Charese Fruge Talks To Christine Chiappetta

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on April 13, 2021 

Christine Chiappetta (Chia) became the National Director of Promotion for Mercury Records at the age of 25 and was largely responsible for one of the biggest surprise performances at a radio show in history. Over the last 29 years, she has also been responsible for the success of some of the largest Alternative and Rock Bands in the country. Now as she takes on her new role with Epic Records as VP of Promotion for Hot AC, AC, Alternative, AAA and Rock, I’m confident she’ll be creating more historic moments and memories in the music business moving forward just based on some of the stories she’s told during this feature.

Here’s a brief look at her career before we dive into her story. Most recently, she was Head of Radio Promotion for YMU Group/Deckstar Management. She’s best known for the 12 years as SVP/Alternative and Rock Promotion at Island Def Jam and has had similar roles at Mercury Def Jam and Columbia Records prior to that (1995-2002). Speaking from experience, Chia is beloved among radio and record people. You think you know a person, but I had no idea of everything she’s accomplished over the years. I got chills reading some of her stories, and I know you will too.

Christine got the bug for the business in college. “While studying Broadcast Journalism at ASU, we had a guest speaker who was the Regional Promotion rep for Reprise Records which happened to be the label for two of my favorites artists: Depeche Mode and The Smiths,” she says. “After the class, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do, so I went right over to talk to her about how she got into radio promotion. Since I couldn’t work for a label yet (I’d have to move to LA or NY) I started doing promotion at KKFR Phoenix while I finished getting my degree, then moved to Los Angeles in 1994.”

“I had been told if you want to do promotion that generally here’s how it worked: You start as an intern, then a promotion assistant for a few years, then a local rep, then you excel at a particular format and become a National,” says Chia. “So, after moving to LA, I interviewed for several assistant gigs but didn’t get them. I ended up taking a different path entirely,” she says. “During an 8-month stint at Album Network as an Alternative Radio Editor, which I’m still very grateful for because I had the opportunity to start talking to MDs and PDs, I received a call from Michael Idis (VP Alt/Rock Promotion at Mercury Records), who I barely knew and vice versa. He told me he had a #2 position open in the LA office and while he was talking to radio about who he should be looking at for this new job, my name came up about 15 times unsolicited from programmers (thank you radio!). So, I met with him and his boss, David Leach, and then became a National Director of Alt Promotion at 25 years old. The rest is history!”

Getting such an important first-time label position at such a young age was just one of Christine’s biggest accomplishments. “My first #1 record: ‘The Impression That I Get’ – the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and getting to attend SNL that year to watch them perform, it was special (it was my first and only SNL visit to date),” she says. “Then, I’d say breaking bands in general has to be up there with accomplishments. It’s one thing to get thanked on an artists’ record and I’m so honored when that happens, but also when you know that you were a MAJOR part of taking a song and fighting to get it played and suddenly this band who was playing small clubs is now headlining the Hollywood Bowl and big festivals is an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. To this day, I still get that feeling, when one of those songs comes on the radio, it never goes away for me,” says Chia.

“Growing professionally over the years still feels like a big accomplishment to me as well,” says Chia. “Taking on more roles, helping bands get signed, being more involved with marketing and strategy, learning about new technologies, and really taking the time to help young promotion people finding their way are all very important to me and I view that as a personal accomplishment. I’m competitive, but not territorial and give credit where it’s due. I’ve learned from some incredible people and I intend to do the same for the next generation. In fact, there are many that have worked for me over the years that are running promotion staffs right now and that makes me so proud!!”

After 29 years in the business, this girl has stories. I asked Christine to share her craziest experience with us, and this is a BFD! “Oh yeah, I’ve got some stories, people tell me I could write a book! But an unexpected one came in 2008,” she says. “I was attending the Power 106 Cali Christmas show at the Gibson Amphitheater with my Island Def Jam crew as we had Kanye West headlining. While hanging out backstage, my boss Rick Sackheim called me over and said, ‘Kanye wants to talk to you about getting played at Alternative Radio.’ So, as I cautiously explain that Alt radio isn’t as broad as just an ‘Alternative to mainstream pop,’ and while many of the kids that listen to Alt radio are likely fans of his music, they aren’t necessarily wanting to hear his music on KROQ, for instance. This led to a rabbit hole discussion with him which ended in him saying to Rick and me, ‘I want to play the KROQ Christmas show this year.’ Which was exactly two days later at Gibson Amph. Long story short, we had less than 48 hours to pull off the biggest surprise performance KROQ’s ever had. Only the programming staff and a couple of other people in production knew it was happening,” says Chia. “And then that revolving stage turned, and the audience was expecting the band Paramore, I’ll never forgot that excitement and nervousness: Will the audience like it? Will they all sit down or leave their seats to grab a beer? You never know. It was pitch black for a moment and then suddenly Daft Punk [track] kicks in: “Work it, make it, do it, makes us, harder, better, faster, stronger….” Then lights up, and Kayne starts singing “NNN-now that, that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger….” and it was magical!!! I’ll never forget it. The crowd went insane! It truly was one of the most memorable things I have been a part of.”

Hang on for a second while my goose bumps go down and my chills go away…..

Besides Kanye, Christine has been fortunate enough to work with many amazing bands during her career. “The ones that come to mind are the ones I had to fight the hardest for,” she says. “The Killers, Fall Out Boy, Neon Trees, System of A Down, Avicii, Pete Yorn, The Gaslight Anthem, The Interrupters, to name just a few. It’s still a really special feeling for me to take bands to their next level, whatever that level might be.”

29 years in the music business doesn’t come without its challenges. “When I started as a National, with no label experience, I had some naysayers. ‘How did she get that job? She’s never even been an assistant!’ Says Chia. “I had a lot to learn, of course. I never saw BDS or used Mediabase tracking. But I did have many relationships already, so I went on the road and got adds and learned all the rest along the way. People stopped questioning my ability or how I got there. My work ethic and positive energy stood out,” she says.

“Then as you move along in your career, you have to adjust sometimes. Everything’s going great and then a new regime come in, and you have to adapt. Or the label folds or merges. It happens to everyone no matter what business you’re in,” says Christine. “I lost my job at IDJ when they separated Island from Def Jam and most of the promo staff went to Def Jam because Island’s stuff was going to now be worked by Republic Records. There was no real reason I should have been let go except Republic already had people in house do the same job. That was hard for me, extremely hard because I had given everything for over 12 years and then suddenly, I was unemployed,” she says. “And there were no available jobs at my level. The blessing, of course, came a month later when I became a mother through adoption. And then another challenge emerged. Would I be able to still give my all to work and raise a baby? Of course I could! Does it present a challenge sometimes? Absolutely! Male or female, the primary caregiver in any family is challenged, especially if they work. During the pandemic this proved to be amplified by the fact that our kids were learning remotely while we also worked remotely from home. Having a (then) 4-year-old who hadn’t learned to read yet in the same room as me trying to call radio and do Zoom meetings? Ha! ‘Challenge’ doesn’t even come close to what that felt like… more like brutal! So now the ‘normal challenges’ that I’m sure to face moving forward, should feel like a breeze compared to the last 13 months. Bring it on!! Above all, working for and with secure, supportive people can give anyone the capability to overcome almost any challenge. And I strive to do the same for my team.”

Christine is a great example of a woman who has been able to manage a success and fulfilling career and a good work-life balance. Her daughter Juliette is 6 ½ right now and loves music. “While she still doesn’t fully comprehend what I do yet, she has been to a couple of concerts pre-COVID and still is amazed every time we hear a song on the radio and she asks, ‘Mommy, is this one of your bands?’ Whenever I say yes, she’s like, ‘Mama, you work with so many people, you’re so lucky!’ I’m thrilled she likes songs from many different genres, too. Kids have no filter so either she likes it or she doesn’t and she’s not shy about saying so.”

Chia’s advice to women who want to get into the record business: “There are so many more women working in the business now than when I started almost 30 years ago, and certainly on the Executive side, and that’s very encouraging to me. And I’ll share what was once told to me as a young woman trying to start in the business. Don’t be afraid to be too smart or ask a question; be confident and use what you have to your advantage without exploiting it; and always trust your gut.”

What keeps Christine up at night? “Many things! I have a brain that never turns off. If you know me, you know I don’t drink coffee, I can’t – I would be awake for two days straight otherwise,” she says. “It’s not just a running to-do list, my mind gets pretty creative right before bedtime for some reason. I just start thinking of ideas, professionally, personally, I don’t know. It’s really random the things my brain starts conjuring up. I’ve mentally ‘written’ screen plays in my head while trying to fall asleep. I need to be better about getting enough psychical exercise during the day, it’s really the only way for me to get a good night’s sleep.”

“What brings me balance?” Chia adds. “My daughter, first and foremost. It’s easy in our business to work 24/7, but I had to learn to prioritize. I have an amazingly supportive family and friends in and out of the business that I rely on constantly. Being a single, working mother is really taxing. I want to be the best mother I can while also maintaining my insanely strong and competitive work ethic.”

As for what we have to look forward to from Chia. “I’m truly excited for my new position at Epic Records. Not only to work with Rick Sackheim again who’s literally the best boss I’ve ever had, but to be given the opportunity to take on the HAC and AC formats that I have some experience with but not on same level as Alt, AAA and Rock formats,” she says. “I’ve earned credibility and a good reputation in promotion over the years, especially in breaking brand-new artists and I want to do the same in the adult formats for Epic. I’ll be working that much harder to earn that respect from some new programmers. And I have an awesome team to help; Sandra Afloarei, Scott Dimig, Dontay Thompson and the regional staff. It’s a small team but everyone helps each other out. I’ve known this staff for years and it’s really a testament to Rick and Sylvia Rhone’s management style. It’s one of encouragement, positivity, tenacity and passion. I share those characteristics whole heartedly and that’s why this is a perfect fit.”

Follow Christine Chiappetta on Facebook and on Instagram @Westcoastchia