My friend Raquel Bruno has been in the world of show business since a very young age, listening in on recording sessions with her uncles who all worked with Frank Sinatra. She found her own path by working as an intern at Nickelodeon and eventually landed a talent booking role with MTV. She is now a Talent Executive, Booker, Producer, DJ, and Philanthropist (among many other things). Having just celebrated the 10 year anniversary of her company, Drive Entertainment Group, Raquel took some time to reflect on how she got where she is today, what she loves about New York, and where she wants to be in the future.
JD: Raquel, you are a modern renaissance woman between your work as a Talent Executive, Producer, Philanthropist, and all the organizations and happenings you are a part of. How did you get started in your career?
RB: Thank you, Joe! When I was in high school, we were all given a form to fill out that asked “what career do you want to pursue?” with a bunch of options and checkboxes such as “Doctor,” “Teacher,” etc. None of the options applied to me. What I wanted to do wasn’t on the form, even though I couldn’t describe what I wanted to do or be until it all eventually came together in my work.
It all started because my parents are jazz musicians. My mom is a singer, my dad is a songwriter, and my uncles all played with Frank Sinatra (you can see my Uncle Sam playing upright bass in the wedding scene of The Godfather). My uncle Jerry, who is in his late 90s now, was best friends with Don Costa, Frank Sinatra’s arranger. So as a kid, I practically grew up in a recording studio and knew that I wanted to be around music always. I saw the first MTV music video launch and knew I wanted to work at MTV. When I was a senior in high school, I called Nickelodeon for an internship opportunity. They told me I was too young and to call back in a year. Which was, of course, a brush off, but I took it as gospel and I called them back exactly a year later. The woman that was on the other end was like, “You’re how old? And you called a year ago? I think you should come in.” That woman ended up being my biggest mentor, Susan Kearns, who gave me a shot and really opened the door for me. And that’s how I got my start in the business – working at Nickelodeon.
I interned for them and worked for some great women who actually are still my mentors to this day. Diane Robina and Dea Connick. Then four years later when I was graduating college, an assistant job opened up and I started working for them.
The whole time I was at Nickelodeon I was figuring out a way to get onto MTV since I was already in a company that was part of MTV Networks. After a few years I finally landed at MTV Radio as a talent manager. That role solidified what I wanted to do with the rest of my life which is basically booking, producing, and creating platforms for talent.
JD: What does a typical day look like for you and what are some of the projects you’re currently working on?
RB: Hah, there is no typical day. We are talent bookers and producers so there are a lot of nuances that go into each of our projects. The past few days I have been back to back on conference calls, working on video shoots for Saturday Night Live’s Above Average project, Kicker, discussing my clients’ talent booking needs for the year, coordinating talent for the red carpet at award shows as well as coordinating who is going to present awards together. We also work on getting talent to support nonprofits. So there’s all different things I work on which is why I love what I do. Because it’s never the same thing every day.
Additional projects we are working on that I’m excited about include truTV’s Those Who Can’t, as well as lining up the presenters and honorees for the American Black Film Festival which is doing honors for the first time ever this year and will be honoring Diahann Carroll among many others. I’m also working with women's nonprofit, Ultraviolet, on increasing their visibility within the Hollywood and talent community.
I’m really proud of the work I’ve done with Sprout and Rita Moreno; we booked her to be a part of Nina’s World which is doing very well. I’ve also enjoyed working with Alyssa Milano who has been one of our celebrity moms and has been very vocal about public breastfeeding and making sure women are treated equally. Every client I have right now has their own amazing, unique quality and I’m proud to be a part of each project.
JD: What are three of the most valuable lessons that you’ve learned about success over the last 20 years in your career?
I was blessed to be able to meet and work with John Ritter who is still to this day one of the greatest talents I ever worked with. He was respectful of everybody whether it was the Supervisor of Sanitation or the CEO. He taught me that you can be a wonderful person and still get what you need without screaming or being a diva. I have seen it all working as a talent exec, but I always go back to my days of working with John, the short amount of time I did.
When you’re launching a business, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes and to let your ego go. If you really want something badly enough, you’ve got to be willing to dig deep in the trenches and get to it. Don’t be afraid to take on jobs that you would think are “beneath you.” Starting a business means a lot of long hours and nothing is handed to you.
You have to be willing to tell the truth and to live in truth and integrity in all that you do. If you overpromise and underdeliver, you’re never going to succeed. No is not in my vocabulary but I educate my clients about the challenges they can expect to encounter even if it’s not something they want to hear. It takes a lot of belief in yourself to be okay with having those real conversations, which are not always the most popular.
JD: You are always on the go and I can tell how much you love what you do. Let’s talk about your work as a DJ. Where do you play these days, who is on your current playlist, and what do you think of today’s DJs?
RB: Well now I just do parties for friends. I still have my original Technic 1200's (turntables) as well as thousands and thousands of vinyl. It’s hilarious to me that vinyl is “making a comeback” because in my world it never went away. I used to DJ at Idlewild (now closed) and at Fontana’s where my friend DJ Baron and I did a night called Make out Sessions with a lot of sexy disco. We just read that Fontana's is closing so we might do one more Make out Session there before it does.
As far as what I’m listening to, I’m a classics girl so it’s a rarity that I will be into something new. But if it is a new band, they have to have some sort of a throwback feel to them. I’m a big fan of an artist called White Prism; she’s amazing. I’ve actually written about her for Black Book. I used to love Le Tigre. My taste runs the gamut, but I lean a lot towards EDM because of my background in the rave scene back in the day when I was a flyer girl for Limelight at age 15 and when I used to go to The Tunnel at age 16.
Regarding DJs today, I love that they are now getting the love that they should have been getting a long time ago. I’m happy when I hear that DJs fight the good fight to use vinyl and not just use Serato. I’m not putting them down, it’s just that when you DJ with vinyl, you really need to beatmatch. You do it by yourself. You do it like a musician. As a kid I played guitar, violin, and piano but I gave it up because I wanted to pursue boys and softball, but I still very much apply the training I received. DJs do it by ear, not by reading what is on a screen. That to me is a DJ.
JD: How did the recent passing of David Bowie affect you?
RB: David Bowie was everything to me. Everything. I mean, he shaped my culture, my youth. Every aspect of David Bowie was such an impact. I saw a quote that said, “If you're sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie,” and that’s how I feel. I don’t know if we’ll ever see another one like him in our lifetime, that’s how incredible he was. I mean, just the way that he painfully but artfully created his last album with almost nobody knowing what was going on except for very few people who were closest to him. He created this gift that he gave everybody and, ironically, it’s his first album that went number one.
JD: Something else you really love is philanthropy and helping animals. Please tell us about that.
RB: We’ve always been a family of rescuers. Two and a half years ago when we moved out of the city and I finally had the space for a dog, my husband and I went to North Shore - I love North Shore because they’re a no kill shelter - and we adopted the love of our lives, Copper.
I always said that if I wasn’t doing talent, I would have been a vet. But two things preclude me from that. One of them is I’m a terrible math student and the second one is that I can’t put an animal down. It’s just too difficult for me to watch. I’d cry all the time. So, my husband and I got involved with a great organization called Pet ResQ and we foster dogs when we can. In fact, we had one foster, Boomer, who was with us three months when he decided that he was going to stay with us, but we knew that we would be complete foster failures and Copper was getting jealous. We ended up finally getting him placed after a year. He’s very happy now. If I can foster dogs the rest of my life, I will. There’s no need to shop, you should always adopt.
Other philanthropy I’m involved in is centered around equality. That’s one of the reasons I work with Ultraviolet. They are a women’s organization focused on women’s rights such as pay equality. We also do volunteering around the holidays for the homeless such as working in the soup kitchens and preparing meals.
JD: Let’s talk about your history in New York.
RB: I first moved into the city in the 90s. I was on the Upper West Side with a roommate. It was great and then I moved into my place on Christopher and Washington where I was a renter first and then I bought it from the owner, which was the best investment I’ve ever made. I live in New Jersey now but I’m in the city almost daily with clients.
JD: What are your favorite places in the city?
RB: Norwood is one of my favorite places in the universe. It’s a private arts club on 14th Street run by Alan Linn, an incredible proprietor. I went there for dinner with someone who referred me business and Alan and I sat in the lobby talking about Bowie for 20 minutes and how we are both just gutted about how we lost such a great man. And that’s the kind of man Alan is. He wants everyone to feel welcome – guests and members alike. So I loved Norwood from the beginning. I’ve been a member almost since the beginning.
My regular standby is Blue Water Grill - still one of my favorites after all this time. Another standby is Dim Sum at Golden Unicorn. My mom performs at Flute Bar and I love that place because it’s got fantastic champagne. It’s just got a very cool vibe. You almost feel like you’re in Paris. Of course my mom singing just makes it so much better. I love listening to the jazz and drinking champagne, there’s nothing better for me.
Another one of my favorite spots is K-Town. I live for anything in K-Town. It’s just a block long and it’s the coolest thing ever. I love Korean food and I love going to check out all the different spots there. K-Town has its own charm for me.
JD: Do you have a dream project?
RB: Hmm, that is a tough question. I’ve been able to work with some of the greats in the business such as Louis J. Horvitz who is the director of the Grammys. I think eventually if I can get to work with him on the Grammys, I would have hit one of my goals in life. To be able to be a talent exec and co-producer of that show would be top for me because I went as a kid. I remember I had the opportunity to go in 1988 and it was brilliant for me. And that was before I was in the industry. I think that had a lot to do with why I wanted to be in music anyway. So, I’d say the Grammys.
JD: Where do you see yourself in five years?
RB: Continuing to work on projects that have real impact, continuing to work with a group of people that believe what I believe and want to move forward in a positive direction. When it comes to diversity and quality, getting to continue to launch great music and acting careers. And also being able to have a little bit more balance. I do my best to have balance now between going to the gym and being with my husband and fostering dogs, going to shows and being involved with music as best as I can. But I think a little more balance where I finally can relax a little bit and spend more than 10 minutes when grabbing coffee with someone. I’ll never retire, I know that. But I would like to be able to enjoy life more and spend quality time with those around me. Also, in terms of where we are as a universe right now, we’re in a tough place. To be a part of keeping truth and integrity alive on this planet is where I want to be.
JD: Thank you so much for your time, Raquel!
RB: My pleasure, thank you for having me.