The music business has changed drastically over the past 10 years. While it has always been relationship-based, now more than ever it has become a very results-driven landscape. Those that have not adapted to the morphing environment tend to sink rather quickly while others swim upstream.
Five years ago Land Shark Promotion Studio (a tribute to the legendary Chevy Chase SNL skit) was a fledgling promotion company, a Phoenix rising from the ashes of yet another label downsizing (and eventual closure). Staffed by founder and former TVT and Ryko promotion exec Gary Jay, his TVT counterpart John Perrone, and up-and-comer Matt Martino, Land Shark set course to make an impact on the Alternative and Rock worlds through hard work, great relationships and a desire to connect the dots between radio and some of Rock’s most well-respected veteran and explosive new acts looking to cut their teeth and leave a mark.
Their clients and contemporaries continue to ring the Land Shark bell like Chief Brody on the beaches of Amity Island. "Gary and his Land Shark crew are a huge part of breaking one of the biggest Hard Rock Bands in North America, Five Finger Death Punch,” says Prospect Park’s Michael Papale. “They are thorough and provide valued information plus they get shit done!” Which, of course, is the name of the game.
"We've gone from zero to ONE HUNDRED with Land Shark Promotion over the last two years,” adds Capitol Music Group VP Promotion Ray Gmeiner. “The Capitol Music Group's Active & Mainstream Rock airplay chart share has soared over that time period, in no small part due to Gary and his team's dedication to their craft and sheer hard work. We are glad they are part of our team."
We recently caught up with founder Gary Jay about Land Shark’s first five years in the game, what it’s like to stick your neck out there and create something new, their early successes and how to approach the path ahead.
How did you get started in the music biz?
I'm 20+ years now in promotion, Lord have mercy. I was recruited by Rob Tarantino, and the late, great Paul Yeskel, at AIM Marketing, who gave me my first job out of college radio, and really taught me the do's and don'ts of promotion and how to market to radio, first college, then commercial. Funny how many of the great early 90's college radio programmers eventually went into the business: John Perrone, Jenni Sperandeo, Mike DePippa, Tommy Delaney, Errol Kolosine, Kim Zide. I worked closely with young artists and bands like Collective Soul, Tool and Matthew Sweet, and learned a lot. But there was a ceiling there, education and experience-wise, so, I left AIM and New Jersey for the bright lights and big city (New York) in '95 when I joined TVT Records.
What did you gain most from your label experiences?
At TVT I learned to sink or swim. I worked with ground-breaking bands like Gravity Kills, Sevendust, Default, Guided By Voices, XTC, Nothingface, Underworld, and KMFDM. I spent ten unforgettable years there, built my network, traveled across the country and really learned the "big picture" in both records and radio, the process from signing a band, to making a record, to developing an artist, building a brand. I worked with some colorful characters there, to be kind about it, and went into battle every day with my office-mate and partner-in-crime, Mr. Perrone. He kept me off the ledge on more than a few occasions.
After TVT, I was hired by Bill Hein at Rykodisc, right before the company was sold to WMG. For a few months, it was very surreal, so different than the past ten years at TVT. It too was a boutique independent label, but with funky, left-of-center talent on the roster like Ladytron, Elf Power, Big Star, Rory Block, Jay Bennett, The Posies, and Robert Hazard. It was a very cool place, run by cool people, but once WMG came in and Bill left...well, I knew my tenure there would be short. I made it about a year after that, and then decided I needed to do something different. That something was LAND SHARK.
My wife agreed to give it 12 months and if it wasn't working and we weren't making any money, and I wasn't having any fun, I'd go back and look for another label gig. To my surprise and amazement, I'm still doing it five years later. Tell us a little bit about the other principal players at Land Shark.
I brought John (Perrone) aboard in year two. He's been my iron fist here ever since. I'm a hothead, and passionate, and while I tend to think with my heart, he thinks with his head and keeps me grounded. When I'm ready to go postal, he can tell me, "I need you to stay positive" and get me thinking clearly again. We're essentially very different people, but we've always spoken a common language, and been able to push one another to think outside the box, even back to his days at WNHU and mine at AIM, plus a decade at TVT together. We complement each other's strengths and weaknesses, we bring out the best in each other, and he has been - and continues to be - an integral part of the success of LAND SHARK.
Matt Martino was a diamond in the rough. I always thought he had untapped potential at TVT and Uni, and when he came aboard it was like watching a young NFL draft pick blossom first into a starter, and then a Pro-Bowler. He's a Rock star. Every day, he shows up to work with his game-face on, and delivers the goods. Radio loves him, he fights the good fight every day to help our clients succeed, and I think the world of him, I really do.
Five years in to Land Shark Promotion Studio's existence, how has it grown, how do you see it evolving and what are some of your proudest personal and professional moments in that time?
What's amazing after five years is we've now worked with artists through multiple album cycles and been a part of several phases of their career. For example, a band like Five Finger Death Punch, who we started working with on the first single from their first album, and are still working with today, two Gold albums later (and one that's well on its way). They went from the opening band that blew the headliners off the stage to true headliners themselves. They're a powerhouse, a radio-research monster, and now stations have four, five, even six or seven songs from the band in their library. They're core to the (Active Rock) format, and I couldn't be any prouder to be a part of their family, same with KoRn, Candlebox, Sevendust (man, I just can't seem to stay away from that band!)...
We've also worked Gold-selling singles from some brilliant new Modern Rock bands like Neon Trees and Framing Hanley, and the record-breaking Dirty Heads hit, "Lay Me Down," and now their new one, "Spread Too Thin" that's blowing up. I still get a huge buzz from seeing a band go from nothing to something, and if LAND SHARK's played even a small role in that success, I feel like a proud papa.
First and foremost you are a Rock music fan. What has it been like to work directly with artists you grew up idolizing and others that are making noise right now in the beginning stages of their careers?
Without really trying, LAND SHARK has found a fantastic niche. We have worked with the biggest and best Rock bands in the land, heritage artists with new records to promote, and we uniquely understand how to market them. It really is a who's-who of my misspent youth: Sammy Hagar, KISS, AC/DC, Lita Ford, Motley Crue, Whitesnake, Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Rush, Paul Rodgers, Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, solo albums from individual members of the Rolling Stones, Guns N' Roses, etc. It's sometimes a challenge not to geek out and become a fanboy with these superstars, but the reality is the landscape has changed dramatically over the years, and while these bands and artists can unquestionably still put asses in the seats, getting their new music on the radio is challenging. We have an acute understanding of how and where to market these records and a network of gracious radio outlets who very much appreciate and support them.
Working with Chickenfoot, in particular, has been an eye-opening and amazing experience, since they're a true supergroup or Rock superstars, each one of 'em: Sam, Mike, Joe, and Chad. They're about to embark on the biggest U.S. tour they've ever undertaken next month, and I hope audiences are ready, because this is going to be unlike anything they've ever seen.
What key professional and personal lessons have you taken with you from your experiences at AIM, TVT and Ryko?
Each one was their own unique learning experience and I took something from each of them. 'What don't kill ya makes ya stronger' and all of that. I suppose with age comes wisdom, but now I'm a husband, and a father and I've discovered that focus is best manifested with joy. I used to believe it required tenacity, to be sure, but also aggression, and while I'm still competitive as hell and I play to win, I've also learned to appreciate my blessings and try to stay "in the moment" as much as possible. Very zen, I know, but learning to get by on your own steam, to "fight for my meals" (as Roger Daltrey sang), has centered me. I don't take what I have for granted though, the business is too volatile for that, so I do try and make sure every day before I put my head on the pillow I've done the very best I can for my clients, as well as my wife and daughter. That's how I keep a clear conscience and wake up the next day ready to do it all over again. Five years strong, let's see what the next five brings us.
[eQB Content by Mike Bacon]