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Concert Biz Pep Talk

Exceptional rabblerousing speech by Rob Light of Creative Artists Agency, delivered at 2004 Concert Industry Consortium:

    TURBULENT TIMES:
    Where are the answers?

    ….Every new technology since the beginning of the last century has caused that generation to scream “the sky is falling.” The silent film business was a wonderful new technology that captured the hearts of America. The industry screamed when talkies were developed.

    And for every piano player and high-pitched actor put out of work, 20 jobs were created in their wake for sound techs and those who score orchestras. The car destroyed the need for horse and buggy, trucking undermined the rail business and the airlines reinvented travel. In the 1920s, radio proclaimed the end of records. In the ’50s, TV pronounced the death of radio and film.

    Every change in technology was destined to ruin the business it evolved from while most of that original industry tried to cling to the status quo and avoid change.

    ….In the early ’60s, rock ‘n’ roll was in its infancy and a new generation emerged — a generation that would never use the words “music” and “business” in the same sentence.

    Back in the ’40s and ’50s there were touring swing bands, cabaret singers, even Sinatra and Crosby (Bing, not David). There were powerful personal appearance agents, local club owners and orchestra promoters. But, for the most part, those agents, promoters and most of the venues looked at the coming of rock ‘n’ roll as a passing fad. They didn’t pay attention to what the youth of America was clamoring for. They didn’t see an opportunity to do anything but make some quick money and denounce the art form.

    And, as the ’60s came upon us, they bitched about the technology (45s, 8-tracks, amplification, FM radio) and complained about a bunch of young, disrespectful executives who were biting at the bit.

    On the promoter side were a bunch of young entrepreneurs and innovators who challenged the status quo and did something new and different. They were developing rooms in their home towns to give this new generation of bands a place to play. Bill Graham, Mike and Jules Belkin, Don Law, Jack Boyle and Sam L’Hommedieu, Larry Magid (who gave up a job as an agent in New York), Allen Spivak, Barry Fey and Cecil Corbett are but a few, as I could name so many more.

    ….FM radio created album rock. There would be no Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath were it not for FM. And with the blossoming of FM, the radio business decried the end of AM radio. Not so. The recordable cassette was going to be the end of records as we knew it. Not so. Some pundits even cried that a new music genre — disco — would be the end of contemporary music. Thankfully, not so.

    In the ’70s and ’80s there were national promoters. Concerts West, run by Jerry Weintraub, was promoting Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra and Neil Diamond in arenas across America. Agents and promoters were concerned that national tours would put them out of business. It didn’t happen. The first amphitheaters opened at that time. Nederlander created a new venue — fans loved it, artists loved it and agents loved it (they had not yet created surcharges). Yet, arenas were suddenly concerned about summer events ruining the arena business. It didn’t happen.

    Labels were already starting to merge and create numerous banners under corporate headings. The cry of too many albums, not enough airplay, no follow through on records and play lists not being open became an all too familiar refrain. Promoters bitched that the deals were too tight, agents bitched that promoters were ripping off the artists and everyone bitched that the catering sucked.

    ….So flash forward again, to the ’80s and ’90s. A new technology, the CD, comes along — kills the LP, kills the cassette, thank God the 8-track was already gone, and creates new revenue and new life for artists, labels, agents and promoters. Another new innovation, MTV, is created and the purists scream bloody murder: It will kill the touring business and the radio business. But innovators see opportunity.

    A whole new generation of artists and music emerges. And, a new generation of promoters, agents and innovators starts to come forward. Rick Van Santen and Paul Tollett start Goldenvoice. Seth Hurwitz starts a club in Washington, D.C. There is Lionel Bea, John Peters, Monqui Concerts, and Perry and Amir in Detroit.

    We see new tours, new venues, and artists like Perry Farrell creating Lollapalooza or Kevin Lyman and Darryl Eaton creating Warped. Consolidation, a la SFX, was innovative and changed the paradigm, which some embraced and some denounced.

    But even consolidation could not stop innovators, who today create events like Coachella and Bonnaroo; two festivals originally created by innovators without a Clear Channel, AEG or House of Blues.

    New indie labels emerged against the tide of Wall Street starting to sniff around music. Sub Pop, Vagrant, Epitaph and Matador. We had new agencies like High Road, Leave Home Booking and Pinnacle. There are numerous great new managers who have brought a fresh, innovative and rule-breaking view to the artist development process.

    So, what do we learn? Technology changes, obstacles have always existed, stagnation tries to hold an industry back, complainers and negativity always abound. And yet, through the clutter of the noise, every generation manages to find its innovators and entrepreneurs.

    ….There is a great book by Clayton Christensen called “The Innovators Dilemma.”

    Its premise is that large companies that are segmented are unprepared to deal with disruptive technologies. What is a disruptive technology?

    It is a technology that so goes against the grain of the status quo as to undermine said status quo, yet the disruptive technology remains so untested that it is hard to measure. The premise continues that said companies are so fueled by the need for growth that they wait to see where the wave will hit before engaging. Then, of course, they’ve missed the wave. To deal with this kind of change, Christensen believes that you must deal with small markets — but small markets don’t solve the needs of large companies.

    In essence, there is no way to forecast what a disruptive technology will unveil to the market. Markets that don’t now exist cannot be evaluated, therefore we have to be willing to go and explore, and attempt (and yes, sometimes fail) to find answers. Unfortunately, Marc Geiger, Don Muller and Steve Rennie did not succeed with ARTISTdirect (or, maybe fortunately for me in getting Don), but their vision was unique and their idea will bear fruit in the future.

    ….Here is how Youth Intelligence breaks these groups down.

    When researching the 14- to 30-year-olds, here are some of the interesting tidbits that came out of their research, and I highlight these as I don’t want to just bore you with numbers.

    Sixty-nine percent said they did not consider downloading songs without paying to be illegal. Eighty percent said that the venue in which a concert took place was either somewhat important or very important. Eighty-six percent said ticket price was somewhat or very important to deciding on going to a show.

    If you had the opportunity to go to the NACPA lunch today, you saw research by the Nielsen Company on this same group saying that teens are creatures of habit that rarely move beyond the “Core Four” activities: movies, TV, video games and hanging out. Parents are comfortable with the Core Four because they are safe.

    Where is the concert experience? When the same study asked about leisure time, watching TV, listening to music, being online, playing video games and talking on the phone dominated the day. AC Nielsen notes that they found it interesting that attending a live concert doesn’t even come into play as an option. This study is a fascinating look into the teen-age mind and what they think of the concert experience, which is not much. Looking at these numbers, we are looking down the barrel of a gun.

    We are looking at generations of kids and young adults who don’t have the passion for the concert experience and are not anxiously looking to find out. It is not my place to run through the whole report, but I hope NACPA will share it with everyone at some point as I believe it will spark great discussion and hopefully some innovation.

    ….The real revelation, which won’t surprise this room is that by the time they are older teens online takes over, with more than 21 percent of older teens spending more than four hours a day online. Online is the radio station for these teens, and online will be the radio station for an even bigger population in the near future because we are a society that wants what it wants, when it wants it.

    And what about those over 30 and even more so, over 40? Billboard tells us that the majority of CDs are sold to people over 25. There was one week late last year where 11 of the Top 50 albums were recorded by artists over 40 and that 35 percent of the albums were bought by consumers who had also celebrated that birthday. Artists like Simon & Garfunkel, Michael McDonald, Rod Stewart and Bette Midler were part of that group.

    It is a fact that 4 million people turn 50 every year, and consumers over 50 spent $400 billion. The biggest growth in movie ticket sales are among men and women over 40. By 2010, more than half of the population will be 40 or above.

    What do we learn in this Readers Digest version of demographics? Older people want to be young, younger people want to act older, we are demolishing traditional stages of life, shortening childhood, rushing adolescence, demanding more of young adulthood and middle age now reaches until you’re 60.

    ….I reread every keynote address before coming here and in Brian Becker’s talk in 2001 he spoke about Clear Channel and five key drivers for the future:

    1. Working together to expand the universe of activity.
    2. Broaden their partnership with artists and events.
    3. Provide value to the fans.
    4. Bring fresh life to the concert experience.
    5. Embrace technology.
    I agree and I think he spoke for all promoters and arenas big and small. HoB, AEG, Jam, John Scher and Seth Hurwitz would agree that they want to do the same thing in their universes. So, I am not picking on Brian whom I respect. But, it’s three years later and we need to re-address these five points.

    One: Let’s work together. How about some new inventive formats at radio that might take a little longer to find an audience and a rating? How about back-announcing songs when they are played? How about putting as much promotion behind individual shows as radio shows?

    Two: We would love to broaden the partnership between artists and events. Let’s take some of the sponsorship money and turn it into marketing some of the artists and not the venues.

    Three: Let’s take some of the time in arenas on Jumbotrons and promote the shows. Let’s cross promote against other events.

    Four: Let’s create value for the fans — let them bring in coolers and blankets, let’s lower the parking fee and Ticketmaster surcharge when the ticket price is lower because a younger audience does not have as much money. Let’s take into consideration the cost of a beer and popcorn.

    Five: Let’s work together to give the fan something, say “thank you” when it’s over and bring them back. Let’s allow the artist to communicate with those fans through the e-mail addresses collected by Ticketmaster, the promoter and the venue. Let’s find a way to have our audience walk out the door wanting to come back.

    ….Our audience is off doing something else and we need to find innovators to address that.

    Last year, 55 million people walked through the gates of state fairs and 126 million (almost half the population) went to the Top 25 amusement parks in North America. Casinos, theatres, water parks, family shows and sports all continue to attract huge audiences. People want to be entertained. How did music and concerts lose their loyalty?

    The worldwide entertainment industry is projected to grow by 5 percent a year over the next four years.

    In the last three years, film, television and video games have grown; only recorded music is down. In projecting forward, film, TV and video all are projected to grow around the world; music is projected to decline.

    DVD sales were up 20 percent last year, selling an experience that is not nearly as portable as music nor nearly as personal.

    Where are the new ideas? How are we going to react to a world that has your cell phone, your iPod and your PDA in one unit that is no bigger than a credit card?

    Look at how the independent labels have found a way to embrace and talk to their audience while the major labels are all losing sales, cutting jobs and not following through on projects the independents have never done better.

    ….So how did we lose the fan’s love of the music experience? How do we get them to more shows each year and to see new artists? Like most things, there is no one answer and no black and white answer.

    We lose when music gets complacent. We lose when surcharges and ticket fees raise the price of tickets. We lose when a beer costs as much as a movie ticket. We lose when we stop sticking with artists for longer than a single. We lose when we push the guarantees. We lose when the fan can’t bring a cooler and blanket into a shed. We lose when no one deals with traffic issues. We lose when the bathrooms are disgusting. We lose when we don’t speak to our fans where they live. We lose when a band looks at their shoes and forgets to play the hits.

    We lose when we don’t find or create that extra something to make that experience special. We lose because a CD doesn’t give you as much as a DVD, Verizon Amphitheatre is not as much fun as Disneyland, and the computer is more entertaining than the radio and actually tells you who is performing the song.

    Maybe — just maybe — we lose because no artist, no promoter, no marketer, no attorney, no business manager, no agent, no venue owner, no one at a label and no one programming a radio station understands who the person is that pays our salary.

    It is the fan and that fan’s relationship to the music and audience.

    So where do we win? We win by embracing our audience and understanding who they are and where they are and not lumping them into irrelevant groups. We win by understanding how a video game can give a song more airplay than a radio station or MTV and that the interactivity of video is compelling to a younger generation. We win by creating a concert experience to match that.

    We win by understanding that every new generation will be the most marketed to generation of all time, so we need to talk to them differently and more intelligently. We win by charging less for beer, less for convenience charges, less for parking and then saying, “Can you lower your ticket price and guarantee?” We win when Dave Marsden finds a way to turn a loss into a win. We win by embracing technology. We win by embracing crazy ideas. We win by being innovative.

    ….Whether you work for a promoter or a label, whether you work at a building or live on a tour bus, whether you sell tickets or take tickets, whether you are an assistant or the head of an agency, you have a choice. You can be complacent or you can aggressively change what your piece of the world lets you change. You can accept mediocrity or you can challenge yourselves and those around you to work at a higher level. You can accept the status quo and complain or you can find a new answer. You can live and flounder in the model of yesterday’s success or you can choose to learn from it, be inspired by those who created it and then build upon it in an innovative way that no one could have expected.

“Let’s put on a show!!!” I’m fired up – how about you? It’s good to know there are people on the inside who see things the way they really are – I hope someone responds.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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