Emo Nite Founders Talk Brand Expansion & Agency Ride or Cry

Morgan Freed, T.J. Petracca & Babs Szabo
Ashley Osborn

Morgan Freed, T.J. Petracca & Babs Szabo

Emo Nite founders Morgan Freed, T.J. Petracca and Babs Szabo recently came off a 30-plus date tour in almost as many days with group 3OH!3 at the beginning of December, capping off a year of continued growth for the company that has built the brand from its humble beginnings as a local DJing night in Los Angeles.

For the 10-year anniversary of 3OH!3’s album WANT, Emo Nite teamed up with the electronic duo for the WANT House Party tour which featured no set times and contiguous music throughout the evening resembling a house party.

“People were allowed to get on stage and dance and sing with us and 3OH!3. We tried to eliminate any sort of barrier between the artist and the fan,” Petracca tells Billboard.

The WANT House Party tour was just one of the many collaborations the founders and their creative agency Ride or Cry has worked on in the four years since they started throwing their signature parties in Los Angeles.

“We were literally working on our Ride or Cry clients from the bus and from coffee shops. We were taking conference calls while setting up projectors,” says Szabo. “It was probably the craziest month of my life.”

“We were in a bus and just living the road life,” adds Petracca.

Since the three friends left their other jobs in digital strategy, social media and music video production to focus on Emo Nite and form Ride or Cry, they have collaborated with fashion brands like Obey clothing and Urban Outfitters. At the end of December, Emo Nite branded merch will launch in Hot Topic stores across the country as well.

They have also ventured into curating Emo Nite stages at festivals like Life is Beautiful in Las Vegas, Buku Fest in New Orleans and joined Vans Warped Tour’s Warped Rewind at Sea cruise. In 2019, Emo Nite fans can see the brand hit Firefly Music Festival in Delaware.

“I think the reason those performances work is that, even though we aren’t DJs and we’re not mixing songs, it is different from all the other performers at these festivals,” says Szabo. “You could see people in the crowd gravitate towards these songs that they maybe grew up listening to or they listen to now. You could see everyone having a really good time singing along to Sum 41’s ‘Fatlip’ or Panic! At the Disco.”

Emo Nite has expanded its signature party to cities outside of Los Angeles spreading as far as the UK and even hosted its own festival since 2017. This October, festival Emo Nite Day took over the Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles and for the first time in Emo Nite history, the festival featured full band performances with headliners All Time Low, Dashboard Confessional, 3OH!3 and a DJ set from Blink-182’s Travis Barker.

“It went really well this year. We pretty much had twice the attendance of the year before which obviously proves that it is a good model and that people are interested in coming out to it,” Szabo says. “We’re still learning a lot about throwing a festival and there is a lot more to it than people expect.”

Their reach to new artists has been largely due to the agency Ride or Cry, which was launched a year after Emo Nite. Ride or Cry began as a social media and digital strategy company and now provides music videos, web development, branding and more to acts like Dillon Francis, Slipknot, The Lumineers, Paramount, Universal and Pabst.

“With Dillon Francis, we helped run all of his social media. That spans from creating content to building micro websites to executing his day-to-day posts in collaboration with him,” says Petracca, adding that Ride or Cry also built an app this year for Slipknot.

“Our business has grown beyond anything we ever thought it would be,” says Petracca. “We started out making $400 DJing and we would just spend it all to buy pizza for the next party.”

Even with their growing success, they continue to work out of Los Angeles and give back to the community that gave them their start.

Wednesday (Dec. 19) night, Emo Nite also participated in annual charity event LA Gives Back for the festival’s third year. All profits from the holiday special go to benefit the city’s homeless population through the Downtown Women’s Shelter and My Friend’s Place.

Following rapper Lil Peep’s death due to drug overdose in November of 2017, Freed began helping to organize community meetings for those in Los Angeles’ nightlife scene.

“We felt that we need to give people a place to openly talk about what is going on with them, such as drugs and mental health and anything under the sun,” Freed tells Billboard.

Freed adds: “I am a sober person that does night life shit so I know that it can get a little hard some times. We wanted to make sure that the people that go to these places can hold each other accountable and, if they are going through something, that they know that it is not just them.”

The meetings are open forums where young people can talk about their experiences, learn from paramedics about overdosing and Narcan use and more.

“It is not saying that you don’t have to drink or do drugs. It is preventative and risk awareness. It is building a community based on healthy ideals,” says Freed. “It is a very loose forum and again we buy pizza or everybody and we made shirts and that goes to charity. We don’t make any money off of it. It is just to do something good because we can now.”


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