Voices From The Trenches:
Ben Weeden, House of Blues Entertainment

The latest installment of Pollstar’s periodic conversations with concert industry executives.

As COO of House of Blues Entertainment (Live Nation’s theatre & club division), Mr. Weeden oversees the largest portfolio of theatres and clubs in the world.  Responsibilities include talent booking, marketing, operations and business development across 60 owned or operated venues, including the House of Blues and Fillmore brands, and 30 exclusive partner venues in the United States, promoting over 7500 shows and selling more than 6 million tickets per year across the venue portfolio.

What different paths in life led you to your current position?

I’ve been lucky enough to have worked at Live Nation for the past 17 years so my path has always been within the company.  That being said, my first job out of college was actually in the investment banking group at Bear Stearns and I figured out real quick that the finance industry wasn’t for me.  

After about a year, I was debating whether or not to quit when I was put on the team to work on a deal for a new company named SFX Entertainment (the first one).  After meeting with Bob Sillerman and Brian Becker, I jumped over to SFX to work in their business development group.  

From there it was a bit of a whirlwind education in the live music industry.  I started as a grunt working on the deals for Cellar Door, Electric Factory, Rock Werchter, Mojo Concerts, EMA Telstar and several other legendary companies acquired during that period.  Within a few months, SFX moved me to our London office and almost immediately Clear Channel acquired us.  

At that point I started to wear a few different hats and became more involved in both business operations and European touring.  After about six years in London, I moved to our LA office and worked in touring, finance and operations.  

Around 2010, we restructured the North American business and that’s when House of Blues Entertainment, our theatre and club division, was created.  
You’ve seen a lot of changes since being one of Michael Rapino’s first-ever employees for Live Nation.  Anything in particular you’re proud of individually or as a company?

I think it is amazing how far Live Nation has come since the early days as SFX and I’m proud of the fact that the vast majority of my colleagues have been here as long, or longer, than me.  I think that is a testament to the culture that Michael has created and the passion we have for the music, the artists, the fans and our employees.  

I know there was a point 10 or 15 years ago where people outside of our company didn’t think we’d make it but I would tell you that inside the company we all knew we’d get here.  We are a big team but we are also a tightknit group that has been around each other for well over a decade and I don’t think you find that kind of consistency in most companies, regardless of the industry.

Word is you’re pretty excited about the new HoB in Anaheim.  Here’s where you get to tell us all about it.

Yes!  It’s a super exciting time for us right now.  We’ve put blood, sweat and tears into making this the best club in the country.  

Our HOBs have a tradition of top-notch production as well as being unique in their intimacy and functionality and we believe HOB Anaheim will be the standard bearer for how venues are modeled going forward.  I realize that’s a big statement but I don’t think there are many companies out there that have more experience in this space and we’ve been able to take the best practices from 60 other venues.  

We will be able to flex the capacity easily from 2,200 down to 1,000 and we have a 400-cap small room for developing artists (not to mention a Foundation Room which the last location did not have).  

I think one of the really cool aspects that a brand-new HOB has given us is the opportunity to update the look, feel and vibe while maintaining our core mission to bring unity in diversity.  All you have to do is look at our lineup to see that – I may be slightly biased but I don’t know another opening calendar that comes close to what our team has booked.  We have Social Distortion playing the grand opening nights which only makes sense because it will be sellouts No. 87 and No. 88 at HOB Anaheim.  

And then the rest of the lineup is amazing as well. Take your pick: Wu-Tang ClanAnderson .PaakDeath Cab for CutieSantanaBilly IdolCafé TacvbaKornPixiesChase Rice and plenty more.  Needless to say we are incredibly stoked about what the future holds for HOB Anaheim 2.0.   
Regarding House of Blues’ “Ones To Watch” concert series / initiative: Any personal faves?

Right now it is Kaleo.  They are on such a trajectory that I’d be surprised if they aren’t in our amphitheatres within 18-24 months.  We’ve sold out all shows on this tour and that includes doubles in NYC, Philly and Chicago.  I’m really happy for them.
You have three shoutouts.

I’m going to take some liberties here only because I don’t know when I’ll have this chance again:

  1. Michael Rapino for his guidance, mentorship and second chances.
  2. Our European team for putting up with me in the early days:  Marek Lieberberg, Phil Bowdery, Leon Ramakers, Thomas Johansson, Herman Schueremans, John Giddings, Mark Yovich
  3. Our North American team for putting up with me in the later days:  Ron Bension, Mark Campana, Bob Roux, Rick Franks, Jimmy Koplik, Kathy Willard, Charlie Walker, Jason Garner

Any concert experiences stand out?

The Rolling Stones, London Astoria, 2003.  

What is one thing the live industry does well?

Developing artists. Our 50 club bookers are the best A&R team out there and I think one thing that tends to get overlooked is how important the small clubs are (and always have been) to the long-term business.  I know the importance of social and digital success but the rubber hits the road in the clubs.

What is the one thing the live industry desperately needs to improve upon?

Ticket pricing.
As a COO, what is the one operating cost of a venue that can be reduced and one that cannot?                     

Security costs cannot be reduced.  That is the world we live in.

There’s not one cost you can cut across the board but we run our operations cost on a per fan basis so it really is about staffing properly based on a given night’s attendance.  But ultimately our highest priority is fan and band experience so there is no cutting corners when it comes to operating our venues.