The most meaningful pairing at IMS Engage was between two men whose names did not just look good together on a conference agenda; the pair has a long and meaningful history that stretches over two decades. Back in 1989, Russell Simmons plucked warehouse party promoter Patrick Moxey from fly-by-night nightlife work and gave him a day job in his Rush Artists office, doing administrative tasks for Simmons and Lyor Cohen.
To say that both have succeeded since then would be an understatement. Simmons is an entrepreneurial icon, launching Def Jam, Phat Farm, and most recently digital marketing Narrative and YouTube channel All Def Digital (ADD). And his prodigy Moxey is now president of Electronic Music for Sony, after a deal that went into effect January 1 made his passion-project-turned-empire Ultra Music part of Sony Music Worldwide.
Their conversation placed Moxey back in the role of pupil, listening attentively with the rest of the audience as Simmons offered a yogi’s take on business and creativity, emphasizing the importance of the work itself over its potential result. At one point, when the idea of a feature film about the origins of electronic music came up, Simmons looked at Moxey and said, “That’s your job, Patrick,” to which Moxey replied, “OK, I’m on it.”
Billboard caught up with Moxey after the panel to talk about the talk with his mentor and get an update from his first 100 days with Sony.
How was that experience for you?
IMS said to me, ‘Patrick, if you ever wanted to have a conversation with someone just about what’s happened in electronic music, but from a different genre or a different perspective, who would it be?’ And the first person that came to mind was Russell Simmons, because when I started in the business and I was doing warehouse parties on the Lower East Side, he was coming to all these events. And he was the first one to give me a chance; he was the first one to say, ‘Oh, Patrick, I want you to come work for me during the day.’ And I was like, delighted to do it.
Occasionally in menial tasks, so it seemed.
Well, yeah. What I was doing at nightlife was so much more glamorous. But then in the day, I would work for him for almost nothing. And I learned the business. I was so grateful to him. For me, there are so many parallels between hip-hop and electronic music that I had to reach out to him. We had this conversation that we never had at that time, because now so much has happened with electronic music. Both these musics came out of the clubs. Both these musics, no one in the mainstream wanted to know about. And both of these musics happened through do-it-yourself.
People had to invent a label. People had to be their own independent promoters. They had to be their own booking agents. They had to use social networks. The Source, which started as a fanzine in somebody’s college dorm room, went to over 1.2 million circulation as a magazine by the end. To me it’s amazing. And I love it.
I don't remember the Zenned-out Russell Simmons. I remember the fighter Russell Simmons. When we were there, we were fighting. We were breaking into the business. And he was a big inspiration for me with electronic music as we got our breaks. Now we’re there. Like Russell says, now we have to relax and get creative. I think he’s absolutely right. So, he taught me a lot today. I look up to him in every way.
In a way, it almost makes you say, well, hindsight’s 20/20. Wouldn’t you still be fighting if it hadn’t worked? We have the luxury of being Zen because we won.
That's right. You were there right with all of us. We all contributed to where we are now and it’s so exciting. But he said a lot of things about not selling out, and that things have to feel good and they have to feel right, and they have to feel right from the artist’s perspective. And to me the ultimate watermark is, if you put that record on in a club, is it going to go off? I mean, to some extent, that’s still like a watermark for us.
You seemed to react when he said, ‘Don’t chase it.’ You had a hit with Calvin Harris, now don’t chase the next one. Can you apply that to what you do? Is that complementary to your daily reality? Because you're a chaser, I think.
Yes, I am. It’s still out there, you know? But I definitely look at and listen to him. But what he says about being creative now, all the avenues are open, now it’s a different type of challenge. He made the  movie “Krush Groove” [about the early days of Def Jam], and today he said, ‘Patrick, what movie are you going to make?' So that's great. Whether it’s me or anyone else who’s truly connected to our scene, let’s make those movies. Let’s keep growing it. We’re not going to turn the clock back. We’re only moving forward.
You’re past the first 100 days with Sony/Universal. How’s it been?
It’s been fantastic. It’s been a lot of research. It’s been a lot of traveling. I go home once in a while just to remind my kids, ‘Hi, my name is Patrick.’ But the great part is I’ve found people in the U.K., in France, in Spain, in Australia, in Sweden, within the company, who really like the music. And we’re bringing more people on. Relentless Records in the U.K. is really stepping up with what they’re doing, with Bondax and stuff like that. They’re going to be releasing Martin Solveig’s new record in the U.K. So there’s just a lot of great music that’s starting to circulate around the Sony system, with Ultra heading up U.S. and Canada.