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Billboard Touring Conference Promoter Panel Weighs the Pros and Cons of Being Independent in 2017

The Promoter Politics: A Look at the Big Issues on the Road in 2017 Panel
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The Promoter Politics: A Look at the Big Issues on the Road in 2017 Panel at the 2017 Billboard Touring Conference and Awards at the Montage Beverly Hills on Nov. 14, 2017 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

As the live entertainment industry continues to grow year over year, the Billboard Touring Conference promoter panel tackled how independents are facing off with industry giants, the repercussions of burnout festivals, and sexual harassment.

The panel, titled Promoter Politics: A Look at the Big Issues on the Road in 2017, led off with moderator Dave Brooks, Billboard’s senior correspondent for touring and live entertainment, inquiring about how independent promoters succeed against behemoths like AEG Presents and Live Nation Concerts.

Jim Cressman, founder of Invictus Entertainment Group, told the audience that his company has been able to effectively compete with Live Nation’s stronghold in Canada by carving out a niche in secondary and tertiary markets.

“The great thing that we have in Canada is an infrastructure of 5,000-seat hockey arenas. For one reason or another, Live Nation hadn’t been doing a lot of shows in those markets,” Cressman said. “I had an impetus of giving some artists the chance to monetize some marketplaces that they couldn’t even find on a map. That worked out really well and we just carried that story forward and continue to be successful at it.”

Larger, publicly-traded companies like MSG Live, on the other hand, have plenty of financial backing to incentivize artists with more money or to buy up entire tours.

Darren Pfeffer, MSG Live’s executive vice president, told the panel, “Multi-nights and residencies are certainly one of the bigger issues for the company. This Saturday is Billy Joel’s 46th show to date. Just this week we put on sale his 50th show at Madison Square Garden. Every night is still sold out. It’s becoming part of the institution, part of the landscape, the new skyline for New York City.”

Independent promoters on the panel argued that their real strength comes from flexibility.

National Shows 2 CEO Darin Lashinsky said, “Where I feel independence is when my business partners, the three of us get on a call and make a decision about an act or a tour and we are done. It is our money. The reality is, as quickly as we come to a decision we can move forward.”

“The only people that we have to answer to are the people attending our concerts, the bands and ourselves. We don’t have to answer to Wall Street,” said vice president of Another Planet Entertainment, Danielle Madeira.

Madiera told the audience that when she has an issue, she can run down the hall and immediately address someone who can make a decision. “We’re a small ship,” she said. “The Titanic couldn’t take a left turn real quick. We can.”

“An independent promoter will sometimes have to deliver Shopkins flyers to stores on a Saturday with their daughter, which I did on Saturday for a show that wasn’t selling that great,” Nederlander Concert’s director of talent, Eric Milhouse, said on Tuesday. “An independent will plunge a toilet backstage. You aren’t calling a janitor service. You do it yourself. It is always doing it yourself.”

“I think independent in a word is accountability,” Cressman added. “I remortgaged my house three times to sink enough cash into the company to make it work. It is not something I recommend, but you learn a lot faster when it is your own ass on the line.”

This year also saw high-profile festival failures, including the cancelation of Pemberton Music Festival, Karoondinha Music & Arts Festival and the disastrous Fyre Festival, all of which were independent.

“I think they made us look better,” said Madeira. “Them showing up and being complete shit shows, it showcased that you got to have experience and understanding of this part of the industry. You can’t just have money and think it is going to fix it.”

Another big issue the panel addressed was whether or not the concert industry, which has not been exempt from the Harvey Weinstein-style culling of abusers, has a sexual harassment problem. Just this week it was reported that concert promoter Goldenvoice cut ties with FYF Fest founder Sean Carlson after he was accused of sexual misconduct.

Madiera said, “Any time there is an imbalance of power, it is creating a recipe for sexual harassment. I think that there is going to be change. The only good that the creepy Harvey Weinstein thing has done is it has been able to create a conversation.”

“I think every industry has a sexual harassment problem,” said Milhouse. “We’ve got to create safe environments for people to feel like they can speak out. We’ve got to do better as human beings to women, to people of color, to anyone who has been slighted through our country’s history. We have to have these hard conversations. They aren’t easy, but we can make it better.”


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