Strength In Numbers: How Live Businesses Joined Forces In 2022

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Force Joiners: D Tour’s Tobi Parks, Ad.Ventures’ Stephen Sternschein, SaveLive’s Marc Geiger.

It makes intuitive sense that emerging from the havoc the global pandemic wrought upon the live industry, rebuilding in 2022 would involve new partnerships, alliances and mergers. Businesses were suddenly pushed to the brink as they found themselves drinking from a gushing fire hydrant that was live’s return, but with different and challenging market conditions: Rampant inflation, labor shortages, supply chain hold-ups, a glut of tours, shaky consumer confidence and more.

Quite naturally, more than a few live businesses thought to join forces, which we saw this year in every sector of the live business (including, most obviously, CAA’s acquisition of ICM Partners – see Year In Agencies). That ethos, especially in the independent sector, may have emanated from the National Independent Venue Association’s stunning pandemic successes, tapping into America’s universal support for its wondrous live music clubs and parlaying that goodwill into an unfathomable $16.1 billion Shuttered Venue Operating Grant program. It’s also a prototype for the strength in numbers model.

“The biggest lesson I learned from NIVA was just the power of excellent people,” says Stephen Sternschein, a founding board member of NIVA and Austin promoter who this year joined his Heard Presents forces with Graham Williams’ Resound Presents. This he did while ramping up Ad.Ventures, a venue sponsorship, branding, logistics and consultancy company that counts nearly 100 venues and festivals as part of its network.

“We can access opportunities that aren’t available without a certain amount of scale,” says Sternschein, who before NIVA co-founded the Red River Cultural District in Austin (with co-founder Cody Cowan, NIVA’s COO). “We can take better advantage of existing opportunities or use our broader knowledge to ensure that we’re getting maximum value and pushing the value proposition wherever we are.”

Sternschein is not the only former NIVA member harnessing the power of strategic alliances. Tobi Parks, also a founding NIVA member, owner of the xBk venue in Des Moines and a lawyer for Sony Music Ent., this year launched D Tour, a network of independent clubs leveraging their collective power to attract and route tours through their buildings.

“The impetus started from those of us that were in secondary and tertiary markets and trying to see what we could do to bring more tours into those markets,” Parks explains, “Like any artist going on tour, they’re absolutely going to New York or Chicago or L.A. and what we need to do is drive more shows into Des Moines, Louisville, Wichita, Kansas, and those kinds of markets.”

Parks says that D Tour is now up to “32 affiliates across 50 different markets that span over 250 different venues.” The affiliate group this year worked with Wasserman Music on Durry, a developing act on its roster, as well as Elise Trouw and Chapel Hart.

Each venue maintains its independence, Parks explains, but share resources and information while working collaboratively to bring tours to their venues. “Each individual promoter makes an offer – and that can look different from Des Moines versus what it would look like in Minneapolis or Chicago – and we bundle those together and submit as a full routing tour package. But it’s not predetermined; it’s just based on what each individual venue puts forward.”

And it’s not just NIVA members. Ex-WME music head Marc Geiger and John Fogelman’s intriguing SaveLive organization continued to scale in 2022 announcing in April its first round of 20 venue and promoter partners, which included The Criterion in Oklahoma City, Tech Port Arena in San Antonio and The Alibi in Palm Springs. The organization also partnered with Chicago’s Jam Productions, added Danny Wimmer Presents’ Gary Spivack and had a $135 million round of investment.

Other alliances continuing to scale in 2022 include LENUSA, a regional Mexican organization that incorporated in 2021 with 60 investor/ partner promoters, venues and artists which include New York-based Zamora Live, red-hot Grupo Firme and manager Isael Gutiérrez and norteño band Los Tigres del Norte and manager Alfonso de Alba.

The Black Promoters Collective, a coalition of top Black, veteran and independent live entertainment promoters that launched last year, further scaled its business in 2022 working on major tours by New Edition, Maxwell, Patti LaBelle and Fantasia among others.

In November, the freshly minted Arrival Artists agency announced a partnership with ATC Management forming Company X, a brand strategy company, to handle deals for clients that include Santigold, Hayley Kiyoko, Yaeji, Mayer Hawthorne, David Archuleta, Khruangbin and Mt. Joy.

Both Parks and Sternschein say they have big announcements they’re not ready to reveal, but look for all these alliances to continue to scale throughout 2023.