Five Questions with Live Nation Labs' Eric Garland at SXSW

Eric Garland doesn't attend many industry conferences now that he's GM of Live Nation Labs, but he came to SXSW 2013 to see family and friends, talked on a panel about artist revenue streams and ended with a good story about two industry veterans. talked to Garland about that pre-panel moment in the green room, as well as how artists deal with the realities of greater transparency in the digital age and how Live Nation Labs is sweating the small stuff.
Your panel talked about having hope and how entrepreneurs deal with hope artists have.
The nature of being a creative person is being ever hopeful. It's necessary and essential to your potential success. If you're not someone who can create a little bit of a reality distortion field, who can willingly suspend disbelief, you are unlikely to do the things one must do to have success in the business. So yes, hope springs eternal. It has to. In the digital age, there's so much transparency. We are so frequently confronted with the economic realities of the business that it causes additional dissonance. It causes us to confront the gap between where we see ourselves and where we actually are in our careers.
Do you think the discussions that have been online, whether it's been blogs or media reporting, have been good or bad for the hope that's out there?
Good or bad… the qualitative question is tough, because it just is, meaning, self-examination is a part of most industries. But in the entertainment businesses, self-examination is even more core to the identity of the sector. We are in the business of show. We are creative people. We are deconstructionists, therefore. We are interested in these existential questions. I think on the one hand, yes, the discussion on the Internet and the public forums in which these discussions take place encourage the reality distortion field, encourage the delusion among us. On the other hand, there's a balance now. These are the places; these are the discussions in which we are now confronted with economic reality. I think it was easy 20 years ago to be a young artist, or struggling artist, and simply ignore or deliberately refuse to confront economic reality. Now if you read a blog, if you follow someone in the industry on Twitter, if you leave the house, you're being bombarded with economic realities, with statistics, with daunting realities everyday.
Maybe it's me, but it seems you were out in the public a lot more when you were BigChampagne Eric Garland. You're quieter now that you're Live Nation Eric Garland. What are you doing now that you're Live Nation Eric Garland?
I hope that I'm not quiet. [Less visible.] I hope that I'm less willing to get on an airplane. That's a meaningful distinction to me. I'm enjoying the benefit of not having to grow and build a startup business all day, every day. I lived on airplanes for a number of years. I have a young family now. I'm thrilled to come home to them most days. So I don't think I'll ever be accused of being quiet. But I'm definitely harder to get at an industry gathering. The reason I'm here at SXSW is that I'm from Texas and most of my friends and family are still here, and this becomes a very much a mix of business and pleasure for me. If this were just an industry gathering in Austin, Texas, you probably wouldn't be standing here with me. But I have folks here, I have people here, and I want to drink Shiner Bock with them and eat great food with them. There's lifestyle even in this trip. When the trip doesn't support my lifestyle agenda, it's harder to get me to go.
What are you working on at Live Nation Labs?
The big idea is a really plain and simple and small idea, which is lucky for me because those are the kind that are easy for me to have, profound only in their simplicity and obviousness. And I'm not really being facetious. I think I've learned about myself that I'm best when focused at opportunities that a pragmatist would point out are right there for the taking.
The simple thesis for us is the experience of being a fan of live entertainment is not really good for simple reasons. There are some easy opportunities to make being a fan of live entertainment suck less. Using the tools that I've been handed -- which are web, mobile and our incubator, our disruptive laboratory -- I'm just trying to incrementally improve that experience in easy ways. The big idea is fix the small stuff.
Tell me about the green room and what was going on between Ted Cohen and Jeff Price. How funny was that?
OK, maybe I slightly misspoke when I said that I was only here for the friends and family. I'm also here because SXSW is a peculiar gathering. It is not quite like any other industry gathering, and I was reminded of that when I walked into a classic SXSW moment in the green room.

I was pre-panelling with Bullethead (Scott Ambrose Reilly) with Trevor (Skeet from Spotify) and Jeff Price (founder of TuneCore), when Ted Cohen (from TAG Strategic) wandered over to say hello. As I do, I stuck out my hand and said hello, and 10 seconds later found myself directly in the crossfire of a terrible confrontation between Ted and Jeff. The way I was sitting I had Ted immediately to my left and Jeff immediately to my right, angry, red-faced, leaning across me. I jumped out of my seat, I jumped into Bullethead's lap, I threw my arms around his neck and said, “Mommy and Daddy are fighting!"
I just realized I have been coming to SXSW for about 20 years. I don't want to say this is my 20th because I'm not sure of that, but about 20 years. And there is an aspect of coming back to SXSW that is like coming back to your high school reunion with all the attendant dramas. There are long histories. There's alcohol involved. There's barbecue for breakfast. The conditions seem to be exactly right for creating some really memorable moments, and I had one today for sure.