Making it in the entertainment industry is difficult. And being an entrepreneur in the entertainment industry can be especially challenging. Claude Zdanow understands all of these challenges and will share some insight into what it is like to build a very successful business in the music industry.
Claude Zdanow is the Founder of Stadiumred, Inc. and serves as its Chief Executive Officer. Zdanow’s entrepreneurial experience began with his first business, RockIT Studios, a recording studio that he started while in High School. After graduating, he moved to New York City to attend college, where he worked as a composer for TV and in event promotions. Shortly after, he was approached with an opportunity to tour the country as the bass player for Patent Pending
Q. Welcome to StartUp Mindset, Claude. We’re excited to have you here. For the readers who are not familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself and your entrepreneurship background?
Thanks for having me! My name is Claude Zdanow, I am a global entrepreneur, investor and growth agent. I am the Founder and CEO of Stadiumred Group, a marketing and communications holding company, which owns and operates agencies in the United States and Amsterdam. Responsible for growing the Stadiumred brand from its first business Stadiumred Studios (associated with 30 Grammy Nominated Projects and 22 Awards) to now a powerhouse in the marketing and advertising world, my passion lies in helping effect positive change in all those with whom I work with. Passionate about music at a young age, music has and always will be a part of my career. I am steering further away from the production side and now more the business strategy with various lifestyle brands. It’s an exciting time for Stadiumred Group as we introduce new investors to our team and in the process of acquiring various companies.
Q. You started your entrepreneurship career at a young age. What kind of challenges did you face while building RockIT Studios?
Well in fairness, I started this business out of just an opportunity and I was running it out of my parents business; so, not having any rent was fun haha. In all seriousness, I was in a band that had a lot of other bands on long island that looked up to us or liked the music we made. As a result, they wanted to record where my band was recording, which happened to be a studio I set up in my parents’ basement; and so, RockIT Studios was born. I never had any idea that I would record as many bands as I did. I will say that it is funny to think that one of my favorite and most acclaimed records I ever worked on then was by The Dear Hunter and they found me on Myspace. Yes, Myspace if anyone still knows that is anymore.
Q. You used to be a part of a band. What’s one of the craziest or most memorable stories you have living life “on the road”?
There really are so many amazing memories I have living “on the road”. I think my answer would be less crazy and more about a funny lesson. When I first left for a 3-month tour, I had SO many suitcases and big bags. In my head, I thought it made sense because I would be gone for so long. I remember it like it was yesterday, when the rest of the band who had toured before arrived to pick me up, they all started laughing. I didn’t get it at the time, but not only do you not need that much stuff to survive on the road, we basically wore the same stuff every day and would have everything washed weekly, but we literally were in different hotels and places every day. Lugging that stuff around on top of our equipment was insane. Needless to say, I ended up shipping most of everything home and ended up spending the next 3 months touring with a carry on suitcase. To this day, that has been so helpful in learning how to carry light and travel smart.
Q. How much of your success do you attribute to luck, connections, and hard work?
I think luck, as they say, is where preparation meets opportunity. I really do believe that. However, there is something to be said about putting positive energy into the world and visualizing where you want to go as well. In general, I think it all is mostly hard work with an element of humility and a desire to learn. Connections are so important, but it takes hard work to nurture those relationships, learn and grow with them, and then knowing how to capitalize on them. I’d say that hard work is at the center of everything with a true openness and willingness to always be learning and trying to be better. The rest follows.
Q. Stadiumred Studios has been involved in some excellent projects. The company has worked on several Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated projects including Eminem’s Recovery, Drake’s Thank Me Later and Steven MacKey’s Dreamhouse. 30 nominations and 22 wins in total. Is there a project or accomplishment that you your company achieved that you are most proud of?
They were honestly all great; each project had its own flare that made it so great to work on and be a part of. To be clear, we were associated with the projects in various ways. Sometimes people think I was in the room for every session, but, of course, that would’ve been impossible. I was fortunate enough to have some really great people who believed in me and Stadiumred Studios at the time, and many of those projects came from them or were a result of their hard work in our studios. I can never take that away. In terms of most proud of, I was proud of so many of the projects we worked on, but if I had to choose I would say one of my favorite projects was actually with the San Francisco Symphony with Tom Lazarus Engineering and David Frost producing. It was the first 7.1 surround sound mix we had ever done in the studio and it was one of the coolest first projects we ever did there. I have a soft spot in my heart for classical music and we were fortunate to do a lot of classical projects.
Q. What are some of the sacrifices you had to make in order to get to where you are today?
WOW, so many. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it better than when someone told me that the commonality between great entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, is that the business always comes first. Before relationships, before friendships, before your own well being. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that’s a sustainable way of living a life, but it speaks to the sacrifices and commitment one has to make. That combined with failing. My good friend Ben Kaufman used to preach the idea of “failing well”. I never really understood it then, but if you always are winning you either aren’t trying hard enough or you are some sort of unicorn.
Anyone who has been successful can tell you the times they’ve screwed up. I’ve had many, many of them. I’d say mostly attributed to what also makes me successful. What I mean by that is that I am incredibly optimistic and passionate about doing big things and grand ideas. However, that doesn’t always mean they have to happen right then and there. Timing is everything as much as calculated decision making. To be blunt, I’ve lost family, friends, and almost more over my career in business and that’s not because I didn’t cherish those people or care for them, but its because the bigger mission and vision had to come first. That’s what it takes to build something bigger. I’ve spent a lot of years trying to repair relationships that have been hurt by that, but at the end of the day, you can’t regret any of it because every bit of it has been a lesson.
Q. What are some best practices when navigating the challenging landscape of an M&A’s (strategy, cultural alignment, etc.)?
That’s a really good question and I can’t say that I’m an expert by any means as of yet. That said, I think the biggest challenge is founder alignment. All the deals that we are doing are with great founders who are staying onboard to lead their companies. As such, you need to make sure that those founders can really work well with the greater leadership team. That’s the key because at the end of the day it will never be perfect and there will always be challenges; so, making sure the people work right is the most important thing.
Q. What is it like to have worked with such a wide range of talents and how have those relationships impacted the rest of your career?
I think my best story of a wide range of talents goes back to when a band called Thursday and a hip-hop artist named Mims was in the studios. They walked out of other rooms and were so incredibly excited to meet each other, as they were big fans of each other’s work. People don’t realize, but at the end of the day creatives are creatives and as Jay Z would say “real recognize real”. Artists have such a bond and mutual respect that is incredible.
In terms of success, I’ve said this so many times. Talent is a small fraction of the equation. Whether it was Drake, Avicii, Kiesza, The Chainsmokers and many more who came through our doors before anyone knew who they were, they all worked for it. They understood music is entertainment. It’s not just about what you feel and want to put out into the world, but that it requires an incredible amount of hard work. When I used to manage artists I would always tell them that if they weren’t working 10x harder then me on their own careers, they wouldn’t be working hard enough. Music is a tough business and there is a reason why few and far between actually become superstars.
Q. What qualities have you found to make it or break it in the entertainment industry as well as in entrepreneurship?
Perseverance and hard work. Period. No one will ever understand what you go through to be successful and there will be a million things trying to knock you down. Plus, no matter how many things you think you know or have under control, you can never catch everything. I’m still always learning, but I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t persevered and kept at it.
Q. What’s some advice you would give to entrepreneurs just starting out? How can your story inspire others to take risks and step outside their comfort zone / explore other industries?
I think my biggest piece of advice would be to set an ostentatious goal, but then focus on the steps in front of you. It’s not about having a straight line to get there, but it is about taking the first step.
I don’t think any entrepreneur would say they would have known they would be where they are today so many years ago. Building a business is about taking punches, moving left or right, hitting back, and then seeing where you land. Then you figure out where to go from there. I look at much of my life as an organic progression and because it is your life, there will always be a string and connection between all the things you’ve done and how they have helped get you to where you are. Bottomline is, you just have to go out and do it. The rest will fall into place if you have perseverance, if you are humble, and you surround yourself with people who are smarter and more successful than you because let me tell you something, there always is someone smarter and/or more successful than you.
Claude Zdanow is a global entrepreneur, investor, enterprise growth agent and speaker. What first started as Stadiumred Studios, of which he was the founder and CEO, has since expanded to Stadiumred Group, the holding company for multiple successful businesses within the Stadiumred brand. These include Stadiumred Music Publishing, Stadiumred Life & Stadiumred Europe. He is one of the youngest music, media, and marketing authorities in the world and also notably helped launch the careers of America’s favorite DJ duo, The Chainsmokers as their original manager. Connect with him on Twitter at @claudezdanow.