As Louis Messina, Jr., vice president at Messina Touring Group, sums it up, MTG is made up of a bunch of “dream chasers that happen to sell a lot of tickets.” To help celebrate his dad’s 50 years in the industry, Pollstar checked in with the next generation of staffers at the promotion company who are helping dreams come true for artists including Taylor Swift, George Strait, Ed Sheeran, The Lumineers, Blake Shelton and Eric Church.
Pollstar: What are your responsibilities at Messina Touring Group?
Lauren Ayoub, Head Of Digital Department: I lead our Digital Department and digital strategy for our pop/alt tours. Our team covers anything in the realm of paid media, creative, partnerships, data analysis and research.
Bridget Bauer, Senior Vice President: I am a senior vice president and oversee all touring dates for George Strait. I also have the privilege of working with and overseeing the touring of Blake Shelton alongside Jenna Maxfield, and Little Big Town with Keena Cheatham.
Haley McCollister, President – MTG Nashville: Most of my time is dedicated to the pop and indie artists we work with, including Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and The Lumineers. As president of MTG Nashville, I’m also involved in day-to-day operations and overall growth strategy for the company.
Louis Messina, Jr., Vice President: We’re dream chasers that happen to sell a lot of tickets. Outside of the day-to-day, my responsibilities are how do we help the artists we work with [make their] dreams come true? From having a sold-out show with their name on the ticket to the energy they feel stepping out onstage. Also, remembering it’s all about the fans and making sure they have the best experience that everyone forgets everything going on in their world those few hours.
Rachel Powers, Vice President: I lead all tour marketing and promotion, inclusive of digital strategies and a growing marketing team, for 2020 CMA Entertainer of the Year Eric Church and country music superstar Blake Shelton.
LeeAnn Rotundo, Director Of Ticketing: As Director of Ticketing, I oversee our small, four-person ticketing department as we keep the train on the tracks and get tours on sale. I’m always striving for consistency across all tours while recognizing the specific needs of each tour.
Sara Winter-Banks, Senior Vice President: I serve as SVP of Messina Touring Group and lead our pop and alternative tour marketing for Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes and The Lumineers. While co-running our growing marketing department, I’ve taken on a specific role overseeing the restructuring and development of our digital department, and I serve on the executive team, weighing in on future decisions for the company.
What have you learned at MTG and how has it helped your career?
Ayoub: Louis’ always told us that we’re in the business of bringing dreams to life, and it couldn’t be more true. I pinch myself every day working for him and the incredible team he’s built. His passion for his people and his craft shows in everything that we do. He doesn’t only grow artists, he grows leaders. I’m one of the lucky ones who started at MTG straight out of college, and I truly wouldn’t be the person I am today without him.
Bauer: In 2014, George [Strait] did “The Cowboy Rides Away Tour.” We ended at AT&T Stadium in Arlington where he played to 104,000 fans. At the time, I wondered how we could top that. Fast forward to the present, we just put up seven stadium shows where Strait (along with Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town) is on track to sell out – over 350,000 tickets and upwards of $70 million in grosses. It’s made me realize that in just eight short years with minimal technology advancements in this business, we are better able to maximize ticket sales and thus an artist’s walkout expediently. I’m a strong believer in building on each show for the next and the same applies to how we do business. Acknowledging what previously worked, what didn’t, as well as what’s new out there that could benefit the artist.
McCollister: One of the most valuable skills I have learned working at MTG is the importance in giving a project your focus and attention. It’s especially important to how Messina Group operates. We only work with a few artists so we are able to be extremely involved and intentional in the way we build their touring careers. It’s one of the things that differentiates us from the rest. We care, we’re committed, and we are able to give our artists everything we’ve got.
Messina: I grew up in the business and started working at MTG while I was in high school. I’ve learned everything I know growing up and working with my dad. Throughout my career, I’ve also learned how unorthodox we are as a company which sets us apart from everyone else.
Powers: Working at MTG, I have learned the meaning of building and maintaining long-lasting relationships – Louis always says that this is a relationship business. Establishing trust and building upon it is imperative to the work we do, whether it’s the artist or manager, our building partners, the program director at a radio station, trust is the catalyst for longevity and success.
Rotundo: I’ve learned how to be a better team player. MTG is full of self-managers, which I love. No one is looking over each other’s shoulders. We all know what needs to happen and everyone is accountable for their roles. There’s trust in each other and that makes you want to work harder. You don’t want to let anyone down. As Louis puts it, “We’re all spokes in a wheel.” Career-wise, this has made me a better leader to my department and given me confidence in my abilities.
Winter-Banks: Louis always says to us, “You are your own company. How are you going to run it?” I think this mindset is very empowering and really illustrates the latitude we have at MTG to bring forth new ideas and new ways of doing things. While at MTG, I’ve learned to stay nimble. I’ve learned that you must nurture talent when you see it. I’ve learned if a door is closed, to find a window, and if the window is closed to find a chimney, and if there is no chimney to get the bulldozer. I’ve also learned I don’t like Jack Daniels (but don’t tell Louis!).
What have you learned working for and with Louis Messina?
Ayoub: Since becoming Director of Digital Marketing, Louis’ empowered me to reach heights that I’d merely dreamt of when I was younger. Alongside my path at Messina, I’ve always been passionate about queer representation in the music industry. This year, I came out to Louis and my company as non-binary, transmasculine. From day one of my transition, I have never felt so loved and supported than by him and the team. The fact that Louis has not only fostered my career since I started, but has also actively gone out of his way to support me throughout my entire transition, means the world. He’s taught me that within true leadership comes empathy and passion: two traits that I actively bring with me into my career and life.
Bauer: Louis has both taught and shown me fairness, transparency, and fighting for what’s in the artist’s best interest. He’s demonstrated time and again that it’s all about the presentation, also known in some circles as “sprinkling the magic dust” – which is ultimately what I believe to be Louis’ greatest talent. I value that he created an environment where he expects everyone to not only have a voice but to speak up. His famous line to us is: “You create your own destiny.” Louis creates the space for all of us to be able to do just that.
McCollister: Louis Messina is the best boss, mentor, and friend I could ever ask for. Working for him for the past 12 years and watching him build this company into what it is today has been an incredible learning experience. He has taught me everything I know about this business but the most important thing he taught me is to always be thinking about the big picture and the next 10+ years. My favorite quote of his is, “We are not tour promoters, we are career promoters.”
Messina: He’s been in the music business since before there was a music business. You name it, he’s lived through it and has preached over and over to learn from his mistakes which he’ll always end with “’Cause I made a lot of them.” But all of that made him what he is today – constantly reinventing and challenging himself and everyone around him. He has advice for days that you can’t help but listen to.
Powers: The sky’s the limit. Pick up the phone. Ask for what you want. Don’t accept no for an answer.
Rotundo: How to speak up and have an opinion. That’s what he pays us for. I’ll never forget hearing that and he’s right. No one wants to hear regurgitated thoughts, especially if it’s to follow the crowd. He’s a born leader and when he speaks people listen. It’s really inspiring to come out of his office or a meeting and be excited to get to work on a project. I’ve also learned that you can have the job that you want. No one is going to give it to you, though. You have to make it happen for yourself. When I first started, my role was pretty small. I told him I wanted to build a full ticketing department that supported all tours versus separating the teams. Today we have just that and I’m so proud of our hard work.
Winter-Banks: One thing I really love is watching Louis watch a live show. He’s been doing this gig for 50 years and yet, to watch him watch a show, there is a childlike wonder that I just love. He’s never lost his passion for what he does. He is still a true fan. He’s still very present and in the moment. That energy is contagious as well. I suppose not everyone has to have passion for their career, but in this business, I think it’s a must.
What is your best Louis Messina story or moment with him?
Ayoub: Kara [Smoak, Sr. Digital Manager] and I were hanging with Louis all night after one of our shows in Florida. The next morning, we somehow woke up with flight reservations for us to go on a tour-de-Louis with him to Atlanta and New York for shows the rest of the weekend. Don’t ask how – I truly don’t know. It’s Louis’ world, and we’re all just living in it.
Bauer: The first time Louis and I met was at an event in Austin, Texas, for Ray Benson’s birthday. I knew who he was and, in my mind, he was the biggest “name” attending the event. I made sure and reserved the only parking spot that was backstage just for Louis and met him when he arrived to walk him in. My small efforts left enough of a lasting impression on him that he hired me a few years later. And thus began my career with Louis!
McCollister: One that comes to mind is from my second day of work. Not just my second day at MTG, but my second day of work ever as MTG was my first job out of college.
When I first started at Messina Touring Group we were based in Houston, but Louis had recently moved to Austin. His plan was to commute back to Houston regularly, not uproot lives and have everyone move to Austin with him. On my second day of work he was in town and took everyone out to lunch to celebrate his birthday. Like most (all) social events with Louis, there was a significant amount of drinking. After our third round or so, Louis, who appeared to be the same level of intoxicated as the rest of us, decided to hold an impromptu vote on moving the company to Austin. Apparently we all voted “yes” and apparently that vote was binding. MTG moved to Austin shortly after.
I learned a very valuable lesson that day. One that will ring true to anyone who has worked with him throughout his career. Louis Messina is the best negotiator there is. And he usually does his best negotiating when he is a few drinks in. Consider yourself warned.
Messina: Back in Houston, the Woodlands Pavilion and the Summit were my home away from home. I was a concert junkie from the start and fell in love with live music and it has yet to leave my system, which will never change. My brothers and I would be having fun watching all the shows while my dad is backstage working. Now, he’s at FOH watching the show while I’m working. I always joke I hear the best stories from everyone else but nothing will beat the story of his very first show in New Orleans. Long (and amazing) story short, headliners didn’t show up, fans go crazy, the riot squad called and every ticket was refunded. From then on, it couldn’t get any worse. Fifty years later and a lot more stories to come
Powers: There have been some very meaningful moments with Louis throughout the years, specifically the times where he’s supported my vision and encouraged me to shoot for the stars. In 2015, I had earned my first major project at MTG in which Louis said, “I see something special in you. I’m rollin’ the dice on you, girl!” and he’s rolled the dice on me many, many times since, including one of the biggest moments of my career that happened earlier this year when he supported my aspiration to be promoted to vice president and be part of the MTG executive board. Louis has always believed in me and has pushed me to break down any barriers and achieve goals that I didn’t even know were possible.
Rotundo: Back in 2017, we were at Bridgestone Arena for Eric Church’s “Holdin’ My Own Tour,” enjoying drinks at front of house. It was during their hockey season so boards were placed over the ice making it pretty slick. The group decided to head back to the green room and I went the wrong way, made a quick U-turn, and my feet flew over my head. I landed flat on my ass (was lucky not to break my tailbone) – all while not spilling a single drop of wine! Fans in the nearby lower bowl sections cheered and high-fived me. I owned it and got my 5 seconds of fame. Thought my group missed it, but when I looked to the doorway, there was Louis and Margot laughing at me. I feel like I gained a little more respect that day. He didn’t waste any time telling others what happened. I was officially part of the team!
Winter-Banks: One that really stands out for me was my first big promotion at MTG. One day I found out my predecessor who oversaw Taylor Swift’s tour marketing was leaving. All I could hear was opportunity calling … I must have this job. But of course, this was a massive position, and I would go through an interview process with other candidates. Torture.
The afternoon before my interview, Louis poked his head into my office and asked to speak. I went into his office and he gave me a pep talk for my interview. I knew he was rooting for me, but obviously I needed to bring my A-game. I was earning this.
It was the most endearing moment, though, because I really knew he saw a bright light in me, and I got that job, and he let me shine. That’s the thing about Louis, the artists we work with, and his staff: it’s just a special thing when Louis believes in you. The sky isn’t even the limit.