24/7 Executives is a series of stories on high-performing professionals who are as serious at play as they are in the conference room. See the other stories here.
The lights are flashing, the bodies are sweating, and the music is quiet, just for a second, before a small smile comes across Dino Demopoulos's face, because he knows what's coming next.
The beat drops. The crowd goes crazy. It's a religious experience, and Mr. Demopoulos is a god.
In the late 1990s, Mr. Demopoulos, along with his brother, Terry, were the resident DJs at a number of big clubs in Toronto during the week. The resident hit makers would then get on a plane Friday night and fly to Italy, London or Paris and work a set at an iconic club such as the Ministry of Sound in London before flying home Sunday.
Now, the 46-year-old father of twins doesn't have much time to be jaunting across the pond. He still DJs and produces music, but Mr. Demopoulos is also the senior vice-president, head of planning, at advertising agency DDB Toronto. His chief role is to help DDB's creative teams tap into the mind of the consumer. But music has always been his passion.
Even though he's been in advertising for more than a decade, he won't be turning off the turntables any time soon. Mr. Demopoulos continues to scratch and mix his way through Canada's electronic music scene, despite his high-level job.
"People who know me from the DJ world see me in a suit and tie and will wonder what I'm doing," Mr. Demopoulos explains, laughing.
It started for Mr. Demopoulos and his brother when they were still in elementary school. Trying to avoid "real" jobs growing up, they took to the underground hip-hop scene in Toronto, participating in scratch and DJ competitions in the days when hip-hop pioneers Run-DMC were big and the genre was just emerging.
"We built a name for ourselves as the godfathers of the house music scene of Toronto and Canada," reflects Mr. Demopoulos.
Their first gig was at an underground house music club owned by Charles Khabouth, the legendary owner of the Guvernment nightclub in Toronto among other things. They got paid $2,000 for it.
"We thought, this is amazing!" he says. "But we never got started into music to make money. It guided our social lives and our free time. Music was just our passion."
Meanwhile, Mr. Demopoulos was finishing a degree at the University of Toronto, majoring in history and philosophy. Mr. Demopoulos and his brother later started a pair of record labels – Crash and Vinyl Peace – for which they started producing music for acts all over the world.
"We started signing local artists like Andy Roberts, Fred Everything, Soul Immigrants. These guys went on to have long careers in the electronic music scene. They started with us, they knew us," explains Mr. Demopoulos.
His brother got his PhD in theoretical physics and got a job with a major bank in Toronto – where he still works today – and Mr. Demopoulos continued to run the label, while the brothers produced, remixed and released more music.
But it was soon time for Mr. Demopoulos to settle down.
"I had done my degree, and I was enjoying the music stuff so much. But, I was always reading about music and communications. I had a friend who told me to shut up and become a strategist," he says. "I had no idea what that was, or that that job existed."
Mr. Demopoulos picked up the book Truth, Lies and Advertising by account planning mogul Jon Steel and read it cover-to-cover in one night. It was his aha moment.
"In the mid-1990s it was quite lucrative to be in the music business. It was exciting and fun, and it was prekids so I could come and go as I wanted," Mr. Demopoulos says with a chuckle.
By the early 2000s, his wife wanted to have children, and she was hoping he could have a more of a "stable" job.
Now a veteran of a number of large agencies in Toronto, Mr. Demopoulos admits working in the corporate environment to produce print, broadcast and online ads is different – like working from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. – but there are a lot of parallels between his two worlds.
He was helping to shape a culture as a DJ, and now, that's the bar he's set for himself in advertising.
"It wasn't like I was a jukebox playing grandma's favourite hits at a wedding. It was literally defining a culture. When you DJ at a high level, you're a taste maker," he says. "To be that, you can't just give people what they think they want. You have to guide them to what they need."
"I want to help our clients to really impact culture, instead of move units," he continues.
This thought process is what helped Mr. Demopoulos stand out from other candidates three years ago when he was hired by Andrew McCartney, senior vice-president and managing director of Tribal Worldwide, which is a part of DDB Toronto.
"He came from a very diverse background. His résumé didn't read like he was 20 years into the same thing, just at a few different companies," explains Mr. McCartney. "Diversity in our business is critical."
This diversity is what's kept things interesting for Mr. Demopoulos. He knows that his career path may seem unconventional, but to him, it's worked out just fine.
"It's never too late to pursue something you feel strongly about," he says. "Sometimes people aren't thinking about careers, they're thinking about rules. But I was able to transfer a lot of skills and sensibility from one creative profession to another."
Mr. Demopoulos continues to DJ and produce music today. But it's a far cry from his days doing it professionally, flying around the world and playing in front of thousands of people hanging on to every drop of the beat. Instead, he's helping consumers hang on to his clients' work.
"Advertising needs to be entertaining these days just to get people's attention," Mr. McCartney says. "[Dino's] role isn't really to create the entertainment, but it's to synthesize what the audience needs, and work as a conductor with the creative team, helping to guide them toward the right entertainment for the audience."
And just like he's spent most of his life worrying about balancing levels, keeping music as loud and clear as possible, he's bringing that balance to his work life, too.
"More people are opening their mind to alternative ways of working that balance passions and traditional careers to find their own way," he says.
"There aren't any rules. You can do what you want."