Billboard Touring Conference: The Industry's Top Agents on the Guns N' Roses Reunion, Garth Brooks' 'Staggering Numbers'
"Be prepared for an onslaught of great new punk bands," said Paradigm's Marty Diamond in the wake of the election.
Concert touring has in many ways become the lifeblood of the popular music industry, as artists seek to recalibrate earnings after the disruption of streaming. So it was no surprise that the executives onstage at the Billboard Touring Conference were able to fill the venue for “Contemporary Touring Strategies: The Agents’ Perspective,” Nov. 9 at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Everyone seemed to agree with Creative Artist Agency co-head of contemporary music Rick Roskin that, “The job of an agent is to create opportunity for your client. That can be opportunity within the touring industry, through sponsorship, any facet of entertainment.”
Indeed, new state-of-the-art stadiums, a plethora of festivals and enthusiastic sponsor support have rolled out a welcome mat not only for bona fide super stars, like Coldplay -- which grossed $144.3 million in the first 30 shows of its Head Full of Dreams tour -- but to newcomers and so-called “legacy acts,” classic acts enjoying renewed success as fans introduce their kids.
William Morris Endeavor Nashville partner Rob Beckham noted that country continues to be more reliant on radio that other forms of pop music. “'Cruise,’ by Florida Georgia Line just became the biggest country stream song of all time, though I’m sure the number is still a fraction of thousands of other songs, but for us, radio play continues to drive physical CD sales.”
Beckham client Garth Brooks just became the first act to go “seven-times diamond,” meaning seven of his albums sold more than 10 million physical units -- a remarkable achievement in an age where filesharing has become the new normal for so many fans. Brooks -- who also recently got his own The Garth Channel on Sirius XM -- kicks it old-school when it comes to concerts, too, putting every ticket out at a flat-rate price of $69, and doing as many as three arena performances in one- to two days. “I have artists that won’t even do two shows a night in a club, let alone three shows in an arena. He’s playing to 60-70,000 people per show. He’s sold out 50 markets on the second part of his current tour, more than five million tickets. The numbers are staggering.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Beckham cited rising star client Kane Brown whose self-titled debut album has gone Gold (500,000 copies sold) without the driver of a hit single. “He’s the first guy in our format to break through without having to have radio.” Beckham credits, to a large extent, booking Brown as the opening act on the Florida Georgia Line tour, where “he’s killing it!”
A sizable chunk of dialogue was devoted to the road-ready popularity of legacy acts. Citing successful tours by Beach Boy Brian Wilson and The Monkees, moderator Shirley Halperin, news director for Billboard, asked, “What is it about acts over 50 years old that keeps bringing people in?”
“People wanna hear these songs,” said APA executive vp worldwide music Bruce Solar, who booked both tours. “As long as they perform ‘em well, fans keep coming back, and they bring their kids. At the Monkees and Brian Wilson shows you’ll see 12-, 13- 15-year-olds with their parents.” Referring to the 1967 Monkees tune, Paradigm Talent Agency head of music for the East Coast Marty Diamond observed, “In fairness to the so-called nostalgia acts, if a 14-year-old kid is hearing ‘Daydream Believer’ for the first time, it’s a new song.”
Artist Group International president Marsha Vlasic represents, among others, Elvis Costello, whose began his musical career in the punk/new wave surge of the ‘70s, but subsequently went on to record and write songs in genres that range from country to Cole Porter-esque. “I don’t consider Elvis Costello nostalgia. He’s become a showman. He has his hardcore fans, but he goes out on that stage and he’ll do a show that any generation can appreciate.” Neil Young was another client cited by Vlasic as having “stayed current all these years.”
Needless to say, the panelists agreed, rock is not dead. “Heritage is on fire,” summarized CAA’s Roskin, who had summer success with Slipknot, Korn, Disturbed and Rob Zombie. “A lot of us have been doing this a long time and seen music change, from synth-pop to EDM to power pop, goth, whatever it was, but rock has always been there. I always say, black concert t-shirts will never go out of style. There are disenfranchised kids wearing them everywhere.”
Roskin cited a program CAA rolled out with Live Nation called “Tickets Rock,” that he said was “a model we stole from country, with ticket that went out to the public, that you could buy to all the shows, and we were at 2,500 to 5,000 tickets in every market before they even went on sale.”
The phenomenon of festivals that sell-out even before the acts are announced was also touched on. Fermaglich, whose UTA booked Guns N’ Roses recent reunion tour, said Coachella was strategically selected as the launch pad to be followed by a series of headline shows, a conscious decision made “so the band could control all the aspects of the show. No different than what you’d talk to a young band about when they’re headlining clubs.”
From the new band perspective, “no question that [promoters like] Gary Spivack and Danny Wimmer, their festivals are going to help to invigorate their touring ability, because 35,000-40,000 people per day are coming over three weekends, and that’s a wonderful platform for newer bands plus some of the heritage stuff as well. From a curating standpoint I think it’s really smart the way they’ve built that into a kind of circuit.”
Paradigm’s Diamond likened agencies to dream factories. “Sara Bareilles said ‘I think I want to write a Broadway musical,’ and someone in my office who was passionate about her, had connective tissue, ran with it. That relationship spawned a very successful Broadway musical [Waitress]. We were able to help Sara do something that fulfilled a dream.”
Bringing the conversation back down to earth, Diamond advised, “Be prepared for an onslaught of great new punk bands. Because of what happened the other night with the election, there is going to be some venting."