Interview: Kevin Lyman shares his story and teaching experience at USC

Interview & Photos By Yising Kao 2/23/19

Look out for our Music Industry issue which will be out in March, featuring interviews with Kevin Lyman and more music industry professionals!

For over 35 years, Kevin has worked in all aspects of the music industry and founded the Kevin Lyman Group which offers services such as event production, talent booking, brand sponsorships, and more; it isn’t only an agency, but a shared experience that shapes youth culture and promotes activism. He has created influential and successful music tours such as the Vans Warped Tour and Taste of Chaos Festival. In addition to running his own company, Kevin accepted a job offer as a professor at University of Southern California in 2018, teaching music industry classes in the Thornton School of Music. His classes provide students with the opportunity to learn about topics such as concert promotion and venue management, while getting to network with entertainment industry professionals.

Kevin Lyman Group:

What inspired you to start your own company? Was there a specific moment that made you want to get into event production?

Production for me was accidental almost. I needed a job and lived in Hawaii after I finished school and I came back here but I had done a lot of concerts and production in college. So then, coming in, it was like, I started doing it and right away I realized that the best thing for me would be to start my own company and subcontract with the promoters in town, and they were open to that. Most promoters wouldn’t do that now. They’d want you to come work for them and be their own production guy. But most of the time, back then, they were willing to not have to deal with me on payroll. They just paid me per show, and I would just run my own shows.

So, you started doing freelance work?

Yes, and at one point I was running 320 shows per year.

A lot of people struggle with the first step of networking with artists and their teams. How did you make that transition from being a fan who attended concerts to working your way up as a professional?

I was the reverse of that. I was kind of a fan of shows but I wasn’t a die-hard fan. I started working shows in college and then became more of a fan of music. That’s when I really fell in love with music.

You teach music industry classes at USC now so how has your teaching experience and transition been like from only working for your company to now also teaching college students?

Teaching’s hard. Like, the teaching part’s fantastic and I enjoy interacting with the students. I’m having trouble with the structure and the administration, and I think there’s a reason I only work for myself. There’s been a little bit of a transition, but this is my second semester, so it’s getting easier and better. Someone said it’s going to take three semesters to get comfortable and I’m feeling pretty comfortable right now.

What do you hope your students take from your classes?

To open their minds and think differently. Because I think that’s a problem sometimes. We all think that there’s an A to Z because we’re always taught to test so there’s gotta be a right answer. There is no right answer in the music industry. Are there right decisions? Yes. But none of our decisions are life or death. Usually, we can figure out that it’s ok to make mistakes. So that’s what I’m trying to teach them, that failure ‘s ok.

Yeah, everyone kind of creates their own path in this industry.

Everyone really does. And that’s the thing. Most of the time, it’s the grind. You grind it out and just get out there, you work, you make contacts. So making them communicate helps, like my undergrad class right now; I make them talk to each other for 10 minutes. Go meet someone in class that you’ve never met before.

What made you want to teach at USC?

I wasn’t looking to do this, but I like sharing my knowledge. I’ve done a lot of speaking gigs and when Mike Garcia, Paul Young and Vivian approached me, I was like “this could be a different challenge” and you always gotta try something new.

What advice would you give to people who are interested in working in the music industry, such as for event production or management?

Perseverance and patience. Learn how to multi-task and learn multiple parts of the business. Be an expert maybe in one but know the rest of them and respect them.

Could you tell us about the upcoming Vans Warped Tour this summer?

I can’t say much, but it’s going to be similar to Warped but with a little more of a historical network of it.