This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Amy Morrison, SVP Marketing, Concerts West/AEG Presents.
In today’s live music world, Amy Morrison strikes a resounding chord.
As one of the sector’s recognized leading marketers, her touch is legendary, and she has unquestionably changed the way music events and tours are being now marketed.
Decades ago, a music promoter’s idea of marketing was to saturate and exploit. With Morrison, it’s about strategizing and image control, creating compelling custom content that sets events and tours apart.
In the 1980s, Morrison promoted rising indie bands at the club level in Boulder, Colorado, and she quickly realized she could not fill out a venue unless she could create a strong local buzz. That meant she had to first get people into the club to hear a band and then spread the word.
That basic schooling is the touchstone of a remarkable international marketing career encompassing overseeing the marketing of global music superstars performing on arena, stadium, and festival stages just about anywhere you can name.
As Senior Vice President of Marketing for Concerts West/AEG Presents, Morrison is responsible for formulating strategic marketing initiatives and managing creative, PR, advertising, digital and promotional teams for all of Concerts Wests/AEG Presents’ tours and events throughout the world.
This has included overseeing rich, content-forward marketing campaigns for the Rolling Stones, Celine Dion, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, and for the legendary Desert Trip in 2016.
Morrison joined Concerts West in 2000 after working as an independent tour marketing consultant for Neil Diamond, Blink-182, and The H.O.R.D.E. Festival.
Prior to her move from New York to Los Angeles in 1996, she was the management supervisor for 7 years on the Delsener/Slater Enterprises account at Grey Entertainment, a subsidiary of Grey Advertising.
In 2018, Morrison was featured in Billboard magazine as one of the leading women in music.
Billboard magazine described you as a “marketing genius.”
Oh, well. That’s fun. That’s nice.
Well, you were singled out by Billboard in 2018 for its annual feature, The Most Powerful Female Executives in the Industry, saying “(Brooke) Kain, Morrison and (Debra) Rathwell’s collective efforts have intertwined to expand AEG’s international imprint.”
Also, of course, there’s also (AEG Live/Goldenvoice’s SVP) Susan Rosenbluth.
Despite the 2013 departures of Tim Leiweke (President and CEO, Anschutz Entertainment Group), (AEG Live CEO) Randy Phillips, and Rob Hallett (president of international touring, AEG Live) in 2014, there has been relative stability at AEG.
I think so. I’m a single mom who has raised a kid, and worked here for 19 years I’ve always felt secure and informed.
You worked with Paul Gongaware in Los Angeles before Concerts West was launched, and before AEG Group brought Concerts West into the fold?
Yes. It was for his company Cascade Concerts.
Were you the first hire at Concerts West?
I was part of the original team when it reformed.
(Concerts West/AEG Presents co-CEOs John Meglen and Paul Gongaware met while working at Concerts West/Management III, the combined promotion and management companies co-founded by Jerry Weintraub, Tim Hulett, and Terry Bassett, that were producing more than 700 concerts a year in multiple markets, and touring such artists as Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Neil Diamond, John Denver, and Stevie Wonder.
Gongaware had earlier been producing films with Roger Corman and Warren Miller as well as promoting tours with Rod Stewart, Yanni and working with Michael Jackson on his “Dangerous” and “HIStory” world tours. Meglen had managed the Beach Boys, Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Moody Blues; worked in Toronto for Michael Cohl’s Concert Productions International doing tours of the Rolling Stones’ tours. Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, David Bowie, and “Disney’s Symphonic Fantasy”; and had spent two years working at Pace Touring with Louis Messina.)
What makes it so fun working with the AEG Group teams of AEG Presents Concerts West, and Goldenvoice?
Well, generally just good people, and they really trust that we know how to do our jobs. We are given the flexibility to come up with creative ideas and there’s an attitude of, “Hey if you need to work from home today, no problem as long as you get your job done.”
When we first talked earlier you were in the middle of…
We were putting the Rolling Stones on sale. A stadium tour of 15 cities, American Express pre-sales, and the Rolling Stones’ presale started that day (Feb. 12) and the public general sales were on Friday (Feb. 14th). And that day, it was reporting and troubleshooting, and being part of the team though I was not literally at Ticketmaster.
When AEG Live (now AEG Presents) took on the Rolling Stones’ North American tour in 2013 you, Paul, and John got on a telephone conference call with Mick Jagger to work out marketing plans?
Yes, we did.
Do you still do phone conferencing with Mick?
No. I’m sure Paul talks to him, and it’s involved. We work with the manager (Joyce Smyth) really closely.
You have since been involved with the Rolling Stones’ international touring including for Europe, South Africa, South America, and the band’s historic show at Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana in Havana in 2016. So you have an insider’s idea of what you need to market them today?
Oh absolutely. Absolutely. We’ve got a good rhythm (with Rolling Stones’ management). They allow us to be creative while watching out for the brand, and obviously they keep their eye on all of it. They are super fun to work with.
Marketing the Rolling Stones can be challenging despite their stature. You don’t hear them on the radio much anymore. They don’t do much press. Still, you get to work on a big technology canvas of mainstream media, social media, and utilizing multiple database sources.
I remember the run-up “tease” to the Stones 2019 U.S. tour had placements on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and there was an incredible set of tie-ins with the NFL that included the band’s banner being draped down the side of the Broncos’ Mile High Stadium in Denver, followed by a performance by the New England Patriots’ cheerleaders taking off their tops to reveal tongue T-shirts at Massachusetts’ Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
So there’s now a long list of marketing tools for you to work with?
Data-wise for sure, and really the real game-changer recently has been content and being able to create compelling content. Not just the silly kind of things, but really beautiful editorial pieces and, as a creative, it really gets exciting. That is something that we really focus on.
(Despite the rescheduling of 17 North American shows due to Mick Jagger’s heart surgery, the Rolling Stones’ three-year, three-leg No Filter Tour, according to Billboard magazine, finished in Aug. 2019 grossing $415.6 million, and selling 2,290,871 tickets to become one of the top 10 highest-grossing tours in Billboard Boxscore history.)
In 2016, Brooke Kain became AEG’s first chief digital officer. She’d worked at Universal Music Group to leverage their data when they were still selling physical product to consumers. As the space shifted to digital, she was part of Jimmy Iovine’s team that created Beats Music which was ultimately acquired by Apple, where she was running all of the marketing for Apple Music.
When she arrived at AEG, Brooke expanded the digital team from 11 to more than 70 and has added to AEG’s marketing toolbox in order to bring artists and fans closer together. A fair assessment?
Oh, definitely another tool in the box. Definitely. And it’s just about the level of sophistication, and just keeping us current, and on the cutting edge. So absolutely.
The music industry was the first media sector to feel the full impact of the Internet, and technology-empowered consumers. Clearly, consumer behavior shifted, but promoters, managers and artists were first perplexed about how to make a profit in the digital world. Demand for greater mobile music experiences, in particular, fueled social networking, web surfing, and cloud-based content that led to greater user interaction and link-ups with new partners.
Many promoters, managers and agents have only slowly adapted to what new marketing changes and opportunities are available. If you are working full-time in marketing you see it, right? But if you are not, and if you are booking tours as a promoter or as a manager or as an agent, it’s not as obvious. A marketing person says, “Well, I need this amount of money.” And there’s a long pause, “Hold it. What are we doing here, Amy? What is this about compiling user information across platforms? Or delivering in-the-moment deals to concert-goers based on their interests and loyalty levels?”
Now, I think it’s about the ability to be able to explain it in plain words. Marketing jargon scares people. It’s important to pitch it (a campaign) right? They need to be educated and I think that one of the great things is that Brooke and the team have put some time and energy into educating the full company to what is possible, and what is available. But that (changes in marketing) is what has kept it interesting to me for all of these years because it’s ever-changing.
That’s showbiz. You have one foot in showbiz, the other in the marketing world inhabited by others vying to sell goods and services.
Yeah, and marketing is ever-changing. It’s ever and ever changing. So it has kept it interesting over time.
Unlike Live Nation, AEG is not in the shed (amphitheaters) business. You work with various venues. A lot of the same ones, obviously, but…
We love the arenas. We look at the arenas as literally another media outlet. They are yet another media channel with their email databases, the signage that they have, and the captive audiences of ticket-buying public that goes through their doors for sports. So we are really trying to maximize everything that we can.
A decade ago, many of the managers and the artists that you were dealing with weren’t savvy about the marketing aspects of touring, especially a national tour where each market had to be individually researched. Today, with their own marketing support teams, they are far more aware.
No, not as much back then. It (the evolution) really, though, has allowed an opportunity for us to become…..we have always positioned ourselves as an extension of their team. We now have become their eyes and ears in the local markets. We have become their marketing team. We have become an extension of them, and we do this together as a team.
You also had to evolve your own marketing expertise. A decade ago, it was quite an effort to find out what media and marketing buys were evident in individual local markets. In some cases, you had representation in markets, and you also were able to work with the local venues. You either researched the media in the market yourself or trusted locals to advise you. Today, there are multiple media listings available, and you can search through Google, and pinpoint what you are looking for.
Well, it was really the venues then. We didn’t work with local promoters. I worked with all of the arenas, and what I couldn’t get from them it was then research. Just had to figure it out.
Research and word-of-mouth.
Yep. Just talking to people. A lot of being on the phone. A lot of talking to people.
How far out do you start planning marketing on a tour today? Paul Gongaware knocks on your door, and says, “Celine wants to do a tour. We are going to do 71 North American shows, 49 international shows.” How far in advance do you start?
Every artist is completely different. Literally completely different. With Celine (for the “Courage World Tour”), it was a few months. We had plenty of time, but there’s a long-standing, on-going relationship with her here.
Dating back to Celine embracing Las Vegas in 2003 with Concerts West and performing nearly 1,100 shows there during her two spectacular residency runs (2003 until 2007, and 2011 to 2019) at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
As well, Debra Rathwell (executive VP Global Touring and Talent at AEG Presents) has worked with Celine from the start of her career while with Donald Tarlton’s Donald K. Donald in Montreal. DKD was a pivotal player in Celine’s early career. Debra began working at DKD in 1982 as VP of Concerts, handling tours for Celine, Tina Turner, Genesis, Bryan Adams, Leonard Cohen among others.
I know. I know Debra’s history.
First round of tickets on-sale for the “Courage World Tour,” being produced by Concerts West/AEG Presents, was Friday, April 12th (2019) at 10 AM local time. What took place in marketing planning before that launch?
We had a couple of months. We had a few months to work on that one. At least being able to think about it, and planning it, even before the routing was finalized. Just to be able to wrap our heads around it, and think of what creative might look like. But you know, like anything, it still comes down to the final crunch time. Everyone works with the time allotted, but things expand. But with other tours we just know sometimes about a month out before that we are going to announce it (the tour), and it goes on sale. It just depends. I will make this point, If anyone out there wants to hear, the more time the better, and we will do a better job for you. Just saying.
(Celine Dion, announced on April 3rd, 2019 that she would be embarking on her “Courage World Tour” kicking off Sept. 18th in Quebec City. Dion made the announcement to a packed house of fans during a special live event at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. Unveiling a short video chronicling the end of her iconic Las Vegas residency, she announced news of the “Courage World Tour,” her first U.S. tour in over 10 years. Dion closed the event with a performance of songs from her catalog, and a Q&A with the audience.)
At one time artists had set time periods in which they’d tour, largely dictated by release dates of albums which were mostly in two year, and then later in three year cycles with various ancillary projects also being issued. Is it challenging nowadays having artists away from the market for long periods of time as with the Rolling Stones or with Celine Dion with her residencies in Las Vegas? Or does that absence create a pent-up demand. “Celine’s touring again. I have to get tickets.”
What I think the difference is when they are out of the marketplace, and there isn’t buzz or ongoing things to put them in the news, and it’s our job to create that. That’s where things like starting with the “tease” come in, and doing things where we can start to seep into peoples’ minds and have the artist start to become top of mind, and even become apparent in peoples’ minds. So that’s why we start our campaigns earlier. But it is incumbent on the artist to be on the same page. Again I will go back to content and creative and things that we can do to prime the audience. So we do need to do a little work in advance. So our budgets are…I will start a campaign a couple of weeks out before we will even announce some times. For, maybe, a week. For Desert Trip we started out with our “tease” before we announced it. Just because you can’t go from zero to whatever; from zero to onsale is tough. You need to start earlier.
Marketing is often deemed an expense on the books, and isn’t always embraced within a company. You likely have had to defend your spends on a marketing campaign. All of your older peers fondly recall the days when marketing expenses were limited to getting an artist’s music played on a radio station in the market, taking an advertisement out in the local paper and, maybe, some posters and fliers. That was it.
Yes, that’s true but now there is a true understanding that “You get what you pay for” is not exactly right; that you do need to spend some money to put a campaign together, especially on the high end tours across the board. With the grosses and the high ticket prices and everything, people have to choose where they are going to spend their money. You have to make the splash. You have to make a noise.
Who is the first party you consult when a tour and your budget are green-lighted? Tour designer Bill Young (of Bill Young Productions), a broadcast media company offering tour design and promotion services?
My creative team. We use Bill Young for certain things, but we have a couple of other agencies that we also work with. For Desert Trip, we were like, “You know what we really want to do is make this creative, our big stuff, look like a movie trailer.” So we found a movie trailer house, The Ether, that specifically does creative that way and, to this day, we work with them on so many different projects. So I sit down with the creative team, and then I sit down with my digital project person, and my marketing director, and then we figure out the budget.
Is the budget given to you or do you propose a budget?
I give the budget when they put the offers in. So I am involved with that part of the process.
So hearing about the dates and venues and routing proposed for the act, you say, “We’re are going to need this?”
If there’s push back from the manager or the agent representing the act do you re-scale or counter with, “This is what you need to have this work.”
Yeah, and we have so much historical data too that helps make cases for what we need. But yeah, it also depends on ticket prices, you know, old stuff.
What impact does ticket pricing have on shows? Last year I interviewed former Anschutz Entertainment Group President and CEO Tim Leiweke, now the CEO of the Oak View Group, at Canadian Music Week, and he said he saw no reason why a concert ticket could not sell for $800. To me $800 as a standard for a major artist’s show ticket strikes me as wrong even if we have seen ticket prices rise as other revenue streams for artists have evaporated including music sales or publishing revenues. How do you factor that in with your marketing when the ticket price is, let’s say $250 a ticket? That’s pricy for a couple when you add in parking and food and maybe, buying some merch. How do you market a show when ticket prices are now often out of the range for a segment of the population?
I will go back to the content that we create is so important because people need to feel that they have to be there. I think also it compels us to spend a little bit more money to make sure that we reach everybody; but it’s back to the content which is so important. You just can’t throw a picture on a billboard or the print ads as in back in the day. You really need to hit people from all angles with compelling content that tells the story, gets them excited, and they can’t miss it (the show). The fear of missing out. So, “Why choose us? Why spend your money here versus somewhere else, right?” You will get the core fans (anyway), but it’s how do you get the casual fans; the people that are on the fence; and it’s not the “must” thing for them? How do you get them excited?
Whereas bands in metal and hip hop will likely attract core followers of their respective genres, if you are dealing with the likes of Katy Perry, the Rolling Stones or Celine Dion, their audiences are fairly wide demographically.
Yes. It’s hard to be completely targeted. We are on 7 different formats of radio, if that even exists, for the Rolling Stones. With Celine, there’s a more targeted audience for radio, but still multiple formats. All of the AC formats, the news formats, and TV. TV is an important part of the mix.
And Katy Perry with a younger demographic?
Younger, so it’s digital online, and TV too. You know that radio is still important especially if they are still making music. But that’s where the building of our database and the ability to target from it just helps us immensely. It’s critical.
There are heritage acts that aren’t on radio any longer, but draw followers for dates. Then there’s a tier of somewhat visible acts like Britney Spears. I’m not sure where I’d start the marketing of her for a national tour with her recently largely skipping touring for another Las Vegas’ residency.
Conversely, however, Las Vegas’ current residency favorite Lady Gaga still has currency in the national live music space; as shown by her highly-anticipated concert at the Meridian at Island Gardens in Miami during Super Bowl weekend.
Well, that’s the thing too, right? If you can’t figure out who the audience is I don’t think that we should be promoting them (laughing). Sometimes I can’t think of an example but sometimes it’s, “Hmmm, I’m not quite sure who to target for that.”
From the use of “rolling stock” in movie theaters to the digital, closed-circuit broadcast of concerts, AEG pioneered multi-program advertising under your watch. Today, you continue to discover innovative techniques to promote shows and clients. Decades ago, you’d just place an ad or put up posters.
Yes. My first job was working for Bill Bass at Image Productions in Colorado, and we put up posters. That was it. Dennis Arfa (Founder and Chairman, Artist Group International) used to make us (while at Delsener/Slater Enterprises in New York) fax presales announcements to season ticket holders. I worked for Ron Delsener, and literally we would fax them. But yes we started with the movie theatres with Britney Spears with actual “rolling stock” film. We sent theatres the film.
For Britney’s “Dream Within A Dream” tour in 2001, she had a movie “Crossroads” coming out, and Phil Anschutz owned United Artists Theatres. So you designed an entire marketing campaign, the Britney Binder, which went market-by-market on the tour. Three things were covered: Her third studio album “Britney,” her tour, and her movie. Concerts West got each venue, and the United Artist movie theatres to promote all three of those things at the same time.
(AEG might not be the global live music player if not for Britney Spears’ “Dream Within A Dream” tour in 2001. It was the Spears’ tour that brought AEG Live and Concerts West (then Irving Azoff, Paul Gongaware, and John Meglen) further together. The tour was a big deal at the time, and interestingly, Concerts West beat out both Clear Channel, and House of Blues. That’s really what kicked off Concerts West, and gave the company traction. “Dream Within a Dream Tour” was the 4th concert tour by Spears, and it grossed $43.7 million.)
We started in the movie theatres with Britney Spears with actual “rolling stock” film. We sent to theatres the film to run the spots. Now we have created an ongoing deal with them (National CineMedia, the cinema advertising company). We have inventory nationally that we can tap into, and it’s great. It’s great for awareness.
News cycles for media used to be daily, but today with the internet it’s an endless 24/7 cycle. News today doesn’t stop for a minute.
No, it really doesn’t. Now we are able to target. Facebook allows us to build custom audiences. Everything you read about what is being done in politics, it is also a great marketing tool. Our email databases allow us to use them not only for emails but to target those buyers and find lookalikes through programmatics (programmatic marketing targeting what types of audience you wish to show your advertising to) which can encompass segments across demographics such as age, gender, social standing, to geographic in certain areas of the country, and other avenues. We also have found a lot of success with OTTs (where a telecommunications service provider delivers one or more services across an IP network), the Hulus and the Rokus of the world. I love doing campaigns through them. We really do try to roll things out; not every tour, but develop some kind of tease that gets people primed and stroked for (the tour); whether it’s what we just did with Celine with a handwritten thing on a mirror with lipstick about leaving Las Vegas. It just gets people talking and gets them excited and primed and ready to go.
It is quite extraordinary the changes in marketing entertainment over a decade.
It is interesting that the principals are still the same, but the things that you get to play with, and the tools that we have, are so much greater as well as the greater the opportunities for content. The ability to tell a story is so much greater. It’s all the stuff I learned with Neil Diamond when I worked for Sal Bonafede. Big launch, get everybody. The first day of the onsale is the big day. Make a lot of noise in whatever ways you can. Even billboards were a big game changer I remember. Like, “Oh, wow.” This is the way that they (promoters) let artists feel that they are so important, right? Like they are a movie launching. So it is really about finding that medium that feels larger than life. Like the full-page ad. Do you really need a full-page ad in the New York Times? Yes, but no.
You have to know when to hold back too. You have to deal with what your budget is. What the ticket price is. The size of the venue. All those are considerations.
Absolutely. Absolutely. So it’s really that there are just more choices, and there are more media outlets now than 10 years ago.
How did you come to work with Sal Bonafede?
I met him in the early 90’s when I was in NY working with Delsener/Slater on Neil Diamond’s tour. I moved to LA 1996 and kept working with Sal.
What did you do for Sal with Neil Diamond?
I was doing the marketing for the tours, either with the arenas assisting locally on media buying and promotions or doing it myself. Most venues had great deals and relationships due to sports teams and family shows.
Besides working Neil Diamond tours with Sal, you also worked with Paul Gongaware on Yanni who was a huge live act at the time.
Yes. PBS. That was all about PBS.
(Sal Bonafede, who passed away in 2007, was the quiet giant behind the careers of such artists as Neil Diamond, the Doors, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and many others. With Jerry Weintraub and Danny Kaye he was a major participant in Management III that trailblazed the concept of national tour management.)
In 2016, you led the content-forward marketing campaign for Desert Trip at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, California that brought together the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Sir Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and the Who for two weekends. Paul Tollett, Skip Paige, Bill Fold, and the entire AEG Presents/ Goldenvoice festival team did a remarkable job conceiving Desert Trip and making it an incredible experience for those who attended.
Desert Trip was arguably the highest demand single event of 2016. Will we see if it ever happens again? Not likely. What was interesting was that the Desert Trip branding became its own cultural attraction as much as the bands involved.
There was a great discussion about Desert Trip on a Dan Steinberg’s #Promoter101 podcast taped at Aspen Live. At one point, you explained that the organizers almost didn’t give the event a name. What did you think when the media started calling it…..
With its headliners, Desert Trip may forever be regarded as the ultimate nostalgia-driven event. I’m unsure Desert Trip could happen again at the same level. This was like ‘60s rock’s Last Hurrah. We will never see those performers together at that level in their careers ever again.
And it was really magical. That was a moment in time. It was very, very special. I was honored to work on it. It was really amazing. It was wonderful too to have the best festival experience because that is not normally what I do.
Magical even more because there’s been no follow-up?
Yes, and there won’t be. He (Goldenvoice president and CEO Paul Tollett) won’t do it again unless something right presents itself than it won’t happen again.
Was there a film made of Desert Trip?
No. None of the acts would allow it. We captured some of it, but nothing really.
I’m happy that the Rolling Stones’ show at Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana in Havana in 2016 was captured on the film, “Havana Moon.” At a cost of $7 million, the event was delayed five days–the Rolling Stones had initially planned to perform the same day President Obama landed in Havana. Some 350 people traveled to Cuba to prepare the concert. They brought in 61 sea containers, and a 747 freighter full of gear. I’m thrilled that the show was captured because the event was then cited as ushering in a new era of liberation in Cuba. But now with the American embargo of Cuba still in place, we may never have another event in Havana like that again.
No. That was magic. That was great. I agree.
(Directed by Paul Dugdale “Havana Moon” had a limited one night premiere in over 1,000 theatres internationally Sept. 23rd 2016. The film made its American television premiere on Starz on January 22nd 2017, The majority of financing for the event came from Fundashon Bon Intenshon on behalf of the Island of Curacao, which “initiates and supports international charitable projects in the fields of education, athletics, cultural literacy, healthcare, and tourism,” according to the Stones’ press release.)
The Rolling Stones always seem to have something in play. Most news cycles, even when they aren’t on tour, have some news story about Keith or Mick or the group.
Yeah, yeah. They (the Rolling Stones) are amazing that way. Amazing with capturing content, and shooting shows. We always have fresh stuff to work with. There’s a reason that they are the greatest rock n’ roll band in the world. Besides being amazing artists, they know how to do it.
You are from Baltimore?
I am from Baltimore.
Like so many other young people, you went to Boulder, Colorado to study at the University of Colorado.
Yes, because of the university. I studied environmental conservation
After earning your degree, you worked for legendary Colorado promoter Bill Bass when he had Image Productions.
Booking agents used to refer to the Denver/Boulder market as the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” because of the fierce competition among club and concert promoters there.
Denver and Boulder are only 30 minutes apart and can be played separately or together. Boulder music fans will go to Denver, and Denver music fans will go to Boulder. A very young demographic supports a plethora of great live music venues. There are nuances with each market. Denver is one of America’s most ethnically diverse cities with a population that’s approximately one-third Hispanic. Boulder is a college town where people come to, and they tend to decide to stay.
Yeah, I was one. I stayed for a while. It was amazing. I really was involved in a lot of activism in school and when I graduated, and with not-for-profit work. Denver is still an incredibly viable (music) city, and plays more shows per capita than probably anywhere.
You worked at the Rocky Mountain Peace Center in Boulder, a multi-issue organization dedicated to social change.
Yep, I definitely did.
Did you take part back then in the anti-nuclear protests at The Rocky Flats Plant, the manufacturing complex near Denver that produced nuclear weapons?
In circling the Rocky Flats Plant, we actually went out to the Nevada test site. It was the time of the (proposed) Gorbachev Test Ban, and we would know when they were doing to blow off underground tests. We would go onto the site in the middle of the night and try to get to ground zero so they would postpone the tests. The people outside would call and alert the press that people were there. So the idea was they would blow off the test while we were out there.
Operating from 1952 to 1992, Rocky Flats Plant’s primary mission was the fabrication of plutonium pits, which were shipped to other facilities to be assembled into nuclear weapons.
In 1978, 60 protesters belonging to the Rocky Flats Truth Force, or Satyagraha Affinity Group, based in Boulder were arrested for trespassing at Rocky Flats and were brought to trial. In 1979, a crowd of close to 15,000 protesters assembled at a nearby site. Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt performed with various speakers. The following day, 286 protesters including Daniel Ellsberg were arrested for civil disobedience in trespassing on the Rocky Flats.
That was before my time in Boulder. I got there in 1980. I participated in the many protests around Rocky Flats that continued throughout the ‘80s. 1986 was when we were doing the backcountry actions on the Nevada test site. So I was part of a group. We postponed a test. We didn’t stop it, but we definitely brought awareness to what was going on.
How did you hook up with Bill Bass?
I had friends that were in a band called Little Women (a reggae/rock jam band that ruled the Rocky Mountain club circuit between the mid-1980s, and 1993), and Bill was friends with them too, and I used to do the door for Little Women some times, and just hang out, and I met Bill.
Bill was running the club Norman’s in Aurora.
Yes, Norman’s, and we’d do Boulder’s Coast and all kinds of other places. But Norman’s was our big metal place. That was crazy.
Bill loves metal and reggae.
Yep, (the annual) Reggae On The Rocks, I have a poster up on my wall at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Is it true that at Boulder’s Coast you’d do the door, and arrange for the deli trays for the bands?
All of it. Every bit of it. Boulder’s Coast, and at Norman’s and the re-opened Rainbow Music Hall, mostly working for Bill Bass at Image Productions. I would pick up people at the airport. I was a runner. Whatever we needed which is an incredible way to learn, right? You get to do all of it.
While at Fey Concerts later, you got to pick up the likes of Johnny Rotten, Roy Orbison and Randy Newman at the airport?
Yep, all of them. I was mesmerized by the Roy Orbison show. I was like, “Wow.” I knew who he was, but I wasn’t really, really familiar with him.
While working at the Rocky Mountain Peace Center did you think you could transfer what you were doing there to working in live music?
I think that it trained me for it, especially in the club world because how do you get peoples’ attention without any budget, right? So I think it did. Gawd, I used to work for Eco-Cycle ( teaching recycling, composting, waste reduction, conservation and about the environment). I used to knock on people’s doors to get them to put out their recycling. Eco-Cycle has turned into this giant recycling thing these days. So who knew how wrong recycling would go.
Bill Bass got recruited by Barry Fey at Fey Concerts, but Barry didn’t hire you. Still, you continued to do some work for Bill and then you were brought into Fey Concerts as an intern?
As an intern, but I also had my own company for a little while. I promoted a bunch of stuff. I did some punk shows for a little while at Norman’s. I would work for Bill at shows. Then I came in to do the Monsters of Rock Tour, and then I got hired.
On your own, you promoted the Circle Jerks.
Yep. D.O.A., Sonic Youth, Suicidal Tendencies, and Firehose, mostly at the Aztlan Theatre in Denver
Were you a good promoter?
I think so. I sold the tickets. It worked. I didn’t stick with being a full-on promoter, but, again, I learned so much.
One of the pioneering music promoters in America, Barry was so influential in building Denver into one of the key live concert markets in North America, into it being a “must-play” market. He promoted hundreds of shows including with Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Who, AC/DC, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, J. Geils Band, Bruce Hornsby, Joe Jackson, the Knack, Roxy Music, Peter Tosh, Willie Nelson, and others.
Oh, God. Oh yeah, we were busy.
(Barry Fey presented the three-day Denver Pop Festival in 1969, which was the last performance of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In 1976, he initiated his signature “Summer of Stars” concert series at Red Rocks Amphitheatre; promoted the popular “Colorado Sun Day” concert series of stadium shows; and opened the 1,400-seat Rainbow Music Hall. With Chris Blackwell and U2, he co-produced the “U2 Live At Red Rocks: Under A Blood Red Sky” concert film in 1983. For three consecutive years (1978, 1979, 1980), Barry Fey won Billboard’s Concert Promoter of the Year award. Fey left the live music sector in 2004, and sadly took his life in 2013.)
After Boulder, you decided to move to New York without even having a job.
No I did not. I did production. I temped at record labels. I can’t even remember which ones. They used to have those temp programs. They would just call you, and if you couldn’t make it, no big deal, they’d call you again. Somehow I intuitively knew that was not the place to be.
You worked on the marketing of Nintendo?
I did. John Scher hired me for that with the old Metropolitan Entertainment marketing team. They hired me to work on that. It was Tracey Strand, and Jim McDonald was there, and CYA was marketing arm.
Next, you worked at Grey Entertainment where for 7 years you created and managed marketing campaigns for Delsener/Slater Enterprises with Ron Delsener and Mitch Slater. Meanwhile, New York’s live music scene in the ‘90s was being described in Billboard as “The Battle of New York” with Delsener/Slater Enterprises, John Scher’s Metropolitan Entertainment, and The Bowery Presents all competing.
One of the longest-running battles in the music business was John Scher versus Ron Delsener, then with Delsener/Slater Enterprises. The two were rival concert promoters who tried for decades to seize control of Manhattan’s live music from each other. It must have been tense being in the middle of the battling factions.
Yes, they were spoken enemies. My ex-husband Mo Morrison worked with Scher while I was with Delsener. So that was fun. It was no big deal, really. But it worked out in the end. When I left New York and came to L.A. in 1996, John hired me for a project or two when I had my own company (Ammo Production) before I hooked up full-time with John (Meglen) and Paul (Gongaware). So it was a good relationship with him. When I first came to L.A. I worked solely for Sal and Neil Diamond. Ammo came later, and then I had a wide range of clients.
You were working as part time runner for Metropolitan Entertainment and doing production for TV awards shows. Is that when you met Mo?
Yes, I met Mo in 1990 working as the PA on the now defunct International Rock Awards. Phil Giuliano introduced us.
How long were you and Mo married and when did you split up?
Ww were together for 15 years. Married for 10, and split up in 2005. We were divorced, and he passed away 7 years ago. His last tour was with Lady GaGa. We remained friends, and have a 19-year-old son.
(A native New Yorker, Mo Morrison spent four decades working in the concert touring and event production industry. His career started as a stagehand and rigger for 11 years at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey. He worked with many of the biggest artists in music as production manager or site coordinator including the Grateful Dead, Michael Jackson, Prince, Andrea Bocelli, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Kiss, and Lady Gaga. Mo Morrison passed away in 2013.)
At one point you two went out out in the road for MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This” tour. You as the PA, and Mo was the production manager. How long was the tour?
It was a 50 plus date arena tour late June though the fall of 1990. We left at the end of August. It was an experience. Five shows in a row many weeks. It was a 5 act bill of mostly Ruthless Records acts. Al Haymon was the promoter.
It sounds as if it was an incredible experience.
It was good first tour for me. I got experience, and it left me with no desire to continue on the road. This and the production work in Colorado and New York was absolutely beneficial to my marketing career. In retrospect, I think that it’s important to see the full picture (of live music) and have an understanding of the what goes into the whole.
In 2018, AEG, released its Sustainability Report, a comprehensive publication that detailed the company’s efforts toward reducing its environmental footprint through its 10-year old global sustainability program, AEG 1EARTH. Given your background in environmental conservation, this must have been welcomed by you.
One of the great exciting things for me now is to come full circle with all of this environmental stuff that I learned so many years ago. Working with bands on creating climate positive touring; whether it’s focusing on reducing single-use plastic or emissions or promoting responsible food purchasing.
The report outlined AEG’s progress toward its set of 2020 environmental goals that are based on performance metrics collected from its venues, festivals and offices. Environmental change isn’t an easy topic for the music industry to truly address given and live music itself has a huge carbon footprint that includes touring with vans, and planes, and pyro etc.
It’s amazing and bands are so open to it and we get the opportunities to do these programs with them on various different levels but it is just so exciting for them to want to actually participate and to have the knowledge and become a resource for them in that way. Finally, John Meglen said to me, “Every tour you have to include this in pitches.” Like, YES!
This year’s IMPALA Outstanding Contribution Award was given to Music Declares Emergency. The UK organization, formed in 2019 by a collection of artists, music professionals, individuals, and Julie’s Bicycle, works with the UK music industry to improve sustainable practices and calls for systemic changes from government to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Oh yes, I’m familiar, yeah.
Many artists today are trying to limit their carbon footprints.
Well, that is the whole point of greening a tour and turning a tour climate positive, you can mitigate. So 100% you can reduce a tours carbon footprint mitigate stuff, whether it’s reducing plastic use backstage by setting up hydration stations and supplying the crew with water bottles or reducing emissions or responsible sourcing of food, and what you do for your merch. Once efforts to reduce are activated that’s when buying carbon offsets (a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere) or supporting carbon removal projects like regenerative farming that puts carbon back into the soil come into play. There are many, many ways. There’s even a program called r.Cup that a lot of festivals are adopting and venues as well; where it’s no longer a single-use plastic cup. You use it, and you return it and they pick it up after the night, and it gets washed, and it gets used again. Other FOH (front of house) options can engage and educate fans.
These environmental concerns are shared throughout AEG?
Oh my God, absolutely. Our sustainability group is very quiet and behind-the-scenes about it, but our venues are some of the most sustainable in the business.
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.