industry conversations

May 2024 update

video podcast coming soon

An inside look at people in the entertainment industry. From artists, dj’s and promoters to venue owners, managers, and booking agents. In their own words find out how they got where they are, and where they are going.


of Madrone Art Bar


of SUNSETSF (now HUSH Concerts)


of Bomb Hip-Hop


of CEG Presents



Interview conducted in 2015

You grew up in Las Vegas. Can you tell us a little bit of history? How you went from growing up learning to draw comics, to artist, to moving to SF, and eventually owning and running Madrone Art Bar. I know it's a broad question but I'm sure everyone would like to know how you got here?

I was born in Las Vegas; when the population was less than 100,000 residents. It was at that time, still a small town with a big reputation. I'd like to say that the small town I grew up in no longer exists. The miles of endless desert I used to ride my BMX and construct forts in is now all covered by miles upon miles of concrete, strip malls and track homes. As I look back on things as an adult, and after the death of my parents I guess you could say I lived the stereotypical Las Vegas life of the 70's and 80's. My father (a WW2 fighter pilot, who retired from the navy and became a gambler) was 22 years older than my mother, (a holocaust survivor who became a burlesque dancer then a cocktail waitress). Las Vegas in the 70's was a different world, but normal to me. As a young child I remember going to the Casino's with my parents. (Picture at Caesars Palace 1973) My dad played poker almost every day, and some days I would tag along. However, I usually ended up at the swimming pool. The Desert Inn Hotel had a High Dive at the time. I used to love that pool. I also poured my first drink for my dad, Beefeaters Gin on the rocks in a pint glass. Rocks to the top, gin to the middle. Looking back on it, I was always surrounded by a drinking and entertainment culture, but it was never negative or neglecting. My dad was a military disciplinarian, his rules were not meant to be broken and it was from him that I learned how important all the details are. He always stressed preparation and taught me to be tenacious if I wanted to achieve something. And my mother was the creative one; we used to draw pictures all the time. As a kid I loved to draw and she encouraged me to be creative, while my dad would yell at me, "I don't care what you do, just be good at it."

When I was 17, I moved to Milwaukee Wisconsin to attend college, and as a freshman I lived in a dormitory that was called the "BEER CAN" because it actually looked just like one. Little did I know Milwaukee, "The beer capital of the world" had such a strong drinking culture, "(PBR, Miller, Blatz, Schlitz Leinenkugals, & Sprecher just to name a few) and there I was thrust right into the middle of it. The drinking age had just recently switched from 19 to-21, so allot of the kids were still grandfathered in. Seeing an opportunity, I set up my dorm room as a fake ID studio; I drew three states, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. They were $50 a pop. I did really well. One day I was walking around, and I stopped in a bar and asked if they needed help. Even though the drinking age was 21, you could work in one at the age of 19. I was hired as a bar-back. A few months into it and luckily for me, someone didn't show up for work. So I was promoted on the spot. The owner told me, "If you don't know what it is ask someone." This place was three clubs all in one and was loaded with history. From Heavyweight title fights, to Sinatra to Dylan to the Sex Pistols to Pearl Jam. The basement was a college bar, with bowling lanes; the first floor was an intimate live music venue for about 200-300 people. And the top floor ballroom was large enough for about 1000 plus people. I saw so many great bands before they were big, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and lots of others. They hosted everything from boxing matches, to ethnic dance parties. One night I was a cocktail waiter for 800 Milwaukee women who all came to see the men of Chippendales. That was one crazy night. I worked at the Eagles Club for 4 years.

Then I moved back home to Las Vegas, and I did a very short stint working for Mirage Resorts, at the time they had plans to open the Bellagio, and I was hired into a management-training program. You would spend a few months in each area of the Hotel and Casino. My first three months I had to wear a pirate outfit. I have a great story about an old NFL player, now a broadcaster who got taken by two hookers for about $17,000. Ask me about it one day.

Knowing that I did not want to stay in Las Vegas, I packed my car and headed to Seattle, where I knew the Grunge scene was blowing up. On the way there I spent a week visiting San Francisco. After I arrived in Seattle in 1992, Grunge was now mainstream, I was a few years late. I decided to turn around make San Francisco my home. One day, I had a job interview at an advertising agency. I showed up with comics and was hired as a copywriter. The guy I worked for "John McDaniel's" was the owner and creative director. He was in his 60's at the time. He was the guy who wrote the "Pardon me do you have any Grey Poupon" ads that were famous. But he was also a guy who used to write and draw single panel ads. He was a great mentor, he flat out told me to get out of advertising while I still could. I worked by his side for 1 year and a half and I learned from him how you build a marketable identity. It was a very valuable year and a half. Then the agency was sold and he was forced into retirement. I didn't like the new owners, so I took the severance package, and moved to Paris. While in Paris I worked on my comics, and introduced myself to pretty French girls that smoked alot.

After a year, I ran out of money, and moved back to SF, with the intention of submitting my comics to syndicates and magazines. At this time I returned to bartending. It was the best way to earn cash, meet girls, and have my days free to draw. I was diligent on making work, so I maintained a rigid schedule that allowed me to be productive. I had a comic strip "MAN VS WOMEN" that was a finalist for syndication, but in the end they went with another artist. I also sent stuff to the NEW YORKER, they never did publish me, but I did receive great advice from the art editor at the time, Lee Lorenz. After I sent in enough single panel gags, I finally got to talk with him. I flew to NY, and he schooled me. He showed me how diverse and talented all their artists were. They were not just cartoonists; they were Pulitzer Prize winners, playwrights, fine artists, poets and novelist. He told me to go learn how to paint or write, and my comics would get better in the long run. I took his advice, I came home and picked up a paintbrush and realized that I had so much more to learn.

Then for the next 15 years in San Francisco, I worked as a bartender in all kinds of different places, from dive bars to music clubs to high-end restaurants (Echo, Lulu's, Bruno's, The Boom Boom Room, Jiana's, Tunnel Top, Paragon, Tony Niks, Ace's and some others). I made a point of working in as many different environments as I could, and in different capacities. In each place I worked I learned something. I learned from good owners and bad owners, and fellow staff members as well. Things to do and things not to do. I also met quite a few talented DJ's and Musicians along the way. As an artist I was having shows of my work and was lucky that people liked my work and were willing to pay for it. I was also the Director of Exhibitions at Root Division for the first 5 years of their existence. Sad as it is, most artists still need income to supplement their art making life. Which usually means they need another job. They teach, work as installers, framers, construction workers, wait tables, and bartend. One pivotal day I sold a painting and had $5000, I ended up buying a parking spot in SOMA, for $25000. I put the $5000 down, and put $20000 on a credit card. My plan was to rent it out, then after a year, some guy with a $100,000 Porsche offered me $50,000. I said no, and he offered me more, and I said no again. Eventually we agreed on a price. After that I realized that I should work towards getting a bar. I spent 5 years or more looking and trying. More failed attempts, I kissed allot of frogs, until I found my princess.

I always had a list of bars that I liked for various reasons and Madrone Lounge was one of them. I liked it for its potential. I liked the space, and I liked the fact the previous owners concept was very similar but still different enough from mine.

Finally when the phone call came from the old owner, Leila, I was ready to act and move quickly. Five years of failures had forced me to be ready when the opportunity finally presented itself. I asked my friend (Ludo Racinet) and owner of the Tunnel Top, where I had bartended for 8 years if he would invest in me, and he did. Without his help, it would have never happened. Which I point out because sometimes everyone needs a little help to make things happen. It's very hard to pull things off alone.

And then low and behold: I stopped calling it a Lounge and Madrone Art Bar was born.

Word has it that the average profit margin for a regular bar is around 10-15%, and if doing real well 20-25%. Does this sound about right? What do you consider a good percentage of profit for a bar?

That sounds about right, but there are allot of variables that can come into play. I guess that depends on the bar. I've always been a believer that if you try and create a unique environment that caters to all the diverse people of this city and then try your hardest to have them leave happy, the rest will take care of itself. I guess we are doing well, but I also believe in re-investing heavily into the bar and creating an evolving space that's truly alive. I'm a big believer of the you have to spend money to make money. I also want to be around for a long time so longevity is important. Some people do well fast then fizzle. I would much rather have lower profit margins in the short term in exchange for a long-term success. Great bars will stand the test of time; they move beyond trends and help define the moment that they exist. Then if the owners are up to it, they can become a fabric of the community and last for a very long time. All big city's and especially San Francisco are full of great bars like this.

Since you took over Madrone two years ago I've noticed a lot of changes. New furniture and a great drink menu (fun drinks like the Ike Turner - a shot of Hennessey and a slap on the face). What other changes have you made that you feel has attributed the the current success of the establishment?

Believe it or not it's been 3.5 years, and every dollar I made in year one was re-invested. One of the big negatives of the bar was the way in which it was initially designed architecturally. They put the bathrooms, smack dab in the middle of the room. They couldn't be in a worse spot. But since I spent every dollar I had to buy the bar, I was forced to accept it. So I changed the Fung Shwei of the bar, by flipping the room. Putting a stage at the front opened the room up, and allowed people to get to the bar, so they could order a drink. I changed the way the bar operated, by creating a better workflow for the bartenders. It was like restoring an old car. I saw it as an old Corvair, but it had a Yugo engine. Everything that affected the way the bar felt and flowed was changed, lighting, sound, and chairs, even the glassware. Something so trivial to some can be the difference between success and failure. I created a training program for the staff, so that they could make high quality complex drinks but in a fast way, and I provided them with one of the largest spirit selections in the city to play with. However all that is just the foundation, then comes the people that you chose to surround yourself with, and I can honestly say that I have the best staff any bar owner could ask for. And when I say staff I mean from the cleaner to the bartenders to the doormen, to the DJ's, to all the musicians that play here. All of them are wonderful people to be around. I am thankful to all of them for their professionalism.

Most people think it's fun owning a bar or working in the nightlife business. But it can be long hours and tiring.

It's a grind, and yes the hours can be very long, but the reward, and the satisfaction of being your own boss are worth it. There have been many days where I have arrived at 8AM and left at 3AM. People think its all a party, every day. Sometimes it can be, but no person can maintain that lifestyle. The party needs to be for the guests. Dont get me wrong, it is fun, but it's also a shit load of work, especially in the beginning. Ask me if it's glamorous when some girl just threw up her spaghetti Bolognese in the bathroom sink and I am putting on the rubber gloves. Yeah! We have a staff rule, if you're the first one that gets told someone puked, it's your job to clean it. No passing of the buck, but somehow people know I'm the owner so they always tell me.

How do you juggle family life with your career? How do you relax and what do you like to do in your spare time (if there is even such a thing as 'spare' time)?

Juggling family life with career is easy when your family and the people you love support what you do. My wife is my biggest champion, and always supportive of what I decide to do. When I was in my five years of failed attempts to get a bar, she was always a believer. She also worked her ass off and put the money she made into my/our goals. When I relax, I'm sleeping. I like to spend time with my with my wife and daughters, and our dogs. They help keep me focused. For me there is no such thing as spare time. Between Madrone, my family and maintaining an art practice, that is it. But I like it that way. It's very satisfying.

I've heard other bar/club owners tell me they don't care what people write on Yelp. That they don't matter or if they do respond to the comment they write something nasty back to the reviewing. I have noticed that you really make a conscious effort to respond on Yelp and if someone felt they were wronged to make it right. Or if they are simply wrong in their review to point out things to them and clarify the situation. Why do you do this, and do you think it makes a difference with the public?

Hell yes, I care. I care allot! Just like that "Faith No More" song. When you put in as many hours as I have into making this place work, you can't help but care. In all honesty, I'm not a huge fan of Yelp, but in this day and age Yelpers cannot be ignored. Every detail must be addressed. I see Yelp as a great barometer of how something is working or not working, what I don't like is the way some people just parachute in and start making comments without actually observing anything. Like the guy who says, "I don't know why it's called an ART BAR." Hmmm, as if the 52 pieces of art on every section of wall and ceiling don't explain that. Or someone comes in and acts like an idiot, gets drunk, gets asked to leave, and has 5 friends write lies about the space or the staff. However if you remove that 10% of ignorant people then the rest of the reviews can be very insightful. I read them all, and I try and respond to most of them, either with a simple thank you, or if we screwed up (and we do) I try and make it right. Everybody has off days. Or if I can tell that the reviewer is mistaken, I try and point out why in a considerate way. Allot of people complain about the $5 cover on the weekends, and I always like to point out that this is the way I can afford to pay the DJ's what they deserve to be paid. Without the cover, I can't maintain the level and consistency of talent that I have here. It does make a difference; because when I point out things to people they realize that I care about my business. That I care about my customer's experience. I want them to leave satisfied.

Some dj's think they can just show up and dj, but those days are long gone. The dj also has to be a promoter. For dj's working at bars and clubs what advice can you give them to have a better turnout?

The DJ's that just show up and play will have a short shelf life in this business. I probably get 10-15 DJ and band submissions a day, and 90% of them are so unprofessional, and off point its ridiculous. "Yo let me come in an kill your club, I know how to make the people move." RIGHT! I look for people who understand the concept of building a following and growing an audience. Anyone can get their friends to come to the bar, but can they get the people that don't know them. The people that come because the music and the vibe are on point. Your friends might come the first 2 times, but will they continue to come on the 10th, and the 100th time. Madrone is a small venue and I want the DJ's that play here to build the brand of their night so that it expands beyond here. It has to in order to be successful. For example, your night; Prince + Michael now plays all over the country, and in most cases, much bigger venues. The FRINGE night "Indie Rock Dance Party", has a developed its own identity, and now plays in much larger venues around the city. The M.O.M Motown on Mondays has done the same thing and is expanding to LA, Hawaii and Detroit. Wil Blades plays music all over the world and the Tropicana DJ's are major players in the Latin music scene. As a bar, people know that Madrone will have good music, and a diversity of different styles. We will have people come here just for that alone, because they know that to be the case. But when the DJ's have a good understanding of branding a night, and building a loyal following, then its a win-win for everyone.

The calendar for Madrone seems to be nicely tuned. Between the art installations and the entertainment Madrone is a hot spot right now. I know a lot of dj's that are dieing to get a night there. How are you going to make sure Madrone stays "hot" over the next few years?

I am going to make sure that the bar stays, "alive." I will assume nothing; every murmur of the customers will be acted upon. Mistakes will not be repeated and I will constantly observe trends, and move beyond them. I don't know everything, but I am always willing to listen to people's comments. And I will continue to look for innovative professional entertainment that will always differentiate us from all the other bars in the city. Oh yeah, and I will always hire the best people.

Sean Penn and Drew Barrymore have both been to Madrone. Have there been any other celebrities or people that have been through Madrone that you thought, wow, that was cool they came in?

I think its more cool that so many people chose to come back here over and over and over. They are the ones who count. As for celebrities, we get our fair share. One slow Sunday night Lady Gaga came in and no body recognized her. She just blended in. She had drinks with a few band mates and listened to Wil Blades on the Organ.

What's next for Michael Krouse?

One day at a time, but hopefully I will continue to present myself with new challenges daily that keep me excited. And those challenges can manifest themselves in many forms, from making new artwork, to a new venue, or even just trying to be a better person.

note - Madrone Art Bar is located at 500 Divisadero @ Fell, San Francisco, CA 94117


of SUNSETSF (now HUSH Concerts)

Interview conducted in 2015

12 JUL

01 AUG

You’re originally from Boston and lived in New Orleans for 5 years. How did you end up in San Francisco?

Like most of the people who “end up” here, I had been bombarded with San Francisco mythology my whole life. Whether it’s the myth of music in the streets, free expression, economic opportunity, people associate San Francisco with something positive. And it works for anyone. If you are into hip-hop, there’s Digital Underground, Too Short, Quannum and Anticon. Metal? Metallica. Latin? Santana. Rock? The Dead. Funk? Sly. Plus Silicon Valley if you are an entrepreneur or the Castro and Pride if you are gay. Though the beauty of the Bay gets the attention, it’s these myths actually draw people here more than they even realize. But the myths are what’s important because they draw ARTISTS, FREE THINKERS and ADVENTURERS. They end up instigating yet another generation of myths and perpetuate this positive cycle.

In my case the myths that drew me here were those of the 50’s and 60’s. I was a writer. I was writing every day for at least 4 years, stringing for whoever would pay me... writing poetry, performing at Slams. So it was the myth of the Beats, and to some degree, yes Santana and the Dead etc that drew me here. I got here in 1997 at the height of the Dot.Boom and was blown away at how different the reality here was from the myth. For the first 5 years here I made my living through writing, sportswriting, music, PR work...which led me to music promotion, and eventually out of writing altogether.

How did you get into the business of producing concerts?

I was DJing a Thursdays rare groove night at Nickie’s in the Haight called WhatDaFunk. We went really deep and people didn’t know half the music. So I started writing a little “WhatDaFunk Newsletter” to explain the significance of the artists. Eventually this became an email and eventually I had a big following. The Nickie’s night and the email led me to being able to bring funk fans to other promoters shows, including those of a guy named John Miles. We started working together on Mardi Gras 1997 and haven’t looked back. 1000+ concerts and parties later, we are still in business together as SunsetSF.

I know there’s no standard, but what would you say the percentage should a promoter make from a show? Obviously if the show does poorly it’s usually the promoter who takes the hit. But when a show does well, how much does a promoter make?

Well it depends in how much work you actually do, the nature of the show, the artists involved. Actually, there IS a Standard. It’s typically 15% after expenses to the promoter. This is the standard for the big clubs, and big artists with big agents. In general, there is a feeling that these artists are going to sell-out all the shows so 15% is enough for the promoter. The reality is that this is nowhere near enough for most promoters or venues to cover the money they lose on their losing shows, not to mention, phone bills, rent, cars and all the other stuff it takes to live on. So most big venues and promoters pad their expenses to compensate. So the “industry standard” is a complete lie that benefits no one.

Which is why I choose to avoid it and start from a position of reality with my bands, agents, and colleagues. Every show begins with an offer and a negotiation and a deal. Basically, I start from “what do you guys need to make?” It’s an empathetic question that demonstrates that I care about the artist’s reality in terms of their tour, rent, gear etc. I try to meet them by risking what they need to make (to get the show done) then reward incentives if they do well enough for both of us to profit. The more risk I take on, typically, the more reward I feel I am entitled to. This is the basis of a good deal for both parties and enables me to take longer odds risk on emerging artists, helping build new careers.

Monetarily what has been your best show, and worst show?

Our best shows have typically been the big art-centric festival-type where we own the bar. Ghost Ship is a great one for lower/risk vs higher reward. Our worst two shows were two that will shock anyone. Aretha Franklin and James Brown both cost us over 6 figures in losses and almost bankrupted us. But you could never have told me that beforehand and I’m very proud to say that we paid them both in full despite said losses. Money can come back. Your reputation is priceless.

Wow, I’m impressed that you paid them. You always hear these stories about promoters either taking off with 100% of the door, or when they lose money the artists can find them to get their guarantee. If you don’t mind me asking, why did those shows lose so much and what did you learn to do or not do from those shows? Was it just poor ticket sales?

You can’t go into a show without knowing you have the wherewithall to survive the worst-case scenario. So many people have money and think they can do this, so they put on one show, and either don’t pay an artist, ruining their reputation forever, or pay them and lose their fortune. But what other industry do people actually think they can walk in on day 1 and play with the big boys? It would be ridiculous for me to think I could take a bunch of money and go into the oil industry, the tech industry, or be a cop or something. I’d fail at first too, probably horribly. Any profession takes years of hard work to master, but since music is “just music” everyone thinks they can try it. And the agents, managers etc are all too willing to take their novice money. The industry is littered with the corpses of novice, fly-by-night promoters.

The reality is that it’s ALWAYS poor ticket sales. And typically, 80% of financial success in a show is determined on three things, WHO you book, WHEN, and WHERE? All of the marketing in the world only accounts for 20% of the gate. Since the promoter is counted on to get the artist (and gets paid out of) that extra 20%, marketing matters, but nothing like WHO, WHEN, and WHERE. This sounds basic but it takes years to master the nuance of this equation. And even when you get everything right... It. Can. Rain. Which is akin to the green numbers on the roulette table.

In the case of JB, it was “it can fog”. We were stuck with a potentially foggy day by date restrictions at Fort Mason... knew the date was a weather risk and took the risk because it was James Brown. It turned out foggy and we took it on the chin. However, paying James Brown for his last performance in SF is a great honor I will take to my grave. Amazingly, the sun actually came out when he went on. It was a musical miracle... a financial disaster... but a musical miracle and testament to my personal favorite American hero.

For the Aretha show, it was just a fluke thing also. The show was in DC and about a month before the show, sales were tracking well, but then the 2008 financial crisis hit. Every day on the news, the talk was of the end of the world, runs on banks etc. No one was going to pony big money to see a diva if they weren’t sure if the ATM would work that week. Sales died that day and so did we. It was a perfect storm and demonstrates exactly why promoting is such treacherous business; why you read those stories of the “promoter ran away and joined the Marines and was subsequently killed in Iraq”. That scenario actually happened; you can look it up.

Look, people only notice when something goes wrong. Our job as a promoter is the 50 little things that ensure success. If any of them, from the pickup at the airport, to the sound tech having a head cold, can flat RUIN a show. On the recent Morris Day & the Time show, we almost had to cancel on day-of-show because Jellybean Johnson, the drummer, got stuck in a snowstorm in Minnesota. Promoting concerts is NOT a profession for the weak of spirit, nor is it a job for those who want to get rich. You have to truly LOVE music to be willing to have the absolute hardest, riskiest job in it. This is why most of the promoters now in Northern California are either big companies with deep pockets or pot growers with money to literally burn. SunsetSF are neither.

What has been your favorite event that you produced?

I’m most proud of our work on Sea of Dreams 2009-present and Ghost Ship 2010-present. It really brought into sharp focus all of what we had learned since 1997. In how to create a smoothly running, efficient, and financially responsible operation without any of corporate culture or fat.  They demonstrate our skill at something that most production companies lack, which is to nurture communities of artists without destroying the nature of their culture. AnonEvents (Sea of Dreams) and Ghost Ship (Space Cowboys) were fantastic, vibrant, and rich community arts events with a great degree of production experience before we started working with them. The process of helping them refine their vision to make greater profit without threatening the precious nature of their culture has been a richly rewarding one.

Over the years marketing & promotions has changed a lot. Especially with Facebook, Twitter and online presence in general. What do you feel are the best ways to promote a show?

It’s way harder today, but on the other hand, I remember TRIBE, and Myspace as well. Not to mention the days when we beat each-other up for write ups in the Guardian or the Weekly. Outside networks and helpers come and go. You need to concentrate on your OWN community and make your own website something worth visiting and your email something worth opening. We have 43,000 registered users, of which we communicate with 50% of them on a weekly basis.

I always thought posting on was a great way to get the word out on an event. I was sad to see them go. Are they any other platforms like Tumblr and YouTube that you have found useful?

I go to SXSW Interactive every year, attend all of the marketing seminars to answer exactly that question. Things change so much, you really have to pay attention and listen to the geeks. The answer is it’s ALL useful. You have to be everywhere and focus on the right medium for the right message. EVERY network is now a social network. was a great example of using social media as a short-term cash grab and demonstrates the pitfalls of a promoter leveraging any one avenue too heavily. They spent some start-up money adding users, then sold the users to AOL for profit. The time and energy anyone put into Going was just a big advertisement.

How far out do you start your promotions campaign for an event?

Typically, I like to book and announce a show 8 weeks out and start promo then.

Concerts have taken a hit the last few years. Part of the problem was overpricing. How do you determine the ticket price for a Sunset Promotions concert?

It’s determined in that first negotiation when I ask the act “what do you need to make it work?” This determines a huge part of the equation. I plug that in with expenses and figure out what the price needs to be to break even at between 50-75% of the venue capacity. It’s all math. Our shows are very rarely over $20. The overpricing is a function of the “Gouge while you can” mentality of some of the richer industry types. Also, Ticketmasters’ control of the big venues, and tours leads to massive unnecessary surcharges on many of the big shows. We don’t do that either.

You also dj. What type of sets do you spin and what equipment do you use when dj’ing?

I was a DJ first and it’s still my favorite thing to do. I started with rare groove and funk and rock and still do it, although under a different context. Now I take my favorite rare groove, funk and rock and layer it over club beats, breaks, house etc… I call it “Electric Nostalgia”. I have about 20 tracks in the hopper ready to put out that are just waiting for a free moment. But I keep getting asked to produce concerts and do interviews and stuff….

What are your favorite venues in San Francisco and what makes them special? Not necessarily ones that’s you have done events at but just in general.

We are so fortunate here with so many outstanding facilities with first-rate staff and management. You can really take your pick of amazing rooms like the Fillmore, Great American, Slims, DNA, 1015, Ruby Skye, Cafe Du Nord, Elbo Room and the Independent. We also just welcomed two spectacular new clubs recently in Public Works and Monarch.

My personal favorites are actually the ones I work with, otherwise I wouldn’t work with them. I think Mighty has to be my favorite. There’s something so incongruous, funky and unusually about the space, combined with the juicy sound system with the actual stacks from Paradise Garage. Best club-owner in the business too. I have learned so much from watching how Sean Manchester operates the club, and his other businesses.

I also think Mezzanine is special because it has two sound-systems for a live or dj show and both are the tits. The production staff is outstanding there too. The artist/backstage areas at Mezz are unparalleled anywhere I’ve been. But you could say great things about any of the above. We are truly so lucky here in the Bay Area.

Finally, I have a soft space in my heart for the EndUp. It really typifies the weirdness and beauty of SF dance culture but also has a backyard, fireplace and a near perfect dance floor sound system. It gets overlooked but the EndUp would be the top club in most cities.

I remember in the early 90s going to The EndUp for the first time. I don’t know what event they were having but my date and I walked in and there were people on the bar wrapped in clear plastic. It was so San Francisco. Other than concert venues do you have any favorite bars that you would recommend to someone visiting San Francisco?

Bars? I rarely spend time in bars except when watching football. But if I HAD to, I’d recommend Chambers (formerly Bambuddha/Phoenix Hotel), also owned by the Mighty peeps. The entire decor is vinyl records. 30,000 of them. Just a uniquely perfect atmosphere for a date, dinner. Plus if the date goes well, you can “get a room” right there. I also like Pete Glickshtern’s new spot, Jones. The outdoor patio is unreal.

What’s in the near future for Sunset Promotions and what’s next for Robbie Kowal?

For SunsetSF we will continue on Sea of Dreams and Ghost Ship and the 40 or so other local club shows we do. We’ll also be continuing to develop the Silent Frisco brand nationally, working with festivals all over the country to bring Silent Disco shows. For me personally, there really is no more separation between my life and my business. I have a business that I love and am so proud of and I work with and for the people I love, so these goals are my goals. The only personal goal I have is to go diving in the Pacific Ocean this year, hopefully in Palau or Fiji.



This is a collection of different interviews that people have done with me over the years that I remixed to make into one piece.

When did you first experience Hip Hop and what was it?

"Rappers Delight" was the first "rap" song that I heard when I was in junior high school. Also "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen, even thought it wasn't a "rap" song it was received by the same kids that liked Rappers Delight... at least at my school. It was always blasting from boom boxes. Then there was West Coast rap and electro hip-hop like Ice T's "Reckless" when I was in high school. There were breaking battles at lunch time in the courtyard. In San Francisco it was mainly strutting and popping, downrocking really hit in 1985 out here. I traded some rock albums with a fellow class mate for a copy of Run DMC's first album. That changed everything and really pulled me into the hip-hop culture.

I heard you were a mobile DJ. Was there any DJ who inspired you?

I started DJing in 1984. There were a couple of DJ crews that inspired me liked Ultimate Creations and Nitelife Sensations. Also there were master mixers like Michael Erickson and Cameron Paul on KSOL radio. And of course Bobby G from Soul Disco records. He was a real mentor to the hip-hop community during that era.

Why do you think the Bay-Area DJ scene became the leading leading are for scratch dj's in the 90's?

I think because everywhere else in the US it slowed down or stopped, but in the Bay Area it never slowed down. If anything it just kept increasing. Out here in San Francisco hip-hop DJing and scratching never really died (or faded) like it did in the rest of the country in the early 90's. Hip-Hop culture has always been strong out here since the early and mid-eighties when we used to have mobile DJ crew and b-boy battles on a regular basis... almost every weekend!

Before you established the label, you started to publish the magazine. What made you think of making the magazine anyway?

I was doing a rap show on college radio in 1990 at KCSF (City College of San Francisco). I used to do a monthly playlist that would also contain a paragraph or two with a concert review or small article. I had written a couple of pieces for new rap publications but the magazines never put out their first issues. One morning I woke up and decided that I was going to do a hip-hop magazine myself. I put the first issue together (Oct. 1991) by using an old typewriter, reducing the size of the text on a copy machine and then pasting the paragraphs together with a glue stick... pretty archaic, but it worked! At that point there was really just The Source and then when I started up Bomb there was One Nut Network from back east and then later on came The Flavor (Seattle), Straight From The Lip (San Diego), and other magazines like that. In 1992 I issued two flexidiscs by a then unknown Dan the Automator (of Dr. Octagon/Deltron fame), Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf and other artists inside The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine. While doing the publication I would always receive demo tapes for our Demos section in the magazine. In 1994 I released an album titled Bomb Hip-Hop Compilation that featured Blackalicious, Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf as well as many others that we has been in contact with by receiving and reviewing their demos. Bomb Hip-Hop Compilation was outta print basically right after it came out in 1994. I originally released the album when I was doing the magazine in conjunction with an independent label from Los Angeles. They got credit from the pressing plant, sold the albums and took off with the money and didn't pay the pressing plant or pay me anything for the artists share as well as my cut... that was my introduction to the record business. That's when I learned I had to do it on my own.

What was the magazine like? I heard alot of famous people used to write for it.

The caliber of writers that wrote for the Bomb during it's existence was extraordinary and is probably what drawed readers to the magazine. Writers like Funken-Klein (R.I.P.), Billy Jam, Spence Dookey, Cheo Coker (Notorious Big movie), Jazzbo, Faisal Ahmed, Dave Tompkins, DJ Shadow, Bobbito, Kutmasta Kurt and many others who have all moved on to do many great things. The magazine was received very well from the Bay Area and the world. I think the universal appeal was that the articles, subject matter and writers all gave the magazine a personality. It gave you that same feeling like when you would meet someone else that was into all the aspects of the hip-hop culture like you were. At that time there were very few other hip-hop publications and the large ones didn't really cover independent or new groups. So Bomb and a couple of other magazines at that time were the only press outlets for some artists and rap labels.

Why did you decide to quit the magazine and move onto record industry?

For a while I was doing the magazine, the record label, the store, the mail order catalog and the concerts... so I had to eliminate some of them because I was only one person practically doing all of this. The magazine was cool but it was only breaking even so I was like "well let me go with the records 'cos there seems to be some money there," but the problem with records is you can lose a lot of money on a release. I learned that the hard way. It's just like gambling, in fact - it is gambling. Did you know of the 7,000 "new" artists and releases that Major Record Labels put out every year only 10% make a profit. Then the economy went bad, retail prices were still too high for a CD, illegal downloading and an oversaturated market... it went downhill. From 2000 on the record business has been in a horrible decline.

Defining turntablism for the layman: How is turntablism different from DJing and/or scratching?

It's not really different, it's just a combination of mixing, scratching and beatjuggling all put together to create an original composition from pre-recorded sounds on records.

Return of the DJ is the first known DJ compilation in the world. Was there any sort of model or motivation when you made it?

When I came up with the concept of the first Return of the DJ in 1994 I was disappointed with rap albums no longer featuring dj's scratching on them. Rap artists no longer featured DJ's on tour or on their albums. Probably for a few reasons - sample clearance became a factor when making an album for a major company and I guess rappers figured why pay a DJ since hip-hop fans didn't care about scratching anymore and why give up another slice of the pie (pay a DJ) when you can use a DAT on tour which had not been a previous option. Back in the day there used to be Joe Cooley, Mr. Mixx, Miz, Jazzy Jeff, Cash Money etc. on albums... scratching on the chorus of some songs and at least having their own DJ solo song on the album. Those were some of the models of what we all considered "DJ songs". So I decided to contact DJ's that I knew and make a whole album of scratching music. I just told the DJ's make their tracks however they could, and try to keep it under 5 minutes. The rest fell into place. I don't think it was some super intelligent concept, it's just no one thought of it (or at least did it) before I did.

Around 1998, Bomb Records opened up another door for DJs after you released full lengths by DJ Faust, DJ Disk, Jeep Beat Collective, Shortee and DJ Craze because it went further from making a song for a compilation to making a solo album. Did you feel from the beginning that DJs are able to make a whole album or you became confident after releasing Return Of The DJ?

I never thought much about a DJ being able to make a whole album on their own until DJ Faust sent me the original demo of Man or Myth? It was originally a mix tape. I had him change a couple of parts and then we released it. It was all done by hand, the echoes and everything. It was the first solo album by a turntablist, it came out before Qberts' Wave Twisters album.

What's your opinion on current Turntablist scene?

You hear and see DJ's in commercials and magazine adverts. But as far as sales of recorded turntablist music, sales are way down. Unless you're a big name artist like Qbert, DJ Shadow or Z-Trip you're gonna have a hard time. I think the album Tetra by C2C from France is pretty awesome.

Alot of DJs left the "battle" scene and started to go in another direction and use their skills to make a song, not a routine. Do you think my analysis is correct?

I think a lot of dj's did this because you can only get so far from battling. And where does it really get you, a free trip and a mixer if you win. If you're already a DJ you already have a mixer so what's the use. A little bit of fame is cool but it doesn't pay the bills, so I think a lot of dj's got into production and the electronic dance music movement.

Over the years, I think BOMB has been known more for their contributions to DJ/Turntablist culture (through the famed "Return of the DJ" series) than for all the MC-based hip-hop tracks and albums you've put out. Do you think that's fair to say? Do you think many people think it was "just" a DJ label? Does that annoy you?

Yes, that is definitely what the record label is remembered for. But if you look at all of the releases, I've had just as many rap releases. Sure it is a little annoying that people mainly know Bomb for the Return of the DJ series but then again, it's good to be known for something than nothing at all.

What's your aim now?

A friend told me, "you know what, there are three kinds of people: A third of the people love you, a third of the people don't really care, and a third of the people are always gonna hate you. Forget about the people that hate you, the people that love you - they're always gonna love you, but worry about getting that third of the people that really don't care: get them to love you." It's a good way of thinking and that's what I'm working on.

Let's talk a little bit about 'keeping it real', what, if any pressure do people give you to 'keep it real'? Who does that pressure come from? What do you do to keep it as real as possible?

People always talk about "keeping it real"... yeah right, "real broke!" Most of the people saying that are people that get free music & guest list action and don't support the culture with the money in their pocket. Unless you have your own label you don't really understand everything that comes into play. Owning your own label you could go a few months (or longer) without seeing any money. Fans always hear rap songs about how record labels are shady but it's a two sided coin. You never hear an artist rapping about how no one bought his album and he's sorry his record label lost thousands of dollars on him. Distributors, they lag or don't want to pay you or if they go belly up... you'll never get your money. Try explaining that to your artists, they ain't trying to hear there's no money. It's not about how many records you sell, it's about how many records you get paid on.

Tell me what keeps you going?

To tell you the truth this is what I do - music is my life. I've been involved in the music business since 1984 and it's been my only source of income since 1991. At this point what else could I do (laughing), and to be honest I wouldn't want to do anything else. There have been a few people that have helped me over the years but for the most part it's basically me. So if I don't get something done, it won't get done cause my only back up is myself.

I noticed you haven't put out much music since 2008 and have gone back to your roots as a dj. Why?

Too be honest dj'ing is way more fun than releasing records. I started out dj'ing and it's great to still be dj'ing after all these years. I still get a thrill out of curating music, rocking an audience, and making them sweat on the dance floor. I take what I learned from releasing records, the marketing & promo aspects, and what I learned from producing hip-hop concerts over the years and use my experience to produce theme parties. The Prince and Michael Experience, That 80s Show, Girls Rule, Sliver, and I have a few others. As a dj performing in bars and nightclubs I've learned a very important lesson - us dj's are not in the music business or the entertainment business, we are in the alcohol sales business and the business of creating magic. Once that sinks in, you start to see the big picture and understand your role. In the end people just want to go out and have good fun.

What was the main motivation for doing a Prince and Michael event?

I've been a Prince fan for a long time, and for a while, an avid collector (vinyl, cd's, posters, buttons, magazines etc). In 2002 I wanted to do an all Prince party here in San Francisco. But there had already been all Prince parties out here, Dream Factory and a couple of others. So it ended up being Prince & associated artists and Michael & The Jackson family.

You have been doing these events for 20 years now, how has the event evolved over the years?

Before the monthly residency at Madrone in San Francisco it was just a roving party, a different club every time. Then the party was at Rockit Room and Leila (the owner of Madrone at the time) was there and had such a good time she wanted the party at Madrone. That's how Madrone became the home for PR+MJ for the last 16 years.

You have taken the show on the road and seen loads of different crowds. How do the various cities differ with respect to their response?

Every venue, city and date is different. It's funny but a song that works the crowd into a frenzy at one party can do nothing the next time. Even here in SF at our monthly. You just never know. Also it depends when during the night you play a song. Years ago no one was into Lets Go Crazy by Prince, it was played out. Everyone was into the b-side Erotic City. But in the last few years Let's Go Crazy has been HOT and Erotic City, you almost have to play early in the night.

What is the biggest challenge as a DJ putting together your setlist? How much is set before hand and how much is live?

I never pre-record or pre-plan a set. I just spin song by song on the fly. So the biggest challenge is just reading the crowd - giving them what they want, and giving them what I think they need.

Ok, this is the tough one. Pound for Pound, who is better, Michael Jackson or Prince?

That's the million dollar question isn't it? In the end it's like apples and oranges and every person you ask you will get a different answer, and the reasons behind their answer. For me - Prince. I love both and respect both but for me growing up I was able to relate to Prince's music more. Songs like When You Were Mine and Anotherlover... to the nasty songs, to his production with the Linn drum.



Interview conducted in 2015

In the early 90s while attending Syracuse University, you worked at Creative Concerts producing concerts by the likes of Phish, Stanley Jordan, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, and Allman Brothers. How did you get that job?

While at Syracuse I bartended a few nights a week and the owner of that bar was also partners in a concert promotion company called Creative Concerts. So I showed interest and starting working with that company as well as the bar.

How did you meet Howie Schnee and form CEG?

I joined forces with Brett Radin who the day to day manager for a band called The Authority, NYC band that was blowing up in the same scene that yielded Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler. Brett was partners will Music Unlimited on managing the band. Music Unlimited was David Grahm's company, son of the famous Bill Grahm and Howie Schnee was working for that company. That is how I first met Howie.In the beginning of CEG what do you think were some of the biggest obstacles as a "new" company?Making money. Managing bands is not a very good way to make money we found out. Even with The Authority starting to do real numbers and make money, it was hard to make it work so we started to promote concerts as well to help pay the bills.

I know there's no standard, but what would you say the percentage should a promoter make from a show?

Obviously if the show does poorly it's usually the promoter who takes the hit. But when a show does well, how much does a promoter make?When you get to the big leagues it is pretty standard, 85/15 is standard deal. But in the club and smaller levels, it is the wild west. It is truly gambling. Sometimes we make a big bet and offer a band a flat guarantee that is more money than that band has ever made which makes it easier to do a flat deal. That is a way to make a lot of money as a promoter. A little more risk but much higher upside. Every situation is really different and thus all deals are not the same. I truly believe that if a promoter takes bigger risks, they deserve bigger rewards but at the same time, if there is little to no risk, the band should make most of the money.

That makes me think of an interview I was reading in Billboard with Randy Phillips of AEG. He said "If I believe enough in the commercial viability of an artist, why wouldn't I want to make a guarantee so I can make a bigger back end? It's the same amount of work, whether you make the guarantee of not." Monetarily what has been your best show, and worst show, and why do you think they ended up that way?

When gambling, whether it be betting on concerts or football games or anything, it is very important for you to have a short term memory. If you lose a lot of money you need to forget it very fast and not let it affect the way you go about making your next bet. That holds the same and ever more when you win big. Some people make a lot of money on a show and then start to get offer happy and start making bets that maybe they shouldn't but they do because they just had a big win. I really don't remember my worst loss on a concert but I know for sure it was not a huge loss, less than $10K for sure. And why did it happen? It's the same reason everytime…not enough people bought tickets…lol. I do shows in NYC so there is always 100 other things going on that same night as my show and sometimes it is just too much competition that night. Bad date I would say is one of the most popular reasons why a show would lose in NYC.

Most of concerts are on the east coast and I notice a lot of them are cover bands. It seems like over the past few years cover bands have really taken off. What are some of pros and cons within the process of booking these acts into venues?

Just to be clear, we don't promote any shows with cover bands, but we do a bunch of tribute shows. People like what they know is the bottom line so tributes are easy to market and people know what they are going to get.

You are right and thank you for correcting me in using the wrong terminology. I guess a cover band plays cover songs by various groups and a tribute acts presents the music of one artist and it actually is a "tribute." Who are some of the tribute acts that have blown you away?

I am of course a little biased with Badfish as I have made a lot of money managing that band, but they are pretty amazing at performing a Sublime show. But those guys don't impersonate. They do it their way, no dressing up etc. As far as the best tribute show, I have to say the band Almost Queeen is pretty amazing and so is U2 tribute Unforgetable Fire. You think it is really Freddie and Bono.

You have done management in the past and currently manage Badfish, a Sublime tribute act that does massive touring. What do you think are some of the key steps that you and the band have taken to make them so successful?

Putting aside the obvious, that the band is very good at what they do and hard working, the main reason why Badfish has becomes a huge business is because the band works with promoters and club owners and gets into business with them, as opposed to the more common working relationship of band vs promoter. I think the way that happened is because a concert promoter is their manager.

Over the years marketing & promotions has changed a lot. Especially with Facebook, Twitter and online presence in general. What do you feel are the best ways to promote a show?

I will admit that I am way behind on the social network stuff. I do have a facebook account but I would say that I go on to that page maybe once every 6-8 weeks and when I do its usually to take out an ad to promote a show. Not that I am against it, I just don't have time. But they are all good ways to get the word out for sure as millions of people are doing it. The bottom line is that the best way to promote a band or show is word of mouth. When someone sees a show and is blown away and wants to tell everyone they know about this amazing thing they just saw. That is the best way to promote a show. All of these social networking outlets just made spreading that word a lot easier so that is for sure a great thing.

How far out do you start your promotions campaign for an event?

Very good question as I think the old model is just dead now. The old model being announce X weeks out, go on sale with big money being spent on the on sale for marketing and try to break big. That is still the best way for arena shows but not club shows. As soon as you can announce, get it up on the website and on sale. Why wait? The more time it is out there the higher the chances that someone will discover the show and want to come. The longer time someone can buy a ticket and then have more time to get more friends to come to the show with them.

I've noticed in NY a lot of the bigger clubs and venues do 2 different shows a night on the weekend. An early event and then a late (11-12 midnight) event? I've never come across this before. Is this unique to NY?

Rents for real estate in NYC are pretty crazy... unlike anywhere in the US I would think. So to make it work, you need to try and be open longer to cover the nut. I do a lot of shows at BB Kings in NYC and they do more shows that any club in the world I think. On Saturdays they do a brunch show,then a 6pm show , then a 10pm show and sometimes a 12am show, and that is just the main room. They also have the smaller room going as well. It is pretty crazy but the reason why is they are in Time Square in NYC, their rent has to be $250,000 per month.

Chris Zahn does a lot with you, how did you two meet and what is his role?

Chris Zahn used to book The Wetlands and the first band I managed, The Authority, used to sell out the Wetlands as that was their home town gig. He does not have any official role at CEG, he is just our good friend. But if we ever have a show that needs something special/different, he is our go to guy. If you need a burlesque dancer that is 3 feet tall and can moon walk the length of the stage, if that exists, Zahn has booked it before... lol


May 2024 update - video podcast coming soon

industry conversations

contact -