The autumn after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Zach Ruben moved back in with his parents in Bexley, where, with a business plan in hand, the 23-year-old talked them into a $12,000 loan. It wasn't for personal use.
The autumn after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Zach Ruben moved back in with his parents in Bexley, where, with a business plan in hand, the 23-year-old talked them into a $12,000 loan.
It wasn’t for personal use.
The money was used to book and host a show by LMFAO — a lesser-known dance-music duo at the time — in Madison, Wis., a place Ruben had long noticed a certain cultural void.
“There was no school-funded budget for concerts,” said Ruben, now 26, who cut his teeth in events marketing as an undergraduate and during a semester abroad in Spain.
“I realized there was a penny or two to be made.”
The March 2010 concert sold out, and LMFAO scored two No. 1 singles the next year. Ruben, meanwhile, recouped his debts in one night.
And the modest investment launched a business.
On Saturday, Ruben and his Prime Social Group promotions company of Columbus will stage an affair of significantly larger size and scope.
The first Breakaway Music Festival, to be held in Columbus Crew Stadium (capacity: 35,000), will boast a daylong lineup of name-brand acts such as crossover disc-jockey Bassnectar; buzzy rapper Kendrick Lamar; Australian new-wave-synergists Empire of the Sun; and Twenty One Pilots, a central Ohio electro-pop duo touring the world since landing a major-label record deal.
The concert’s price tag: about $1 million.
“It’s a huge investment,” Ruben said.
The two-part Breakaway effort, which will feature a show on Sept. 21 at FC Dallas Stadium in Dallas, is an effort financed 50-50 between Prime Social Group (plus partner investors) and the Columbus and Dallas venues.
Ryan Smith, general manager of Crew Stadium, passed on a similar festival concept pitched by entertainment monolith AEG in favor of Breakaway.
“They’re local, they’ve got good contacts, and they know the medium,” Smith said. “They’re hungry.”
Ruben launched Prime Social Group in 2010 with Adam Lynn — a University of Michigan graduate who once competed with Ruben’s attempts to secure gigs by Cleveland-born rapper Kid Cudi.
The two decided to unite their hustle, with Ruben issuing one caveat for his new counterpart: The venture had to be based here.
“All I knew about Columbus is what you hear in Ann Arbor — that it’s the worst city in the country,” joked Lynn, 25, a native of Long Island, N.Y.
“At the end of the day, our niche is the colleges. The accessibility to all these schools from Columbus is incredible.”
Ruben and Lynn were early observers of the now wildly popular electronic movement — a thumping, hypnotic genre that has since wormed its way into myriad veins of pop, hip-hop and even rock music.
Scouted early in their careers and often at a lower price, rising acts continue to be Prime Social Group’s bread and butter. The company often books them to perform in lesser-visited university towns, with captive young audiences constituting the musicians’ key demographic.
Previous Prime Social Group shows have included Skrillex, Deadmau5 and Steve Aoki — names that today are attached to, among other things, multimillion-dollar club residencies and endorsement deals beyond the local company’s reach.
“We’re really good at finding up-and-coming talent,” Ruben said. “We grab them after they’ve made a YouTube video, not when they’re getting picked up on a nationwide tour.”
The attitude hasn’t hindered growth.
Prime Social Group employs 14 people and uses a Downtown office with sweeping 20th-floor views of Ohio State University — a visual reminder of its clientele — and, to the right, Crew Stadium.
“As we expand, there’s no reason to limit ourselves,” said executive director Ryan Fightmaster, 31, a Cincinnati native who was lured by Ruben from the William Morris Agency in New York.
At the moment, though, all eyes are on Breakaway.
“You’re going to catch 15 to 30 artists for under $100,” said festival-operations director Dominic Petrozzi, 31, who co-founded the ongoing “Number Fest” in Athens, Ohio. The event caters to students at Ohio University.
The lineups of both festivals are designed to mirror the eclectic tastes of younger listeners whose iPods aren’t limited to a single genre. In Dallas, for example, the longtime rap collective Wu-Tang Clan is sandwiched between New York indie-pop twosome Matt & Kim and the Colorado instrumental jam-hybrid outfit Big Gigantic.
A prominent feature at both festival dates, too, is the inclusion of local talent.
Still, the sheer size of Breakaway will be a test for Prime Social Group, despite its history of throwing 300-plus events in 20 states.
One factor is that young concertgoers in the electronic scene often buy tickets at the last minute. A Prime Social Group booking of Baauer (known for the jittery, viral Harlem Shake) held July 15 in Skully’s Music-Diner sold only a few dozen advance tickets. A last-minute rush the day of the concert packed the Short North club.
Breakaway planners are relying on their track record and social savvy to succeed and, if all goes well, return.
“We have a lot riding on the shows,” Lynn said. “Hands down, it’s the biggest event we’ve ever done.”