Al Damashek on Crafting Unforgettable Live Music Experiences
As a Talent Buyer & Entrepreneur in Entertainment!
Al Damashek on Crafting Unforgettable Live Music Experiences
As a Talent Buyer & Entrepreneur in Entertainment!

← All Articles

By Lisa Marie

March 26, 2024

Throughout our youth, we all have hobbies and passions that fascinate us. Whether it be sports, video games, art, or more, these interests tend to occupy our minds and time unknowingly, and become interwoven within our individual identities. What happens when these passions lead to the career of one’s dreams? How does one go from merely being fanatical about something, to making it a part of their day-to-day professional life? These are two questions that perhaps may best be answered by New York native, Al Damashek – Founder and Executive Director of Move Forward Music. After falling in love with live performances when he saw Talib Kweli perform at Celebrate Brooklyn in 2001, he’s gone on to lead a career in the performing arts that has spanned more than 15 years. Eventually using his experience booking and marketing concerts, managing artists, and producing culturally-significant events to launch his own entity, Al Damashek is now the man behind some of NYC’s most reputable shows. We recently sat down with Al and spoke with him about his origins in the music industry, the challenges of running one’s own business, and how he envisions Move Forward Music continuing to blossom over time. 


When did you first fall in love with music? 

Al: As early as I can remember, really. I’ve always loved music. My dad played a lot of music around the house when I was growing up. The first rap album I bought was ‘A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing’ by Black Sheep, and it was a dubbed cassette. It was like an early version of bootleg albums, which aren't even really a thing anymore. There was a kid in my elementary school who sold dubbed cassettes for like $3 or $4 or whatever. That was like the first piece of music that I ever purchased, and I was probably around eight or nine years old or something like that.

That album starts with a really raunchy, sort of violent, fantasy. It's definitely not appropriate for eight or nine year olds to listen to, but it was so subversive and, even at that age, I understood it as like a jokey kind of parody song. That was my first album, and that's where I really started to love Hip-Hop and set my journey off as a listener. I'd say that was a big moment for me. Then growing up, I was like a big Roots head. I saw The Roots in concert like four or five times in the 90s and early 2000s. 

The big moment when I decided to get into concerts was when I saw Talib Kweli play outside in the rain at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park in 2001. I just thought it was so ill that people were willing to stand out in the rain and listen to his music. It was raining on us, but everybody was still together, catching a vibe, and feeling the spirit of the show. That was a big moment for me in terms of understanding the power of live music. 


In your own words, how would you describe Move Forward Music? 

Move Forward Music is concert production and experiential production agency with a focus on pushing music culture forward in a progressive way by supporting artists and creating platforms for artists to express themselves without limitations.


What sparked the idea behind Move Forward Music?

Move Forward Music started when I was at SOBs. I got a little restless, and wanted to do my own thing. My philosophy on life is always “just move forward.” Don't dwell too much on anything that's happened, whether it's good or bad, in the past. You got to learn from everything. You learn from your wins, you learn from your losses, but dwelling on them never helps. Even when you're celebrating a big victory or you just took a big L, you still got to make the next best step. That's always been my philosophy on life and business. Just assess things from where they're at and to make the next best step for you. That’s where I was at during the time I was at SOBs. I was there for about two years, and though it was a great experience working there, I didn't really have any pathways to grow in my position. So I started throwing some shows on the side, and that's how I moved forward. 


Al Page 3


How does your previous experience as a talent buyer at Webster Hall and SOB’s influence the work you do now under Move Forward Music? 

When I left SOBs, I was just kind of trying to figure it out. I was 24 years old, and I didn't really have a lot of contacts in the music industry outside of what I had just learned in my previous two years at SOBs. When I started the company, I was trying to figure everything out, and then in 2014 I got tapped by Webster Hall to produce a weekly party called “House Party”, which became like, the biggest weekly Hip-Hop party, definitely in New York, but probably anywhere else on the planet, to be honest. It was 2000 kids a week. We had the whole building of Webster Hall – we had all four floors and each room had a different vibe and major DJ. Funk Flex and Just Blaze were in the main room. Vashtie had a 90s room. Jasmine Solano and Melo-X did the Reggae room. There was a different vibe on each floor. On top of that, we started bringing artists to perform every week and do a couple of songs. Whoever was hot at the time had to come through and perform at “House Party” at Webster Hall in order to break their record. We really built it up. 

From there, I started to look around the city because people were hitting me up to do their first shows since “House Party” was so hot. Everyone wanted to be a part of it and break their artists there, but you had to be pretty commercial to play “House Party” because it was a mainstream party. You had to be on the radio or have something like a really hot single in the streets, so I couldn't put everybody there. So I started doing shows at Baby’s All Right and different venues around the city. That's how Move Forward Music built the reputation for being first, and doing everybody's first show when it comes to New York.

I had a moment around that time when I was trying to figure out what the next step was. I looked around, and everybody in New York City, for the most part, was either from a past generation or didn't know anything about Hip-Hop culture or really, from my estimation, much about New York culture. At that point in my career, I decided to be that guy. I was like, all right, someone's got to hold it down for New York. Someone's got to be booking these shows with a cultural understanding, and from a reference point that feels natural and can really service the city. That became my path, and from there, I just started booking everybody's first show and building a reputation piece-by-piece to the point where now we're the go-to promoters. 


You pride yourself on working with some of the industry’s brightest stars well before anyone else has even heard of them. In your opinion, what makes a great artist stick out early on in their career? 

I think a willingness to embrace their own individuality, and also a willingness to do the work at the early stages in their career. A lot of times when people see an overnight success, that artist has actually been putting in the work behind the scenes that people aren't really aware of. I also think making an emotional connection on stage with fans is important. Those are the artists I feel like are really special, and are on the way to something even more special.


What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since founding Move Forward Music, and how have you overcome them? 

The main challenge for any independent entity in the concert industry, the music industry, and really any industry is that we're in an era of consolidation. Big companies are consolidating more and more, and it's hard to build leverage. As an independent, building the brand to be able to withstand those pressures and find ways to work with different venues in different spaces without the resources of a major company was definitely a huge challenge starting out. Now that we're 15 years in and trying to grow, and I think any entrepreneur will tell you this, the process of growing the team and figuring out business expansion is a challenge. 

The way I overcame the first challenge was by showing up, doing the work every day, making the most out of every opportunity, and battling through. My whole philosophy has always been that if you do work that you can be proud of for as many different entities as you can, and create good partnerships and a good history for yourself, you'll be able to stick around. That was my key to success in getting this far.

In terms of expanding the company and growing to the next level, that one we're still figuring out. I try to identify the people that I bring on my team by using the same type of skills as I try to use when identifying good artists. I try to find people to bring onto the team who have really good taste and are passionate about music and bringing people together in the same way that I am. I try giving them as much game as I can, and help them grow. I also allow them the space to contribute to the brand and to the identity of what we're doing, and allow people on the team to have agency over what they do, and trust that they're going to deliver. For me, that's a big thing, and I'd say that goes to the other challenge. As I get older, I have to be early on all the artists, and you have to really stay attuned to what the kids are listening to and what's next. I got to know what the next trend is, and having younger people around me that I trust are carrying the brand forward with me is a big part of that as well.


If you had the opportunity to create your dream lineup for a music festival, who would perform and where would you host the event? 

My dream music festival would take place in Prospect Park Long Meadow – where I spent almost every weekend growing up – and would feature the most iconic artists I've worked with in my career, plus a few personal favorites. Can you guess which are the artists we never got to book?  

Kendrick Lamar, Amaarae, Denzel Curry, Destroy Lonely, Ravyn Lenae, Willow Smith, De La Soul, Gil Scott Heron, Sister Nancy, and David Byrne.


What are some of your favorite shows that you’ve worked on? 

What I love about Move Forward Music and what we do is that we get to create these moments. I grew up a Hip-Hop head, reading The Source Magazine and trying to soak up everything. Now, I've expanded my brand well beyond Hip-Hop and into all different corners of music. My thing is to bring people together around these moments when the artist is on the rise, and everybody in the room kind of knows and feels it. There are so many favorite shows, but just off the top of my head, Tems at SOBs felt like a big watershed moment for Afrobeats in New York. Baby Keem at Baby’s All Right was another big one. 

We did Queer Ball with Orion Sun for Pride Month, and that was a really special one because it was an expansion of the brand into a new space for Move Forward Music. I also feel like it was the truest representation of what we do because we were really bringing people together around pride and the whole queer culture. Going back to one of my earlier shows, Kendrick Lamar at Southpaw in 2011 was one I'll never forget. Those are some really key Move Forward Music shows. 


Following the debut of his first solo album, you recently had the opportunity to produce two André 3000 shows at Brooklyn's St. Ann & The Holy Trinity Church. What was it like working with André 3000, and can you describe the experience of seeing him perform live in this setting? 

Working with Andre 3000 on his first ever live solo shows was really special because I grew up on Outkast, and Andre's music had a huge influence on me and had soundtracked so many important moments in my life. When I got the call from his agent, I knew that St. Ann & the Holy Trinity would be the perfect setting for the intense, atmospheric, and creatively vulnerable project that ‘New Blue Sun’ is. His team agreed and we went to work on it right away as we had only two and a half weeks to produce the shows. They sold out immediately so most of the work was in the production – setting up the stage and lights to make sure the church looked and sounded amazing. The shows exceeded everyone's expectations and I am just now coming down off the high from the experience two weeks later. 


How does Move Forward Music differentiate itself from other talent booking and event production agencies? 

By always being first. That's a starting point. I think we also lead with an artist-first mentality. Everybody that's part of my team comes from some kind of creative background, whether they’re an artist themselves or a DJ or producer or something along those lines. We have a good understanding of what makes a good experience for artists, and I think that's a really important thing. We're not only trying to create an experience for the fans, but a big part of it is making sure that the first experience you have in New York is a special and memorable one. 

We always make sure that we think about what the artist’s needs are, we move with intention, and we curate our shows and events around cultural moments and niches that are going to bring people together.


Al Page 2


What do you hope to accomplish with Move Forward Music over the course of the next decade? 

Over the next five to ten years, I hope to create more opportunities for artists to expand their careers, and a lot more opportunities for fans to engage with their favorite artists and for people to come together. We’ve recently expanded into doing more experiential work with brands, which I think is really important because branded events can make big noise and they can be culturally important. They spend a lot of money producing events. It's a whole different scale compared to day-to-day concerts. We're lending the expertise that we’ve built over 15 years of producing events, and bringing that to branded events and experiential activations so we can take our curation to a bigger scale. The long-term goal is that there will be a Move Forward Music label at some point, but we're still getting there. I don't have a timeline for that yet, but I think it makes a lot of sense with all the access to artists that we have, and the platform that we've been able to build to promote those artists. 


Move Forward Music has started out the year with a streak of shows that feature some of the hottest rising artists in Hip-Hop right now, including Chow Lee, KARRAHBOOO, R2R Moe, BbyMutha, and more. Who are some of the rising talents that you are personally keeping an eye on?

I really like Vayda, Vontee the Singer, 454, Flyana Boss, and Wolfacejoeyy, right now. Ask me in a couple months and I'll probably have a new list of artists that I'm excited about. 


What’s one album that you’d take wherever you go? 

I'm going to say Jay Z’s ‘Reasonable Doubt’. That album was super inspiring to me when I was growing up, and I love the landscape that Jay is able to paint and depict through the lyrics on that album. It's a very vivid, storytelling album, and still slaps to this day.


Al Page 5 (1)


What does the phrase “big ass kid” mean to you? 

It's being able to hold on to that feeling of fun and playfulness that you have when you're growing up that we all tend to lose as we get older, become adults, and get lost in the grind. It’s that energy that kids have where everything is new and everything is a wonder. For kids, everything is always new, and there's an infinite world to keep learning about. 

I think that, as adults, we all could benefit from holding on to that energy and that desire to learn and just be curious, be fun, and be playful. That's what I love about how I found my career and Move Forward Music. Essentially, what I do is create spaces for adults to be playful, to enjoy music, and to experience something in a way that's just fun and free. I think it'd be good if we all were big ass kids.


 Al Page 4