Although he still wishes he had kept a stake in the fast-food restaurant he set up when he was 20, Jose Muniz’s steady, 35-year rise to be a dominant promoter across Latin America has had its compensations, despite having to overcome a host of seemingly insurmountable challenges along the way. Johnny Black reports
A pioneer in bringing international artistes to Brazil during the 1980s, Jose Muniz has risen to the top of the live music business across South America during his 35-year career.
And it all started entirely by accident.
“I set up my first business, a trendy fast-food restaurant in my hometown of Brasilia in 1979, when I was just 20. I had no intention of getting seriously involved in the music business, but then I started staging free shows by local bands in the parking lot.”
Before long, his events were attracting up to 2,500 people and, “we were selling a ton of cheese burgers and hot dogs”.
“Then, one day, the cousin of the drummer of A Cor do Som, Brazil’s most popular rock band of the early ‘80s, came to my place and asked if I wanted to promote them,” explains Muniz. “I promptly said, ‘Yes’, and after that I started to get more and more calls from big Brazilian artistes.”
By 1983, promoting concerts via his first company, Artway, was more lucrative than running his restaurant, so he organised his first festival, Rockway.
“It was the first rock festival in Brasilia,” he recalls, “and we completely sold-out in just a few days – 17,000 fans went crazy with acts like Raul Seixas, A Cor do Som, Radio Taxi and Paralamas do Success.”
Confident that he could expand beyond his Brasilia base, Muniz decided it was time to explore bigger and better opportunities. So, in 1984, he moved to Sao Paulo.
Looking back today, Muniz says his only regret from that time is that he sold his fast-food business, Giraffas, outright. “I should have kept a piece of the business because Giraffas nowadays is second only to McDonald’s in Brazil.”
The success of Artway had also led him into management, looking after Robertinho de Recife, a pioneer in Brazilian heavy rock, who was about to release his seventh album, Metal Mania.
“That’s why I decided to name my new company Metal Productions,” he says.
The move to Sao Paulo coincided with further expansion as Muniz began to offer national tours of between 15 and 20 shows in Brazil’s major markets, to the artistes he had helped develop in Brasilia, but he also began to see a gap in the market which he felt he could exploit.
“I grew up listening to British and American progressive and hard rock bands and I realised there was an entire generation like me that had never seen their idols live. Brazil’s international promoters at the time were fighting for the pop stars that were popular on the radio and ignored what was already considered old stuff’.
“I saw a real opportunity to establish myself as an international promoter and decided to follow my instincts.”
Neil Warnock, who founded UK-based booking operation The Agency Group (now merged into the multinational United Talent Agency) in the early-‘80s, has represented the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, and he remembers Brazil at that time as, “Frontier-land. In those days we had to send people out there, accountants and so on, to make sure we’d get paid”.
He regards Muniz as a key element in helping to change that situation. “With somewhere like South America, the economy and the political situation is always changing,” says Warnock. “I often do my deals with Muniz so that he’s not only doing Brazil but supervising Argentina, Chile, Peru and Mexico as well, because he understands them all.
“One thing I love about working with Muniz is that his crew, the people he has put in place around him to monitor the production elements, are excellent. So I get a great service all across South America. For example, when I had Rush there in 2002, which was an enormous tour, from start to finish we knew what was needed, because Muniz knew the rider insider-out, and it was a smooth passage.”
Muniz well remembers how, when he first worked with Warnock, on Deep Purple in 1991, “the president of Brazil, Fernando Collor, had closed all bank accounts and to get large sums of money was really difficult. Inflation was at its record peak – 2,000 per cent a year – and the US dollar was going up daily.
“I was getting a lot of pressure from Neil for the pending payments and the only option was to send him a cheque by fax from a broker who had a Swiss account. I am really thankful to Neil for trusting me at the time and, in the end, everything went well.”
One year on, in collaboration with agent Jorge Pinos, Muniz brought Black Sabbath to Brazil during their Dehumanizer tour.
“It was quite an unusual tour for Brazil because there were always issues with equipment in Latin America at that time,” says Pinos. “They didn’t have much production to offer, and it didn’t get much better until after Rock In Rio festival started, when the people who put that together brought equipment with them from the US. Local companies then bought and kept it in Brazil.”
According to Pinos, the Sabbath tour went so well that, “it led to doing a lot more business together, even when he moved on to work out of [Latin America promoter] Time 4 Fun and was based in Miami, and I moved to William Morris agency, where I remained for 25 years.”
Their mutually profitable relationship continued after Pinos opened his own company JEP Entertainment Group in 2005. “He remains a good friend and I wish him well.”
Inflation reared its ugly head again when Muniz organised a show for Bon Jovi at Sao Paulo’s Pacaembu Stadium (cap. 50,000) in 1993.
Bon Jovi manager Paul Korzilius remembers, “I was astounded because the tickets only went on sale one week in advance for the show, which seemed unthinkable, until Jose explained to me that inflation was so high that if he put tickets on sale for 100 reals, they’d only be worth 80 a month later. But it sold-out, which seemed incredible to us.”
Muniz’s understanding of local conditions has proved invaluable time and again to incoming international acts.
Doc McGhee, whose McGhee Entertainment has developed a strong relationship with Muniz on Guns N’Roses, points out that inflation isn’t the only local aggravation that Muniz handles.
“One of the biggest, most expensive, problems down there, because of the geography of the country,” states McGhee, “is the movement of equipment. It’s all mountains from Buenos Aires to Santiago [Chile], and a lot of people don’t want to have to do that, but Jose knows how.”
Relentless in his pursuit of new avenues to explore, Muniz had by this time evolved from Metal Productions to Mercury Concerts.
He perceived it as “a less specific name” which would help smooth his diversification into promoting family entertainment and Broadway shows, one of the most successful of which was mounting the stage-show version of The Who’s Tommy at The Olympia (2,300) in Sao Paulo in 1996.
Chile-based promoter Carlos Geniso, the founder of the local DG Medio offices, has enjoyed a career path which somewhat paralleled that of Muniz, so it is perhaps inevitable that they have worked together at times over the decades.
“Muniz never takes no for an answer and is always willing to step up and do the heavy lifting, even when others have doubts,” reckons Geniso. “When he wanted to bring Kiss to the Autodromo (55,000) in São Paulo in 1999, many people thought the market wasn’t ready. But Jose showed them, and filled the open-air venue with over 50,000 people. It wasn’t easy but, as always, he made it happen.”
In 2000, Muniz sold his Mercury Concerts to pan Latin America entertainment conglomerate Corporacion Interamericana de Entretenimiento (CIE) and its promoting division Ocesa. He became their director of entertainment, a role which enabled him to work closely with Geniso during the next 12 years.
Although prominently identified with international acts, it was while he was at CIE that Muniz promoted the biggest tour ever for a home-grown Brazilian act.
“That was Sandy and Junior,” he says. “They were the most successful teen group in Brazil, having sold over 10 million records. In 2002 they were planning their farewell tour, so I presented their manager with the idea of a 50-date stadium tour with the final show taking place at Maracanã Stadium [70,000] in Rio de Janeiro on Children’s Day [12 October 2002]. It sold-out and TV Globo broadcast it live and then released it as a DVD.”
In 2004 he moved to New York as vice-president of Ocesa Presents, overseeing the company’s tours across South America. Looking back at that period, he considers it, “a great opportunity that opened a lot of doors and was definitely a learning experience”.
However, Muniz didn’t remain too long in the Big Apple because in 2007 CIE acquired Time 4 Fun and appointed Muniz as senior vice-president, overseeing the company’s activities in Brazil, Chile and Argentina.
“There was no longer a reason for me to stay in New York and, geographically speaking, it made a lot more sense to be closer to South America where we promote the tours, especially with my plans of expanding the operation to new territories.
“So I moved to Orlando in Florida – not quite all the way there, where I’m still based.”
Being settled with his family in Orlando made him more accessible to North American managers and agents, among them Ken Fermaglich of United Talent Agency.
“I was introduced to Muniz [as he’s generally known] by Neil Warnock, which led to him handling the first Paramore tour of South America in 2011, followed by Alter Bridge, Creed and others,” says Fermaglich.
“His belief in artiste development meant he could help young artistes grow over the years, and he knows all the tricks of the trade, including how to move an artiste discreetly through an airport without attracting attention – if that happens to be necessary.”
Muniz points out, “During my 12 years at CIE/T4F, I was responsible for 80 per cent of the international tours presented by the company in the region.”
But in 2012 he couldn’t resist an offer from his old friend and fellow Latin America regional promoter Phil Rodriguez – the pair had launched the Brazilian edition of Monsters of Rock in 1994 – to join him at Evenpro Group/XYZ Live.
“I felt it was a great opportunity and that we could really make an impact in the region,” he says.
Regrettably, the pair found themselves dealing with backers that were struggling to hold the business together. “It was a good idea, but it didn’t produce the desired results.”
He calls 2014, when he left Evenpro, “the year of the comeback,” and revived his Mercury Concerts business.
“It was the natural move – to bring back a company with a great history and an impeccable reputation.” Since then, it seems he has not looked back.
“It was Muniz who promoted One Direction’s first South American stadium shows in April 2014,” says Mike Greek of CAA in the UK, “and managed to sell over 100,000 tickets without spending more than $10,000 on marketing, which is pretty impressive.
“He is good under pressure, reads the local market well and tells it straight, even when it’s not the news you want to hear.”
For his next masterstroke, in 2015 Muniz brought Monsters Of Rock back to life for a two-day metalfest in Sao Paulo, with a bill including Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Judas Priest and Motorhead.
“I broke my ankle three days before the festival and that was painful but, thankfully it all worked perfectly, with two sold-out dates and nearly 80,000 screaming fans,” says Muniz.
December of the same year found Muniz opening up South America to Neil Warnock-represented former Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour for the first time.
“All of the stadium shows were magnificently presented and his ability to demarcate was a key factor,” recalls Gilmour’s manager Paul Loasby of UK-based One Fifteen. “He’s a man who says it will be done properly and it is. He provided excellent fulfilment of the production requirements and I had more clarity on the accounts than one could have dreamed of, including the back-up for exchange rate fluctuations.”
Rocking and rolling
Muniz’s long-time relationship with Guns N’Roses paid-off again in 2016.
“They respected our friendship by giving me the whole Reunion Tour in South and Central America.
“That tour sold 600,000 tickets in 13 shows and had the biggest grosses of the year. Everything worked amazingly. Last year they again played with The Who at Rock in Rio [100,000], as well my São Paulo Trip Festival [50,000] plus Santiago Rock City [56,000] in Chile.”
He has called 2017, his biggest year of the decade, explaining, “Since I brought Mercury back, it’s been amazing. I think being 100 per cent in charge, entirely responsible for my own decisions, is a unique feeling.
“I had great tours in Latin America with Guns N’Roses, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, David Gilmour, The Who, Ozzy, Kiss among many others, and also created my new festival São Paulo Trip, which sold over 160,000 tickets.
“Last year I was hired by [founder] Roberto Medina to book Rock in Rio and exclusively promote the side shows in Brazil. It was a wonderful experience to be part of one of the biggest festivals in the world with over 700,000 fans across the whole event, definitely one of the high points in my trajectory.”
Muniz says Mercury has increased ticket sales year on year, rising from 254,000 to over 800,000 in 2017.
“That made us one of the three finalists nominated for Top Independent Promoter Worldwide in the Billboard Awards – not bad for a boutique operation that promotes only in South America.”
So what does this seemingly tireless titan see in his future?
“Pop music is ruling the radio at the moment, but fortunately for myself, rock music is still very popular with our crowds who keep filling up the stadiums, so I have no plans of slowing down any time soon and will simply keep working.
“Other than that, I’ll keep drinking my good wines when I get together with my family and friends.”