Jeff Apruzzese rocked his bass with the electronica-pop band Passion Pit on some of the biggest stages in the world — at Lollapalooza, Coachella, Glastonbury, our own Made in America. The group sold out Madison Square Garden in a snowstorm. Played some of the highest-profile TV shows, too — Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel.
But today, Apruzzese is doing most of his performing in lecture halls at Drexel University, as an assistant teaching professor and associate program director in the music industry program of Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. This is Apruzzese’s first semester lecturing, after previously helping juniors and seniors with practicums and senior projects. “He’s not just someone teaching out of the textbook," freshman Charlyn Sunico said before Apruzzese taught the Business of Concert and Touring Promotion course. “He’s tying the experiences from his life with what’s in the pages. So we see how it actually comes together.”
“He’s helping us chart our path, figure out how we can make our way in the field,” added Niko Jones, one of three members of the indie rock band Mega Mango. They and their manager, Regina Pagano, are freshman participants in the Drexel music business program and Apruzzese’s introductory Live Music Industry course. (You can sample their tunes at the Flux Festival, an outdoor concert freebie on the Drexel campus May 18.)
In a recent class, the lanky, 33-year-old Apruzzese discussed some of the hardcore realities of touring by drilling down through a profit and loss statement from a 2013 Passion Pit tour of the U.S. and Europe. That two-month adventure grossed more than $1.6 million in ticket sales and merchandise but left each member, at the bottom line, with a takeaway of less than $25,000. The bigger winners from that global slog were the band manager, who claimed a $267,000 share, the booking agents, who split $151,000 in commissions, and the tour accountant, who “remotely processed paperwork” for $78,545.
“Even the bus driver made more than we did,” Apruzzese noted with a sly smile.
These lessons are partly the point of Apruzzese’s course. The Drexel Music Industry Program — which now gets 600 to 700 applicants a year, and admits 75 — has been named one of Billboard magazine’s top music business schools for the second year in a row, alongside NYU, UCLA, and the Berklee College of Music. The latter is where Apruzzese attended and later returned in 2015 to help start its industry program, working alongside Jeff Dorenfeld (longtime manager of Boston) and John Czajkowski (tour accountant and production manager for Katy Perry, Bruce Springsteen, Shania Twain, and lots more). They "definitely helped inform my approach for teaching. Which skates the line between something academic and practical ... teaching skills like how to read an offer, route a tour, budget a production,” Apruzzese said.
His parents were appalled and his tuition debt fierce when Apruzzese jumped on the tour bus with Passion Pit — who play the Fillmore on May 24 — straight out of Berklee at the tail end of 2007. “As it turned out, I was lucky, had an eight-year run with the band before they changed direction and personnel." Today’s band version contains just the original founder and songwriter Michael Angelakos, who wrote and recorded most of the Passion Pit music himself. "But for touring and imaging purposes, [Sony Music] insisted that we present ourselves as a group, share the interviews and the photo sessions,” Apruzzese said. And, for a while, split the income five ways.
As the band’s bassist, he acknowledges “I had it easiest of anyone in the group, and the most time and interest to observe how the organization was run — attending all the business meetings, reading through all the contracts, getting very hands-on. I even drove the van in the early years before we graduated to a big-time — and very expensive — tour bus.”
Wisely, Apruzzese stored away all the paperwork and insights. Information that now serves, “in somewhat redacted form” as show-and-tell illustrations. “Someone could fake a [profit and loss] statement for a class discussion, but it’s so much more impactful if you can say, ‘This is how it really happened.’”
And his cautionary tales from the front, quite entertaining, are equally instructive. Yes, Passion Pit could have played the Barclay Center in Brooklyn for a lot less than it costs to rent Madison Square Garden, but the bragging rights for selling out MSG were worth it.
Apruzzese also gets fresh insights into the contemporary music scene from his spouse, Paige Holbrook, who works in the Philly booking department of AEG, which brings shows to Union Transfer, Franklin Music Hall, the Keswick Theatre, and the Mann Center. “We met first at a Death Cab for Cutie concert. Then a few years later, Paige was working for the Agency Group, a booking operation, and her sister was a fan of Passion Pit, which was aligned with the Agency Group. Paige looked us up in the system, saw the press photo, and said, ‘Wow, I know this guy.’ That’s how we got back in touch, 10 or 11 years ago.” Holbrook is up for a little bit of guest lecturing at Drexel, too, but no tag-teaming with hubby, as yet.
Apruzzese has found that his path from rock star to professor isn’t all that unusual when it comes to those who stay in the music industry, even if it’s in performance-adjacent positions. In this egalitarian era of self-made YouTube stars, only a tiny percentage of musicians make a living wage as creators/performers. “But if you love music, there are a lot of other related career paths you can follow, if you know where to look," Apruzzese says. . "Many people who wind up as managers and agents and lawyers and accountants started out as musicians.”