Well, this one sure wasn't your granddaddy's talent panel.
Called "Your Deal Sucks 101" and moderated by a manic Dan Steinberg, talent buyer at Auburn, Wash.-based Square Peg Presents, the annual "agency forum" at the recent International Assn. of Venue Managers conference in Phoenix was either entertaining or abusive, depending on who you asked when it was over.
At the very least, it can't be said that the venue managers in attendance were bored as Steinberg and his intrepid panel discussed ways for building managers to book more talent. On hand were Kim Bedier, GM of Comcast Arena in Everett, Wash.; Stiletto Entertainment manager David Britz; ICM agent Rick Farrell; S.L. Feldman & Associates agent Rich Mills; Sherpa Concerts talent buyer Jason Zink; Canadian promoter Harvey Cohen of the Union; and hometown hero Danny Zelisko, president of Danny Zelisko Presents.
Steinberg surely alienated some in the room with his outspoken distaste for one-size-fits-all "rack room rates" and rent caps at venues. Then again, his seriousness was tough to gauge. The word "asshole" was used more than once to describe his approach, but even more people appeared to find the panel and its moderator/provocateur both entertaining and informative.
Between Steinberg's irreverent, no-holds-barred questions, panelists discussed how they conduct business. Building artists is better than poaching them, Mills said, adding, "I don't poach. I add value."
The concept of stakeholders adding value was a common theme. Bottom line: Agents, promoters and managers want venues to be partners, not just "landlords," as Britz put it. "We want to work with people that want to work with us," he said.
Later asked by Steinberg, apropos of nothing, to choose between facility management firms SMG and Global Spectrum, Britz declined to pick one over the other. But he did point out that SMG was proactive in wanting to work with his client Straight No Chaser. "They sought out the relationship, which spoke volumes to me about that company," he said.
As the lone building rep on the panel, Bedier was often on the spot, but handled the pressure well. When it comes to working with promoters, agents and artists in cutting deals to attract content, Bedier admitted she was "willing to discuss anything." The prospect of capping rent came up more than once, and Bedier said, "I'm happy to do a rent cap. I have dark days I need to fill, so I will discuss anything that is fair to both of us." Later, she said, "I don't do rack rate. Ever."
In terms of promoters partnering on shows, Zelisko pointed out that promoters usually are only interested in such a deal "when we're concerned about a show." Zelisko's description of his most creative deal ever, too complex to explain here, was greeted with awe.
Farrell said that if he gets an offer from a building that lists a house nut?the amount it needs to break even?rather than itemized expenses, he sends it back. "Break it down," he said. "We want to see the costs." Acknowledging that some expenses are a moving target, Farrell added, "Give us your closest estimate based on shows in the past and we'll settle on the actuals."
Other revelations from the panelists: Most of their long-term industry relationships began or have been nurtured at bars. Touting that a building is green generates positive PR but doesn't help promoters and agents get bookings. Playing a sub-par building is better than skipping a market entirely. Canceling a show is better than postponing one. And personality matters. "I wouldn't have gotten very far in this business without at least a part of one," Zelisko said.
With Steinberg asking Zelisko to choose between Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and ex-Live Nation chairman and promoting legend Michael Cohl (Zelisko chose Cohl); urging panelists to rate and compare country and Christian music; and even questioning the very existence of S.L. Feldman founder Sam Feldman (a joke), the panelists had no place to hide.
Still, they managed to unearth some useful gems for the audience, which, after all, was the point. Otherwise, Steinberg pointed out helpfully, those in attendance would be "listening to the ticket guys jerking each other off in the other room."