Michi B Founder Michele Bernstein: Rawk’s Renaissance & Feeding The Soul

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Michele Bernstein, Founder Michi B.

Michele Bernstein loves details. And she loves rock ’n’ roll. When she departed WME after 18 years in 2020 to start her own consultancy, Michi B Inc., she created a business that gives her plenty of both. She revels in data and seeing who is coming to her clients’ shows. But she really loves going to rock shows. What the seatmaps and data can’t tell you is the emotional response of a rock audience to the artists and the music. It can’t tell you what they wore to the show. They can’t tell you if a single performance brought an audience – or you – to tears. And it still happens, despite the continual dismissal of the genre as a force. “I don’t buy that for a New York minute,” Bernstein says. “Rock is back, because, genuinely, people want it. Rock evokes emotions in a way other music does not.”

Pollstar: Can you give us examples of rock shows that are bringing out that emotional response?

Michele Bernstein: I was lucky enough to see Rage Against the Machine in Toronto, and I was at their shows in New York. I was watching every person in that audience. There is something so releasing about rock. Tool is one of those bands, too. It’s why they sell so many tickets. People want to experience that release live. Disturbed is also doing phenomenal business – this is the tour that was going to happen when COVID shut everything down, and it’s playing in amphitheaters now.

How do you market a rock tour as opposed to a big pop tour?

Rock shows are really marketed on Facebook, Instagram, rock radio still. There’s a few genres of terrestrial radio still around that are in the mix. Streaming platforms certainly do a better job of messaging [fans] when they’re coming into your preferences. Let’s say your favorite band is Tool. You listen to it four times a week. You’re going to get a personal email from Spotify saying, “Don’t miss Tool in your area.” There is a willingness now to change things up because we consume things so fast. But the funny thing about rock is we don’t see a lot of it on TikTok. We see all pop and hip-hop.

Why do you think that is?

I think it’s because rock music is not consumed in 10-second snippets. Our consumption of it is that whole experience. It’s just not where our audience lives; they’re not constantly on a platform like that.

What other platforms are useful in marketing rock shows?

Reddit plays a big role because those are fan communities. You can plant things there. When we did Muse, we Gamified the tease and let fans guess our routing. If you go on Reddit and you look around, a lot of stuff about UFC is on there, a lot of sports, science and other stuff. You find platforms where you can build up the mechanism to get the conversation going.

Is rock ‘n’ roll a truly generational genre?

It was fascinating to work with Dead & Company this summer to watch all that happen. It’s always generational, where kids go with moms and dads. I’ve been going to Dead shows for years, and I’m in awe of the generations together, always. You don’t see this in a pop setting unless you see Taylor moms and dads taking their daughters. But you see it in rock. Rock opens up this generational space that doesn’t happen in a lot of other genres. You see dads and sons at Pearl Jam. And you have Greta Van Fleet. These are kids from the backwoods of Michigan. We have that technology in YouTube and elsewhere that has taught another generation of people to go to rock shows. Kids want to go to Fleetwood Mac. My approach to marketing is more about hitting a straight-ahead fan, and then finding the people on the sides and coming in. I think that approach has quietly done really well. Nobody’s focused on it until now.

How do you explain the success of the new generation of rock bands like Greta Van Fleet, Måneskin and Dirty Honey in a world of pop, hip-hop and dance megastars?

The opening night of Greta Van Fleet’s “Starcatcher” tour was in Nashville, and [the audience] was predominantly young women, glamorously dressed. Wearing jewelry, even their eyes done up, with pearls and the like. It was phenomenal. I was blown away. I look around at their shows now and I see the DNA of the audience changing, and it’s younger. I do believe that this younger generation is sitting in those places. And I think it’s a big thing for Måneskin, too.

They are coming to rock shows in costume, as they do for Taylor Swift?

I look around at the audiences and see who’s coming. We pull seatmaps all the time and we see that it’s a cross-section of people. I look around and, literally, you would think you were in another generation. They’re young girls, but they’re dressed in bellbottoms; they wear midriffs. But they do the eye jewelry, too! My niece did her eye makeup almost like she did for Taylor. And she’s 9! This is wild. The bands speak to their audiences differently and the fans emulate what they’re seeing.

Are those same young audiences still coming out for concerts by the legacy rockers?

I saw Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks. It was pouring rain, during one of our famous atmospheric rivers, and Stevie Nicks was on first. These girls in the audience showed up in their shawls and makeup and the whole thing. It was like a movement. When she played the opener last year, Eddie Vedder came out with her and they did “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” I started to cry. I actually started to cry. In my lifetime, I’m lucky enough to see this. There’s this whole next generation of kids that was raised on this music because of their parents and they actually really enjoy it. And these were not old girls sitting by me at the show. These were younger girls. And those tickets were not cheap!