Q’s With Nate Ritches: On Joining Paradigm, Booking Country & Old Dominion’s Grassroots Rise

Paradigm’s Nate Ritches
Chad Smith
– Paradigm’s Nate Ritches

Paradigm’s Nate Ritches checked in with Pollstar to chat about Old Dominion’s first arena tour and life at the agency, shortly after the five-piece country band sold out three nights in a row in the Northeast, including a Feb. 8 show at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., that grossed $294,838 with 5,264 tickets sold. 

Ritches has been a believer in Old Dominion from the start, recollecting how his gut feeling just said “these guys had it” and how impressed he was by the first Old Dominion show he caught in 2013, despite it being a rainy festival appearance with only about 20 people in the crowd. “I said, ‘Boy, if they’ve got me in this condition, they’ve got something going here.’”

He and agent Mike Betterton joined Paradigm Talent Agency’s Nashville team in late November after the company acquired Dale Morris & Associates in a deal with Morris Higham Management.

Ritches, who got his start in the industry as a stagehand on the Oregon fair/festival circuit, had been with Morris Artists Management/ Dale Morris & Associates since spring 2011.   

His clients include Brandon Lay, Ryan Griffin, Walker County, and Shenandoah.
Pollstar: How’s your day going?
Nate Ritches: It’s busy but good. This whole Paradigm move has been great. The plethora of opportunities that it’s opened up is exciting.
Can you expand on that?
Well, one key change with the move is the infrastructure that we now have at our fingertips. The whole thing happened so organically. We were at a point at Dale Morris & Associates where we either had to build internally or look beyond to join another force. There’d been many options presented but it never felt like the right move. Once this option presented itself, an organic shift describes it best as we navigated through the deal.
 It feels really good. The business practice and the approach is very much in line with what we were doing and how the company was built.  
It seems like the transition to another agency could be challenging.
We’re coming from [being] an independent boutique agency and the last thing we wanted to do was step into a stale corporate environment. That was our main concern, and nothing has changed [with] the way we do business and our interactions with the buyers. Everything changed with the opportunities around us and especially what’s ahead of us for me and Mike as agents and for our clients.
This is a major corporation but there’s a family feel here and passion here for everybody under this roof, everyone from assistants to the heads of the offices; the vibe is comforting.
One prime example: I met Marty Diamond for the first time at the side stage at [Kenny] Chesney during his last show in Boston and 20 minutes into meeting him it felt like we had known each other for 10 years. That’s the feel you get everywhere in this company. Couldn’t ask for more with who Jonathan [Levine] is as a leader in the Nashville office. He’s fueled by the highest level of passion and commitment for the business and this profession.
What can you share about the scene in Nashville these days?
I can go in multiple directions, but I think it’s all going to tie back to that grassroots approach and business model that started Old Dominion. The business is changing with social media and the digital platforms. My God, look at what Kacey Musgraves and her team have done with her brand and artistry: four Grammys! And look at some of the other development stories on the scene with Sturgill [Simpson], Tyler Childers and Colter Wall, just to name a few. It isn’t all about radio charts. In many cases – and something that I believe Paradigm has dialed in on – it’s finding alternative routes to success, away from the avenues presented in typical commercial models.

 With Old Dominion, we were selling 500 to 1,000 tickets in some key markets they started building early and not in just a hometown or Nashville, before we had a record deal, due to SiriusXM’s early belief when the streaming platforms were really launching. That’s the most rewarding piece to all of this, being part of the artist development and grassroots approach. Old Dominion is a prime example of that and setting a foundation – you can go down as quick as you go up, foundation is key.

 So now in this touring cycle, we’re starting to see it come full circle as we enter into the arena business and take these guys into a true arena act. And we’re not stopping there, dreaming as big as we can. 
Paradigm’s Nate Ritches (third from right) poses with Old Dominion.
Tommy Garris
– Paradigm’s Nate Ritches (third from right) poses with Old Dominion.
You just sold out three nights in a row. Sounds like the tour is going great. What can you tell us about the routing?
The sold-out Northeast weekend you reference was just a testament to what is happening with their touring cycle and rewarding to see. We’ve been very strategic in what support slots we’ve taken and not over-supporting tours, making sure to protect our own hard ticket bill. Balancing hard and soft plays.
 This goes back to the inaugural Stagecoach Spotlight Tour partnership, which was a big deal to all of us and the first time they aligned their brand with an artist direct. It was a huge success and it’s just been a strategic build since then, coming out of small venues into tertiary, secondary markets and buildings that feed the majors. 
How did you know this was the right point to play arenas?
We’re always in a two-year cycle. When we had this first arena run in sight, a lot of it was based on the trajectory of where we were at, the numbers from the key inputs and the growth projecting out the cycle. We’re already plotting festivals through 2020 and how that folds into what we’re doing in the hard-ticket arena business in winter and fall, then layering in the international touring.
 It all starts with a song. Without the music creativity we have nothing. They call themselves a “grown-ass man band.” That pretty much says it – they know what they want, who they are and they’re chasing their own path, they’re not trying to reinvent.
Kevin Lyman said at Pollstar Live! that while you’ll find a bunch of rock tours playing the same town on the same weekend, he really admires how country agents seem to work together with routings. 
We all want overall best health for the industry, not only our act in a certain market but the genre as a whole in that market. Some agents and promoters may not give up the information you might request, but we try to dig as much as we can. … At the end of the day, we can’t be on top of each other. A prime example is Old Dominion’s unannounced show at a specific fair in Southern California later this year. We found out the same night in that same market another shed tour had popped up, right on top of us five miles down the road. Some calls were made and thankfully they were able to flip the routing so they played another market. They’re playing a few days later, but not on the same night. I love to have a collaborative effort because it helps us all.
What’s one thing you learned working in the fair and festival circuit that you now bring into your work as an agent?
Be honest and be true to your word. I’ve worked with a lot of people on hand shake deals. To this day we’re a hand shake deal with Old Dominion and it’s a healthy relationship and that’s the way it should be. A hand shake deal’s the best deal.