As head of the rapidly growing Live Nation Urban division, Shawn Gee says he’s been “loud” about his intentions to bring a variety of events in hip-hop, gospel and comedy spaces.
“I’m very consistent with my team, saying we are a group of entrepreneurs and our goal is to impact culture,” Gee says. “There is no idea that is a bad idea; let’s all come together and figure out what we need to do and how full the white space is that we know exists.”
Following Live Nation Urban’s launch in May 2017, Gee evangelized the division’s message, as he puts it, and built platforms such as the multi-city Rap Caviar hip-hop series in partnership with Spotify. “Year two, as we start to roll out additional platforms and as ideas come to fruition, we’re starting to feel the buzz and get the incoming calls from the agents and managers,” Gee says. “We are making an impact, but it’s a small one compared to where we’ll be in five years.”
New multi-format events include the women-driven “Femme It Forward” series featuring artists like Cardi B and Kali Uchis and influencers like Endeavor’s Bozoma Saint John, and the “Smart Funny & Black” series with comedian and actress Amanda Seales. These innovative new programs, which also include Exodus Music & Arts Festival in Texas, led by gospel artist Kirk Franklin, add to established concert events such as Washington, D.C.’s Broccoli City Festival, which moved about 28,000 tickets in April, and Philadelphia’s Roots Picnic, now in its 12th year. Gee considers the Roots Picnic an early example of the now-prevalent artist-curated festivals.
“The beauty of what we’re doing is building these platforms from scratch,” Gee says. “We’re 100% entrepreneurial in spirit. We’re not sitting and waiting for agents to call us with a tour idea. [VP of talent and touring] Heather Lowery had the idea for ‘Femme it Forward,’ and from initial vision presentation by us to our first onsale was probably a matter of weeks. We’re in a unique position where we can incubate those ideas and bring them to market relatively quickly.
“The growth I see is from both an event and relationship perspective, but also from my team. When I look at [VP of business development & operations] Brandon Pankey and Heather Lowery, these individuals are on fire right now because they have the opportunity to build and grow and come up with ideas and concepts and impact the market. That’s the real win with Live Nation Urban.
“So, yes, we’re going to build platforms and make some money and impact culture,” Gee continues, “but we’re also going to develop the future executives of this business, especially the future African-American and executives of color that will succeed.”
Others Gee sees succeeding include Sascha Stone Guttfreund, whose Texas-based promotions company ScoreMore Shows was acquired by Live Nation last year and whom Gee compares to a mentor of his.
“My OG in the game, my sort-of mentor, was a guy named Al Haymon,” he says. “For decades he was the top African-American promoter in the business. One of the things about Al, prior to meeting him, I asked around to agents, other buyers, and they always shit on him. But when I asked artists and managers, they loved him. I learned a lot from that relationship. Al taught me basically everything I know, and continues to give me a bunch of advice. Sascha is the same thing. Ask his artists and managers, and he has some of the strongest relationships I’ve seen.
“Brandon, Heather, Sascha, these guys aren’t waiting for someone to call them,” Gee says. “They’ll be running the business in 10 to 15 years.”
Artist to watch:
H.E.R. She’s not exactly new but i’m very excited for her over the next 12 to 18 months. She’s super talented, a great individual with an amazing team. It’s refreshing to see someone so young and talented. Really for me, I look live first, not on the label side, not producing, not picking songs. That’s not where my strengths lie. I examine artist inside out, look at live performance and then peel it back. The first time I saw her perform was just mindblowing.