The name Billy O'Brien is a brand in itself. He's the common denominator in most circles of friends and a standard for all up and coming bands worth checking out. Throughout the past 10+ years, Billy has had his hands in many different areas of the music industry, particularly surrounding the NJ shore area. From concert promotion, to artist development, to radio shows, and more, Billy is a great resource for music industry experiences and insight.
Nina: What first lured you into the music scene so many years ago?
Billy: I was always in a band. When I was a little kid, my older brothers use to watch skateboard/Surf/Snowbaord videos, and I was immediately drawn into the music. At 12 I decided to quit playing sports, and try to learn to play bass. I was always in a bad punk or Hardcore band...no one ever booked us. So I decided to start doing shows myself, with a few friends. I did my first show when I was 14 yrs old. At that point, I just started finding any VFW, Skatepark, venue, or whatever to let me do these shows. By the time I was 17 years old, I was working for the top independent promoter in NJ, and started to learn how to really do a show. The music industry is a place for failed musicians...
Nina: Throughout the years, what have been some pivotal points in your career?
Billy: The first, I would say when I met Danny Croak when I was coming up, and he asked me to come hustle for him at Concerts East. Thats where I went from a D.I.Y. hardcore kid, to someone who had the potential to actually work in the music industry. Thats when I stopped taking MY music seriously. The 2nd moment would be when John D, asked me to come work for him and run his record label, and do day to day management for his artists on Linc Star Records. The weird part is, we came into it expecting to run this record label, yet, instead started running BamboozleTV. After a year or so of building that brand, we started to sign artists to Linc Star Record, and experience became the greatest teacher. I learned through every mistake, and had more responsibility and pressure than ever in my life. I worked with a band Lydia, and had the pleasure of learning about viral marketing, and pretty much every facet of artist development. Thats when I realized ,sometimes you need to jump into it and just do it...don't think about it, but be about it. Thats where I realized that this industry is a lifestyle, not just a job. It haunts you, and you need to be 24/7... especially when dealing with artists. The 3rd time, when I met Joe Michelini from River City Extension...he was the most peculiar character I had ever met, and wrote some of the best music I've heard in a while. Thats when I realized I would be ready to shape this artist and make him reach every goal and expectation. More recently, I left Linc Star to go to Millennium Radio Group. Radio is something I knew NOTHING about..I just wanted to jump into it, and see that side of the industry...experience is the best teacher, right? We created a promotion platform and radio station, ShoreAlternative.com , I started to do events and develop the incredible artists I discovered over the past 5 years...and history has yet to be written...
Nina: Has there ever been a moment where you wanted to throw in the towel in this industry?
Billy: A few times, I left to go to manual labor, and realized that I couldn't do it. It wasn't for me. The only thing I was good at was artist development and promotion. I didn't know how to do anything else. I had a natural grasp on the business... I chose not to go to college, and I submerged myself in this lifestyle. Every time I tried to leave, it just kept calling me back...when I started working with Concerts East, I met this character, Jim Macdonald, he was the lighting & production guru for just about everywhere in NJ...We were outside smoking cigarettes and he said to me.. " Billy, Get out of the business as soon as you can...Once you get a taste, you won't be able to leave, no matter how hard you try...it'll just keep calling you back. "...Jim was right... RIP.
Nina: What have been the greatest memories and accomplishments that make it all worth it?
Billy: I'd have to say working with Lydia was the most gratifying thus far...The band was broken up, and John D got them back together. He gave me the reigns, and let me run with it. I worked 12 hour days on just about everything, from that point, I realized I had a strength in creative marketing. That lead to a Major label deal, which in hindsight, was the worst thing they could of done. Greatest memories? It's the music business...it's been a blur, if you want stories...I definitely have them...whether it was hanging out and partying with my musical heros, or touring...I am just thankful, and feel really privileged to be working in this industry...it's still vegas, but I've been lucky to stay on the table for this long...
Nina: You're a guy that wears many hats. Which role is your favorite?
Billy: I'd have to say the artist development aspect, which I'm sure is pretty vague, and most people do it improperly...it requires you to consult and guide an artist, but you don't have the pressure of being a manager. Yet, you have the opportunity to mold, motivate, and inspire them. You get to watch them grow. It's like having kids I guess...( not like I would know). Music discovery has been a core factor in why I am doing what I'm doing...I love to find music, and reveal it to people...It's generally why I am here. I get to play it on the radio, tell people about it, and promote it. The greatest gift you can give is music. Music is a therapist. I like to tell people.. " My love for music drives women away, and draws friends closer"...
Nina: What is the basic idea behind your latest creation, Shore Alternative, and what inspired it?
Billy: Well, it wasn't MY creation, but a collective effort between my partners in this endeavor, Gregg Pirillo and Mike Merrell. When the best alternative radio station in NJ, flipped to Top 40, the program director for 105.7 the hawk(gregg) decided to create an online radio station that would be a better alternative radio format. When I came into this full time, we decided to make it more than just an online radio station...It's a place to discover new music. We develop unsigned bands on the site, give away free music, events, just about anything. We even started a label and management company behind the veil of ShoreAtlernative.com. Shore Alternative is starting to turn into a lifestyle, and we program the soundtrack. I've been sick of the different music scene's that have come and gone through Asbury Park. We decided to take that small market, and actually create a scene based around great music, local and national. We promote shows, help curate different events, and are building a vast network of independently minded people that want to see a change in our local community, but also inspire music communities nationally.
Nina: I've recently learned that there's a term called "the Oprah-touch", which you tend to have on bands. What bands are you behind right now that you're trying to create a buzz for?
Billy: River City Extension, Brick and Mortar, Scott Liss & The 66, Future Future, Only Living Boy...All bands are from the central NJ area. I could promise that the scene we've been building and the artists that we are developing will eventually rival any music scene in the united state. We have a great community that helps cultivate and nurture each other. Each of these band have their own unique sound. It's not like a bunch of bands that are trying to do the same thing. It's really brilliant.
Nina: Has the success of the weekly Shore Alt nights at the Wonder Bar surpassed your expectations?
Billy: Yes, without a question. We thought it would be something that everyone would appreciate at first, then get over in a few months. Instead, its been strong and steady. Each week we have a package of great bands, and a wonderful audience that appreciates the music. I recently saw the movie 24 hr party people...It was inspiring to know that there were people doing this before me, and they made a historical impact on music. Thats what we want...when this whole thing outgrows itself, or falls apart, we want everyone that was a part of it to think back about the great bands, and the great times that we were all able to share @ The Wonderbar.
Nina: What are some ultimate goals you've set for the projects you're involved with?
Billy: We want to become a national brand, whether it's ShoreAlternative.com, or if it's the bands we are developing. We want people to look at NJ (Asbury Park) and see that we are cultivating some of the best up and coming bands to come out of here in 30 years. We want to create an independent community that runs itself on it's own terms. The Record Label industry is on it's head, they don't have the time to develop a band properly...We have the resources in our backyard, and we are lucky to have such a great location that is an hour away from 2 major markets, and allows the artists we work with to build themselves regionally. Act Locally, think Globally...we've taken on that mentality. We will do everything in our power to turn NJ back into a destination for bands to develop. It's starting to happen now.
Nina: What motivates you to do everything you do, and where do you get all of the energy to do it?
Billy: Hunger. You need to stay hungry...comfort is a killer. I am motivated because of the years i've spent trying to prove myself...I'm done doing that, I'm just setting an example/standard for myself each day, with each move, and every show. I'm fueled by coffee. The adversity and competition I face daily, is a driving force for me to wake up each day, and work harder and longer than my contemporaries. The times are changing. I don't want to fight with people, I want to work with everyone...I want to create a fabric with this community, and work with whomever is willing to make a change, and impact our environment. Egos have killed the business, fuck that. Stay humble, and stay focused, we aren't in this alone.