Christine Cao On Family Inspiration, ‘Badass Asian Women’ And Fans Singing In Korean

Live Nation’s Christine Cao has worked in the live space for 16 years and has steadily climbed the ladder from her college days in Boulder, Colorado, to working for talent agencies to now working as a talent buyer for Live Nation and co-heading up the Culture department at the company’s employee resource group Asian Nation.

Here, she discusses her path and finding inspiration in her family’s amazing immigration success story (her dad went from McDonald’s to rocket engineer!), the “badass Asian women” who helped her, the joy of putting Zedd on a bill with a 50-piece orchestra and fans learning Korean to sing along to their K-pop idols.

Pollstar: What led you to work in live?

Christine Cao: I initially got my start in the industry while at the University of Colorado, Boulder working in the college booking group. I began by street teaming, distributing flyers and worked my way up the to Director of Program Council by my senior year.

Who were some of your mentors?

My parents will always and forever be the motivating drive behind everything that I do. Leaving Vietnam during the war to a place where the language was unfamiliar and where they would need to start from scratch to provide a better life for their families; there’s no stronger inspiration. My dad worked at McDonald’s to put himself through college and became a successful rocket engineer. The level of drive and perseverance I’ve learned from them is unmatched.

Wow, that’s incredible. What do you consider your most successful business initiatives or tentpole moments?

The most satisfying moments for me have been helping artists build their careers globally from clubs and theaters to headlining legendary rooms like Red Rocks Amphitheater and Radio City Music Hall to playing to tens of thousands of people at major festivals like Lollapalooza. I love getting creative with producing shows, whether it’s Zedd performing at the Dolby with a 50-Piece Orchestra or building a stage in the middle of a Field House for Modest Mouse on their college run.

What’s Asian Nation and your role there?

Asian Nation is aiming to push the boundaries of what’s expected of traditional ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) by providing tools and coaching to uplevel our employees’ careers and mental health in addition to fostering community and creating networking opportunities amongst our members. As a leader in live entertainment, we’re in a position to push for representation both on the business side and on our stages. With incredible resources within Live Nation and executive support, Asian Nation has been empowered to authentically engage, uplift, and create connections with the API artist and creator ecosystem.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishments at Asian Nation?

Last year we partnered with Goldhouse on the Futures Guild Initiative, where we highlighted three up-and-coming artists [Ruby Ibarra, Anik Khan, and Thuy Tran] and showcased their music and had them speak with executives on our Masterclass. This year, Asian Nation partnered with Live Nation Comedy for an AAPI showcase featuring Dumbfoundead, Sierra Katow, Irene Tu, Andrea Jin and more – and we look forward to building out this concept. We also partnered with Ones to Watch and LionsShare to create L.A. and N.Y. showcases highlighting some of the buzziest API up-and-comers including grentperez and Wolftyla. I’m excited to use Asian Nation and Live Nation’s resources to uplift API-forward organizations and create unique properties with the platforms we have.

What challenges did you face as a female and person of Asian descent in the live business?

With this industry being so reliant on relationships, I struggled to find my voice and path at the beginning. Exuding a level of confidence and expertise is hard when there aren’t many people who look like you in the room. I was lucky enough to find those handful of badass Asian women within the live world to learn from and be inspired by. It’s great that there are more mentors now than ever before.

How do you think your background may have helped you on your career path?

Where people may have not looked, I dug further into a genre or a space early on. My upbringing also prepared me to take on challenges and learn from rejection. Typically, the most difficult paths are the ones less explored and the ones with the most opportunity.

What’s your take on the current state of diversity in the live industry and how have you seen it change?

We still have a lot of work to do but we’ve come a long way. A company needs to recognize where they need to improve, set annual goals and develop metrics to hold themselves accountable on whether they are doing better or not.

What are some of the steps you think this industry can take toward diversifying staff, especially in regard to people of AAPI heritage?

I would recommend recruiting from a wide range of colleges and not relying too heavily on referrals. I would encourage hiring managers to branch out and have a different perspective across the board. Not only hire diverse employees at the entry level, but uplift, hire and promote those who are succeeding into positions where they can make a difference.

Do you think the current successes of Asian artists in the U.S. live space are helping to diversify the business? If so, how?

If the most recent generation has taught us anything, it’s that the music they choose to consume is global. BTS is one of the most successful musical groups in the world and fans are learning Korean just to sing along and understand the lyrics. We can create all Asian casts in movies and music, but it’s up to the leaders at the top to diversify their own lineups. Take risks on acts and diversify the rooms we book. Make a statement with an AAPI headliner on a major festival lineup. Cast an Asian actor in a lead role for a major motion picture.