Disco Donnie Talks About Being The Leading Dance Music Promoter and How SFX Saved Him

January 15, 2015 -

Daily Beat Staff

A few days ago I was privileged to speak with one of the most successful individuals in our industry today - "Disco" Donnie Estopinal, the "Godfather" of electronic dance music and founder of one of the largest promotional companies in the world, Disco Donnie Presents. This is probably the perfect time to implement the saying "started from the bottom, now we're here," because that's literally the roller coaster ride his career has taken him on. He's been that guy passing out flyers on the street, that guy checking ID's at the door, and even THAT guy who hit rock bottom at some point. One thing I know for sure is that he's been around the block and EVERYONE should be taking notes.


Ariel DB: Tell me some things about yourself that I wouldn't be able to find on the internet?

Disco Donnie: Everything is on the internet these days. I'm pretty much an open book. What information haven't I released? I'm sure I have some skeleton's in my closet somewhere. I'll think of something like this, that I'm gay or a priest, or I'm a gay priest. I wanna come up with some big, something big like that, but I don't have one right now. I need a big card.

Ariel DB: How did Disco Donnie Presents begin and what inspired you to start something so dominant in this industry?

Disco Donnie: I just started promoting shows and it was a very small scene when I started so I just kind of wanted to make it bigger. I thought that more people should experience the stuff that I loved about the scene. It really started out as a hobby where I was just a street-level promoter, helping out the other promoters, then people started hiring me and eventually I wanted to do my own shows. It started out as just a hobby and then it became a job later, but it was something I enjoyed and really believed in and definitely something I could get behind.  Fast forward to the dance scene in the 90's when it really started to take off - the scene just kinda of imploded on itself. Basically, people weren't coming to the shows, they weren't interested I dance music anymore and that's when I started branching out into other markets. In 2001, 2002 and 2003 there were a lot of cities that used to have vibrant scenes and I noticed that they weren't doing shows anymore so I contacted the old promoters in those markets just to see if they were interested in partnering up to bring it back. I always knew dance music was gonna come back - I didn't know it was going to take 10 years. I had a feeling that if we did good shows and those markets had cheap tickets, it would come back, then we'd be the dominant promoter in that market.

Ariel DB: I see your name on almost every EDM-related event that shows up on my newsfeed. I'm from the Tampa Bay area, so I go to the Amp in Ybor City a lot to see big acts. I see your name pretty much everywhere when looking for a new event to go to.

Disco Donnie: Yeah, I love Tampa. I think I started doing shows there in 2004 or 2005 so I've almost been doing shows there 10 years. I think my first show was at the old Amphitheater and then it closed down shortly after. We were booking Tiësto and Armin van Buuren in the Green Iguana.

Ariel DB: There are multiple Green Iguana's. Which one was it?

Disco Donnie: I think it was the one by the water. Just imagine, these days telling Tiësto he's playing at Green Iguana restaurant. I actually had Lady Gaga play for me at Green Iguana as well, so yeah, me and Tampa go way back.

Ariel DB: Wow, that's so awesome. I was born and raised here so that's really cool to hear. What do you think the key difference is between a successful and unsuccessful promotional team?

Disco Donnie: Well, I know both ends of that because I've done a lot of unsuccessful stuff. I think that the key to having knowledge to what you're doing, and caring about what you're doing. What I see a lot of these days is someone coming in and booking ahead as kind of a bank and people will say when they come to the door and see all these people "oh somebody's making money here," so you know they're looking at things from the wrong way already. I just feel like these guys come in and they think it's really easy to do, but I've been doing this for 20 years and I'm still learning every day. I definitely still make mistakes and I feel like there's a lot that people don't realize there's a lot more that goes into it than just getting a venue and booking a DJ and putting it on Facebook. There are so many more layers to it and I think what happens with a lot of these other promotional groups that I've seen is that they try and do too many things at once. You have to perfect one thing before moving on to the next thing. It's kind of like going to high school. You can't just jump straight into being a sophomore, you have to be a freshman first. The people don't really wanna put in the time that it takes to really learn and really understand how to promote a proper show.

Ariel DB: What's the process like to book artists and find the appropriate venues?

Disco Donnie: It takes a long time to find a venue. I'm actually coming to Florida tomorrow to look at venues. We're constantly on the lookout. Every time I'm traveling I'm always looking for new venues. It used to be very, you know, you're talking about a large scale event for some of these festival sized venues so there's not many venues that can actually handle that size event. You have to basically go into these venues and present to them why they should have your event in there. It's become a lot easier though. It used to be really hard to get venues, but now they're reaching out to us. There's still a little push back, but we definitely have a lot more options now because venues are actually contacting us. Yeah, so we're always on the lookout and there's a negotiation process that goes on where you have to make sure the dates are right and available. Then you have to go meet with the state officials, the fire department and the police. It's a really long drawn out process, but we always like to have a new venue locked in about 6-8 months before we're going to launch something. If it's a venue that we've used already we try and do 2 or 3 year contracts, 5 year contracts, so we can just take that off our plate and get that done way in advance and concentrate on doing the shows. Finding a venue is getting a venue that works with YOU, and helps YOU out is a VERY important thing.

Ariel DB: I completely agree. I went to District 3 in Downtown Tampa the other night for the first time and I thought it was really really nice.  It had a great atmosphere to it.

Disco Donnie: I think I had Tiësto there too when it was a black club. It was challenging, to say the least, but I think it's under new management that's why I haven't done anything there again because I kinda had a bad taste in my mouth. It's under new management though and I think they hit a home run with Keys N Krates. What was the drama with the naked girl?

Ariel DB: I was standing right there when everything went down! So hilarious.

Disco Donnie: Well, they offered her tickets to SMF so you should tell her that she should get naked at Sunset too.

Ariel DB: What do you feel has been the biggest accomplishment throughout your career?

Disco Donnie: My biggest accomplishment in this career is being able to keep a balance. I've been married for almost 10 years now, I have 2 sons. I had been with my girlfriend since 1999 so right now she's my wife, but to make it through all of those trials and tribulations and all the traveling and all the groupies, you know, it was an accomplishment to be able to kind of balance it all. Remember now, when I go to these shows and people are going crazy and everybody is coming at you with pictures and autographs - it's just like a crazy lifestyle going on. Then I fly home and here I am, then it's "take out the trash, take the kids to school, bring this back," so you know, it's just like 2 different worlds. It wasn't an easy process for me, my wife, or my family, but my biggest accomplishment is being able to balance those two worlds and try to maintain them both well.

Ariel DB: How has DDP been since partnering with SFX?

Disco Donnie: It's been great. I know there was a lot of people that were worried about it because they didn't understand what was going on, but it takes a lot of money to do all of these events and at the time, I didn't have 50 million dollars in the bank to continue to do these shows, to make them bigger and to make them grow. I was using a series of loans from loan sharks, credit cards, anywhere I could get money, I was basically using that to finance the shows. Then we also, not just me, but all the other promoters as well in the United States got control of our ticketing money so we were using those merchant accounts. The people actually playing for the shows, they would buy the ticket to get the money into our account and then we would use it for something in the past. So, it was a slippery slope, it was a huge type of a Ponzi scheme, flipping money over and over and over again. It just took up too much time with the whole "who owes me?" and "who do I owe?" So, SFX came in and secured everything. I had been working on this for close to 20 years, and my family's future wasn't secure. I didn't have a 401K plan, you know all the money went right back into the shows, it was a really difficult thing. So to know that my kid's college tuition was taken care of, kind of legitimized what I had been working on for 20 years. Also, it took off an enormous pressure. 40-50% of your time is spent chasing money and dodging people that want their money. We've been able to come out of that and through SFX we've been able to concentrate on producing the shows and creating new concepts. SFX definitely helped a lot in that respect.

Ariel DB: What do you recommend to young individuals investing in the music/entertainment industry today?

Disco Donnie: I know there's a lot of people interested in getting job in this industry and what I have to tell them is basically you have to keep on working at it because it takes time. It's a lot of hard work and you have to find your niche. There are so many different opportunities. You have to find the one that you want, that you enjoy, that suits you best. A lot of people are expecting it to happen over night, but it takes a lot of time to break in and I would take your time to find out what works for you best. Don't just always go with the first thing, look at all the different roads and learn all of the different positions. The whole reason why I feel like I was able to be a good promoter, is because I've passed out the flyers, I've bought the sound equipment, I've worked the front door. I've hit every position so I know everything that's going on in that venue. I know what each person is going through, that way I can understand better what needs to be done to take care of the whole event. So, I always tell people it takes a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. I've definitely had some luck in my life that's helped out. You just have to get the right break and get your foot in the door and I've told people just never give up and never take no for an answer. Just always keep going for it and it'll happen for you.


IN OTHER NEWS: Starting tomorrow at 7 p.m., the 2nd Annual Day After Festival is taking place in the beautiful Panama City, Panama. Headliners like Tiesto, Martin Garrix, Afrojack, W&W, Oliver Heldens, Claude VonStroke, Nervo, DVBBS, Borgore, The Chainsmokers, Cedric Gervais and more will all be in attendance and well prepared to give Panama City everything they've got. A top tier festival such as this only goes to show how much Disco Donnie Presents cares about its attendees.

If you haven't purchased ticket yet, you may do so HERE.


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