10 Questions with ... John Di Maio
November 1, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I began as a college rep at MCA in 1988, at the time; they had a partnership with IRS Records. So being 20 and working with REM and LET'S Active, etc. was a thrill. Then went to an influential indie/distributor Relativity also promoting college radio, which at that time was quite important to labels. I was at MCA boutique label Radioactive through much of 90s, during LIVE's zenith with Throwing Copper. My dear friend Ron Poore brought me to RCA in 1998 where I stayed for six years, together we got the Foo Fighters their 1st #1, and took The Strokes first album top 5 at the height of rap-rock and nu metal. Moved to Columbia for three wonderful years, and then bounced around a bit as so many have. This January, Joel Klaiman and Dennis Blair brought me in to the great Universal Republic family...and they have my everlasting gratitude.
1. How did you become interested in the record business?
I was very fortunate to grow up within range of an original alternative station, WLIR. I discovered Bauhaus, Echo + The Bunnymen, The Clash and so many other bands I would not have otherwise. I really can't overstate how important this was in shaping my career path and identity. And it is still why I have such optimism for the medium to have an artistic renaissance and expose more new music.
2. What stands out the most from your first job?
Working college radio for Relativity when college radio promotion was a big deal to all labels. It was a very dorm room/fraternity kind of atmosphere there, and almost entirely young, passionate, and spirited. Everyone working there had a similar motivation...complete love of new music. The genres may have differed, but the inspirations were shared. I idealize this as a prototype for what any label should be, no matter how corporate. Insatiable love of music and camaraderie.
3. What may surprise people the most to learn about the label?
There is a great spirit and awareness of sub genres and new music, whether it is right for the label to sign or not. I love that I can stand outside my office and talk endlessly with the A+R staff about crazy topics like, "Why everything with a beat is now categorized as dubstep?" Or why Pitchfork gave something a great score or a crap score. That kind of atmosphere helps you approach the tasks of the day with the best head possible.
4. What are the most important indicators when working a song to alternative radio?
Seeing sales raise directly in proportion to airplay. Short of getting a commercial spot or film trailer that really registers, radio it is still the centerpiece of marketing and the steam engine for the project. Those iTunes daily updates are a primary sign of life that a song could be reactive.
5. Where do you get your greatest pleasure in doing record promotion?
When it is an artist or substance and significance and you can be a contributor to breaking them. Even if it a bit left of center, if you know it is the goods and you are able to effectively convince radio that it could be an artist with staying power. If I can throw in a shameless plug, I don't know that in my career it has been any truer than with Florence + The Machine and The Naked And Famous. Florence will be a defining artist of this generation. I believe that fervently.
6. What is the toughest part of your job?
That we are in a conservative cycle. I've seen stations shrink from 35 currents to 20. So you can be on with a friend who is genuine when he or she says they are going to get to your record but they are freezing yet again. And you know it is mathematics, they have few currents and things are sticking around the charts longer. It reminds me of how stale rock radio was before 1991, and I am a big believer that another generational shift is just ahead.
7. Where is your favorite market you like to visit and why?
Austin, TX. Music comes from every pore of the city, the cuisine is exceptional, and because Lynn Barstow at KROX is one of the best people I've had the great fortune to know in my life.
8. What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
Treat people with respect and dignity. I'll never buy into the "Swimming With Sharks" or "Glengarry Glenross" cliché. You win respect with character. I'd rather fail as a decent guy than succeed as an ass.
9. What would surprise people the most about you?
I was an amateur boxer and fought in the Empire States Games, which is basically New York State's division of the Olympic trials. I got my nose fractured in the 2nd round of a bout I had been doing fairly well in. In amateur boxing, they will stop a fight at the 1st sight of blood. So that was it. My dad told me after the fight to cut it out and get a real job. So I chose the record industry.
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _______?
My son Jacob. Despite missteps and errors in judgment, I have this little dude who treats me like I am his hero. And he has pretty great musical taste for an 11 year old!
What are your hobbies?
I'm a film buff. Have spent way too much on those pricey Criterion Collection DVDs. My wife thinks I should be on "Hoarders."
Last non-industry job?
Selling women's shoes. I was 18 and it was a horror show.
First record ever purchased?
Theme from SHAFT
Squeeze at Madison Square Garden 1982.
Favorite band of all-time?