This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Kelly Kapp, VP Touring, US Concerts / EVP HOBE Talent, Live Nation Entertainment.
Nobody blinked recently as Live Nation Entertainment promoted Kelly Kapp to the dual position of Vice President Touring and Executive Vice President of HOBE Talent.
Given her formidable track record as a talent spotter; and in successfully nurturing, developing and promoting up-and-coming acts—many of them headliners today—Kapp has long been deemed a tenacious trailblazer.
Previously SVP of HOBE Talent, Kapp, being the first executive to have a dual role across Live Nation US Concerts, and its clubs and theaters division, reports to both Bob Roux and Ron Bension, respectively.
Kapp has been with Live Nation (from when it was previously Clear Channel Entertainment) for 17 years, starting first as a project manager for its North American Concerts division, working on such tours as Ozzfest, Van Halen, Projekt Revolution, Family Values, and Destiny Child’s farewell tour.
With Live Nation’s acquisition of House of Blues Entertainment in 2006, Kapp jumped over to the new division to become its inaugural tour buyer.
Notable artists Kapp has since worked with on for at least two tours include—wait for it because the list is extensive:
Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, Breaking Benjamin, Bring Me the Horizon, Dita Von Teese, Hanson, Frank Turner, Anberlin, Korn, Chevelle, Ghost, the Used, Hollywood Undead, All Time Low, Dashboard Confessional, Bullet For My Valentine, Sum 41, In This Moment, Black Label Society, Elle King, HIM, Bad Religion, Stone Sour, Circa Survive, Between the Buried And Me, Hobo Johnson, August Burns Red, Mayday Parade, NOFX, Parkway Drive, Volbeat, Asking Alexandria, the Maine, Meshuggah, Motionless In White, As I Lay Dying, Black Veil Brides, Limp Bizkit, Trivium, 3OH!3, Nothing More, Amon Amarth, Taking Back Sunday, Against Me!, Issues, Seether, Periphery, Papa Roach, Pierce the Veil, Testament, Marianas Trench, One Ok Rock, Falling In Reverse, Sleeping With Sirens, Megadeth, I Prevail, Simple Plan, Beartooth, Clutch, and Dethklok.
Kelly’s father, the late Bruce Kapp was a senior VP of Touring at Live Nation before he passed away in 2008. His career spanned nearly four decades, and he is credited with helping to develop the concept of national touring in the concert industry.
Kelly began the long climb to her current position as a youngster backstage watching over artist settlements being negotiated by her father, and by doing part-time ticket counts at shows.
So 17 years at the company, and you land a plum dual-position role. How cool is that?
Yeah, I started in the other division as a project manager under Jane Holman (VP of Touring) who came up with Ozzfest with Sharon Osbourne.
You were Jane’s assistant?
In touring, there really aren’t assistants. When I started working for Jane I went from doing part-time ticket counts to being Jane’s project manager full-time. I jumped right into project managing Ozzfest as well as working on many other tours. I had known Jane my whole life. She had worked with my dad as his assistant at Pace Concerts, and then they came back together with the SFX roll-up (of Pace).
Now retired, Jane was an extremely respected promoter.
I remember what might have been my fifth birthday, my dad and Jane had a Loverboy show. Jane gifted me a red plastic briefcase, and it was filled with crayons and coloring books. They’d bring me into settlements, and my dad would say, “Kelly, what do you tell the manager?” I would say, “Raise the split..” My dad loved bringing me into settlements when I was that young and having me say, “Raise the split,” as it referred to the percentage the promoter made versus the percentage the band made.
Working with Jane brought you directly to Ozzfest, which was launched in 1996. I recently interviewed Sharon Osbourne.
Oh, she amazing. She’s just the loveliest person. To see Jane Holman weave her way, and really cut a path working with Sharon, and with (booking agent) Marsha (Vlasic) for a little while. There were not then many women in this industry. To see that powerhouse of women come together, and accomplish something like Ozzfest was amazing. The women then were few and far between in the business. I feel so lucky seeing the #MeToo movement develop, and seeing how women are being embraced now in the industry. I am so unbelievably lucky that 15 years ago that I got to be surrounded by strong women. But, also at that point in time, gender didn’t really matter. These were women that were just kicking ass, and doing a fantastic job. That really helped me, I think, to get to where I am.. You went in there with the mentality of the guys and of the band and wanting to do a fantastic job. It was like gender never mattered. People say, “Isn’t it weird? You are a woman who probably books more hard rock and metal in the world than anyone else.” Well, I’m so lucky to also identify with a huge group of guys. It is 98% men around me who have never made me feel that gender was anything that I ever had to talk about or fight against.
With Jane, you also worked on tours with Depeche Mode and Destiny’s Child.
Yes, and we did Mellencamp/Fogerty.
You now report to both Ron Bension, the president of House of Blues Entertainment), and the co-president of North America Concerts at Live Nation Entertainment, Bob Roux who was mentored by your father.
Yeah. My dad gave Bob his first job. My dad’s death (of a heart attack) came out of nowhere, but going to the office, and being surrounded by the people that he loved, and that he knew best, that he worked with day in and day out, was very cathartic to me. Those are the people that I wanted to be surrounded by. This new role is letting me go back to a lot of the gentlemen that I grew up loving and respecting. The fact that I get to talk to Michael Belkin regularly, and with Rick Franks and with Bob Roux, who is taking on the role of answering questions as I get acclimated back into the (concert) division, it really is a blast from the past. It really is what helped me get through with what happened to my dad.
Was there a time you had to fight for your own identity?
Absolutely. Look most of the guys that I work within clubs and theatres have never heard of my father who was doing Aerosmith and that sort of rock. I cut my own path, especially with the music that I was doing. Jane was the one who was always doing the really heavy metal and hard rock.
So you weren’t viewed as much as being your dad’s daughter?
Especially not when I started working on the side stage of Ozzfest, these guys like Tim Borror (of Sound Talent Group) they didn’t know who my dad was. Tim has been a strong supporter of mine since day one. We have been doing business together for 17 years. The people I dealt with didn’t care who my dad was. I definitely had to pay my dues. I came up a generation after. These guys weren’t too concerned who the Jonas Brothers were. They were looking to see if Lamb of God could break. “Can this band go from the side stage of Ozzfest to the main stage, and how do we keep things like that going?”
Being the first executive to have a dual role across Live Nation US Concerts, and its clubs and theaters division must present you with many new situations and opportunities.
This new role not only has me with the guys that I cut my own path with, and my last name didn’t mean anything to them; and now I can expand my horizons and go back home, and get the well-roundedness of it (promoting) with the guys that loved my dad, and tell me stories about him all of the time. Then I have my guys on my left hand that don’t know my father and didn’t care about Fleetwood Mac to save their lives. I had never worked with Dream Theater before, and we are now on our second leg this year. Steve Martin (partner at APA), went back with my father so far, and being able to work with someone like Steve for the first time in 17 years and seeing how happy his manager (Frank Solomon) is with what I brought, I just feel like I am keeping my dad alive, and next to me on a daily basis.
(Kelly’s father Bruce Kapp, then senior vice president of talent at Live Nation, passed away in 2008 in the family’s Los Angeles home. He was 57.
Bruce began his music career booking bands while in high school in his hometown of Chicago. After earning a degree from Northwestern University, he launched Celebration Concerts in the early ‘70s, and in partnership with WDAI-FM, co-promoted the Super Bowl of Rock. The series kicked off with a 1977 show headlined by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and featuring Foghat, Heart and Thin Lizzy drawing 80,000 to Soldier Field, then the largest rock show in Chicago’s history. The Super Bowl of Rock series continued with shows by Peter Frampton, Ted Nugent, and Pink Floyd.
In 1981 Bruce moved to St. Louis and worked for a number of promoters including Contemporary Productions.
Beginning in 1984, he spent nearly 10 years at Pace Concerts in Houston, a division of Pace Entertainment, the multifaceted entertainment company co-founded in 1966 by Allen Becker. Pace Concerts spearheaded the amphitheater boom, beginning with Starwood Amphitheatre in the Nashville suburb of Antioch. Pace Concerts came to build and own an interest in 13 amphitheaters across the country before being snapped up in 1998 by SFX Broadcasting in a $130 million deal.
He later joined Magicworks Entertainment where, with Brad Wavra, he booked tours with New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, and Britney Spears. Magicworks Entertainment was acquired by SFX Entertainment (later renamed Live Nation) in 1998.
At Live Nation, Bruce worked with The Who, REO Speedwagon, Fleetwood Mac, Rush, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, and NWA; and he oversaw tours by Aerosmith, Jimmy Buffett, Def Leppard, and Van Halen, among others.)
Your dad’s final tour was the Van Halen reunion, a challenge because it was rerouted and rescheduled several times due to issues within the band. (Their manager) Irving Azoff sat with your father at what was his final show, Van Halen’s April 19th performance in Las Vegas. Irving and your dad had worked on shows together while growing up and were very close.
Oh absolutely. The Van Halen tour. He and Irving were as thick as thieves. My dad passed away after flying back home with the band to L.A. from that show. My mom (Jean) stayed in Vegas. Our housekeeper found him. That was on a Tuesday. The tour of New Kids On The Block which he had worked on went on sale on that Friday, and it blew out everywhere. I think it was my father looking down saying, “I knew what I was doing.”
You didn’t set out to work in live music.
I never wanted to do this Larry. I never wanted to be a concert promoter.
You have a fashion design degree from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles.
Yes I do. A degree of fashion and shoe design. I was in the first graduating class at FIDM with a degree in shoe design. A lot of people still won’t let me live that down.
What they probably wouldn’t let you live down either if they knew is that while you were in college you were also assembling skateboards.
Yes. Yes, I was. I was going to FIDM in downtown Los Angeles, and I was building skateboards on Melrose Avenue. By the time that I got out of college I was like, “Okay, I really don’t want to do this.” I was doing part-time ticket counts when Clear Channel/SFX really only had the amphitheaters. I did ticket counts for Cher’s “Farewell” tour that had to have lasted five years. We were going into places that I couldn’t even find on a map. I would be like, “Where is Sheboygan (Wisconsin)?” I don’t even know where that is.” So summers were super busy, and then when there was snow on the ground, it was time to take a break, and Jane had a project manager who walked in and said, “I don’t want to do this. I want to have babies.” My father said, “You need a new car desperately. Take this job. If you don’t take this job, you are on your own.”
You had also briefly worked in film and TV production while at FIDM?
Yes, I was doing part-time ticket counts while I was getting this degree that I kind of knew that I didn’t want to pursue any longer. So I started having pilots sent out to Lifetime, and VH-1. I very begrudgingly was like, “Well, a pilot is one in a million. A pilot to a series is one in a trillion, a billion, a jillion; If I don’t take this job that my dad is kind of forcing me to take, where will I end up without the support of the family?” Look, in hindsight, I was crapping my pants. I had grown up around the Bob Roux, the Belkins, and the Franks, and I was like, “These guys are going to expect that I know some of this stuff.”
The last thing many kids want is to enter a business where a parent is so involved and connected
My dad was an independent promoter when I was born in Chicago. He had an office on one floor, and a condo on the other. He was kind of doing his thing. We went down to St. Louis after that working for Irv Zukerman at Contemporary Productions. Then we made the move to Texas where he spent a good 10 years at Pace working with Louis Messina. That is where the modern-day touring model evolved. They were doing dates for New Edition at Radio City Music Hall while they were sitting in Texas. That was not how business was done at that time.
Your father was at the forefront in promoting New Kids on the Block ‘N Sync, and Britney Spears. to name a few. As a teenager were you going to his shows thinking, “This is so cool?”
My rebellion against my father….my dad was in the music business in the ‘80s, right? When I was much younger, when he was at Pace, it was really cool to take all of my friends to Janet Jackson, but in my teenage years when we went to South Florida, he worked with the Cellar Door for a little while, then broke off, and started working with Joe Marsh at Magicworks Entertainment when Brad Wavra moved from Cleveland to Florida to work with them. I was in high school, and my rebellion against my dad was being a straight edge hardcore kid going to shows at VFW halls. Not going to what he was doing. Of course, I would always respect the older acts, and see Tina Turner, and Cher and that sort of stuff; but maybe not to the New Kids On The Block, and Britney Spears. (Former Britney Spears’ manager) Johnny Wright called my dad, and said, “Hey, I’ve got this new girl. Come and see her at the high school gymnasium.” My dad came back, and said, Hey, this girl is going to be a star.” Meanwhile, I’d be going to VFW halls and listening to bands like Earth Crisis talking about deforestation and veganism.
Earth Crisis was a great metallic hardcore band somewhat tied to the straight edge movement.
Exactly, and that was kind of my rebellion. Everybody was opulent in the ‘80s, and there were drugs and that sort of thing. My rebellion was to not do drugs, and not to eat meat. Look my dad missed my fifth-grade play because he had a Rod Stewart show, and I really resented him for a long time because of that. So I really didn’t think that I was going to do this. I liked more of this heavy alternative type of music, and I think that is why Jane and I really clicked. A lot of that music was starting to come together, and those were the bands that were playing the 9-11 (time slot) on Ozzfest.
Your father died quite young.
Yes, very suddenly.
In a memorial tribute, industry journalist Ray Waddell described your dad saying, “He was an Energizer Bunny kind of guy, indefatigable in putting together the next deal, tour, show. He had complete and unbridled enthusiasm for whatever project he was immersed in.” His death had a considerable impact on you. You had already started working with Jane Holman.
I don’t think until my dad passed away that I really came to believe that everything happens for a reason. You would hear other people say that, but when my dad passed away, I had been with Jane as a project manager, and I was loving these up-and-coming bands. I was sitting there at Clear Channel thinking, “Okay I’m going to work here for a few more years, and then I am going to go over to House of Blues, and I’m going to tell them, “I love these young up-and-coming bands. I don’t want to book on this level, where it is just about who is putting in the most money. We all know that these dates are going to do great. I want to see if I can affect some change on the lower level.” While I was biding my time, we were becoming Live Nation, and Live Nation acquired House of Blues.
In 2006, Live Nation, which had just been spun off from Clear Channel Communications, acquired at House of Blues Entertainment for $350 million. The deal included gaining control of House of Blues’ signature nightclubs, which operated in markets like Las Vegas and Chicago; and its 8 amphitheaters. Earlier in 1999, House of Blues Entertainment had acquired Universal Concerts, the Seagram Co., which operated 19 concert venues across North America. At the time Jay Marciano, Melissa Miller, and Bob Shea joined Kevin Morrow, then VP at House of Blues Entertainment.
When Live Nation purchased House of Blues Entertainment, Kevin was appointed president, Live Nation New York.
Kevin was my boss. There was not really a touring department. Look, when the transition was happening, there were people in House of Blues who were like, “I don’t want to work for the Man. I don’t want to work for corporate America.” I kind of raised my hand and said, “I want to work here.”
Why the House of Blues?
Look I think that they really on that level before Live Nation really expanded, it was all about the amphitheaters. You spent your time when there was snow on the ground, I wouldn’t say twiddling your thumbs–obviously you were putting together the packages–but it wasn’t about building, and developing artists. On the amphitheaters and arena level, these artists had arrived. They were there. There wasn’t much to have to nailbite. “Are the sales going to be there. Can you affect change in someone’s career?” I would see these bands on Ozzfest doing the 9 (A.M.) to 1 (P.M.) slot, and two years later they would be playing at one o’clock. Then they would be playing the side stage. And then, maybe, they’d be the opening on the main stage.
I really loved that idea of seeing these artists develop.
Look I saw it (artist development) with my dad with Britney, and with ‘N Sync. Saw these bands sort of based on the high school gymnasium taken to this huge platform.
Still, you didn’t decide to work at House of Blues until Live Nation acquired it.
I was biding my time. I was saying, “Okay, I’m going to give this project manager thing another year or two, and then I’m going to raise my hand, and go over to House of Blues.” Well we acquired House of Blues, and some of the people there didn’t want to work for corporate America, and they decided to leave. I raised my hand and said, “Hey, Kevin Morrow I already work for corporate America. I was the first person to come under Kevin’s division, and start the touring under Kevin.
In hindsight, Larry it really helped me because I was then no longer in the same (Live Nation) office as my father. Even though I wasn’t working for my dad I was seeing him 12 hours a day, five days a week. Then I’d see him on the weekend as my dad. My dad hated it. I would call him Bruce in the office, and he would say, “I’m not Bruce, I’m dad.” I would go, “No you are not dad in corporate America. You are dad on Sunday.”
So you moved over to the House of Blues office in Los Angeles?
Yes. They had the high-rise across from The Palladium on Vine and Sunset. So I moved out of the Beverly Hills’ office in front of Jane Holman’s office on the fourth floor of the Ice House. I moved out, and I moved to the high-rise. I pivoted to that (House of Blues) role. I was drawn to that role. That role took me away from having to see my dad 12 hours a day. I think that had I been in the Beverley Hills’ office interacting with my dad 50 to 70 hours a week still, I don’t know how I would have been able to get through it, Larry. I really don’t.
What did you learn from working under Kevin Morrow?
Kevin taught me probably the most important lesson that I ever learned, and still apply to this day. “Do not put it in writing if you don’t expect it to live in infamy. You can call somebody, and tell them that they are a jerk, and have a screaming argument, and be one-on-one, and when you hang up the phone, it is just their word against yours. You put something in an email, it is there forever.” It is something that I pass down to the kids that I oversee, and it is such an important thing with the high energy impact that we deal with in our business. To this day, I feel that people can get extremely heated, and it’s great when you hang up the phone if you didn’t put it in an email. Kevin also taught me that if you write it down in an email, then walk away for an hour or two or sleep on it. Nine times out of 10, Larry, I will end up deleting that email.
How good of a negotiator are you?
Look, I think that the difference that I have seen in a generation from my father to me is…my dad was Dennis Arfa’s best friend. Howard Kaufman was also a best friend. These guys would be shooting the shit at 3 A.M., but at two o’clock in the afternoon, my father and Howard Rose (whose acts include Jimmy Buffett and Elton John) would be screaming on a level that I had never heard. I think that what I bring to the table, and what some of these younger guys bring to the table, Is that we are very gifted and grateful to be doing what we do for a living. And I think that’s through not feeling like you aren’t doing your job if you aren’t screaming bloody murder, and dying of a heart attack; we have been able to take that out of the business a little bit.
I feel that one of the things that I really have going for me is that I have proven to people—you know I have these guys calling me saying, “I want to do this tour with you”—and when you know that someone wants to work with you, and you like them, and you respect them, and you want to work with them too, you are going to come to a place where you are going to get things done.
You are going to do close to 850 shows this year.
A lot of that is based on knowing what Live Nation brings to the table. The wide-reaching marketing. The look that we are able to give an artist. But not only do you have local (promoter) waking up every morning focused on the show, but you have a national team on top.
So a lot of times I don’t have to get into that screaming, flipped-out place in order to get business done because I’ve surrounded myself with people that know that if they let me be involved with their tour with their artist that they have a partner with me; and I’m going to wake up every day doing everything I can to sell more tickets for their band.
At the same time, you really don’t have to scream or yell in a negotiation with an agent or a manager because you largely have the upper hand. You control so many Live Nation and HOB venues that you bring plenty to the table. You aren’t just booking a single date. You can route much of a tour for any manager or agent.
Yep. It’s crazy now. Ryan Harlacher (music agent at Creative Artists Agency) and I were talking a few months ago that we could do a Breaking Benjamin tour in the Carolinas in 8 markets, and not be within radius of any of the shows. That is pretty unheard of. Look, I am very lucky that Ron Bension (President House of Blues Entertainment) and Ben Weeden (COO of House of Blues Entertainment) continue to bring venues online. It’s hard even for me to keep up with what we are booking. For a very long time there was this thing of, “Well, going into tertiaries, going into secondaries, or going into promo venues, that is really not our core business,” and we have really turned that around. We are working in Asheville (North Carolina). We are working in Huntsville (Alabama). We are really taking a deep dive into the much deeper markets than the Top 20 markets. So you are right. You used to be only able to do a major market run for a club or theatre artist. Now, you are almost in a year-long business with them if they are on a touring cycle because you are going from headlining major markets to now jumping into secondary, and tertiary markets.
While Clear Channel Entertainment, and then Live Nation steered clear of those secondary, and tertiary markets, they were being developed in America by independent promoters including, among others, Larry Frank and his brother Fred at Frank Productions, John Peters at MassConcerts, and Jeff Apregan at Apregan Entertainment; and in Canada by Jim Cressman, president, Invictus Entertainment Group.
(Laughing) Medicine Hat (Alberta). The market Medicine Hat, I thought I was being pranked you know what I mean?
When dealing with an agent or a manager you are able to say, “I can’t give you everything, but I can give you 6 venues, but I need you to come in at this rate.” That’s a pretty good negotiating chip.
Look Larry, if anybody had told me that I was going to do math for a living I would have told them that they were full of it. It blows my mind every day that I do math for a living. I’ve got somebody coming to me saying, “I want a million dollar guarantee, but I need for the ticket price to be $2.” Unfortunately, that math doesn’t work. In a way these guys are getting hip to it, and obviously we aren’t looking at the margins of the 22,000 cap amphitheater when we are looking at a club or a theatre.
A lot of times, it is, “Look, it’s a function of the math guys. We need a ticket price that sells a show and that fans feel good about for their buck. Not that they are getting slighted. Not that they are being overcharged. And here’s what I can pay you after I have paid the security guards that are going to keep everybody safe. Here’s what I can pay you after the ticket-takers.”
I think really in the club and theatre space, and that under 4,000 or 5,000 (audience) space, that these guys get it. Some more than others. But you are right. If I am going to come to you with 30 dates—don’t get me wrong. Do guys come back, and say, “I need more money here?” Do I get pitted against other promoters? Of course, I do. But like you said with the reach that we have, and with the marketing—the marketing that we bring to the table–is so unsurpassed. I have guys that call me and say, “Hey, I have a new artist. I want to develop this with you, and I want you to put the marketing machine against helping me to build this band.” And we have done it extremely successfully in a lot of cases.
In recent years we have seen many clubs either disappear or diversify their bookings or even go dark for a couple of nights in the week. A couple out for a night might have to pay a babysitter, buy two $25 tickets, and then there’s parking and drinks. That may add up to a $200 night out.
With what is unquestionably a tough economy right now for some folks that’s challenging for some.
Right, and Larry that really puts me and my job to task because the consumer, the fan, has to feel that they want to part with their money; and that there is a reason to do so. We all know that with some of these artists that there’s nothing special about them. They are going to be in the market twice a year at the same ticket price. And I believe what we have really started to do in the club and theatre world is almost to take a page from the amphitheater world; in that you have to have a dynamic package. You have to have a reason for someone to feel that there is a 4 or 5 band bill that is really exciting. Not look at it and go, “I only care about the headliner. By the time I get out of there”—and as you said pay for the parking, pay for the tickets—’”it’s not worth me getting a sitter to go out for the evening.” That is why dynamic packaging is important.
Another key part of successfully selling shows is ensuring the venue environment is appealing.
Most people today don’t want to go into a dark, dingy club where their feet may stick on the floor. They want to view the stage without obstacles. They don’t want to be hosed for drinks.
You are exactly right, Larry. I think that Ron Bension and Ben Weeden really turned the corner on the club experience. I grew up going to VFW halls. I also grew up going to the Edge (a rave hotspot) which then became the Chili Pepper, and now I have the pleasure of booking as Revolution Live (on SW Third Avenue) in Fort Lauderdale. I think that you are right. People started to realize that having the women’s’ room toilet door off; having sticky floors; and having nasty staff that are going to hassle you for standing in the wrong spot really plays into what you were saying about (venue) shrinkage. I think that Ron and Ben and Live Nation understand that if people are going to part with their hard-earned dollar you have to give them an experience where they walk out that night, and they want to post on social media: “A great night at the Myrtle Beach House of Blues” or “So much fun at Irving Plaza.” That really starts, as you said, from wall-to-wall. Going into a place where you say, “This is pretty nice. This feels good. The drinks are reasonable. The security guard asked if I needed help with something. He didn’t push me out of the way and tell me, ‘You can’t stand there.’”
The fan wants an experience they can enjoy, and tell their friends about.
We aim to do that with every fan that comes through the door. We know they are parting with their hard-earned dollar and we want to make sure that their Tuesday night out or that Saturday night out is memorable and that they feel good about the experience. Not “I went out and this guy was a jerk I almost lost my shoe on gum because the place was so gross.”
Add to the bucket list that the headliner comes onstage on a weeknight by 10 P.M. as opposed to 11:30 P.M.
Yes. And I’ve got to tell you that is something that we are more cognizant about every single day. Not only because we have “comp yous” in Chicago for all-ages shows, but you are right Larry. There are a lot of parents that when their 14 or 15 wants to go out, they don’t want to be picking them up in downtown Detroit at one o’clock in the morning. They are fine with their kids having those experiences, and I also feel that I am very lucky that I work in a 4-0 company that really makes it accessible for parents to feel okay about dropping their kids off. You used to worry, “Is my kid going to be safe here?” I think we do a fantastic job of making it an accessible experience for all demographics. We see people bring their 5-year-olds to their fist show ever. We see them dropping their 14-year-old off on their first show ever. It is really exciting to work for a company that cares so much for the fan experience, and about the band experience as well.
For most bands, life on the road is largely a forgettable grind. except for the shows themselves, and the venue experience—good or bad.
That starts with the dressing rooms. These guys are spending how many hours there? They are loading in at 11 A.M., and they are not leaving until 1 A.M. or 2 A.M. We hear from the bands that it’s such a nice experience when they roll into a Live Nation room. They know that they are going to get decent catering. They know they are going to get Wi-Fi. They know the dressing rooms are going to be clean. I have bands call me all the time, and say, “We are so excited when we look at our itinerary. We only have two sticky floor clubs.” I tell agents and managers all of the time, “Look, yes I book all venues sitting in L.A., but if you don’t tell me that there is a problem in a venue–whether it’s that door on the restroom or a disgruntled employee–I am not going to know that.” So I do really rely on and try to keep in touch with my tour managers out on the road because they are my best insight. So are my production managers.
Let’s be honest Larry. I can book the best tour sitting here in Los Angeles and, if the band rolls up and doesn’t have a great experience from load in to load out, we can lose that business or the local experience. When it’s fantastic, which it is 99.999% of the time, we have these bands for life. “You treat me so well when I’m away from my family. I feel that the production and the local team gets it when I walk through the door. That’s magic.”
Tour and production managers are really the unsung heroes of live music.
Those guys are really the face of our company and they don’t get the credit that they deserve. They are really the ones doing it from top to bottom. The production manager is in that venue from 8 A.M. and asking them to do math at 1 A.M. settling shows.
One of your values over the years to the company has been discovering up-and-coming acts like Family Values, Sound of the Underground, Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying, Bring Me the Horizon, Dita Von Teese and so many others. Obviously, you cannot be as street savvy as you were 17 years ago. So how does a promoter like you today spot new talent? At a regional club level? From social media? A band can have zillion imprints but still not be able to either perform well or even attract 50 people for a hard ticket.
Exactly. It has to be about the live performance. Nobody is going to stay around, and nobody is going to part with their hard-earned dollars to see you more than once if the live show doesn’t connect. I don’t think that hard rock and metal even to this day gets the respect that it deserves. Coming from that VFW straight edge hardcore background, that was the music that I gravitated to because it wasn’t the Boston, REO Speedwagon. Styx and Aerosmith stuff that I grew up with my dad promoting.
We are in a transitionary musical period.
We are in a headliner crisis. My father, when he was booking, we had Aerosmith. We had the Rolling Stones. I say all of the time, “What is going to be my generation’s Rolling Stones?” That you will get your kids or your grandkids and like “We are paying $600 to go and see X.” Who is that band Larry?
Pink, the production is there, right. The show is there.
I saw Kiss recently, and I was absolutely blown away.
When you get to that level it has to be about the stage show. It is almost like seeing Broadway and rock concert together. And you don’t walk away from that without saying, “Wow, I was really mind blown.”
Back to my question. How do you source new acts that can potentially deliver live on a national level?
You have your inner circle. I really feel that if I hear from this guy at a label or that agent is taking a flyer on it (a band or artist) or that this manager is. There are people with track records out there, right?
Still, few are doing artist development in order to establish a touring act.
Some of the younger guys at labels are, and there are agents that do. The 33 & West team, and (former UTA agents) Tim Borror and Dave Shapiro striking out on their own with Sound Talent Agency (with Matt Andersen). I think that some of the guys out there have such A&R ears that they can get some things in there; that if they hear something that they can go, “I have a first to five shot that I can pay these guys 100 bucks on. Then we might have something else that we can throw these guys on for $250.” Look they (bands) aren’t going to stay around long if they don’t bring it live. We have seen so many artists that are, “putting together this great record and it sounds fantastic,” and when you listen to it on SoundCloud it does. Then you go to and see them live, and you are like, “This is garbage. They came to play this stuff live, and it’s all tooth on a board. This is awful.” But for the few and far between, if someone like a Nick Storch (at Artist Group International) gets involved, and tells me, “Kelly, I really believe in this. I really want to do this.” Nick Storch has a great track record, and if he’s excited about something then 9 times out of 10 I’m excited.
I do think that there used to be a good stomping grounds (to discover talent) and it’s now more difficult. Look at South By. Horror or Ho99o9 we did one of their first-ever South By showcases before they were really trucking out there, and you were like, “Wow. This is an incredible live situation. This is an experience that I want to try to bring to the masses.”
Ho99o9’s night show at SXSW in 2017 was shut down in the middle of its second song due to an out-of-control mosh pit. You don’t see that much anymore.
Now there is so much clutter. People can put stuff up online. They can get clicks or whatever but if they…
Don’t have stickability, it doesn’t matter
Exactly. If you don’t have a few people, an agent and a label, a manager or a promoter that is really going to dig in. C’mon. Greta Van Fleet is a great example of that. Those guys really dug in. They got the right manager (Aaron Frank of ABI Management), and that manager curated and helped the promoting situation by working with a great team at WME and bringing in a strong promoter partner with Frank Productions. Now the band is one of the biggest rock bands that we have ever seen blow up so quickly. So I think it’s important that when you are curating…Look can I listen to Spotify all day long every day? Can I listen in on the A&R calls that I have? Sure, but unless it’s somebody that I really trust, and have been in business with tells me, “I want to get in on this together,” it’s really difficult to take that leap of faith.
Away from the competition of the arena and amphitheater world, there’s more musical experimentation at the club and theater level.
Absolutely. I think that’s why I really liked the clubs and theatres because you got to be so diversified. You didn’t have to sell 20,000 tickets to be a success. You could super surf bands in 20 markets, and in 1,000 or 2,000 cap rooms. I do some pretty outlandish European black metal bands that nobody in their right mind have heard of. Any intern can walk by my office, and be really frightened (by what they hear), and I could be doing my job. I book bands like Fucked Up, Dying Fetus, and As I Lay Dying. You can be really taken aback. but I think that is why it was exciting to be able to go into these clubs. and be successful when we sell 1,000 tickets.
It was really exciting being able to super-serve these niché genres, these niché bands. Being able to do that whether with crazy death metal or niché punk. I’m working with the Australia kids, the Chats right now. They are a bunch of 20-year-olds that are reviving punk rock. Right now. That’s really exciting and to be able to say I can have a small piece of this but we don’t have to sell 20,000 tickets to call it a success is fantastic.
I love Pup. It’s taken 7 years for them to come through the system.
Larry, as I’ve said, I don’t think that hard rock and metal get the respect that it deserves. Our industry is so used to pop and hip-hop. Maybe, just maybe, you do one club/theatre tour before you are in arenas or an amphitheater or stadium whatever it may well be. The hard rock and metal stuff takes much longer to hit, but 9 times out of 10 when those bands hit Larry, they can have a career for as long as they want to be a working musician. It’s not based upon whether their sophomore album hits or not. I look at some of the people around the industry. and every year they are having to cultivate new talent, “Okay what is the next new thing? What is the next new thing?” Because the thing that they worked on last year is either playing arenas or nobody ever heard of the band again.
I’ve been blessed enough to be working with Bullet For My Valentine for a decade. Bring Me The Horizon for a decade. Killswitch Engage for a decade. It’s a much more flowing and steady climb but if you are a working musician, and if you make it in hard rock and metal you are going to be playing the Danny (Wimmer) and Gary (Spivack) festivals (Danny Wimmer Presents) until they decide they do not want to be a band anymore.
Many of these hard rock and metal bands survive personnel changes to continue for years.
Look at Killswitch Engage. Lost their lead singer (Jesse Leach). Came back even bigger with the second singer (Howard Jones, formerly of Blood Has Been Shed) Now they are back to the original singer, and they are again bigger than they ever were.
As I said I don’t think that rock and metal really get the respect that it deserves. There are blue-collar workers throughout the country. The other thing I don’t understand is sponsorship dollars. Sponsorships are always chasing the cool next thing. Monster Energy Outbreak brings a cool rock tour to someone’s town and they go, “Monster brought that to me. I get a Monster Energy (drink) on my way out.” That person buys a Monster Energy drink at every 7-11, AM/PM, and Costco to the day they die. They are such brand loyalists when it comes to hard rock and metal touring I really think that sponsorship really misses them a lot because they are scared because these guys are in black T-shirts.
No matter what level you work live music remains a relationship business.
It really is. People will say, “No, it’s really about who cuts the bigger check.” But I was told if you really like people and you know they are going to do a good job for your artist, the money is almost secondary. You will work the money up. The money is a function of math. It is knowing that you are surrounded by people that care about what you are doing, and want to take good care of your artists. it is really important for me to surround myself by good people that I will have a good foundation of people that like me and want to work with me and that is really important. Even when I have a horrible day, when I want to throw in the towel, and go and dye my hair pink, and manage a Hot Topic mall store, I have to remind myself that I don’t have to do manual labor, right? I’m so unbelievably grateful.
By the way, if you don’t have that core group, if you don’t have a Dennis Arfa, a Howard Kaufman, an Irving Azoff, or a Howard Rose you won’t make it.
You and your mother are closely involved with animal rescue efforts.
People used to know if they got my dad after hours or on the weekend they would hear a house full of barking dogs, and that is a tradition I am happy to keep alive. When my father passed away, Jane Holman started the Bruce Kapp Animal Fund. Since his passing, of the estimated 18,000 feral and community cats in Montgomery County, Texas we have sterilized, and vaccinated nearly 6,000 cats. Many bands and artists I work with donate 25 cents per paid ticket to help keep my father’s memory alive and help us care for animals. I joke that my two-pound Pomeranian rescue, Adora, makes more money for Live Nation than I do. Tour managers care about early load-ins and additional catering, but they also want to make sure Dora will be at the show. I feel very lucky to have Southern California Pomeranian Rescue in my life. Between my mom and I, we have rescued 6 Poms.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.