You’ve probably been to a small underground show around your campus, where on-campus artists can get a taste of the spotlight and have the opportunity to introduce the greater community to their art. Have you ever thought about the person whose job it is to execute those events? The one organizing every. single. little. thing for the shows to make sure the audience is having a good time, and the talent is getting their music heard by as many people as possible?
Meet Dave Silver, co-founder of REC Philly, a space and community for creatives who want to turn their passion for music into a sustainable career. Dave found his passion for helping local artists while attending Temple University, and since his time there, he’s built a company from the ground up, working with well-known artists such as rock/soul singer Zeek Burse (“The Experience”) & folk artist Rachel Andie.
Dave sat down with me for an interview in Parliament Cafe right beneath the Campus Philly office. Building a brand means you’re always working, but Dave was as welcoming to the idea of sitting down with Campus Philly as ever. That’s because, as he’ll explain, Campus Philly had a hand in beginning his journey…
I thought it would be important to start with my relationship to Campus Philly, because it actually predates my company and I don’t know where I would be otherwise. When I was still at Temple, Campus Philly was hosting a Tech Crawl event (six years ago) where they were taking us to all the tech offices around the campus.
It was the first event I had really been to with Campus Philly and it was a ton of cool college students and they took us around to a bunch of awesome places, and at the end of the event there was a raffle by [Bentley Systems] for an iPad. I entered the raffle and it just so happened that I won the raffle. I ended up following up with [Bentley Systems] who sponsored the iPad, just to say thank you, and three months later I got a job with them.
I would have never in the world had a job at Bentley Systems otherwise! It was very much a testimony to Campus Philly, because they’re all about getting students connected to jobs through their programming. This was before I did any music, any company, or anything—I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and here I am, I found a job that paid me full-time, and I didn’t have to stress about the end of college or the transition out of college.
It was right at the point that I started throwing shows, so it gave me the financial stability I needed.
Tell us about REC Philly. What is REC Philly’s mission?
When my business partner and I, Will Toms, started our first company, it was not called REC; it was called Broad Street Music Group. That was the specific business that we started after I got my first job. It was all about throwing shows for local artists and musicians. At first it was just for our friends to have a stage, but immediately when we opened it to the public it was like a floodgate of dozens and dozens of artists pouring into my email saying, “Hey, how do I perform?”
We went from college basements to dive bars in the city, then the dive bars turned into regular small venues, then regular small venues turned into medium venues, and the rest is history. It was all for helping artists, [and] getting that spark going.
We were throwing shows under that Broad Street Music brand for over two years. All these artists after the shows were like “Hey, can you manage me or shoot our video or get me on a blog or…” and I would have to tell them we just throw shows. Our favorite artist that we were booking ended up actually leaving Philadelphia. I eventually started asking them why, and they told me there were more resources and better opportunities elsewhere—but from my small time in booking these shows, I knew the resources were in Philadelphia. So I said, “Let me see what I can do to try to pull these resources together.”
“Failing and giving up are obviously two different things.”
Once we realized there was more of an impact that could be had in Philadelphia’s music community—that there was something more special here—we decided to shut down Broad Street Music. Will and I decided together to launch this new company, which was REC, where we could help these artists by doing more than just throwing events.
We started acting as this hub for artists saying “Hey, if you need something, we’ll connect you. We might even produce an event or two and shoot a couple of videos as well.’” We created a hub of partnerships with all these different businesses around the city that do work for artists where they’ll give us discounts on their services if artists come through us to use them.
We realized that this ‘map’ of services was great, but we were going to have to prove it worked. The first thing we did under the REC brand was launch this sort of indie label representing a handful of artists that we found and put them through this community map.
Then comes our first failure as a company, which was a Kickstarter campaign to raise money. The Kickstarter campaign failed. We ended up losing $8,000, and that was the biggest learning lesson. There were two ways to going about it—either we fail and give up (because failing and giving up are obviously two different things) or walk into that meeting and say “Hey guys, that didn’t work, we’re moving forward.”
That was around the time we started building a brand for ourselves, and businesses started reaching out to us and asking to book artists for them for events. That’s how we’ve been able to be sustainable up to this point. We started building our brand, bringing in focus groups to figure out what the artists needed, and working on the idea of a shared space and web of resources that these artists could subscribe to.
What is your day-to-day work life like? What excites you most about your career?
It’s a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. job on an average day, and then there are the 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. days which are not too infrequent. I spend a lot more of those 18-hour days when I first started, which I thought was just the ‘no sleep’ idea of entrepreneurship. Of course you have to do it at some point, but as I got out of that early stage I realized I wouldn’t survive. Now I make sure to eat dinner and get at least seven hours of sleep. It’s good to not be subscribed to that twenty hours a day work lifestyle all the time.
What excites me most is working with the artists. I’ll work my butt off for months, and seeing them take the stage or wherever else this opportunity leads them is very much the rewarding part of this whole thing. The fact that helping them grow their opportunities helps us grow as a business gets me excited.
What was your major at Temple University? How has your academic career prepared you for your professional career?
I studied advertising and entrepreneurship and I use my major every day. Advertising may not seem like exactly what I do, but advertising is all about sales, and everything I do has some sort of sales component to it whether it’s for the artists or for the businesses. And obviously, entrepreneurship speaks for itself.
Honestly, the projects that I had to execute as a student in college really inspired me to do what I’m doing now, specifically my capstone advertising project. I was the account manager for the 9th Annual Temple University Advertising Awards, and it was usually about fifty people in a small room – very basic. Never was sponsorship raised, never was a bigger room had, never was there entertainment booked; it was just like a basic ceremony. I decided to take it up to a totally different level.
I booked one of the largest rooms at Temple, I booked a band, I had a whole backdrop and buffet! I raised $4,000 in sponsorship, which was never done before. I didn’t think twice about anything, I just thought what should it be? That mindset alone helped build this business.
“It’s possible to create something from nothing.”
Were there any clubs or organizations you were involved with in college that you feel help you in your career today?
One, in particular, that really changed my way of thinking was a student-created organization called Media Meltdown. It was this cool media company just starting out on campus that would produce and throw events. It was just two students putting it together and I applied to help be head of advertising.
The reason that it helped me the most is I realized how much we can do ourselves. The organization was just something these two women, still in school and my age, were like, “There’s a need for this and we have the resources to create it.” It was just really inspiring to watch that grow and be a part of it in any kind of capacity.
Coming out of college is a culture shock to most students. Can you tell us about your experience transitioning from college to the real world?
It was getting scary coming to the end of senior year without a job. I was going and applying for jobs I’d find online that were just so terrible. There was this marketing position at this horrible company that sent me to New York for the day to test me out on the job and I was going door-to-door in Brooklyn in 15-degree weather selling cable.
That was a really big awakening moment. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I just kept looking and then ended up getting a job offer from a Bentley Systems which made the transition out of college smooth.
“I knew nothing other than how to use my time efficiently.”
My advice I’ll give is that I had three internships at any given time, plus being at school, plus having a part-time job. I was literally doing seven to eight things at once, balancing my schedule, having no time for anything besides what I signed up for. That’s what helped me transition because I knew nothing other than how to use my time efficiently. I kept all my schedule in a journal out of necessity. If I didn’t write everything down and check it off, I would get lost.
What about Philly made you want to stay and work in the area? What is your favorite part of having a career in Philly?
The artists have really kept me here for the most part. The talent has captured my heart. The reason that I’ve had success in Philly is the accessibility to bigger resources. When I was twenty years old, I was able to get a meeting with the head of entrepreneurship at Comcast, and for her to just listen to me was amazing. That doesn’t happen in a lot of cities. I could go to events in Philly and see a big community of people who just want to help other people. Philadelphia is one of the tops when it comes to access to higher-end resources.
To take anything to the next phase, you usually need to tap into other people’s resources, whether it’s funding or space. Having a city where that support is there— local, business, or city support—is amazing. It’s all at the other end of an email. I don’t think there’s a city you can make a real impact on like Philly. You can create an event that really rocks the city and everyone chats about.
“Networking and creating relationships are different things.”
How do you build your professional network? How does connecting with others help you in your career?
The biggest thing for my success in building a strong relationship network, because networking and creating relationships are different things, is following up with people and meeting with them with no personal agenda. I spent all my time doing that. I would just get lunch with people that I’ve met and learn how I could help them.
“The people who have helped me the most are people who couldn’t help me…”
There are a lot of people in this network that I’ve never asked anything from, I just followed up with genuine interest about having a relationship with them. The people who have helped me the most are people who couldn’t help me, so they introduced me to someone else. That’s vital!
If you could offer one piece of advice to a college freshman, what would it be?
Go out there. Do five internships, join ten organizations, and challenge yourself academically. I soared through school doing the least amount I could do academically, and I struggle because of it. I don’t know a lot of business things that I should know. Instead of challenging myself academically, I challenged myself professionally, which got me to where I am. However, I don’t know a lot of academic things that I have to rely on other people for.
As a freshman, just get out there and get organized.
If you could offer one piece of advice to a college senior who is soon to graduate, what would you tell them?
If you want something from someone, send them an email, nine times out of ten they won’t answer that email—nine times out of ten you won’t follow up with them either. Follow up is key! People are busy, but anyone that follows up with me, even for the small things, I’ll meet with them. It shows that it wasn’t a part of some template email—it shows that they thought about me again, realized I didn’t answer, found the email, and went back to it.
One last thing: Don’t forget to smile, even when you’re not happy. No one wants to help the grumpy dude.
REC is an ecosystem that exists to empower independent creators to do more of what they love. Part creative incubator, part creative agency, REC is a physical space, digital application, and creator community designed and dedicated to providing its members with the resources, education & opportunities to build sustainable & scalable businesses around their talent. Book a tour to see their new space today, located on 9th & Market Street.
David Silver, a Temple (2013) graduate, is the founder of REC Philly, a company that provides resources to up-and-coming artists & creative entrepreneurs. His organization, which Forbes Magazine called “a WeWork for Artists,” now operates a 6-room creative facility in North Philly with a membership program that has over 250 active creators. Silver is also the lead organizer of Amplify Philly, which represents the city’s growing startup & arts communities at the South By Southwest (SXSW) conference for the past four years. Silver was named “30 Under 30” by Philly’s BOOM 103.9fm radio station – and was also named “Who’s Next in Music” by Billy Penn. Silver is a proud son, brother, and uncle.