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Industry Nights Will Make Your Night

Joe Kelley, Founder of BLACKJEANS MGMT

Joe Kelley has been in the game for a long time and has explored many areas within the industry. His influence in the music industry is notable, from starting his own music management company, BLCKJEANS MGMT, managing bands such as House of Harm, and founding and hosting Industry Nights, a music event hosted every month at Ludlow House showcasing up-and-coming artists. He has incredible PR skills, connecting established artists to media-based companies and social, charitable, and career events while using his resources to support young and emerging artists through events he has created, including Industry Nights.

47Magazine recently caught up with Kelley to discuss his journey in the music industry, management, and Industry Nights.

(This interview was conducted over the phone and has been edited for clarity)

Has music always been a huge part of your life?

Yes, my father is a musician and his mother was a musician. Even from a young age, I was listening to cooler music than children at that age were listening to. I was buying Green Day CDs at a very young age, before Dookie, Kerplunk was my first CD. My first concert was The Smashing Pumpkins on the Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness Tour. I was attracted to music very early on.

What is your earliest memory of music?

In third or fourth grade we were all listening to 90s alt-rock. It was the MTV era or when I got MTV at least. Like I remember the Wonderwall video was around that time I think, early Radiohead, stuff like that but we were all listening to The Smashing Pumpkins, Bush, and bands like that. It was such a great era for 90s rock and roll. To add on, there was this flea market in my hometown, outside of Boston, every Saturday and Sunday where this woman sold band t-shirts, so every Sunday I would want to go and buy band t-shirts. I had a Bush t-shirt that I wore all the time that I bought from her. I had a Smashing Pumpkins shirt, I had a R.E.M shirt, and I bought patches and stuff. I was very engrossed in music from a super early age. Then my friend and I started a band when I was young and I don't remember it, but we weren’t good because we were just kids that didn’t know what we were doing. It (music) has always been my main focus and passion.

Alec Mezza at Industry Nights

When did that passion, listening to music, buying merch, switch to I want to be in it and work in the music industry?

I was in some bands in high school, I was a singer and guitarist and I played a bit in college with some friends of mine. I graduated from college in 2010 and relocated shortly after to New York because I wanted to pursue a music career. I did not know what that career was but I knew I wanted to do something in music and entertainment so I packed up and moved to New York. I then started working at this small music production company which is where I found this website called BalconyTV which was my first big job in music. It’s this international online music platform that started in Ireland in 2008 and then we worked to expand it to the United States and to New York City which became the flagship show. I executively produced, booked, and hosted the New York show from 2010 to 2016.

Was what you did at BalconyTv, what helped you solidify the path you wanted to take in the music industry?

Yes, I have always been into the media, I used to buy magazines and read them. I grew up in Boston and we used to take the train to Newbury Comics, and I would skateboard around and go in there and buy CDs and look through magazines for hours on end. I have always been into the media itself and MTV and the different programming of MTV. I grew up in the TLR era and I used to rush home to watch it, vote, and find new music. Media like that I have always been attracted to and with BalconyTV it’s like I’m taking music but it was multimedia with sessions, interviews, performances, and different views in each city around the world. It was captivating and I thought there was more potential in it than what was happening with it at the time so I partnered with the recording studio in Brooklyn where we hosted the show for years. We started growing it and doing events with it, opening up sessions for people to come, did interviews, did a lot of press for it, and were even interviewed by TIME magazine. It's always been in the media space with music.

Noah Kahan at Industry Nights

Why did you make the transition into music management?

I like to be active and I like to have my hands on many projects, I’ve always been like that. I’ve been working in the industry for a long time. It's been thirteen years since I moved here and I started working right when I moved to New York City. With the time I have been working in the industry, I have the relationships, experience, and knowledge of the industry and people have always told me that I should be a manager and I had always responded with “I’m too busy” “I’m nervous to take peoples career in my hands”. Yet, during the pandemic when things were reopening and the music industry was hiring again, I went into management at a company to work with Duran Duran for a bit which gave me the experience of managing a legacy artist even if it was for a short amount of time but I got to see how managing worked. It was interesting and fun and I like helping bands and being a part of their journey from the beginning which is why I tend to work with emerging bands when it comes to the management I do. I love watching them grow and their wins are my wins whether that means getting an editorial playlist on Spotify or getting opening dates with the band you wanted or selling out your first show because you were with the band in the beginning. It's a family and a team more than managing schedules which happens more when you work for a media conglomerate rather than an indie band.

How do you find a band that you want to manage? Does it come down to musicality?

I’m managing a band right now called House of Harm, and I found them during the pandemic, which is when I spent a lot of time looking for new music online. I found House of Harm through a post online and immediately I loved them. This led to me talking to them online and I had them do my event, Industry Night, and we kept in touch since then. Being such a fan of the band had a play in my managing them but their branding too. Their branding is on-point and it's interesting and makes you curious about who they are from their videos to artwork and merchandise. It all meshes well and speaks to me and they have fans that feel the same way. Music is important but other things are important such as personalities.

Bringing it to Industry Nights, did you start Industry Nights to give emerging artists a platform?

My entire career I have been working to give emerging artist platforms from BalconyTV to Billboard Magazine, where I ran artist relations. During my time there I created Industry Nights and other series to help smaller artists on the development path and give them a platform because it wasn’t just about giving those bigger well-known artists attention from mainstream media. During my time at Billboard, I created Industry Nights looking to throw some event that was hosted and curated by me to offer artists a platform and a place for industry people to connect. A lot of artists who are very successful now have played on the Industry Nights stage in the early parts of their careers. Artists like Noah Kahan, Kim Petras, Ella Mai, Ari Lennox, and Tierra Wack, have played Industry Nights, which I’m proud of. It's a place for industry people to connect and find new artists that you might want to work with or if you’re looking for new material. It's a good room for artists to play in front of and it's a good place to come hang out and connect and discover/ find new talent.

Miette Hope at Industry Nights
Miette Hope at Industry Nights

How do you go about finding new talent, especially since most of them went on to be successful?

I listen to a lot of music and I follow artists' growth the way things are being marketed and the way the industry is changing. People who are doing interesting things, not just exclusively artists who are doing interesting things but also interesting things on the marketing side are what appeal to me. Artists who are doing exciting stuff and aren’t fitting a mold is what I find interesting. Kim Petras for example is amazing and unique. I did many things with her at the beginning and her career has blossomed into something so amazing. Even with Noah Kahan; I created the Billboard live series and I did a few of those with Kahan. Seeing artists and being a part of their story is incredible and something that I love to do. I am always looking to help and assist a part in an artist’s early career, I like to be part of that story.

Was your goal with Industry Nights continuing what you have been doing your entire career, which is to help emerging artists?

It was giving artists a platform to play in front of people that could help them. You find artists that you think are great and you put them in a room with people who can help and change their career, that's truly the concept of Industry Nights.

What is the future of Industry Nights? Do you see the format changing?

I will be continuing it, I love it, it's a part of me, I have been doing it since 2017 in one variation or another. As for changing the concept, maybe, when it was starting it was just a show, it was four artists back to back with people chatting in-between but now it is putting industry people in a room that go to concerts all the time so I wanted to narrow it down to one feature artist a month to truly highlight that person. There are talks about adding two artists a month or even expanding it to the West Coast, there's a lot of industry in LA, and giving people in LA events like this has been in conversation. I would also like to add a media aspect to it whether that's interviews on social media backstage, getting content for social media, or connecting with media brands like Soundcheck. I want to mold it into a media experience.

What makes a good performance for you?

The audience, the music, the atmosphere. I've seen shows where it's just a person and a guitar that has blown me away. One of the best shows that I have seen is Damien Rice, it was him and a guitar and I cried. Last night I saw Beck and Phoenix and the production was incredible and that was another experience. I saw James Blake and there was nothing on the stage but him and a piano. It's the talent of the artists and how much they care about what they are doing.

Miette Hope at Industry Nights
Miette Hope at Industry Nights

Best concert?

That's hard. Bjork during her residency show at The Shed. Damien Rice at The Box. The Cure at Lollapalooza in 2013. Phoebe Bridgers at Ludlow House and Baby’s All Right before she blew up.

Favorite venue?

My favorite music venue is probably Radio City Music Hall or Music Hall of Williamsburg. I love the Bowery Ballroom too. Baby’s All Right and Webster Hall is great too.

The latest musician you saw live?

I saw Beck and Phoenix. It was my 5th or 6th time seeing Phoenix live and my first time seeing Beck live. Before that was Wilmah at Bowery Ballroom, an indie rock pop band making awesome music.

What musicians or artists are you currently obsessed with?

House of Harm!

Joe Kelley is rapidly leaving an impact on the music industry and paving the path for many new artists and creatives with the events he hosts and participates in. Catch Industry Night's September 29th event at Ludlow House with a special performance from Meg Smith, a rising pop star. You are not going to want to miss this one!

Written and Interviewed by Veronica Anaya

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