Jonathan Molock: Making it in the music business

MD_Jonathan Molock interview_on stage 2x

Jonathan laughs when he remembers getting caught sitting at Billy Joel’s piano.

Cambridge-born concert producer talks about being “in the business”

Hip-hop, rap, rock & roll. Country Music awards, the Grammys. Being on the road, on tour. It all sounds like a dream come true for the young and ambitious. What would it be like to “make it” in the music business? Bumping elbows with all the bands, being at all the local concerts — it sounds like a great time; but how many people actually get there?

Well, here in Cambridge we have our own local music celebrity, of sorts; someone who has made it into the music business and is living the life. Jonathan Molock took his high school music accomplishments and pushed them into a career. We recently had a chance to meet and talk to him as he was working on Beyoncé’s Formation tour stop in Baltimore.

Jonathan was born May 12, 1971 and he was raised in Cambridge, right on historic Pine Street. He graduated from Cambridge-South Dorchester High in 1989. During his school career, he was a drummer and a saxophonist in the Cambridge-South Dorchester marching, concert and Jazz bands under the direction of Mr. Batson. He was awarded a music scholarship to Norfolk State University, where he finished with a degree in business management with a minor in music education.

Jonathan knew he wanted to do something with music after school, and though he liked making music, but more appealing to him was the production and promotion side, and that’s where he gravitated.

“I started as an intern for a company called, “High Secrecy,” and we pretty much did street marketing, and we did retail marketing,” he told us. “A position came up in Sony Music, and somebody told me to apply for it. I went to the interview, saw what was going on, and I said, ‘No way.’ The guy said, ‘I have probably got about a 150 people to interview.’

“I just got a call, and that was it. They wanted me to work on the urban side. I started out with groups like the Fugees, Maxwell, Lauren Hill, a group called The Goodie Mob, and they wanted to see what I could do with those groups, in regard to marketing, in DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia.”

Jonathan attacked his job with a believer’s zeal, and found he had a natural talent to make things happen.

“I started in Marketing and promotions. I had just about a 100 or so record stores, and probably 20 or so radio stations, that I used to go in and market various artists. I used to deal with that, and then what ended up happening, all of those groups went multi-platinum. After that, they started to assign me different projects.”

Everything would have been rosy, if Jonathan hadn’t come along just in time to witness the death of the record business.
“Yes, and of course the business took a turn,” he told us. “I said to myself, ‘Hey, if I am going to stay in this business, the business is going south, so I better learn how to do something else.’ That is when I got into the production part of it.”
When the big record stores started closing, Jonathan heard the call and he was ready to change careers. But how do you switch from promotion to production, we asked him. Isn’t there a lot to learn? And how?

I learned some of it through the union, as well as taking classes, and things of that nature. I learned lighting, sound, video … You know, whatever I could learn, and then eventually I worked for several different companies. At first, I pretty much honed my skills, and then I decided to start my own thing. That came from a guy over at Live Nation. We just had a conversation, and he said, ‘You know, you are out doing all the work anyway, you might as well just start your own business,’ and that is what I did.”
From that, his current company, the Jonathan Molock Agency, was born. So what does the production side consist of, we ask, and Johnathan laughs.

“Pretty much everything,” he tells us. “I am given a budget from various entities; Live Nation, AGLive … private clients, such as Gray Bull Media, and out of that I put the show together. I am currently working on putting together the African American Festivals, for Fourth of July. I pretty much coordinate anything to do with production. I work back and forth with various stage production managers, to make sure that their stuff is correct. I raise the sound, lighting, video, staging, you name it, for the most part. My interest was back-line at the beginning, and then I got into audio, and that became my area of interest, and then I eventually moved on to lighting, and video, and all of that stuff.”

“I had a studio job at one time. I couldn’t do it. That was the position that I couldn’t handle. I had a job, at that particular time, over at the Hit Shack, and all of the big stars used to record in there. I stayed there a few months, and I said, ‘Nah, I really can’t. I can’t do this.’ I wanted to be out and about.”

That means that Jonathan is back stage at every one of his concerts, keeping everything moving, hearing all that music and making a fine life of it. To a lot of young kids it would sound like the dream job of all time, but how would Mr. Molock recommend anyone get into the music production business?

“I would say, first, for starters, definitely network. Years ago, the business was about who you know. Now it is more ‘so who knows you?’, for the most part, so that would be the first part: Just get out, and network.

“The second part of it, is get as much education as you can, in regard to whatever you want to hone your skills. You know, some people just like to do lighting, some people like to do back-line, which is just setting up the instruments, and things of that nature. Some people are great audio guys, so find out where you fit in, and then once you fit in, and get really great with that, I would suggest that you try to learn as much as you can about any other area. That would put you in a position to go into being a production manager, as well as tour management.”

Talking to Jonathan made me remember a friend who got a job as a member of the production crew with Lyle Lovett. My friend toured with Lyle about six months, and he couldn’t take it. The travel was constant, the work was non-stop, and when the band is on the stage, if you have got any sense, you are asleep somewhere — which this guy didn’t understand until he was used up. I asked about the real work side of the business.

“It is an intense situation with touring. You lose a lot of family time. A lot of people think it is a glamorous job, but you are pretty much working about 15 to 16 hours per day, and you are pretty much doing the same show every day, in a different city. Like you said, you’re on the bus, you know. You get off the bus at about eight o’clock in the morning, and you get back on probably around 2 a.m., or so. You take a shower, and you get back on the bus, and it’s the next city. By the time you wake up, it’s another show, and another show, and another. At the same time, you get a call from home saying, ‘Hey, I am having a barbecue this weekend, and I would really love for you to come, but…’ It is a huge sacrifice. A huge sacrifice.”

We asked if Jonathan had any funny stories from life on the road.

“I have worked with Billy Joel, that was interesting. I thought he was going to be a really, really stuck up guy, and he was probably the nicest guy that you could meet. I was actually sitting at his piano, and I had just finished working with the (piano) tuner, and Billy came out, and said, “Man, what are you doing? You must be playing something.” He said, “No, what are you doing sitting at my piano?” You know, so that joke kind of went from there. Yeah, that was probably the funniest story; He caught me sitting at his piano. I actually have a picture of that on Facebook.

“I have done several events with the Hyatt, too, in Cambridge. The last time I was there, I was with the President, Barack Obama.” You can’t get any cooler than that.

We asked Jonathan about his connection with Cambridge.

“Once again, a lot of people who know me, they know that I am about reaching back to the community, and grabbing people, and employing people. Actually, I am going to be employing some people on the Beyoncé show. I sure do. I have reached out to people in Salisbury also, and I bring them out to do various shows. I am definitely about reaching back in the community, and grabbing these friends, and anybody willing to come out and put in a good, hard day’s work.

“My family is from Cambridge, that’s where my mother still stays. I’ve got plenty of friends in Cambridge, that’s my roots.”
With that, we let Jonathan go, back to finishing up the stage for the Beyoncé show, still many hours left in his work day. Is it a dream job? Maybe. Glamorous? Of course. But for Johnathan Molock, it’s what he’s good at. It’s what he does.

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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