Learning to Evolve

Story of a Nontrepreneur

If this story of one brave ego taking on the big bad world is a bore, I’ll skip to the punchline: both my businesses, Learned Evolution and The Meta Agency, have been acquired by SFX Entertainment. Figured I should attempt to shape history before anyone else can do it for me, so, here goes…

  • **UPDATE*** As of May 1, 2015, both Learned Evolution and The Meta Agency are once again independent companies, and no longer have any affiliation with SFX.

Some fourteen years ago, late in the first year of this manic new millennia, a radiant concept presented itself to my young, rapidly evolving (and confused) little ego. This concept, in just two words, was to me the guiding principle of how I was to live life; a never-ending wellspring of the crystaline inspiration from which to grow.

This concept was called: Learned Evolution.

The interplay of meanings was like a metaphor generating slot machine. The double entendre of the past tense “Learned” conflicted so perfectly with the forward motion of evolution. The demand of being highly aware, informed, and scholarly or “Learned” at the art of Evolution was—and still is—the most important mode of human beingness in the world.

Duality is an illusion, there is only learning beyond good and bad. The more you learn, the more you grow, the more you Learn the more you Grow. And so on…

Around this time my live-electronic band, Loop Dreams, was dissolving into a fleeting dream and the world around me (read: my white suburban ego) seemed to be falling to pieces at each step. No longer a star, I was feeling more like Dark Matter. The Learned Evolution concept fresh in my mind, what better to do then… turn it into a band? Thus Learned Evolution—the band—was born in early 2001.

The concept for Learned Evolution the band was to curate the best and brightest players on the live-electronic scene at that time (which you could essentially count on a few hands) and get them to free form improvise as if they were a DJ playing a live mix… without ever having played together before. I put together “Noism” (read: No Ism) which is a smattering of the better improvisations that emerged from that format.

In 2002 I moved from Boston to the Big Apple, intent on taking my bite and to fulfill my rockstar dreams. I did Learned Evolution the band a few times, the Knitting Factory, the Mercury Lounge, and the like, which lasted all of maybe 9 months. I continued making music until releasing Anamnesis in April of 2004 (10 years ago!), which was pretty much the end (for now, I swear!) of that particular dream.

In 2003/2004, a new vision for the meaning of Learned Evolution was at play. I’d been in Brooklyn for two years and the emergence of new technologies (and having a Mac for the first time) led creating with my then girlfriend and now wife a new type of website. The basic premise was exactly what Behance is today; a marketplace for multi-disciplinary creatives where clients could essentially build a team by looking at portfolios. We built this HTML monster with zero idea what we were doing, and after having some 40 different creatives hard-coded onto the site, eventually downsized the model to a simple portfolio for random design work we were getting.

From early 2004 through late 2006, I had an incredible full time gig producing the somehow-forgotten RESFEST, truly a remarkable event that took place in some 40+ cities around the world. There was nothing like it. When RESFEST died in 2006, I had a stark choice to make: get another job, or take a stab at having my own shop. Being a naive young ballsy idiot, I went with the latter. Why not?

My first gig was a 15k gig for Jonathan LeVine Gallery. 15k seemed like a lot of bread at the time, and after signing a ridiculous bar guarantee at Hiro Ballroom and getting a night of cold rain and snow, never did get paid that remaining 5k. I’ll never forget Jonathan forcing me to watch him write the bar 5k out of his checkbook.

At this time I flirted with taking on a partner, a really brilliant production savvy young man called Baz, who had come on and was helping build Learned Evolution with me. We couldn’t work out a deal in the end, and sadly eventually parted ways and I was at it alone, ultimately where I belonged.

In June of 2007, I got the call I’d been awaiting many months for. A call I knew was coming from a man who’d gotten me my job with RESFEST, and a man I had incredible respect for as both a person and professional. A man named Peter Shapiro, former owner of the Wetlands and rising star in the music industry. Pete called and said, “meet me at 61 Wythe just off N. 11th.” I zoomed over and was let into a busted out, garbage-ridden old warehouse space. The place was a mess, and if you were there with me, you’d never believe this space would go on to become Brooklyn Bowl.

While building a new venue, with a concept that had truly never been done to that scale before, you simply don’t know what to expect. The most arduous, challenging, and rewarding two years of my life ensued, and looking back never in our wildest imagination did we expect to build a venue that only a few years later would have locations in London, Vegas and more to come. What an extraordinary thing to have been blessed to be a part of, and remain to to this day. Talk about Learned Evolution…

After a couple years sharing a space with the Brooklyn Bowl crew, we eventually got our own office: a 450 square foot space on N. 11th and Driggs that housed the 3 of us… 4 of us… 5 of us… 6…

At this time I was representing video remix trouble-makers Eclectic Method, who I’d fallen in love with after a late night romp around Barcelona, eventually watching them use the power of improvisation, DVD turntables, and huge video screens to decimate a crowd and leave me jaw dropped at sunrise. We had a 5 year run together that could fill a book in itself, but that’s for another time. Most notably was working with them to create an experience with my eternal creative muses in Phish, in the crazy-awesome video we made with them to open their Halloween cover of the Stones “Exile on Mainstreet.” What a night that was!!

Around 2010, Eclectic Method eventually led to me creating a completely fake and unintended agency to rep “Talent Beyond,” which at the time was literally a splash page with one artist and an email address. And that all I ever really expected it to be. Until one day I got tired of turning down business looking for visual designers. Eventually I rang up my old friend and collaborator Devan from CTRL. We threw him up onto the fake agency site, very quickly did a bunch of business with him, and very rapidly after that, the Meta Agency as it stands today was born. We now have 17 artists and the games have only just begun.

Now (somehow) managing both LE and TMA, 2012 was the year of #FEED powered by Twitter, a year of learning how to put all your marbles on the line, and winning them. While I can’t say I’m overly proud of the first year of #FEED, it was still a huge success, I still somehow convinced Twitter to partner with me and let us throw their SXSW presence, and I even made a little money.

Between 2002 —2013, mostly thanks to the brilliance of our Art Director Adam Dalton, we put some beautiful design work into the world, namely AM Only’s brand and website, The Juice Box in Vancouver, Greenpoint Fish and Lobster, and many more.

Now working in a big office in Greenpoint, 2013 #FEED was the culmination of everything we’d built in both LE and TMA. We were firing on all cylinders, TMA had exciting new artists, the music bookings were through the roof thanks to my star employee at the time, Ms. Emma Matthieson, who puts your talent buyer to shame. The event is crazy expensive for a little shop, some 600k to bring 5 @night parties and 4 days of programming to life nearly around the clock.

We were looking good to break even on the event, my goal for this go around, when some two and a half weeks out from the event, a sponsor who will go unnamed (and by unnamed I mean they are called E-Muze) suddenly, on the day their payment was due, shorted me $90,000. Everything is relative, and I don’t know if that is a lot or a little to you, but to me at the time it was absolutely catastrophic. All my production expenses had been paid out, i was stuck with a 600k bill and about 500k to pay for it with no time to find a partner to make up for it.

Countless articles and books have been written about the power of failure, and this could be one of them to a degree. From the outside, it was a massive hit. Lines around the block at all times. The best talent. The best parties. The best vibe. The best content. I say all this humbly.

But I lost my fucking shirt! I had no idea how to recover, if I could recover. It seemed impossible at the time, and the next year of my life proved to be by far the most difficult I’ve yet to experience. I had to cut back, mostly on my own salary, and ended up taking next to nothing in pay last year to ensure I could keep payroll alive for my team, keep the lights on, and the engine running.

October/November/December of 2013 will go down, here to now, as the most difficult three months of my life. After a round of firings, hirings, more firings, and losing talent I never dreamed (read: nightmare) of losing, a wrist surgery that took me out for two+ months, I was considering all options, from shutting down and filing for Chapter 11 to just giving up all together.

Rewind to June 2013. After reading an interview I did for #FEED with Celebrity Access, an angel came into my life who changed everything. Vijay Nair, a young (and handsome) Indian entrepreneur and festival producer, took some meetings with me and offered to help me out.

Vijay did so by introducing me to a small but growing family of electronic music related outfits called SFX, who I’d been hearing a lot about in the past year and was very keen to meet. I had the opportunity to present The Meta Agency to the Beatport, Made Event, Disco Donnie, SFX executives, and many more. The response was, dare I say, electric.

For the next 9 months, my great evolutionary learning experiment was delivered an endlessly perplexing array of mind-fuckery, hurry up and waits, proposals, projections, spreadsheet, presentations, meetings with Bob Sillerman himself, and what seemed like a never ending spell of meetings. All the talk and all the back and forth and all the negotiations, all the confusion and pain, the joy and elation, the possible and the potential was wound up in the endless parade of difficult and impossible decisions I was making to keep my two businesses alive.

April 1st, 2014. I closed the sale and have sold Learned Evolution and The Meta Agency to SFX Entertainment.

I will stand as Creative Director for FX1, their in-house creative services agency, thus dissolving Learned Evolution into its final and most full realized stage: NOTHINGNESS.

TMA will remain as a standalone, incredible brand and company with a parent company subscript.

Both SFX & TMA share the same core mission: to use the power of the (electronic) music experience to evolve hearts and minds and raise global consciousness. Together we will be able to fulfill this dream, One Moment at a time…

A new chapter begins. It’s time to once again learn how to evolve.

Same as it ever was.

Same as it ever was.