2022 was a year like no other. That, we all know. What we may not know is how this year has personally affected, impacted and perhaps even motivated some of the top execs in the live entertainment business. Pollstar presents thought leaders across multiple live music sectors, including promoters, agents and artist managers, giving their take on this year and what the future holds.
VP, Fairs & Festivals at Wasserman Music
Agent at Wasserman Music
Co-Head of International Touring & Music Agent at CAA
SVP of Nederlander Concerts
Agent at Arrival Artists
What do you consider you/your company’s greatest successes in 2022 and how were they accomplished?
Brill: I am proud to see how the inner workings of Wasserman have all worked in harmony. We have done a fantastic job connecting brands/partnerships, festivals, colleges, and touring all in unison. It comes down to the passionate people we have that care about their clients day in and day out. It takes a village!
Bunel: As a company, 2022 finally saw us all come under one roof again and we got reunited with our American colleagues.
We are now Wasserman Music. As an agent, I’m pleased to have had a fantastic year across my roster. New signing Lady Blackbird, who in the space of a year went from singing to 150 people to playing a sold out Barbican show; artist and producer Alfa Mist selling out his European tour; Australian band Parcels have finally played a long overdue headline tour of the back of their album and sold out 5,000-capacity venues across Europe; and after a seven-year break, Stromae has come back in full force, delivering one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.
Dalston:A lot of the ground work for 2022, and “our return,” was actually initiated and accomplished during the pandemic, which led to our success – as a company we were consistently very active. We brought in some incredible agents and signed a number of brilliant artists throughout that time period. When the pandemic was over, we were ready to hit the ground running and were immediately able to get our clients back to work with our newly integrated colleagues. A lot of planning also went into our return and subsequent accomplishments. For example, when Darryl Eaton and I put Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin on the road — one of the first tours back out in arenas — we meticulously studied, met, and discussed COVID protocols. Our associate, Ina Jacobs, spent hours compiling information to share with our clients. Without this collaborative effort, I do not think we would have been able to have the success we did, not only on this one tour, but on all the others that followed as well.
Harding: Very glad to have finally played off the last of our shows rescheduled due to the pandemic. For the back half of the year, many of our KPI’s have returned to pre-pandemic levels including volume of shows, sell-thru rates and no-show rates. Average per-fan spend inside the venues remains higher than pre-pandemic, and overall demand is healthy. We are on track for perhaps our best Q4 ever, fueled by record ticket sales and attendance.
Hedrick: Having a more consistent and predictable year of touring meant scaling our company much quicker than we had planned. We have grown our team from the six partners just two years ago to our current 31. We grew our agent teams but also grew dedicated finance, contracts, and marketing departments with passionate and smart people. It has been an incredible experience! It’s never easy to scale, especially when your roster is as busy as ours, but everyone here did their part and we’re so proud of what we’re building.
What were the greatest challenges you faced this year and what strategies did you implement in response?
Brill: Weather keeps having a big impact on our business. At certain times of the year we need to be meteorologists! Being nimble and pivoting to other opportunities quickly has protected our clients’ ability to remain at work while being on the road. That has consisted of things like creative livestream content and pop-up branding engagements.
Bunel: I feel I’ve had to be more hands-on than ever this year. Most artists have been at a standstill for two years, and all pressed the reset button, which has meant a lot of artists on the road. Also, mental health is (finally) at the center of conversations in the artist community and across the industry.
Dalston: I think America, to a certain extent, has always been in their own bubble. Over the past year in particular, outside events really played a role in how we conducted business in the U.S. Between inflation, the war in Ukraine, the supply chain shortages, the rise in gas prices, etc – all the things that normally would not have been issues became really major challenges to deal with. As we planned tours, we had to dive into more granular details than ever before – could bands get buses, trucks, riggers – many more conversations were had about bands not spending money, or leaving themselves financially exposed, than in the past.
Harding: With inflationary pressures and labor market challenges, part-time event staffing continues to be a focus. We have spent an inordinate amount of time this year hiring, training and making sure our events are appropriately staffed.
Hedrick: Two big ones were gauging how shows would do and holding/getting the right rooms. Obviously getting the right room on the right day was difficult due to the number of artists out on the road but once you did and got on sale it was tougher than ever to confidently project where sales would land. There was so much competition, plus so much health and economic uncertainty at times that ticket counts were erratic and unpredictable. There’s nothing we could do about competition so we dug in on analyzing streaming and social media metrics. We also focused our marketing accordingly to make sure that every fan in the market was excited that the band was coming through their city.
What opportunities did you see in 2022 and how did that influence your strategies?
Brill: We have spent time digging into secondary and tertiary festival markets, which are providing more fan connectivity. Smaller lineups allow artists to make more of an impact with less competition around them. For example, we had Lorde and The Lumineers headline Wonderbus in Columbus, Ohio, which made a big splash in the market. I believe this will in turn bolster their hard ticket business for upcoming plays when they return.
Bunel: I saw this year as an opportunity to have open conversations with managers and artists about why we tour, and how we approach live in general. With the challenges we face, rise in touring costs, mental health, reducing our carbon footprint etc., we have to change the way we work on many levels.
Dalston:There was an evident pent up demand for live entertainment. People wanted to get out and enjoy themselves after essentially staying home for two years. While initially there was some hesitancy for people to congregate together again — especially indoors — I think the feeling transitioned more into “be smart, but life has to go on.” This clearly influenced what we did as a company.
Harding: Fans became adept at new technologies during the pandemic. Doubling down on those new technologies has improved our business, from QR codes, to cashless and contactless operations, to mobile ordering. These technologies have improved the fan experience while also reducing overhead and cash management expenses.
Hedrick: Since we started, we’ve been looking for a way to offer our artists more opportunities with brand partnerships, finding new ways to build our artists careers, break through the noise and get in front of new audiences. We partnered with ATC Management to launch companyX, a dedicated brand partnership company which is focused on our roster but also able to facilitate brand deals across the music industry. The key was finding the right person and we were so so lucky to find Mara Frankel. Mara really nailed it as far as knowing the roster, understanding their needs and goals and being able to communicate those to the brand world.
What was the key show, event, or moment in 2022 that was most important to you and/or your business and why?
Brill: Visiting Quebec City for Festival d’Été was very eye opening. To see 100,000 fans show up daily for 10 days in a row for cross-genre programming is quite a sight. It’s encouraging to see other niche markets continue to do big numbers in the festival landscape as we hope the arrow continues to point up for a healthy year in 2023.
Bunel: I stood in fields watching Brazilian pop icon and drag queen Pabllo Vittar perform in front of non-Portuguese-speaking audiences at Primavera, Melt, etc., and thinking, she has been standing up to Bolsonaro, she’s put herself out there and advocated fiercely for the LGBTQI+ community, and it reminded me why I do this job.
Dalston: Personally, I had a massive summer in the U.S., between Rammstein, Kraftwerk, Scorpions, Roxy Music, Tom Jones, Ricky Martin, Aespa, NCT 127 , Nile Rodgers & CHIC, Ludovico Einaudi, and Lionel Richie — we did not lose one date! It was great to get back out on the road and see our clients performing live again. There were times when I was sitting home during the pandemic and I was never sure these days would happen again. The more tours that played, the more confident we became that the rest could play successfully.
Hedrick: For Arrival there was a week in mid-August where both Mt. Joy and Goose were touring through Colorado, each playing sold-out shows at Red Rocks as well as sold-out shows at Dillon Amphitheater and Mission Ballroom. It really felt like we took over Colorado for the week. Combined, they sold over 30K tickets and put on some of the most awe-inspiring shows I’ve seen from either. After all we’ve been through the last few years that felt like a triumph — I’m going to remember that forever.
If you had to sum up your 2022 in 20 to 22 words, what would you say?
Bunel: I would say I’ve never been challenged in that way as an agent before, and I hope it made me a better person.
Dalston: Incredible and a massive relief that clients worked and people showed up!
Hedrick: Well that went fast…
Who was the individual who helped your business the most and why?
Bunel: We know how important it is to have a good team of people around us in order to deliver for our clients. And most importantly, a team that has empathy and passion for your roster. My assistant Joseph Ali has been an incredible asset to my team.
Hedrick: Don Strasburg. Not only is he a great friend, but he is always available to offer advice or talk shop. He tells me when I’m wrong but also let’s me know when I’m right. It is a direct and honest relationship that I cherish.
Looking ahead to 2023, what are your predictions for the live industry in the year ahead?
Bunel: Festival lineups were pretty much fully booked this year with re-bookings from 2020 and 2021. We are finally starting with a clean slate when it comes to festival programming for 2023, which means there is more room to allow talents to grow and to nurture future headliners.
Dalston:Two weeks ago, my 21-year-old daughter flew to Boston to see a K-Pop act that she couldn’t see in Los Angeles. This past Tuesday, I was in Vegas to see our client Aerosmith as part of their residency – the show was packed. My point is that all generations love the live experience and unless we do something really wrong, this can only keep going from strength to strength. It is something that can’t be replicated and live is king.
Hedrick: It doesn’t seem like the sheer volume of tours on the road is going to subside any time soon, so we’ll need to continue to be creative in packaging and marketing in order to keep the fans excited and buying tickets.
What are you looking forward to in 2023?
Brill: I am looking forward to seeing our next class of festival headliners. It’s exciting to see Wasserman acts such as Baby Keem, Caamp, Brandi Carlile, SZA, ODESZA, and Kacey Musgraves take ownership of these coveted slots.
Bunel: A new artist I’ve signed called Danielle Ponder. A public defender, incredible singer, changemaker. I can’t wait for people to discover her.
Dalston: I think the thing I look forward to most in 2023 is going forward with our business – while we saw a ton of new tours in 2022, there was a tremendous amount of clean up from ’20 and ’21. It would be nice to think that we can once again start thinking about new tours, new strategies and hopefully we can never see COVID language in contracts again … fingers crossed!
Harding: Almost every artist was on-cycle in late 2022, so many artists will come off the road in early 2023 to record a new album or take a break, but the back half of the year will be as strong or stronger than 2022. I expect sponsorship to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023, and the current demand from fans will carry into the new year. Subject to recessionary and other macroeconomic pressures, 2024 will be the first year to resemble pre-pandemic years, as tour cycles and labor markets stabilize.
Hedrick: More shows! New music and of course travel.
(Look for more 2022 Executive Survey answers to be rolled out this week.)