Go Pro: How The Live Music Biz Is Developing Artists

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– Jack Martini
Jack Martini amps up the crowd at Governors Ball Music Festival in New York, N.Y., June 4, 2017. Martini was a student at Berklee College Of Music during the performance and secured his space at a major festival through the school’s Popular Music Institute program.
Before the rise of digital music formats, the music business was one driven primarily by recorded music sales  and labels who to a large extent developed music careers in conjunction with artists and managers. But declining recorded music revenues and the growth of the live music market over the last two decades changed that equation.
“[In the 2000s], you started to see conglomerations moving in and creating these type of road maps for bands to evolve their career from 250-cap venues to 1,000-capacity venues to 3,000-capacity venues, and then up to hopefully an arena as the band evolved,” says UTA’s Ken Fermaglich, agent for Guns N’ Roses, Muse, Paramore and 3 Doors Down among others. “It required a club structure of different-sized venues, though that already kind of existed in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s as far as different-sized venues. That kind of partnership between a band and a promoter, and of course their audience, really became that much more a part of how [careers] all developed.”
What it is to “develop” an artist can have many meanings, according to Nate Towne, who is based in Nashville, and a big part of WME’s New Artist Development program and still serves as RA to clients like Scotty McCreery, Dylan Scott, Brett Kissel and others in diverse fields like television, literarature and touring.
“We sign clients, some have full teams in place, sometimes we’re the first one involved. Some have a tour history when we start working with them, some of them don’t. As we’ve grown, the services we’ve offered on the development side have just increased,” Towne said. “A few years ago, when A&R budgets decreased …. development on the artist side has fallen a lot on managers, agents and publishers.”
“What I’m helping [our team] do is strategize on a per-artist basis. Even though the industry is changing, record deals in Nashville are still incredibly important in our world. … We have over 29 artists that have gotten record deals in the last few years. We also have acts that are happy to remain independent.”
Towne not only works on developing artists but also mentors recently appointed agents, trainees, and assistants at WME, providing a sounding board to young professionals and helping them navigate some of the early challenges of developing an artist’s audience and brand.
High Road Touring’s Liz Pjesky spoke to Pollstar about her agency’s opening of a marketing department, again broadening its reach into other areas outside of traditional touring.
“We help grow and build [artist’s] careers by finding new avenues to explore in the marketing world,” Pjesky said. “We engage the digital, traditional, creative, or grassroots side of marketing, depending on the demographic of the artist, and where we know the fans live. If the marketing of a tour is a success, then the tour will be a success, and contribute to their career. Tour marketing could help them sell out more shows on the run, or help them to play larger capacity rooms on their next tour.”
In a music business where live is the name of the game, promotion giant Live Nation devotes considerable resources available to up-and-coming artists through its Ones To Watch discovery platform. 
David O’Connor of Live Nation works with Ones To Watch and told Pollstar that the “self-interested” goal of LN in working with more than 200 artists on the platform is to develop talented live performers who can begin to move through the company’s venue circuit.
“Knowing there’s a massive, radical change in how artists are discovered and marketed, we saw there was an opportunity with our marketing assets, our direct-to-consumer relationships, with the digital platform we’ve built over the last decade. We can message who we felt these artists might be and give them tools and resources to support them in their quest to grow into more traditional Live Nation touring artists,” he said. “Ones To Watch covers artists that we think have some sort of persona or storytelling ability that would [flourish], eventually, experientially. We haven’t vetted and seen every one of these artists live, but we trust their A&R teams, their management teams, or their publicist that they are sending us artists that are excellent live or have the tools to become excellent live.”
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– Honeysuckle
The four members of Honeysuckle embrace for a photo at Lollapalooza in Chicago on July 30, 2016. Honeysuckle was another band that got a spot at one of North America’s premier festivals through the Berklee Popular Music Institute.
One core feature of the program is the use of digital strategies to boost online visibility, i.e. paid and organic social media posts, email blasts, and banner ads on sites like LiveNation.com and Ticketmaster.com. In 2017 these and other methods generated millions of impressions.
Once the decision is made for OTW to start working with an artist’s team more closely, O’Connor said additional strategies can be employed to help build the artist’s online presence and generate interest in live performances. Of note, he and his team try to put on 100 to 200 shows under the OTW banner each year and work with teams to create unique content like short and long-form videos.
Other elements of the platform include making connections between emerging artists and brands, as was recently done with Israeli website-building company Wix, and, in some instances, OTW can offer additional financial support for touring and marketing.
It can be difficult to pin down when an artist has stopped “emerging,” but O’Connor highlighted Dua Lipa as an example of an artist who now has developed a huge audience and broad reach and no longer needs the resources OTW offers, but her team is fully capable of reaching out and dealing with Live Nation as a full-fledged headliner. 
While agencies, management companies, promoters and record labels to some degree all deal with artist development, Berklee College Of Music is yet another institution working to introduce emerging artists to the biggest stages and audiences in the music industry.
Berklee’s Popular Music Institute, led by former Boston manager Jeff Dorenfeld, secures student performance slots at destination festivals like Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and Made In America. Dorenfeld told Pollstar that not only are the performers students, but the three-semester program runs from fall to spring to summer and has approximately 16 students acting in the capacity of record label, manager, agent and crew.
“We’re proud of what our students have accomplished,” Dorenfeld said. “For Berklee, this is like the college’s football team. We’re putting the people out there to be seen.”
Out of hundreds of applicants every year, Dorenfeld first selects students who will head the school’s “Heavy Rotation Records” label. The students then go through an A&R program of selecting approximately six artists from hundreds of applicants based on the festival slots secured. After picking the artists, they work with them on their online presence, recordings, release concerts in spring and festival performances in summer.
“We have 4,000 amazing musicians [on campus] and what we’re looking for is basically six artists who can perform,” Dorenfeld said. “Every artist that I’ve put on a stage, they walk off as better artists than they walk on. Playing on a festival means they’re working with the best people, with great sound engineers, they’re working with big monitors. I’m not saying they become a better player, but they become a better artist, and that’s the name of the game today.”
With donor support, the program has grown in scope, originally starting with a regular slot at Lollapalooza, and expanding to other festivals and even internationally, thanks in large part to the support of Live Nation’s Gerry Barad, Dorenfeld said, who has consistently opened doors for the program. 
This year Berklee artists Yanina Johnson, Emilia Ali, Jacksonville Kid and Luhx will be playing at festivals like Essence, Lollapalooza, Lakeshake and Osheaga.
While many in the live business have different approaches on how exactly to develop artists, there’s one aspect all can agree upon: quality performances.
“The one thing you know that can affect their success, whether it increases your audience by one percent or by five hundred thousand percent is a great live show,” says the Billions Corporation founder/president David “Boche” Viecelli. “It can’t be duplicated. It can’t be digitally shared. It’s an experience and it’s a social event. And it can still be very compelling. A great live act today stands out more than ever before.”