Lessons Learned: Larry Magid

In anything you start out with, there’s a lesson, regardless of what it is. If you take life as a learning process, every day is a new adventure, especially when you’re young. Today’s no different. You go into your office never knowing what to expect. In between phone calls, things happen and you react to them based on your earlier lessons.

Every day, I think, geez, when’s the other shoe going to drop? It’s not that bad and actually has a way of turning around. It’s funny. I was talking to one of the guys from Farm Aid today about how we would have reacted to a situation 15 or 20 years ago, and now what would have seemed like the end of the world is just not that serious.

The one thing you can’t subject other people to is your ownership of people’s services. My viewpoint has changed 180 degrees because at one point, I thought you did own people’s services, but you don’t. You hope you build the relationship with someone you want to work with again.

I’ll tell you two quick stories. Let me preface this by saying that a lot of the things that I learned were from other people who took the time to talk to me and interact with me. I learned from very good, strong people in the business.

First, I was doing a show at Temple University in Philadelphia and it was with Ramsey Lewis. It was 1964, and he was very hot. The show sold out. I came to soundcheck, which was pretty new to me. At that time, they called them rehearsals and there was supposed to be a piano there, which was clearly stated in the contract – there were no riders at this time. I passed it along to the school, but when I got to the show there was no piano.

I went to the school and said, “You’re supposed to have a Steinway, 7-foot piano.” They said they had one in the basement.

I said we couldn’t do a show without it, and Ramsey Lewis was upset. We finally got the piano up there and it was a very small piano. And the piano only had 80 keys, and it was badly out of tune.

We got somebody out there to tune the piano at the last minute, but it had a couple of keys that couldn’t be tuned and were probably broken.

How I convinced Ramsey to do that show with that piano was probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. I remember saying to him, “You know, Ramsey, you’re probably going to be the only person in the whole auditorium that knows that the piano is out of tune or that there are broken keys.”

He did the show and I was sitting in the front row with my girlfriend at the time, and every time he hit a bad note, he would look at me. Each time, I sank lower in my seat.

The other part of this was, I had a girlfriend who needed a lot of attention, as any attractive girl would want. I brought her to the show and ran around between giving her attention and giving the show attention. I realized that if I was going to be in this business – and I wanted to be in this business – that no matter how much I liked her, I had to figure out what my priority was, and it obviously was this business.

The other story also takes place in 1964. Concerts were basically held at colleges or orchestra halls. They’re not necessarily arena tours, but if they’re arena tours, they’re packages, including The Rolling Stones with 7, 8 or 10 other acts on the bill. I tried to put together a folk show. “Hootenanny” was the big TV show at the time and college campuses were where a lot of younger promoters started, booking bands in school. I started doing that, as well as concerts, and wanted to put together a big folk show in an arena, the Philadelphia Convention Hall. I did my homework and I did my math and did everything I should have, but I just could not come up with enough money to do the show. Finally, I did put together a show with the Four Seasons and Stevie Wonder in Syracuse. And my closest friend and I put our money together. Well, the show went on sale and it wasn’t doing well but, then again, we didn’t know how to read the shows. We just got nervous that the show wasn’t going to do well and we got out. We lost some money, more than we put in. When I went to my friend, he said, “I don’t have any money.”

So now I’m stuck with the bills and, at one point, I said, “You know what? I really don’t know enough about this business and if I’m going to be in it, I better learn a lot more.”

So I had an opportunity to go to New York to work at an agency. I quit school, moved and, three years later, I came back to Philadelphia with a lot more knowledge about being a promoter. At every point, I kept trying to learn from everybody who was smarter than me, which was most of the people in the world.

That’s basically the story of really a lifelong pursuit of trying to perfect what it is that we do. The other things you’ll have to read in my book.