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How Does My Venue Get That Show?

Moderator: Charlie Hernandez | JustABunchOfRoadies.org
John Branigan | WME
Bruce Eskowitz | Red Light Management
Marty Hom | Tour Manager
Darin Lashinsky | NS2
Brian O’Boyle | State Theatre New Jersey

With production manager extraodinaire Charlie Hernandez of JustABunchOfRoadies.org keeping the discussion moving, this panel examined the question of how secon-dary market venues can compete for shows via the perspectives of an artist manager (Red Light Management’s Bruce Eskowitz), tour manager (Marty Hom), agent (WME’s John Branigan), concert promoter (NS2’s Darin Lashinksy) and venue (State Theatre New Jersey VP programming/marketing Brian O’Boyle).

First things first – Eskowitz explained that before a routing is determined, he has a conversation with his artist about the tour’s overall strategy.

“Are you supporting an album? … A few years ago it was an album. Now it’s a single, sometimes just a tour for the sake of touring,” Eskowitz said. “Always starts with what’s the objective and building a plan around it. What are the areas you’re trying to go to? What’s the routing? What size building are you trying to go to? … And then sitting down with the agent and trying to figure out those objectives. Is it secondary markets, primaries? Is it stadiums, arenas, theatres, clubs?

“The one thing that I think is critically important as well, with every artist, is understanding your net. The first thing I always say to artists is it doesn’t do any good to tour if you can’t come home with some of the money. And so … [you’re] trying to build budgets and making sure everyone understands the cost behind the tour.”

One thing you’ll hear over and over again during the Pollstar Live! conference is the importance of relationships.

Branigan talked about how a buyer has to have a relationship with the agent and make the phone calls.

“You have to work it too,” Branigan said. “You can’t just sit around and wait for some promoter to bring something in. That may mean scaling the house differently, being more aggressive in the pricing in these smaller places to get the revenue to where a band needs it. And you can’t cherry pick it either. You have to work with an agent, and look at all of the acts the agent is booking. That’s going to help you get some of other bigger bands to play your place.”

Hom added that just like Branigan needs to have transparency with the buyer, a tour manager has to have transparency with the artist.

He noted, “I’m an agent’s dream. I tell them to book it and I’ll make it happen.” He talked about how Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders’ tour is having success by extending the itinerary with mostly secondary markets on its upcoming leg.

“Then a band like Boston, they also play a lot of secondary markets,” Hom said. “But Tom Scholz, the leader of Boston, he
has expectations that he wants to meet. So before we book any of these dates we have to vet the venues, to make sure we can fit the production that Tom wants in these venues. He’s very specific about what he will and won’t do when it comes to these venues.”

Good communication allows a venue like State Theatre New Jersey to get shows that may have been originally intended for larger sites.

“The venue that I’m booking right now is almost 100 years old,” O’Boyle said. “It wasn’t meant for 10-truck shows moving in. Com-munication, transparency, being open and honest does allow us to get a lot of bigger shows. … We did a Broadway show. It was a six-truck tour, we got two and a half of the trucks in. Everybody had a great time; nobody really knew the difference.”

Another idea for nabbing a major show at your smaller venue: Why not try working out a deal about tour rehearsals?

Hom pointed out that the touring industry is experiencing a shortage of rehearsal space, especially in Los Angeles. With all of the Netflix and Amazon shows in production, sound stages can be scarce.

“So we are looking for creative ways to rehearse. … I’ve done Stevie Nicks tours and used performing arts centers and then done a show on the back end of those rehearsals,” Hom said.

Lashinsky talked about how he’s always looking for venues to be partners, in one form or another.

“It’s no secret, there are a lot of venues that can’t take risks but they have revenue streams that are attractive to me to bring business to them,” Lashin-ksy said. “That can be their sort of version of co-promoting a show with me. Minimizing my financial risk is a reality so there’s certainly venues that get more attention that we do more business with if I’m going in knowing that they’ve got my back financially.”

When approaching a new relationship with a venue, Lashinksy said, “If it’s a private facility management group, I say, ‘Call your peers at this building.’ I’m never afraid to do that. ‘Ask them, if they’ll share our deal. I’ll share with you, but if you want to hear it from them, your fellow facility manager, by all means.’… I always encourage facilities to call others.”

Hernandez chimed in, “That’s an extraordinary shift because it was all a big secret: ‘It’s my deal and it’s my deal and it’s my deal.’ But now it’s the idea that we’re able to have that conversation amongst us all. It’s the same thing with production. … We share that information amongst our-selves because it’s only going to make it better for us, when we’re putting shows together, no matter what the size, to know what we’re getting into.”

Lashinsky added, “Obviously I’m not asking them to share a deal with another promoter. A deal they haven’t been a part of. I know what deals make me happy. And what works for me. There’s nothing to hide.”

“And that makes John’s job a lot easier, to have that kind of simpatico relationship across the board. Which makes Marty’s world a beautiful thing. And in the end it’s all about me. So you know, that’s what it’s about,” Hernandez said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

He added, “Get it? That’s the bit. It’s there for the having. You guys can do this. And some of you have been doing it and it has been working. Share the information amongst yourselves. Look to the left and right of you and go, ‘Hey, what did you do there?’ … Talk to each other.”

– Sarah Pittman