Why College Radio Is the Ultimate Music Industry Foot in the Door With Skateboard Marketing’s Munsey Ricci
Meet Munsey Ricci, founder of rock and metal radio promotions company Skateboard Marketing, which is now celebrating its 30th anniversary. He's one of the countless, hard-working names behind hundreds of your favorite bands, many of whom you may have never heard if it wasn't for his skill, influence and commitment.
And if you're involved in college radio, the almost necessary starting point for so many people working in the music industry, you've been at the receiving end of a warm, hearty, "Dude! How are you my brother/sister?" over the phone on a standing weekly call with Munsey, catching up on the latest releases and talking shop.
This writer can personally attest to this, having served as the Metal Director at a college radio station, maintaining regular contact with Skateboard Marketing and forming the earliest relationships within the industry in the all-important process of networking.
For anyone who has aspirations of landing a job of any sort in the music industry, we outline with Munsey why it's crucial to take that step and get involved at the college radio level. Even if you're not a student, there are still plenty of opportunities for community volunteers as well.
There's so much more to Skateboard Marketing than servicing college radio, despite our narrower focus here, and over the last 30 decades, Munsey and his staff (most of which has been plucked from college radio alumni) have been working with radio stations at the terrestrial and satellite ends as well, meaning there's a fair chance that if you've heard new and heavy music on the radio, he and Skateboard pulled the strings to get that airplay, ignite fan bases and break new bands.
Let's take it way back for you. Were you listening to college radio at all in high school growing up before you were in college?
I didn't get turned on to college radio until the early '80s. There was a station called WCW at Long Island University and they ran a metal metal show on Sunday nights. They played a lot of cool underground stuff that you couldn't really find anywhere else. You were going to hear Iron Maiden or Diamond Head or Metal Church and that's where I got turned on to it. As I finished up high school, I registered for a class at Post University and the first place I went after I registered for classes was the radio station.
Then metal really got big but even the commercial stations didn't play a ton of it. If it wasn't for those college stations, many of the bands that we're writing about today, that are selling out arenas, nobody would have any idea who they are.
The coolest thing for me was that I was putting extreme metal on the radio. Anybody could be flipping through the dial and they could be met with this sound that they didn't even know existed before.
Did your experience in college radio help you land your first job within the music industry?
Most people don't realize it's not how big or small the broadcast radius of the station is. It's really what you learn from it and the relationships you build. I wound up getting a part time job at CMJ Media, which was the trade journal that published the 'Loud Rock' charts.
I transferred to City University in New York with WQCC. I made sure I interviewed every band, I went to every show, I was in my office all the time just to get music calls in and I did music calls while I was on the air.
It led to a job at Combat Records. They got bought by Sony and then became Relativity and then Sony Red, but they had the first Megadeth records, Dead Kennedys, Death...
I learned the art of record promotion there from 'Mega Don' and I was there a year until, Sony merged everything into their own system. We all got laid off and a year and a half later, I found myself at Polygram Records before they had the merger.
They were the last major label to get a metal department. I started the department and, thus, the story begins. We worked albums by Mortal Sin, Onslaught, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony McAlpine, Vinnie Moore and we had KISS, Scorpions and Def Leppard. Working for the label that had KISS — what's better than that?
I had great teachers while I was there who would pull me in the office like no, you're doing it wrong. This is how it's done. I was 24 years old. That's how you learn.
What led to the formation of Skateboard Marketing in 1991?
In 1990, Polygram divided up and became Polygram Label Group and Mercury Records. I went over to Mercury. Like most record company presidents, they have their own people and they restructured.
Johnny Barbs, and Skye Daniels were my two mentors and told me to work indie. I hated indie but they persuaded me and after six months to a year, Skateboard Marketing was born.
We worked all the Polygram stuff and we wound up getting stuff on Red Light Records, Enigma Records, Metal Blade... we were actually doing really well. I was offered a few label gigs in between, and I declined to ride out what I had going.
Congratulations to Munsey and Skateboard on 30 years of keeping the airwaves chock full of the heaviest metal! For decades now we call him the 6th member in the Overkill camp, as he has gone above and beyond to help bring our craft to those who crave it. Happy anniversary Skateboard, from Chaly and the boys! — Bobby Blitz, Overkill
How did you go about attracting clients as a brand new company? Why would somebody sign on with Skateboard vs. a pre-existing company doing radio promo?
There was only two radio indies. Usually, when something was on Polygram, they knew that we knew how to move things up the charts and play the game and make it happen.
It just comes by trial and error. Let's face the facts — some records just aren't going to react. You have to look at the station and what they program and what they're about and know how to approach each of them.
Every business starts with a mission statement. What was yours when you started Skateboard?
To go out there and make things happen and bring the exposure to a lot of the small artists who would have never gotten any exposure. Everybody starts a band and their dream is to make records, go out and tour and play arenas and make a lot of money.
In most cases that doesn't really work out, but every artist needs that opportunity to shine. You start with press — you go hire a publicist and a radio promo company to get your airplay and then you buy onto a tour and it costs a lot of money. It's not cheap.
What are some of the biggest differences you've noticed about how college radio has been able to foster development for bands pre and post internet?
With the internet, when you're a major communications company, you have a massive market/cumulative audience, you have the app for your phone, the streaming station... Regular internet stations are going through a streaming service and if you don't have the bandwidth, it's going to limit the number of listeners you can have. You can only maybe have 50 or 100 listeners at any given time, which kind of sucks, but that's the brutal truth.
It's a growing process.
We can go to the small stations and if three people find out who the band is and buy the record, we did our job. With the stations with a larger broadcast radius and signal strength, we're reaching hundreds and thousands of people. We stop and look at SoundScan numbers and we would see numbers jump by a couple thousand that's how you know a station really has sway in the market.
Skateboard Marketing, under the enthusiastic stewardship of Munsey Ricci, have helped consistently propel Motörhead's music to the ears and hearts of thousands upon thousands of ears for over three decades. Munsey remains that rare combination of class and action. — Todd Singerman, Singerman Entertainment
Those smaller stations are how you build up your B-market for a band so they can tour outside of major cities and more metro areas.
The secondary markets are pretty important. I don't care if you are one of my commercial stations or not — if they're playing my record, I get them what they need, which is interviews, giveaways, special promotions. Hook the station up and it's only good for artists development, which is something that we're seeing less of nowadays.
What bands have you worked over the last 30 years that truly broke through and got popular off the back of college radio?
Sevendust was one of them. We started on the first Sevendust record and now they're a big band. Another big band was Nothingface and we worked the Pacifier EP before they got signed. They had a manager in Washington, DC who hired us and it blew up.
Those are two bands that we had from nothing that became something. They had great songs and they were all good guys and knew how to talk to people and how to treat them and Tom Maxwell went on to play in Hellyeah, who we worked with, too.
How many people have you hired either as a full time employee or as an intern who you first came in contact with through college radio?
Through the years, about 90 percent of my staff.
I like to pull everybody straight from college because they already know the game. They've already had journalism and broadcasting classes and they've already programmed. So, that's half the battle.
What about other colleagues in this big, wide world of the music industry? How many of them began at college radio?
Coming up in the '80s when I was in college radio, we pretty much all came from college radio and the few people who didn't probably wrote for the school newspaper or they worked at a record store or worked for a record distributor.
For anyone looking to get their foot in the door of the music industry, it's the natural starting position. That's where the networking begins and you wind up in contact with quite a lot of people.
Even today, if you talk to people, most of them came from college radio. That's really where you have to learn and get your start.
Did the emergence of satellite radio change what you do?
Actually, it helped us drastically. The good thing is that they can play explicit content. When satellite radio came along, it filled that void where Headbangers Ball and MTV had left off. Jinjer would probably not have broke in America if it wasn't for satellite radio.
How many radio stations — college, satellite, terrestrial — are you in contact with in total?
It's close to 400 now.
You have stations that don't [formally] report [their airplay] that send us their playlist every week then there's stations where I know they have a show and they don't send out their playlist and I just have to call them every week and get them on the phone and then just grab their tracking and write it down.
You just have to be relentless. You just can't say, "Well I can't get them on the phone, forget about it," because the ones that are going to suffer are the band, the record company and the whole scene in general.
Again, 30 years of Skateboard Marketing — congratulations, Munsey. Now, what are your goals for the next decade?
I'm going to keep doing the same thing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! We're going to keep doing what we're doing and I'm going to just keep going until I physically can't do this gig anymore.
Thanks to Munsey Ricci for the interview. Learn more about Skateboard Marketing at the company's website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.