Gabe Kubanda looks at music differently than most musicians. With an acute business sense, the Glendale singer-songwriter has “epic” plans for his career and others around the world.
In 2011, Kubanda founded “The Epic Proportions Tour,” a jaunt that visits high schools, colleges and military bases around the United States. Kubanda’s business partner, Peter Sotos, is a U.S. Army veteran.
“We support our servicemen and know that because they are on the front lines keeping us safe and free, we’re able to do what we do,” Kubanda said.
“Regardless of the crazy politics on both sides of the aisle, we know that it is a massive sacrifice for the men and women in the military. So we love to give back, and put on concerts for them whenever we can.”
Kubanda and Sotos are generous and don’t take advantage of bands, as many do in the industry.
“We actually pay the bands,” he said with a laugh. “We take care of their travel and their lodging and a lot of their food. We give them a crazy tour experience for free and they get paid.
“That’s how I want the music industry to run. I want to give people opportunities and not just try to see what I can take from them. Last year’s European tour was nuts. I took a couple bands around Denmark, Sweden and the U.K. for a month and a half and it was amazing.”
On average, the tour performs to approximately 250,000 fans between the ages of 14 and 24 per tour, thanks to sponsors and benefactors.
This month, Kubanda will speak and perform at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Show in Anaheim. He’ll sit on the “Smart Touring” and “How to Land Brand Partnerships” panels at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively, Thursday, January 16. Both events require NAMM badges.
Those without a badge can see Kubanda perform at midnight Friday, January 17, on the Anaheim Hilton lobby stage. The show is free.
The Epic Proportions Tour brings along a full backline, highly trained road crew and a state-of-the-art sound system.
“I was in L.A. with a post-emo band called Letters Burning and we were struggling to get people out to shows all the time, you know, getting our friends and family members to buy tickets and have to deal with two-drink minimums and parking on Sunset Boulevard,” he said.
Kubanda had an epiphany: go to the fans.
“I was thinking high schools. Those are the types of fans that we want,” he said. “We started just calling up high schools and saying, ‘Hey, can we play a free lunch concert for your students?’ Many of them said yes.
“I was surprised it was that easy.”
Success took plenty of cold calls and many polite no.
“At first, they said, ‘You can’t sell CDs. You can’t talk to the kids. You can’t get their emails. You can’t do this…’” he recalls. “But then they started getting familiar with us. I left the band and started ‘The Epic Proportions Tour.’ We added colleges and military bases to that equation.
“They realized we’re always bringing out good bands and if there are problems, I’m the fall guy. They can yell at me and that’s cool.”
Kubanda has toured with bands from Australia, Canada, Argentina and Arizona.
“We’re pretty ragtag, but I’m still proud of it,” he said with a laugh.
“Seriously, we’ve never quit. We’ve never canceled a tour—even in the face of really harsh circumstances.”
That includes surviving a serious crash when its bus was hit by a semi during a tour.
“We were traveling to San Francisco to do a bunch of college shows in the spring and it was at the end of our tour,” Kubanda explains. “A semitruck driver fell asleep at the wheel and hit us going 70-75 miles per hour. Our entire bus flipped off the road multiple times. We were all in bunks and apparently that’s what saved us. We were bouncing around in a short space instead of flying all around the cabin and getting thrown out of windows.
“We had a summer tour planned right after that and we waited to do all the chiropractor’s stuff later,” he said with a smile. “We went on tour.”
The acts with Kubanda, including Lost in Atlantis and the Thomas King Band, sustained many injuries, mostly abrasions from the steel that kept the metal bunks in place, and broken bones.
“We all survived.”
Kubanda grew up in a musical household, performing in his church and jazz band in high school. He also teamed with his friends to form garage rock bands in Seattle.
“I always thought it would just be a hobby,” he said. “I took the big step and moved to L.A. to go to UCLA Music Business School. It was an after-hours program.”
That led to an internship with a manager who worked with Filter, BT, the Crystal Method, Psychedelic Furs and Henry Rollins.
“Basically, I was just running coffee and errands for people,” said Kubanda, who will soon release the hook-laden single “Let’s Ride.” “But it really opened my eyes to how the industry was—the good and the bad of it. I really didn’t like a lot of it.
“When I started this tour, I wanted it to be in anti-industry in a way. I wanted to focus on being nice to people. That’s how I’ve operated ever since. The key is to be nice and work hard.”
Kubanda slowly went from playing lunch concerts to also speaking in classes. He dubs it #EduMusication, which pairs professional artists with music students for “rousing” workshops, demos and Q&As, showing how students can start today on their journey toward a rewarding career in music.
The organization is also offering $5,000 scholarships with Full Sail University; freebies; and music gear provided by Ernie Ball, Orange Amps; PRS Guitars and Line 6.
“We’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit,” he said. “We offer music inspiration and education workshops for free. We just want to show if we can do it, you guys can, too—but start now. Don’t wait as long as we did.
“Get on YouTube, start making cover videos, start managing your own student band, start playing shows, start interning places. Think about a career now instead of 20 years later.”
The next “Epic Proportions Tour” will kick off March 9 at South By Southwest Music Conference and continues through April 30 in New York City.
By performing at South by Southwest and NAMM, Kubanda has honed the art of networking and feeling comfortable approaching complete strangers to chat.
“Walking up to complete strangers, you never know where it’s going to lead,” he said. “I think that’s really important for any musician or anybody who wants to be in the industry, If you sit at home and play guitar all day long, nobody’s going to hear you.
“NAMM is especially important because all the music merchants are there and all the vendors are there. If you want to be sponsored by your favorite guitar company or a piano company or a piece of gear or a DJ, this is where you’re going to meet those people face to face. I know musicians tend to get in their little bubbles and just hang out with local music people, but you need to branch out.”