There are very few people in the music industry that know how to bring artists together. Cary Vance is one of those people.
Cary Vance, aka Mr. Dance, is a pioneer in the music promotion scene, a master in his craft for the last 33 years. He helped to develop and nurture the careers of many great artists such as Paula Abdul, Lenny Kravitz, The Spice Girls, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Mariah Carey.
As a President of Promo Only Promotions Cary has been also involved with the promotion and marketing campaigns behind Beyonce, Calvin Harris, Avicii, The Chainsmokers, Swedish House Mafia, David Guetta, Deadmau5, DJ Snake, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and many more.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Vance when he broke down his journey and some lessons for aspiring artists trying to enter the music industry. He told me,
“I was a DJ, producer, remixer, so my whole life has been pretty much devoted to dance music. I grew up in Brooklyn, started DJing in the very late 70s, when you would play everything. It didn’t matter if it was Hip-Hop or R&B or Dance Music, you’d just sit there and play it. There were no labels and no boundaries.“
Vance’s passion for music came from his family. His father, who was part of the group called Jay & the Americans, became renowned for hits like “Cara Mia” and “This Magic Moment.” His mother had worked for a number of record labels and executives, such as Elton John and Barry Manilow, so it’s always been in his blood.
“I didn’t play an instrument, though. I had started DJing when I was 14 years old, and I went to college I wanted to be a radio personality, which got me involved in the WBCR college radio station.”
Vance then went on to take a job at a record store, which opened him up to a number of networking opportunities in the industry.
“Cory Robbins, who I profiled at the time, had said to me ‘you should probably work at a record store’, and it was a record shop in the village called Vinyl Mania Records. It was where every DJ went to shop because it was right around the corner from the Paradise Garage, where Larry Levan was DJing. When the night would end…, everybody would come out of the Paradise Garage and just stop into Vinyl Mania and buy whatever the big record Larry was playing. So it gave me a great opportunity to network and meet all kinds of DJs and producers.”
The then owner of the establishment started looking into starting his own record label, which gave Vance his first “big break” in the industry. He said that during this time he was “Pretty much running everything — marketing, promotion, helping to sign records.”
Through all the adventures as a young entrepreneur, Vance always did his best to help others climb in the industry, introducing new sounds and talents. Vance explains,
“Knowing that I can play a role into helping establish artists motivates me the most. I think if you were to talk to Krewella, when they first came to [Promo Only], they were known, but not to the level they are now…this event gave them the exposure to take it to the next level. I think Cash Cash would say a similar thing. So that’s a great thing when someone’s here and six months later, everybody knows them. It’s a place where artists can come back and say thank you to the radio community or the DJ community, and they love coming back and networking… Markus Schulz is a perfect example of that.”
Mr. Dance specializes in creating “right time, right place” settings for artists.
“Zack Martino last year…we did an event up in the suite with Galantis, Alan Walker, Tritonal…and Zack was like, ‘Hey do you mind if I play a song?’…he played it for a room full of DJs and radio programmers and he became, you know, the smash record. So that kind of stuff is great, where you just never know who’s going to be tomorrow’s star.”
Vance has done a lot to provide a platform of expression for many talented artists. Promo Only Summer Sessions, an event created by Mr. Dance himself, hosts a range of artists and gives them the opportunity to connect with the radio in a way that is completely new. The event brings together the new and old school technique to create a unique music culture.
In the event’s first year of production, it started as a dinner hosting around 25 people. By its third year, that number had tripled.
“I realized that it was starting to cost a lot of money to do a thing of that size in Atlantic City. So I went to some of the labels and I asked [if they would chip in]…the labels said yes. The following event, we had a big lunch with labels and artists coming in to just talk…by the fifth year, we said, ‘Let’s turn it into a full-fledged event – not just a dinner and a breakfast’…and that’s how Summer Sessions got created.”
But this isn’t how Mr. Dance came to play. He has seen an opportunity for connection between radio and the artists that audiences want, long before Summer Sessions were born.
Vance is moving music to the future and has a lot to say for those entering the industry. Mr. Dance’s advise, especially for younger people, is to “learn how to let go.”
“Learn how to let people help you and delegate,” he explains, “because it does become really stressful if you want to do everything.”
His second piece of advice? Avoid one simple three-letter word.
“There’s a three-letter word in [the music industry], that people who know me have heard me talk about, that if you have it it can really just destroy your career, and that’s ego. In this business, you can’t really have one. You need to check it at the door, treat everybody the way you wanna be treated, and talk to everybody, because you just don’t know where you’re gonna be tomorrow, and you just don’t know where that person’s gonna be tomorrow.”
Vance is a man pathing the way for a new generation of both old-school and new-time vibes. He’s seen the industry’s past, and now, he’s building its future, one talent at a time.