The opening panel at the 6th annual Billboard Touring Conference and Awards, which runs Nov. 4-5 in New York, spotlighted one of the music industry's largest challenges: artist development. Panelists noted that concert ticket discounting, and innovative marketing and sponsorship programs played a role in attracting fans and developing new acts during the past year. They also placed their bets on the artists primed to have a huge 2010.

Liana Farnham, VP of concerts marketing and integration at MSG Entertainment and Fuse, moderated the panel, which also included: C3 Presents partner Charles Attal; William Morris Endeavor Entertainment agent Rob Beckham; Cornerstone co-founder Jon Cohen; Bowery Presents partner Jim Glancy; Live Nation talent buyer Harvey Leeds; and Creative Artists Agency agent Brian Manning.

Pricing and discounting
The panel agreed today (Nov. 4) that discounting has been necessary over the past year, because of the economy. But moving forward, it’s a strategy that could hurt artists in the long-term. “While the discounts help bring people in, it’s harmful for us to train audiences to wait to buy instead of rewarding them when tickets hit the market,” Manning said. “I would like to be more proactive in trying to force those discounts early on and rewarding those fans who come to the table in the beginning.”

Fostering new talent
Leeds pointed to Live Nation’s Club Pass program and its new band showcase at the Gramercy Theater in New York as a way the company is fostering new talent. “The first time we did [the showcase] we had 92 people,” he said. “The biggest night we had 480 people. We have brand new bands, every genre.” From the showcase, Leeds said Live Nation is developing two or three bands, one of which is a group of NYU students dubbed Shinobi Ninja. “We booked them with a dance crew and that first night 300 people showed up,” he said.

Record company involvement
Panelists also suggested that more support was needed from record labels. “I think what’s wrong is that the labels don’t get their hands dirty enough in this aspect. The label should look at the touring aspect just as much as radio or anything else, if not more,” Cohen said. “[Leeds] made the point that it’s about [more] money and tour support -- it’s not. It’s about muscle and energy and passion and that’s what’s missing.”

Reaching the consumer through media
Attal told the panelists last year that C3 spent 75% of its marketing budgets digitally. Now, C3's festival marketing -- it produces Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits -- is close to 90% digital. Country is the flip side of that. “I don’t know how many people who go to a George Strait show are looking at digital advertising online," Beckham said. "They’re listening to the radio station and they’re looking at the arts section of their newspapers.”

"Media is important but its also how you activate media," Cohen said. "One of the things we see mistakes being made is people just buy media and that’s it." Cohen said Cornerstone focuses on integrating buys and promotions in smart ways. Cornerstone tapped the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog for a recent Xbox sponsorship at Bonnaroo this year to do artist interviews. The segments were released virally and eventually caught the eye of Conan O' Brien - the Insult Comic was a regular feature on his previous late night show -- and the videos were featured on the “Tonight Show.” "It’s about how creative we can get," Cohen said.

Artist to watch in 2010?
Leeds: All The Day The Holiday (unsigned according to Leeds)
Cohen: Matt & Kim
Glancy: Passion Pit
Attal: LCD Soundsystem
Beckham: Eric Church
Manning: Florence and the Machine
Farnham: Owl City