Don’t expect to be a rock star overnight. This is so true. There is nothing in this world remotely true about “overnight success.” It takes hard work, dedication, and focus. Relentless focus. I’m still focused, and I’m still not where I want to be when it comes to music, but had I realized that 20 or so years ago, it would have been helpful.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zach Bair.
Zach Bair, serves as president and CEO of VNUE, Inc., and of DiscLive Network/RockHouse Live Media Productions, Inc.
Zach is a lifelong tech and music entrepreneur, as well as a musician, and a recognized expert and speaker in new media and revenue streams in the music business. He is an accomplished audio and video producer, and is a voting member of the Recording Academy (the Grammys). He is the founder and former CEO and chairman of Immediatek, Inc. (IMKI), a high-tech company he took public, and prior to that, founder and former CEO/CTO of Voyence, which raised over 12m dollars in venture capital during its first round, and went on to sell to EMC Corp. His is also founder and managing member of RockHouse Live International, a major new entertainment-themed restaurant venture he started along with former Hard Rock Café International president Jock Weaver.
Bair is widely known for implementing and commercializing the “instant media” business model, acquiring pioneer DiscLive, and engaging the Pixies on the first tour that grossed more than 500K dollars in revenue in just a few weeks. Bair spearheaded acquisitions which included Moving Records, a competitor, as well as numerous other companies and technologies.
Bair and his board of directors sold Immediatek to Mark Cuban, of “Shark Tank” fame, after achieving multiple successes in the immediate live and technology space, and bair retained the right to continue the DiscLive model.
Bair aligned RockHouse Live Media Productions with EMI Music, under the Abbey Road Live name, and upon Universal’s acquisition of EMI, Bair rebranded the live operation “DiscLive Network,” to emphasize his team’s identity of pioneering the space, the brand strength and the trust of the DiscLive brand.
Bair has produced live content for such artists as Slash, Peter Frampton, REO Speedwagon, Seether, Blondie, DEVO, Simple Minds, Rob Thomas, and many others, in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the UK and Japan.
With VNUE, on a shoestring budget, Bair assembled a team of top industry executives, including executives hailing from Capitol Records, BMI, TBA Entertainment, Hard Rock, Microsoft, and more, and has directly executed several important acquisitions, including that of the company’s groundbreaking Soundstr music recognition technology, and the consumer “set.fm” app, which allows fans to download the concert they just attended to their mobile device.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Because of my passion and life-long involvement in music, technology and my own personal experiences in life, I became an advocate about helping people with suicidal thoughts and depression. Starting in my own childhood and thought my somewhat offbeat and surprising career trajectory, I have known many people who struggle with depression and tragically, have died of suicide. To me, this is also a ‘pandemic’ and we need as a nation to come together to help heal those who suffer from depression to get the help they need, without any stigma attached.
I have had a weird and wonderful career, one that most definitely has not taken a traditional path. I’ve been playing music most of my life in one form or another, and I’m a natural-born nerd. I’ve always loved technology (and found I was actually good at it) and I have been fortunate enough to leverage this not only for my work — which has indeed mostly been tech oriented — but also for my own music.
I’ve worked for a lot of great companies, some of which were sold or merged, like Nortel, EDS, Sprint, and others, and my last tech job before I crossed over to the “dark side” (my joke for becoming a serial startup entrepreneur) was for Sabre / American Airlines. That was 20 years ago! Time flies.
Since that time, I’ve somehow managed to marry my love for tech with music, and even now, to leverage that experience and the awesome relationships I’ve made in the music business to help with my own creative energy.
I currently am the CEO of a company, VNUE, where we are developing a platform to identify music played in public spaces (Soundstr) so that writers, publishers and artists can actually be paid accurately for when their music is being played. Sadly, that is not happening much these days. We also have technology, set.fm, that we use to create new revenue for artists by recording their shows live and releasing the content instantly. This is a business model I have been doing for 17 years as CEO of DiscLive, the pioneer in “instant live recording,” and VNUE just takes it a step further with set.fm — which is a digital and mobile app platform.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with major artists and and produced live content for everyone from Peter Frampton, to Slash, and recently, superstar Rob Thomas.
And of course the other main thing I do, other than owning a few live music venues called RockHouse Live (also my concept), is that I play guitar, sing, and write music for my band, the Zach Bair Band.
We just released a single and EP called “Ordinary Girl,” that was produced by Grammy-award winning producer Skidd Mills. This was a follow-up to another single, Rutherford Drive, which is really the first “real” single that I had released in over 20 years.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
It’s really hard to call it a single company or organization, in reality. It is like everything I do kind of collides into this big, great, musical and geeky story. It’s all related. I started playing in bands professionally in Houston in the early 90s — about the same time that I got my first real corporate gig at Marathon Oil there, and then in 2000, I started my first company, Voyence, after relocating to Dallas. So it’s really more like a collective and combined experience of music, tech and startups, and with each iteration, there always seems to be some amazing experience or story. With Voyence, as a great example, I was coming straight out of my gig with American Airlines, where my buddy and supervisor there said I should go raise some money and start a company with the software I had designed and which the company was using. One day I saw an article in the Dallas Morning News about a new VC company, and on a whim, I cold called them. Was the best decision I ever made! Within two weeks I was presenting to a packed room of investors; within six weeks I had a team of experienced guys around me and we raised a seed fund of 600,000 dollars. And within three months, we raised over 12mm dollars from a consortium of venture capital firms. That was probably one of the most amazing experiences in my life, like a rocket sled!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first got into live music recording, which was in about 2004, it was right after the company I had started, Immediatek, acquired the original DiscLive. I had been in music at a low level for a long time, but this was the real deal. This was “big-time”, so I was green to some of it. At the time of the acquisition, DiscLive had run out of money, but had the first big tour booked for the concept with the Pixies. DiscLive was to record the shows and release CDs after each one to the fans.
Well, at some point during the early days of this tour, I was at a show and backstage, and standing where I shouldn’t. All a sudden the backstage door bursts open and out comes the tour manager leading the band to the stage. Next thing I know I was pretty much knocked out of the way by the tour manager, so the band could get by me. I was a little shocked and had a bruised ego, but needless to say I learned very quickly the dos and don’ts of live touring etiquette. And to this day, the tour manager (now the band’s manager) and I are great friends.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
The single I mentioned above, Ordinary Girl, is a very special song to me. I actually wrote that song many years ago about a girl who was considering suicide, but in the end decided to stick around after being surrounded by love and support. The song sat around for quite a long time, but two years ago this past August, we lost a young employee at RockHouse due to suicide.
It was a huge shock and devastating to everyone; she was only 28. I started getting a little more into activism and we held the first annual “Don’t Let Your Song Fade Away” which was a benefit for suicide awareness in 2019. I got to thinking about Ordinary Girl, and thought that I would really like to get that song finished. Then, things got really busy at VNUE, with a big worldwide tour set to record Rob Thomas in 2019, and time flew by.
But apparently life had other plans for all of us. All of a sudden, it was 2020, and the pandemic hit. We had another huge tour set to go in 2020, Matchbox Twenty, which was put off to 2021. The bottom dropped out of the entire live music industry.
So all of a sudden, I had all this time, and resources like Skidd who would normally have been completely booked, also had time. We recorded Ordinary Girl, as well as four other new songs, and through the course of the release of the single and EP, I was introduced to an amazing organization called the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. After learning about the great things that this organization does, I decided to donate 20% of the proceeds to the Foundation, of both the single and the EP, and I have been making the rounds on a media tour, talking about the importance of suicide awareness, and reminding folks that many time people are not open about their feelings and their “cry for help,” and it is on us to be more observant and willing to reach out to them. As the AFSP says, “Hope is not cancelled”.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I am not sure if there are any specific individuals — but I am hopeful there are many. Of course, I’m happy that our intervention helped the girl from my song (true story), and I hope that all the messaging that I have been doing will help to raise awareness of suicide prevention in general. My heart breaks too, though, because I’m not sure if there is anything that I could have done with Zena (our employee) who passed away, but I will always look back upon that and hopefully be more aware in the future of signals or signs that could easily be missed. So in the end I really hope that my message gets out, and the money that is raised through the song, EP and fundraising efforts will help make a difference, and maybe save a life.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Suicide Awareness and Prevention on a National Level. As a society, we really need to put more funding into crisis intervention and mental health programs. This is an area that is sorely lacking, and every dollar helps and as mentioned, could help save someone’s life.
- Training for Law enforcement on Mental Health Issues. I believe that when it comes to law enforcement, officers should be better trained on crisis intervention when it comes to dealing with people who are mentally ill or having emotional issues. As a former cop in the Air Force, I do not believe in “defunding” the police, but rather, they need more money devoted to mental health and crisis intervention education and the creation of the right partnerships with civilian organizations.
- Increased Bully Education Starts at Home. Lastly, as a skinny, nerdy kid, I was absolutely the subject of bullying. Although I never thought about suicide, there were certainly days that were simply awful. Children can be terrible, and that can lead to suicide in kids and young adults, and shape behavior as an adult. And the only way that bullying can stop is by having parents teach their kids right from wrong, and not to be a bully. It isn’t easy these days, with all the name-calling and ridiculousness in today’s politics. So I think it starts at the top, and those elected leaders need to dial back the rhetoric, and teach unity rather than division. How can you teach your kids not to call another kid a name if our leadership is doing it? It’s just wrong, and it has to stop.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is “leading by example,” in my mind, and learning to listen to other people — hear them out — regardless of whether or not you agree with what they are saying. This is something I have learned along the way. Back in the day, I would be quick to shoot down and idea that I thought was stupid or foolish, without thinking about the impact I would have on a person as a human when I shot it down. When I got a little older, I got to thinking about bosses I liked, and those I did not, and the ones I always liked were the ones that encouraged me to be better, to do better, and who listened to my ideas. So leadership is creating a culture that you yourself would love to be in, if it was you in the other shoes.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Wow. This is a good question. There are a million things that I wish I had known, in reality. In just about every facet of my life. It’s one of those “I wish I knew then what I know now” kind of thing. So here goes.
- Don’t expect to be a rock star overnight. This is so true. There is nothing in this world remotely true about “overnight success.” It takes hard work, dedication, and focus. Relentless focus. I’m still focused, and I’m still not where I want to be when it comes to music, but had I realized that 20 or so years ago, it would have been helpful.
- Hire the right people. This is also so incredibly true. The employees who work with you are the foundation of a company. Take the time to interview and hire the right people, or you will end up with a revolving door, as well as employees (and you) not being happy. I have a ton of examples, across a spectrum of my businesses, but suffice it to say, is the quality of your hires will either make you shine or haunt you.
- Try to limit your interests so you have focus. This is a really hard one for me, because I am literally interested in everything. When I was younger, I would take on a bunch of different projects, and sometimes (ok a lot of times) I would not finish them because I had something else I was interested in and/or working on. I have finally learned to scale some of that back, although I am still probably busier than many people. People used to say I had ADHD (ADD back then) and looking back I probably did. But I am also confident that if I had been medicated (haha) I may not have been able to succeed. So the moral of the story really don’t take on too much — make sure you set your limits so that you can still achieve your goals.
- Don’t be a dick. I know that sounds pretty rough, but it is true. I don’t really think anyone ever had to tell me that, but if I had been a complete ass, there is no doubt my mother would have slapped me downright quick. You can be successful in any endeavor and you can still be a nice person. Even if you have to be firm, you don’t have to be mean or ugly about it. I try and do the best I can by everyone, but when I can’t, I tell them, and I am respectful about it. Treat your fellow human with kindness.
- Always give back if you can. As a business owner you public facing; you are a leader and you set the stage for ethical actions. Every charitable deed you do will create the butterfly effect, spreading positive actions across the globe. And along the way, you are going to feel pretty amazing about it as well.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger:-)
Well, you know I am all about suicide awareness and mental health advocacy. My mother battled depression for her entire life. There were days when she could not even get out bed, so from that experience I have a deep understanding and appreciation of mental health and suicide awareness and prevention. So it is my hope that I can inspire much more awareness about the issue of mental health and suicide, and that everyone is a gift. Every life is a gift, and a temporary one at that. Everyone is extraordinary in their own way. No one is simply ordinary, and that is the entire point of Ordinary Girl.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t take time for granted and don’t take people for granted.”
As noted above, everything is temporary. Live and love each day like it is your last, because you just don’t know if you are going to be around, or if your friends or loved ones are going to be around. Just like Zena. No one expected her not to be there the next day.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them:-)
I would love, love, love to have breakfast or lunch with President Barack Obama! As the son of an academic, my mother, who was my most influential person in my life, I can really relate to him. President Obama is just a class act: intelligent, poetic and personable. I would love to meet him, and discuss the other pandemic, suicide, so that we might discuss increasing awareness and ideas he may have along these lines.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
All over the place!
www.zachbair.com personal blog
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you so much, and thank you for taking interest into my efforts and endeavors!