Academic journal article MEIEA Journal

Concert Promotion Centralization and the Artist Management Response: 1990s-2010s

Academic journal article MEIEA Journal

Concert Promotion Centralization and the Artist Management Response: 1990s-2010s

Article excerpt


Beginning in the mid-1990s the concert promotion industry underwent significant changes, disrupting the thirty-five year business model of individual, regional concert promoters in favor of centralized, national control-first by SFX, then by Clear Channel Communication, and then by Live Nation (rebranded as Live Nation Entertainment after its merger with Ticketmaster). The ten-year period of centralization between 1995 and 2005 brought significant and long-lasting changes to the financial relationship among the artist, the promoter, and the venue, with the artist arguably experiencing the greatest disadvantage under this altered business model. This paper explores the early history of the concert business, the period of centralization, and responses that artist managers can employ to maintain the artist's interests in the new era of centralization.

A Brief History of the Concert Industry: 1965-1995

Up until the mid-1960s live music concerts by popular artists were primarily promoted by the artists' record labels. The labels would package their most popular artists on multi-act bills, sending them out to tour regionally and nationally, booking whatever supper clubs, theaters, or civic halls happened to be available. While this business model was suitable when the primary goal was to increase record sales, it proved inadequate by the beginning of the psychedelic movement and the expanding youth market for live music in the 1960s. Artists and their audiences, seeking places to interact through music, wandered through former vaudeville houses, to desanctified houses of worship, to moribund ballrooms and dance halls. The patchwork, hit-or-miss nature of the concert industry for rock and roll in the mid-1960s, created an opportunity for professionalization and integration among concert promoters.1

Into this void came talent agent Frank Barsalona, who started Premiere Talent Agency in 1964 as the first agency to recognize and work with "modem" or "rock" artists.2 Barsalona thought the best way to build an artist's career was by developing a network of regional promoters who could "promote" his artists in their markets.

One of the reasons I started Premier was to bring in promoters that understood the music and were willing to work from the very beginning to help break the act-on the promise, and obviously I couldn't give them a contract, that if everything went well and they did what they were supposed to do, then we would endeavor to deliver that act to them as long as they did a good job and so long as their offers were competitive. (Pollstar, "Executive Profile: Frank Barsalona 1988" 2012)

Two of the first concert promoters he worked with, Bill Graham in San Francisco and Don Law in Boston, represented not only both the West Coast and the East Coast, but also the two epicenters of the college student and youth audience markets.3 As Barsalona was taking risks by backing his artists, people like Bill Graham and Don Law were taking the risks of concert promotion. One way of mitigating those risks was to come up with a mutually beneficial profit split between the artist and the promoter. While different split ratios were tried, eventually Barsalona and Bill Graham developed the 85/15 split deal.4

According to this deal, after the promotion and production expenses (including the artist's guarantee) were deducted, the artist would receive 85% of the profits and the promoter would receive 15%. Familiarity with this system and skilled negotiation could often move the needle to 90/10 in the artist's favor5 for the larger acts. While the promoter would earn less per show, the personal relationship between the artists and the promoter was the key to the financial relationship, as long as the promoter could count on presenting the artists whenever they played in the promoter's city.

During the 1960s it was common for local or regional promoters to have a virtual lock on any significant shows happening in "their" towns. …

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