It’s time for another edition of EDM Assassin’s “Assassin of the Week”, where we talk to artists and companies in the music industry. This week I had the pleasure to interview three crucial members of the GrooveBoston team: Founder/Director and DJ Bobby Dutton, Operations Manager and DJ Adam Weisman, and Production Director Ed Slapik. You’re in for a real treat, as these guys delve into everything there is to know about GrooveBoston from DJing to stage setup to touring! They also presented me with some really interesting insight into the EDM community and how it has developed since GrooveBoston began 10 years ago. For those who aren’t familiar with the company, here is a brief overview of who GrooveBoston is and what they do.
GrooveBoston is a massive-scale production company whose goal is to create legendary memories by building unique concert experiences at college campuses throughout the country. Their mission is for people to leave happy and feel like they experienced the best event that has ever happened at their school. Check out this video for all the proof you need:
Hopefully that video helped paint the epic picture of what makes GrooveBoston stand out. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to not only work with their crew when they came to Seton Hall but to interview some of the important people that make these events possible. Let’s get right to it! First up is Bobby Dutton, the Founder and Director of GrooveBoston, as well as one of the DJs. Once again, I’d like to thank Bobby for his time.
Tim: First of all, even though I have experience with GrooveBoston, some of our readers might not. If someone has never heard of your company before, how would you describe it to them?
Bobby: GrooveBoston is a machine that was built for one purpose: To create an unprecedented way to consume music. We’re a team of passionate creative experts, and it’s our job to build your musical EXPERIENCE. When we created our concert model, we sort of turned the traditional one upside-down: Typically, everything is centered around the artist. The problem is, what if you want to hear 200+ artists in one intense, glorious, emotional journey? You’re either out of luck, or over-budget. We have defined ourselves as aggressive, thirsty DJs with zero limits, musically, and a team of absurdly talented people to tell our musical story each night in a way that dwarfs the level of production that most people have come to expect from a typical concert. We don’t produce music; we produce EVENTS, and we take that extremely seriously.
Tim: As Founder and Director of GrooveBoston, as well as a DJ, how has the opportunity to work for GrooveBoston changed your life? What is your job description for these roles in the company?
Bobby: Our mission is centered around HAPPINESS, and I’m extremely lucky to focus on pursuing it, all day every day. Our team is a close-knit family, and we believe in what we do. Our workday starts at 10am, so that’s pretty sweet, too. As Director, I maintain the structure of the machine and its big-picture development. I make sure the right people are in the right areas of expertise, define their role, and empower them to crush it. If I’m doing my job, it means that everyone is happy, and the machine is running smoothly, with zero stress.
As a DJ for GrooveBoston, I work closely with the rest of the music team, to build and deliver sets that will make as MANY people as intensely HAPPY as possible. Most importantly; it has to be visceral. That is, we’re trying to create moments that simply overpower your consciousness. If we can create this effect universally, it unites crowds in a really powerful way, and that’s an incredible experience. Every week, we focus on music discovery (scouring the internets to find the dopest remixes of remixes), honing our technique on the “battlestation,” and fine-tuning our sets to target each crowd. We focus on how the ordering of the songs will affect the journey; how the context affects the impact of each track. We know where people get happy; we know where you get frightened, and we know when you’re up for taking some changes, musically. We do a LOT of prep work to create a powerful baseline before each show. That way, when the show starts, we’re able to keep our heads up and feel the energy, and make adjustments as we go. For more info on our music process, check out our behind the music page.
Tim: Congratulations on celebrating your 10th Anniversary, by the way! What are some of the highlight moments for GrooveBoston over the past decade?
Bobby: Thanks! It has been one hell of a ride. The highlight for me has been to see the concept evolve into reality. Ten years ago, we KNEW that this level of energy; this approach to events was possible. But it took a LOT of work to actually prove it. Now we execute it almost every weekend; it’s no longer “a neat idea,” it’s our life! Ten years also creates some new perspective, and I can’t WAIT to see what the future will look like for this machine, with today’s momentum as a starting point.
Tim: I can only imagine how different dance music was when you started the company ten years ago. How old were you when this music really inspired you to DJ? What do you remember of the dance music scene in the 90s and early 2000s, and were there any differences compared to today? A lot of people my age may not realize the vast history this scene has.
Bobby: It’s true… I started DJing in the late 90s, when I was about 17. Electronic music was out there, but it was very mysterious and underground. Some of it was visceral, but it wasn’t mainstream, so it was hard to find a room of people who wanted to go hard-electro, without going to a specialty club night. I remember hearing AWESOME remixes and WISHING that people would be more adventurous, but there was just a big disconnect between public/mainstream stuff and the stuff that we now define as “elecro-awesome.”
I think the Internet had a lot to do with the rise of EDM. People could find the tracks that spoke to them, and share them; producers suddenly had access to tracks, and tools to remix and distribute them faster than ever. DJs could suddenly update their catalogue and re-tweak their set without buying records or hauling CDs. Everyone was connected, and music was flying around faster than ever. This was a fascinating turning point for music, too, because technology had become so central in this rising genre that it was no longer producer OR performed in real-time. You could argue that technology had surpassed real-time human capability (within this genre), and this would change EVERYTHING. It was the perfect time to build a machine to process this new breed of music, and deliver it in a new and awesome way. … enter, GrooveBoston.
Tim: Who are some of your favorite artists, then and now? Have they influenced the way you DJ at live shows?
Bobby: I was awed by DJ Rectangle when I was getting started. It was the first time I heard aggressive mash-ups done in a thoughtful and deliberate way. He demonstrated that DJing could create new value, greater than the sum of its parts. He used to release records that had 10 or 12 remixes on them, and then he’d do an an intro track that combined ALL OF THEM. It was nuts.
Today, I really admire Hardwell. He’s a great producer, and keeps cranking out hard-hitting remixes — but he’s a great DJ too. In my opinion, there are a lot of artists who are great at performing OR great at DJing, but rarely at both. Hardwell is the only one that’s really excelling in both areas, and his titles are well-earned. Most importantly, he’s loving EVERY MINUTE of it, and I think that authentic happiness is important — and surprisingly rare.
Tim: So offstage, who is Bobby Dutton? What would you like people to know about you? Have you always lived in the Boston area?
Bobby: Yup, I’ve been Boston-based for my whole life. I went to Tufts for Computer Engineering and Multimedia Arts, while DJing epic frat parties every weekend. I also serve on the board of the New England Chapter of the International Special Events Society (ISES), which is a global association for creative events professionals. Through ISES, I have connected with industry professionals all over the world. I love to play soccer, I LOVE all things summer, and I love to fly airplanes. Flying has been another passion of mine for my whole life, and it’s a complete mental escape for me — just like music.
Tim: GrooveBoston certainly hasn’t stayed in the Boston area for shows. What is the furthest school you’ve traveled to while on tour?
Bobby: As you know, we’re doing a lot in NJ now, as well as the northeast states. We’re in the initial stages of some DC-area school now, and I suspect that will be our next big move. We’ve also chatted with schools in Florida, Texas, and California, and will make those moves when it feels right. We also performed internationally, for an ISES event in the Bahamas in August 2013. (our job rules.)
Tim: I know you’re not supposed to play favorites, but do you have any tour stops that left a huge impact on you?
Bobby: If we do our job right, the energy in the room should be overwhelmingly awesome by the time we hit the final stretch of a performance. It’s interesting to see how the journey varies at each school, even with this common destination. We performed at UConn this past spring, and it was our first time there. People didn’t know what to expect, and it was fun to see their jaws drop when they entered the room, and watch them absorb that first GB experience. Other schools like Seton Hall and Endicott are always fun, too, because we have built a relationship over the past few years, so there’s a great energy right from the beginning, which we can then take further. These shows also challenge us to stay on our toes, and make sure we’re delivering something new and awesome every time. We love to figure out how to take things to the next level, and we LOVE watching veteran students say “THAT WAS NUUUTTTTSSSSSSS!”
Tim: Speaking of tour stops, Seton Hall really loves you! Two weeks ago you guys were here for the fourth time. Compared to the Wildfire and Visceral tours, what did you differently for the Vitality tour to take GrooveBoston to the next level?
Bobby: Each tour is about focusing on a new core aspect of the GB machine. “Wildfire” was about learning to mass-produce these experiences while making sure each one was customized and personal. “Visceral” was about transcending genres, and committing to find and create sounds that are emotionally hard-hitting. “Vitality” is about focusing on that special element that makes this more than a machine; more than a product. It’s the same mysterious force that makes us ALIVE. We wanted to keep this positive force at the center of our work this year, as we launched the biggest tour yet. With a lot of negativity around the EDM scene lately, this has been a good way for our team to stay focused on the mission of happiness. You’ll also notice a lot of circles and curves in the VITALITY builds, to reflect a more organic energy, as compared to a standard concert build.
Tim: Some things are top secret, but is there anything you can tell me that is in the works for your next tour?
Bobby: Oh man, I wish I could. Because it’s going to be our best project yet. … but I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.
Tim: Ultra Music Festival just happened in Miami recently. Have you had a chance to listen to any of the DJ sets? Do you have any favorites?
Bobby: I thought it was a GREAT year at Ultra. I was really into Alesso’s set. It was so thoughtful and deliberate; it really drew me in. I think it’s too easy to just do build-drop-build-drop.. it desensitizes people after a while. He did a great job at making it more of a journey. I thought the Jack U set was cool, too, but was hoping for a bit more actual collaboration. It felt like more of a Skrillex-and-Diplo show, rather than a new creative entity. Still a dope combo, though. I loved the fact that there was so much tempo variety, too. (Last year felt like 128 BPM, all day every day). Some of the down-tempo stuff is POWERFUL, and it has gotten a lot more visceral this year. We’ll be performing with DJ Snake at Rutgers next week, and I think he’ll be a downright LETHAL addition to the show.
Tim: With festival season underway, what message would you put out there about the dance music scene? Since Ultra Music Festival, the scene has come under media scrutiny once again. You and I both know the positives of the scene, but what would you say that might sway people who are skeptical?
Bobby: The scene has such potential to create and instill happiness, in a world that’s altogether too stressful and negative. It’s sad to see some of the incidents, decisions, and connotations that have poisoned our industry, but I have faith that the positives outweigh the negatives, and that these events have a good effect on the people that celebrate them. I believe that people can rage responsibly, and have an AWESOME time. Personally, I drink about 2 gallons of water, and 2 energy drinks to survive a GB show. Anything else would slow me down.
Tim: Bobby, thank you so much for your time. It is always a great time talking all things EDM with you. Is there anything else you want to leave the readers with, whether about GrooveBoston or the music in general?
Bobby: Thank YOU! It’s fun to talk about this stuff. Let’s see; parting words: Do what makes you happy; listen to what makes you happy; work to make others happy. Hope to see EVERYONE on next year’s tour. Stay tuned for the announcement video, at www.grooveboston.com.
PHOTO: Myself (right) with GrooveBoston DJ’s Adam Weisman (left), Bobby Dutton (center), and other concert volunteers
Once again, big thanks to Bobby for his help answering my questions and giving us a little history lesson on GrooveBoston. The next interview segment comes from Adam Weisman, the Operations Manager for GrooveBoston, as well as being a DJ. Adam explained to me a lot of the factors that go into a show during the planning the stages, such as hiring workers for each show. This is a really great perspective to have since we don’t think of these factors during the show. Thank you again Adam for agreeing to be interviewed!
Tim: Many people who witness GrooveBoston shows may not realize all the different aspects of the company behind the scenes. As Operations Manager, what is your role in the company? What steps do you take to ensure the company is on the right track?
Adam: My job as Operations Manager is to get the right people to the right place at the right time. Sometimes that involves weeks worth of planning and scheduling to make that happen. What a lot of people don’t realize is that many of our crew have other 9 to 5 jobs. It’s always tough to get the right people on the right shows, but we always make it happen.
Tim: In addition to being Operations Manager, you DJ alongside Bobby on tour. What have your experiences been like as a DJ on tour? How do you succeed to play to the crowd, and do you have any cool tricks to get a reaction out of people?
Adam: DJing is the fun part of the job. Bobby and I are just the lucky ones who get to push some buttons on stage. Our tour is unlike any other in that we’re building this show for the first and last time EVER. No two shows are the same, right down to the order of the music or even the way a certain track is played. Of course this means every crowd is unique as well. We keep such a close eye on what’s popular vs. what’s worked over the last decade of being in this business that the “tricks” we may have up our sleeve are really just things we’ve picked up as DJs over the years. Here’s a cool trick though: go ahead and play Cascada’s “Every Time We Touch” from start to finish whenever you want to in your set. It’s gonna work out just fine 😉
Tim: What is it like DJing alongside Bobby? On stage, how do you work together to put on an awesome set?
Adam: We feel that two DJs are better than one. First off, you have twice as many hands to do stuff – always a benefit. We DJ on 4x CDJ 2000s with multiple midi interfaces that allow us to cut, resample, and cue different parts of up to 4 songs at a time. The layout of the “Battlestation” is important too. It’s custom-built to accommodate two DJs doing exactly what we need to do for the Vitality Tour. Every year we build a new one from scratch for exactly that reason. As far as working together on stage, we can’t hear one another because we have custom in-ear audio monitors (courtesy of JH Audio – shameless plug). We communicate through just about any way we can manage in the middle of a raging dance party. The key to success is practice, knowing our music, and knowing each other’s tendencies.
Tim: Off stage, how do you two work together to put on a great show? How much planning goes into one stop on tour, and what does that planning include?
Adam: Each academic year brings with it a new tour – like Vitality this year. When you think about it, we really only plan for 30-50 days out of the year. So whenever we’re not doing a show, we’re in the planning stages for another upcoming show… Or we’re hibernating… For each individual stop on the tour we spend roughly 1 month’s time just in the preparatory stages. This includes every element of the production design, all the musical prep (which is constantly ongoing), all the crew logistics, all of our promotional efforts etc. We like to think of the different elements of our process as cogs in a machine rather than as a linear timeline. Continuity and overlap is the name of the game.
Tim: When did you first get into DJing? What was it that first inspired you and made you realize that this is what you wanted to do?
Adam: I started DJing when I was a senior in high school right before that whole “everyone I know is a DJ” phase took off. I was lucky to ride that wave of EDM popularity right through college. Right around that time, Mashup artists also started to get popular. I loved the concept of marrying two different styles of music together and was essentially mashing songs up in my head already. From there I started DJing frat parties, formals and other school events when I met up with the GB team.
Tim: Do you have any favorite artists that have influenced the way you DJ?
Adam: It’s hard to name just a few! I have the utmost respect for the DJs who are up there working their asses off, ripping through tracks and really trying to engage with the crowd. On the same token, I also have a profound appreciation for those DJs who move through music so smoothly you don’t even know you just listened to 3 different songs in the span of 15 minutes.
Tim: When you’re not on tour and finally have some downtime, what kind of music could we find you listening to? What else do you enjoy outside of GrooveBoston?
Adam: HA, anything slower than 128 bpm! I’ve been relying on Spotify to help deliver me new music based on my mood. If it’s new electronic music, it’s typically deeper UK house or minimal stuff. We try to get out of our EDM world as often as possible. Sometimes we got to the House of Blues as a group just to experience a show that may have stunning visuals or really interesting theatrics. We’ve always tried to maintain a close watch on the events industry so we can innovate on what the rest of the world is getting to see.
Tim: What is it like living in Massachusetts? Living in New Jersey and in close proximity to New York City is a way of life I enjoy. How do you think living near Boston contrasts with living near New York?
Adam: I grew up in Chicago and knew I needed to live in a city, no matter where that was. Boston isn’t as hectic as New York or Chicago, but it still certainly has the feel of a city. The people make this place great. Coming from the Midwest I also think it’s great to be able to travel all over the East Coast and have different experiences everywhere you go – that’s something I never really got to experience growing up.
Tim: Do you see a few regional or cultural differences at colleges in different cities when you’re on tour? Does this make certain crowds react differently to your sets than others?
Adam: Certainly there are differences. Our tours typically range from Maine down to New Jersey. Wherever we go, we try to tailor our sets to the crowd we’re expecting. A show in rural Maine will be different than a show in Boston just as it will be different when we’re in New Jersey. We look at a lot of different factors for each school, not just geographic location.
Tim: You have accomplished so much with GrooveBoston. What are one or two things while working for this company that you are really proud of so far?
Adam: I’m most proud of the people I work with. They’re the best in the business and they live, breath, sweat and bleed for GrooveBoston. We’ve accomplished so much together. We’re starting to show the world that a party isn’t about who’s making/playing the music, but rather how the entire experience is consumed and communally enjoyed.
Tim: What is the chemistry like between GrooveBoston crew members while on tour? Whether you’re at a college setting up the stage or you’re hanging out with the crew the night before the gig, how does the crew overall interact with each other? Does being on the road make you all closer to each other?
Adam: We call ourselves a family because we really are that tight. We believe that our time on Earth is too short to not make it awesome while we’re here. Happiness, energy drinks, and recurring jokes are the only way to make it through an 18-hour work day.
Tim: Back in Boston working at the office, what is the atmosphere like? Does it differ from being on the road or do you guys try to keep the same vibes alive until the next tour starts?
Adam: We’re all still the same people in the office, but what a lot of people don’t see is how incredibly hard we work to stay on top of all our stuff. Show days are different, there’s always an energy that’s palpable and we try to keep things vibrant and upbeat the entire day (yes, even into the 4am post show load out). We wind down a bit during the Summer, because you all are on break, and then come August, we’re back at it again!
Tim: If someone is interested in applying for a job or internship with GrooveBoston, what suggestions might you have for them?
Adam: Every semester we accept another batch of student internship applications. What’s important to us is dedication, a positive attitude, and willingness to learn. I know it sounds corny, but if you really dig into what that means and apply it to our mission, then you’ll probably be a good fit. We start accepting applications for the Fall Semester at the end of May.
Tim: Adam, I want to thank you again for this opportunity. Do you have any last words about what GrooveBoston means to you and the effects it has on the greater college community?
Adam: If we can make the college community a little less stressed out, or provide you an outlet to let go of the problems from the outside world, then maybe we’ve accomplished our mission to make people happy – and maybe you can pass that on to someone who needs it.
VIDEO: Adam and Bobby explain the factors that go into their DJing
Big thanks to Adam for sharing the family aspect of GrooveBoston! I’ve saved the best segment for last. For all of the tech-savvy readers out there, pay attention to what Ed Slapik, the Production Director of GrooveBoston has to say about his role in the company.
Tim: When college students think of GrooveBoston, several think of Bobby and Adam’s role as DJs. However, the production work really takes the show to new heights. As Production Director, what is your role in making sure the end result of the show is the best it can possibly be?
Ed: Thank You! Our production has evolved and grown significantly, especially over the last 4 tours. This recent tour, we have really focused on the integration of all the elements into one experience. We have always tried to have a great lighting show, great laser looks, great video content, and cool special effects, but if they are not working together the results will not be as great if they were all in unison. My role as production director is to try and work all of these elements into one cohesive show.
Tim: What goes through your mind while you design and execute a show? What is your mission for a successful show, and do you have any guidelines or goals you set for yourself in order to achieve that?
Ed: My goal is always to exceed expectations, for both the people attending and the administrators putting on the show. To me, a successful show is one that has people saying, “I didn’t expect that!” and, “That was the best show that has ever come to this campus.” Throughout the design and execution process, I am always looking to achieve this end.
Tim: What is your favorite part of the production process? What gets you the most excited? Is it looking at new pieces or appliances to order, finding creative ways to assemble a stage setup, or something else?
Ed: The shows by far. The process for each show starts months in advance and there are countless hours spent planning from every department. To finally see things that only existed in sketches and on computer monitors come to life is my favorite part.
Tim: When it comes to stage design, what aspect of the production do you enjoy the most, whether it is lighting or smoke or visuals?
Ed: That’s like asking a parent which one of their kids they like best. I genuinely love them all equally.
Tim: What sets GrooveBoston apart from other concerts or club experiences production-wise? What is it about production that makes colleges want you guys to return time and time again?
Ed: GrooveBoston is all about the experience, and what makes it so powerful is that this experience is happening right on campus, right in a students’ back yard. We transform a campus venue into a show that they would expect to see at a festival or at a large music venue. We bring this experience to the students rather than the other way around. It is hugely powerful for the school administrators to have an event on their campus that the students want and that they can be proud of.
Tim: I’ve noticed that you mastered making the visuals and other effects match the music throughout a live set. Bobby was telling me about how that worked while he was at Seton Hall. So you can see the set list with songs that Bobby and Adam are planning to play, and you can arrange special effects around that? How exactly does that work?
Ed: It would be very easy and the technology exist for the music to drive every element of the show but that would require the music to be pre-done and scripted. We do not want to do that, but rather let the DJ’s explore the crowd and be free to play what they want when they want. Instead of scripting all of the elements of the show, we rely on a very talented Front of House team to do what they all do best in each of their respective areas, on the fly. To make sure that all of the tech areas are on the same page we have network of info screen and monitors at each location. One monitor is the DJ’s software screen. This allows us to see exactly what the DJ’s are doing and what they plan on doing next. It also lets us see the waveform of each song so they can anticipate major changes within the song and react to them. A second screen allows our creative manager to communicate with each tech through every song. For example: “at the drop lasers only, black out on all lights”. Both of these screens allow the show to work as 1 without compromising the music and their freedom.
Tim: How did you first get interested in the production work of a concert experience? Was there something that initially sparked your interest?
Ed: I started DJing in High School and that continued into College at UMass Dartmouth where I would DJ at pub nights, off campus parties, and eventually into the clubs of Providence. I started freelancing in the summers for production companies working on events large and small, but It wasn’t until I became the Major Events Chair for the Campus Activities Board that I caught the production bug.
Tim: What advice would you have for kids my age who may be interested in behind the scenes production work? If they don’t have the opportunity to be a part of a large-scale event, what small steps can they take to pursue that interest?
Ed: Get out there! There are always opportunities to be a part of, events large and small either through internships, volunteering or PA work. Learn from just being around events, ask questions, be helpful, and own any task you are given. Before you know it, it could develop into a key role, or better yet, the knowledge to manage your own events.
Tim: I always ask, what are your favorite artists? Have you seen any music videos that have given you new ideas for visual effects at shows? Have any concerts given you new ideas for tour setups?
Ed: I like a lot of different artist and genres. As far as inspiration, I look at mostly live productions rather than music videos. EDM festivals are great because they have significant budgets and a lot of new technology is debuted at these events, but I find more inspiration outside of the EDM world. Bon Jovi’s Cadillac inflatable set/roof, Michael Buble’s LED flappers, Justin Timberlakes transparent moving stage, Infected Mushroom’s video projection, Roger Waters “The Wall” set and automation, and Muse’s lighting design are all amazing feats of production that have raised the bar for touring production and what is expected at a live event.
I want to send another big thanks out to Ed, as well as to Bobby, Adam, and the entire GrooveBoston staff for allowing EDM Assassin to interview you all and get a little glimpse into your world. I enjoyed interviewing you guys and learning more about how your company operates, and hopefully all of the readers will get something out of this as well. If you like what you read and want more information on GrooveBoston, or if you’re part of a college organization and want to book them for your next event, definitely head over to their website for more information. This has been EDM Assassin’s “Assassin of the Week”! I’ll sign off with one final video, featuring testimonials of the awesome time some GrooveBoston concert-goers had.