There are a lot of moving parts in the music industry. For just one show there is the artist, their crew, stage production, security, ushers, bartenders, audio and light engineers; the list goes on. One of the most crucial roles is the person that makes the show exist in the first place: the promoter. They play multiple roles in the concert process. I met with Brad from Live Nation to chat about what he does to put on shows in Chicago.
What is your job description?
Brad: I am in the booking department. Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to bring shows to Chicago, and to the territories that we work under so essentially the midwest at large. That means working with agents and managers, whoever we can or sometimes with our national office to help bring shows. Then bring them to venues in town to confirm shows and get them on sale.
Lifecycle is: you get the availability and you book the show, and you work with our ticketing team, marketing team, and production team. Our marketing team markets the shows, sells the shows, tries to sell as many tickets as possible and production team are the people who are on the ground, whether it’s building the stage, or the lighting or the green room. So as the talent buyers and bookers, our goal is to be the face of the background work for the artist. If they have questions about production stuff, we have to be able to translate back and forth between: ‘if you want this you have to block off this amount of seats because they’ll be blocked by the camera’ or ‘if you want this, this venue can’t hold that’ or ‘it’s not selling because there’s these other events’ or ‘ads are more expensive because it’s political season so there’s a lot more traffic.’ So as talent buyers we are essentially account managers. The accounts we manage are the acts that we find.
So as the account manager of the artist or band, do you book more single shows versus a tour? And once you book the show and it’s all done, do you still have them as a ‘client’?
B: There’s the touring shows and local shows. The way that the touring business works is when you’re buying the shows, you’re buying the rights to that show in Chicago, and you’re saying that ‘under these parameters we are the only ones that are putting on a Chicago show.’ So you’re not going to do our show and then do another show right away. You’re saying this show is confirmed with us.
I’d like to give background on the touring business because traditionally how it worked back in the day, they would go to each city, they’d say here are the couple promoters for each city, they would get offers from each of the promoters and whoever had the best offer would confirm it. And then they would play LA, San Fran, wherever, and that’s how the business worked. Now Live Nation, or different national promoters, will buy tours on a larger scale. So instead of saying we just want Chicago, they’ll say they want the entire tour across the US so that’s the national touring perspective of the company.
Connor: So Chicago being where it is, most tours come through the city.
B: Right but that might not even be true [for tours]. If an artist is on Lolla, then there won’t be a Chicago show per se, or for a different festival because then they get radiused out, so Lolla and Pitchfork can be your only Chicago place.
Talk about a radius clause.
B: It’s pretty simple. Usually for festivals but when there’s a radius clause, they say ‘yeah we’re going to play your festival but for three months before or three months after…and whether it’s for 30, 50, 100 miles, we’re not gonna play any show in that area.’
So what’s step one of your job?
B: There’s not one thing. It’s like any other type of sale. Either we reach out and say ‘hey we hear this person’s available’, or ‘we hear they’re going on tour, we’re interested in having this person play.’ Or they’ll reach out, and I’d say it’s also a pretty healthy mix of this, but more so people reaching out and say ‘hey we are playing a tour right now, we want to be in Chicago the first half of January, we want to play this capacity room.’
What’s interesting about being a promoter is there’s two sides of the business. There’s the business of the consumer, because ultimately at the end of the day we’re selling tickets. So there’s the B2C aspect of it, but there’s also the B2B aspect where the supply is heavy, so you have to be able to attract the artist.
And you’ve worked on both sides? The buyer’s side and the seller’s?
B: Right. So now I’m on the buyer’s side, before I was on the sell side.
Talk a little bit about both, quick summaries and which one you like more.
B: Those are good terms to describe the function, but it really dilutes what the job is because we’re not trading. Ultimately what it comes down to is we are producers. There are three things we do; we are producers – literally put on and produce an event – we are financiers, we put up money for an event and we try to recoup the investment and more than anything we are artist service representatives. While we are buying the rights for the show, we work for the artist and want to make sure that the presentation for their show is up to their standards. We want to make sure that there’s a full house, they’re comfortable, and happy with the way that everything went down. That’s the buy side.
But it’s not just buying. In order to do that you have to be able to build a relationship and understand production. There’s different production when you’re doing a couple hundred cap room as opposed to doing Soldier Field. On the agency side of things, the sell side, your objective is similar: helping the artist achieve their goals. But you go out and sign the artist, and it depends because every artist goal is different.
C: There’s a greater amount of facilitation on that side.
B: And then on top of that it’s going out and finding opportunities. I think that’s what makes a good agent. So an artist puts out an album, now they’re going to tour, that’s a given. But what makes a good agent is they’re always pitching their artist, always out there finding new offers, always spreading the word, always adding as much value as possible in different parts of their career. Those are the best agents. There is a standard toward festival season, but what about a one-off branded party? How do you find the random opportunities to maximize the exposure that your artist is getting, the amount of money they can make, and the opportunities that they’re privy to. It’s just a different perspective, different incentives. And on top of that, it’s [typically] commission-based for an agent, so they make a percentage of what the artist makes.
C: So that’s like true sales. By saying it’s the sell side it makes a bit more sense because that’s how traditional sales works.
B: I think that’s why they call it the buy and sell side. As an agent you are trying to sell so someone will pay your artist. On the promoter side, X artist wants to play a show. I’m making these numbers up, but an artist wants a guarantee of $10,000, and it costs $10,000 to put on the show. Gotta turn the lights on, pay your ushers, get security, catering. You have to pay for all these shows. If zero people show up to that show, two things happen: the artist gets $10,000 still and we lost $20,000. What we call that is taking a risk; that’s what we do as promoters. So when I talked about the three different aspects, we put up money with the hope that we recoup that payment.
C: You’ve worked on both sides, which side do you like more?
B: The promoters goals always change, and I love what I’m doing now.
C: It sounds like you’re just a fan of the industry, so it’s a different area you get to work in and learn about.
B: It feels like this is where I want to be for a really long time. It feels good because as someone who was looking for a job for a while last year to finally want to dig in and get to work and build something, it just feels really good. And it has to do with the people I work with; my boss and the people I work with are incredible. It might be the environment but the job too fits really well with what I graduated in.
What did you go to school for?
B: My major was Telecommunications. Media stuff.
C: Did you have a focus?
B: The focus was the business side of media. I went to Indiana and the three aspects that I got exposure to were: business and economics, production, and the regulatory, government side of media. And I loved all of them.
C: And if you work in just the production side of media, you should understand the business side and any regulations you need to consider.