By Morgan Olsen, For RedEye
7:40 PM CST, December 19, 2013
When Metro talent buyer Joe Carsello sees a show at his workplace, he likes to watch from a few favorite spots.
If he’s not standing near the soundboard, you’ll find the Little Village resident at the front-of-house booth.
“Not because I don’t like being near people,” Carsello explained. “It’s where the room sounds the best. If I can’t be there, the balcony is a great place to watch shows, too.”
The 32-year-old has worked in nearly every nook and cranny of the music industry. He’s sold merch for bands, worked as a tour manager and a production manager and even has his own band, Lasers and Fast and [Bleep]. When he was younger, Carsello had a laundry list of odd jobs that paid the bills and fueled his music-industry fantasies.
“I’ve always worked hard to stay in the music business,” he said, “even if I had to pick up a job being a waiter ... or bussing tables or working in a warehouse in between tours. I worked at Home Depot once.”
Of course, working the register at Home Depot couldn’t compare to Carsello’s gig as a tour manager for bands like Shiny Toy Guns and Kill Hannah. In 2003, Carsello started working as a production manager at Double Door. His connections there led him to Joe Shanahan, Metro’s owner, and after starting out as an assistant talent buyer, Carsello eventually landed a job as senior talent buyer.
His idea of education comes from the communal stereo in the open-space offices at Metro. “Everyone is constantly listening to music, and we have a little AirTunes stereo that everyone can play music from their computers to,” Carsello said. “So you get this grade-A education on music that ... no one could ever offer me.”
His hands-on experience with musicians has helped shape the way he does business, too. His day-to-day work involves an “obscene” amount of emails with agents and managers. He said his experience as a road manager and an artist has given him the gift of patience and compassion.
“Being a person who’s worked for bands and toured and ... been in a band that’s toured, you get the whole grasp of how hard everything is and that there needs to be some sort of sensitivity toward people,” Carsello said.
So how does Metro land its top acts? Carsello said it’s a mixed bag of artists and their teams requesting to play the venue and him seeking out artists that he’s interested in booking.
“With the history of the venue, there’s a solid amount of people that are going to come to us,” he said about the 30-year-old concert hall. “There’s a way to grow through Chicago, and coming to Metro is definitely a part of that process.”
When artists come through Metro, Carsello has a front-row seat and backstage pass to just about any show he wants. Before a band or performer takes the stage, he’ll often check in with them backstage to ensure everything is running smoothly. Of course, this has resulted in stories that rival “Almost Famous.”
“The most interesting moment I have had in the dressing room was seeing Jane’s Addiction have a full-band jam session before they played a two-hour set,” Carsello said. “They basically played a bunch of Led Zeppelin and some other cover songs to get warmed up for like 40 minutes. It was super loud but also the first band I have ever seen do that at Metro.”
The booking process is all about timing. Carsello and his team plot out a roadmap of artists and their future plans: Album releases, singles and music videos are accounted for. They plan shows around these major events to ensure hype is at its peak.
The crown jewel of Carsello’s booking ventures is Chance The Rapper—and it’s more than the hip-hop artist’s newfound fame that makes Carsello drop his name.
“Watching Chance The Rapper just explode was not only inspirational, but I couldn’t be happier for a person like that,” he said. Carsello said he admires Chance’s down-to-earth approach to the music industry.
“You can still write good music, and you can still promote yourself, and you can still go through some sort of normal steps. And you don’t need a record label, and you don’t need all these people around you,” he said.
When asked whom he would book at Metro if there were no limits, Carsello had one question: “Could I bring people back from the dead?”
After getting the green light to go grave digging, he settled on The Clash.
The afterlife conversation isn’t that strange for the staff and crew at Metro. Paranormal stories surround the famous venue. Some people claim to hear children’s voices, and others swear they’ve seen a ghostly woman roaming the halls after hours. The Discovery Channel filmed a Season 1 episode of “Ghost Lab” there, rigging the concert hall with cameras overnight.
“I find the episode quite funny,” said Carsello, who admitted he’s “not a big believer in the paranormal.”
There’s no denying that history plays an important role in Metro’s Chicago presence. The famous names that have graced the venue’s marquee for 30 years make it a musical landmark for the city. The future of Metro, in Carsello’s mind, might just circle back to its roots.
“As Chicago builds itself with more music venues, we have inevitably slowed down in doing some local shows,” Carsello said. “[Metro is] still this amazing place to see shows. As we’re able to curate more stuff and create more really unique events here, we still have the power to bring in artists, and they trust us.
“That’s an exciting thing to see ... how we can continue working with artists as they grow older, as they grow into other projects. And that’s what this whole place affords us [the opportunity] to do.”
Metro mix: Joe's favorite Chicago artists
1. Chance The Rapper: "He's a great performer. But not only that ... he has an earnestness about him."
2. Pink Frost: "They've worked really hard for a very long time, and I feel like this album is taking them in the right direction."
3. Oscillator Bug: "He has an album that's going to come out early next year that I'm really looking forward to because I've heard the whole thing a bunch now."
4. The Hood Internet: "I still travel with those guys a lot. ... They released their album last year, 'Feat,' and it was all their original productions."
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