Renman Music & Business

Steve Rennie, often known simply as Renman, recently moved into a new phase of his career that enables him to return a favor to two of his early mentors – Brian Murphy and Bob Geddes, then promoters at Avalon Attractions. 

Photo: Jason Squires
Pollstar Live! 2014

Now, he’s focused on two projects to mentor young musicians and others looking to enter the music business: Renman MB and Renman U.

Both incorporate online interviews with industry figures in an effort to de-mystify “the business” for young people.

Rennie webcast a live interview with Goldenvoice’s Paul Tollett, a co-founder of the Coachella Music and Arts Festival during Pollstar Live!, with an in-person audience of conference attendees and another watching online and submitting questions via phone and email.

“Brian Murphy and Bob Geddes had an impact on my mentality and shaped my future,” Rennie explained. “I said If I ever had a chance to do what they did for me, I would do it. This project is part of that. We decided to take the web show a little wider and we’ve done about 90 shows with the best and brightest. I always say, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get.’ So I encourage you to ask. If you’re watching online, get involved.”

Tollett explained how he got his start at age 19 with former partner Gary Tovar and eventually with Rick Van Sant, who was doing publicity early on, and meeting Jim Guerinot and “the real guys doing real bands.”

When Tovar landed in legal trouble, Tollett and his staff decided to soldier on with Goldenvoice.

“We hated the music business but we loved breaking bands,” he said, laughing. Rennie drew more laughs when a interjected with a story about his own first show at The Palladium in Hollywood with Black Flag.

“The LAPD showed up with helicopters and there was freakin’ melee,” Rennie said. “Somebody came into the production office and yelled, ‘Who fucking booked this show?’ And about that time, I got the hell out of there.”

Clearly, Rennie’s online viewers aren’t casual students of the business.

One mailed in a question asking Tollett if he regretted taking chemical engineering at Cal Poly Pomona. Tollett said he didn’t graduate, but had advice anyway.

“Any major is fine if you learn to power through it. Now they have music business departments, and those are OK. You can get information there, but there’s other places, too. It’s just a matter of powering through and doing it.”

The subject turned to Coachella. Tollett said he his inspiration was going to Glastonbury.

“That was a real eye-opener,” he said. “We didn’t own any assets but we had lots of relationships. And California always had incredible festivals like Monterey Pop, the US Festival, Cal Jam, Lollapalooza in 1991, and then there were all the sheds.

“Now, we have 150 bands on a show, and people say they don’t care about the lineup. Same thing happened with Marc Geiger at Lollapalooza when it was just seven bands. Gary Tovar said stacking the bill was really good. ‘If you’re going to take a big risk, make sure it’s a must-see,’ he said. But sometimes I don’t know about that.”

Rennie pointed out that initially Coachella almost “sunk the ship.”

“My mantra is ‘fuck the gatekeepers,’” Rennie said. Was that sort of the ‘fuck the gatekeepers’ moment for you?”

“Not so much that as just wanting to do something different,” Tollett replied, adding that the first Coachella took place just as SFX was rolling up promoters in the late 1990s. “SFX had bought everyone else. But we had nothing Robert Sillerman wanted,” Tollett said.

“In the beginning, it was just Rick and I. We lost money and almost gave up. [AEG Live’s] John Meglen and Paul Gongaware asked us to do Coachella again. ‘You’re going to lose money so stick with it.’ It was crazy talk. We met with Tim Leiweke; Irving Azoff was involved too. He was doing some kind of weird bridge financing deal.

“I never looked at anyone as the enemy. They never looked at us as an enemy. The key is don’t look at competitors as the enemy. I mean, don’t share info but stay friends.”

Or, as Rennie chimed in, “You can compete and you don’t have to be a dick about it.”

Tollett said his first show at Palm Springs was with Pearl Jam, “because they didn’t want to play established arenas in LA. I think they were going through the Ticketmaster shit.”

It took a couple more years before Coachella firmly took root. Rennie and Tollett talked about executing a huge event like Coachella, including managing the staff.

“Don’t stop people from doing things. Everyone, in their jobs, do jobs they’d never done before.”

Coachella has also been the source of innovative ideas that are commonplace now, such as mitigating traffic with contests.

“One-third of the people that come to Coachella camp. One-third use shuttles. Another one-third are in cars. Even for one-third we give away four free tickets or lifetime passes if they go four to a car. When they win they almost have a heart attack,” Tollett said.

Rennie asked about the “genius” idea to offer a single ticket price for all three festival days.

“In 2009, Paul McCartney was on day one and that was huge. The other days, not so much,” Tollett said. “We realized the reason it was hard was because people couldn’t find a hotel room. There’s a three-day minimum on the hotels. There’s the solution. Give people who want three-day passes first choice, and they can get their hotels. Anything left over goes later. But it sells right out.”

Tollett also talked about his country music learning curve when he decided he wanted to do a second festival, Stagecoach.

“I wanted to do a second weekend of country, but I didn’t know about country outside of ‘Hee Haw.’ I watched every episode on DVD,” Tollett said. “I took a forced break from rock and listened to all five country stations on XM. I got the encyclopedia of country music. I called Louis Messina and Steve Moore. I met up with the agencies: CAA, William Morris, etc., and they were so receptive. It was great because there was no drama.”

After taking a couple more calls and emails from among the 7,000-member Renman MB online community, it was time to wind down.

Tollett explained about the Palm Springs street party that has sprung up from Coachella as well as mobile medical and dental vans that set up shop at a local fairground around the festivals to provide services for lower-income residents.

“It’s only because the festival has been so successful that we can even think about this,” Tollett said.