Ticketing Pioneer Andrew Dreskin on Career, Fests Post-Pemberton, Eventbrite Future

Image Courtesy of Eventbrite
– Andrew Dreskin

Andrew Dreskin has remained a prominent figure in the live music industry for the past 25 years and not just with ticketing: He co-founded Virgin Mobile Festival, created Field Day Festival, managed a record label, marketed concerts and owned part of the Big Easy venue chain.

Ticketing, however, may be what he is best known for. He developed the first company to sell tickets to concerts over the internet, TicketWeb, in the mid ’90s. That company sold to Ticketmaster in 2000 for an estimated $35 million. Dreskin’s next ticketing venture, Ticketfly, launched in 2008, boasting it was “the first company that built tools for independent venues, promoters” artists, talent agents, and managers.

Ticketfly sold to Pandora in 2015 for approximately $450 million and was then acquired by its onetime rival Eventbrite in 2017, merging what he called “the two most adept, most progressive live event companies” in North America just as the ticketer faced its biggest challenge with the bankruptcy of Pemberton Music Festival (Dreskin was unable to comment directly on the situation due to ongoing litigation).

Most recently, Dreskin was appointed to Eventbrite’s board of directors in a move that he said “makes a statement to the marketplace: Eventbrite is committed to the independent live music scene.”

Dreskin took some time to reflect with Pollstar on his experience in the industry and what the future may hold.

Pollstar: How do you feel about your time at Pandora now that you’ve been acquired by Eventbrite?

Andrew Dreskin: We’re very fond of our friends and former coworkers at Pandora. As far as internet radio goes, and algorithmic radio, and the music genome, it’s completely brilliant and the best product of its kind. I’m delighted that we get to continue our partnership with Pandora at Eventbrite. [Now with Eventbrite] we get to work with some of the other great online music providers like Spotify.

What are you most proud of about your time there?

I’m hugely proud that for the first time we brought live events and recorded music together at scale under one roof. The push notifications and feed notifications that we pushed to folks’ phones in regards to artists they’ve expressed interest in on Pandora, no company has ever done that before. We were the first.

In 2017 alone we sent over 700 million concert notifications to listeners by push notification and email. Interestingly, 85 percent of people who bought tickets from those notifications told us it was their first time going to that venue.

Do you ever regret selling TicketWeb when you see how big Ticketmaster has become, in part with your technology?

Hindsight is 20/20 but let me remind you what the world looked like in March 2000. It was the go-go days of the Internet through 1999, and in March 2000 the chink in the armor appeared and the market started to crater, venture capital financing for startup businesses dried up and the stock market began its freefall. It was the right transaction at the right time based on a number of factors, including the macro environment then.

Could you foresee huge problems coming with the online secondary market when you were developing TicketWeb?

At the time it wasn’t clear to us whether these guys [Eric Baker and Jeff Fluhr, the founders of Liquid Seats, which would become StubHub] were going to go to jail. Our view at the time was: either it’s going to be big or they’re going to go to jail. It took taking scalping, which had been this clandestine, nefarious endeavor done in dark corners outside arenas, and brought it mainstream and put it online. No one understood the regulations – scalping was illegal in many states.

We certainly got a chuckle when StubHub was acquired [for] 10 times the price of TicketWeb’s acquisition. There was definitely a moment where we said, “Maybe we approached this the wrong way,” or, “Maybe we should have included the secondary piece in what we were doing.”

From your perspective, where is the secondary market headed?

The primary ticketing providers have continued to become more sophisticated over time. There’s finally a willingness from the primary stakeholders to price their inventory correctly, or more according to the market. Primary and secondary are going to converge and there’s going to be a secondary squeeze.

The primary providers, in conjunction with our clients, venues and promoters, are just better situated to look after the life cycle of that ticket, the ownership of that ticket, to determine what the price could be on the secondary market, how many times that ticket could be sold, all of that stuff. More and more you’re going to start to see the convergence of primary and secondary.

What is going to be your relationship with festivals moving forward after Pemberton?

Pemberton was an unfortunate and isolated incident. It has caused us to look at our business and make some adjustments to make sure we don’t have any other Pemberton-like events. I am a huge believer in the festival market. As you know, I’ve produced/promoted nine large-scale music festivals and that really came from a place of passion. [I] experienced first-hand all these European rock festivals: Glastonbury, Reading, V Festival. Every kid, when they hit 15, 16, 17, it’s a rite of passage. They go to the camping festivals, rock festivals and then they go on to continue their music journey throughout their lives. I knew it would happen in the U.S. and I’m glad that it has.

There are amazing festivals across the country. Some that we ticket, and some that we don’t. Pitchfork, Newport Folk Festival, these are some of the best festivals in the world. And of course I’m a big fan of Coachella, Bonnaroo, Outside Lands. … I’m just a big believer in the space long term.

[Of note, in the sale of Ticketfly to Eventbrite, Pandora retained responsibility for Ticketfly’s role in the lack of immediate refunds for Pemberton, but a source with knowledge of the matter told Pollstar the majority of fans have since gotten refunds through credit cards chargebacks.]

From your ticketing businesses to your work as a promoter to your time as a partner in the reformed Beserkley Records, it seems like your niche has always been independent music.

If you look back through my career, from when I promoted my first concert at Tipitina’s in May of 1990—What does that make it 28 years ago?—My whole career has been a melding of music and technology. More specifically independent music. I started promoting concerts while I was in college. I was working for an independent concert promoter in the Bay Area after school. From there I segued into Berserkley Records. From there, the founding of TicketWeb. Then promoting concerts, festivals. Then Ticketfly and now Eventbrite. And through that time the common thread is independent music. It’s just my passion.

I was a kid who grew up a devout music fan. I started going to rock concerts when I was roughly 12-years-old. … Somehow I convinced my parents to let me and my buddy go see AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock” Tour [around] December 1981. And from that moment on I was just struck by the majesty of it. I still to this day remember it. Angus Young in his schoolboy uniform and just the majesty of an arena rock concert. The lights. The stage. From there I just continued on.

At Ticketfly we were sort of the champion of independent venues and promoters. We were the company that built tools specifically for independent venue owners, promoters, and by extension independent artists, talent agents, and managers. And now we continue with that work at Eventbrite.

I think that Eventbrite acquiring Ticketfly speaks volumes. I think it shows Eventbrite’s commitment to the independent music space. I just think it shows they’re serious about it.

Basically Eventbrite and Ticketfly were the two most adept providers in the market. I think we were the two most progressive live event technology companies, both with a little bit of a different bent. They were very complementary businesses. Ticketfly was North America, Eventbrite has a big international presence in addition to its North American presence. Eventbrite has built an amazing platform for promoters who do fewer events a year and the Ticketfly platform was designed for promoters who do more events a year. There’s significant harmony there.

Also Eventbrite has built some amazing technology. It’s an open, extensible platform that allows other technology companies to build on top of it, or connect apps to it, similar to the iOS app story. Ticketfly also has some amazing technology, like this integrated platform specifically designed for music promoters.

You could say I’m clearly optimistic about the future. My appointment to the Eventbrite board shows Eventbrite is serious about independent music.