‘It’s Getting Difficult To Survive As An Independent’: Q’s With Riff Producciones’ Chris Ortiz

04 Manuel Carrasco Karlos Sanz SMALL
Manuel Carrasco at the Estadio de La Cartuja in Seville, Spain, performing for a sold-out crowd of 74,000 on June 11, 2022. (Photo by Karlos Sanz)

Chris Ortiz, president of Riff Producciones, is right in the middle of another busy year. Coming fresh off a couple of European dates with Joaquin Sabina, he went straight into Manuel Carrasco’s “Corazón Y Flecha” tour, which kicked off last weekend, June 2-3, at La Cartuja stadium in Seville, Spain.

Also on Riff’s agenda this year: tours by Melendi, Bob Dylan, and others. We caught up with Ortiz to talk about what will likely be another record year for his company.

Pollstar: It looks like the year 2022 was just bigger than ever for most promoters, and 2023 seems to continue on the same note. Is that also your experience?
Chris Ortiz: Yeah, for the most part. 2022 was a record year for us. And I expect 2023 to most likely surpass it, and if it doesn’t surpass, it’s going to be very close. It has slowed down a little bit over the last few months, but but for the most part business has been good.

What could be reasons for the slowing down? People don’t seem reluctant to go to shows.
No, I think people are definitely going to go to more shows than ever this year, there’s just so much going on, a lot of saturation. Whatever hasn’t been on sale already will have a really tough time selling because people have made their plans. Any given weekend, even in provincial cities, you’ll have eight, nine, ten shows of a substantial size. That something that just wasn’t common before.

You’ve had one of the biggest shows in Spain of 2022: Manuel Carrasco, selling 74,000 tickets at Seville’s Cartuja stadium. What can you say about this year’s tour?
We actually started this year’s tour in Seville again, doing two stadiums at 65,000 a night, because of the different format [of the production]. And we’re not able to tell as many but I think both of them are going to sell out as well. So, he’s a big contribution [to our success], as Melendi. He’s doing a 20th anniversary tour this year, about 12 shows at an average of 8,000 to 10,000 tickets per show.

Melendi In Concert Houston, TX
Melendi performin at Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land, Texas, March 4. The Spanish singer and songwriter is doing exceptionally well outside of Spain. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Melendi is doind very well outside of Spain, isn’t he?
The last eleven shows were all sold out: in Argentina, 7,000 [tickets], in two days in Chile with 4,000, four shows in Peru, two shows in Quito [, Ecuador,] 9,000 each night. Cuenca did 5,000 each night, all to capacity. He’s been touring those markets for a long time, and has now really blown up as an artist. It’s nice to see how he’s matured, and built a really strong fan base in those markets.

In Miami, we did two nights at what used to be the FTX Arena, [doing] 10,500 per night. We sold out two nights in Orlando, he did a Radio City Music Hall. He’s done a lot of markets that normally aren’t as strong for Spanish artists. He’ll do well there. I really can’t think of any Spanish artist that’s done as well internationally as he has this year.

Has the connection between Spain and Latin America become deeper over the past few years?
They are definitely working together more and more, even indie bands are starting to tour [in Latin America]. I think the success of Melendi is definitely an exception. He goes to a lot of markets where other traditional Spanish artists don’t go, and aren’t as successful. Selling out four nights in Ecuador is not an easy feat. His numbers in Miami are definitely above the norm.

Chris Ortiz
Chris Ortiz, president of Riff Producciones.

Are there any challenges that remain, remnants of the pandemic, is the supply chain back up and running, what’s the economic situation like?
As everywhere, there’s definitely big challenges with supplier. There’s definitely big challenges with stages, with lights, sound, video, all kinds of equipment, personnel. But, luckily, since these are tours that we’ve been doing for a long time, and we’ve had our suppliers for a long time, we’ve been able to avoid a lot of those issues.

But it is a problem. There’s a festival that we do called Musicians In Nature [Músicos en la Naturaleza], held in a natural park in Ávila. Last year, due to the forest fires, we had to move it from July to September. It was quite a challenge to find personnel and stages, because everybody and everything was booked. It was a real challenge.

As will be the rising costs across the board, I guess. Have you been forced to raise ticket prices?
Ticket-wise, we’re probably up about 20%, 25%, or 30%, on average. The Bob Dylan tour, for example, is about 30% more [expensive] than the one we did in 2019. Guys like Carrasco and Melendi are up as well. We haven’t noticed the fans slowing down, even though prices have been going up. And they’re probably going to continue to go up because venues are changing their deals and making you use their in-house equipment, which is not cheap.

Are you able to stay independent, because of the successful artists you have? And do you ever look into the future with a bit of apprehension in view of the consolidation happening everywhere?
It’s definitely getting much more difficult to survive as an independent. We’re having a much tougher time on international acts. We used to get a lot more international last calling in. It can mean having to resort to reaching agreements with other independents in other countries to be able to pool together and make joint offers.

But it’s us who started the trend of buying full tours in Spain over the past few years, and not using provincial promoters as much, in the same way bigger international companies are doing it on a global basis, which may have been a mistake. We still try to use local partners in a lot of places, who are really important to understand the pulse of their cities, to really optimize your media and promotion. You can really count on those guys, but it’s getting tougher and tougher.

If it enables better business to work with local promoters, that should be enticing for promoters, no matter how big?
For sure, that’s exactly the conclusion we’ve gotten to: it makes sense. The shows do better when you have those local promoters on tour. On the Bob Dylan tour, we’re promoting ourselves in our area, but in just about every city that we go to, like Madrid, Alicante, Huesca, Barcelona, etc, we partner with local people. We get much better results, it’s better for the venue and promotion deals, for the publicity, and it’s better for potential sponsors, particularly ocal sponsors.

And the shows end up selling. A lot of times you’ll program something, and it’s a local holiday, you didn’t even about; or you weren’t aware of certain specs of the venue, or the fact that they’re building a new venue; or there’s another show being planned for the area at that time, and all of a sudden you’re going head to head in a provincial market with another big show, which isn’t ideal for anybody.

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