A lot of the acts that I grew up with, who are still alive and performing, even though we’re still great friends, I have a difficult time doing any business with them because there are two giant forces out there who buy whole tours and they’re not really into sharing. It really is just world dominance.
Agents and managers are looking to book tours and are obviously looking to please the big guys like Live Nation and AEG and their venues, so being the little guy often doesn’t give you much leverage. I am a young, independent, queer, female, promoter trying to do something different than what is out there and have built by my brand on the crowd that I have built organically. I might not be the million-dollar play, but my biggest strength is my name, and artists and managers seeing the value in their artists playing my events. I’m fully aware of the challenges that go along with being independent; one bad year could potentially bankrupt or seriously set back an independent promoter and that’s scary, but you build a good team, work hard, and learn to trust your instincts … and even as an atheist, you pray!
Rafael Fuchs – Jen Lyon, MeanRead Productions
Saturation is the biggest challenge for all of us, indie or otherwise.
Kelsey Hart – Phil Pirrone, Desert Daze
Morgan Margolis: It’s a constant fight to control market share and keep artist guarantees at a level that we can handle and yet keep ticket prices from escalating beyond what a fan wants to pay. We are continually looking for markets that aren’t controlled by a major promoter or a promoter that was just absorbed and now has the dollars behind them to over pay – those markets are disappearing like the ice caps. … Breaking an artist and moving them up through clubs to arenas has become almost impossible now. All that said, we do business (co-promote, etc.) with the majors all the time, it’s just about finding the right deal that makes sense for everyone.
Michael Dorf: City Winery has a unique position in the venue offerings which kind of shields us from the challenges of competition against Live Nation and AEG. Lucky for us, we have carved out a niche of 300-capacity, sit-down, high-end concert spaces that those two major promoters have not (yet) decided to engage in. … However, in general, there is no question that the artist talent fees continue to rise which affects us given the competitive consolidation and thus, in our attempt to keep ticket prices reasonable for our audience, we work hard to keep that balance.
Jen Lyon: The constant challenge is how to find the right show to play in an independent venue that feels great all around. When I first started, an interesting room like Joe’s Pub or a DIY space would beat out a cookie-cutter major promoter room, but now artists have to engage earlier with major promoters’ venues to make their way to Coachella.
Alex Hodges, Nederlander Concerts:
There has always been intense competition, especially in Los Angeles, but we face the challenge of more block booking or tour buying than in prior years. Also, date availability is much harder these days since a lot of venues are following the “open” venue model. This creates less transparency with the venue calendars, requiring us to challenge more dates. The open venue model is tough for everyone, not only affecting promoters but also artists and agents for knowledge of conflicting shows in the same time span.
Ric Leichtung: As the major promoters microscale into smaller rooms, it creates history and a path for growth that leads directly into their larger clubs, theatres, and arenas. It compels agents to put the bands they have the most potential with the larger promoters, which causes local promoters have to fight harder and over-offer to stay in the game.
– Alex Hodges, Nederlander Concerts
What are the advantages of being an indie promoter in today’s live market?
The positives are you’re dealing directly with the act and their management and their agent. I’m finding I can make deeper friendships with them because I’m willing to go just about anywhere they’re willing to go. There’s a lot of really great cities in this country that are underserviced.
Rick Bartalini: In our case, since we are an independent promoter, we’re closer to the front lines and thus also closer to every detail of the date. The financial scale is very different for independent than for global promoters – and it’s much more personal, too. It’s that financial commitment that drives the success. If you spoke to any of the artists we’ve worked with they would tell you how hands-on we are. It’s my feeling that the fans can pick up on that as well.
LadyFag: Being independent means I can do what I want and not have to fill quotas. I make decisions based on what I think will be the best experience for my guest, not just based on how much income it brings in, or about fulfilling obligations to multi-play contracts. While I’m thinking about growth and scalability, I’m not hindered by someone else’s agenda.
Desert Daze is its own little island in a bubble. We’re incredibly fortunate. Our advantages are the result of our independent spirit and strong identity, which is facilitated completely by the growing international community that is Desert Daze.
– Michael Dorf, City Winery
Michael Dorf: I think simply the advantage is not having the association of being part of one of the large 900-pound gorillas (which is not necessarily that bad anyway), but to keep an independent vibe and feel. Having control of your ticketing, of your destiny, is helpful. But balanced against being one of the large promoters also offers many strategic advantages and for regular promoters, it must be hard unless you achieve a certain level of scale, like Seth Hurwitz or Jam Productions. But to be a real indie promoter today renting theaters and putting on shows trying to compete with LN or AEG, that has got to be hard. I am glad City Winery is not a regular indie promoter.
We can move fast. We care more and work harder because we have to to survive. We build deeper relationships with our audience and our partners (artists, agents, etc.) and have more leeway in terms of how we structure those relationships. We do not have to be fully driven by “creating shareholder value.” We identify and nurture artists before anyone else has heard of or booked them in the market because we have to take bigger risks to keep the lights on.
– Ladyfag, Ladyland festival
Jen Lyon: Freedom to make choices based on creativity and passion every moment of the day.
Focus – we have adjusted our skills and developed better strategies to expand our reach in various markets. Since we do not buy the entire tour, marketing shows is critical, and we are laser-focused on how to spend money best. Flexibility – with our expanded reach, we are more knowledgeable about multiple markets which has helped in our routing capabilities. We have also discovered a lot of venues are underserved, thus creating more opportunities for Nederlander.
Ric Leichtung: Independent promoters cannot survive without being incredibly good at what they do. Their struggle becomes their strength, and it pushes them to be more nimble and go above and beyond for everyone. Also, indies are more tied in with the local community, so their shows can perform better on a smaller scale— if they can get them.
Would you ever consider selling or merging with a larger company?
The short answer is yes – under the right terms. Pretty much everything’s for sale. But I would never want to go back to a situation where you feel like a clerk – it isn’t your money. That’s the bottom line about the independent part of it. If it works, you’re as happy as can be and if it doesn’t, you’ve learned yet another lesson.
– Lionel Richie and Rick Bartalini of Rick Bartalini Presents
Rick Bartalini: No. It’s just not who we are or what we do.
Nick Checota: We have been approached by one of the large, national promoters, but at this time have decided that our customers, artists, agents and community are best served by a local, Montana-based company that is owned and operated in the communities in which we promote and produce shows.
Michael Jaworek: Only if we absolutely had to do so to survive.
We’ve gone down this road in the past and it almost happened, but for various reasons it did not. It’s not my primary strategy at the moment. Our aim is to be a self-sustaining entertainment company and to move from a mini to a major player … but never say never.
Ethan Hill – Ric Leichtung, AdHoc Presents
Steve Sternschein: Our mission is to empower the artists we love and the musical communities we are a part of, in addition to obviously providing a return for our investors and partners so if a sale or a merger will further those goals, then we would consider it.
Ric Leichtung: Ultimately indie promoters are working within the system that’s been established by the major ones. It’s tough to compete, and I don’t think there’s any shame in siding with companies that have tremendous advantages. Personally, I couldn’t put a price that’d come close to the amount of work I’ve poured into AdHoc.