10 Questions with ... A.J. Niland
March 30, 2014
1) Hi A.J.! Your company, Huka Entertainment, is a full-service production, talent-buying, and promotions company that specializes in music festivals and concert events. Tell us, how did you get into this particular industry? Did you have a background in music?
I got into the business because I had a passion for the live side of the industry.
My background or the family business, if you will, was in sports. My father, my grandfather and uncles are all basketball coaches, so I didn't have any connections or influences in the music business. But I shared a passion with my business partner and we decided to start promoting and break our way into the business.
2) Huka Entertainment has had a hand in developing well-known events across the country, including the "Concerts For The Coast" series which featured Jimmy Buffet, Bon Jovi, and Brad Paisley, as well as the upcoming "Rock The Ocean's Tortuga Music Festival," "Pemberton Music Festival," "BUKU Music + Art Project," "Hangout Music Festival," and many more. Is there a specific genre of music that you specialize in, or prefer working with?
The only preference we have is doing great events! We are very much proponents of doing things very boutique -- meaning we are focused on creating smaller more intimate festivals with big talent in extremely unique environments. Additionally, we are dedicated and hyper-focused on the fan experience. Those principals span all genres and likewise we hope to have a hand in all of them.
3) What are the top 3 logistical headaches, when trying to organize such a large-scale event? How do you manage your stress levels?
The top three headaches are transportation, lodging and appearance. How are we going to get fans in and out of our event the safest and quickest way possible (which given our chosen locations isn't always straightforward)? Where are people going to stay? And for me it's the aesthetics or appearance of the festival that give me a great deal of concern. I like neatness and order, as well as cleanliness. Stress is a given and also hard to manage. It's been much easier for me to learn to work with it and I'm known as a pretty level-headed person no matter the situation. The reality is that I find it much harder to be hands-on in every way I'd like to be. That stresses me out more.
4) Tell us about the "Rock The Ocean's Tortuga Music Festival," which is scheduled to kick off in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, April 12th. How is this festival different than the others that Huka Entertainment has worked with?
The biggest difference between this event and others is the conservation element. Overall the festival has a very HUKA feel (high-end and boutique) and a special beach setting. But this event is working to raise awareness and funds for marine research and conservation. In other words, we are conscious that we like to produce festivals in amazing locales and often on the shore somewhere. This is one acknowledgement that we need to do our part to protect those sites.
5) You started your company while still in college at the University of Mobile. Did you have any idea that it would grow as much as it has, nationally? Every year, people attempt to promote shows in their local clubs, without much success of creating a career for themselves. What was different about the way you managed Huka Entertainment, that allowed it to grow into a national company?
I always hoped we would have a big impact, but I don't think I realized the scale to which we would grow so quickly. We also still have along way to go until I will feel like we have accomplished something truly special. But we work hard everyday to advance even further. I also wish there was a secret sauce. But I think our ignorance early on was helpful in our trajectory, because we really went over and above in how we operated and treated our fans and the artists. We could have gotten by with far less effort, but the reality is we didn't know any better. But the real secret is it's far less about the fun and the "hang" as it is about the intensity of the day-to-day work.
6) Professionally speaking, what are some of your long-term goals? Any new and exciting projects in the works?
Long term, we want to become a bigger part of the national festival fabric. We are looking to fill niches in different markets, further exposing festivals into the mainstream. As oversaturated and mainstream festivals are perceived, there are still a ton of people who have never attended one or who still consider festivals to be more temporary, lower quality or difficult to attend. We would like to change that perception.
7) Starting your company at such a young age, did you encounter obstacles with people not taking you seriously? For a newcomer starting out in this line of work, what advice would you give them?
In retrospect, I was far more concerned about my age than people were concerned about my age. One of the benefits of this business is a lot of promoting is done via phone and email. That helps a bit, but only until its time to deliver. If you can deliver than your age doesn't matter.
8) Is Huka Entertainment involved in any charitable endeavors?
HUKA actually started in the charity business. Our first event was a charity marathon and concert. We have been involved with that same event in one way or another since day one. Additionally, we have the conservation element for Tortuga, which raised over $70,000 for marine research and conservation last year, and have had tie-ins with Movember and Take A Hike with Pemberton. In fact, we've already raised $10,000 for Movember without even announcing an act! Additionally, we support many other local and national charities with donations of money and time.
9) So, what did you end up getting your degree in? What did you initially plan to become when you enrolled in college?
My major was Sociology. I'm still a few hours shy of graduating; I hope to be one of those old men graduating after 50 years of successful business, just because. I pretty much went into college knowing I wanted to do this. Since I didn't feel there was a real concert promotion college, I chose to study sociology to learn about people and their patterns. Given I was working a lot it seemed more flexible with my goals than say something with lab time. I also felt sociology could help better understand the markets I was producing for.
10) Go ahead a brag a little bit, and tell us some of the cool artists that you have had the fortune of working with.
My partner and I set a goal when we first started that we could retire and or feel accomplished if we had promoted x. So we each chose and artist that we felt satisfied our inner youths but was an accomplishment. He chose Ben Harper and I chose Dave Matthews. The third was one that was a mutual goal which was bringing Jimmy Buffett back to his hometown, which was something that we thought would be impossible. Within few years we had accomplished those goals exactly. We joked that we had peaked. But the list since then has also grown. There are a lot more people we look forward to working with in the future.
1) If you could be on any of the following shows, which would you choose, and why? "Amazing Race," "Survivor," "The Bachelor," or "Real World."
Probably Amazing Race, because it's less about drama and more about solving a puzzle. Then again I watch so little TV, I might be misspeaking....they may all be about drama.
2) What is the most-used app on your phone?
That's a tough one, if you count the apps that come with it; Mail, Phone Calendar and Contacts. If it's one that I downloaded...probably the Delta Airlines app.