Career Spotlight: Dan Green, CEO of SUB CONscious Productions and Co-Owner of 515 Alive
Who are you and what is your background?
My name is Dan Green and I’m a Festival Director and event promoter from Des Moines Iowa. I grew up in Des Moines and received a Finance Degree from Iowa State University. I’ve been a music fanatic my entire life and fell in love with live music events in my early high school years. After attending Wakarusa in 2011, I became very passionate about the music festival culture and the electronic movement that was taking over the U.S.
How did you get to where you are now?
I started getting into electronic music in 2009 after being introduced to acts like Deadmau5, Bassnectar, Zeds Dead, Rusko, etc. After attending the first North Coast Music Festival in 2010, I decided I wanted to take a shot at DJing in hopes of one day playing on big festival stages. I DJ’d at bars and clubs in Ames, where I attended college, and eventually had residencies and a weekly ‘dubstep’ night. That led to playing festival gigs like EDC Chicago, Infrasound Music Festival, Dancefestopia, 80/35, Life in color and other regional fests. When I moved back to Des Moines after college I thought the best way to get into the scene down here was by throwing my own events. So I started doing events at local venues and was also a bartender at one of Des Moines’ nicest venues, Wooly’s. I eventually met the right people that lead me to agents that dealt with national talent and started bringing guys like VibeSquaD, ILL.Gates, Minnesota, Opiuo, etc to Iowa back in early 2012. This snowballed into bringing bigger tours through Iowa with guys like Griz, Eoto, Boombox, The Floozies and more, while strengthening relationships with agents and other industry professionals. It was really after my first show with VibeSquad (first national act I booked) that I knew I wanted to become a full time promoter or work on the backside of the music industry as opposed to DJing. At that time, I was really the only person consistently bringing national electronic acts to Iowa, so when the previous owner of 515 Alive was looking to get out of the game, he said “I was an obvious candidate.” I knew this could be the first step towards a real full time career so Rajan Devan and I partnered up and purchased the rights to 515 Alive in 2013. In four years, we changed it from a 2000 person all-local one day block party to a full scale two day festival with national talent that is expected to attract 15,000 people over two days this year. Aside from 515 Alive we also do a camping festival called Kosmos, a NYE party called ‘Light Up The Night’, a Halloween event called ‘Freak Out’, as well as many tours and shows throughout the year.
“I’m really excited about the future of EDM in Iowa, we are getting bigger acts and a lot more attention compared to five years ago. We’ve become a state that agents want to route their artists through rather than just fly over.”
When did you realize that you wanted a career in the music industry?
When I went to Wakarusa for the first time, I knew that I wanted to somehow be involved in this culture/industry, just wasn’t sure at the time what lane I would end up in. I was just fascinated with how everyone sort of had their own place in what make these events great. When you go to a big festival there are musicians, vendors, promoters, event coordinators, stage managers, sound guys, lighting guys, etc and I knew I wanted to be in the mix somewhere. I wanted to be a part of the magic that people experience at a festival/show. I never really liked working under someone and I always told myself that I would never work a 9-5 job. So when I finally started to understand the event business and promoting I realized that it was something that I could excel at with my skill set.
You grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. Most people wouldn’t consider Des Moines a popular destination for EDM events and festivals. Was there a big EDM culture in Des Moines growing up?
When I was younger I was pretty oblivious to the electronic scene in Des Moines, I was more into metal/hardcore music back then. 515 Alive has been going on for 14 years and attending the event was about my only experience with EDM. There were underground parties happening back then, but I was too young and probably too sheltered to know about them. When I moved back to Des Moines after college a few different groups and promoters were throwing events but no one was really bringing big tours through with national acts. Now we do multiple shows a month in multiple markets with a wide variety of genres; even a little outside of EDM. With events like 515 Alive getting a lot of attention and some of the major tours coming through, Iowa has really changed a lot with it’s electronic music culture. I’m really excited about the future of EDM in Iowa, we are getting bigger acts and a lot more attention compared to five years ago. We’ve become a state that agents want to route their artists through rather than just fly over.
You are the founder/CEO of SUB CONscious Productions, which was founded in 2013 with the main goal of providing top notch concerts and festivals. Can you tell us what you on a daily basis for SUB CON?
SUB CON is basically 100% me, so anything I do whether it’s 515 Alive, Kosmos, etc is all backed by SUB CON. My days can be very different depending on the time of the year. For example in the Fall I’ll be promoting a lot of tours/shows and working on our Halloween party and our NYE party. I spend a lot of time emailing and doing promo on social media as you could imagine. In late fall/early winter I’m booking 515 Alive acts. That just involved emails, emails and more emails working out deals with agents. It’s an exciting part of my job but it can also be brutally frustrating. In the spring, I’m usually working on the planning details of 515 Alive; staging, promoting, lighting, sound, city permits, staffing, etc. That involves a lot of meetings, phone calls, and 10+ hours a day in front of a computer working with all the companies that make 515 Alive happen. When it gets closer to the event I work from about 9am-2am with very few breaks or personal time in between. I’m an owner of 515 Alive but I’m also the designated event director so I handle a good portion of the event’s details. I’m a perfectionist so I have a hard time outsourcing jobs with confidence that they will get done to my liking. That leads me to play more roles in the event than I probably should, but I have no problem working 16 hour days because I love what I do.
You guys throw multiple events and festivals every year. This year 515 Alive, and Kosmos have killer lineups. What is the main difference between these two festivals?
515 Alive is what I would consider a little more mainstream and commercial while Kosmos is a bit on the underground/psychedelic side and is also a camping event. 515 Alive is in the middle of downtown and Kosmos is about 25 minutes from Des Moines in St. Charles Iowa. 515 Alive feels like a big party while Kosmos is a more intimate event that has a tight knit community. We wanted to cover the entire spectrum for electronic music fans and we saw a need for something different than what 515 Alive offers, that’s where Kosmos came in. 515 is our EDC or Ultra and Kosmos is our sonic bloom or infrasound, if you will…
Our friend Jason told me that you guys also support the community with charity events. I think it’s very important for promo/production companies to give back to their community that supports them. Can you tell us a little about what these events entail?
In the past I’ve done events where a percentage of proceeds went to local charities or causes and we are trying to do more of that. With 515 Alive this year, we are releasing a collaborative merch item with Electric Family in which we will donate 100% of the profits to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation for mental health. We also have plans to do something similar with Kosmos. I’ve always wanted to give back to the community and now that we have a foundation to support ourselves, we can start supporting others. My end game includes forming a non-profit organization that focuses on mental-health awareness and acceptance. I’ll get there one day.
“…promoters can and do lose a lot of money on shows. It’s a gamble, 100%. A lot of people are under the impression that you just book a show and make money, that is not the case. I spent the first few years losing all the money I had, and more.”
What are your favorite aspects of your job?
I love being my own boss. It’s rewarding to see success as a result of my own hard work. I also like being able to provide an experience for people that they will never forget. Hearing that ‘515 Alive was the best night of my life’ is one of the main reasons I do this. Life is short, so the fact that what I do can create some incredible memories for people is totally worth the few downsides of the job.
What is your least favorite aspect?
The stress. When working on a job like 515 Alive, stress can build and build. Little things don’t happen the way you want, people don’t come through with their agreements and jobs and things can just go wrong at the worst possible times. There are ups and downs in the music festival business can be extreme, on both sides. It’s honestly a huge risk that myself and my partner take on and some days that’s a lot scarier than others.
What is a part of your work that would surprise others?
This isn’t probably the exact answer the question is looking for but one thing I don’t think most people realize, is that promoters can and do lose a lot of money on shows. It’s a gamble, 100%. A lot of people are under the impression that you just book a show and make money, that is not the case. I spent the first few years losing all the money I had, and more. There are so many variables that have to come together to have a perfect and profitable show, and with electronic music in Iowa…it’s risky.
Is working in the music industry as challenging as many people make it out to be?
I would honestly say yes. For the most part, it’s just a bunch of crazy people like me who are way too obsessed with music. Finding your own path can be very difficult, especially if you live in a place like Iowa, which isn’t exactly an ‘entertainment hub’. There are no real rule books for a lot of the careers in the music industry. It takes a lot of experience that can’t be taught in a classroom. It’s a cutthroat business too, lot of competition and if you can’t handle it, you’re gone. In the beginning I almost gave up on multiple occasions. I remember having a really hard conversation with my partners one fall about how I lost everything I had and I didn’t know what to do. Luckily for me, my parents have been extremely supportive and they told me everything will work itself out, and it did.
If you could change one part about the work you do, what would it be?
I sometimes wish I had a job that I didn’t have to think about 24/7. Like a job where you go to work for 8 hours or whatever and don’t have to think about it after. But I love what I do and I’m grateful that I’m able to do it, so I try not to complain. I could probably be making way more money with my finance degree but that seems so boring to me, I would get nothing out of it personally.
Do you have any advice for those trying to find a career path in the music realm?
Be willing to put in the work. Be ready for long hours, lots of obstacles and sleepless nights. I started out by helping out with others events; carrying speakers, stage managing, promoting etc. Also, the big one, Network, Network and Network even more. Talk to the people who are in the position you want to be in. Figure out how they got there by asking questions. Finding and building your own lane is tough, so be grateful for the opportunities you are given, even the small ones. Write down goals and work on them every day, even if it’s just an hour or two. Surround yourself with people that support and motivate you. Being around the wrong people can destroy your end game quick.