Rod Essig’s Country Music 2012

Rod Essig, VP of CAA‘s Nashville office, always has a great panel because, one, it’s informative but, two, it’s filled with candid statements that can go right by if you’re not paying attention.

For instance, AEG is apparently working on a country musical festival in Europe – the first one ever for the continent – that should take place on or about July 4. Also let it be known that CAA music chief Rob Light is an avid golfer, and he has a Green Jacket, having become a recent member of Augusta National. Not only that, but Kenny Chesney has never toured outside America, except for seven dates in Canada. And Essig “had to” sign a guy named Tim McGraw in a package deal to get Joe Diffie.

He also handed out advice.

Taylor Swift is taking a year off,” he said. “My philosophy is when a window opens, keep going through it. Bobby McFerrin had ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.’ It was huge and he took the year off. He never had another hit. Sometimes I see these rock acts have a great year and think they’ll come back in three years and do it again. Three years later, it doesn’t work.”

But Essig took the panel description seriously, and kept to the theme of new trends in country music and touring overall. For instance, more rock bands are heading to fairs and festivals.

“Fairs have better production or are using the production of the tour,” he said. “That’s why we’ve grown in the business so much in Nashville.”

No acts were available to play Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on New Year’s Eve, so they got “a DJ” (Bassnectar). It sold out in an hour after just $1,000 in Internet advertising. The need for a high-dollar marketing campaign through the traditional media is beginning to wane.

Also, festivals, both country and rock, are selling out faster than ever. Stagecoach and Coachella have already announced they’re sold out, and Bonnaroo was expected to at press time.

Then there’s a new rule at the Nashville office.

“We’re now telling our agents at lunch leave your Blackberry or phone in your office. Do not take it with you,” Essig said. “Go away for an hour. Pay attention to who you’re having lunch with. We can call bullshit on somebody and if someone walks into the elevator with his phone, I can say, ‘OK, we’re going to take $100 out of your paycheck and put it into the Foundation.’

“And we’re doing that. We really believe you should go spend time with the person you’re with. If I call someone on my cell phone and they text back, ‘What do you want?’ it’s $100.”

Another trend – and it’s an obvious one – is the sudden rush of baby acts that are jumping to the Big Time, from Jason Aldean to Eric Church to The Band Perry. Brantley Gilbert has seen his payday jump from $5,000 to $100,000 within six months.

But that trend has an interesting background.

“Three years ago, [CAA’s] John Huie and I came up with this great idea that we’re not going to sign any new bands,” he said. “We had gone through our retreat and gotten this great word, ‘cultivate.’ We were to cultivate all of our old acts and make them worth more money. So we told the office you can’t sign anybody. We did make some fragrance lines and things, but we were totally wrong.”

There is also a lot more marketing happening on the third coast.

“A buyer in LA told me the most important person at CAA is [Marketing’s] Allison McGregor. Every agent can approve any date they want but until she gives you permission to go on sale it means nothing. In Nashville, we’re adding a lot more endorsements and sponsorships. We’re feeling the brands, in a year, will develop acts a lot more than radio and records. That’s a trend that’s very big in Europe and Asia, where a brand picks someone, and that person becomes the brand. I was just over in Tokyo and there’s a group over there that has retail stores named after them.”

Also, there is more crossover into the rock world.

And, finally, there’s this:

“For the first time in 20 years we now have bands that are saying they have to go to Europe, to go outside North America,” he said. “For me, to get Tim McGraw to go to Canada was like getting him to go to Australia. Now he and Faith are going to Australia and selling out nine shows. All these young bands want to go to Asia and Europe, which is so great for country music.”


See Also: Pollstar Live! Panel Coverage