Collegiate Introduction To The Business

The problem remains but the reasons vary and the solution is yet unknown. College venues just don’t get the traffic they used to – the programs just aren’t quite as hands on as in Barbara Hubbard’s day, where she made Music Tour Management’s Steve Dixon clean the bathroom on his first day and bring in his report card and keep up his grades if he wanted to remain in her program.

One of the big problems might be the top of the list for many in the industry: Consolidation and the official foray into big business territory. But that’s where the resources of a college program come in handy in helping to get the best deal for an artist.

“It doesn’t matter that we are a college building with college students anymore,” said Lynda Reinhart from the Stephen O’Connell Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “If we can’t give the best deal and sell tickets they won’t come. But you can mobilize your peers, the school’s programming board and utilize the other vast resources and activity fees and maybe make a difference in whether someone plays the college building or the ‘professional’ venue.”

It’s always important to get creative. Xen Riggs from the Schottenstein Center at Ohio State mentioned how Jim Allison, now at AEG, was one of the students in his college program and used the end of his yearly budget of $30,000 to put on a “Big Free Concert.” It was such a blast for students that it helped pass an added activities fee to the budget, a fee that has since been raised, Riggs said, bringing the budget to $1.8 million (although the Schottenstein Center has to generate all of its revenue). Huie had similar creativity with his budget in college.

“My budget to lose was 12,000. I figured if I lost $1,500 a show I can do about eight shows. I actually made three grand so I thought I better get rid of this money or they’ll cut my budget.” So he threw a “Spring Fling” that consisted of paying a bluegrass band $500 and spending most of the rest on beer for a big student party before midterms at Davidson College in North Carolina.

While Riggs’ Ohio State program is a little different from most in that it has a “budget” of $1.8 million, an amount that Huie or Dixon could still wipe out in three minutes, he says students would gain better experience from making a little money go a longer way.

“Those who have to stretch a little bit of money and sell tickets get a real life experience. You will be far, far better prepared than the ones who have 1.8 million to spend. Because, hey, they spend it!” he said.

Students are now competing with thousands of others that are graduating in big-time college programs geared toward the live business, Reinhart said. And she’s not sure where all those students are getting jobs.

How do you stand out and make that impression? Just outwork everyone else, Huie said.

“If you want to beat your competition you have to work harder than that person. Work harder and you will win.”

Yesterday’s innovators had the advantage of being first movers in a industry that was barely developed and sorely lacking sophistication. Hubbard could be said to have invented the college program, and that was solely because she had no other staff at the time. Strickland said he went from borrowing a few lights as a 12-year-old for a Beach Boys show to serving the whole region before reaching drinking age.

“I wish I could tell you it was tough,” he says, bringing up his impressive tactic as a kid who couldn’t work during the week and miss school. “I told them we were booked on Monday!”

However, his business and that of concert lighting altogether has become so complex and sophisticated that he says he is physically unable to figure out how to turn on the newer consoles. That’s partially where the students come in.

“Me and that old computer get along just fine,” Hubbard said. “We’re going to stay with you and try to keep up with you as much as we can, but we are going to lean on you as well.”

Strickland admitted to being a “pecker” on his computer keyboard, saying he still prefers to do 80 or 90 percent of his business by phone. In fact, it took two years for someone to finally tell him that his all-caps method of typing made people think he was constantly pissed off.

“When we started in the mid-60s and 70s, education wasn’t really a thought because we were doing the nuts and bolts of how to put on a show,” Strickland said. “Fast-forward to today, and what we need more than anything is you. We need for you to marry the passion for the show along with education. Because there is very little formal education in this business and very little business sense.

“The average life for an entity of any sort in the entertainment business is five years because they don’t understand how to run a business with business sense. And you have the power to change that,” said Strickland, who is obviously not exaggerating when he says he is passionate about formal education (sits on numerous boards, adviser to chancellor and dean’s council, fundraising for the business college, adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville).

He said today’s industry does not realize this simple fact but that it always has to be a win win win, and if General Motors was to “rat fuck” its suppliers or “rat fuck” its customers, it would be over. “The sooner we realize that, the sooner we rise up a whole step above – far beyond and above what it is right now,” he added to applause.

Dixon, who has handled tour production for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears and was on his way between London and South Korea, could attest to Strickland’s honor and reputation, which Dixon says is all you really have in life. He was all but imploring students to keep the legacy of good business going and follow the example set by people like Hubbard and Strickland.

But Riggs offered maybe the most pointed lesson of the day for the crowd’s college students. “If you want to know how this business really works, a promoter just popped in for about five minutes and made eye contact with John [Huie]. And I think they just booked a tour!”


Pollstar Live 2011 Panel Index