A new kind of music conference is born at Brooklyn Bowl
Relix Magazine, a 43-year-old music rag born in a Grateful Dead concert parking lot, hosted its first ever Live Music Conference at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg on May 10. Featuring a full-day’s schedule of panel discussions and presentations capped with a very special keynote presentation, the conference’s topics included agenting, technology, management, ticketing, publicity, activism and festivals.
The sold-out conference also offered all attendees breakfast, lunch and a ticket to the evening’s concert with The Meat Puppets. Those caught without a ticket or otherwise could pay to livestream the conference online through Nugs.net.
One of the first panelists, John Moore of Bowery Presents, a concert promotion and venue management organization, when asked directly about the success of his new venue Brooklyn Steel said, “The honeymoon has been great, but I think it will be a couple of years before we can really determine how successful it is.”
The elephant in the room, however, seemed to be the fact that mega-corporation Anschutz Entertainment Group recently bought Bowery Presents … Does this move continue the monopolization of the live music scene (in NYC) or is it an equalizer against the beast that is global entertainment company Live Nation? Perhaps that also is to be determined, to use Moore’s words.
Other key players of the music industry at the Live Music Conference included Dan Berkowitz, founder and CEO of CID Entertainment, who has spent the last decade building unique experiences for concert goers both in the U.S. and abroad. “In its peak form,” Berkowitz says of a festival experience, “it’s a cultural happening.”
If there’s one thing that most participating panelists and presenters at the conference agreed upon, it was that there is indeed an increase in the number of festivals across the country. New York City now claims three major music festivals, which industry experts say the NYC market can support.
Andy Bernstein, executive director of HeadCount, a non-partisan organization that works with musicians to promote participation in democracy, showcased a statistic stating that last year, 60 million concert tickets were bought and sold in North America, which, with a plus $1 program surcharge program like his company promotes, would be “enough to fund multiple revolutions.”
Furthermore, Josh Brown of SongKick, an independent artist-ticketing and concert discovery platform, said that in 2000, the top 100 touring acts accounted for 90 percent of ticket revenue, while in 2016, the top 100 touring acts accounted for only 40 percent of ticket revenue.
A publicist panel didn’t add much insight into the industry, except for a few choice quotes, namely from Jonathan Azu of Red Light Management, who said of an artist’s album promotional cycle: “The album is the Super Bowl, but there’s still a regular season.” And he added: “What management does is help artists see who is in the mirror.”
Building on that, many of the varied panelists spoke about relationships and the value in trusting one another. One agreed upon piece of advice for talent, agents and management alike was don’t worry about where you are on the festival poster; worry about your set time.
Panelists also discussed radius clauses in regard to festivals, like, for example, The Firefly Festival, whose radius clause “knocks out six markets,” and warned emerging artists to carefully consider their options when booking at a festival that would prohibit them from playing within a certain time and space radius.
The panel on management featured a roster of extremely experienced managers, including Patrick Jordan, Stef Scamardo, Vince Iwinski, Mike Luba and Mike Martinovich, whose combined rosters include Phish, Ween, Gov’t Mule, Umphrey’s McGee, String Cheese Incident and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, to name just a few.
When asked about what’s next, regarding leading Umphrey’s McGee into their 20th year, Iwinski said, “It’s just going to get weirder. If the fans get bored, if the band gets bored, well, then we’ll all end up selling insurance.”
It was the keynote presentation of the Relix Live Music Conference that stole the show. Joining the iconic rock writer David Fricke and Brooklyn Bowl impresario Peter Shapiro was none other than the great NYC promoter Ron Delsener.
Delsener booked David Bowie’s debut concert at Carnegie Hall on the Ziggy Stardust Tour in 1972. He booked Bob Dylan when he went electric at Forest Hills Stadium. He booked The Beatles at Forest Hills, too, in 1964. The list goes on.
And there he was on stage, sharing war stories and bragging rights over a bottle of scotch.
Lamenting the difficulties of the promoter business, Delsener said, “It’s like the movie theaters: The promoter only makes money on the popcorn. Ninety-five percent of the door goes to the band.”
Delsener delved into his earlier days on the road with The Ford Motor Company, hosting events and competitions on college campuses in the 1950s: The campus fraternity that could fit the most guys into the car, would win the car!
Fricke could barely get a word in as Delsener and Shapiro continued to playfully chide and jab at each other while putting a significant dent in a shared bottle of scotch.
Everytime Brooklyn Bowl came up, Delsener quickly cut Shapiro off, saying, “This isn’t an ad for your bowling alley.” Then once quickly added, “But I have a bowling ball in the truck, because why not?”
Having started in the late 1950s and early 1960s, championing the No Nukes movement and hosting massive free concerts in Central Park, Delsener said he misses the activist element, arguing that nowadays “everyone is too busy emailing each other. But now activism is more important than ever with this madman in office.”
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