Why Tours By The Kid LAROI, Lil Wayne & More Signal the Live Business Is ‘On Fire’
"The business will continue to thrive," says UTA partner and music agent Mike G, "but being conscious of ticket pricing will be instrumental."
So far this year, much of the discussion around the touring business has been about ticketing, with high-profile tours by the likes of Taylor Swift and Drake putting Live Nation and Ticketmaster in the spotlight. But underlining that throughline is one undeniable fact: three years on from the onset of the pandemic that shut down events across the world, the live music business is fully back, with the biggest stars in the world hitting the road for their first outings in years.
That has meant that all facets of the touring business are once again operating at full speed. Or, as UTA partner and music agent Mike G puts it, “Post-pandemic, the live business has been on fire.”
The longtime agent would know. This year, he’s booked a series of major tours and shows for some of the biggest acts in multiple genres, including Lil Wayne, Romeo Santos, Wizkid and The Kid LAROI, each with some significance: Wayne’s charting an underplay in anticipation of a broader tour around his upcoming album Tha Carter VI; Santos is playing stadium dates in four cities, almost a decade after he became the first solo Latin artist to sell out Yankee Stadium; Wizkid has a headlining arena tour on the way, after he became just the second Nigerian artist to sell out Madison Square Garden in November; and The Kid LAROI kicked off a college tour of secondary and tertiary markets this week. And all that activity has helped earn Mike G the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, he talks about the strategy behind several of those outings, as well as the difficulties and opportunities that have arisen as the pandemic increasingly appears to be in the rear view mirror. “[The pandemic] created a demand,” he says, “and the live industry is healthy.”
This week, The Kid LAROI kicked off his college tour in Syracuse, New York, one of a number of big tours you’ve locked in in the last few months. What was the strategy behind this one in particular?
The strategy behind touring these college towns was to touch a significant fan base for LAROI in secondary and tertiary markets. The idea of going on a reputable college tour hasn’t been executed since Jay Z. So, we saw an opportunity to continue to build his live business with this run and market it in a specific way. The pop-up pep rallies on the day of the show have been a special touch by LAROI to connect with his fans on campus.
You also booked the upcoming Lil Wayne tour ahead of his next album, which sold out in presale and moved 70,000 tickets with a mix of theaters and arenas. What goes into the routing of a tour like this for a superstar like Wayne?
The idea behind Lil Wayne was to create an intimate touring experience for his fans by playing at venues like the Wiltern in Los Angeles and the iconic Apollo Theater in New York. The concept of playing these rooms was to leave tickets at the door for his more extensive run in the fall while pre-promoting Tha Carter VI with this tour as a marketing vehicle. It is an understatement to say this has played out the way we wanted it to. This tour will be such a great experience for the fans.
Last November, Wizkid became the second Nigerian artist to sell out Madison Square Garden, and now he’s set for an arena tour later this year. What do you see as the touring market and possibilities for afrobeats artists in the U.S.?
The possibilities will be arena and amphitheater tours with afrobeats artists as well as headlining crossover festivals. The potential is unlimited in the live space and we’ve seen such incredible success with WizKid being on the forefront and one of the very few artists leading the movement in the U.S.
In 2020, you guys signed Romeo Santos, his first time signing with a major agency. How did you convince him to come aboard?
The signing of Romeo Santos in 2020 was one of the most significant signings for our department. We presented the full-service models that we live by at the agency. Touring is an artist’s most important revenue generator, but in conjunction with live, the thought was, “Let’s build out other untapped business areas.” Film, TV, digital and brand opportunities should be part of those daily conversations. That generated Romeo’s interest and, ultimately, led him to signing with us. It’s about everything we can deliver, not just touring. He wanted to build out a 360 business in all areas of entertainment.
This year, he’s doing stadium shows in four U.S. cities, just shy of a decade after he became the first Latin artist to ever sell out Yankee Stadium. What continues to make him such a big draw?
His loyal fan base and consistency in delivering fantastic music and a spectacular live show. Romeo took Bachata music to new heights. He revolutionized and modernized the genre.
What goes into booking artists of all sizes in the right venues — especially those artists who may have emerged during the pandemic, and don’t have much of a touring history, if any?
We study and understand where that artist is in their career. For some acts, we can gauge and see if playing a 500-cap room is the right step to begin their touring career in the major markets. Finding the right support slot on tour for other acts can expose the artist to new fans and build a base. Each artist is different, but you must be strategically aggressive and not afraid to lose to make a live career.
How has the touring business changed as the world emerges from the pandemic? And how has it changed how you do business?
Post-pandemic, the live business has been on fire. It created a demand, and the live industry is healthy. The business will continue to thrive, but being conscious of ticket pricing will be instrumental in our current economy.