In the Face of Giants, Indie Concert Promoters Outpaced the Industry at Large This Year

Fans in the rain at 2014 Lollapalooza
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

General atmosphere and rain during 2014 Lollapalooza Day Three at Grant Park on August 3, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. 

The grosses of the top six independent promoters in the U.S. combined increased by more than 15 percent, compared to a 7.7 percent increase for overall.

Some 20 years after industry consolidation was supposed to wipe independent promoters off the map, these stubborn, savvy and fiercely autonomous operators have managed to outpace the industry at large, according to end-of-year Billboard Boxscore data. The grosses of the top six independent promoters in the U.S. combined increased by more than 15 percent, compared to a 7.7 percent increase for overall U.S. Boxscores.

In a live industry where two global giants -- Live Nation and AEG Live -- control an estimated 70 percent of the box office, or $3 billion in Boxscore grosses, indie promoters such as Another Planet Entertainment, Bowery Presents, Jam Productions, Frank Productions, NS2, and C3 Presents are presenting thousands of concerts annually by producing festivals, allying themselves with artists and smaller venues in large markets, such as New York and San Francisco that are beyond the bandwidths of the majors.   

Another Planet, which grossed nearly $75 million from 204 shows in 2014, according to Boxscore, has formed alliances with fan-favored venues in San Francisco, such as The Independent, and the surrounding Bay market, such as the Fox Theater in Oakland. In New Orleans, venerated promoter Don Fox has kept his Beaver Productions rolling  -- $42.5 million in grosses in 2014 -- by forming long-term relationships with such consistently successful lives acts as Michael Bublé.  

For Madison, Wis.-based Frank Productions, it’s a matter of going where the big guys don’t, both in terms of acts and markets. “We’ve developed this niche where we’re able to take acts out of the theaters and into the smaller arenas in secondary markets that are way underserved,” says Larry Frank, who is partners with his brother Fred Frank. “It has been a win/win for all of us, the promoter, the buildings in these markets that are having a hard time getting shows, and for the acts themselves.” This year, for instance, Frank Productions, which  often works in tandem with Nashville-based indie promoter NS2 (and owns a stake in the company) toured Brantley Gilbert in smaller markets like Savannah, Ga.,Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Moline Ill.,  and metal bands Five Finger Death Punch and Volbeat in such cities as Biloxi, Miss., Knoxville, Tenn., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  “That’s what put us over the top this year,” says Larry. Combined, the two promoters reported more than $30 million in grosses to Boxscore in 2014, a “top-five” year for the Franks, says Larry, and the NS2’s best ever.

Frank Productions and NS2 will promote more than 700 shows combined this year, largely because Live Nation and AEG Live simply can’t do it all. “To play the same top 20 markets every year is not as interesting,” Larry says. “We find it much more fun to go where shows don’t go, or don’t think about going.”

Another niche where indie promoters have thrived is music festivals, Austin, Texas-based C3 Presents, which saw it Boxscore gross increase 9.6 percent in 2014, has succeeded so well in this sector that Live Nation has reportedly made a $125 million offer to acquire it. (It’s part of an unending cycle: In 2001, AEG acquired indie promoter Goldenvoice, which produced Coachella.) C3’s path from upstart to acquisition target began with its resurrection of the Lollapalooza festival, which was damaged goods when the promoter took it on in 2005. C3 partner Charlie Walker declines to comment on the company’s acquisition status, but he explains that festivals were a way to stay in the concert promotion game in a post-2000 industry where AEG and Live Nation controlled their own venues.

“It was a way to develop a business without the huge capital outlay of $15 million to $25 million that it costs to build an amphitheater in a market,” he says. In 2014, C3 reported total box-office grosses of $136 million from 619 shows, making it the top independent promoter of the year and an acquisition target.