INTERVIEW WITH SKATEBOARD MARKETING PRESIDENT MUNSEY RICCI
If you go to metal shows in or around New York City you’ve definitely seen Munsey Ricci, founder and president of Skateboard Marketing. The man’s been a fixture in the metal scene in New York for over two decades, first at record labels and then, for the past 20 years, as one of the most well-known and well-established indie radio promoters in the biz. To celebrate Skateboard Marketing’s 20th anniversary — an impressive accomplishment in any business let alone the grueling and unforgiving music industry — we caught up with Munsey to talk about the role of radio promotion in today’s scene, what it takes to keep a company going for so long, and the state of the industry.
Skateboard Marketing has now been around for 20 years. How did the company get started? Please tell us a little bit about what you do, for those who may not be aware.
I was a national at PolyGram Records from 1989 to 1991. I created the first metal department for them, Mercury, London, Polydor and RooArt Records. In 1991 there was a big staff change with a new president coming in. Many of the staff were leaving the company so in August of 1991 I decided to start my own company. The idea came from Sky Daniels and Johnny Barbis. My thought was, if it really doesn’t work to my advantage I can always take another label gig. So with that in mind, I set up a system devised around the major label structure but with the indie label as the main focus. Artist development really starts from the street level. It’s always been all about street cred and fans that are true to what it’s all about. For those that don’t really know or understand what indie promotion and indie press are: we are really the outside people that record companies use to get them national radio airplay and press. Yes, labels have their in-house people. But many bands, especially major artists, like to have their own people in place. That is where we come in.
Both the metal scene and music scene as a whole have changed dramatically since 1991. Can you talk about what’s different since you started out and what hasn’t changed at all?
The entire music industry did a 180-degree turn. We’ve seen diminishing retail due to file sharing and a poor economy. Also the way music is delivered to fans has changed. You will never really eliminate the need for physical product; there will always be fans that want a tangible disc or DVD. But metal radio as a whole has not really changed much. Yes, it’s changed in some aspect. The format and scene as a whole is still vibrant. The bands have changed, but we still see the heritage bands like Diamond Head and Testament touring. Even newer metal bands like Soilwork and Machine Head, they have been around for over 10 years. But metal radio still embraces a new band like Chelsea Grin or Vanna just the same. It’s part of a healthy progression that changes yet stays true to its form.
Shifts in the music business not withstanding, what are some of the challenges of keeping your own business going for two decades?
It’s not rocket science. All you need is a little brains, luck and a good infrastructure. If you don’t have relationships in place, you will never really go anywhere. No business can survive without having a base to run the operation. You need to look at what you’re trying to do, then what you need to get that done, then look past that for what may come up that’s not tabulated into the equation. But some people just don’t have a head for business. They have all the other requirements — talent, gift of gab and the financial aspects — but can’t pull off the day-to-day of running a business. But one thing is for sure, it’s always key to be cool with everybody.
The role of radio in the metal landscape has changed over the past 20 years, let alone just the last 5 years. What role do you see radio playing in today’s metal scene, given that most commercial radio stations won’t even play it?
Well if you look a the big picture, college and commercial metal shows are still almost all true to what they stand for. Even the metal shows on satellite & the syndicators. Look at Jose from Sirius/XM, Gary at Music Choice and James at DMX. They are throwing down a serious dose of metal 24/7. They are bringing it to fans in a big way. WSOU in South Orange, NJ has been the leading metal station in the market for 25 years. But looking at commercial active rock, that’s a different story. Many metal bands just won’t cross over. But the ones that will, not many active rock stations will really take a chance with a new band. They want to see a story first. So it’s a catch-22 in many cases. So the best thing a band can do is keep it heavy, but always have a few tracks that can cross over. This way you won’t alienate your fanbase.
To what extent do you rely on your staff to keep you up-to-date with the modern metal scene? There’s only so much time in the day you can spend researching what’s new.
If you want to be effective you need to stay in the trenches. One thing that’s a “Don’t Do” is rely on your staff to get it done. You have to rely on yourself to do that. Because if a staff member leaves you high and dry? You need to be able to get it done on your own. But a good staff is a key integral part of any business. You can’t do it all on your own. There’s just way too much to do. So you need to find talent straight from college radio. From there you can mold them into “This is how it’s done in the real world.”
We know you’ve had many opportunities to meet and hang out with musicians. Give us one awesome or funny story.
There’s actually two that are classic. The first was bringing Ronnie James Dio back from an interview. The limo pulled up in front of the hotel, and the doorman must have gone to the bathroom. So Ronnie stopped to hold the door for a few tourists. They began to ask him questions about the restaurant and rooms. He looked at them and answered. They really had no idea it was Ronnie James Dio, the man himself. Until a few fans came over and asked him for his autograph. They turned white when they found out who it was!
The second was back in 1985 at Lamour’s in Brooklyn. I went over to talk to Bobby Blitz from Overkill. He looked at me and yipped all over my jeans. I had to go into the bathroom and clean off. To anyone that knew the bathrooms at L’Amour: I was in a pair of boxer shorts and Doc Martins cleaning my jeans in a dirty sink! When I went back to the bar. Bobby bought me beers the rest of the night. In 1993 Atlantic hired us on I Hear Black. When I called Blitz I said “Not sure if you really remember me but you yipped on my jeans at L’Amour. I was the college radio MD that asked you for an interview. I’m doing Indie metal radio promotion now. Atlantic hired us for the new Overkill record.” His response: “I remember you, you’re doing our new record? OMFG, Welcome to the Wrecking crew of misfits!”
Plug time: tell us about a couple of young and upcoming bands whose records you’re working or have recently worked that you’re especially stoked on.
The new Chelsea Grin record is kick ass. It’s deathcore and has some great hooks. Also the new Cradle Of Filth, Chimaira, Kittie and Sekond Skyn albums are all solid. I really like the new Hatesphere too. It’s surpassed the last album three-fold. There’s also a new band from Russia called The Slot. They are in the vein of Straight Line Stitch. The front woman “Nookie” has a great voice with crossover potential.
What’s next for Skateboard Marketing?
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. We found a system that works for radio and records. It’s all about artist development, so I’ll only make changes as the industry changes. I’ll find a platform and system for the change. Then roll with it. God bless metal, It’s the fuel to the fire that keeps us all going.