How I Got Started: Zack Zarrillo (Synergy Artist MGMT, Bad Timing Records)
Posted on April 5, 2016
“I’m a hermit. I generally don’t like people, and it’s not because of people, it’s because of me. I can be an asshole sometimes. I have lost plenty of relationships that I don’t necessarily need right now, but it’s never a good idea to make enemies and ultimately, it’s kind of a childish thing.”
In 2014, Zack Zarrillo was reaching what many music industry hopefuls and insiders would consider a peak in both productivity and visibility. PropertyOfZack, the now-defunct site which bore his name and enterprising spirit, had been accruing thousands upon thousands of monthly page hits after a well-publicized leak of Fall Out Boy’s 2013 reunion. A band under Zarrillo’s wing at Synergy Artist Management, Knuckle Puck, had scored an opening slot on a nationwide tour with retired pop-punk mainstays Man Overboard. A vinyl reissue of that Chicago group’s second EP, The Weight That You Buried, moved 500 units in fifteen minutes via his record label, Bad Timing Records — and while that last venture isn’t completely his Property, you’ve got to admit the dude had hustle. That summer, the hustler called out someone else‘s hubris via a Facebook status in which his personal profile was tagged. The screenshot of the original exchange — soon deleted after Zarrillo responded — gained 400-plus likes via The Defend Pop Punk Group, a digital underground which both rallied against the comment’s misplaced rage and stirred up vitriol of its own.
I had met Zarrillo for a brief moment two months before this mudslinging was blown open by overzealous teens. I was both impressed by his warmth (“Hello!” and a handshake — standard suit order of operations), but no less intimidated by his ever-expanding resume of intertwining interests. Since that initial encounter (much better than the actual first contact), we’ve only grown more familiar (or jokingly annoyed) with one another, and I’ve only continued to admire his ambition in a world that no longer has his namesake of a website to emulate or worse, treat with disdain.
Welcome to How I Got Started, a new feature series for The Runout. I was a voice accompanying PropertyOfZack‘s site overhaul, a makeover which ended more glamorously than its reveal. I existed as one of many loci of control working to make our music scene a safer, more inclusive place through my experiences with cerebral palsy. This is my attempt, over a scattering of interviews and long lead-ins, to continue that mission. This time, I’m focusing on the journeys of others instead of my own. Think you have a suggestion for someone to be profiled? (It’s okay if that person is you.) Shoot me an email.
Despite becoming an outpost for socially-charged essays near its end and an innumerable amount of news posts in its middle period, PropertyOfZack never really allowed Zarrillo to develop as a writer. But that skill set isn’t a sorely missed one, due to both a solid editorial staff and his own shifting passions. “I never wanted to be a journalist. I certainly don’t now,” he explains matter-of-factly. What he describes as a “bug” — the craft of the writing world — never really ensnared him like the chronic allergies which nearly ended his life. Perhaps that’s why his Allergic Reactions now come in condensed spurts of end-of-the-year album lists and easy-to-follow guides for everything from Bandsintown to entering the riveting labyrinth of quarterly finances. Each informative post comes quick and is usually bookended by his telegraphic, stripped prose style. When coupled with more personal, informal entries which outline, say, a side-trip to Europe, Allergic Reactions reads like the spiritual successor to Zarrillo’s high school e-diary.
That online journal just happened to explode into a scene tour de force. If you run a Google search for “PunkDisasters,” you will find a Tumblr post from 2009 nestled within the first ten results, which redirects to the now-defunct blink-182 fansite’s Twitter account. It was this forum which compelled Zarrillo, then a high school junior, to mull over the trio’s return to touring that summer to Tumblr’s faithful. “And slowly, I got a few hundred followers and my friend Connor Sheehan was like, ‘Hey! You post about music and people seem to like it. You should interview my band.’ And so I did. Afterwards I thought I should do this with real bands — no offense to Connor — and I did.”
PropertyOfZack gained its robustness and exponential growth not only from Zarrillo’s resilient speed (and once-sterling, now-bruised stamina), but up until this point in Zarrillo’s narrative, not much was disclosed about his personal life—it wasn’t until the site came to an end in August 2015 that he revealed who was responsible for his blink-182 fandom, and indirectly, most of the professional ventures which followed. “My best friend, who is three years older than me and grew up in West Milford, New Jersey introduced me to blink-182 and Sum 41 when I was nine or so.” This vital friendship—touched upon briefly in Connor Sheehan’s podcast eulogy for the blog—was a big inspiration, along with Zarrillo’s mother, who has owned her own business for three decades. “Growing [up] around that experience and her being hard-working and driven, whether she was succeeding or failing in any given moment, taught me everything I knew at a young age.”
“Timing is everything” was a mantra his Bad Timing Records would adopt across T-shirts and, in the case of Zarrillo’s label partner and other influential friend, Thomas Nassiff, in ink on his body. Consider 2013 the banner year which nearly guaranteed the explosive, divisive 2014 which began this story. Bad Timing Records registered as a legitimate business in March of that year, undeniably good timing after Zarrillo broke Fall Out Boy’s also explosive, divisive return in January. The opening sound bite about not making enemies seems like 20/20 hindsight misting out from under his thick glasses, because what he wrote on the leak in a 2015 reflection reads a little differently. The recounting centers around another conversation piece in Zarrillo’s life: this time surrounding next moves for Light Years, the first band he managed under (at the time) Rocky Point Management. “I was at lunch with them and they were like, ‘So, what are you gonna do after this?’ I said, ‘Well…I think I’m gonna go leak this thing.'” And so he did. The site gained 50,000 hits in a day, the most the Tumblr-hosted news source netted after four years. “It definitely opened the website and my career up a little bit, but it was just one of many things that helped chip away at our long-term success.” The reunion was confirmed by three sources and even braced for during Zarrillo’s internship at Crush Management, a high-octane agency which also oversees other artists like Train and Weezer. “It was around blink-182’s reunion. I remember they were keeping watch of it just to see what they do or not do if Fall Out Boy would ever reunite. Turns out blink-182’s reunion was a disaster and Fall Out Boy handled it a million times better.”
But for all of Zarrillo’s successes, there were poignant failures as well. Title Fight’s 2012 LP Floral Green was leaked online a month before its official release date. Many were unaware that the leak came from PropertyOfZack, until Zarrillo himself confessed to it some time later. To be clear, leaking the Fall Out Boy reunion and leaking a watermarked, highly anticipated record were two different things. Floral Green, in the hush-hush backwaters of press-publicist relationships, wasn’t kept under wraps, but had its digital advance copies watermarked to potentially pursue legal action against any leakers. Unlike the Fall Out Boy situation, Zarrillo was not solely responsible for this leak. It seems his blind trust in his staffers at the time might have been the catalyst, if not an indirect cause, of the mishap. “I used to share advances with the team because everybody was friends. I shared the advance with a photographer—a non-writer on the website—and then 24 hours later, that person leaked the album. It ruined my relationship with the band’s publicist, the label and their manager.” Although the leak did nothing malicious to Title Fight’s career trajectory—bassist Ned Russin still was interviewed for GQ—it still remains a sore spot for Zarrillo’s otherwise clean record, or at least, that’s how it plays out in his mind. “It was something that was incredibly hard to deal with at 18 years old. I bounced back, but that was not guaranteed [at the time].” He’d received death threats after the Fall Out Boy news spread and remained a subject of scrutiny after the leak of Floral Green, but handled it more smoothly, perhaps due to prior experience.
The thing is, Zarrillo didn’t completely ruin his relationship with Title Fight’s former label, SideOneDummy Records. The band’s publicist, Jamie Coletta, was also a writer for POZ (before migrating to The Runout shortly after the blog’s August sunset). She also manages Atlanta up-and-comers Microwave, who are signed to S1D; the label and Bad Timing co-released a split featuring Microwave and Head North in 2015. In her final column for PropertyOfZack, Coletta praised a fearless work ethic but highlighted a key shortcoming, or at least, a hard realization. “No one can do everything. Not me, not you and not even Zack. So when he told me he was bringing POZ to an end, I definitely wasn’t surprised. He’s only one person and he can only do so much.” That being said, the network Zarrillo has earned and maintained has not only enriched his past, but pointed his compass towards better project management in the future.
Self-care and self-fulfillment is a direct relationship. The better care you give to yourself, the happier and more fulfilled you may feel. Bad Timing Records sold out of 1,000 copies of their first release, a reissue of Acceptance’s 2005 album Phantoms, in four hours and eighteen minutes. It was undoubtedly a high point in his life and career. But his Instagram is now a hybrid of familiar content—seeing Knuckle Puck sell out venues across the country—and portraits of a new life, or at least, one not so bogged down by concurrent schedules. “There are many things during many days when I was bored or finished my work by noon, but I needed time to have an extended break. I’m trying to enjoy my life a little more.”
Zarrillo’s current portfolio has slimmed tremendously, his passions consolidated into two sectors of the music industry: managing both a sextet of artists, and a label thirty-plus releases deep in its catalog. Numbers, despite their flashiness on one-sheets and Billboard charts, may count for the business end of Zarrillo’s 2016, but don’t necessarily come with any personal attachments. “I’m lucky enough to work with Kevin Devine on his next album. Whether it’s going to be the biggest album of all time or the smallest album of all time, I truly believe working with Kevin is the best thing I could be doing for my career right now because I believe in that sole individual more than I believe in anything. It’s more about trying to not lose any more passion or be any more burnt out and to try and succeed that way.” This is coming a long way from the nine year-old whose first pop-punk song was “In Too Deep.”
The best advice Zarrillo has followed throughout his life is time-tested and reflexive: “The only way you get successful at an early age is if you just do what you want, slowly and over time. I did that maybe more instinctively than not.” Surely that adage comes through in his current and previous endeavors—after all, timing is everything, but Zarrillo in 2016 has definitely increased his emphasis on slowly accomplishing goals rather than stacking them against one another as he did in, say, 2013 or 2014.
But what Zarrillo stresses even more is the golden rule: to treat others the way you wish to be treated. Practice of this proverb has gotten him into potential legal trouble with the Floral Green debacle, but the transgression proved to be a lesson rather than a scene eviction notice. It’s a good thing, too, because no matter Zarrillo’s ratio of friends to enemies, it’s his belief in others, as well as in himself, which matters more than any album leak.
Zack Zarrillo is an artist manager for Synergy Artist Management, representing the careers of Have Mercy, Kevin Devine, Knuckle Puck, Mike Sapone, Nothing, Nowhere, and Sorority Noise. He is also a co-owner and founder of Bad Timing Records alongside Thomas Nassiff. You can find him on Twitter or at his new blog, Allergic Reactions.