Oxford’s newest music venue, RockHouse Live, sits just off the Square. With locations in Memphis, Tennessee; Clearwater and Key West, Florida, the new brand is making waves in the Oxford food and music music scene.
Zach Bair is founder and managing member of RockHouse Live International, and invented the RockHouse Live concept and brand. He also serves as president and CEO of VNUE, Inc., and of DiscLive Network/RockHouse Live Media Productions, Inc., is lifelong tech and music entrepreneur, as well as a musician, and a recognized expert and speaker in new media and revenue streams in the music business. He is an accomplished audio and video producer, and is a voting member of the Recording Academy (the Grammys). He is the founder and former CEO and chairman of Immediatek, Inc. (IMKI), a high-tech company he took public, and prior to that, founder and former CEO/CTO of Voyence, which went on to sell to EMC Corp.
Bair is widely known for implementing and commercializing the “instant media” business model, acquiring pioneer DiscLive, and engaging The Pixies on the first tour that grossed more than $500K in revenue in just a few weeks. Bair spearheaded acquisitions which included Moving Records, a competitor, as well as numerous other companies and technologies.
Bair and his board of directors sold Immediatek to Mark Cuban, of Shark Tank fame, after achieving multiple successes in the immediate live and technology space, and Bair retained the right to continue the DiscLive model.
Bair aligned RockHouse Live Media Productions with EMI Music, under the Abbey Road Live name, and upon Universal’s acquisition of EMI, Bair rebranded the live operation “DiscLive Network,” to emphasize his team’s identity of pioneering the space, the brand strength, and the trust of the DiscLive brand. With VNUE, he is currently spearheading the design of technology (called Soundstr) to ensure songwriters are paid for music played in public spaces, and helping to reduce the costs of music licensing for businesses.
We caught up with Bair recently to find out more about his vision for RockHouse Live Oxford.
What drew you to music in the first place, and what are your thoughts about the future of the music industry in a post-Covid market?
I have always loved music—got my start when I was very young banging on my mom’s piano. I’ve played music my entire life in one form or another, but I knew I stood a better chance of having a career in technology than if I moved to LA and rented a one-bedroom apartment and tried to “make it” with four sweaty guys. So I built my tech career, played in bands, and eventually was able to marry my love for technology with [my love for] music when I started Immediatek, my first public company, in 2001. That company eventually sold to Mark Cuban, but during that time it is what eventually thrust me into the “core” music business. After Immediatek I had gained relationships across the major labels and ended up working for EMI Music Group (Capitol Records) and ran a global organization called Abbey Road Live.
Last year I put out my first official single, “Rutherford Drive,” which I produced. It did so well I enlisted Skidd Mills to produce an EP [Skidd produced Saving Able, 3 Doors Down, Pop Evil, and local punk metal legends, The Cooters], and released a second single, “Ordinary Girl.” I have another single coming out from that EP, which should be released by Christmas.
In terms of Covid, I think that there have been some interesting innovations—such as my company VNUE is currently acquiring StageIt (www.stageit.com), which is the earliest ticketed online streaming event platform. By the time this is published, we will have announced our upcoming Stageit concert with superstar Rob Thomas, raising money for he and his wife’s Sidewalk Angels Foundation. Many innovations have been borne from the pandemic—and a lot of creativity has come out of it. Concerts will eventually get back to semi-normal, but it is going to take a while.
As of now, Rockhouse Live is one of the only musician-owned live music venues in Oxford. How does that inform your approach to booking bands and fitting into Oxford’s established music scene?
Good question. When I opened the first RockHouse in Dallas (between 2006-08), I had already been in the music business a while, and I had been in the “scene” playing many gigs at local places around Dallas and Houston. So, I already had a good handle on music. The same can be said here in the mid-South, because after playing in and around Memphis and North Mississippi now for 12 years or so, I have a lot of musical connections. Many of the bands that play around Oxford and Tupelo also play Memphis and vice-versa. So, I am trying to leverage my relationships and bring the best bands in from Memphis and the surrounding area, as well as national bands that we will book from time to time.
Would you explain a little about the concept for RockHouse Live, and how it came to be in Oxford? What is your ultimate vision?
I will blame Oxford on my buddy Randy Mathis. Randy lives in Oxford, and I have known him for at least 10 years. He is a businessman, like me, and has lived in Memphis, Dallas, and Oxford. One day he called me and said “hey you need to come and check out Oxford, and I found the perfect place!” So, I came down—first time—and absolutely fell in love with the location and with the town. Oxford reminds me of college towns that I grew up in—Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Nacodoches, Texas—so I immediately saw the opportunity and reached out to my partner Jock [Weaver]. Once he came down and saw it for himself, he was also intrigued, and I guess you could say the rest is history!
As far as the concept, I envisioned RockHouse Live as a place where you could go see local, regional, and national bands, and have great food based on recipes I had developed throughout my life. That vision was partially realized with my Dallas spot, and then further with the two original Memphis locations, which are still in business, and which I consider to be “incubators,” because they are really a far cry from what the brand is becoming. RockHouse Live first and foremost is a restaurant with a “fun factor,” an entertainment-themed restaurant and bar with the best local, regional, and national music, karaoke, and technologies that take it a notch higher. For example, we are installing VNUE’s Soundstr, our music recognition technology, in each location, to help identify music and ensure artists are paid; and we are installing streaming technology that we have developed to allow any audio or video input to be streamed to not only TVs and speakers in the restaurant, but to other RockHouse Live locations.
Our vision is to build RockHouse Live into a global powerhouse brand, and we are already on our way. We have opened our Flagship in Clearwater (April 2020) and both Oxford and Key West in September.
Can you tell me a little bit about VNUE and how it ties into the Rockhouse Live concept?
As noted, I am CEO of VNUE. I have been at the helm for five years, and our focus is developing and implementing technologies (such as Soundstr) that benefit musicians, artists, labels, songwriters, and publishers. Our set.fm tech, which will be installed in RockHouse, is a platform that enables us to record music and release it to fans immediately after the show. This is similar to DiscLive, my sister company, which makes physical products such as CDs available as fans leave the show. So we are absolutely implementing VNUE tech into RockHouse.
Could you tell me a little about the food side of the concept, and how that was developed with the overall theme?
Yes—the food is AMAZING and people really need to come check it out! It all started with my legendary RockHouse Burger, which was the first menu item I had created. I literally had made it for friends as far away as Australia and everyone loved it, so I decided that it would be a great starter. From there I added our Exotic Chicken Sandwich, which is a tropical-ish sandwich that is equally delicious. I added a few other items that then became the core menu of RockHouse prior to my partnership with Jock—who as you know was president of Hard Rock Cafe International back in the day. When we launched Clearwater, we added a bunch of other menu items that were central to Florida, such as gator bites, grouper, and other stuff. That menu has now become our core menu, and is being used in Oxford along with some local “flavor” as we say, such as our Oxford Rice Bowl. We try to tailor the menu to a degree to each location.