Q’s With Jen Smith, Live Nation’s Director Of U.S. Concerts Tour Marketing, On The Black Tour Directory

Live Nation Urban announced on Oct. 12 that it was publishing the Black Tour Directory, a free online resource containing contact information for Black-owned businesses and Black professionals throughout the live music and entertainment industry. 
Among those listed are Black tour managers, production managers, sound engineers, lighting experts, stage and set designers, stage managers, techs, travel agents, caterers, tour accountants, bus companies, security staff, and many more

To synch with the announcement Live Nation Urban President Shawn Gee hosted a “Backstage with Crew Nation” roundtable conversation with Curtis Battles, CEO of Curtis Battles Production; Tina Farris, CEO of Tina Farris Tours; Victor Reed Sr., founder and CEO of Global Event Production Network; and Michael “Huggy” Carter, CEO of MCG Productions.
During this conversation, the nature of the problem with underrepresentation in the live industry and why the Black Tour Directory may be part of the solution was summed up by Victor Reed, Sr. In response to Shawn Gee’s question, “Why aren’t there more Black people in production,” Reed responded, “All the jobs I’ve ever gotten opportunities for were based on a direct relationship that I had either with artists or management. Most of the artists I’ve gotten opportunities with have been Black. That hasn’t stopped us from working, having a successful career or a positive brand for ourselves. But to answer your question of ‘Why don’t we see ourselves on other tours,’ it’s because the team behind those tours isn’t looking for us to fill those voids and those positions.” 
Farris added, “I believe some of it is just people don’t even see you. I can’t even say people are just racist – that happens too – but a lot the racism is ‘I don’t even see you,’ ‘I don’t have have any Black friends,’ ‘I don’t know why there are no Black people because I don’t know any Black people.’

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To learn more about how the Black Tour Directory came to be, Pollstar spoke with Live Nation Director of U.S. Concerts Tour Marketing Jen Smith, who presented the idea for the directory to Gee.

Pollstar: So how did the idea for the Black Tour Directory come about?

– Jen Smith

Jen Smith: Basically, being at home and not having collaborative conversations about how to market concerts (due to the industry-wide shutdown), it took a toll on me. I was having a creative block, and with everything that was going on, with COVID and Black Lives Matter, I asked myself “what can we do in order to affect and create change.”

Live events are special, they can connect and bring people together. At the same time, as a Black woman in music, I notice there is not a lot of diversity, there are not a lot of us in this space. But I know from being in the industry for a while that there are Black stage managers, production managers, tour managers, lighting people, who maybe don’t get as many calls as they should. 
So we wanted to increase the amount of diversity at more shows, to help these professionals expand their network. 
I talked about this with NyAsia Burris, the marketing manager for Live Nation Urban. We brainstormed the idea, brought it to Shawn Gee and he thought it was great. And I feel with Live Nation being the No. 1 promoter in this industry, they have such a large voice and platform. We produce the hottest concerts, festivals, everything. 
So with Live Nation taking this position, presenting this resource to the industry, I think it shows that we are all paying attention and trying to change the narrative, to help diversify this industry in every which way, form, or fashion.
And you were aware of the existence of other resources by groups like Roadies of Color, Diversify The Stage and Black Promoters Collective when you proposed this idea? 
Oh yeah. It’s funny you mention that, during COVID we were doing content with Roadies Of Color, and I’ve worked with them on previous tours, and with Lance Jackson. I’m very familiar with them. 
Since there were so many other guides already existing, NyAsia and I reached out to Bill Reeves, to the Black Promoters Collective, to Shelby [Joyner], Lionel [Bea] and Gary [Guidry], and Noelle Scaggs from Diversify The Stage. We are all share a common purpose and are working to change that narrative and bring everything together. We sought their input. 
We also had a vetting process. We had more than 800 entries, so we went through and vetted them all, because this is a business where big budgets are involved, people’s livelihood and careers, so you want to make sure you are getting the best of the best when you provide these resources. 
So even though you are parts different organizations, it’s not like there is any sense of competition between all the people trying to create more opportunities for Black professionals in the live entertainment industry?
Oh no, it’s not that way at all. Sometimes people want to make it a friendly competition or pit people against each other, but we all have shared, similar stories, we have all the same experiences and we are all on the same page, the same team. 
Even if we’re not working together we still support each other, and that’s what’s so important. We’ve been asking for inclusion and diversity, so why would I ever go against Roadies of Color, Bill, Shelby Or Noelle. We’re all trying to do this thing which is change the existing narrative and provide a resource.
What is one thing you want people to understand in this conversation about diversity and inclusion?
Proximity is key issue in diversity, as far as being in the same room, being on the calls, having a seat at the table, being at a show. 
For these black owned businesses, having the opportunity to work on something other than a hip-hop show is very important. Maybe it’s a country show or a Latin show or EDM. Music is universal and if you are skilled at what you do, you should be able to do anything, but right now many of these Black professionals are not even being considered for those jobs. 
If these people at least get an opportunity, and if they do a good job on that, they may have another opportunity down the road. But there is currently a void when it comes to connecting these professionals to these initial opportunities, and this resource is meant to help address that.
Do you think things will actually change after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others?
I think collectively everyone wants change. I feel like COVID made the world pause, where we can focus and actually see what happened to George Floyd, the injustice of Breonna Taylor’s killing. 
I think people are paying attention and taking time to reflect on what is going on. Change takes a long time, but I do believe we are in the process of coming together to the point where we can change together, eventually. 
I am looking for seeing more companies, friends, associates, colleagues, former colleagues, even brands paying attention more – which to me is amazing – but we still have to roll up our sleeves because we have a lot of work to do. But the fact that people are paying attention, that is everything. I can see how one would think ‘this is just another time we’ve talked about race,’ but I think enough is enough.
How can we ensure people use resources like the Black Tour Directory?
When we first opened the list, we knew this was going to be an ongoing thing, it is not because it seems like, right now, diversity and inclusion is a trendy topic. This is a movement. 
We are going to continue to keep the list active and continue to grow it. As things develop over time, once we get back into that space of organizing large groups and mass gatherings, we will be able to help lead. 
If there is a festival that is looking to hire and diversify, they will have this as a resource. I feel like, because this is an ongoing thing it will constantly be in your face. 
This is not a one-time thing, it’s going to always be there. 
You came from ICM Partners, then AEG Presents, into Live Nation. Do you have any personal experiences to share about the issue of underrepresentation, being Afro-Latina?
I do have stories and personal experiences, but I feel like the most important thing people can take away [from our conversation] is the value of allowing different kinds of people to be in the room, giving them those opportunities and creating awareness about what goes on. Having a seat at the table is very important, particularly for women, Asian women, Latin women. 
I have seen that for a company to grow you need to be innovative and you need to have different points of view from all walks of life. 
I feel that gives the company strength and motivation, to be innovative, to have a firm structure. Having different people, from different walks of life helps the company be ahead of the curve. 
Having those opportunities and creating those opportunities for different kinds of people is so important. 
Robert Gibbs at ICM Partners believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He gave me an opportunity and taught me everything I know, from growth vs. net, to routing my first J. Cole and Drake tour with him, really depending on me.  
Even Shawn Gee, who was Drake’s business manager, working with him on [a major] tour deal, being a part of that and having that experience sparked interest, it helps a person find their voice, their footing, who they are and their career path. 
Working with AEG / Goldenvoice, Amy Morrison believed in me. When I figured out I didn’t want to be an agent, I went in as a marketing assistant and she taught me a 
This all goes back to what I was saying that proximity is key. Being in those rooms, having those opportunities, that apprenticeship and mentorship, being able to ask the right questions, or even just listening, learning the game and knowing what you need to do, that’s all so crucial. 
Then being here at Live Nation, Omar [Al-joulani] and Kelly Strickland pulled me in, who are amazing. I like working with them and they have been really supportive through everything that was going on.
You know, I was hired in 2019 so I was six months in the office, now its going on eight months working from home. 
They have been so supportive, the whole team, by giving me opportunities, listening, and taking my advice in a collaborative spirit.
Do you think there is potential for more directories for other underrepresented groups in the future, perhaps for Spanish-speakers or Native Americans?
I’m sure it will happen. Live Nation Urban could possibly take that on as well, but I think it depends on if we get there [with this initiative]. But diversity and inclusion has to include everyone, so I think that will happen eventually.