At the age of 27, Kunj Shah has accomplished more than most in the music industry. The young yet powerful owner of Live for Live Music, a music media, marketing and production company, has his hands and feet in just about everything he can. His training and approach is anything but conventional. Just like so many of us music fanatics Kunj has an epic passion for music and the band Phish. His passion has evolved into a massive music entity that is involved in everything from presenting tours to producing shows, all while maintaining a reliable news source for live music fans that remains at the forefront of social media today. So basically Kunj is awesome and I had to interview him!
Kunj and friends at his 27th birthday party
Taraleigh: What's lighting you up right now?
Kunj: Wow, where do I start? So many things!
We recently presented Lettuce's Fall Tour and I'm still glowing from that. You know, most people only see the glorified side of the music industry but they don't know what these musicians, managers, and tour managers deal with on a daily basis. Trucking from city to city, day after day, puts such a toll on the body, but these guys seem to push through it for the love of the music. Neal Evans (keyboardist) broke his ribs halfway through tour, Adam Deitch (drummer) got his hand smashed in the tour bus's door, yet they still managed to play on through until the very end and bring the funk night after night. I think the coolest part was that we'd watch these cats write a song that day, and play it for the first time live that night! The band's got balls!
From there Umphrey's McGee asked us to present their 2015 Winter Tour. These guys are absolutely crushing it, selling out beautiful, huge theaters all over the country. They're also so down to earth, hilariously funny, and really care about their fans like no other band in the scene today. Any band trying to build an organic fan base should take notes from Umphrey. Check out our tour log from their current Winter Tour here.
Taraleigh: Holy moly! Just reading what you're up to is lighting me up. Thank you for being a lighthouse of awesome for the rest of us. What else are you up to?
Kinj: We've got some major plans of expanding our Live for Live Music brand while giving back to some places that really inspired us over the years like New Orleans. When I went down for my first year for Jazz Fest, the culture, the music, the history had me in smiles, tears, and all sorts of emotions. Creating one of a kind shows and super jams with members of bands that usually don't collaborate lights me up big time. Lit up by NOLA, we have another project in the works that was inspired by that Frenchman Street vibe, where you just hop around from venue to venue. I can't say much but it involves turning Brooklyn into Frenchman Street for a day!
Chicago is another place we plan on making a big statement during the Dead Reunion with Trey Anastasio. We've rented venues just walking distance from Soldier Field and will be throwing some kick ass pre and post-parties with some serious talent we can't announce yet. I think it's an important place for live music fans to congregate this July 4th weekend, as the live music scene owes so much to The Dead and Phish's business model.
When we're not throwing our own events our marketing department is hired by the bigger promoters (Live Nation, AEG, Bowery Presents) on a consistent basis and the by bigger festivals to either co-promote or market the event to our loyal readership and amazing fan base. We'll be promoting and partnering with some amazing festivals this summer! We're lucky in that the fan base we built has the same mindset we do. They don't come out for just one concert a year, they're live music addicts that go to 2-3 shows a week. You could say they Live For Live Music!
I also recently started managing Todd Stoops' (RAQ/Kung Fu) solo career! When he asked me to do it, I was blown away. The keyboardist from my favorite band when I was in high school, RAQ, is really asking me to manage his solo career?
Taraleigh: I find that in life it's important to put all your energy into digging one big hole. It's so easy to scatter your energy and to start digging small holes all over the place which leads you to nowhere. Even though you've got a lot going on, it seems to me that all your energy is going into digging that one big awesome hole and you're gettin places! Keep digging dude! How did all of this awesome begin?
Kunj: To be honest, it started as an excuse to stay on Phish tour almost four years ago before it quickly snowballed into the huge entity that it is today. I love that band because they do everything so unconventionally, never got any attention from any media, they never cared and they just said screw it and did things the way they wanted. It's probably why we've always kind of operated on this model of striking a perfect balance of being on top of our sh*t while not giving too much of a f*ck what other people are doing.
The start of our company and our launch party story is pretty funny. On March 14th, 2012 I booked my favorite keyboardist of all time, Marco Benevento, and had him play on the third floor of my father's dentist office. I remember soundcheck was going on and patients were freaking out wondering what the hell was going on upstairs. I still have the banner that we used to cover the Medical and Dental office sign to make it say Live For Live Music Studios!
Taraleigh: Haha! This is a perfect example of doing something even when you might not feel completely ready because when do we ever really feel completely ready? Sometimes you've just got to put yourself out there and do it! What's your big 'why' for doing what you do?
Kunj: I started off managing a medical/dental office and realized I hated it. Then I started to day trade stocks and noticed I was making money off of other's misfortunes and that didn't feel aligned. I thought to myself, "What could I do to bring happiness to people that makes me happy at the same time?" I love live music, I go to so many shows a week, I tour around following bands just for the fun of it. I noticed I barely see anyone at a concert not enjoying themselves. I wanted to be involved with that, whatever that was. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to do exactly what I want to do, how I want to do it, and give back to these amazing musicians that have had such a positive impact on my life growing up!
Taraleigh: Yes yes yes! Do it for the love baby. I know it hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns along the journey. What's a big obstacle you've overcome?
Kunj: I was brought on as the marketing director/talent buyer for True Music Festival last December. Suddenly I was second in charge of a multi-million dollar event while never having thrown something on such a massive scale before. There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders. The director of the festival didn't understand the community vibe you need to create because he wasn't a festival guy.
The festival ended up doing great because we booked amazing acts like Flaming Lips, Bassnectar, Wiz Khalifa, GriZ, Capital Cities, Lord Huron and hellogoodbye. We included Burning Man art installations and even an option for people to skydive into the festival. I'm lucky to have learned so much from that experience. It taught me to work with like-minded people who are in this industry for the right reasons.
Taraleigh: Sounds to me like even in that challenging situation you listened to your intuition and stood by your morals and beliefs. And you learned so many lessons which all obstacles in our lives teach us. What a miracle! What's a golden piece of advice you've gotten?
Kunj: Be present. The best ideas in this industry don't happen when you're sitting in an office, writing on a white board and searching for ways to increase profits. They happen at shows, festivals, concerts, green rooms, and after parties when everyone's getting loose and having a good time. Go to every concert, festival, and event you possibly can, because that's where you'll meet the like-minded people you need to work with to make things happen.
Taraleigh: Great advice. This can be applied to pretty much any industry. Today is the only today you'll ever have so you might as well make it the best day ever. What are you grateful for?
Kunj: I'm grateful that I get to do what I love every day, but there are certain moments that stand out. Last year we produced Lettuce's tribute to James Brown at Stage 48, which was cool because John Starks from the New York Knicks, my family's all-time basketball hero, came out to the show to announce them. At the time my parents from India didn't understand that selling out Stage 48 on a Wednesday night in New York City was a big deal, but the opportunity for them to meet and chat it up with John Starks was the biggest deal ever!
Another one of my highlights that I'm so grateful for was when we were throwing a sold out show at LPR in the city and Adam Deitch told me to put Mike Gordon from Phish on the guest list. I totally thought he was messing with me, and I didn't put him on the list. Luckily I went outside and saw the massive line and my jaw dropped as I saw Mike struggling to get in. I quickly grabbed him and brought him in. I'm not going to lie, despite talking to and hanging out with artists on a daily basis, I was shaking the entire time, and could barely get more than three words out except for "Photo Me Please."
Something similar happened again after Phish's Randalls Island run where L4LM was throwing an after party at B.B. King's featuring Roosevelt Collier, Adam Deitch, Ron Johnson and Jennifer Hartswick performing their own take on Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies. I walked into the green room to find all my favorite musicians like Jon Fishman and Mike Gordon from Phish, Jeremy Salkin from Big Gigantic, John "the Barber" Gutwillig from the Disco Biscuits, DJ Logic, one of my best friends Jesus Coomes and our homies The Shady Horns! I couldn't believe it, all these guys came to a show we put on, not because they were getting paid or playing, but just because we put on such an awesome show, and that they wanted to be there in attendance. It was one of those ah ha! moments where you know you're doing something right.
Lastly, and most importantly, I'm grateful for the amazing team that work day in and day out to help build Live for Live Music to what it is today. Some work two jobs or go to school just to be able to work for us and I couldn't be more grateful to every single one of them.
Taraleigh: You have so much to be grateful for. I'm inspired just by hearing it. Thank you for taking time out of your busy life to chat with me. See you at a show!
The awesome in me sees and bows to the awesome in you,
My happy place is wherever the live music is. Each day I try to infuse a little of the awesome I feel at shows into my morning so I can start the day off on the right foot. I do some epic morning rituals so I can get to my happy place every day. Before I started this practice I used to feel like something was wrong with myself and my life when I wasn't at my happy place.
"Why am I not at a festival ALL the time?"
"I'm so tired all the time. There must be something medically wrong with me."
"When is Phish finally going to announce their next tour so I can start living fully again?"
I realized that I wasn't enjoying the present moment because all I was doing was pining to be at a music festival or show. The more time that went between festivals the more tired and sad I became. I even manifested some serious sicknesses and injuries. Going to shows and festivals charges my battery and is very important to my well being, but that doesn't mean my battery should drastically go empty when I'm not experiencing live music.
One of the ways I charge my battery daily is to my doing some epic morning rituals every morning. The reason I love live music so much is because I feel oneness, alive, ecstatic, in the flow and happy. I thought, "How can I infuse those feelings into my daily life?"
I share one of the ways I do this in this video.
I want to support you to create your own #epicmorningritual. Sign up to participate in the #irockmymorning challenge here.
It's all happening March 2-4th.