Interview – Melissa Carbone

Interview – Melissa Carbone

Sometimes when you least expect it, you are planning a new career path; it could start out as a hobby, develop into a massive passion, and then take off from there. Just ask Melissa Carbone, an envisioning entrepreneur who turned her love for all things spooky into a highly-successful company, cornering the market on Horror-themed attractions for the Halloween season. Always forward thinking, now Carbone looks to pave a new path with her latest concept, Tailgate Fest.

What exactly is Tailgate Fest? Well, there is no question tailgating is a massively popular pastime for many Americans, but unfortunately, once the concert or game starts, it has to end – or does it? That is where Tailgate Fest comes in. Paying attention to what others were saying, Carbone brings the concert to the fans right in the parking lot, so the tailgating can keep on truckin’ without a hitch, no pun intended. Excited for the new venture, the driven and focused business lady sat down to talk her inspiration, keys to success, future plans, plus much more. – You have been a very successful business woman over the past decade, plus founding Ten Thirty One Productions, and you continue to develop creative new ventures. First, tell us, what has inspired your entrepreneurial passion over the years?

Melissa Carbone – It’s a good question. What inspired it is I actually can’t help it; I have this cerebral thing that takes control. Once I have an idea that I believe in, or I think can be something unique that is filling a lane in the marketplace that isn’t currently filled, I can’t think about anything else. (Laughs) From an inspiration standpoint, typically, it’s something that has already been in my life in some other way that’s not a career-focused way.

With the haunted hayrides, my partner at the time and I were building these giant displays in our front yard. Every single Halloween they were getting bigger and bigger, it looked like we were throwing up Halloween on the neighborhood. We had soccer moms and hundreds of kids coming to our house every year! That was something completely un-career focused. Once I started really diving in and thinking about it, I saw the revenue behind it. I said, “There’s something here.” Once that kind of drug got into my bloodstream, it was a freight train and there was no looking back.

With this new venture, Tailgate Fest, same exact thing. Me and one of my producers were at the hayride last year. It was middle of the month, and we were exhausted; it’s an exhausting month for us, 2 AM and 3 AM nights. The next morning when we got up to go to the hayride, we were having coffee and I said, “I’m so tired. Wouldn’t it be so nice if we just had a day off to go tailgate at a football game or a Country concert?” She said, “I know. It’s almost over, we only have the month left.” To which I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just make a career out of tailgating?” That is where it started. True story, and that became my next freight train. – That is pretty cool. Obviously, we all have things we are passionate about and that is essential when launching a business, but beyond that, what would you say are the keys for heading down a road to success?

Melissa Carbone – For me, it’s ownership of my own time – I have to love what I do everyday; my time has to belong to me. The ultimate thermometer of success is how much of your own time belongs to you. For me, that is critical to my happiness. I think that’s the biggest qualifier for me as I start doing things. Just from a life’s path standpoint, I am definitely not a person who can be strapped to a desk working on someone else’s timeline, making money for somebody else.

I think another big piece of it is, it’s not about making money. Like I said, it’s ownership of your own time, but it’s always about being satisfied and feeling like you are living out your purpose; what makes you happy, your passion, that your career is literally the thing that makes you happy. You are excited everyday for what you are going to do, because even though it’s your work, it doesn’t feel like work. – Completely understandable. One of your latest endeavors is the aforementioned Tailgate Fest. What makes this different from most concert experiences is it allows the concert goers to watch the performances while partaking in their own tailgates. Brilliant idea! How has the development of the project been going?

Melissa Carbone – It’s been great! I have an awesome team that is building it with me. To me, the development of this has been super validating, because exactly like you just said, we have been hearing from industry veterans, hardcore Country fans, the not so hardcore Country fans, and from people who just like tailgating.

Tailgating is a 60-billion dollar industry and I feel like it’s another unicorn, like the hayride unicorn; it’s a brand new model. Everytime I have built something, it’s not something that has been built before exactly the way I am building it. Tailgating already exists, it has existed for centuries, but what we are doing is packaging it super differently. Right now tailgating is just a byproduct of a football game or a Country music festival. It’s the piece people are not really focused on or branding in this way.

For us, as I was tailgating with my friends, we realized the unanimous sentiment among tailgaters was you don’t want to stop tailgating when the show starts. That is where this concept came from. It was filling a need that I heard pretty unanimously from the tailgating industry that I had become a part of. Once we saw there was a 60-billion dollar power in this thing and nobody really putting a flashlight on it like this, it was again, a wide open lane.

The development so far has been fantastic. From an artist standpoint, we have a lineup that I think is incredible. To put up a brand new Country music festival in a town like Los Angeles, which is incredibly competitive, which has a lot of content and choices, we came up with a really strong 8-person lineup that will turn the mainstage into the soundtrack of fans’ Country-loving lives. We curated it so all the artists on the stage have at least 4 to 5 hits, so tailgaters aren’t listening to songs or music that they don’t know – which is obviously what you don’t want to do when you are tailgating. It’s coming together really nicely. I think we have a great opportunity to do something magical with it. – Very cool, and the acts announced thus far are great. There will also be more acts announced too. You mentioned about the tailgating market, Country music has crossed over into the mainstream with Country Pop and Country Rock. It’s amazing to see over the last decade-plus that Country music has become one of the most popular forms of music in America.

Melissa Carbone – It’s unbelievable, it floors me every day. – It truly is amazing. That said, tailgating is not limited to Country – Rock and Metal fans also tailgate. Have you considered expanding this festival to branch off with different genres of music in the future?

Melissa Carbone – For sure. I think the way we see it, in a long-term marathon perspective, Tailgate Fest can manifest itself in a lot of different environments. I don’t think we are thinking about it as strictly a Country music festival experience, I think we are thinking about it even in some non-music formats.

I can definitely see us doing a Classic Rock or Metal tailgate party. I can even see us doing things around holidays like 4th of July, doing a 4th of July tailgating barbecue. We roll into a parking lot at a beach somewhere with about 3,000 people, put up a small stage, and have a barbeque. I can see Tailgate Fest celebrate the launch of football season – rolling into a park or, again, a beach, throw up a couple of giant jumbotrons and acts in between. I think it can roll into a lot of different environments and celebrate a lot of different things – music, sports, holidays, and a lot of different genres. I think Tailgate Fest is a pretty great concept that can shuck and jive in a lot of different worlds. – It certainly is wide open with possibilities. It was in 2009 you launched Ten Thirty One Productions and it has been one of the most successful Halloween/Horror-themed attractions over the last decade. Is it safe to say you have always been a big Horror fan?

Melissa Carbone – I am absolutely a Horror fan, a lifelong Horror fan. – Awesome. What do you have planned for this forthcoming Halloween season?

Melissa Carbone – My partner and I sold Ten Thirty One Productions to Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group earlier this year, so Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group is now the parent company of Haunted Hayride and all the Ten Thirty One attractions. I’m still involved with Thirteenth Floor, and Thirteenth Floor now owns the hayride as well as 15 or 16 markets now with 25 attractions. Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group, in acquiring us, was also acquiring some other marquee properties across the country and strategically working with those times to grow and move them across the country. It has actually been a really epic year of growth for us.

Aside from that, for us personally this year, the LA Haunted Hayride is moving into it’s 10-year anniversary, which is unreal to me. Because it’s our 10-year anniversary, we are going to have a giant year. We haven’t announced the program yet, but I can tell you it’s going to be a year of large proportion with beautiful, aesthetically-curated Halloween world that you would expect to see at Haunted Hayride. It will include a lot of the bigger things people loved over the past 10-years coming back. – It sounds like there is a lot of cool stuff coming up with that.

Melissa Carbone – It’s really exciting. Ten years seems unreal to us, it’s a good landmark. – It certainly is. Time flies when you love what you are doing. As someone who has built something from the ground up, had visions, and followed through with them, obviously you take other’s opinions into account. That in mind, there are always naysayers, there are always people to tell you to do something differently. In your opinion, what is the right balance of when to stick to your guns or when to perhaps take someone else’s opinion?

Melissa Carbone – Wow, that’s a good question! I have never been asked that question before. It’s funny, for me, that is a hard balance. Typically, I keep people around me who can help be the voice of reason in those ways.

I, for better or worse, am a person who is hardwired to not really care about what other people seem to think of me and what I’m doing. If I have the steadfast belief in something I’m doing, it’s very hard, I would say almost impossible, to talk me out of it or tell me that I’m wrong. Sometimes I’m wrong, but I have to walk that path and get a big uppercut to the jaw to feel it, and obviously come back with the new data and try again. I would say that the answer for me is to keep people around me who are better at hearing the outside noise, digesting it, filtering it, and taking the good stuff, and bringing it back to the creative round table.

You are always going to have that. I think even if you are a person who puts a ton of weight in what naysayers say or public perception. Even people who are over-complimentary, if you are a person who puts a ton of weight in those things, it can make life as an entrepreneur pretty difficult, because it takes focus off the work, hustle, and product. To me, I am actually pretty happy I have that part of myself, because obviously there has been pretty nasty mud slung at us before. Typically it will be listened to and responded to by other people on my team. – That is some good advice. You have to believe in what you are doing.

Melissa Carbone – Yes, even if you fail, sometimes the fail is the biggest lesson and is the thing that will bring you the furthest forward afterwards. It’s all part of it. – You learn from your mistakes and apply it to doing better the next time around. Last question. CrypticRock covers all kinds of music, as well as Horror and Sci-Fi films. That in mind, what are some of your favorite films in those genres?

Melissa Carbone – Oh my goodness. The Exorcist (1973), I am always going to love forever, it will always be on my list. The Shining (1980) is another one of those. I think for new modern movies, as cheesy as it sounds, I think the first Strangers (2008) was epic. I think it was one of the first movies in a long time, in a really visceral way, scared people and lingered with them for weeks.

I loved the first Insidious (2010) movie. I also loved It Follows (2014), I thought it was a great movie. There’s a ton. Oh, you know what is a great one? I don’t think I have ever given this as an answer, but Creep (2014).

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

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For more on Melissa Carbone: Instagram 

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