A Letter From Ray Waddell

A Letter From Ray Waddell

In this issue, Pollstar proudly reveals the 2021 edition of the Impact 50 list, which has in three years became a tentpole franchise for us, and a list that we feel accurately reflects the executives who are having an impact in the live entertainment industry. Compiled by the Pollstar editorial team with input from the industry, the list represents individuals who embodied such attributes as creativity, innovation, strategic management, financial success, leadership, artist development and career longevity, vision, fan engagement, consistency and commitment to excellence.

Historically, this list has been informed by, but not tethered to, Pollstar’s industry-leading box office data. With box office data in play, decision-making for this list can be in large part based on each year’s current touring artists, large events, touring career development and deals, models, strategy and operations within the touring ecosystem that impacte the live world at large. Of course, it creates an issue when there is no significant box office data to lean on in making our decisions as to who is having the most impact.

When tours are spinning turnstiles and careers are blowing up – the world we lived in for more than a decade before COVID-19 shut us down – decisions were rather clear cut, and the challenge theoretically would be keeping the Impact 50 list dynamic while recognizing career development, evolving business strategies, new technology and simply who did what in a given touring year. When box office is not in play, however, our strategy changes entirely. Thankfully, this is a business populated by visionary, creative people who continually reinvent themselves and find a way to step up and fill needs, wherever they may be. And there have been plenty of needs over the past year – rather than brick and mortar arenas, much of the action has taken place in the arenas of urgent social issues, economic stress, political maneuvering and moving mountains to get the live business back to where it was, and beyond.

We have found that the same attributes apply when gauging those having an impact on our business even when there is no business of which to speak. More than ever, other important traits like empathy, heart, steadfastness and persistence have also risen to the forefront. This list is filled with executives who are making a difference.

As we made clear in 2019, Impact 50 is not about power, though many, but not all, of the individuals listed here would be considered “powerful” by most industry standards. With or without touring, a list of strictly the most powerful people in live entertainment would look different from our list. Though we acknowledge many of the most “powerful” people in the industry, honoring “power” is not what we set out to do. Especially this year, Impact 50 is about people in our industry who are impacting careers, lives and the very industry we love, and impacting those things in, we hope, mostly positive ways.

The people of our business have contributed in a broad array of ways, as you will see in the following pages. It could be by being one of the few to participate in virtual panels and symposiums at a time few were willing to step out and have a take publicly. It could be by treating fans fairly and honestly during what’s hopefully the most massive untangling of scheduled live events we’ll ever see. It could be by finding a way for a cash-strapped artists to make a house payment by utilizing technology to engage with fans and play some music. It could be by putting food on the table of a roadie who has worked their ass off for 30 years and suddenly finds themself unemployed, with no prospects. It could be by demonstrating faith in the future success of live through investment in people, venues, companies or technology. Or it could be by navigating Washington D.C.’s political landscape to help ensure our business receives much-needed aid.

From the very beginning with this project, we were conscious of inclusivity when compiling the Impact 50, and that’s more true than ever for the 2021 list. The industry we are in today demands inclusivity, we at Pollstar are in lock step with that mission and we do believe we are better in this regard than we were just three years ago. We also firmly believe the list will continue to reflect a live music business that is for all people, that opens the doors to success for everyone, that elevates deserving executives no matter their background, beliefs, or ethnicity. The industry is more diverse than it was, but, like everything else, has far to go. To be clear, there are plenty of impactful executives from across the spectrum to choose from. The challenge is recognizing them, and, with certainty, the people on this list all deserve to be on it.  

While we have relaxed some of our initial rules for the Impact 50 list, we have stuck with our decision not to rank people, so the debate of who is ranked higher than who won’t come to bear. Still, too often the discussion ends up about who’s not on the list rather than who is. We landed where we landed and make no apologies about the outstanding executives we honor here, and their resonating achievements for the good of the industry, the artists, the fans and our fellow citizens.

Without question, the 2021 Impact 50 looks different than it did the first year or even last year, when we were just beginning to come to terms with an industry shutdown that was once inconceivable. We predict that our 2022 Impact 50 list will more closely align with our initial list in 2019, and we can only believe that is a good thing. We need our ballers to ball.

We are almost through this global nightmare. Routebooks are filling up, rehearsals are underway, tickets are on sale, the coconut telegraph is humming, entertainment coaches are shiny and the fuel tanks are full. In June, the industry will gather again for the first time since February of last year for Pollstar Live!, which we at Pollstar parent Oak View Group have been bound and determined to present as an in-person event. There is a need for us to congregate, renew connections and, OK, even plot and scheme again. We hope to see you there at the Beverly Hilton in L.A., June 15-17.

Nobody would argue that our beloved livelihood has been hammered, careers have been derailed, businesses have gone under, lives have been wrecked. But the strength, vision, toughness, perseverance and, yes, heart and soul that our business is known for has risen to the top, in no small part due to the people on this list. I’ve never been more proud to be part of the live thing. Consider the 2021 Impact 50 list to be a “thank you,” and I look forward to seeing you at the next show.

As always, thank you for letting me look behind the curtain. – Ray Waddell, President, OVG Media & Conferences