If you’re a person well versed in music, you already know and very much respect influential venues that play host to scores of influential musicians.
One of the most renown venues, located in Brooklyn, New York, is the aptly named Brooklyn Bowl; home to sold out classic rock shows, insanely packed and sweaty electronic dance music sets, and a weekly set from the beloved Questlove.
Not only is it one of the most renown music venues in New York, but Brooklyn Bowl has also found its way into the hearts of London and Las Vegas.
The entire Brooklyn Bowl franchise is run by one master behind it all: Peter Shapiro. Shapiro acquired the legendary Wetlands at just 23 years of age. From there, he went on to start the Brooklyn Bowl franchise, create the Lockn’ Festival, acquired Relix magazine, and recently partnered with Bowery Presents in obtaining the famed Capitol Theater.
The man is probably one of the busiest people in the music industry, but luckily for us, he was totally ready and willing to meet up for an interview. After traveling just a couple blocks west to the Relix office. The office was everything I thought a magazine publisher would look like—think the messy Rolling Stone office in Almost Famous.
In that setting, we sat down with Shapiro in one of the conference rooms overlooking the busy streets of the Flatiron District and talked about his favorite memories from when he was little, his favorite records, and advice to determined future entrepreneurs.
What records did you listen to growing up?
Oh, good question. My first record I remember being given was a cassette tape. It was Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Volume II.
Led Zeppelin IV was one of my faves, and then I remember my first concert was seeing Madonna in ’84 Like A Virgin Tour at Madison Square Garden with my older brother. I remember her and all the people around me were in lace and smelling my first joint and wondering what that was and my brother being interested in it. Those are some distinct early music memories.
What was it that influenced your career in music venues?
You know, it just kinda happened when I was at college at Northwestern in Chicago. I went to a [Grateful] Dead show, and after I left the Dead show, basically a long adventure happened.
It started at the parking lot in Chicago at Rosemont Horizons, I ran into a drum circle, and then followed that tour and made a whole film about it. That film led to me meeting the owner of the club Wetlands, and he literally ended up giving me Wetlands if I continued it as Wetlands was.
It was just such a great opportunity to take over Wetlands. I hadn’t planned to go into clubs, but I loved creating things, films and music, and I was 23 in New York City. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. He helped make it possible by basically giving it to me, and then I was in!
How did you branch out and diversify from just concerts and venues?
Oh, I always loved doing film stuff. So thats how I got into music, and once I was in I never stopped doing the other stuff.
And Wetlands helped me. One reason I did it is i felt that it could help, it was so incredible, and I felt like anything else I ever wanted to do with musicians would be helped by me owning Wetlands. Nobody knew who I was so it gave me credibility.
I made a film while I was there, an IMAX film with music in it—all live music, all live concerts.
I always loved trying to do things. It was less like “I want to do music and have a festival and a website and own a magazine,” but more like, “Oh well there’s an opportunity to take over Relix, I should do that.”
After Wetlands, I thought the venue thing is such a great thing, I’m addicted to it. And I want to try to do one a little differently, and that became Brooklyn Bowl. And then the Capitol Theater opportunity became possible. And so I thought, “Wow so this is a great opportunity, I want to try to do what I can to make it happen.”
And with Brooklyn Bowl, how did you decide to open in London and Las Vegas?
Once again, just really cool opportunities just came, and it was different than what we were thinking of doing with it.
It’s giant one in Vegas, it holds 25,000 people and it’s 80,000 square feet. Vut it was like, “Whoa we get to do a live music venue and club in Vegas, let’s go for it!” Same in London.
Look for things your gut feels good about. Whenever I’m debating whether to do something or not, I’ll always lead towards my gut being like “I should do it.” And it’s worked out so far. One day I’m sure I’ll fuck up.
What about hiring bookers for your venues, how do you decide who to hire for different venues?
Each venue has their own booker, but it all comes back to a main person here. We didn’t use to have this, but now we’re growing. So now there is someone here who helps oversee all of the bookings of talk blocking, the Cunes, the Cap, and the Bowls.
Jeff Austin from Yonders is actually playing right now on the roof—you can go see it after—just a lot going on, so we have someone, for the first time, now helping out with everything and coordinating.
What made you decided to partner with Bowery Presents for The Capitol Theater?
Bowery Presents helps us a bit with Brooklyn Bowl in New York, and we find a different partner for each city. And The Cap was just good for us because we were friends.
What’s your advice for promoters to turn their passion into entrepreneurship?
Just try to make shit happen! And it’s irony and misfortune and it’s harder when you’re small and little. You have to do everything, and it’s so much money, and it’s hard to get help when it is so much money.
It’s hard for bands too—there’s no money—and now for managers. I feel bad sometimes because with the music business, there’s less money. It’s hard to be a manager, there’s no money upfront, there are no big record deals anymore. It’s more challenging. It’s more about the road and touring, do whatever you can to try to make something happen.
At least now the tools exist to make things. It’s easier to make a film, an album, an app—which has a downside cause there are so many of them. It’s hard to break through. That’s why I love some of these old things, like The Capitol Theater or Relix.
Sometimes I also create new things like with Lockn’. Try to create something neat that isn’t out there. Do your best.
Oh, and partner with people! That’s a big one. Work with other people, don’t try to do it yourself. Try to find a friend who would be into that, or a friend who knows someone. I still do that.