Building The Perfect Package

One of the often overlooked talents of today’s concert professional is the ability to assemble touring packages, those groupings of two, three, or more artists and bands where each act complements the other, and where there’s always some underlying theme or musical characteristic displaying what the performers have in common.

To learn more about how touring packages come to life we talked to William Morris Endeavor booking agent Brad Goodman, who put together “Call Me Invincible” the tour featuring Blondie, Pat Benatar and The Donnas.

The Blondie / Benatar pairing is a natural. Deborah Harry and Pat Benatar are representative of the strong, take-no-prisoners female artists that began emerging in the late 1970s. Both acts dominated the charts in the early 1980s and videos by both acts quickly became MTV standards during the music cable channel’s first two years of operation.

But it’s Goodman’s job to work out the details, like which act closes (they take turns), which newer band is a good fit for the opening slot, ticket prices and what kind of venues should host the package.

The tour’s complete schedule shows a variety of venues and promoters. Sure there are plenty of amphitheatres but it’s not strictly a shed tour. The package is also playing casinos, concert halls and theatres.

It opened on July 21 in Saratoga, Calif., at The Mountain Winery. From there it went to Livermore, Calif., to play Wente Vineyards. July 25 had everybody in Lemoore, Calif., at the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino and the last California date was July 26 in Costa Mesa at the Pacific Amphtheatre.

Other stops include Albuquerque at Isleta Casino July 29; Memphis, Tenn., at Mud Island Amphitheatre Aug. 2; Vienna, Va., at The Filene Center At Wolf Trap Aug. 4; Gilford, N.H., at Meadowbrook US Cellular Pavilion Aug. 5; Bethlehem, Pa., at Musikfest Aug. 7; Boston at Bank of America Pavilion Aug. 8; Canandaigua, N.Y., at Constellation Brands – Marvin Sands PAC Aug. 11; Brooklyn at Asser Levy Park at Coney Island Aug. 13; Cincinnati at PNC Pavilion At Riverbend Aug. 15; Highland Park, Ill., at Ravinia Park Aug. 17; Austin, Texas, at Austin Music Hall Aug. 20 and Biloxi at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino Aug. 22. The final date is Aug. 23 in Houston at the Arena Theatre.

Perhaps the toughest job of all for Goodman was coming up with the package in the first place, for knowing which artists will work well together, will compliment each other and, most importantly, sell tickets, is something they don’t teach in college. Instead, business savvy, a love of music and good old-fashioned gut instinct is what wins the day.

And, as Goodman says in the following Q&A, packages are also about “creating something of great value.”

Pat Benatar, Blondie and The Donnas. Let’s start in reverse order. How did The Donnas end up on the bill?

The Donnas ended up on the bill because we were looking for something outside the ‘70s and ‘80s eras to add some contrast. We weren’t necessarily looking for an all-female third act, but it just worked out that way.

How does a package like this come together? Does it start with a spark or an idea? Were you driving to the office and heard Blondie and Benatar played back-to-back on a radio station?

The impetus of the tour was to create something of great value in 2009 for the 30-55-year-old demographic. Both acts have recently celebrated 30th Anniversary events: 2008 was the 30th anniversary of Blondie’s smash album Parallel Lines, and 2009 is being heralded as the 30th anniversary of Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo’s start in the business… so there is definite connectivity.

Pat Benatar hasn’t gone out in a package in nearly 10 years and we felt finding the right female co-headliner would probably make the most sense. When I thought of pairing Pat & Neil with Blondie, both Pat & Neil sparked to that idea. Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke were equally as enthusiastic about working with Pat & Neil, so we forged ahead. Also, this package wouldn’t have come together without the cooperation and support of Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke; Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo; Allen Kovac, Phillip Kovac, Dave Aussenberg and Adam Arnkoff at 10th Street Entertainment; and John Malta of Bel Chiasso Entertainment.

It’s surprising no one thought of putting them together before.

I must say the combination of the two, sprinkled with The Donnas, has generated enthusiasm. Not only with the buyers (our first litmus test was talking to the buyers), but also with the fans. A lot people are excited about this, which is great.

How did you determine the venues for the tour?

We wanted to provide value to the consumer. In order to do just that, we had to be selective of the venues/opportunities. So we hand picked the right venues (theatres and small sheds), added in some “other” opportunities (i.e. casinos and fairs) and the tour evolved. We are doing 20 shows and the average ticket price is about $50.

For example, look at Wolf Trap (7,000-capacity shed). I know many people in this business are of the opinion that Wolf Trap unilaterally sells out every night with every attraction. That is simply not true, especially in 2009. Our Wolf Trap show (August 4) has been sold out since early July… one month in advance. Peter Zimmerman is THE leader in the D.C. market for understanding, believing in and taking risks on these kinds of shows.

Also, what’s interesting to point out is that packages like this can be put together from scratch (i.e. no Live Nation “amphitheatre deal” or AEG “tour deal”) and accomplish everything an artist wants: playing the major markets; lucrative payouts, successful ticket sales in a variety of different venues (from small sheds to theatres to the occasional fair or casino). There are no hard-ticket dates that are not either sold out or selling extremely well – a great feat, particularly in this economy. This is exactly what we were looking to accomplish, especially knowing back at the end of 2008 how challenging 2009 was going to be.

You do have a couple of Live Nation venues on the schedule.

Correct. Five to be exact: Mountain Winery in San Francisco; Dodge Theatre in Phoenix; Chastain Park in Atlanta; Bank of America Pavilion in Boston; Riverbend in Cincinnati … and we are glad to be playing them.

Did Live Nation ever express interest in doing the entire tour?

Live Nation expressed interest, but not on the national level. With the success we are having this year, I imagine they will be more interested in 2010!

Because there isn’t a national tour promoter for the package, you needed to contact each buyer individually. What kind of response did you receive when you first approached them?

I knew this package was going to be successful based upon the very positive initial response we received from a wide variety of promoters. Also, it was not overpriced. We did not quote numbers to scare anybody off. The key was trying to keep the ticket prices low enough so the fans would get an amazing value. It was a win-win – low risk for the promoters and low ticket prices (high value) for the fans.

How are you promoting the individual dates? Radio? TV? Newspapers?

All of that, plus lots of Web-based marketing. As I mentioned earlier, it’s also Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo’s 30th anniversary of being in the business so we have that angle, too. Having one of the coolest ad-mattes I have ever seen didn’t hurt either! The artwork was created by Tim Neil, who is based in New Orleans. Also, special thanks to Brad Friess at 10th Street Entertainment, who quarterbacked all of the tour marketing initiatives. He did a fabulous job.

What are the logistics like moving this tour from city to city? Is it separate travel accommodations for each act?

Yes, but we’re sharing production. I want to take a moment to point out that without the professionalism and years of experience of John Malta (with Benatar’s camp) and Cheryl Hall and Jim Roese (with Blondie’s camp), the implementation of cost effective measures like the sharing of production simply would not have happened. This really helps the bottom line.

You have a lot of experience putting packages together. What other packages have you worked on this year?

Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald; B.B. King and Buddy Guy; Al Green and Etta James; The B-52s and Joan Jett; The Neville Brothers and Dr. John.

Is there a dream package you would like to put together? Not something you’re working on, but a fantasy project. Something YOU dream about.

Sure, there are lots of packages I would like to put together. But the one I would like to see for myself is Dire Straits and Wilco.