As the 7th Annual Billboard Touring Conference progressed through the two full days of discussion, the distinguished array of panelists maintained a refreshing level of optimism towards the uncertain future of the industry, that is, until the concluding panel began. “A 20/20 View of the Concert Business” was the culmination of all the preceding presentations; featuring industry giants like Paul McGuiness (Manager, U2), Troy Carter (Manager, Lady GaGa), Gerry Barad (COO, Live Nation Global Touring) and Dennis Arfa (President, Artist Group International) among others.
The optimism that was enjoyed over the past two days was interrupted when the subject of big-box promoters prospering at the expense of regional independents was brought up. This struck a nasty chord with Jerry Mickelson, partner at Jam Productions, who made no reservation in expressing his frustration towards his dwindling market share while fellow panelists, like Barad, continue to absorb his clientele. While the conversation was professionally directed by moderator, Ray Waddell, there was no mistaking Mickelson’s hostility towards the issue.
For the first time during the entire event, the uncertainty of the touring industry was made apparent. Prior to Mickelson’s woes, one got the sense that despite shifting revenue centers, things in the industry were all hunky dory, because for most of the featured panelists, it was. Jordan Grazier (CEO, Eventful), Panos Panay (Founder, SonicBids), Liana Farnham (VP, MSG), Lynsie Camuso (President, ShowClix), Andrew Dreskin (Founder, Ticketfly)– all of these people are experiencing great progress by capitalizing on the evolution of technology, and they are a part of the new movement of industry leaders. While their market niches are on the rise, this transfer of market share is clear evidence that the entire industry is struggling to find a new balance. The touring business is reinventing itself, and while many of the traditional institutions- like Mickelson’s Jam Productions- could be on their way out, the industry is still fishing to find a sustainable model for the future. In times like these, success can be swift and drastic. On the other hand, it can also be quite fragile.
Nonetheless, it was both encouraging and inspiring to see the innovative ways in which some of the featured entrepreneurs have carved out markets for themselves. For instance, on “Ticketing: Managing the Keys to the Kingdom,” it was very obvious that secondhand ticketing websites like Stubhub, ShowClix, and Eventful are beginning to pose a serious threat to Ticketmaster’s new CEO, Nathan Hubbard, who also shared a seat on the panel. These tech-savvy startups have defined their markets, pinpointed consumer needs, and perfected a medium of delivery that vastly out performs those of grandfathered industry establishments. Best of all, most of these new services are drastically improving the state of the industry by catering directly to the needs of fans- a voice that has been autocratically ignored by the business for quite some time.
The Billboard Touring Conference provided an acute look at the current state of the concert business as well as some insight on its potential futures. The wide range of panels seemed to cover every notable point of interest. From Artist Development and Ticketing, to Social Media and Multi-Rights Deals, the presentations examined the proceedings of each area with the expertise that only the professionals featured could have offered. In addition, the more intimate “Roundtable Discussions,” catered Social Receptions, the Musical Showcase, and the 2010 Award Ceremony/ Dinner, which allowed for plenty of additional learning, networking, and new musical discovery. All in all, the Touring Conference was an invaluable opportunity for musicians, students, and business people alike.
By Evan Kramer