Jess Caragliano,
Co-founder / CEO
of Terrorbird Media

Tell us a bit about the career path that led to where you are now.

I’ve been an obsessed music fan since I first got my hands on an Operation Ivy CD in middle school, but my career really came into focus between 2001-2003 when I was music director at my college radio station: WSPN, 91.1 Skidmore College Radio in Saratoga Springs, NY. I lived and breathed that station — quite literally living in the office during my final summer after senior year! I couldn’t bear the thought of not being involved with radio after graduation, so it made sense for me to begin my post-college career in the promo world. There was a company at that time called Fanatic Promotion, and they had an impeccable roster, great promoters, and always sent me my favorite records. I was fortunate enough to land an internship there upon graduation, and after a few months it evolved into a full time job as a radio promoter. I learned a ton at that company but was driven to build something of my own, so in 2006 I left to launch Terrorbird Media. It started as a two person company with me and George Corona offering college/community radio promotion services. Thanks to the support of music directors across North America and the willingness of our favorite record labels to take a risk on us, we were able to quickly find our footing. Within the first few years, we expanded beyond radio to include publicity, sync licensing, and publishing administration, and have offices in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. Throughout my career I’ve always prioritized the values of college radio, which is why it’s so important to me that Terrorbird stays true to our independently owned and operated roots, maintaining a family-like atmosphere among a staff who all genuinely love music discovery.

Why does college/community radio matter in today’s fragmented environment?

In a time when our industry (and much of our life!) is so focused on the digital space with algorithms predicting what we want to see or listen to, the existence of a local space where actual human beings from the community are curating content content live on air, is more important than ever. I will always maintain that the relationship between a trusted DJ and their listener is truly special — as amazing as your Spotify Discover Weekly playlist may be, it can’t rival the human experience of discovering music chosen by a local tastemaker DJ whose voice and taste you’ve come to rely on. Hearing that DJ interview your favorite artist from the unique perspective of someone living in your own geographic region, or listening to never before heard versions of your favorite songs during an in-studio session recording at your local station, or finding out about a concert happening in your neighborhood that night after hearing it promoted on-air, can lead to inspiring musical experiences that wouldn’t necessarily have happened if not for college/community radio. It’s a hub that can weave together different perspectives and tastes, all relevant to a local community, and it’s done through a live human voice that you can truly connect with. That is so beautiful to me, and as spaces and platforms like this become more rare, the value of such an experience will exponentially increase.

What is your favorite experience you’ve had in your career? Perhaps a musical idol you got to meet? A festival you were able to attend? A project you were involved with promoting?

This of course has to be the moment when I realize that Terrorbird was about to be a “real” company. It was May of 2006 and we were about to launch, but were still in the process of locking down those first few clients. We wanted to kick things off with a roster that made it clear to future clients that we should be taken seriously. I remember the exact moment when I got the phone call that we were officially hired to work the Regina Spektor “Begin to Hope” album to radio. We not only would be representing a phenomenal artist that I had been a fan of since her early days playing open mic nights at the Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village of NYC, but we would be launching our company with the trust of Warner Brothers behind us. I was standing in my parent’s dining room at the time, and just broke down crying tears of joy. The Regina Spektor release plus a rad album by a small band called Epsilons (which was actually a project from young Ty Segall) both seemed to perfectly encompass the vibe we were going for. Those were Terrorbird’s first radio Adds on June 12th, 2006 and the rest is history. Outside of that notable launch experience, I am particularly proud that Terrorbird works so closely with Kathleen Hanna — she is a truly rad and inspiring activist in the feminist punk movement. Whether it’s being responsible for her compositions as her publisher, or exposing new audiences to Le Tigre and Bikini Kill through sync licensing, or taking The Julie Ruin to #1 on the radio charts, I couldn’t be more proud to be so involved in the career of such an influential badass.

What band/artist outside the realm of college/community radio would people be surprised to hear you love?

My love of broadway musicals would probably be surprising to most! I grew up in the suburbs of NYC and I have countless memories of my mom, my grandma, and my great aunt bringing me into the city to see musicals as a child, and that has just stayed with me through adulthood. Les Miserables, Rent, The Color Purple, and tons of others are personal favorites. Just this past weekend I saw Come From Away and it was phenomenal.

What job do you think you would you be doing if you weren’t a promoter?

The aspect of being a promoter that I always loved most was the genuine friendships I built with music directors. Talking to them weekly not just about music but about life’s various ups and downs and their personal experiences was so special to me. Instances where i was able to offer advise or be a mentor were even more fulfilling. I think that type of experience would be necessary for me to be happy in any other job. As Terrorbird grew and I moved away from the promoter role to focus solely on managing the business and our various departments, I still found the greatest fulfillment in my closest work relationships. Carefully choosing the right people to fit the company culture and building trust and openness that goes beyond a typical workplace experience to create true loving, family atmosphere is what drives me. My goal each day is to foster an environment where my staff can feel motivated, empowered, fulfilled, and actually enjoy coming to work each day. I am grateful to be able to surround myself with a team of such inspiring, smart, and creative people who all have impeccable music taste, and who allow me to have my dream job. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else and am so appreciative of everyone in the Terrorbird family — past and present. Though I guess if i was to answer this question more simply and directly, I’d have to say that in an alternate universe perhaps I’d be a therapist…

Do you think college/community radio will ever actually be an all-digital format? And if so, when?

Assuming by “all-digital format” you are referring to playing digital files as opposed to playing CDs or physical media, I think the main barrier is money. Many stations are operating on extremely limited budget and just don’t have the funds required for the hardware, software, and server space necessary to get a legitimate digital airplay system set up — not to mention the expense of an IT person to handle the technical problems that will arise, and the training that will be necessary to have longtime DJs learn the new systems. That said, I think things are certainly shifting more in that direction and while it’s slow and steady, it seems inevitable for the platform to eventually make the switch to becoming mostly-digital. Some programming will always remain “old school” with DJs who prefer the nostalgia of records or even CDs, and that is part of the beauty of college/community radio. It is interesting that radio seems to be the only marketing platform remaining that still thrives most when promo CDs are mailed — which is another indicator that an all-digital switch isn’t happening any time soon.

What is your dream travel destination?

Right now I’d have to say Japan. My wife and I had a trip booked for this past April to explore Tokyo, Kyoto, and various cities in between, but decided to cancel it after our dog Harpo was diagnosed with liver cancer. We’ve been focusing on holistic treatment methods and it’s been extremely successful so far! Harpo is defying the odds and going strong, while Japan is waiting for us to visit at a later time.

What TV show are you obsessed with atm? Or are you one of ‘those people’ that doesn’t watch TV?

I am most certainly not one of ‘those people’ that doesn’t watch TV — in fact, I am one of ‘those people’ that takes their TV so seriously that I listen to podcasts about the TV shows that I love most. Most recently, The Leftovers (HBO) wrapped up its third and final session and I can easily argue that it’s one of the best series on television of all time. It’s a phenomenal exploration of grief and humanity done in the most interesting, beautiful, and surreal way. On another tip, I have to shoutout Survivor (yes, the reality show Survivor is still on). Without any irony, I legitimately love watching strategy unfold in Survivor. From a sociological and psychological perspective, this show is a goldmine and I can honestly say I have learned so much about group dynamics, human interaction, and perception from this show. I am proud to say that Terrorbird has created many Survivor die-hard fans over the years and there are more than a few former Terrorbird employees that I hear from every week during Survivor seasons to discuss the episodes.

What is your favorite restaurant in town?

I am officially obsessed with a pizza place in Brooklyn that originated in Portland, OR called Sizzle Pie. They have THE BEST gluten-free, dairy-free pizzas in all of NYC. If it was up to me, Terrorbird would order lunch from Sizzle Pie every day. In the spirit of making sure everyone on the team is happy, I’ve had to scale it back to just a few times per month.

You’re stranded on a desert island. What five well known people (dead or alive) would you like to have there with you?

I’d like Shannon Kurlander, Tess Plummer, and Dan Manning to be there with me — because then I would have the best radio promo team by my side! The other two slots can go to Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders.