Morgan Margolis entered the world of bars and music performance venues after growing tired of Hollywood. He climbed aboard Knitting Factory in 2000 and in 2009 became President and CEO. As such, he oversees a humble empire that includes clubs, festival partnerships, a label, restaurants, a consulting group and more.
An Acting Hunger
I’ve always been a music lover and knew the Knitting Factory club in NYC because I’m from there. When I came to Knitting Factory 18 years ago, I was still in pursuit of acting. I came from an acting family. My father is a well-known actor, Mark Margolis. He was on Breaking Bad and is on Better Call Saul. I grew up in The High School of Performing Arts.
But I loved bars, restaurants and music and they all kind of came together. I just continued down that path. I really wanted to find myself an operations job on the bar/restaurant/ nightclub side. Deep down, I wanted to build a bar and restaurant.
A 360 Entertainment and Music Hospitality Company We are an expanding entertainment company and have our tentacles all over the country. Knitting Factory is a brand. Even though culturally we still have the heart and roots of what we had back in ’87, we’re no longer the same company.
My goal has always been about the experience. Whenever you land at a Knitting Factory, it doesn’t matter what the show is, you just know you’re going to have an exciting, interesting experience. Our Boise, [ID] and Spokane,
[WA] venues are different to our Brooklyn venue. Those are completely different animals. Brooklyn is more of an indie alternative, avant- garde space and in Boise and Spokane, it’s a different culture there.
But the music world is changing. You can now get fans in those places that, in the past, you never could. People are hearing bands they would have never heard before. You can put through a band like Cigarettes After Sex or Deer Tick and now [the audience knows them] before they get there.
Growing up in a tough environment in the ‘70s, I’ve always had a good set of street smarts. I grew up around the music and entertainment worlds in New York. A lot of the guys I was around, from Adam Horovitz of Beastie Boys and Liev Schreiber, those were my crew at I.S. 70. We were just around it, so that gave me my grit.
Having Done It
The years I spent behind the bar dealing with cash, personalities, volume, stress levels... it helped me a great deal. I came from the trenches. When I got out of Stony Brook [University], I slung drinks, worked security, the kitchen, the box office, moved gear... It helps having done it all, so when you’re talking to your staff you’re not somebody who just walked out with a silver spoon. I understand, because I did it.
A Good Idea Is A Good Idea
I don’t know it all. I try to hire really well and have them teach me. I want people to know more than I do in those positions. My job is to guide them with leadership and give them advice.
I’ve just never been a “no” guy. Come to me with an idea. I don’t care if you’re the dishwasher. Maybe you’ve got an incredible idea we haven’t done before. Or maybe we did it before and did it wrong.
Learning From Failure
I’ve gotten my ass kicked before. You don’t expand the way we’ve expanded without failing in some areas. You really have to learn from your mistakes. You don’t want a team that is scared to say, “Hey, you really screwed up and these are the reasons why.” You can’t be the guy who just says “Too bad, that’s the way it is.”
I shut the L.A. venue because that location had too many problems. Also, our lease was getting doubled and we were hemorrhaging money. I was going to put another Knitting Factory out here and decided I would launch something else. The Federal Bar in North Hollywood was originally going to be a Knitting Factory and I just switched gears. We’ve been very successful.
I knew we had to diversify. And I wanted to stay diversified in areas that were part and
parcel to our brand. So it’s trying to keep your eye on changing environments and how you can be cohesive.
Ahead of the Curve
My 15-year-old is always ahead of the curve on the next breaking hip-hop band. He was on top of the Lil Yachty’s and Lil Uzi’s before my own team was. At 13, he was on SoundCloud, so I started to tap into, “Okay, let’s track what these kids are listening to.” It makes a difference.
Where A&R You?
Do what you’re going to do and don’t do it because you’re trying to get our attention. Make the music you’re going to make. I understand why bands think they’ve got to write a hit song, but what does that really mean? It’s so hard to gauge a hit. Why are some songs sticky and others not? If you do what you’re going to do, you’ll probably get the attention of our A&R department. They’re watching and listening non-stop.
Get Your Hustle On
[Artists] have to market themselves. They can’t rely on management or the label or venue to be the marketer. You can’t ever stop. You’d better be out there making videos, pushing your music, knocking down doors all day long. You can’t just call us up and say “I haven’t had a gig in
three weeks; why isn’t anybody responding?” Well, why haven’t you gone out there and pushed yourself? I knew it back in my acting days. Why did I get as much work as I had? Half of it came from pounding on doors.
A Risky Proposition
Everybody wants to be in the music business. They think it’s going to be so fun running a venue. You built this 500 cap room and don’t understand why the other venue’s getting all the shows. Well, they’ve been there 30 years and they’ve got history. Did you think about that before you built your space and spent a lot of money? When my friends want to build a bar, I tell them, how can I talk you out of doing this? Do you want me to be your dentist? I’ve never done teeth, but I’m just going to be your dentist. And we’ve learned from experience. We have multiple restaurants; I had to close one in New York recently. I have three Federals. Two are doing incredibly well. The one in Brooklyn just didn’t take. As much as we know, it didn’t stick.
Expanding and Contracting
I’m really excited about our expansion with the Desert Daze [festival]. It’s our third year as a partner with Spaceland and Moon Block. I’m excited about expanding into that festival world and paying attention to Travelers Rest, our other festival.
The other area is our talent buying business, where we’re buying for other venues. We’re growing in that area. I’m working to expand our hospitality division. We’re looking at other states to expand some of our restaurant concepts.
I’ve also contracted a bit. I don’t just expand. Last year, we closed our Reno venue. The market was just very difficult for us. I’ll expand where I need to expand and pull back where
I need to pull back. I will not take on an opportunity if I can’t do right by the opportunity.