What happens when four friends who love music decide to pursue a musical endeavor in D.C.? Closed Sessions happens. Meet Matthew Classens, one of the brains behind one of Washington D.C.’s most pivotal promoters. Four Over Four sat down and discussed the vision behind Closed Sessions, the differences between the markets, and what his most memorable show was.
What is Closed Sessions?
Closed Sessions is an event production company based in Washington, D.C. that operates across the North American market. The company specializes in producing live music concert events, including artist booking, permitting & licensing, stage & sound production, staffing, and any other logistical needs related to hosting events across genres and in any setting.
All of our founders have strong roots within the service industry and integrate bar culture heavily into their programming in the form of monthly industry nights as well as regular happy hours across the District of Columbia. The company seeks to promote the development of local artists, as well as up-and-coming artists from outside the area. Our membership is comprised of artists, musicians, mixologists, and taste makers.
How did it all come to be?
Closed Sessions began as an invitation-only, email-based house party series in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2014. As we rapidly scaled, the event series moved into the newly opened Flash nightclub in Shaw in order to facilitate acts like Kaytranada, STWO and Branchez. Over the next few years Closed Sessions continued to grow and expand into more venues across the city, including U Street Music Hall, Tropicalia, The Howard Theatre and more.
Later in 2016, Closed Sessions expanded into New York, hosting regular events at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. We went on to produce our first SXSW showcase in Austin, TX and will return in 2017.
What is the most important goal, for you, for Closed Sessions, when booking talent?
I began booking organically with the artists we were seeing develop around us in the D.C. area starting around 2013. At the time, cofounder Blaise Railey was operating a recording studio in Bethesda, MD called Indigo Studios. This gave us unique insight into the movement that would become a new generation of SoundCloud-based producers. Artists in emerging sub-genres in electronic music and hip-hop formed the foundation of Closed Sessions booking retinue, and this fact shaped the focus that exists within the company to this day.
As Closed Sessions grew with these emerging acts, it allowed me to scale up and book larger venues across a broader spectrum of markets. It’s been a journey with booking artists but, basically, we just try to ask ourselves, ‘What do WE want to do tonight?’ and ‘What do WE think is cool?’. For me, there is a lot of analytical information that proves very valuable in booking at artist, but nothing beats instincts, and asking yourself if you or any of your friends would want to go.
Curating shows in D.C. and New York, how do the markets differ?
The markets of D.C. and New York both possess a wide range of variables that make them truly unique, presenting both challenges and opportunities. The D.C. market is currently experiencing a small renaissance in terms of incubating great talent, but it still suffers from the unique challenge of a highly transient population that makes it difficult to build sustainable fan bases. This, in turn, forces artists to flee to markets like New York or Los Angeles. This creates a churning effect within the market that facilitates creativity but makes it difficult for artists to sustain themselves financially.
The market in New York offers the chance to book in countless venues to millions of consumers. New York, despite its size, can also suffer from market saturation due to the high concentration of artists seeking this very market. This can allow for competitive booking within the city, but also presents the added challenge of numerous, high profile bookings competing with your own on any given date.
The diversity of characteristics, in both their advantages and challenges, shapes Closed Sessions into a more flexible and agile company capable of operating in any market despite its unique characteristics.
Closed Sessions hosts Industry Nights; tell us about that concept and the mission there.
Closed Sessions Industry Night is an event series that allows the company to remain grounded in its commitment to bridge music and bar culture, and in doing so continue to expand our market reach to consumers who might not normally purchase tickets for one of our concert events and vice versa.
The Closed Sessions team overall has a long history of involvement in the service industry on all levels, and our continued outreach to owners, managers, bartenders, liquor representatives, wholesalers, etc. allows for networking that benefits Closed Sessions down the line when producing events, sourcing sponsorships, and maintaining broad support for our events throughout the area. Closed Sessions has presented its Industry Night at 18 venues, bars, and restaurants across Washington, D.C.
What’s your most memorable show?
To be honest, each show we have done has gotten more memorable then the last. We are developing a great group of industry friends around the city and some awesome fans. We are having a lot of fun with these shows. The most memorable show so far has to have been Cam’ron at U Street Music Hall.
Nostalgia aside, we hosted 8 amazing openers with very bright careers ahead of them, including Jay IDK, Innanet James, Ciscero, Beau Young Prince, Matt McGhee and Kidd Marvel hosting for us. Cam’ron had an amazing set that touched on all the tracks we grew up around. The event set a bar for how we want our events to be booked, run and perceived by our supporters. It should serve as the starting point in a new period of growth for Closed Sessions and the artists we book.
Where do you hope to go from here?
We hope to make 2017 the year where everything jumped up to the next level, where Closed Sessions became a household name across markets for throwing events that give people a unique window into who the next big acts will be, as well as getting to see the artists that defined our love of music across our own lives.
Closed Sessions is presenting a SXSW showcase alongside Beautiful Buzzz for the second year running, and will be hosting dozens of artists in March in Austin. Closed Sessions will emerge as a dominant force in DMV hip-hop bookings with a fusion of young blood reinventing the industry, as well as the OGs that built the foundations for where the genre is today. Closed Sessions will also continue to grow in its capacity to deliver top-tier electronic acts to the DMV market at venues like Flash, U Street Music Hall, Songbyrd, and more.
What can attendees expect in the coming year?
Attendees of Closed Sessions events in the coming year can expect everything they already love about Closed Sessions, but with more content, more shows, bigger crowds, new artists, and so much more. As the company grows it will empower us to bring our brand to more markets, in turn allowing us to bring more artists to more cities. Closed Sessions’ New Year’s resolution for 2017 is nothing short of world domination.
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