Alex Hodges, CEO, Nederlander Concerts

Alex Hodges
– Alex Hodges

Nederlander Nuggets

Alex Hodges
CEO, Nederlander Concerts  

Across six decades in the live business, Alex Hodges has navigated plenty of adversity, from the deaths of clients Otis Redding and Stevie Ray Vaughan to the Great Recession of 2009. Those challenging episodes helped him steer Southern California-based promoter Nederlander Concerts through 2020’s challenging waters.

“When the pandemic hit, we took inventory of our own health and the landscape around us,” he says. “As an independent promoter, we are more nimble and more flexible to try something new. Our response was to engineer a concert experience with contactless ticketing, entry, concessions and restrooms – all while adhering to local and state guidelines.”

The result was Drive-In OC at City National Grove of Anaheim, which hosted more than 80 drive-in events – drawing upwards of 65,000 fans and generating $4.1 million in gross ticket sales – and became an industry leader in the format after launching in July 2020, putting on shows by musicians (Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Kaskade), comics (Iliza Shlesinger) and more.

Hodges says the concerts brought “music and hope to so many, against all odds,” and he counts them as career highlights.

The rare live events professional who has worked as a promoter, agent, manager and corporate executive, Hodges is a fount of industry know-how and music trivia. Ever the raconteur, Hodges shared some favorite stories with Pollstar on the occasion of this year’s Impact 50.

On going outside your comfort zone: “Sometimes, you see a band, an artist perform, and you’re going with someone else and it’s definitely not your favorite artist in your album collection. And when you see them do what they do and you just go, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ Don’t just get locked in to your three favorite bands or favorite genre. Alice Cooper was far different from an Allman Brothers Band – but when I first saw Alice Cooper I was knocked out by his dramatic presentation.”

On doing successful business from the West Coast: “Don’t forget, if you live in L.A., somebody in New York is waking up three hours before you and they might be a competitor, or talking to your local competitor who’s up before you are. Somebody’s out there trying to take your business away from you.”

On doing your homework: “If you’re an agent and you get an opportunity to listen to some new music that a manager or somebody has sent you, take the time to listen to it. I missed signing an act that I wanted, that I had an opportunity to sign, because I didn’t listen to the music that they sent me for two weeks. I’m telling you, I’ll never forget it.”

On negotiating: “Sometimes you have to recognize when somebody is pushing their hand too hard. There are ways that you can address that. You can be argumentative, or you can just say, ‘Is there ‘ever’ a time when you don’t have to just take everything?’ I’ve actually said those exact words to somebody when I was exasperated! I’ve had to lose my temper a couple times, but I’ve always felt that you should not hang up the phone until you’ve calmed the situation down. But truly, though, on either side of the table – and I’ve been on both – you have to sometimes stand your ground and say ‘Enough’s enough. I deserve to make some money, too. My company deserves to make some money, too.’”

On his poster art pet peeve: “The year is very important when you’ve got these posters – it drives me crazy when it’s not there! That’s a nightmare for me.”

On listening to “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” with Otis Redding: “We were in Macon in the basement offices where we had the agency at the time. Otis was down there with me and he played me ‘Dock of the Bay.’ I listened to the whole thing and I was totally, totally blown away. And he said, ‘I’m trying to figure whether I should keep the whistling on.’ I said, ‘I think that’s incredible. It’s so unique and different, and you got to keep it on.’”

On working in management: “A manager has to be definitive. Not wishy-washy, it could be this way or that way. But a manager can also change his mind the next day. Your job is to be decisive, deliberate, unequivocal – and then you can think things out.”

On sharing performance notes with Stevie Ray Vaughan: “I gave Stevie some advice for changing his show a little bit. He had heard me – and he had done completely the opposite. But he changed the show a little bit. On the way back to the hotel after the show, he says, ‘Oh, is that what you had in mind?’ And I said, ‘Perfectly.’”

On Vaughan’s first time in Madison Square Garden: “One day I said, ‘We haven’t played Madison Square Garden, and I’ve represented you since your first album. But have you ever been an opening act or something, before we met, at Madison Square Garden?’ He said, ‘No. In fact, I’ve never been in Madison Square Garden!’ I said, ‘OK, well we’re gonna keep it that way until you can headline and sell it out 360 degrees.’ And we did that. We accomplished that. 1989, Stevie headlined, and we sold out Madison Square Garden – his first time in the Garden, that he put his foot inside Madison Square Garden.”

On the enduring appeal of longtime clients the Allman Brothers Band: “Go back to the very first album, and you’ll hear rock, you’ll hear blues. You actually may get a little country in there. You’ll definitely hear jazz, and there’s moments where you almost have an orchestral symphonic kind of sound. The diversity of them mixing jazz, rock, country, blues and rhythm and blues together was very unique. The music was so unique and it was strong enough to translate as members of the band changed.”

Hot Takes

The business philosophy you live by?

There is nothing better than seeing young new talented employees learn the business and grow in whatever aspect is a fit. I believe in hard work and attention to detail and subscribe to the idea that accomplishment is its own reward. Be yourself, have confidence in what you are doing, and stay focused. Always keep learning and observing, and stand tall in your own shoes.

Which music artist or band has most helped you get through this year?

Andrew McMahon! He led the way and agreed on launching our Drive-In OC series at City National Grove of Anaheim. We rolled out three shows which nearly sold out at the pre-sale, and then we added a livestream that generated additional revenue. Nederlander’s talent buyer, Shane Shuhart, suggested reaching out to his friend and McMahon’s agent Josh Humiston. It worked! McMahon has a deep connection to his audience and was a great partner to launch our drive-ins.

The artist you would most like to see live when touring and festivals return?

A reunion of The Police, Sting, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, and Neil Young acoustic would be on my list. However, the list could go on and on!

When it’s safe to do so, will you go back to the office, work remotely or a combination of both? Why?

Alex Hodges: A mix – while Zoom meetings are great, not everyone wants to show their face on camera, which makes it hard to see expressions. I’d say that there will be a hybrid, but face-to-face – in the hallway, at the water cooler, in an office, in a conference room is irreplaceable. Individual circumstances will be important to consider, but one thing for sure, Zoom has added a level that is better than conference calls – you can see people, share documents, and have a large group of participants – successfully focused all at once. You can set up a Zoom call very quickly, and it’s a good way for a small group to jump in – and be seen!

Artist to watch break in the next year?

There are so many with great potential. With the abundance of new artists on music streaming services and online platforms – music discovery is fascinating. I think record labels may find some talent that appear to be different from the trend – as we’ve seen before. It is always refreshing. The one I’m thinking of – I’ll keep a secret.

How do you think livestreaming will or won’t be integrated into your business going forward?

We found live streaming very significant in 2020 as artists reached their audiences at home. Streaming can be beneficial because it is available everywhere, which poses the question – how often can it be repeated, and how do you keep it fresh? Nothing can replace live performances, especially in one’s hometown. Live shows will always garner anticipation, and it’s hard to beat the energy of a live audience. However, streaming can be a great alternative to thousands of fans in cities that a tour will skip.

Your favorite music documentary – recent or old?

“Muscle Shoals,” “Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story,” “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” (CNN), “Tom Dowd & the Language of Music,” Rolling Stones’ “Stones in Exile” and “Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You.”