Business

Black Concert Promoters Join Forces to Boost Their Bargaining Power

Black Promoters Collective
Courtesy of Black Promoters Collective

A dozen independent business leaders with more than a century of combined experience are aligning to strengthen awareness and increase their bargaining power in the touring industry.

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down concerts in the United States and across the world, a group of 15 Black promoters started a weekly phone call to discuss the best ways to stay in business during the pandemic. A dozen members of the group came to realize they were an under-represented voice in the industry, despite the fact that between the men on the line their combined annual concert grosses topped $100 million. With more than 100 years of experience between them, including with acts ranging from Diana Ross to Jay-Z, they were still largely unrecognized and not enough artists, managers and agents were aware of them or their work.

When protests against racial injustice broke out across the country in late May, it became clear to the group it needed to take action to confront the touring industry’s own issues of systemic racism. Forming a united front, known as the Black Promoters Collective (BPC), the group now intends to first bring awareness to their presence in the industry and then work together to establish their new bargaining power.

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"The mission of the Black Promoters Collective is not to just complain and say what someone won't let you have. The mission is to stand up and raise your hand and to say, 'We are qualified. We have the resources financially and creatively, as well as the knowledge and know how to produce major events. We would like a seat at the table,'" says Gary Guidry, CEO of G-Squared Events. "Given the opportunity, we can provide the same high quality and the same [promotion] as anybody else."

The Collective is made up of Guidry, SJ Presents owner Shelby Joyner, The Right Productions Inc. vp Sulaiman Mausi, founder of One Musicfest Jay Carter, CEO of Variety Entertainment and founder of Funfest Concerts Leo Bennett, president and CEO of One50One Troy Brown, SMC Entertainment founder Fred Jones, ALW Entertainment founder Al Wash, Platinum Productions president Bill Ingram, CD Enterprises president Darryl Brooks, owner of Urban Vibe Entertainment Rick Johnson and president of Full Armor Media and Entertainment LLC Earl Ciccel. Collectively, they have also worked with Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin, Charlie Wilson, Destiny’s Child, Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder and more.

“We just want to let people out there know that we exist and we are powerful just like every other company,” Joyner says. “That is something that we're trying to fight every single day as a collective.”

“We definitely want this message to reach the artists managers and artists themselves, because some of the responsibility falls on them to hold these agents accountable,” adds Guidry. 

Guidry explains that even though these independent Black promoters have placed holds on buildings, put up money and presented routing to agents, their offers are often pushed aside and ignored in favor of ones from industry giants like Live Nation or AEG. He adds that there have been many occasions where his offers go completely ignored or without counter from the major agencies that only entertain bids from the corporate promoters. As a result, the independent Black promoters can lose out on their time and deposits with venues unless they can fill the dates with “the artists that they'll let us have,” according to Guidry. And while the larger promoters can recoup their money on everything from concessions to parking to sponsorships, the collective believes its members can help artists earn more and sell more tickets based on their closer relationships with the communities they serve.

“What happens is the Black promoter who started with these artists early in their career, we're not included [in the Live Nation or AEG deals],” says Guidry. “And the other side of that equation, is that often the artists grosses less than they actually could because the shows aren't promoted as solidly as they would have been with promoters who have a true organic grassroots connection to radio, to the community, to barbershops and beauty shops, club promoters, club DJs.”

In addition, the collective feels that even when they are able to strike deals with larger promoters they are pigeonholed into only working with “urban” acts or with Black artists.

“The same way they can promote something in my culture, I have everything it takes to promote something in their culture,” Joyner says of the racial divide in touring. “I can promote with my creativity, my team, and the way we promote and strategize we could do just as good a job as they can. So why are we left to fight over what is called ‘our culture’ and only take a small percentage of our culture and get 0% of any other culture.”

The collective plans to vie for tours from artists in all genres including R&B, country, rock, blues, hip-hop, pop and more, uniting their promotion teams, venues and radio stations to present nationwide offers that are comparable to those offered by the larger promoters.

This isn’t the first time a group of Black promoters have united to take on the white touring  establishment. In 1998, four Black promoters (including Jones) calling themselves the Black Promoters Association filed a $700 million lawsuit against numerous booking agencies and promoters, alleging antitrust and civil-rights violations for "maintaining and profiting from a conspiracy to do business only with white promoters and to exclude black promoters." That case was ultimately lost in 2005 when a New York judge ruled the Black promoters failed to present evidence to support their antitrust claims or evidence of conspiracy in restraint of trade, though several of the plaintiffs managed to settle with some of the agencies out of court. This time, the collective says they plan to approach the discrimination differently.

“The lawsuit was groundbreaking and necessary to draw attention to the preferential treatment of white promoters over Black, however; we are a different organization,” the collective said jointly. “The Black Promoters Collective is committed to the ongoing pursuit of equality amongst promoters in the entertainment and music industry. As the industry has changed they’ve watched how Black promoters have been consistently slighted. As current leaders and established promoters, the Collective is shedding light on a taboo issue in order to bring awareness and promote change.”

Meanwhile, Live Nation and AEG’s Goldenvoice have taken note of the demands for more inclusion across the country and started their own initiatives. In July, Goldenvoice formed GV Black with the mission “to help us create initiatives to highlight the black experience at our organization, and expand representation of the black community at Coachella.” The same month, Live Nation president and CEO Michael Rapino said in a letter to staff that the company was rolling out a diversity initiative to increase diversity over the next five years.

“We commit to increasing diversity at every level of our company,” Rapino wrote in the memo. “This will start at the very top with our Board of Directors, where we plan to nominate more Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and women candidates as we strive towards having at least 30% of our directors be diverse by 2025.”

But the collective says the large promoters still aren’t doing enough to strengthen diversity industry-wide, and over the years their businesses have been hurt by the extensive radius clauses for these corporate-backed festivals and meager deals presented by these larger promoters.

“A lot of people talk a good game because it's the right thing to say,” says Joyner. “If we're on a call and we're all the major independents in the game, and no one is calling us to say, 'We want to help you,' when we have over a hundred million dollars in business on the line, then I don't believe that is going to the right people.”

He adds, “If you want to make a change, start by picking up the phone.”