Hip-Hop Meets the House of Blues in Atlantic City: A Conversation with Jason Spencer

Atlantic City is home to casinos, gambling, entertainment, fine dining, and the #1 House of Blues location in the United States in terms of ticket sales and the number of shows scheduled. In a place like Atlantic City, which rests in between New York City and Philadelphia, sights, sounds, and exquisite tastes are never in […]

Atlantic City is home to casinos, gambling, entertainment, fine dining, and the #1 House of Blues location in the United States in terms of ticket sales and the number of shows scheduled. In a place like Atlantic City, which rests in between New York City and Philadelphia, sights, sounds, and exquisite tastes are never in short supply. People should constantly be looking at Atlantic City, because as history at the House of Blues has shown, you never know when you could catch the next J. Cole, Lauryn Hill, or Wiz Khalifa performing. Ultimately, if more people were aware of the kind of talent that travels to Atlantic City, it would surely be on everyone’s radar as a “music destination.”

AllHipHop.com got the chance to talk to Jason Spencer, Regional Director of Entertainment for the House of Blues, as well as a number of other lounges, clubs, and venues throughout Atlantic City. We spoke on his background, his introduction to the music industry, the process behind booking talent, and much more:

AllHipHop.com: So, how exactly did you secure this position as Regional Director of Entertainment for Atlantic City?

Jason Spencer: Well, I essentially went the old fashioned route, the school route. I went undergrad down at Morehouse College, majored in Marketing, went back to graduate school at NYU, and while I was there, I linked up with Reebok. I got to work on the S. Carter brand, so that was my first tie with the whole entertainment, music, marketing component, and while I was finishing up there I got recruited to go out to Vegas and work for Caesar’s Entertainment in their marketing department.

Eventually because of my experiences and background and expertise, I was offered a job to come out to Atlantic City and become the Director of Marketing for the House of Blues here at Showboat, which is independent of the network. So, I was in charge of overseeing the concert venue, the Foundation Room, from a marketing perspective, and that eventually led to me being promoted to overseeing the region from an entertainment perspective, which is about four to five concert venues, multiple lounges, and a couple of night clubs.

AllHipHop.com: What is the difference, in your own experience, between Las Vegas and Atlantic City?

Jason Spencer: Well, it is essentially two different jobs. In Las Vegas, it was more on casino marketing and building out that brand. When I came over here to Atlantic City, it definitely transitioned to what I always wanted to do, which was leveraging entertainment as a vehicle to market something. Out here, it switched to marketing concerts and celebrity appearances; so really, two different jobs, outside the weather being different.

AllHipHop.com: What goes into the process of deciding who you’re going to book, and who will perform here? Is it more of you and a team going out and securing talent, or is talent normally presented to you first?

Jason Spencer: It’s a combinaton of both. I can tell you on the Hip-Hop side of things, it’s leaned a little more towards my team targeting artists. We do over a couple hundred shows, from Rock to Pop to R&B, and where a lot of those shows are part of a standard tour – which Hip-Hop also has – but we’ve set out and targeted artists. We have a formula for what we are looking for that tells us who we think is going to do well in the venue. So, it’s definitely a mix of both, but on the Hip-Hop side, I would say it’s 70 percent of us targeting and 30 percent artists coming through.

AllHipHop.com: What are some of the factors in your formula that helps you decide what Hip-Hop artists to book down here?

Jason Spencer: We look at a multitude of factors. Artists’ touring information, radio spins, what they have out right now, as well as multiple, different social components and the “heat” factor. That’s where that intelligence and being of the culture is the piece of it – where you know that this artist is hot. It’s that intuitiveness that the team comes together and says “this is the next one,” and we have to have all of our data that kind if supports it. But at the end of the day, you have to make that call, and use your instincts to a degree.

AllHipHop.com: Is there an artist out there who has not performed at the House of Blues yet, but that you would love to book, both for yourself and for the people who visit and live in Atlantic City?

Jason Spencer: It’s really just about someone making sense for a 2,500 seat venue, and we’ve always had success with that. Now, I would love to have some of the bigger artists come and play my venue, but it would not make sense financially or business-wise to have those in the venue. But I am really proud of what the team has put together and the roster of folks we’ve had come through here, from big to smaller acts. One thing that we have toyed with as well is putting together our own packages, so we created the “Legends of Hip-Hop” series where some of my favorite artists like Big Daddy Kane perform with Biz Markie and Naughty By Nature. So we’ve been trying to put together unique packages to fulfill everyone’s wants and needs, because ultimately it’s all about diversity here.

AllHipHop.com: Can you tell me a little about your history with music?

Jason Spencer: Yeah, I mean I grew up in a time where I consider myself part of Hip-Hop and its culture. I’m from New York, so just growing up there and then going down to Atlanta, which was great, at Morehouse where I learned. Primarily, I was East Coast before growing up, but being in Atlanta and that school, we had kids from all over  the country, so that’s when you start hearing more about the music from California and Texas, and even some of the more Southern music and that whole movement there. So yeah, music has always been a big part of my life and Hip-Hop music, but more importantly, Hip-Hop culture is probably one of my main influences.

AllHipHop.com: Do you remember the first Hip-Hop album or record that you purchased?

Jason Spencer: Yes. It was Big Daddy Kane’s Taste of Chocolate; he was my favorite rapper growing up. But music has always been a part of my life. My cousin was a DJ so I would tag along with him when he would do parties, and sneak me in as I was carrying his record crates in. So, it’s just a pleasure now to be able to use those experiences and do something you love, and it doesn’t even really feel like work.

AllHipHop.com: Was that a CD, or a vinyl, or what?

Jason Spencer: It was a tape [laughter]. It was probably like in the late 80s.

AllHipHop: What about some of your other musical influences?

Jason Spencer: Well, I grew up in the Bad Boy era also, so definitely Biggie and Puffy and Mase and all those guys. I have an affinity for old-school Hip-Hop prior to that, with Big Daddy Kane and Special Ed, EPMD. And, once I started going to college and getting those other experiences, I started getting a little more into Tupac and some of the more southern stuff like Juvenile.

AllHipHop.com: So, in your opinion, who is the greatest rapper of all time?

Jason Spencer: My top three: Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas. I think it’s tough to pin that down, because there are so many different variables, and there are so many different reasons why I love each rapper. You know, Nas, from Illmatic, I’ve listened to that 5,000 times and being fortunate enough to work with Jay-Z’s company and his brand, it really lets you see that whole movement from the inside and seeing him push Hip-Hop over to that next level, as far as taking it to another level, Jay-z definitely did that and then Biggie is Biggie. So, it wouldn’t be fair to just pull one of their names out.

AllHipHop.com: Fair enough. Do you remember the first concert you attended?

Jason Spencer: The first one, I would probably have to say was Busta Rhymes, but that was a long time ago. It’s funny though, as far as concerts, I wasn’t really fortunate enough to go to concerts like that, and I didn’t really go to concerts at all. I would go to parties, and if someone came and got on the mic, then that was it. But like an official concert, I probably didn’t start going to one until after college. Prior to taking this job, I probably went to a handful, but since this job, I have probably been to over 300.

AllHipHop.com: What was the best concert experience you have ever had in terms of the show itself?

Jason Spencer: To me, it goes back to what was done here because I was so invested in it and felt like a part of it, so we’ve had a couple of big, signature events that we hang our hat on. Fourth of July would be one of the statements that we’re making here in Atlantic City. Two years ago, we had Puffy come down and he put on a show, and it was great because it was the first time he had done a show in Atlantic City, which wasn’t really a market used to that type of caliber of artist from a Hip-Hop perspective. Then what he did was he brought so many other artists, when the crowd was just expecting Puffy, like Fat Joe, Rick Ross, Red Café, and it was just an all-star cast with surprises after surprises. To just take a look at the crowd and everyone was into it, the place was rocking, and they definitely did their thing.

This year, we took it to another level with a Jamie Foxx weekend over Fourth of July and Jamie was just great, all over the place, and interacting with fans, he did the comedy show at Caesar’s. That whole weekend, from that comedy show to his music concert and then we had star-studded after parties every night, and day parties every day, that was probably the pinnacle of, not just one concert, but like a whole entertainment experience wrapped in, We definitely laid the groundwork with Puffy two years prior, and then took it to the next level this year. Next Fourth of July is set to be the biggest one of all.

AllHipHop.com: What can you tell me about what you have planned for next July?

Jason Spencer: We’re definitely looking to partner with Jamie Foxx and Foxxhole Radio again. The feedback was just phenomenal. We had people from over 26 states attend, so that really felt good. It was really a national event from as far as California to Texas.

AllHipHop.com: If you could sell yourself, and more importantly, the House of Blues in Atlantic City to people, what would you say to them to get them to come to “the place to be?”

Jason Spencer: There are a couple of key components I would have to say. We are committed to bringing Hip-Hop, R&B, and just overall good music at a feverish pace down here, so just look at our calendar, and the calendar will do the selling for you. Just like the past year, on key weekends, and holidays. There is always more than just one thing to do down here. You come, you enjoy a wonderful concert here, and then you go to one of our clubs, and we add that element as well – because it’s not exaggeration to say that most of our places, either the lounge that we’re sitting in now or the Pool After Dark, we’ve had a host of artists from Nicki Minaj to Black Eyed Peas. So ultimately, what we do is connect the dots for you so you don’t have to try when you come down here. Just buy your concert ticket, and we’ll navigate your path and show you a wonderful time.

AllHipHop: Great! Thanks for your time, Jason!

For more information, artists, and shows at the House of Blues in Atlantic City, click here.