The day before his 18th birthday, Chris Gonzalez attended Lollapalooza in 1994 in Miami, which was headlined by the Beastie Boys and Smashing Pumpkins. This created a love for concerts and live music that has lasted ever since.
Chris is a native Floridian who grew up in Broward County. He moved to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida, earning his degree in Health Service Administration – and he has been in medical sales since graduating from UCF two decade ago.
Chris currently works for Masimo as their VA Strategic Account Specialist for the east. “Being able to serve the VA and the veterans of our nation is an honor and a privilege – and being able to bring our advanced technology to them is a lot of fun.”
While at UCF, he became a disc jockey at some gigs in downtown Orlando and at fraternity parties. He still does an occasional gig here and there on top of his day job. During his time at UCF he also put together some parties and concerts, hosting bands such as Tabitha’s Secret, featuring lead singer Rob Thomas (which later became Matchbox Twenty) and Sister Hazel. In fact, this was Sister Hazel’s first gig outside of Gainesville. He became close with some of the band members as their influence grew.
“It was kind of silly some of the stuff I got to do in the first ten years of their run, with those guys, because I hired them to play a stupid fraternity party,” said Chris.
In 2016, Chris started Orlando Music Live, a website with corresponding social media sites on Facebook and Instagram. Orlando Music Live keeps a running calendar showcasing where you can find live music – any given day – in the greater Orlando area. It features artists playing in coffee shops and pubs to large venues like arenas and stadiums.
This passion project all started in 2016 when a friend called him on a Tuesday and asked him “who has live music tonight?” Chris wasn’t sure. Other than larger concerts and ticketed live shows, there was really nowhere to go and find your local singer/song writers or your local cover bands playing at smaller venues and bars. His friend told him, “It would be cool if there was a place where you could go and find out where live music was.” So Chris decided to be the change agent his Central Florida community needed.
Soon after, he started using Facebook and Instagram to promote the local music scene. And it grew. “I do it all free of charge. I do it all for the love of music,” said Chris. If he can get one extra person to go see a local singer/songwriter or go out and download a song from a local artist, “then I’ve done my job.”
Orlando Music Live isn’t just great for the locals to find live music, but also for the millions of visitors that come here on a weekly basis, during normal times.
“I feel like I’m providing a service to the local musicians where they can have a central place to put out their stuff and promote their gigs,” said Chris. “There’s so many different venues in town that have live music on a regular basis. Before I started this, I didn’t realize that. We all live in our own little bubbles,” said Chris. “There’s so much talent in this town.”
Chris is a hard-working guy and he shared with us that his first jobs as a teenager included being a bag boy at Publix and working at a movie theater. It instilled in him a work ethic that continues to this day in his day job in medical sales and his passion project building Orlando Music Live.
He also said learning to work from an early age doesn’t just instill work ethic, but it also help you in “just trying to find out where you fit, what’s going to motivate you, and what’s going to make you happy – because the happier you are at what you’re doing, the more productive you’re going to be, especially as you become an adult, you spend a lot of your time at work, so no one wants to be miserable.” He added, “There’s a couple of things in life that are important – you have a good mattress, you spend a third of your day in bed – and really enjoy what you do for a living, because if you don’t, that’s going to make for a miserable life.”
Chris grew up playing baseball and now coaches his son’s little league team (who is now 14 years old) and they went for a nice run at the state and national level. A proud father of a great athlete, he told us his son is “way more talented than I was.” Perhaps he has a good coach.
While live music was sidelined after COVID19 shut down most of the world, Orlando Music Live continued to grow. During the pandemic, Chris grew more than 1,000 followers on Instagram in 2020, with hundreds of unique hits to the website each week. During the pandemic, Chris found himself with more time, since he hasn’t been able to travel as much for work. He put a lot of that spare time into Orlando Music Live. “I’ve really grown the platform in the past six months, making things more automated, to where musicians and venues can email their stuff, where it automatically populates into the website, which then triggers me to automatically populate it into social media.”
When COVID19 shut down in-person events, including concerts, Chris reached out to a lot of local artists and encouraged them to do live stream events on a regular basis – and he promoted those on Orlando Music Live.
“The music community has really embraced what I’ve done,” said Chris. “I get thank you’s on a daily basis from venue and musicians. It makes me feel like what I’m doing is helpful and beneficial.”
Lately, Chris has also built a playlist on Spotify for Orlando Music Live, which features Orlando-area artists “to get to people to understand who is out there and go listen to them.”
“Venues have slowly but surely started to bring music back into their venues,” said Chris. “I have more gigs today – listed for tomorrow night – than I ever had beforehand. So, music is back out there.”
He shared with us the many innovations going on to help bring back live music experiences safely. The Dr. Phillips Center has started doing a front-yard series, where artists play outside, while fans are physically distanced in seated pods. Each individual pod seats about four or five people and you have to buy the pod. It fits about five folding chairs, pretty tightly. Temperature checks are given at entry and masks are required when you move about the venue. Every pod has its own QR code to order food, drinks, or merch.
The Plaza Live does a front porch series on Thursday nights from now through about March, and the City of Apopka has an event every Saturday at their outdoor amphitheater.
Artists have faced an especially difficult time during the past year. “From an innovation perspective, you are somewhat limited by your audience. If you have this great live stream and no one is watching it or no one is tipping you, it doesn’t matter,” said Chris. “Part of what I’ve tried to do is just centralize the music scene in Orlando in one spot. If you have one social media page you go to every day, it should be Orlando Music Live so you can figure out what’s going on.”
“It’s been a very challenging time, but I’m hopeful that what will come out of this is a lot of great music,” said Chris. For live music fans who go through the same struggles, Chris believes there is more hope on the way.
“In normal times, my non-work life revolves around sports and music, and both of those things were taken away,” said Chris. “Thank God we had live streams to keep me sane throughout that period of time.” After attending his first big music show recently, Chris said “It felt so good … it was exactly what my soul needed.”
Chris believes live streams will continue beyond the pandemic and he “wouldn’t be surprised if even some of the larger touring acts will incorporate some type of live stream into their concerts moving forward,” with different ticket prices for live streams and the in-person experience. “I really do think this pandemic is going to change how we do business for everything, and music is no different. I do expect to see more live streaming even when live events come back.”
He also thinks big concerts will be back in full force in 2021. “I fully expect things will be normal-ish by the end of Q2 [of 2021]. I’m hoping much of the summer concert tours that normally happen will go on as scheduled this year. That is my hope, especially as the vaccine rollout picks up momentum and steam.”
Venues, especially large ones, might even require something like a vaccine passport card to attend events. Chris says, “I have no problem whipping out my vaccine card if that means I can get into concerts sooner and get back into baseball stadiums sooner and travel again.” Since he works in the medical field, he was fortunate to get his first vaccine shot in January.
Chris does his best to help fans discover new local music. Every month or so, Orlando Music Live puts up six featured artists and six featured venues. He tries to rotate this to introduce artists and venues to people.
“My advice is not to promote one particular artist but to try to get out and expose yourself to as many different artists and venues as you possibly can because until you go out and listen to someone you’re never going to know,” said Chris.
Chris recently partnered with a local merchandise company, Impress Inc, to develop Orlando Music Live shirts, hats, and other merchandise. Five dollars from every purchase goes back into the local community. His first donation went to one of his favorite local music venues, Will’s Pub. “I want these places to be there when things are truly back to normal.”
This highlights the fact that in addition to artists and fans, venues have been struggling as well. “Thankfully Orlando has done relatively well,” said Chris. “I haven’t seen too many venues go under yet … but I know many communities have not fared as well.” As one example, Austin, Texas – noted as the live music capital of the world – has already lost about thirty percent of their music venues.
His advice to everyone: “Get out and see some music. At the end of the day that’s all I want. Get out and see some music.”
You can listen to the full interview with Chris Gonzalez on Episode 88 of the Agents of Innovation podcast, on Apple podcasts, Amazon podcasts, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. You can also follow the podcast on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
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