CIC 2009: Off And Running

The conference is a little different this year, with early registration and the ever-popular opening reception Wednesday night making for an unhurried “soft” opening. But it didn’t stay so loose for long.

Among the early arrivals spotted schmoozing at the reception: CAA’s Rob Light, Live Nation’s Danny Zelisko, AEG Live Rocky Mountain’s Chuck Morris, Another Planet Entertainment’s Gregg Perloff, AEG Live’s Randy Phillips, Nederlander’s Alex Hodges, and CAA Nashville’s Rod Essig.

Once the curtain officially rose Thursday, an early highlight was Jam Production’s Arny Granat’s rousing welcome to the assembly in the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza’s Los Angeles Room.

With Ben Liss pressed into duty to introduce Arny, as well as play straight man, Granat thanked Pollstar for the award he was receiving before being “corrected.”

The speech itself was quite serious, given the challenging times facing the industry as well as the rest of the American economy.

Arny said he wasn’t there to “pontificate” to the rest of his colleagues in attendance; there were plenty of people who could do that, he added. And while he said he didn’t want to live in the past, it is important to visit it once in a while.

With that, he ticked off a list of names — the legendary and the not so much — but all of whom built the industry from a seat-of-the-pants operation into what we have today, making particular note of the two industry powerhouses: Live Nation and AEG.

Granat’s theme was that things will change, yet the core of the business remains.

“The live industry is an integral part of our lives,” he said. “The live experience can never be replaced or duplicated, though we’ve done our best to mess it up.” He may have used a different word than “mess.”

Granat threw a spotlight on ticketing, especially with Live Nation stepping up to challenge Ticketmaster for dollars and industry supremacy.

“Ticketmaster and Live Nation have a chance and responsibility to make changes to make the experience more acceptable to the patron,” he said. “We need both of these companies, as well as agents, managers, artists and promoters to stand up and make a difference.”

He pointed to Ticketmaster’s introduction of paperless tickets to capture some of the dollars lost to scalpers. But he also called on them to create a “level playing field” for patrons from all financial backgrounds who want to purchase quality seats.

“There is no parity for the fans. One common mission is to pull back all the crap. Listen to, nurture and respect the consumer. They are the only ones we must answer to.”

Granat talked about the importance of diversification, pointing to the success of Jam Theatricals, which has won three Tony Awards, and Jam Exhibitions, which toured the “Bodies” exhibition.

“We’re doing a ‘Bodies’ show. Dead body parts. Cadavers. We made more on dead bodies than we ever did on live ones,” he only half joked. “The riders were much easier. meet and greets were a cinch.”

Though Granat rejects the word “keynote” for his speech, it was anything but a stiff.

“The good news is we’re all still here. One of the great mysteries is how. We’ve been fortunate to have done so,” he concluded. “We are all part of the same family, but now we need to refocus and be creative and respectful. We may not be on the same team, but we are all in the same league.

“There’s always room for improvement. We can’t remain inert; we either go backward or forward. Keep the faith, have hope. This is perhaps our last opportunity. Let’s not mess it up.” He probably used a different word than “mess.”

But Granat’s welcome address wasn’t the only event of the day.

The morning panels included the traditional arena managers and nightclub meetings, which covered topics ranging from dealing with private venue management companies to artist development at the club level, and a panel on “Effective College Talent Buying.”

Al Karosas, Assistant GM of Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center, said the college market might somehow contain the most discretionary income at the moment, as parents are tightening their belts and telling the tweens to stay home (unless the Jonas Brothers hit town again).

With varying budgets and numerous departments and sources of funding, the panel stressed the importance of being creative and remaining profit-oriented to bring in money and continue to bring great events rather than hold one or two large shows and call it a year. A big hurdle is navigating the complicated university beauracracies and making use of what is already in place — such as forgotten artist and agent relationships established years ago.

Of everything to be learned while working and taking classes in college, Bill Silva Management’s Larry Butler said that maybe the most important thing is “honing your skills to be able to work with complete assholes.” He said now is as good a time as any to get used to it, and employers will be very impressed to meet anyone with this necessary ability.

During the same panel, one audience member, an apparent college buyer herself, grilled ICM’s Scott Pang about artist guarantees. She asked why one agent told her it would cost her an extra $20,000 to book one of his acts because colleges are loaded with cash. Pang jokingly responded that her first mistake was “talking to CAA,” but added that he doesn’t believe this is the norm and that his company approaches colleges as any other buyer.

Marty Kern, major events director at Clemson University in South Carolina, told one discouraged student from Missouri that having one offer out of 50 accepted is a great ratio for her, and that those 49 rejections don’t make the accepted offer any less sweet.

Moderator Barbara Hubbard, of Mother Hubbard’s Scholarships, weighed in, saying that Las Cruces, N.M., wasn’t exactly a booming market when she hit town, either. The audience was left with the advice to think big and be extremely persistent. Networking at CIC is a great start, the panelists said.

The afternoon’s topics included a focus on performing arts centers, outdoor festivals, Internet marketing, Latin America’s concert revolution and a particularly lively session on “Making Money in a Down Economy.”

An ever more important topic, ticketing, was tackled in the afternoon sessions.

The fists surprisingly weren’t flying at the “Tickets to the Future” session, as panelists seemed to spend a large amount of their time in agreement about the state of the ticketing industry.

Technology is giving fans more options in ticketing, and all the companies involved have had to adapt accordingly or get out of the way.

Viagogo’s Eric Baker speculated that more and more artists as primary rights holders will move to control their own tickets and distribute them through a wide variety of channels and Derek Palmer of noted that the years of everyone making their money off service charges are over.

Tomorrow’s coverage will include notes on morning roundtable discussions and mentoring session, and panel reporting focusing on casinos, “the global view of America’s Obamanation,” finding new content to put butts in seats, and the independent promoters’ forum.

And then there’s a little party after it all winds down. You’ll read the results here first on