Qs With: Industry Vet Randy Phillips Goes Global In Latest Chapter

Randy Phillips
– Randy Phillips

Even if you don’t hear from him for a while, don’t ever think five-decade live veteran Randy Phillips is letting the grass grow under his feet. It’s just not who he is.

In recent years, after starting his own Phillips Digital Media, the former AEG Live CEO departed LiveStyle, the company he formed out of the ashes of SFX, to work with emerging vocal group Why Don’t We. Then the COVID pandemic hit, sidelining the group’s live performances, along with everyone else’s. 
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had his formidable irons in the fire. He re-emerged Dec. 9 as executive producer, alongside fellow industry vets Rob Hallett and Steve Dixon, of the massive “Kanye With Special Guest Drake: Free Larry Hoover Benefit Concert” at a sold-out Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – about as high-profile an event as has been seen in at least two years, if not much, much longer. 
A week later, he announced he had joined the board of TEG Entertainment and would be involved in an operational capacity as well, producing and promoting unique global events. TEG, acquired by private equity giant Silver Lake Partners in October 2019, was also a partner in producing the epic Larry Hoover benefit concert. 
Over the course of his career, Phillips has played a role in many epics – from Michael Jackson’s ill-fated, 50-show “This Is It” residency in London (the superstar died before the shows could begin), to Prince’s 21-show run at the same venue to Kanye’s “Yeezus Tour” to managing classic rock royalty like Rod Stewart for many years.
Phillips talked with Pollstar about the latest milestones in his long career, his ongoing work with Why Don’t We and what the immediate future of the concert industry could look like in the wake of pandemic.
Pollstar: You’ve been busy lately, and most recently were named to the board of TEG Entertainment, based in Australia. What attracted to you to TEG?
Randy Phillips: It started out with a couple of projects I’m working on that Silver Lake Partners is going to finance. [SLP General Manager] Stephen Evans and I got close over time, and he asked me to join the board of TEG, which is in Australia and a $7 billion asset of theirs. That includes Ticketek, the Australian ticketing platform, and they own and operate a lot of venues like Qudos Bank Arena, as well as promoters like Dainty, Van Egmond and Handsome, which is doing Kid LAROI’s tour. 
In Australia, they are kind of like a mini-Live Nation; almost a microcosm. What they brought me in to do on the board is to help them strategically build out the company and grow it. Having successfully helped build [AEG Presents]; taken SFX out of bankruptcy, reforming it and putting the pieces back together so that it could be sold; and building LiveStyle, I’ve operated with a lot of people. I could sit on a board with Michael Rapino, Dan Beckerman and Jay Marciano, and the only other guy that has actually done that is me. 
So, TEG asked me to join the board, and part of that obviously is my Rolodex – my contacts and relationships in the business, which are broad and deep. So I can help them with bookings – if Paul Dainty is going after an act, I’ll help him with that. 
Given the limitations of the market, travel and other factors, what was especially attractive to you in taking the job?
The one thing that’s been a hindrance in Australia is the fact that they can’t travel or haven’t been able to travel. I know the market well. One the great successes of a good friend who passed away, Michael Gudinski, was building Frontier [Touring]. He must have traveled to L.A., New York and London, which are the hubs for talent representation, four times a year. Frankly, I was resistant at stepping into the role only because of my relationship and my love for Michael. You know, it’s a 35-year relationship. However, when he passed away, I really didn’t have an excuse not to take this opportunity. And that’s how I ended up there. And then as part of that, they understand that I am a promoter and talent manager, by education and by experience. 
You executive-produced the “Free Larry Hoover” benefit with Kanye West and Drake. How did that happen?
Kanye and his business partner wanted to do the Free Larry Hoover event at the Coliseum, but didn’t necessarily want to do it with Live Nation or AEG. So, who’s left, right? We did it. I put a great team together of Steve Dixon, who’s an incredible line producer; Rob Hallett, who used to work for me in international and is a really great marketing promoter; and Bryon Tate, a real “hot dog” of a production manager. I put that little team together to handle marketing, economics and production. And then I dealt with the overview, scaling the economics of it. And dealing with the artists, which is kind of my forte because they know I love them and I care about them. They also know I’m very honest and straight with them. And I have a relationship with Kanye going back to his biggest tour, the “Yeezus Tour,” which I promoted worldwide. 
The “Free Larry Hoover” show at the Coliseum is on Amazon Prime, and I must say it was very impressive. 
Truly, it was one of the most iconic things I’ve ever done. And remember, I had the 50 shows sold out with Michael [Jackson], though we never got there. I did the [“This Is It”] movie, I did the 21 nights with Prince at the O2 in London. I helped save the New Orleans Jazz Fest when I was running AEG [Live] after [Hurricane Katrina]. This ranks up there in terms of my career with any one of those moments. 
And the show is beyond incredible. I made an Amazon livestreaming deal, and it was incredible. That’s the thing, because I was a manager my whole career with Rod Stewart, Toni Braxton, Lionel Richie, Usher and so many others, I think differently than a promoter. I think beyond the walls of a show and what other revenue streams [exist], what ancillary revenue streams, and how find we can extend the reach. I made the Amazon deal less than a week before the show, and it was it was a massive deal. 
Free Larry Hoover
Courtesy DONDA / PHNTM / Alive Coverage
– Free Larry Hoover
Randy Phillips was one of three executive producers of Kanye West

Can you talk about numbers?
I don’t like to quote specific numbers, but it was somewhere between $8 million and $10 million. Layer that on top of almost 70,000 tickets. It was scaled very high at the beginning because of Kanye’s production, because he thinks like that. Then we added Drake to the show as a special guest star, and we had to accommodate his needs. And it just grew, so we had to scale the house relatively high. We had a great onsale where we sold about 36,000 tickets. By the time the show played, we ended up doing 69,000 and change, plus comps on top of that. And the place was packed. It was freezing and it didn’t matter. If you talk to anyone who went to the show, they’ll tell you it was one of the greatest concerts they’ve ever seen. 
With TEG’s financial backing, will it challenge established global promoters?
I’m a producer with a long list of credits, but I’m also a producer who has financing because my role is very good, so that kind of makes me a triple threat. Our goal is not to compete with Live Nation or AEG or even to build another one of those, but to build out in Australia more and then do special projects around the world that are really unique.

What else have you got in the works? What’s in Randy Phillips’ crystal ball?
I have a really great act that I manage called Why Don’t We. That’s my passion. 
They’re going to go on tour and they’re either going to do their own tour in mid-cap amphitheaters, because I feel more secure with outdoor than indoor venues right now, or they may join as direct support on one of their favorite artist’s arena tours. And that’s a decision we have to make. Some of it is COVID-related. But they have one of the biggest records in the world right now. They did a collaboration with Jonas Blue, the DJ, called “Don’t Wake Me Up,” and it exploded when it was released [Jan. 7]. It’s Top 5 Spotify everywhere. They got added to the A-list and Capital UK right out of the box. So, they’re back and the kids are dying for them.
This is a group that could probably sell out one Madison Square Garden, one Staples Center [now Crypto.com Arena] and do $25 to $30 per head in merchandise. The problem is, like with most pop acts, they haven’t been able to tour for two years.
The COVID pandemic has been especially hard on baby bands that might have just been hitting the gate when everything shut down.
You have a group that is as hot and works as hard as they do, they will be again on that meteoric rise. But you have a career on the rise and then you hit a wall because of COVID, it’s tough, especially for a group that’s good live. Kids have to touch them. 
Six months ago we were talking about the Roaring ‘20s and now there seems to be a damper on that because of the Omicron variant. What’s your take?
I’m in the middle of trying to figure it out on almost a personal or parochial level in terms of my own business. What do I do? What’s the best move for them to get them out on the road again? And then I have to kind of game that out worldwide. The COVID problem is to be able to play other markets where there are going to be reduced capacity. That’s why I prefer going outdoors right now. What do I think about the overall industry? I think the industry is in the same position society is. We have to learn to live with this. And I don’t understand anti-vaxxers. I think they’re selfish, frankly. And they’re prolonging this nightmare longer than it needs to be an issue. And this thing could be relegated to more like a flu and normal life could resume. That’s what I believe. So it’s very hard. The government, you can tell they’re struggling. The CDC, I don’t even understand their guidelines anymore. I’m not sure what they want us to do. 

Are you working with any of those government agencies or health organizations to strategize going forward? 
I dealt directly with the Los Angeles Department of Health directly on the Free Hoover show. No question. I have relationships over the years in government. So I have people I can speak to directly just to get a sense. But the one thing that you get when you’re speaking to people is that no one is 100% sure what 2022 is going to be.