Industry Spotlight: Don’t Worry, Be Nappi
While there’s nobility to be found in and reverence to be felt for all manner of occupations, fields and trades and means by which we support ourselves and loved ones, the unique charge that comes from speaking with someone truly happy in their work cannot be understated.
One such person is clearly Tommy Nappi, Senior Vice President of Promotion, RRP/Atlantic Records. With a nice guys finish first resume boasting the likes of Madonna, John Mellencamp, and now Kelly Clarkson as office mates, Nappi’s Mt. Rushmore career trajectory is a template to be reckoned with. Before tackling his own history, Nappi was thrilled to share the Kelly Clarkson scoop. “It’s really, really exciting. She’s a wonderful person. Anybody you speak to in the business, in the industry, has nothing but great things to say about her. She’s a hard worker and it obviously is going to be a major priority for us here and I’m looking forward to the challenge and working it and really getting in the trenches and hopefully putting her on the map again as is so deserved.”
We were thrilled, meanwhile, for the chance to hear the some of the secrets of his success, not least of which stem (not surprisingly for a hard-working lad) from his folks.
“When I was 15 years old my dad bought me DJ equipment. I wanted to be a DJ. That’s how I started. My dad was a salesman and had nothing to do with music, but he was very passionate about music. We always had music in our family, in our house, you know playing the drums, you name it. Always had music on. So when I was 15, he buys me the stuff, and– cut to the chase, I end up a few weeks later DJing a party for $50, a sweet 16. I couldn’t even drive to the gig! My dad had to drive me, drop me off. The house ended up really liking me- they’re like ‘Kid, what are ya doin’ next Saturday? We got another party in here. We’d love to use ya- how much ya want?’ I said ‘50 dollars.’ They said ‘We’ll pay you $75. Be here at 7 o’clock.’”
With an infectious chuckle, Nappi graciously and gratefully reflects on the path that took him for mobile DJ to club DJ to radio DJ to VP (at times, all concurrently). “I was ranked in the top 100 club DJ’s where I was a reporter to Billboard magazine which takes the best 100 DJ’s that they consider are out there playing, and I was working 6 or 7 nights a week. It was my main source of income, being a club DJ. So, at that point I started a production company. I wrote and produced some songs that were out there.”
It was the fateful connection with Billboard that led to Tommy’s gig at Polydor, where he ran the dance department, and subsequently served as the New York regional for Mercury. (“I went on the interview and was pretty much a wiseass and they called me back the next day and offered me the job (laughs) and I took it!”)
Lesson being, boys and girls? Be yourself. For Tommy, being yourself has led to a myriad of surreal experiences during the arc of his career, notably he mentions a Deftones show “where I hafta meet Madonna outside the club and then go and physically watch the show with her. You’re like looking at yourself like…I’m with Madonna right now watching The Deftones as there’s a mosh pit going on and people are killing each other out there. It’s things like that that. The memories are amazing.” (Did we mention Nappi’s 7 years running promotion for Madonna’s Maverick Records? That preceded his time at Sony where he ran Top 40 for Epic for about 7 years, moving on to Universal subsequently before planting his feet at Warner Music Group. (“That’s the Reader’s Digest version.”)
And quite a ride it’s been. He’s a grateful traveler and quick to vocalize the gratitude. “I have to thank my dad because he so much instilled music in our lives. My brother right now to this day is a mobile DJ and he basically took my business over and now he has a huge successful mobile DJ business. So, I thank my father for what he did for my brother and I… Look, I was in the music business when he was alive, but, I know he’s smiling up there because it was his passion that drove us to do what we do.”
A father himself, Nappi joyfully shares a recent memory of bringing his daughter to see Kinky Boots, featuring Brendon from Panic At The Disco “My daughter’s been a huge Panic at the Disco fan and I took her to the show and he was amaaazing. The show gets done and we’re gonna go backstage. I didn’t tell my daughter any of this and 5 minutes after the show, we’re literally on the stage. She looked at me and said ‘Dad, we’re on stage right now.’ (laughs) We go back and we’re in his dressing room and it’s just me, my daughter, and him and, it’s like, things like that you’ll remember your whole life.”
I ask Tommy if he was always nocturnal, if that played a role in his work ethic and the course he charted.
“Oh yeah. I was a worker bee always. When I was 11 years old I had a paper route, would get up at 4:45 a.m., wrap my papers, put ‘em in the bike, fall over the top of the bike because the papers weighed more than me and be on the bus to go to school at quarter to 7.” Eventually, that same drive translated to post-class, pre-gig power naps, to keep him energized spinning club gigs. With music in his heart and mind always, Nappi seems destined for the gig he holds now.
“Working here at Atlantic, they allow our artists to really have vision as to what they wanna do and we just try to fit in, guide it to the level we need to get it to. There’s some great artists I get to work with here and I know I’m lucky and blessed to have that. I have a great team of people I work with. Our field staff is amazing. My boss, John Boulos is unbelievable. Our leadership from the top-Julie Greenwald and Craig Kallman who are the Presidents of Atlantic– they’re the best leaders I’ve ever worked for. It makes it just wonderful to walk into this building and do what we do. Ya can’t do it – nobody does it on their own. This team that they’ve put together, it really is amazing. All the departments are great, they really are.”
Like with like. Given the breadth of understanding Nappi brings to the table, it seems no surprise he’d be surrounded by like minds who understand what it takes to “make” a record…and often that means patience. “I always say this – every day I get up, there should be a smile on my face. Look what I get to do. Here, it’s been amazing. Here at Atlantic, our roster is so loaded and so diverse. It’s been a great run. We’ve had some really, really great things. Like 21 Pilots we’ve been working from the ground up and I remember begging people to come to shows to see them where there were maybe 40 of 50 people in the room and then, you know, as it graduated, maybe a year later we’re playing a bigger venue and a year later we’re playing the next one, and you know this is the last time you’re gonna see ‘em in a room this size. They’re gonna wind up playing Madison Square Garden and Staples Center, all those places.”
Kind of like starting out delivering newspapers and DJ’ing Middle School dances.