On February 26th 2010, Mr. Gerry Barad, Chief Operating Officer of Live Nation Global Touring, delivered the 17th annual Zafris Distinguished Lecture in Music Business/Management at Berklee. Earlier that day, he conducted a Music Business class, in which he discussed how he started out in the business and the recent merger of Live Nation with Ticketmaster. He answered as well many questions about the global touring business. Later, during the spring break, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Barad at length.
Prior to joining Live Nation, Gerry Barad was a founding partner of the Next Adventure (TNA), the global touring company responsible for Pink Floyd’s Division Bell tour. He was the vice president of Client Acquisition for Brockum, which serviced some of the biggest tours of the 1980s and 1990s. Barad has worked in the music industry for more than 35 years. He has been an integral part of the acquisition, production, merchandising, budgeting, sponsorship affiliation, and execution of many top tours, including U2, Madonna, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Police, David Bowie, Barbra Streisand, the Who, Shakira and Joni Mitchell.
The first part of the interview focused on international tours. Barad then answered questions about the merger with Ticketmaster, 360 deals, digital vs analog and the current state of the music industry in general.
MBJ: Which artists are you currently working with?
GB: Right now we’re working on tours that are about to start or have just started. We’re working with Lady Gaga, U2, Sting, Rush, Peter Gabriel and The Eagles.
MBJ: Which one has been the most challenging?
GB: U2 when it started, because of the nature and size of the production. And Lady Gaga, because when we took over we had to help her re-tool her show and book a tour in very short notice. But it has been great so far. I’m doing some Peter Gabriel shows where we are getting a whole orchestra; Sting is using a philharmonic orchestra too. So they all have different challenges.
MBJ: What country or city have you enjoyed working in outside of the US?
GB: I’m Canadian, I love Toronto, but if I had to exclude Canada, I’ve loved working in many cities around the world. Tokyo and London were great. It depends on the act too, and U2 in Dublin was special. Also going to cities that we were visiting for the first time, such as Istanbul, or Madonna in Tel Aviv, was very satisfying.
MBJ: What strategies does Live Nation Global Touring apply to deal with entry regulations and rules in a foreign country?
GB: When we go to a new place we have to find out about the country’s culture, the economy, the ticket prices, the types of venues, how they run shows, and the infrastructure. You need to know whom you need to be involved with locally; you always need a local person to work on these things. Also, taxation and border regulations, as well as customs are important. Every country has its own idiosyncrasies and unique cultural differences. It is always a nice learning experience the first time, so every time you go to a new place, the next time you will know more about it, but there aren’t that many places we have never been. We’ve always enjoyed working in South America: places like Argentina, Brazil, and particularly Chile, because it has a very young and interesting market. Also, Madonna played in Romania and Bucharest recently, which was interesting to learn about. We have offices around the world, so we are able to tap into the local knowledge of each country.
MBJ: This is something that you must really master after visiting so many countries.
GB: Yes, and many times we have a very tight schedule, so we have learned a lot about how to deal with local rules regarding carnets (merchandise passports), work permits, custom documents, licensing, currency exchanges, and taxation, among other topics.
MBJ: While you were at Berklee, you mentioned important international touring markets. What would those be?
GB: Japan is a big market. It is not big as it used to be because of the economy but it is still a good viable market. In Europe, cities like Paris and London. London might be the single best music market in the world for the amount of shows played, the amount of tickets sold, and the supply of artists.
MBJ: Apart from the American market you mean?
GB: No, I think London could be the biggest concert market in the world. And remember that you have some markets where domestic acts are bigger as well. In France, for example, an artist like Johnny Hallyday has sold more stadiums than any international act over the years. We are only coming in with international acts where sometimes there’s a local act that could be as big or even bigger than the acts we have.
MBJ: What are the main benefits that the merger that Live Nation’s merger with Ticketmaster can bring to music fans?
GB: The merger enabled us to distribute tickets easier, more efficiently, and helped us know who our customers are. Now we have an incredible distribution network to get the music out there and sell tickets, records, merchandising, etc. The technology has enabled us to reach a wider base of actual and potential fans. Also, because of the Internet age, we are able to use a nice database to find out who our customer is, which is important to us. It doesn’t matter if it’s music or an item; if someone manufactures a product, they still want to know who buys from them. But every country presents its unique challenges and situations.
MBJ: Do you think live music has taken the lead role in the music business as the main source of revenue for the artist? If so, is Live Nation playing a bigger role?
GB: Most of the revenue will be generated from live income until the whole digital distribution is sorted out. First you had 78’s, then you had 45’s, 33’s, then the eight track, the cassette, the compact disc, the digital audio tapes and then the Internet showed up. What happened is the owners of those formats lost control because their product could be copied. You can’t copy a live show. You can bootleg a live show, but you can’t capture it: its either live or its not live. People need to figure out a different economic model of how you get your distribution out there other than putting records in record stores or doing mail orders. It is a different era. No different than publishing, though. Now you can get books digitally. You don’t have to physically buy a book anymore, and it is the same with music.
The other problem we had with live music is that there are all these big chain stores, which are fine- they all serve their purpose, but the older kind of record store was a place where you went to hang out. You went and turned on the music and had people in common who loved it too. That is why concerts are a good thing. The concert is not just the music itself- it’s a whole social experience as well. I like the whole notion of the gathering of the tribes, and the social aspect of the concert is important to people. You go with your friends to hang out, to have a drink, to support a favorite band, or even discover a new band you haven’t heard before.
MBJ: So the live experience is irreplaceable, even in the digital age.
GB: Exactly, and you can get more technology in live performances to make shows sound better and have better lighting and video, which we have done. Let’s face it, concert production in the last thirty odd years has jumped leaps and bounds as far as quality of sound, lights, and production- everything has evolved.
MBJ: What about other sources of music revenue?
GB: Publishing and copyrights are still a big part of it and they have changed dramatically. There a lot of new applications that did not exist before, like music for games. The gaming business is huge- people can license their songs to these companies, so in some way what’s lost in the recording gig has been gained by gaming. Also syncronization rights for movies and soundtracks. It’s whoever can capture the new model, the new era of the recorded business, and how you can get your music out there at an affordable price. A lot of people can take your music and download it for free, so how can you control that at the end of the day? Copyright laws also vary from country to country, so now if you’re distributing via Internet you may also want to know what country you are actually in, which is a bit of a challenge. I liked the concept of what Prince did. He charged a certain amount for his concert ticket, and that included his record, so he would give the record out to every person who came to the show. There are also other artists who offer a download when you buy a ticket. There are lots of ways to get these things across, and much has changed. The shows are getting bigger now and therefore more challenging to take around the world. It is also a lot more expensive to have a tour and there are a lot more people touring and therefore competing for the same dollars. Some are going to do better than others. If there is too much traffic out there, and you go to a city where there are too many concerts, none of them are going to do as well unless you do it when you’re extraordinarily big. The popular acts will sell but the marginal ones won’t as well. What night of the week it is, and what the economy of that city is like matters- just to mention a few of the challenges that we’re faced with everyday.
MBJ: Could you tell us about 360 deals and how your division has worked to be able to fulfill every need of the artist?
GB: We have done some 360 deals like Madonna’s, which are for her next record’s recording rights, merchandising, sponsorship, and endorsements among other things. My division came from a previous touring and promotion company and we were already doing a lot of those things before. We shot a Rolling Stones movie on Imax, put out DVD’s, and while we didn’t yet have the licensing for the records, we had already worked with the merchandising companies, obtained sponsorships, managed VIP parties, etc. The model that you see now, i.e the all-encompassing rights deals, are something we’ve essentially been doing for a long time. It’s just that now we have incorporated a recording model as well.
MBJ: So in the future you could see Live Nation as much more than just a concert promoting company?
GB: Yes. We are already in that business but who knows where the company could lead us. First and foremost we are a live entertainment company. We produce live events around the world. Now, because of the merger, we are a ticket distribution company as well. Then there is the cross marketing between these two divisions.
MBJ: You are expanding then, to be able to do more.
GB: Yes. For example, in my particular division, if someone like U2 wants to do a tour, we handle the production, do the consultation with the band, and deal with the designing, engineering, and execution of the tour. The recording business is still great for U2, so we do the rest of the work for them. This is not merely putting the money up. We are allegedly pretty good at what we do.
MBJ: How soon before a tour do you generally like to close a deal?
GB: It depends. It could be a year, it could be two to six months. The Lady Gaga deal was done in the shortest turnaround that a tour of that size has ever had, from the time the deal was made until our people went in and started organizing the concerts. That was probably the shortest window ever for the size of the production. For other tours in general, it could be a year.
MBJ: You keep getting better at it, if you are able to pull the last one off.
GB: Yes, we have an incredible, very experienced and extremely talented group of people who work our acts. Whether it is ticket sales, marketing, production, shows on sale, or deal-making. These are probably the most experienced people in the business. We’ve done it for so many years, and we are a really dedicated team. That’s why we are able to do what we do. Without our staff we wouldn’t be able to make it happen. Years ago, I doubt we could have done it at such short notice, but now we certainly can.
MBJ: At Berklee, you talked about less talent being available today. Could you ellaborate?
GB: There is enough talent. It’s just that when I grew up it was a different era, you had to actually really play, you didn’t have Pro Tools or Auto Tune, and you couldn’t digitally modify records. You could do overdubs, but you actually had to play. If you go back to some of those great records, they didn’t have the technology that we have now. Still, musically and sonically they stand the test of time. Also, I’m a vinyl guy, I like analog. I think it sounds better, it’s richer, it’s warmer, and I think audiophiles would agree with me. I find a lot of the digital music very compressed, especially in old records that are made into digital. You want to keep the integrity of it all.
MBJ: After the House Of Blues’ success, are you thinking about expanding it to new American cities or even other countries?
GB: Yes, we have expanded it already, and will continue to do so when an opportunity arises. The one we put in Boston has a great location across from the Fenway. Boston has a lot of college students, music listeners; it’s a good music market. We’ve had a long time presence in the market with Don Law, and this was an opportunity to build this great all-multi purpose room, being able to contract and expand capacity-wise and with less restrictions about staging that other Boston venues have. You also have to find the right real estate, neighborhood, locations and many other factors that come in place to be able to do it.
MBJ: What do you consider to be the vital characteristics of a good touring manager?
GB: A tour manager has to be honest and organized, with good people-skills. Being level-headed and well traveled is important to better deal with situations in different languages, cultures and customs. They are the tour guides and people are relying on them.
MBJ: How would you describe the evolution of ancillary revenue in the last decades?
GB: Well, the merchandising business has been there for years. But people want to go as well to VIP parties, or have a dinner before a show, or buy tickets in the secondary market, or even auction their tickets. There are many different sources of revenue, and people need to find new revenue streams because, as mentioned earlier, income from recordings is no longer what it once was.
MBJ: And ancilliary revenues help promoters as well.
GB: Absolutely. Everybody is taking risks. It’s more expensive to do shows, insurance is higher and we have all sorts of challenges to face everyday. If the economy is bad, you have to know how you can make it affordable, bring as many people as possible, know what you want to offer and try to drive revenue streams while maintaining the integrity of the artist that you’re representing. Not every artist wants secondary ticketing, and not every artist is a big merchandising act. Everybody is different and they have different terms on how they want their production to be carried. You have to be able to adapt to each situation.
MBJ: What message would you like to send out to students who are interested in the touring business?
GB: Try to be a sponge, start at a low level and take in all the information you can. Work hard, follow up on what you are supposed to do, be dependable, and do the work. Have the right drive and work ethic. I got here by doing the work and I still do the work. I consider myself a pretty diligent person and therefore I do the best I can. If you start to take shortcuts, you may get lucky once in a while, but when you look in time your law of average is you have to do the work and be prepared.
On behalf of the Music Business Journal, I would like to thank Mr. Barad for being generous with his time and for sharing his extended knowledge about the concert and touring business.
By Silvina Moreno