Indie Promoters At Pollstar Live

Dan Steinberg of Square Peg Concerts did his first turn as a panel moderator for this year’s Smaller is Better: Why Indie Promoters Are The Soul of The Concert Business. Looks like we may have a fledgling Seth Hurwitz on our hands.

Before getting to the meat of the matter, it should be noted that concert industry entrepreneurs are a lot of things but not necessarily public speakers. Steinberg made clear at the beginning of the panel that this would be a panel worth paying attention to.

There were the introductions of “the bachelorette” Andrea Johnson of The Agency Group (“isn’t she lovely?”), agent David Britz of Stiletto Entertainment (“married”), ICM’s Rick “For Real” Farrell (“one of the world’s biggest record collections with 6,200 pieces of vinyl. Let’s give it up for him!”), Andrew Goodfriend of TKO (“who’s being sued for $60 million!”), the “legend” Bill Rogers of BRE Presents and, finally, “This is Jason Zink. He doesn’t fuckin’ belong here. This guy has been with everyone and can clearly not keep a job. Just got married to a woman who’s way too hot for him.”.

The panel discussion was followed by about 15 minutes of the “debate” of whether relationships matter in the concert industry (spoiler alert: yes, they do). But even though we may know the answer, Steinberg kept it lively with an interaction with Goodfriend, who took over TKO after the death of founder Dave Kirby, becoming the RA for Buckcherry among a hundred other acts on the roster. Apparently a “national promoter” took on a recent Buckcherry tour (there was an inside joke on the panel that if the promoter was mentioned, that person would buy drinks at the bar that night). The thing is – a story that has a long history in the music business – a promoter that puts up risk for a fledgling band is the unspoken promoter of the tour when the now-successful band returns to the market.

Apparently this wasn’t the case when Goodfriend took Buckcherry and the “national promoter” through Steinberg’s market. Or, as Steinberg said to Goodfriend, “You fucked me on that.” It was a personable joke, but Steinberg made it more fun by not letting Goodfriend off the hook. He asked how tough it was for Goodfriend to call upon the indie promoters again on the follow-up tour, after the “national promoter” didn’t want the act.

“It’s trippy,” Goodfriend said. Steinberg asked if history mattered.

“Yes,” Goodfriend answered.


That pretty much shut down the interaction between those two for the rest of the hour.

Johnson (“AJ”), Britz and Farrell were quizzed about reductions and breaks in general. AJ got applause, preumably from promoters in the audience, when she said that she understood that promoters are taking “all the risk” on startup bands and “you have to let people make money at the very beginning.”

Goodfriend joked about reductions (“what?”) but Britz followed up with the point that he hates getting the request for reductions day of show because “two weeks before is the last second to me.”

Next up was a new topic (and a new term in this reporting) – cross collateralization. “Fucking genius” as Steinberg put it. The concept definitely favors the promoter but leaves the agent at risk. A promoter takes on an entire run of shows, marketing the profitable Seattles but putting the act into the Spokanes, too, with the risk involved. Then, at the end of the run, there is a single profit/loss settlement. The agents on the panel were not entirely on board. Yes, if the promoter will develop the band in a new, slow market, then it may be worth it in the long run. But if it’s a three-to-two ratio, it was hard to rationalize the benefit versus taking single offers.

Steinberg soon asked one of the most unique questions of Pollstar Live / CIC history (note: Wayne Forte would soon do that at the following panel: “What is the best concert you ever saw?”). The question was (following the lead-in that the conference is basically the same thing every year), “How important is it to schmooze at the bar tonight?”

Rogers, the “heritage act,” bowed out. AJ said she has made plenty of relationships beyond the 30-second phone call by talking to promoters in the hotel lobby. Same with Goodfriend. Farrell? “Ah. That’s where I really shine.”

Farrell had another great quote: “My job is to balance greed with reality. On one side is the artist; on the other, the promoter.”

Also, long story short: discounting and papering are very bad things. But a more nuanced discussion was on how much to pay for marketing. Young acts may be all Facebook, but for Rogers, print was a great buy because it’s been discounted so much – and it’s especially good for heritage acts. He can take out a full-page ad for a cost that would have given him one-tenth that amount just a few years ago. Which led to Zink’s memorable comment.

“It depends on the crowd. For kids, it’s all online,” he said. “But just recently I advertised an old country artist. I ran an ad in the obits this week.”

Steinberg asked what the experts call a “good question” — and got a good answer in return. If agents want successful shows, he asked, why do they only give him an artist bio and a photo? Why not give him the ad grid from three successful shows so he knows how to sell the act?

Britz agreed it saw a good idea. However, “some promoters may not want that shared with others.”

The discussion got really lively at the end when audience members lined up at the microphone. A Salt Lake City promoter asked what he may be doing wrong, and Steinberg made clear it wasn’t him – it was the market. “Don’t go to SLC. That market sucks. You know it’s bad when the act would rather go to Albuquerque. SLC sucks. Fucking move! I mean, Denver is the best market but something happens when you cross those mountains.”

Farrell was more understanding and offered that if the promoter wanted more acts from an agent, do some “sub-correction” first and find out what people are willing to pay in the market. “It’s much better than discounting. Make the offer at $10 a ticket. Stick to your guns. Show similar acts and what people are willing to pay.”

Steinberg added that it doesn’t hurt to find a niche and make it your own. “Bill Blumenriech knows comedy in Boston. He owns it. Nobody can compare. Find what you can do in SLC and make that your product.”

This gave Tom Tkach of Popejoy Hall a chance to say something. “I’m from Albuquerque,” he said, to laughter. The orchestra market was diminishing. “We are looking for concerts. If you can help, we’re interested.”

And, at one point, Steinberg did finally mention the unspeakable “national promoter.”

“Shit. I’m buying drinks,” he said.


Pollstar Live 2011 Panel Index