Industry Spotlight: Richard Collier (Keynote Company)

Hello, everyone! We are thrilled to learn that you found time in your busy schedule to spend a few minutes browsing our blog. There has been a rising demand for interviews as of late, and today we hope to satisfy those readers with an in-depth conversation on the topics of talent buying and concert promotion.

This blog exists to promote the future of the entertainment industry, and to do that we need input from people like you and your entertainment-loving friends. If you have any questions about the content in this article, or if you have an artist you would like to see featured on this blog, please contact james@haulix.com. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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Before we get to the interview we have in store for today I must first issue an apology. We started this blog with the mission to highlight all corners of the music business, but in recent weeks those efforts have skewed heavily towards the digital/blog side of the industry. We love every feature we’ve done, but in the interest of keeping things fresh we’ve gone out of our way to try and ensure November is one of the most diverse months we’ve had on our blog to date. Those efforts started several days ago, and now we’re happy to take them one step further by sharing an interview with someone who I’m relatively sure has never been much of a blogger. Ready? Let’s begin…

If you live in New England and enjoy live music you more than likely owe Richard Collier, founder of Keynote Company, a thousand thank you notes. For the better part of the last year Richard and his team of promotion gurus have been putting on shows in Boston, Providence, and beyond. All that effort has helped develop a budding concert empire that continues to grow in leaps and bounds with each passing year. Richard has been the mastermind behind these efforts since day one, and late last week we convinced the nationally recognized talent buyer to share his insight on the music business with our readers. You can learn about his life, the development of Keynote Company, and where Richard believes the industry is headed in the years to come, below.

As a longtime resident of Boston, I’ve known about Richard’s work for a number of years. We’ve spoken briefly in the past, but this interview was the first chance I had to really learn about the man who makes so many great events happen. If you would like to learn more about Richard beyond what is contained in this post, please make it a point to follow Keynote Company on Twitter. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

H: Hello, Richard. How are you this afternoon?

R: Hello, James. I’m doing quite well right now. Keeping busy per usual!

H: It’s great to have you with us. I’ve been wanting to feature you on our site for a while, but scheduling got a little messy at the end of summer. Things cooled off a bit and here we are. Has October treated you well?

R: I appreciate you having me! October was a pretty solid month. Honestly we had a pretty rough summer so it was a nice turnaround month. We had a lot of great shows, but a lot of them under-performed and were high finance shows this summer. July was the toughest month we’ve had financially in my seven years of booking. That being said we are back on pace now though heading into the end of the year and 2015.

H: When would you say is the busiest time of year for you? I’ve heard from other people in your position that the fall is usually pretty hectic.

R: It’s tough to say. I mean tours are definitely more frequent in spring/summer from my viewpoint. Every high school band is off and wants to get out on the road so usually I’m bombarded with “Hey were x band from x town just seeking x.” It’s tough because I want to help everyone, but the realistic viewpoint is I can’t with where we are at. We are seeking nationals with a respectable draw and locals that are looking to build the scene.

H: You and I have known each other through industry connections for a bit, but truth be told I don’t really know much about your history. Where do you think your interest in music comes from? Were your parents big on live music?

R: My parents weren’t really big on music. My dad likes classic rock and my mom had a musician friend Matty B that I would listen to, but it wasn’t like a major influence to pushing me by any means. I guess some of my early memories with music would be watching TRL on MTV after school back when they played music. I would listen to N Sync, Jay Z, and Limp Bizkit a lot… so I had a pretty eclectic taste. I just loved everything regardless of genre so I guess that’s where it would start for me. My interest in live music came from school. To be honest I was pretty much a loser in school and I didn’t really have friends. A group by the name of Another Option (still going as War Games now – check them out) started playing out locally in the vfw/legion/school and I started getting into live music. It was also around the time of Myspace so I met a lot of people online. I just would start making a lot of friends and what would later be connections by seeing bands like A Loss For Words, Vanna, Therefore I Am, Four Year Strong, etc… all the bands that MA is proud of today.

H: What was the first concert you can remember attending? Any details you can give us from that experience would be appreciated.

R: I honestly don’t know what my first show was which really bums me out sometimes considering what I do haha. I think it was my mom’s friend Matty B at like some local place, but if not it had to be Another Option in a hall probably. I will say whatever first local show I went to I don’t remember much, but it definitely got me interested.

H: I’m sure you had no idea when you attended that first concert where your life would eventually lead, but I am curious when your interest in the business side of the music industry began. Can you recall what was happening in your life at that time?

R: I mean definitely didn’t expect for my life to be what it is today from being that loser back in middle & high school. I always had an interest from day one that something would happen in music, but I didn’t believe I’d book bands I cherished and people that I see on TV and the radio. It’s just wild. The business side was definitely started in college though. I was approached by my friend Alex Mazzuchelli about helping his booking company. I was always into the booking part, but never knew how to really start so I give him the credit for pushing me. We collaborated on an Eyes Set To Kill show at The Living Room that did fairly well, but I think it lost a few hundred bucks or at the least wasn’t well in the green. So that was my first sign that a quality lineup didn’t equate success. Following that my first personal show was Vanna’s first RI show. We soldout the Riverside legion with the bands I saw in high school – Orchestrate The Incident, Follow The Flies, Outrage (now Raindance), In Response To You, and Dour Cursiva in those halls in all over the southcoast of Massachusetts We even had to sneak people in. I was hooked and there was no looking back!

H: I know you attended Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island. What did you study there, and how involved were you in the music community at that time?

R: I studied Sports/Entertainment/Event Management there. I was very involved in the music community and would be at The Living Room 2-3 times a week. It was a bummer because I’d always see all these awesome shows in high school going there, but I didn’t really have friends to go with so I’d miss out. I’d walk to most of the shows and start meeting more people and making friends there. I honestly think the RI scene hasn’t had as strong mid level shows as The Living Room days and wonder if it ever will. I saw so many great shows there that I just don’t see any venue filling what they did. The other part of attending so many of those was doing papers in the wee hours of the night/morning and waking up at 7/9 AM and losing sleep. All completely worth it though.

H: Did you finish college?

R: I did finish college. I graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree.

H: This is a question that comes up in almost every interview we do. It would be possible to argue that your career today is not a direct result of your time in college. A lot of what you have accomplished is owed to your own drive and hard work. That said, do you still feel college was worth your money and time? Why or why not? Would you suggest others hoping to enter the entertainment business pursue a college education?

R: HAH. Absolutely not from the college itself standpoint and that’s nothing against JWU persay – it is a great institution, but for what I do they definitely didn’t get me much in terms of career parth. I will say that dorming in Providence allowed me to be engulfed into the music scene and making connections which would help me later on. That being said I have 100k in loans that luckily are split between me and my parents, but it sucks flat out. I could have went to community college for free, but it has that stigma that it’s “not as good” or whatever. Yes, I learned things in college that goes without saying, but nothing like my own experience taught me. I’m really passionate in what I’ve told people about industry vs college. You can get great grades and learn all sorts of stuff by the books in college. That’s well and good, but when “shit hits the fan” day of the event you need to adapt. It takes a lot of patience and a certain mindset to run events successfully. That’s not to say myself or anyone in this industry isn’t without making mistakes – we all have and will as nobody is perfect at what they do. I’ve done some pretty stupid stuff over the years haha, but I feel I’m definitely very good at what I do. You constantly learn just like anything else. It’s a high stress environment that’s for sure. You’d be better off learning time management than certain things in a class. I strongly encourage people not to attend a high cost private institute if they are looking to get into the music business. Start at the ground level and work your butt off like you never have to showcase your worth in whatever position you can get – even if not directly related to what you want – referrals like anyone will help. Network with every single person possible – you never know who will help you in life and don’t count anyone out because it could bite ya later. One of my best connections in this industry who always offers great advice – Mathew Barletta – was in a small band that I booked several times in a pool hall to tiny shows. We went from a random booking to solid friends that can always relate industry talk. So never ever count out someone because you never know what the relationship can develop to. I answer every single message / e-mail I get even if I can’t help just because that’s who I am. If you want to go to college (which you should) get a degree at a community college and save yourself the money. The other thing is especially for a while the music business isn’t going to be lucrative. You’re going to likely scrap by and not want fat loans to pay off. So that’s my thoughts on all that… def a big subject for me.

H: Keynote Company started in 2007, which would have been during your time in college. Did you intern, work, or otherwise train with another booking company/group prior to launching your own venture?

R: As I stated previously I worked with Alex on a show, but it wasn’t formal interning or anything. I honestly have never worked for anyone else I just observed and knew what to do and who to do it with. I basically behind the scenes studied what worked and didn’t and would learn my own lessons. That’s why I was saying in the previous answer like – books can teach you one thing – you learn so much more by doing it on your own.

H: I really like the name Keynote Company, but for the life of me I don’t know why you chose it for your business. Can you tell us the origin story behind this name?

R: It’s funny because I don’t think really many people know what the name means. Originally with Alex we were X-Mothaz booking. I have NO clue why he chose that ridiculously bad name. I think we were just joking around and were like well whatever it’s just for fun. When I knew that Vanna show was hyping up and it was what I wanted in life I knew I needed a more serious name. Basically everyone assumes the company is Keynote and company is attached as a formality like a company. The name is suppose to be separated – Key (right fit / top notch) Note (music) Company (meaning the company of friends). So essentially it’s a behind the scenes meaning is the right fit top notch music booking with good company. It’s a little trick so I never really explain it that much. Basically though the name was just suppose to reflect that it’s not just about booking shows. It’s about trying to book the best shows with the right company and making them feel like a community.

H: How big is the Keynote Company? I know you’re the leader, but how many people work with you for promotion/marketing/etc.?

R: Honestly right now it’s basically just me although I do have friends that help out. Over the years my best friend Derick Swiader was booking with me, but he left this year to pursue other endeavors in life. I’ve had countless people help me, but the most mainstays that are worth namedropping are my other best friends Nichole Bishop, Erin Rice, Lauren Sullivan, my brother Jason Collier, and definitely my dad and mom have helped a ton as well. Also right now I take a lot of great advice from various promoters in other markets – most specifically Jake Zimmerman, Anthony Cabrera, and Sage Keber.

H: Are you looking to expand your team? I’m sure a few of our New England readers might want to join your efforts.

R: I take pride it my company as like it’s my personal baby. I do want to expand, but the relationship would have to be strong and the person would have to bring a lot to the table. I’m always open to networking and collaborating, but I don’t see myself officially adding anyone to the team anytime soon. I would love for someone to have enough to offer to the company though and change my mind absolutely.

H: Without going too in depth, can you walk us through your typical day at work?

R: I would just say there is no typical day. That’s the beauty of it I can wake up and have a ton of great emails or a ton of spam. Everything can go right or mostly everything can go wrong til I fix it and adapt. I love it. It beats waking up in an office 9-5 and a routine schedule. My owning my own company I can work when and if I want. I don’t have to answer your e-mail right away or I can sit and read them as they come in. It’s a beautiful thing to have that freedom. That being said I still end up working 60-80 hours a week on average.

H: Is Keynote your full time job? If so, how long has that been the case?

R: Yes it is my full time job and always has been. I started in December of 2006 and my first show was February of 2007. So were closing on just about 8 years although I host my anniversary as February to the first show. It’s crazy to think about and I still have people that talk about the early days. Let’s hope they do down the road when were even older!

H: Do you have any advice to offer show promoters and talent buyers about maximizing profits and ensuring they stay profitable?

R: Work work work. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. Like I mentioned earlier this past July was incredibly discouraging. I never expected to just take hit after hit after hit. I lost almost 70% of my life savings in one month. It was really eye opening, but as down as I got I knew I wouldn’t quit. It just goes to show you can work super hard and think everything is gravy and a show can just not perform. Unfortunately that month it happened several times on some of the biggest finance shows I’ve had.

H: How far out do you typically book? I know shows sometimes come up at the last minute, but generally speaking how far ahead are you planning? For instance, it’s October now. Are you booking for 2015?

R: Yupp I have 3 shows on the books for May 2015. One is already fully confirmed. Typically I’m 2-3 months out which is the standard for most average booking. I’m not getting One Direction so I’m not getting stuff a year out haha. Maybe someday… but I was pretty stoked on confirming a May date… in October.

H: What would you say is the most difficult part of your job? How about the most rewarding?

R: Definitely the stress and time. As a single person business owner doing 20 shows a month is tough. I definitely will say thanks to my family and friends for dealing with me. I’m not always the easiest, but I think most see what I have to do to make myself succeed. The most rewarding is the finished product really. Watching a show go off without a hitch or when the headliner hits the stage to a packed/soldout show. Or when 20 kids watch an unknown touring band play for the first time and just give them the attention. Sometimes it isn’t about the big shows. Those little things count too. So definitely that and also the same thing I got into it for. I see friendships form and relationships. I see people meet people literally saved their lives. The fact that what I do literally saves lives and changes them in such a positive manner is worth so much more than any dollar. I feel like I’m making a difference and that’s really a powerful feeling.

H: Keynote company has been around for close to a decade at this point. What are your longterm goals for the company? Do you think you will ever have a venue of your own, or would you prefer to stay in the booking/promotion realm?

R: My longterm goals are just the simple “bigger and better”. I’m not content with just booing 500 people shows. It’s been my goal to book Lupos / Palladium downstairs and pack it, but it hasn’t happened yet. It’s on the near horizon and was suppose to happen several times this year, but things feel through. I want to sellout Gilette Stadium or the Dunk one day. Anything is possible if you work hard enough. I don’t doubt that someday it could happen. It’s a bit ambitious and crazy right now… but hey that’s what entrepreneurs get super successful are anyways. I would like to own my own venue someday potentially too, but I rather diversify and book several different markets. Maybe when and if I do have a staff of people someday I’d open my own though. That’s been something I’ve though about a lot before too.

H: What would you say is the biggest misconception about what you do?

R: Easily that I’m just cashing in on talent. It’s so far from the truth. Do I make decent money right now? Yes there’s no denying that. But it’s no different than I would (and likely way less) if I used my college degree to pursue a job. It took me 7 years to make significant money really. I was always profiting yearly from the get go, but I’ve invested a lot back into building the company up. People get a false idea when I work the door and have a fat wad of cash. Just because it’s in my hand or pocket doesn’t mean it stays there. The expenses on shows are a lot higher than most people realize. Promoters aren’t all rich or we’d have fancy houses and cars haha.

H: I know you work with talent from essentially every genre of music. Is one genre typically more difficult to book/promote than others in New England?

R: For once I don’t have that lengthy an answer. I think anything can succeed, but I would feel like country is a weaker genre in the Northeast. Metal and hardcore are more prevalent in MA because they are known for that.

H: What are the biggest challenges facing Keynote Company in the year ahead?

R: That’s a tough one. I think I’m at the stage of branching out from under 500 people to shows that draw 1000 or 2000. It’s definitely going to be nerve-wracking shelling out that money for the artists and venues that bring that crowd in. Yeah… that’s going to be the biggest challenge. Learning how to effectively do those types of shows.

H: I know we talked about the company’s plans, but what about you? Do you have any addition goals you’re hoping to achieve in the next year or so?

R: Not really. I’d like to have some time to travel and maybe attend Fest in Florida this year, but my schedule is tight around traveling definitely.

H: What advice would you offer to those reading this who are currently considering the pursuit of a career in your line of work?

R: As I said before it’s just about hard work and networking. Learn from your mistakes and don’t get too discourage by them because we all make them. Don’t put the word quit in your vocabulary or if it is make sure it’s just out of frustration. You’ll go through hard times, but just strive and adapt to get the success you want.

H: Where is Richard Collier five years from now?

R: Hopefully as a household name in booking on the east coast. I’m not ever going to be Livenation or Bowery because of their financials, but I definitely think we’ll be making a statement and providing quality shows.

H: That’s all I have, Richard. Thank you for your time. Do you have any closing thoughts you would like to share?

R: I appreciate you reaching out to me for the interview. I hope everyone that reads this gets some more insight to what me and my company are about. You can find us at www.keynotecompany.net and keynotecompany on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and Youtube. We hope to hear from you as we love meeting new people!

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.