EPIC got the chance to talk with TJ, the President of SWAT, about Soundscape and how SWAT got it's start and is now a great leader in the event entertainment industry. Read more as we talk about the success of SWAT's Spring Break Havasu trip, tips for future entrepreneurs, and why Soundscape is the premiere event for your New Year's eve celebrations.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: First off, when and how was idea of SWAT created?
I used to travel a lot and be the guy that gathered friends together to have a good time. I worked for LA Ski & Sun Tours and I produced more sales than everyone in the country. We put on an all Greek ski trip and took about 6500 college Greeks to Reno where everyone went snowboarding and we hosted big entertainment.
The company got sold and I went and worked for those guys and while they couldn’t find the front door, and with my network so big by then, I came to the conclusion that at the end of the day if you put your name on a product, you have to have control of the final outcome. And that was what kind of made me start SWAT, I knew I was only as good as my reputation market and my motto became 'deliver on what you promise.
The way it was going, the 1, 2, 3 years before we started SWAT, everyone but me was making the money and I realized that being VP doesn’t give you total control unless you control the checkbooks. I ultimately wasn’t able to fully deliver to my friends, family, etc. so I knew I needed to take control, which takes a shit ton of risks.
My partner, who at the time was one of the top sales people in the country, was leaving and we both looked at each other and said, 'It’s going to be very hard walking away from this'. It was hard because we would be leaving this network we created; people we brought good times to over the years, universities, about 1000 reps…people who are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. You develop these friendships and talk about this shit for the rest of your life so we decided to take control, deliver on what we promised, and protect our reputation.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: For all the event entrepreneurs out there: What steps did you take to launch the idea of SWAT Marketing?
We realized we are actually in the business of influence, and when you go to these campuses, only about 5-10% of the people are what can really make the business grow, so we have to go to every single campus and find the respected individuals.
We do all the groundwork and find the leaders of tomorrow that can carry the SWAT flag. You could have a ton of reps that no one is listening to but if they are good influencers, they ARE going to produce. People are creatures of habit, they see and they do.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: What was the first SWAT trip ever like?
Our first event was called SnowDays and we ran 2200 college students over Martin Luther King weekend to South Lake Tahoe. It competed with the all-Greek ski trip I left in Reno but kept the motto, 'deliver what you promise'. And we wanted to deliver a better product, deliver a product that people already wanted [to go to]. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t want to go to Tahoe, it has a great reputation, and is one of the most beautiful places on the face of the planet. Reno is Reno, what college student was to go to over Tahoe so when we created Soundscape it was like full circle.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: Does the community of Lake Havasu support the spring break events?
For Spring Break we used to go to Rosarito and San Felipe, but about 5-6 years ago Mexico got such heat that I had to create a program in the US. The biggest draw was the age limit of 18+ to Mexico and so I had to recreate that environment. 1 month before Spring Break trip we had to relocate to Palm Springs, which was only a stepping stone, and while there, all I could think about was “where are we gonna do this event?
I came across Havasu which was in the same position as SWAT was, it was right after the housing crash, the day of $300,000 boats in the water and $400 rooms, and that place had become a ghost town certain times of the year. March and April, the water isn’t even warm enough for boating to heat up, so we were able to figure out how to create a program not only a period where it’s not busy to begin with, but also fill during the mid-week. So we impacted the city as big as you could because we would fill the mid-weeks. Now their business on weekends over the years has just exploded and they’re busy 4-5 weeks a year in a row when it used to be a ghost town.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: In what ways do you stand out from the competition when promoting and executing SWAT events?
MTV used to do spring break in Havasu, and I wanted to learn from their mistakes. I learned that their events pulled on all of the city resources and there was no law and order so they basically ran them out of town and before you knew it, the place was a ghost town. So it was a choice: try and go underground and hope they don’t notice us or do I just go knocking on their door with an idea and a concept and be totally transparent and proud of the process and the system and the package and the quality and infrastructure that I put together?
We were blessed, and worked incredibly closely with the city officials from the chief of police to the chief of fire, worked with the hospitals, city mayor, city council… and it has done a tremendous amount for the city itself.
We self contain everything. You either be ‘in’ or ‘out’… and our event is so big that the only place you want to be is ‘in’. The city loves what we do because we have our own security, medical staff (EMT, Firefighters, lifeguards), radio system and we only reach out to the city if we have an emergency…but we handle. Everyone does have wristbands so if the city does run into people drunk in town, they are identifiable and the city calls us and we take care of it.
I don’t think we really compete [with SnowGlobe] and that’s why I look at it like apples and oranges. What’s so cool is that while SnowGlobe is in town, we’ll be starting Soundscape on the 29th and are calling them ‘Soundscape Warm-ups’, which are basically after-hour parties on the 29th and 30th. SnowGlobe shuttles leave from Mont Bleu, we’ll be right across the street and everyone who goes to SnowGlobe will look at us and be like, 'Why are we on this shuttle again?...What is that?...Oh THAT’S Soundscape!'"
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: Have you seen a noticeable change in the actions of students who attend SWAT events now vs when SWAT started? If so, do you believe the changing music has anything to do with it? Or is it just our generation?
I have been in the business for 25 years and music has changed so much. Entertainment has become more and more of a valuable part of these programs and it really makes the programs legit or not depending on who they have playing. We’re able to go after entertainment that we know is on a big rise. I mean we have had Sublime, No Doubt, Black Eyed Peas – we find them when they are hot but not too big yet and if you look at all our DJs, a year and a half ago we had Hardwell playing and look at what happened to Hardwell.
There’s less violence and no wanting to bang heads together than you would in a mosh pit, but then again you also have your other issue. It’s kind of like pick your poison but then again EDM is one of the most popular directions right now and that’s why Soundscape basically has 25 years of experience going into it.
What I love about us getting Chuckie, is that Chuckie just doesn’t play every week ya know, and he puts on an amazing show to where if I were to spend that kind of money on someone who plays 50 shows on the west coast, how valuable really is that? And Chuckie is just one of the coolest dudes, super down to earth, and he plays a lot of music that everyone understands.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: What benefits does the Horizon Casino Resort provide in being the SWAT Playground?
In our venue we have lodging for 1000 people and a pool that holds 2000 people that’s going to be heated at 95-100 degrees. So we’re going to have people in beanies and board shorts partying for 2-3 hours out at the pool. We’ve got a big main stage in the back and it’s all starting with great music and great sound. We’re using a V-DOSC system, which is the biggest system that I’ve ever used, probably the third most powerful system in the world. I believe that with great DJs and sound, you can have any venue kick ass."
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: What can we expect in the future for SWAT events? Any summer events in the making?
We’ve got a ton of ideas in plans but these are our 2 flagship programs. We also do private trips kind of like weekenders and formals and customized trips [going constantly]. We start hitting the streets for Havasu Spring Break in January and last year was the biggest year in the last 25 years, and this year we’re already ahead of last year’s pace. Our reputation on Spring Break is what’s helping us out on Soundscape and it’s a super big help, we’re also expecting really big things this year.
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: Are there any other messages you’d like to get out to people about SWAT?
The biggest message I want everybody to know is that I’m not trying to hard-sell anyone, but I’ve talked to a lot of people like yourself from EPIC as well as Moment and the response I’m getting is, 'wow this is really cool!'
Some of the main reasons Havasu is really famous, is that 1) We hit a price point that really matters, you can’t go anywhere for spring break on the face of the planet for $250 and have the time that you have at SWAT’s Spring Break. 2) We’ve made it incredibly 18 and over conducive."
EPIC PRODUCTIONS: What desire sparked you to “put a wintertime twist on your trademark event” and create Soundscape 2014?
That same platform [that spring break is popular for] is what helped us create Soundscape. I found an area we can improve on – ‘How do I find a destination that people already want to go?’ A good 70/80% of people head up to Tahoe for New Years, a spot where a lot of people already end up. So I thought, 'wow wouldn’t it be bitchin' if we could head back to South Lake?' The event originated on Martin Luther King weekend but I looked at my calendar and thought, 'why that weekend…is there a better date?' So I looked really hard and thought, ‘Oh dude… New Years would be sick!' My problem was – that weekend is already really popular, how am I going to get enough space?
I was able to go in there and work a relationship with the Horizon Casino, and then it was not ‘only can I get it?’ but can I get it at an affordable price? Because I wanted to sell Soundscape for the same price as spring break because I know it works. So not only did we get the destination of our choice and dates of choice, but we can offer the same prices as we do at our Havasu headquarters. I’m looking forward to a great event and I want to party with each and every one of you out there!
AUTHOR CREDIT: JOYCE CABRERA