school at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury you were working weekends as a DJ?
I was. I was at St. John’s and it was something that turned into a nice little business for a young guy. I was kind of the guy at all of the dances and everything. If there was an occasion that required music I was chomping at the bit to get in there and play the gig.
Being a DJ would most certainly create an identity for you at high school.
It does. It does. It a nice thing. You don’t realize it. It’s an indirect thing. You kind of enjoy doing it. It turns into a hobby and the next thing that you know people are starting to recognize you for it.
What was the first record you purchased?
It was Drum Club, probably in 1994. That was all that was on the record. One day I’m going to find that record again, and frame it. I bought it at Strawberry’s in White City. Strawberry’s was a classic chain. All of them (music retail chains), Record Town, Strawberries, Tower Records, and Coconuts were so great.
Drum Club was a 90s’ electronic music duo. The record was probably “Drums are Dangerous” (1994) on Butterfly Records.
I think that’s the song, “Drums are Dangerous.”
How many vinyl records were you carting around back in your high school days?
Oh my gosh. We used to probably bring 8 crates of records. Anywhere from 500 to 1,000 records at a gig.
How big was your record collection?
I still have it. It’s in my basement in Massachusetts. I couldn’t even put a number on it. It’s not massive but it is certainly extensive. It is probably 5,000 records.
Hard to store and hold onto. I know because I have a sizable vinyl collection as well. And we live in a house.
Living in an apartment in New York City I can somewhat empathize. There’s nothing more that I like to do than to have them all somewhere beautifully but for now, they are in the basement being kept safe.
When I was young, I was a wedding DJ. Renting twin turntables and…..
Listen, I love it. All you have to tell is that it was twin turntables. That’s the start right there
I did primarily Italian weddings.
Would you believe me if I told you I did a few weddings? Oh yeah, I did weddings. A lot back in the day. I probably have done 20 weddings.
The DJ is the only sober one in the room at the end of a wedding party night.
You get to a quarter to one in the morning at a wedding (party) as a DJ, you could be the designated driver.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.