Networking 1-2-3: Tony Neal and Core DJs Retreat

Sired by WKKV Mix Show Coordinator Tony Neal, the Core DJs are a national, interlaced group of radio professionals. They’re reviving and updating the job of a disc jockey: Expose talent to new markets (opposed to over-marketing so-called talent) and pass it on to their Core DJ compadres. It’s a branched system of quality control, if you will. In the past year, they’ve held three retreats, starting in Chicago, moving to Miami, and onto St. Louis. Ultimately, their plan is to hit as many new locations as possible, perhaps going international one day. It’s no secret that over the past decade, horded airwaves haven’t been the most hospitable to up-and-coming musicians. This coalition enables hopefuls to give their creations to a local Core member. If the material is impressive enough, they can keep the pass going. Those involved from St. Louis’ lone hip-hop station (KATZ 103.3 The Beat) include Sir DJ Thurl, DJ Impact, D-Rocc, J-Nicks, Infamous Que, DJ AJ, and Kool Kaos. We talked with the innovative networking king himself, Tony Neal, about the group into which he places unbounded faith and energy.

How did the Core DJs come to be three years ago? Who was chosen to participate?

I looked for people who were already established. We’re not trying to be overly exclusive, but we don’t really want anyone who’s not on the grind in their own prospective market. We want people who are the core of their industry, in the middle, where everything comes from. The Core DJs are not necessarily just DJs: They’re promoters, record reps, and anyone who has the power to make things happen in their music scene.

How does the synergy provided by the Core help you and the artist?

Numbers are power. Our voices can be heard nationally instead of just staying in our own markets. At the same time, it reminds everyone about the importance of the DJ. We’re also stars; we’re just not getting any of the shine we deserve. That’s why our motto is, “Where it begins is where it ends. Never forget about the DJ.” A lot of artists who get really big don’t give us drops or keep in touch. They need to show appreciation to the ones who broke their music. We’re also the ones they come back to when their career declines.

Are there any artist-DJ hookup fairytales? A nervous girl or boy who walked in with wide eyes and a homemade CD, yet still made it big?

That’s how Mike Jones broke. He did conference calls with us every week, e-mailed us music, all the while keeping up that relationship and rapport until he got signed. He was very determined. Now, he’s on everything. When the DJ’s are playing your records and you’re not signed, that’s how labels get interested. These artists are doing the same thing we’re trying to do. You can’t deny someone who’s out there on the grind, blood, sweat and tears, trying to make it happen.

So far, you’ve held conventions in Chicago and Miami. What do you think is going on in the St. Louis market?

In recent years, St. Louis has been a strong threshold for a lot of music that’s coming out. We felt it was only right to get there soon. Traveling to different markets exposes us to new material and does the same for those in attendance. We don’t really hold a “convention.” A lot of people try and turn it into that. The reason I call it a retreat is because it’s like a gathering, a place where people can get more personal with each other instead of making it so industry. The industry’s still involved, but we’d rather have a more personal appeal.

Is the schmooze pretty much an open call? Can anyone just come in? What should artists do, and how can they get in contact with you?

First and foremost, we take care of our sponsors. Of course, we get a lot of independent people outside the hotel, sometimes driving up in rap trucks, but I don’t mind that. I’m not going to block people from passing a tape or CD to a DJ. In fact, we rely on each other. I always talk to independent artists who don’t sponsor the retreat. We have a setup for them to play their music. I do ask them to have a professional-looking package, including a bio, nice wrapping, name, and a phone number where they can be reached. We’ve had people at retreats and nightclubs who get so excited that they forget to put their info down. I’m not unreachable, so if anyone has questions about the article, they can contact me at TNeal@runbox.com.

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