Interview: Joe Rinaldi

Courtesy of Pacific San Diego Magazine

Courtesy of Pacific San Diego Magazine

Juan Barragan

Joe Rinaldi

14 May 2014

Joe Rinaldi has been in the music industry for years. He has been the talent buyer and manager of many venues throughout Southern California. His expertise in the business makes his views and recommendations something to consider for anyone trying to start a career in the music industry.

Juan Barragan: You have been the talent buyer for venues like The Viper Room, 4th and B, and House of Blues Hollywood. How did you get into the industry?

Joe Rinaldi: I was in business school. I was in another industry, the fashion industry. I did pretty well there and made enough money to put myself into business school. I was going to business school in Los Angeles and decided that because I was in Los Angeles, which was an entertainment city, that I would switch industries and go into the entertainment industry and I didn’t know whether it was going to be movies or music, but I figured it’d be one of those things. I had a lot more experience in the music side because I played in bands and had interacted with clubs. I moved to a place on the same block as the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. I started going to the El Rey a lot and getting involved in that scene. When I got done with business school, I opened a record store right across the street from the El Rey. I started to work in the music business because that’s a music business and we did new releases and “in stores” and concert series. We made friends with all of the people at the El Rey theatre like the general manager and the owner. They became good friends of mine personally. Found Music was the name of the record store. We started blogging on our website and got really popular and our concert series won an award in the LA Weekly. I’m not going to call Sony Music and get a job, they’re just going to say get out of here. I can start something and be in the game instantly and get a lot of attention doing that with the ultimate goal of getting a better job within the industry just because people would have heard my name before. The record store sort of accomplished that perfectly and when Johnny Depp sold The Viper Room and they brought in a crew and they knew they needed to have somebody book shows, they put out a letter to all the other people who book shows in town. One of the people who got the letter was the El Rey, and they told them to call me. I was one of forty people they interviewed. Once I got in and actually talked to those guys and told them what I was going to do and held up the LA Weekly to show some reference that I know what I’m doing, they were like “Okay!” But then the mission shifts from getting in the door to not getting fired because otherwise you’ll just get fired quickly. If you can’t put bands on the stage every night and make them money, it just won’t work.

JB: So where do these people hang out?

JR: I mean, I built my record store right across the street from the El Rey Theatre. There is a Johnnie’s New York Pizza right across the street from the Goldenvoice offices, on Wilshire Boulevard. It sounds dumb right? Not dumb! I don’t think that it’s a really good idea to cold-call Johnnie’s Pizza but there’s also a Starbucks. There’s also a credit union there that I used to go to since I used to live on that street. It’s not rocket science. In Los Angeles and in San Diego, but more in Los Angeles, for instance, Jack White just announced that he’s playing The Mayan and The Fox and The Fonda. That Fonda show, every single person who is worth anything in the music business will be at that Mayan show or that Fonda show. There are also those kinds of shows where a band is going to be huge in six months like The Neighbourhood or Chain Gang of 1974 or something like that. Those shows and those dates, all those people tend to be at those shows in Los Angeles as well.

JB: So locally it would be like 91X’s Next Big Thing?

JR: Not at all. It doesn’t exist locally. You think somebody from a record label is going to be at a Next Big Thing show? We did a Next Big Thing show for Crosses and their label came down from Los Angeles, and the people from 91X were there. The people from 94/9 were there. But that’s it. Name somebody else in the music business besides the members of POD who were at the show. There just aren’t any. I can’t say it enough. Don’t waste your time trying to get a job in the music business in San Diego. Go to the Troubadour or a show that’s clearly on the way up and it’s a who’s who. There’s a couple of indie labels down here. Green Day’s manager is in Encinitas. Cargo Records is still around. They just don’t go to shows, none of them. There are no deals being made at shows where someone sees your band play at The Casbah or The Belly Up and say, “Hey, can I talk to you for a second? I really like this song. Would you mind giving me your info, I want to use it for a commercial that I’m working on.” That business is not conducted in this zip code.

JB: So would you recommend that bands move to LA?

JR: They all do. That’s what I love about CJ and Deadly Birds. They all have an equal amount of effort going on to play The Viper Room and The Satellite and that kind of stuff in LA to be part of the club scene up there. They are semi-serious about having everything work out, but they also know that down here is for Gallagher’s and up there is for business. Hopefully some part of all of this is a direct statement that will save somebody somewhere some time that is really serious about getting involved. Somebody just asked me a lot of these same questions yesterday and had moved here because of family and work and was interested in reconnecting with the music business and I just told him, “If you are serious, move 120 miles to the north without looking back, otherwise, you are not serious.”

JB: What would you recommend to folks trying to get into the business side of the music industry?

JR: One book that I never read, but could quote from because some parts of it come up all the time is, “What Color is Your Parachute?” It just breaks it down, you could spend a lot of time finding a great mentor in the business and they are really going to tell you at the end of it is “Oh, by the way, resumes don’t matter, applying doesn’t matter, all that really matters is, where do the people that you need to meet in that business hang out?” How can you meet them? Who do you know that can refer you? How can you triangulate your way towards a job as opposed to just cold-calling, because cold-calling has a near zero efficacy rate, and triangulating has an almost 50% efficacy rate of just getting to talk to somebody. The resume process is just completely broken. The sooner that the message gets ordained in every single person’s methodology and they say, “I better do something different because this is just not going to work,” the sooner the better.

JB: You worked for corporate companies like House of Blues as well as independent venues like The Griffin; can you tell me any differences you encountered working the two venues? Which was more enjoyable?

JR: The Griffin was slightly more enjoyable, but both of those gigs were corporate gigs. The Griffin was owned by a corporation and that’s ultimately why there’s no griffin anymore. When there’s a parent company it’s not like we owned it, so one wind shift later it’s going to become something else. That’s the definition of working in a corporate environment where it’s just going to switch around. In fact, The Viper Room was a corporate operation. It was an asset owned by other people and it was bought and sold I was hired when it was bought and I left when it was sold. House of Blues was an asset. It was bought by Live Nation just before I went to work there. I’ve never actually just owned one of those places outright.

JB: Is that something that you would want to do later on?

JR: Not really. Bar ownership is fixed and there’s all kinds of special rules. I’m a really good salesperson at selling beer because I can put a bunch of people into a place that doesn’t have any natural crowd because I can book bands that people want to see. I can sell beer really well but getting liquor licenses and paying rent and being responsible for payroll, the crazy layers of taxes and licensing and all that stuff, you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. You can let a bar owner do that and you can just be employed by them and just do the stuff about it that you like. That’s a big difference then having to own it.

JB: You’ve now worked in three different counties in Southern California: Los Angeles, San Diego, and now Orange County, which county do you see most promising in terms of job opportunities and why?

JR: Los Angeles County dominates the job market. Orange County is very good in the job market but not specific to music business jobs, and San Diego is very horrible for music business jobs. There’s 100,000 jobs in Los Angeles, maybe 5000-6000 in Orange County, and maybe 500 in San Diego. It’s not what people do here, and the whole industry is located in the northern counties.

JB: So you’re now working at the OC Tavern. Before, you were at The Griffin and had established a partnership with 91X’s radio personality Mike Halloran in order to boost attendance on slow nights. Is that a strategy you plan to use for the OC Tavern?

JR: They don’t have a radio station. Even though it’s so far south, it is the southern border of Orange County; its radio station is still technically, KROQ from Los Angeles. KROQ has no intention of servicing the south Orange County market like it would Hollywood. It’s just a perimeter community that happens to still be under their reach. They also get some 91X but 91X is not going to go to Orange County to do anything. There’s one little tiny radio station that’s like KPRI that’s in Laguna Beach called KX 93.5 and I’m talking to them a little bit but it would just be a different level. San Diego has a radio station that’s like if Bakersfield had the Chargers. San Diego has a huge radio station, 91X, and it’s a real joy to get to do stuff with something that large. It’s almost larger than the city in some respects.

JB: You’ve been involved in the San Diego music scene a couple of years now. What do you think of the scene overall? Is San Diego producing good acts?

JR: San Diego will always have unbelievably good bands coming out of their scene, specifically their indie scene. The bar has been set so high that kids that are picking up instruments that are 13-16 years old, they are watching what Pinback does and they won’t leave the garage until they know that somebody that likes Pinback thinks they are incredible. They are not going to name their band Trickster, wear a bunch of flannel and play Jackson guitars and come out with mullets and do something that would make the entire city cringe. They are going to do the opposite. They are going to look at the stars that have come out of this scene and be relevant to that to break out. So, all of the different groups that are coming out are motivated at some level by the huge and rich history of bands that have come out of here that have been that good.

JB: Overall, San Diego is currently seeing music venues drop like flies. There’s a rumor that Che Café in La Jolla is going to be shut down. Do you think this trend will adversely and negatively affect the music scene in San Diego?

JR: Not at all. That’s not what’s happening. Everyone that gets involved in music venues knows that one thing changes and it makes it hard to keep that one particular venue going so they just shift and go do something else. Just in the two or three years that I’ve been working in San Diego directly, I’ve seen the net loss of venues and the net gain of venues be sort of equal. Something else always pops back up. If you’re slippery like me, you could care less. In two months you’ll be doing something else somewhere else. It’s not like a death in the family. It’s just always going to be in a state of flux.

JB: You have a website called Arsenal Concerts. Can you tell me more about the purpose of that website?

JR: Well, I’ve been running Arsenal Concerts for five years. Technically, if I do work for a club, then that club is hosting Arsenal Concerts events. Shows that I’ve done at Porter’s Pub, 4th and B, House of Blues, The Irenic, The Loft at UCSD, OC Tavern, and the 600 or so at The Griffin, those were all Arsenal shows.

JB: So it’s more of a promoter company?

JR: Well, it’s completely shoplifted from Goldenvoice. I want to be a one man Goldenvoice for this market. It’s completely attainable. There’s only one other person in town doing it and unless they sprout six arms and six legs they are just not going to be able to keep up with the level of work coming into the city of a million and a half. The Casbah does stuff at like Belly Up, House of Blues, and North Park Theatre but it’s just one guy. Between the guy at the Soda Bar, the guy at The Casbah, and me, there’s really no one else that does that. Arsenal Concerts is at 1000 produced shows at this point. It’s stayed nice and small; there are no employees and tax complications or license complications. It’s very easy to maintain at that level.

JB: You’ve said previously that bands play too much in San Diego. What would you recommend bands do in order to make it big? Play more shows? Play less shows?

JR: Well, number one; there are two kinds of bands. Some kinds of bands should be playing a lot. Those kinds of bands are bands that please natural crowds. So if you are really good and sound just like Led Zeppelin and you are instantly accessible to a bunch of people in the music scene, like for instance Gallagher’s Irish Pub in Ocean Beach. You could probably play five or six places around town on a fair circuit for those crowds and make them happy and make the bar money and everyone’s happy. If on the other hand you want to try and play the ticketed venues with a national artist and be able to say, “My presence at this show dictates you will sell this many more tickets,” you have to play a lot less. This creates demand, or you have to have infinite demand, which either way is great, but one is a lot rarer than the other. There are only three or four people in San Diego that have infinite demand, like Jason Mraz. He could play 600 times in thirty days and not deplete his demand.

JB: Through your time in San Diego, what are some of the more prominent or successful acts you encountered that you think will make it big later on?

JR: I definitely witnessed bands that had already figured it out and were already in the process of making it. There are a lot of them, like the reggae band Stranger is a perfect example. Stranger got management, got tour stuff, got on big stages, it’s a lucrative market. There’s bands that were playing where they were playing three or four years ago that are now playing Open Air Amphitheatre as a headliner. It’s a great business to be in, they were one of the first bands to play for us. There are a lot of those kinds of stories.  I particularly like those kinds of stories as opposed to top 25 indie bands. I also think Buddy Banter is on to something. That’s an interesting story because it’s literally from zero, like, “What do you mean a band with a singing drummer who stands up?” That’s the kind of band that could get the support slots that Mariachi El Bronx was getting last year if they just keep doing what they’re doing and just be as freaky as they possibly can.

Hopefully those wanting to know more about the music industry in San Diego learned something from Joe Rinaldi’s experience in the field. Personally, I’m serious about getting a job in the music industry so I’m starting to pack my bags because I’m going to Los Angeles and not looking back. This was the second of a series of four interviews with prominent and influential members of the music industry in Southern California. Stay tuned for the next one.