Billboard Live Music Summit

Billboard Touring Conference: Indie Promoter Seth Hurwitz on Terrorism and How He Inspired Dave Grohl's Guitar Throne

Billboard Touring and Conference Awards Day 2
Michael Seto

Ray Waddell (Billboard) leading 10 Questions With... Seth Hurwitz (Chairman, I.M.P) at the Billboard Touring and Conference Awards on Nov. 19, 2015 at The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.

Topping Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman's outspoken answers to a "10 Questions With..." appearance at the Billboard Touring Conference is a tough task, but Seth Hurwitz -- co-owner of Washington D.C.'s 9:30 Club and independent promoter -- delivered in spades with a no-holds-barred series of hilarious, insightful comments on the music industry.

Charmingly brash, Hurwitz explained the reasons why his venues, which also include Maryland's Merriweather Post Pavilion amphitheater, are so successful even though they're not booked by any larger corporate agencies. "Our strategy with all our venues is make them so good that artists feel that's where they have to play. That's our strength. There's always a bigger offer to play somewhere else. They can make more money playing somewhere else and we lose that battle. If you want to play our venue, let's talk."

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Asked how he handles financial negotiations with booking agents, Hurwitz responded, "I personally try not to have that conversation anymore. If it's a money issue, they're gone. If you get on the phone and argue about money, you're going to lose fast. You can plead your case as to why you're the better venue and better promoter and that's the argument you need to win. I can do that in my sleep." He also added that he prefers to handle his dealings over the phone instead of e-mail. "Have you ever sent an email to someone, said 'You're wrong,' and they said, 'You know, you're right.' Sometimes you have to get these people out to lunch, and then they won't say that s--t to your face."

Hurwitz doesn't measure success in terms of how many shows they did, but rather how many "failures" he had (he said they had maybe one in the last year). "I'm a gambler. Betting on football taught me a long way about losing money and moving on. You bet on a football game, you lose, tough s--t. You pay the bookie and there are more games at 4 o'clock. If I bet on a show, I made that bet. Nobody made me do that."

Michael Seto
Brad Paisley (Artist)  at the Billboard Touring and Conference Awards on Nov. 18, 2015 at The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.

When it comes to naming the favorite show he ever booked, Hurwitz responded that it was the RFK stadium Foo Fighters concert, which took place not long after Dave Grohl fell off a stage, broke his leg and had to cancel a number of upcoming gigs. "He was texing me from the hospital saying, 'Don't worry. I'm doing this f---ing show,' and then he came out in that throne. I might have given him the idea for that. I said, 'You could be like Stephen Hawking.'" Here, Hurwitz did his best impression of the physicist's digitized voice, singing "There goes my hero," drawing a mixture of laughter and groans from the crowd. 

"I sent him a video of that, and he sent me a text that said, 'You're so f---ed.' I saved that as a screenshot in my phone."

On a more somber note, Hurwitz discussed the Paris terrorist attack on Le Bataclan and how it would affect his venues. "I'm looking at the 9:30 and what came to mind I just didn't want people to get hurt," he said. "If [terrorists] did something, I could rebuild but wow I would hate for people to get hurt. We're not going to make people take their shoes off or anything but that has to be a general consciousness. If someone comes in on a hot day with a big overcoat, they're probably going to get taken aside."

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More positively, Hurwitz also revealed some future projects, including a new D.C. venue that should open in a few years, and a monthly PBS concert series filmed at the 9:30.  "It's sort of like Austin City Limits but that would be boring because I don't want to watch a show I've already seen. I thought let's do a variety show and have fun stuff. We've already shot a whole mess of them. We're going to do one or two songs from each band we decide to use, so it's going to be the best of the best of the best with have guest hosts."

While he didn't mention a release date, he promised it will start airing soon nationally.