Q’s With A Pollstar Live! Panelist: Harlan Frey, SVP Touring & Artist Development For Atlantic Records

– Harlan Frey

When the 360 deal rose to prominence last decade, big names like Madonna, Jay-Z and U2 were all on the hype train, signing into agreements that went way beyond what record deals would traditionally cover, branching into merch, touring and other revenue streams. It’s no surprise that this occurred seemingly in tandem with the decline of revenue from recorded music and the boom of the concert industry.

Labels still play a key role in the industry and the panel “Wither The 360,” set to take place Feb. 12 at Pollstar Live! will address the many questions that are surfacing about the deals being negotiated today.

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The panel will include Harlan Frey, Atlantic Records’ SVP of Touring And Artist Development, as a speaker, along with Denise Colletta of City National Bank’s Entertainment Division, Bruce Eskowitz of Red Light Management, Natalia Nastaskin of UTA’s Global Music Group, Lillian Williams of O’Neil Hagaman, LLC and moderator Elliot Groffman of Carroll Guido Groffman Cohen Bar & Karalian, LLP.

Frey graciously spoke to Pollstar in anticipation of Pollstar Live!, answering a few questions about the upcoming conference and his panel.

What are you most looking forward to about your Whither 360 Panel?

Just educating some who might not realize the kinds of services we can provide to help our artists develop in and out of the touring space. I’m sure being the only label rep on the panel, there will be some pointed questions coming my way, but I look forward to engaging.

Some say 360 deals are exploitative and cut into artist and their team’s earnings. What would you tell those with that impression of the contracts?

I would just say it’s very hard to generalize these deals. Not all companies are created equal and not all 360 deals are the same.

Some labels simply look for a passive share of merch and touring. They pay additional monies for those deals much like Live Nation has in the past for recording rights.

Some companies on the other hand [i.e. Atlantic] will negotiate for extended rights, but will do so with the intent of taking a very active approach to touring. For instance, Warner Music Artist Services is now 100+ people deep, and they handle our Merch, VIP ticketing, and e-commerce. They take part in all our marketing meetings and are fully integrated into our artists’ strategies short term and long. They are viewed by many as the best in business, and the proof is just watching their ever-growing non-Warner client list grow.

Lastly, Atlantic’s Touring/Artist dev department is well staffed with over 10 people – all who come to us with solid touring experience. I’ve hired people from the booking agency side, some from promoters, and management companies. Our department doesn’t just keep artist schedules. We are tasked with helping to secure slots on tours, festivals, provide tour marketing services, vocal coaching, music direction recommendations, full production advisory & set design, etc. Our main goal is to utilize the relationships we’ve built over the years, and the knowledge gained from the successes and failures to help grow our artists. We collaborate with our agents, managers and promoter partners as much as possible, and try and add value. 

If anyone thinks we’re here to exploit, I’d respectfully disagree. We are breaking acts more than ever before. I attribute this to great A&R first and foremost, but also due to the fact that our interests with our artists have never been more aligned.

What aspect are you most looking forward to at this year’s Pollstar Live! Conference and why?  

The weather. Having a few days above freezing will be glorious.

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What were some of your biggest accomplishments this year?

The year has just begun! There’s so much to accomplish, but so far Atlantic has 12 artists performing Coachella this year and 17 on Rolling Loud Miami. That’s pretty nice. We’ve also made some major inroads with a few different production companies just to help our artists execute their live vision a bit more, all while saving them money due to our label wide partnerships. We’re definitely having some fun in this area.

What was/were the live show/shows that most changed your life and why? 

Pink Floyd @ Nassau Coliseum performing The Wall in 1980. My father was their agent, so he knew what was in store. He told me “Kid, you’re only 8 years old, but you’re probably not going to see a show like this ever again in your life’.  He was right. I couldn’t have been more moved.

Aside from the music being so classically special, the way in which it was presented was so striking, provocative, dark, and intelligent. From that moment, the bar was set in my mind on how a show could look, and how impactful it could be, not just from a visual perspective but also from an audio standpoint. So whenever possible now, I try to encourage our artists to dream big, lean in, work hard, pave your own way, and make it SPECIAL.