Today we bring to you our first male interviewee, Jason “Jay” Carter, founder and CEO of Atlanta’s very own social event series, Sol Fusion and uber successful and still growing music festival, ONE Musicfest. Jason splits his time between creating an eclectic nightlife vibe at his parties and building his music festival to include some of the biggest named performers in the country. He was nice enough to take a few minutes out of his always busy schedule to talk with us about how he was able to build two great brands and what he has in store next. Read on to learn more about Jason…
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
JC: I was born and raised in Harlem, New York. I moved to Atlanta to finish high school and went to Florida A&M for college, enrolling in the School of Business and Economics. I graduated and moved back to Atlanta to be with my family. My father was a Regional VP of Xerox and helped open up local Xerox in Atlanta, so I was able to come home and work for the family business for a few years.
Can you share with us your journey from your first job to becoming an entrepreneur?
JC: My next job after Xerox was working for Lexus Nexus as legal consultant. While doing that, I slipped into the Atlanta nightlife. I had always put together parties and events in the past but never thought to structure a business around it.
It was the late 90’s and I felt like nightlife in Atlanta was missing something. I aimed to fill that void by creating an environment in which I wanted to party on weekends. We started with about 20-30 people and grew to thousands of ppl under events under Sol Fusion.
How did you get your first Sol Fusion party together?
JC: It was all by word of mouth. I still had my daytime job and was more interested in just creating great events as opposed to generating revenue. A lot of my friends wanted the same things that I did out of parties so my events slowly began to grow. A college friend had a huge house in the suburbs so we would throw house parties of 300-400 people.
A club owner came to one of the house parties and asked us to recreate the same type of environment and bring the same number of people to his club. We charged him a fee and delivered. Slowly it grew into a weekly event at a local club in the late 90’s early 2000’s.
Everything else blossomed from there. This was before social media and email campaigns, so we would just call friends and tell them to come and word spread organically.
How did the sponsors come on board?
JC: A few sponsors were actually in attendance of our events. Emily Parker from Heineken was there at one of our earlier parties and approached us and asked how they can get involved. I didn’t yet understand how to attach brands and their messages to events. We set up a meeting with her managers and listened to what they had to say and what they were looking for from a partnership with us. After hearing how much they would pay us, we agreed to set it up and use our parties as a vehicle to connect to their audiences. Many other spirits and brands soon came to follow.
What was the transition like from employee to entrepreneur?
JC: It was rough. I had a cushy job comfortably making six figures while working from home and my parents thought I was crazy for leaving that job to work in nightlife. Brand marketing through events was something others couldn’t quite understand, yet thankfully my parents were still very supportive. I believe experience is the best educator. I used about 15-20% of the knowledge I gained from college, but experience from my previous jobs is what really prepared me for the huge leap into the life of an entrepreneur.
I realized early on that you really have to want it. Everyone isn’t built for the “you eat what you kill” mentality and some rather have a steady paycheck; you’ll have your good days and your bad days.
How did you come up with the name “Sol Fusion”?
JC: It sounds a little cliche but it’s literally and figuratively the fusing of everything under the sun. In Atlanta, clubs weren’t and still can sometimes not be the most integrated, but many individuals from different groups (white, black, asian, gay, etc) all like the same music. So one of the first parties we had was a very eclectic mix of musical genres and DJs to create an all-encompassing atmosphere.
Can you tell us a little about your most recent undertaking, ONE Musicfest?
JC: The tagline for ONE Musicfest is “Journey Through Music”. The lineup for this year includes some of great acts and big names like Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Jhene Aiko, Method Man, Red Man, Daley and Alice Smith. Similar to Sol Fusion, this festival also brings all aspects of brown music together and gives people who may love one genre a chance to hear, discover and enjoy another one they may or may not be familiar with. This year, we expect about 15,000 attendees to make their way to the Lakewood Ampitheater for the event.
What inspired the concept for ONE Musicfest?
JC: A lot of it came from the support of sponsors and business relationships. Sponsors were able to help us secure big names with their large budgets and helped us bring our goal of bridging the gaps between different communities, ages and races to realization. Last year we had Cee-lo, Snoop, Erykah Badu, Goodie Mob, Goapele and others; it was an amazing blend of different shades and types of progressive music.
What is a current typical day like in the life of Jason Carter?
JC: I have interns and freelancers and 4 full time individuals who handle operations, social media and promotions. For large events we hire about 10 individuals to help with responsibilities. So as of now, I dabble in all the necessary daily tasks of running a business and oversee everyone to ensure they have what they need to help complete any tasks at hand.
What is your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
JC: My favorite part is the opportunity to play by own rules. I love the fact that the amount of work I put in is directly related to the level of my rewards.
What about the most challenging part?
JC: The time. Time management and finding enough time in the day to get work done is always a challenge as their just never seems to be enough hours in the day.
What is your biggest accomplishment to date?
JC: My greatest accomplishment would have to be ONE Musicfest. We received an award from the City of Atlanta, The Phoenix Award, which is the highest you can get from the Mayor of Atlanta for anything dealing with the arts. We won it two years in a row.
When hiring, what do you look for in employees?
JC: Hunger most of all, but at least some experience because as an entrepreneur you don’t have that much time to train everyone. I need someone ready to jump in and learn from their mistakes while still being able to adapt and keep rolling with the punches.
Have you ever felt color barriers on your way of moving up to the top?
JC: Atlanta is still very color conscious, but this generation is definitely helping with more seamless integration across races. Atlanta is a place that is built from the bottom up as opposed to top down.
In somewhere like New York, the higher ups help with integration and urban development. In Atlanta, the people inspire the growth of the city and private business owners and developers build up a lot of the communities and help the real estate market bounce back. Atlanta truly is empowered by its people, so sometimes we must demand what we want and need until we get it.
What is your best piece of advice for a young person looking to work in events or branch out on their own?
JC: Find a mentor and try to work with them and learn from them and learn from experience. You get your foundation and basics from school but an internship or working for a certain individual can give you that needed extra spark.
What’s up next for Sol Fusion and ONE Musicfest?
JC: We are looking to expand ONE Musicfest into a week of events that incorporate technology, entertainment, visual arts and education; something like a mini South by South West that touches on some of the many great industries. We are also looking to expand the breadth of our musical acts and bring in genres like reggae, alternative rock, etc.
Thanks so much for your time Jason! If you are in or around Atlanta is September, check out ONE Musicfest September 13th. You can buy tickets here.