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John Nittolo

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Posted: April 13, 2007

By Jane Cohen and Bob Grossweiner

John Nittolo is president of John Nittolo Productions, a diversified concert promotion firm based in Cherry Hill, N.J., which got its footing by creating a series of boxing events in conjunction with Madison Square Garden. John handles the day-to-day operations, including talent buying, marketing, production advances, venue negotiations, sponsorships and all other categories to bring a show to its completion.

The firm currently produces events in many markets across the United States, including Philadelphia, Toledo, Atlantic City, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Erie, Dayton, Detroit, Louisville, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Rochester, New York and numerous other cities. JNP also buys talent for corporate events, nightclubs and charity functions.

JNP has been promoting approximately 60-70 shows a year although last year it only promoted 29 concerts. Headline attractions include Bill Cosby, Sheryl Crow, Alice Cooper, Meat Loaf, Mary J. Blige, Journey, B.B.King, Ani DiFranco, Diana Krall, NIN, Willie Nelson, Johnny Mathis, Jethro Tull, The Allman Brothers Band, and a host of others.

John first entered the concert business in 1985 while working as a floor supervisor on a dice table at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. "When the Tropicana show room was under construction 1983, I used to walk in the room everyday wondering what it would be like to produce a headliner like the Casinos were doing," he reminisces. "When I walked into the finished theater, I made a promise to myself that I would one day promote shows in a venue like this. I just had to figure out how to put it all together."

Step one was placing a calI to Tom Willer, the entertainment vice president at the Tropicana, and asking his assistant to schedule an appointment. "I met with Tom on my next day off," John notes. With no previous experience, John told Tom that he was interested in promoting headliners in his new theater.

"He smiled and called me the idol maker," John recalls. "I had no idea what he was referring to. Tom gave me a copy of the movie The Idolmaker featuring Ray Sharkey. After watching the movie several times, I understood what he was saying." John started calling agents in the business looking to book artists in the new room at the Tropicana but was unsuccessful. Believing his opportunities in Atlantic City were limited due to the competition, he went to the Wildwood Convention Center in Wildwood, N.J., to test the water there. After a successful meeting with the GM, he once again started calling agents pitching the 2,500-seater.

"I got my first break with Jim Gosnell of APA when he sold me a Laura Branigan show in July 1985," enthuses John. However, the show at the Wildwood Convention Center was not what he thought it would be. "Let's just say I learned a lot about promoting from that experience. The end result, I lost money."

Willer and John spoke again, this time the topic was boxing not concerts. Coincidentally, John told him that he fought in the 1972 New York Golden Gloves and knew most of the managers/trainers from the gyms and the smokers he fought all over New York City.

"I was offered an operations job by Tom to work the weekly boxing program at the Trop and jumped at the opportunity," he states. "After proving myself with the boxing, Tom continued to increase my responsibilities with the Tropicana entertainment department, and I eventually was handling their advertising budget."

Tom eventually left to work for the Sands in Las Vegas in 1987. Prior to his leaving, John presented a proposal for a monthly TV boxing program in conjunction with Madison Square Garden with himself as the promoter.

The Tropicana signed off on a 12-show deal and John Nittolo Productions and Madison Square Garden partnered in Atlantic City promoting world-class boxing. The boxing program continued at the Trop and other casinos for an additional two years.

"Although I loved working in the boxing arena, my passion for music wasn't being fulfilled," he admits. "I got the opportunity to promote several rock shows at the Tropicana but found it extremely challenging to get the better known acts." Some of those concerts included ELO II with a symphony, David Gates & Bread and Three Dog Night.

In 1987 John was invited to the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam in Nashville and had the opportunity to talk with Bill Graham backstage. "Bill advised me to look at promoting smaller markets," he recalls. "He suggested that I find my niche in the secondary and tertiary markets, and after sitting on Bill's advice for only six years," he quips, "I've since been promoting in cities like Toledo, South Bend, Erie, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and others in the Midwest for the past 12 years."

Promoter John Scher has also advised John to continue to carve his niche in the smaller markets and to make his name known in the music industry by being visible in the marketplace.

"I have been very lucky in my life and in my career," John says gratefully. "I attribute my success to my hard work, my bull headed behavior and having the strength to never back down in the face of adversity. I've been blessed with a very supportive network of friends and family, including my wife Nancy, my children Eric, Billy and Amy. Before it's over, my ultimate dream is to promote a show at Madison Square Garden."

Mistakes you've learned from?
When preparing an offer and the math doesn't work, don't force it. Many times in the past, when agents need that extra 5K and your paper work says it isn't there, the decision you made to pay up is always the difference between making or breaking even on a show. I've learned to say, "No."

How come you did substantially less concerts in 2006 than in previous years?
The shows just weren't out there for the type of theater shows I promote and besides, I was extra careful. This year I'm on the mark for 50-70; I'll just have to see what fall brings.

How were you extra careful?
I was much more selected with marginal shows, and the ones I worked did very well. Last year I was able to make just as much money as the prior years working less show with more sellouts. There are many agencies that I work very closely with, and they're always offering me their artists. I want to thank Brad Goodman from William Morris for believing in me 14 years ago when I started promoting concerts in Toledo.

How did the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam invite come about?
I promoted a CDB concert in 1987 at Lake Lenape Park in Mays Landing, a small town outside of Atlantic City. The show sold 6,500 tickets, and the band had a great time, so Charlie extended me an invitation to come down to Nashville that Labor Day weekend and be a guest at the Volunteer Jam. That's where I met Bill Graham for the second time.

Do you use MySpace as a promotional tool?
Yes. I also post a bi-monthly newsletter with new show info that is posted on my MySpace page on a regular basis. My MySpace page continuously adds on new viewers every week, which is logged by a marketing company, managed by my nephew, Chris.

Your reaction to Ozzfest giving away free tickets?
I don't get it.

How do you feel about the secondary ticket market?
The Internet has allowed ticket brokers to secure more inventories and network nationally, like StubHub. I don't believe we can stop brokers from getting great seats for hot shows. I purchased tickets to see Cream at MSG on Ticketmaster.com, and I didn't like that I had to pick up my tickets at the will call window the night of the show and get escorted to my seats by a security guard. What is that all about? Is that the answer?

Inconveniencing the ticket buyer who pays $350 to see a concert, that's the problem. As a promoter, I would love to see the artist fan club get more involved and make available good tickets to their fan base. But there are flaws there also. Perhaps they need to see what the Grateful Dead fan club did 25 years ago. My problem with fan clubs as a promoter is they just don't sell enough tickets. In closing, no matter what you do, the secondary market will always exist.

How come you do not promote in your home state New Jersey?
I promoted a Broadway series for one year in Red Bank at the Count Basie Theatre. NJ PAC opened in Newark a year later with tremendous talent and adverting budget, which made it impossible to compete. I did play several other shows at the Count Basie and Lake Lenape, but there were several other promoters there before me, which made it harder to secure the talent I wanted to work with.

First concert worked
First concert I promoted was Laura Branigan, July 5, 1985, at Wildwood Convention Center in New Jersey.

First industry job
Tropicana Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. I was the entertainment operations manager in the fall of 1985.

Career highlight
Promoting ELO Pt. II accompanied by The American Pop Symphony at Carnegie Hall in May 1997 to a sold out audience. A special thanks to Carl Freed and Jim McDonald for their help.

Career disappointment
My first show was Laura Branigan and after sustaining a substantial loss, I had to figure out fast how to survive in this business

Greatest challenge
Being able to compete in many markets with other industry leaders and be successful. Now that I've established myself in many markets, I'm able to make multiple-city offers for the same artist. I follow a strict marketing plan that works. Most important are my media partner relationships that have been established over the years.

Best business decision
To remain as an independent promoter and maintain my autonomy in the industry.

Best advice you received
I'd the pleasure of meeting Bill Graham in 1987 when I was a struggling promoter looking to promote concerts in Philadelphia. Bill's best advice was to promote smaller markets and develop a niche in those markets. It took six years for me to move on and establish myself in these secondary markets and to become a successful promoter.

Best advice to offer
Pay attention. When you think it's a good deal, think again. The only bad deal is the deal you make, so go back to the first two statements and review them before making an offer.

Most memorable industry experiences
The first time I worked with Bill Cosby in Toledo, Ohio, and I didn't know what to expect. I was told that Bill liked eating Tony Packo's hotdogs, which was located in downtown Toledo. I called Tony up and asked him to set up a picnic table in the dressing room with all the hotdogs and toppings. It was also during football season so I rented a 50-inch flat screen so Bill could see the games. In between performances Bill and I ate hotdogs and watched football together like some old buds. We shared many laughs that day and that was the start of many shows to come.

What friends would be surprised to learn about you
When I was eight years old growing up in Queens, N.Y. There was a group of us that had big dreams in music especially when the Beatles hit America. We became the Fab Four and lip sank to Beatles songs in my friend Danny's garage. Danny's nickname was Cheaty, so we decided to call his three-car garage Cheaty's Lounge. We advertised to the neighborhood, and on Saturday afternoons we became the Beatles for a 5-cent admission. I've to tell you we drew 20-30 people every show.

Thirty years later, through a funeral my sister attended, she placed me back in contact with that same group of guys. We all met back in our old stomping grounds and talked about old times. They were amazed that I'd made it in the music business working with big name entertainers and living the dreams from our childhood. Now I'm 53, and I won't give it up for anything.

If I wasn't doing this, I would be...
…fishing and enjoying my seven grandchildren.

Industry mentors
Bill Graham, John Scher, and my close friend, Carl Freed.

John can be reached at: (856) 773-1054; e-mail: john@jnpconcerts.com

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