DPS FOUNDER DAN PARISE ON THE STATE-OF-THE-INDUSTRY,
JINGLE BALL, AND MEMORABLE CAREER EVENTS
Dan Parise is the founder, CEO, and President of Diversified Production Services.
DPS is an industry leader in the development and execution of worldwide event productions. Parise is a 30-year entertainment industry veteran, the recipient of numerous accolades and awards (including nominations for a Grammy Award and two Emmy Awards), and a long-time friend of SST Studios and Rentals. He recently talked with us about his career, the state-of-the-industry, and some of his career high points.
SST: You’ve been in this industry for 30 years. How did you get started?
DP: I started my career with Metropolitan Entertainment in New York City. When SFX obtained promoters, I became part of SFX and SFX became Live Nation. We started a special events division within Live Nation, which was Diversified Production Services. About eight years ago, we left and went on our own, out from under the Live Nation umbrella. During these 30 years, I did a lot of touring and a lot of big events in New York City and all over the world.
I met the SST guys way back in my early days with Metropolitan. We've known each other quite well over the years. When we did decide to branch out from Live Nation and go on our own with DPS, we took up stakes in Weehawken and started working closely with John Hanti. That's where our offices are now located right next to the SST offices and studios.
DPS is a full-service production company. We do everything from booking events to broadcast specialty shows, one-off dates, fundraisers, touring...it's a pretty long list. I'm fortunate to have some of the same folks with me now that we've had for well over twenty years. It's a great team and we do stuff all over the world now. We produce around 150 to 200 events per year.
SST: You have cited the Concert for New York City after 9/11 as the most meaningful event of your career. Prior to that, was there any events you can point to that was as turning points in your career?
DP: The Concert for New York is still a very special event for me for many different reasons. Since 9/11 there have been many others. I was honored to be part of Pope Francis's visit to New York a few years ago. I produced the Mass at Madison Square Garden. We did the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief, which was nominated for a Grammy and an Emmy. We were part of the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Katrina benefit, On the Run Tour Part I featuring Jay-Z and Beyonće, and we work closely with Eric Clapton. We produced Crossroads at the Garden, Cream when they got back together, and Eric Clapton’s shows with Stevie Winwood.
But to answer your question, prior to 9/11, early in my career, I worked with the Grateful Dead. ‘89 to '94, until Jerry died. The project that will always be special to me with the Dead was the High Gate Vermont concert series, which was a two-year project, right toward the end of Jerry's life. They trusted me with everything from A-to-Z, and I ran with it. That was a special moment that always comes to mind from early in my career.
SST: What major changes have you seen in the concert touring and event industries in the last thirty years and what major changes do you foresee in the coming decade?
DP: Obviously, the biggest impact on the music industry has been social media. That has changed how people do business, especially young, rising musicians. It's a different world. Years ago, it was all about record companies, doing a showcase, getting a record deal. In the last ten years, that's all changed. There are good things and bad things about it. People are starting to embrace technology and to embrace how things are done now. Everybody's starting to get the feel of it. The process now is "I'm going into a studio and make a video and put it on YouTube and millions of people are gonna see it. That's going to be my claim to fame and my next step up into the music business.”
On the ground level, that has been a major change in our industry. And like it or not, the industry has become far more corporate. Years ago, there were numerous promoters throughout the whole world--small ones, big ones, they all had their own identity. That has changed. Now it's all Live Nation or AEG. The little guys have been eaten up. Not many people operate on their own these days,
SST: How do you think these changes have impacted the music itself, the kind of music that's being made and being heard and selling today?
DP: I do think that technologies have become so developed that the music has changed a little. That's a hard one for me to put my finger on, though. Are there a lot of bands out there these days with rock vibe? No, there are not. You see a lot of individual artists and it’s heavy on pop culture now. iHeart and Jingle Ball are focused on that genre of music…the pop world…radio and Billboard Top 10 hits.
We do some great things with iHeart. The Jingle Ball Tour is one of them. We've been working with them now since Jingle Ball's creation, which is into its eighth year now. I was in on the ground floor when they came up with the concept. For some twenty years, we'd always had a Z-100 Jingle Ball show at Madison Square Garden. I had been doing that show since the nineties. Each market--Los Angeles and Dallas, for instance--had their own version of a Jingle Ball-type Christmas show. They would pick eight to ten acts that had number one hit songs and produce live shows for their listeners.
Then, as my relationship with IHeart materialized, they started doing those shows at Madison Square Garden. The shows were successful to the point where we asked, “Why can't we do a Madison Square Garden-type of production everywhere else across the country?”
That was the starting point of the Jingle Ball Tour.
Working closely with IHeart, we put a package together to book 12 to 14 shows with the same acts throughout the country. Lo and behold, it became not just a one-off anymore; it became a tour. We were now contracting with audio and lighting and video as a tour. We had a cohesive design, twelve to fifteen tractor trailers of gear, fifty or sixty people on the crew--lighting, sound. And so on. That's when SST backline came into play. We had multiple acts on a bill that all needed backline. Our job was to supply them with that, as per the contact/rider. We needed amplifiers, keyboards, drums, and of course, technicians to sort it all out. We asked ourselves, "Can we do twelve cities and do the backlines locally? No.” The inconsistency and the costs of trying to pull that off would just not work.
We went to SST and said, "Okay guys, we're going to do quite a lot of advance work on this. You're going to figure out what we need for 12 bands times 12 shows and we're going to put all this one truck You're going to tour this and you're going to give us a couple of really good backline guys to maintain it." That has been the basis of our relationship with SST and the Jingle Ball Tour. And they have done a great job. They put a couple of seasoned, experienced backline guys out there, guys that know the road and know how to deal with it.
The challenge of Jingle Ball is that on every show of the tour there are multiple acts coming in and out. You're not just dealing with one act, you're dealing with several. This marriage between DPS and SST has worked because they do their homework. They have a good, solid foundation of techs and staff that work in the office--not just the guys who go out in the road, but also the guys who are picking up the phones and talking to the production managers from multiple bands. It's been a wonderful relationship that I hope to continue for many years to come.
SST: You brought The Rolling Stones to SST for their 50th-Anniversary rehearsals and preliminary recording sessions. Part of the Crossfire Hurricane documentary was filmed there. Privacy was one of their priorities. Is that why you chose SST?
DP: First off. SST has always been a great place to rehearse. It's out of the hustle and bustle of New York City. As it pertains to the Rolling Stones, yes, that was an important factor. It was an interesting time in their career. They were changing management, changing a lot of people that had been with them for years, and changing how they operated. They needed a place where they could work in complete privacy. The studio at SST was big enough, and it was out of the way, so they didn't have to concern themselves with some reporter in Manhattan watching for a Mick Jagger and a Keith Richards to walk into some building at 1:00 in the afternoon and leave at midnight.
The SST guys did a great job accommodating their needs. Our offices are located next to the rehearsal studio and the Stones had such a big setup it spilled over into the adjacent hallways. I recall the first day of rehearsals, which again, were top secret. My own staff didn't know anything about it. Only a handful of people knew. I walked into the office and in the background, you could hear a Rolling Stones song. I turned to everybody and said, "Do you guys know who that is?" One of the young kids said, "Wow, it sounds like maybe it's a Rolling Stones cover band." I said "Na, that's the real deal, guys. The Rolling Stones are rehearsing next door." So yeah, it was a lot of fun being associated with that.
SST: You have been closely associated with Lady Gaga. Now that she has emerged as a triple-threat superstar--an Oscar nominee, nine Grammy Awards, worldwide acclaim--it must be very satisfying to you.
DP: Well, it's a very interesting tie-in with Jingle Ball. As the story goes, when she was growing up she would come to Madison Square Garden every December and buy her tickets and sit in the front row or as close as she possibly could get. Then she got a bit of a break, and the first time we worked with her was on a Jingle Ball show. She hadn’t, at that point, gone through the roof; she was not as big as she is right now. But she came in and did a fifteen-minute set and we were all like, "Wow. Who is this?" From that point forward, her career took off.
The business needs these young acts. It's all about young acts coming up through the ranks. To watch the trajectory of Lady Gaga's career from her early days to where she is now…it's great. It's part of the whole music scene that's been happening for many, many years. You start off in the garage, then you're a band, then you get a gig at the local bar, then you start playing clubs, then you start creating your own music, then you play theaters, then you make an album, two albums, three albums, then you're playing arenas and then. if you're one of the few lucky ones, you play the stadiums for 60-70,000 fans.
Hey, that's, that's what the music business is all about.
SST: Last question. You have also worked closely with President Obama. What can you tell us about that?
.DP: Right now, we're in the middle of producing the Michelle Obama book tour. We did 20 cities last year and we just kicked off the 2019 tour this past week--another 23 shows. That relationship is happening now. I was very fortunate, before the President's first term in office, two weeks before the election, to produce a show for him.
We took Bruce Springsteen and he actually joined in with Billy Joel and the Billy Joel Band. It was literally a week before election day when we pulled that off for 3000 invited guests. Bruce had never worked with Billy prior to that, and it started a great friendship. I think that was the biggest highlight of my relationship with Barack Obama.