Overview: As Toronto re-emerges from COVID 19, our beloved nightlife suffers from capacity restrictions. Combined with inattention from all levels of government, the scene is in a dreary place. However, while many clubs/owners/promoters have transitioned to other careers, White Label Promo is doubling down on the nightlife.
WLP is renowned for producing electronic events at Nest and co-producing at Sunnyside Pavilion alongside Captive Audience. Recently, White Label Promo’s responsibilities have increased. They are tasked with booking electronic events at Love Child Social House alongside a soon to be revealed location. Now amassing a portfolio of four solid venues, WLP has a lot to say…
Background: White Label Podcast was founded by Brent Hayward as a video podcast in 2011. Brent’s work with various DJs caught the attention of long-time friend Oswald “OJ” Jackson. OJ worked for Zark and Ralf of ZRF Productions from 2001, later hosting at Century Room alongside co-owner Vito Tomasicchio and the Capture brand.
Brent was a resident DJ of ZRF venues from 2005 to 2008. Hayward and Jackson had a history in legendary after-hours such as Boa Redux and Sonic, promoting parties while absorbing knowledge from Toronto’s best event organizers. Years of mutual experience together have pivoted Brent and OJ from podcasts to promo. Founded in 2012, White Label Promo is helping shape nightlife in Toronto.
TNC: How did you guys meet?
OJ: I met Brent in September of 2004. ZRF’s Park at Lot 332 Thursday nights was about to open. We needed a DJ for the lounge. Brent came in highly recommended and killed it the first night. His DJ skills quickly led to residencies at other venues (Budo, Metro, Lucid, The Docks, etc)
BH: Rob Furtado referred me to the ZRF crew back in 2004. It was through Rob that I met OJ. Rob and I became roommates and lived right next door above the old Sugar Mountain on Richmond Street, sandwiched between Lot 332 and Joker Nightclub.
TNC: White Label Promo recently celebrated 9 years together. What is your advice for longevity?
OJ: 17 years of friendship has created mutual friends and similar interests. No dynamic is perfect, you have ups and downs, but we are both passionate about the business. If we did this solely for the money, we would have quit a long time ago.
BH: Like in any relationship, communication is critical. We push on each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and that helps complement our working style.
TNC: You two are active with venues linked to Vito Tomasicchio and Richard Brooks. How did that come about?
OJ: Vito and I have quite the history. It’s surreal at times to be working this closely with him. I made some mistakes in my youth which I got appropriately disciplined for. That punishment, if you will, set me on a course to take the nightlife more seriously. But, Vito gave me a second chance, and I want to make the most of it.
As for Richard, I met him back in 2006 when I was a host/ticket seller for Sunnyside Pavilion under Milk Events. So Richard and I have circled each other up until 2015. That’s when we started co-producing Sunnyside events together.
BH: I met Vito back in the Century Room days. However, we didn’t really start working together until Ryze changed ownership to Nest back in 2015. He came on board, and since then, we have built a close working relationship that has extended into other venues. I’m proud to call him a close friend. He’s one of the best operators in the city.
Richard, I met about 10 years ago while filming the WLP podcast side of things at Sunnyside. In 2015, we started co-producing together. Richard does a fantastic job executing events at Sunnyside, which is why we have decided to align companies together unofficially.
TNC: How has the city changed?
OJ: There were a plethora of clubs back when we started out. Regrettably, it’s a handful. That is the saddest/most telling to me. We used to be out every weekend, and that is now a foreign concept to the youth.
BH: As much as the city has changed, people’s behaviours have altered the business. People are conditioned not to socialize and “meet” new people. In addition, dating apps have changed the way people interact with one another. People have become much more introverted, and it has eroded the nightlife over the past decade.
TNC: What has COVID-19 done to your plans?
OJ: COVID ruined everyone’s plans, not just ours. We are still examining the landscape to determine how to go forward. Because many of our events rely on international DJs, planning is frustrating, considering the border and capacity restrictions are out of our hands.
BH: Covid has created a new generation of social introverts who now need to reprogram/reintroduce themselves into society. I think we will see a resurgence of people who want to be out. Time will tell if the causal customer will be a repeat/return customer or if Covid has changed how they interact on a social level.
TNC: What are your philosophies of business?
OJ: It’s just that, it is a business. Brent and I come from corporate backgrounds, so we apply that business professionalism to the club industry. People may think that it’s informal because it’s a club, but that is not true. Treat things as a business, and you will get the results.
BH: Nightlife business cycles are much shorter than in other sectors. I find 5 years is a typical lifecycle in our industry. People come and go through our world a lot faster. The ones who can sustain and adapt to changes have longevity and profitability.
TNC: How does one learn in this industry? Who were your most significant influences?
OJ: We learn from our mistakes and each other. We are analytic and data-driven, so we examine those metrics to push forward. I don’t want to miss anyone, but to name a few; Vito T, Rob O, Zark and Ralf, Gavin Bryan, Craig, Carey, Richard Brooks, Joel and Steph, etc. are influences. Also, Tommy from Stereo Montreal and Nicolas Matar, formerly of Cielo and Output in New York, have given us great advice over the years.
BH: I echo those names OJ mentioned. You must be willing to listen and learn from the people who came before you. Learn from their success and their failures. One of the most cherished accomplishments I’ve experienced is developing business and personal relationships with people I looked up to as a DJ for many years. Danny Tenaglia is an example of someone who has become a friend through work. It’s surreal to go from fan to friend with many of these DJs I look up to.
What would you say to someone starting out?
OJ: Always do the right thing. People are always watching, whether you think they notice or not. If you want to be in this business, you need to go out, network, be visible in person and on social media. Patience is vital, as well as paying dues. Make yourself an option by going above and beyond what your competition is doing.
BH: To touch on OJ’s point – Maximize your youth and the time spent out building relationships. You won’t be in your 20’s and 30’s forever. Use those years wisely to build your brand and your craft. Pick your spots. Not every weekend can be a big party. Don’t oversaturate yourself.
What do you have upcoming?
OJ and BH: It all depends on COVID. As we mentioned, 2022 will be our biggest year yet. We have gigantic ambitions and targets we want to reach.
TNC: Thank you for the interview boys and see you at one of your events soon!
- – Richard D