Pollstar Live!
International Business

Wayne Forte is probably one of the most entertaining moderators at these conferences. He doesn’t make jokes, walk around with his arms in the air or speak in an attention-getting baritone. But he tends to throw out off-topic questions that wake up the panelists.

At a recent panel, he asked the attendees about the most memorable concert they had seen in their careers, and the rest of the 1.15 hours were spent answering. This panel included gems like, “If you could be someone other than yourself, who would it be?” and “What one thing do you still want to do in your career that would make it complete?”
Also, “What is the most interesting artist you’ve worked with?”

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Roger Waters,” said Guillermo Parra, because Waters’ team – from management to accounting to production – cared a great deal about the promoter’s success. Guillermo’s OCESA has expanded from Mexico City to countries like Colombia and Costa Rica. Last year his company sold 1.2 million tickets – an especially impressive number considering Mexico banned concerts in 1993.

Thomas Ovesen of Dubai’s Done Events answered Alicia Keys. Keys, early in her career, rehearsed her European tour at a warehouse in Dubai and Ovesen, who spent a week in her company, was impressed with her professionalism. Canadian promoter Harvey Cohen was impressed by Metallica because of the sense of partnership the band had with the promoter, making the show easier than some of his club shows.

Ian Noble recalled when Metropolitan promoted one of James Brown’s first arena shows. The band gathered before the show for a “prayer” circle, but they invoked the name of Brown instead of the Almighty, thanking “Mr. Brown” for allowing them to perform and to thank “Mr. Brown” for his talent. He also recalled an amusing moment involving Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, Calgary, and a big white hat.

Concert promotion is the same the world over, superficially. But the details can vary widely, and Ovesen’s market may be the most unusual of all. The market has about 1 million people, so selling 100,000 tickets is a tremendous feat (although his company estimates about two-thirds of the earth’s population is within an eight-hour plane ride of Dubai). Middle Eastern performers are uninterested in performing outside in the elements when they can get up to $500,000 for performing a half-hour at a wedding. Affordable tickets have a bad connotation so they sell “high tickets and very high tickets.”

And speaking of tickets, because of a ticket tax, all are printed in advance. That means there can be no real-time pricing or discounting after the tickets go on sale. The marketplace is also unusual in its view of celebrities – literally. Shakira wanted to perform in Beirut but could not because she made the “mistake” of being seen in the local cafés. Ovesen’s partners in Beirut said that made it impossible for her to sell tickets now that the locals had already seen her.

Also in Dubai, marketing to smartphones is becoming more critical, considering some locals have two or three. Otherwise, radio and outdoor marketing is key.

Radio is in fact still key in most markets, although Alabons, who promotes throughout Asia, has found radio to be of no use when promoting an indie band festival.

It should also be noted that comedian Russell Peters, who sold 18,000 tickets in Alabons’ market, is also expected to do well in Dubai.