By Mollie Eisler | May 5, 2023
Joe Kelley knows what’s hot, well before the rest of us. The Massachusetts-bred founder, music manager, PR wizard, and community builder is always at the forefront of the latest music trends, industry news, and emerging talent. Joe got his start in the industry as Executive Producer and host of BalconyTV before leading Billboard’s artist relations department. Joe has an ear for great talent, and since the pandemic, has put that skill to the test by starting his own music management firm, BLCKJEANS MGMT, which is focused on discovering and developing indie bands. He currently reps The Backfires (peep our interview with them to learn more) and House of Harm. He also founded and hosts a monthly music meetup and new artist discovery series at Ludlow House called Industry Nights. When we attended the March event, it was evident that Joe knows how to bring the right people together and curate a vibe that will keep you coming back for more. Joe’s just as focused on building community as he is in giving back and has also worked with non-profit organizations like WithOthers and Children in Conflict creating impactful events through music. Joe’s impact on the industry will surely be a lasting one, and we can’t wait to hear what’s next from him.
We caught up with Joe following March’s Industry Night, where he answered a few questions for the groovement:
What was the first concert you attended?
This is honestly my favorite question to be asked, this or what was your AIM screen name. Both answers make me feel cool. When I was in 5th grade, my dad brought me to see The Smashing Pumpkins on the Melon Collie & Infinite Sadness tour. I had already owned a SP t-shirt with the album art on it, but at the show, I got an official ZERO shirt, and I wore it under my school uniform everyday for a very very long time. Also, Garbage opened that tour, and I remember thinking, Shirley Manson was beyond cool. I’ve since had the chance to meet both Billy Corgan & Shirley and tell them this story. Pretty full circle moment for me.
Where are you from/when did you move to nyc?
I’m originally from Revere, MA which is one of the cities that borders Boston. Home of the USA’s first public beach (fun fact). I went to Umass Amherst and moved to NYC shortly after my graduation in 2010.
What do you do?
I’ve been in the industry for a while now, mainly focused on music media ie: Billboard, BalconyTV, but post-Covid, I made a transition into music management. I’m currently the founder of BLCKJEANS MGMT, which is a small boutique music management firm focusing on discovering and developing indie artists/bands. My current roster includes NYC-based Transatlantic four-piece, The Backfires, and House of Harm, an electro/punk trio from Boston.
I also am the founder and host of Industry Nights, a monthly music meet-up and new artist discovery series hosted at Ludlow House each month.
Who/what do you draw inspiration from?
As an industry professional, I draw most of my inspiration from artists and industry icons who challenge/d the norms and fought back against the typical “industry standard” messaging that was so prominent in the business for so long. I love when an artist says they had to push for a song to be on an album, and it’s the song that blows up, or seeing outside of the box creative marketing move the needle for a release. I’m a nerd like that.
Also, Robert Smith.
What does live music mean to you?
Everything. Since I was a kid, I also loved going to concerts (as you can see in my response to question 1). Once I moved to NYC and broke into the music industry, I became a fixture at many of the downtown and Brooklyn clubs and venues. Back then, I would go to countless shows a week, often bouncing around to multiple shows a night. I am old now, kinda, so I’m not out as much, but I’m still seeing shows frequently. I have a passion for discovering cool new bands that I can get behind and follow their journey. I’ve seen a bunch of bands and artists progress from small clubs to arenas in my career. That’s cool to me.
Also, I do miss the DIY days of NYC especially in the Williamsburg area. Back in the early 2010s it was a pretty inspiring place for bands and music lovers to be. Venues like Glasslands, Cameo, Death by Audio, and more had daily line ups of what we would consider huge indie acts now. A sort of “Meet Me in the Bathroom” for folks like me.
Tell us about the music you make and your journey as an artist.
Well I’m not a musician anymore, but if you want to hear about Better Left Unsaid, my emo band from high school, you’re going to need to get me real drunk first.