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From “The Warped Guy” to Professor: Kevin Lyman

Guest Feature: Kevin Lyman

“My philosophy in life has always been: Music. Philanthropy. Education. Everything I work on has those elements.” Throughout Kevin Lyman’s 40+ years in the music industry - from a local production company in LA to 12.5 years with Goldenvoice to founding The Warped Tour in 1995 and producing it for 25 years and now as a full-time professor at the University of Southern California - it is clear that he embodies that philosophy.

We had the honor of chatting with Kevin and learned more about what guides him and what’s next for him and the industry. If our chat was anything like one of his classes, we may be applying to USC in the fall.

Before he became known as “The Warped Guy!”, Kevin’s first exposure to touring and being on the road was as a stage manager. Since he worked small shows, though, Kevin wore many hats and was involved in catering, security, operating the monitor desk, and almost every other part of the show. He learned all the skills. As he moved up, he found that the bigger the show you work on, the easier it gets because there are people for each role instead of one person for all the roles. But he also learned that being on the road full-time wasn’t for him. He got to go to cool places, but on someone else’s schedule.

The Warped Tour was supposed to be his own thing - he would dictate the tour, be able to determine where they would go and when and sometimes route the tour to one of his favorite fishing spots. So in 1995, he started the Warped Tour, thinking it would be his last stint in the music business before getting a real job. More than 25 years later, he’d produced the longest-running North American festival concert tour.

And then he became Professor Lyman, joining the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music faculty in the fall of 2018.

While the resources available to students who want to get into the music industry are much better than they were when Kevin was in school, they still aren’t great. At one time, the only way to learn about the industry was to go out and do it. Now, there are more programs available and Kevin is very proud to contribute to USC’s curriculum, teaching courses on branding, touring, venue management, festival design and management, and more.

“A lot of my teaching is teaching in real-time. This semester we covered COVID, streaming, and NFTs. I give them a couple of books to read for reference and history, but nothing in print other than what’s coming out in real-time makes sense right now,” he says.

One of those books he makes all of his students read is Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. They sometimes question why at first, but by reading it and discussing it in class, he wants to show them that we are often driven by the bottom line, but the money will come if you can generate happiness in life.

“I tell my students, think of the three words that describe you. If you can keep those three words as a thread throughout your life, it works out pretty well,” he says.

We took Kevin’s advice and read Ikigai. We learned how to find the intersection of passion, mission, vocation, and profession: our Ikigai. It is a must read and our only regret is not reading it sooner.

“I was told early in business that if you don’t live in LA you won’t make it. If you don’t change your appearance you won’t make it. I try to show my students that if they can take the philosophy of doing a little good in the world by doing things like giving 25 cents of every ticket to a charity, they can do good and do good business at the same time,” according to Kevin.

On the Warped Tour, Kevin always had a philanthropic component that had the potential to reach 500,000 people each year. If 10% of those people were actually exposed to it and 10% of them donated a can of food, another 10% of them contributed in another way, he was happy. Back then, the festival was his classroom and his way of educating the community. Now, his focus is on his students and he’s hoping that 50% of them will enter the business world with doing good in the back of their heads.

“That’s the best use of my time right now,” he says.

Sustainability and diversity aren’t just buzz words to Kevin.

“I’m glad when people say those things, but it’s the commitment behind them that matters. It’s all great, but change will only come when artists mandate it. The only way to make real change is for the artists to prioritize these issues with their managers, agents and labels, if they basically threaten them they will make the wanted and needed changes. From there, artists and those around them will have to commit time and money to green and diversity initiatives to make them happen,” says Kevin.

He is concerned that while these issues were top-of-mind while everyone was sitting at home during the lockdown, now that events are back and everyone is busy, attention is moving away from them.

A pandemic initiative that isn’t going away any time soon, however, is Kevin’s podcast, “My Warped Life” which he hosts along with his golf buddy Tony Arratia. He sees it as a great way to document stories from The Warped Tour without having to write a book. For now it’s a hobby and he’s having fun chatting with guests like the Van Doren family and Bob Hurley and recounting some of the idiosyncrasies of being on the tour.

“It’s fun. It’s a hobby right now, but man, it’s a lot of work!” he says.

Kevin believes his life has been all about timing and launching the podcast was just another example of that.

“You’ve got to keep progressing forward, kinda like life, it’s not planned out, it just happens. I didn’t plan to become a professor, but the timing was right, so I did. Ending The Warped Tour was good timing; we did it for 25 years, decided to stop, then a pandemic hit. It would have wiped us out. Phew! Sometimes it’s just timing and now was the right time to start a podcast,” according to Kevin.

He has a few other projects he’s working on with his company, Kevin Lyman Group, and while he couldn’t tell us much other than they are events that he wants to work on, he promises we’ll hear more about them later in the summer.

Kevin’s Parting Words of Wisdom:

  1. Take what you do seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. I have a lot of fun teaching that way. It’s been a good run, trying to extend it out while I still can.

  2. Learn patience.

  3. Appreciate the little things that we may not have before.

  4. Ikigai - Read it!

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