Rod Essig’s Country Music Roundtable

Rod Essig, agent of CAA Nashville, has been kind enough to make his roundtable an annual event, and the content is always plentiful. This time, though, something needed to be said that had nothing to do with how to do a 95/5 deal.

“My partner, Ron Baird, just passed away,” he said. “It’s very sad. He changed my life. If it wasn’t for him, I would have been owning my own company and booking Marshall Tucker. But they’re still working! That’s the irony.

“And he loved country music. He’d come into the routing meetings and he’d know who played on every one of the records. He knew all the songs, all the words, way more than John Huie and I did. At some point, just say a prayer, tip a glass and say ‘Thanks Ron.’”

The good stuff came early. Country music is known for its meet-and-greets – but they are fan meet-and-greets. Essig was asked how they keep the industry types out of the line because that’s what one usually finds at an L.A. event.

“Mainly, it’s the fan club and radio,” he answered. “The radio is allowed to give away an x amount and the fan club signs up.”

Huie noted, too, that radio wants to give the meet-and-greets away over the airwaves in pairs, which eliminates a lot of the industry types.

In fact, industry people are kept away from the good seats, too.

“We never sell the front row,” Essig said. “We go to the back row and put those fans in the front row. It works. And the real fans stand up. So if the fans in the front row stand up, everyone stands up behind them. You give a ticket to a Tim McGraw fan who has a nosebleed seat, that fan is going to be screaming.”

RJ Romeo, general council of Romeo Entertainment Group, known as one of the premier country music buyers for fairs and festivals in the U.S., pressed regarding the pricing on a new act. Just because an artist went out on a stadium tour with four other supports doesn’t mean it’s worth $20,000 when it has no sales history on its own, he argued.

Essig said the arenas give the artists exposure they could not get on their own. Taylor Swift made a “statement” that she was true country when she was the support act for George Strait. And he defended whatever prices CAA might quote.

“If you’re going to sell 5,000 tickets you should be paid for 5,000 tickets. Not 10 and then lose money,” he said. “Guys, there’s nothing worse than being an agent and getting a call from you guys, ‘We lost money tonight.’ I’ve been with Tim McGraw for 20 years and the only time I get my ass yelled at is when there are open seats. The extra $10,000 or $20,000 per night is not going to make or break his life. But he sees open seats? He’s pissed.”

Meet-and-greets and the strong connection with fans is part of country’s success. Yet it doesn’t cross over to rock. Essig had his opinion.

“Rock acts are a lot younger,” he said. “They’re happening at 19 years old. It’s sometimes not hip to be nice. Most country acts don’t happen until they’re 25, 26 years old. Their clientele have been through the rebellious years. The average age of a country buyer’s record is 37 years old at Walmart. They’re married, they have two kids. Believe me, rock acts work really hard but it’s not hip to meet 30 people and shake their hands.”

Huie talked about how his client, Zac Brown, wants to “overserve” his fans, including the popular eat-and-greets where he serves them his gourmet meals. One time, Brown wanted to give his fans Zac Brown Band koozies. But how to pay for it? CAA contacted Anheuser-Busch and asked them to print about 8,000 koozies with their logo on one side, and the band’s logo on the other.

“‘And we don’t want a dime from you,’” Huie said. “They never hear that. They said yes pretty quick, and when they saw the eat-and-greet, they were blown away.”

As the panel wrapped, Essig was asked if he thought there were too many awards shows.

“Yes,” he said. It’s gotten to the point where it’s cutting into artist opportunities, where they have to make hard choices on whether they should go or not.

“The other thing is the cost,” he said. “It’s expensive getting there. And, like at the Grammys, a lot of those numbers on stage are $300,000 to $400,000 for three-and-a-half minutes. And that doesn’t include paying everybody and flying them out there. Our rule of thumb is $150,000 for an ACM performance. The record companies used to pay for a lot of that and now they’re not.

“But you play for 15 million people so they have their purposes, without a doubt.”

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