Lessons Learned: Louis Messina

I made so many mistakes in my career. I really have. My first show has been written up many times. I had a sold-out show (New Orleans, Curtis Mayfield/B.B. King, 1972) and the acts didn’t show up because of weather problems. I went from making $20,000 to losing $20,000. The good thing is I learned I could do my job.

I’ve learned it’s not an honest business. People just aren’t fair. Everybody thinks they’re stealing from each other. The best thing to do is be as honest as you can and try to build an honest name for yourself.

I used to have a guy who worked for me – he now works at Live Nation as a top executive – who was a booking junkie. I had to tell him that the business didn’t care about him. For instance, an agent once called our office and asked for a contact who died the night before. When we told him what happened, it took him 20 seconds to get around to asking, “Who should we talk to now?” Everybody’s selling and if you buy everything, you’re going to lose.

I’ve also learned you’re only as good as you are today. If you go out of business, nobody’s going to take a moment to go, ‘Aw. That’s too bad.’

I’ve also learned you can’t play the favor game. That’s what has put most people out of business – doing an agent or manager a favor. Those favors never get paid back. They just don’t.

The most important thing, though, is to saddle the right horses. Get involved with the right managers and the right agents – people you can trust and who can trust you. No matter how much I might want to promote a particular artist, there’s just a lot of agents and managers I won’t work with, even close friends.

Let me explain. Just recently, there was a country artist I know well that went on a major tour and nobody would let me be involved. It destroyed me emotionally. I was lied to and deceived. God damn, 35 years in the business and those things still happen to me! Back in the day, I had good relationships with artists like Sammy Hagar and Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen. Jon Landau would say, “Texas is Louie.” Nowadays it’s like, shit, promoter du jour. You come in and say, “Here’s the check, here’s the money up front,” and I bet you nine out of the 10 times that person is going to get the tour. And that sucks ass, man.

But in the long run, I’m fine because I’ve taken control of my own life and career. I’ve been fortunate to get involved with the right acts, the right managers, the people who believe in me and whom I believe in. When I do George Strait and Kenny Chesney, it’s nothing but honesty. When it was time to book the second leg of the Nickelback tour, they looked at me and Brad Roosa, who works with me, and my partner on the tour, Lane Arnold, and they said, “You know what? Ya’ll did everything you said you were going to do. We’re not touring without you guys.”

You be honest with everyone around you and the right people will be honest with you.