Everything I Know About Starting a Company I Learned From the NYC Ska Scene

Hi Everyone! I am excited to announce the launch of my new blog Bright Sounds, Dark Lyrics. Our first story is about yours truly quitting his job during a pandemic, starting his own toy inventing company, and having the NYC ska scene to thank for inspiring me. I will continue to add more stories here about friendship, work, dating, life, and other relatable themes with ska, swing, punk, rockabilly, northern soul, rocksteady, and more great music tying it all together. Hope you enjoy it!

Okay folks, I know I am doing a very un-punk rock thing right now by posting about career stuff on my Tri-State Conspiracy Facebook page, however I am doing this because I am embarking on an extremely bold career move and I have all of you to thank for it. I know I’ve been out of the loop with the NYC scene these last 5 years living on the left coast, however I have been thinking about New York more than ever during this pandemic. The isolation of quarantine has me revisiting old journal entries for a side project that I’ve been working on. It’s sort of a High Fidelity-esque series of books (or maybe a blog?) about different topics: friendship, dating, work, etc. with music connecting everything together. It has me revisiting so many great, and not-so-great, memories of playing in Tri-State Conspiracy, working in Manhattan, and going to shows in the 00s. The whole point of this project was initially to go down memory lane and have an excuse to reconnect with old friends on Skype, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in decades, however this project has had the most unintended consequence. It’s helped me with my career.

Folks, I am very excited to announce the launch of my shiny new LLC! We are a consulting and inventing firm specializing in toys and consumer products with full shop capabilities and 20 years of SolidWorks experience for all of your prototyping needs. The company is founded by yours truly with nearly two decades of product development engineering experience in the toy industry. Product category experience includes infant preschool, feature plush, trains, vehicles, die cast, RC, fashion dolls, tricycles, trampolines, outdoor inflatables, and powered ride-ons. We are available for work-for-hire creative engineering services: CAD, prototyping, mechanical ideation, and vendor interface. I am not mentioning the name of the company here for professional and Google search-related reasons (I plan to get pretty foul on this site) hence the reason for the repost. I can be reached on Facebook for any inquiries though and please spread the word!

So how does NYC ska relate to this? Aside from the fact that you all have careers yourselves, are equally or more talented, and might be able to get me work and/or collaborate together on cool projects, it is you who taught me and inspired me to start a company of my own. The parallels between starting a band and starting a company are uncanny. The language, aesthetics, and skill sets may be different, but the overall principles of networking, doing things on a shoestring budget, and balls-to-the-wall attitude are exactly the same. Most importantly though, you guys helped me out a lot with my confidence. Sure TSC sucked in the beginning, musically speaking, but that didn’t matter because you cheered us on anyways. You gave back the energy that we were giving out and it made us stronger and want to rehearse more and get better. You were a solid support network that was “like family”, as Roy Radics would have said, that brought the love and made every show feel like a party. I regrettably lost that confidence these last 5 years, partly from getting laid off in 2015, but also because I stopped playing music. There were a lot of reasons for that musical pause which mostly had to do with burnout and allowing the wrong people into my social network, but the main reason was because I wanted to focus more on my career. While I did work harder and gained a lot more experience since then, it didn’t advance me professionally in any way. If anything it burned me out more and for lack of better terminology, it made me lose the balls that I once had in the late 00s.

What brought me back full circle though was a new band that I recently formed prior to the pandemic, in fact we had our first and only rehearsal literally one week before we went into quarantine. It’s a garage rock parody band / comedy act called The Gramps. Picture School of Rock meets The Golden Girls where we dress like old men, cover old school rock and roll: Rolling Stones, The Stooges, The Ramones, etc., and tell jokes in between like Jimmy G. of Murphy’s Law. It’s going to be a hoot! Our rehearsal sounded way better than expected and in no small part due to our guitarist and backup vocalist Josh Lewis, who is an original member of Warrant. This got me back in the groove of practicing my singing again which I have been doing consistently since. It’s the one thing keeping me sane and moving forward during all of this madness. In turn, this unleashed something powerful inside of me. A giant ball of pure bright ska energy that propels me forward despite difficult circumstances and to do the right thing for others and for myself. It inspired me to leave an incredibly toxic situation at work which drained all of my passion and creativity this last year or so. It got so bad that I literally just got up and walked out the door, something I have never done at any job in my entire life.

Of course the rush of saying “take this job and shove it” was followed by crippling fear. It felt exactly like Indiana Jones doing the walk of faith in the Last Crusade. I just quit my job during a pandemic, I’ve never started a company before, and my savings would only take me so far. So I did what any newbie would do who wants to start his own band. I started networking like mad and getting advice from other people in my scene, I mean industry, who have successfully gone rogue themselves. I got a lot of great tips and suggestions and already have leads on work opportunities. In return I have been name-dropping major players in my industry who I have collaborated with, the same way Imran would name drop important people on the ska scene to other promoters. It was great hearing encouragement and having people build me up saying that I can do this, the same way that Tom would build me up before shows. Cue in the song “Fall Back Down” by Rancid.

Once I was in the right head space I spent a good two weeks alone just thinking about the name of my company, which brought me back to the time that Imran, Tom, Steve and I sat at Max Fish on the Lower East Side for 5 hours trying to think of a new band name. I then spent a good month working on the website using the Photoshop skills I had refined making flyers for the shows we used to host at the Bowery Poetry Club. You can see the stylistic influences of NYC ska, punk, speakeasy cocktail bars, and of course Talking Heads Stop Making sense in the font. My posting on LinkedIn was written almost exactly like a Village Voice classified ad looking for musicians. Same attitude as The Ramones or KISS but more professionally worded. I think it’s working because already I got a response from a former sworn enemy at a previous company who wants to connect, the same way that shit talkers on the scene wanted to be friends when we started promoting our own shows. Since I don’t have the money yet to start my own shop, I’m using shops owned by friends and pulling favors wherever possible same way us bands practice in a garage or grungy rehearsal studio when getting started.

Suddenly it clicked in my mind. If a mere suburban bumpkin from central CT and mediocre musician at best could move to NYC not knowing anyone, and get as far as I did playing gigs with Fishbone, The Toasters, The English Beat, Cherry Poppin Daddies, The Squirrel Nut Zippers, and members of The Ramones, how far will I get starting my own business with 20 years of experience and a deep LinkedIn roster of contacts? The idea of working for oneself is scary as hell because it’s not a steady paycheck, but I’ve never felt more alive….much like I did playing on stage at The Knitting Factory back in the day. I want this company to be like the CBGB of the toy industry. It’s not going to be a pretty at first. The toilet is going to be nasty and there’s going to be junkies passed out outside, but it’s going to be a place where people who are burnt out in corporate America can collaborate on new ideas. The toy and consumer product equivalents of Blondie, Television, The Ramones, and The Talking Heads are just around the corner.

In conclusion, everything in life is connected. For years I’ve tried to compartmentalize my work life and band life but I’m now combining the sensibilities of both worlds and seeing what happens. I’m very excited to see the results and I hope you all get to be part of this somehow. Looking forward to the TSC reunion and hoping we are able play shows for our 20th anniversary in 2021!

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