This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Larry Webman, senior vice president, Wasserman Music.
One cannot exaggerate the role that Larry Webman and a handful of his associates have played in developing the infrastructure of the live music world as we know it today.
The work Webman has dedicated his life to over two decades has been done as far from the spotlight as it gets, but its’ impact can’t be overstated and he is widely considered to be one of the shrewdest music booking agents of our time.
As a senior VP at Wasserman Music, Webman represents some of the most prominent names in music, including Coldplay, Sara Bareilles, MGMT, Barenaked Ladies, Letters to Cleo, Bastille, David Gray, Del Amitri, Dropkick Murphys, dEUS, Gomez, Joe Jackson Marillion, Sloan, and Ume.
Webman also represents such notables as Another Sky, Aqualung, Ben Ottewell (of Gomez), Billy Raffoul the Cardigans, Chantal Kreviazuk, Cheerleader, Common Deer, Cub Sport, Five For Fighting, Josh Fudge, Georgia Harmer, HONNE, Jack River, Kay Hanley, Kevin Hearn, Kim Taylor, Letdown, Michigander, Paul Kelly, Rick Beato, Ruby Fields, Sam Ryder, Scott Helman, Social Animals, Superdrag, Tia Gostelow, and Violet Days.
Webman, a musician himself, got his start booking while attending Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts where, as head of the Pub Entertainment Committee, he worked the phones, dealt with booking agents and managers, and learned how to negotiate deals.
Over his three years in the position, he lured such bands as Phish, Blues Traveler, Lush, Hoodoo Gurus, and Dread Zeppelin to the Clark campus to perform.
One thing led to another, and Webman went to work with Marc Gentilella, one of prime power players in the college and secondary market sectors, at the Flashgroup Corporation in East Lyme, Connecticut.
It was during his time with Flashgroup that Webman signed his first act, the Boston alt-rock band Letters to Cleo. As their long-time agent, he piloted their rise from being a celebrated regional East Coast favorite to attaining national status, and he still works with them.
In meeting, and then partnering in 1995, with Marty Diamond, the brash mover and shaker visionary who had launched Little Big Man Booking in New York in 1994, Webman began to appreciate the depth of the talent pool available to work with.
The pair have worked together coming up on 28 years.
As record sales revenues began to decline, Diamond, and Webman recognized the full potential of live performances as a primary revenue generator, and they spent much of their time trying to find promising new clients to join their growing boutique booking agency roster.
By working with a business model by which agents were more partners with their clients than solely their booking representatives, Little Big Man Booking assembled an impressive roster that included Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan, Avril Lavigne, David Gray, Barenaked Ladies, the Fray, Franz Ferdinand, Dido, Snow Patrol, the Arctic Monkeys, among others.
In 2000, Webman and Diamond journeyed to London to meet with Coldplay’s manager. The two had been impressed by the early recordings made by the young band who were largely unknown outside of a small ring of UK fans. Not only did they appreciate the music they heard, the two Americans sensed the band’s potential as a live act, despite the band’s lead singer Chris Martin warning them, ‘We’re never going to be a big touring band.”
The two agents emerged an hour later with an agreement to represent Coldplay, and went on to help steer their rise from playing 500-capacity ballrooms to sold-out stadiums to becoming a solid global attraction.
After Little Big Man was acquired by Paradigm Talent in 2006, Diamond, Webman and their staff, were fully integrated into the Paradigm fold, and the Little Big Man name was retired. Remarkably, Diamond and Webman were able to maintain their independent spirit and unique approaches to business under the Paradigm banner.
As Paradigm Talent severed its music operation in 2021, Casey Wasserman acquired its North American live music representation business and then launched a new agency Wasserman Music
Wasserman, which had rebranded from Wasserman Media Group in 2016, primarily represented professional athletes in the NFL, MLB, and NHL as well as Olympic athletes.
A year earlier, Wasserman Media Group had acquired the hockey-focused agency Acme World Sports and the Lithuanian basketball agency BBaltics. The company had also expanded its holdings to include Laundry Service, Boris Agency as well as Unlock, a social audience data platform.
Today Webman works at Wasserman’s newly-opened office located along the waterfront in Brooklyn’s trendy Dumbo neighborhood in a historic building that formerly housed a pre-Civil War era coffee warehouse. It joins more than 40 Wasserman locations around the world, including the company’s Los Angeles headquarters, as well as regional offices in London, Nashville, Portland, Raleigh, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Carlsbad, Monterey, and Toronto.
What is most intriguing about Wasserman Music, now a bit over a year old after Casey Wasserman’s sports and lifestyle company acquired Paradigm Talent Agency’s North American live music representation business, is that a unique spirit has quickly flowered there.
We managed to work out a great situation with Wasserman, and all of us are super happy here. They are letting us grow and build the music division the way that we always had a vision to do it.
There’s all these different agents of specific strengths there, from remnants of Paradigm which was built by rolling up smaller boutique agencies like The Windish Agency, Monterey Peninsula Artists, X-Ray Touring, AM Only, Coda, Ellis Industries, and Little Big Man. If you were building an agency from the ground up, this is the way to do it.
Yeah, everybody does their thing, and they have had their own experiences, whether it was from being at Monterey Peninsula, Little Big Man, AM Only, The Windish Agency, or whatever else people came from.
Do Wasserman Music agents have their own lanes in which to operate?
Nobody is restricted by specific genres of music. People pursue what their passion is about, and work with artists that they love.
What I meant is that while you may work in specific genres, and others there have done so as well. If you need backup support in dealing with specific promoters or with venues, it is available.
We have great resources here. It’s not like it’s the Wild West. We are organized in groups, and we have meetings about all kinds of stuff, and we share information great. We have great computer systems to share that information. The executive teams here have done a great job at building out our music division.
Like with Marty Diamond, Tom Windish and others at Wasserman Music, you have been around the agency block. In each agency situation, you took advantage of the opportunities that became available to you. What opportunities are evident at Wasserman that, maybe, weren’t available previously?
Well, the world is different now than it was 15 years ago. Casey Wasserman’s mantra is all about what is live, and live is also sports. With Wasserman being a huge sports agency, they built a big brand department. It took us a year to figure out the synergy there, but we are starting to see great synergies with the brand department. Every artist is looking for additional revenue, and marketing and brand opportunities certainly provide some surface area, and financial gain. The good thing is that we still pride ourselves on being in artist development, and we have great people here building out our artist marketing department. There is a great group of people who are passionate about music, what they do, and working for their artists, and that is infectious.
There’s definitely an old-school, patriarchal, boys’ club element within the live music universe. At the same time being older can be a significant asset due to having a history of building extensive contacts through contested battles.
With your two decades as an agent, you are now in a position to be able to mentor promising agents.
We certainly have brought people up from assistants to coordinators to agents to leadership roles. We do all that.
How does mentoring contrast to you having been mentored over the years?
I was a young guy, and now I am one of the older guys. It’s good. It’s like learning from Marty (Diamond) early on. He had a wealth of information, and I just picked up stuff. When we had conversations, I would ask questions, and learn things. I think here at Wasserman we make it easy for people to learn from the other people here, and hopefully that will create the next generation of great agents.
When did you first begin to work with Marty Diamond?
Right after he launched Little Big Man Booking (in New York in 1994, and joining in March 1995). I joke with people saying that I have only had two bosses in my whole professional career. I had Marc Gentilella and Marty coming up on 28 years.
He became more than a boss. You two became partners in Little Big Man.
We became partners. He was a boss at first, and then we became partners, but in theory, I still report to him (at Wasserman). Other than briefly working for Marc Gentilella, I have never reported to anybody else. I never had a job resume after college.
With past stints at Cricket Talent & Booking, and being head of artist development at Arista Records; product manager at Polygram; working at Bill Graham Presents; being a buyer at the New York music venue, The Ritz (now Webster Hall); and at International Talent Booking, Marty Diamond struck out on his own when ITG co-founders Wayne Forte and Michael Farrell parted ways.
Diamond had a $30,000 bank roll.
A friend Jim Grant, and his partner Roger Cramer, who looked after Soul Coughing, and Living Colour, offered him space in their office directly across the street from where ITG was on Seventh Avenue. So Diamond carried boxes across the street, assuming he was getting an office, only to find it was Vernon Reid’s guitar closet.
In his In The Hot Seat profile in 2010, Diamond was asked, “When you started Little Big Man what was the environment?” His response was, “I started it in Vernon Reid’s guitar closet. It was myself and Tammy Shin. Then Larry Webman joined me. He worked in the guitar closet with Tammy, and I worked down the hall where I was sharing an office. We ended up in the basement of my Gramercy Park apartment. (The agency) just kept growing.”)
What appealed to you about Marty?
He had such a passion for music, and he has such a diverse background. He had worked in record companies, and management companies. He had worked for Bill Graham. He was just infectious about his passion for music, and the business and we seemed to like similar kinds of music. A lot of British music. A lot of music based around the song as opposed to the (current) trend or the sound. It was good timing for him, because Letters to Cleo, and some of the other acts that I had, were starting to break, and other agents were sniffing around. Marty was starting his company, and he needed someone to work with to try to build the company. You can’t do it on your own. So it was another combination of good instincts and right place, right time.
Were there any other agents at Little Big Man when you arrived?
No, it was just Marty and Tammy Sprotte who is now at Wasserman. She was the administrative assistant. She typed all of the contracts, the itineraries, the negotiation itineraries. Then I joined, and it was just the two of us booking bands.
Little Big Man being acquired by Paradigm Talent in 2006 led to Marty, you and the entire staff, including agents Steve Ferguson and Jonathan Adelman coming over with the Paradigm Talent purchase.
Paradigm Talent had previously purchased Monterey Peninsula, and I got to work with Chip Hooper and Dan Weiner. I would have been there (at Little Big Man) for 12 years which was a great run, and 14 years at Paradigm until the pandemic. Now we are at Wasserman Music which we really love.
Founded by Sarah McLachlan, Nettwerk Music Group’s Dan Fraser, and Terry McBride, and Marty, there were the three women-centric festivals in 1997, 1998, and 1999, with Sarah and a rotating cast of fellow artists traveling as Lilith Fair. The final Lilith Fair was in 2010.
That was the fourth one.
That was the messy “revival” tour with 10 canceled dates and performers like Carly Simon, Norah Jones, Kelly Clarkson, the Go-Go’s, and Queen Latifah bailing, fearing that they wouldn’t be paid for their performances.
Skipping that, do you not think that Lilith Fair changed the dynamics of the marketplace for women performers?
One hundred percent. Marty tells the story that when Sarah McLachlan was doing her headline tour for the record (“Fumbling Towards Ecstasy,” released in 1994 outside Canada) before Lilith Fair, and that she wanted to take Paula Cole as the support act, and all the promoters were like, “No, you cannot take another woman. You can’t do it.” She was like, “I am doing it.”
I will give Sarah some credit for having a vision of what she wanted to do. And music was changing. Back then there were very few big female headliners, and now there are as many female headliners as men. Maybe not as many, but lots.
In 1996, Little Big Man had booked a successful tour with Sarah McLachlan and Paula Cole. At least one of their appearances together—in Vancouver, on September 14, 1996—went by the name Lilith Fair, and included performances by McLachlan, Cole, Lisa Loeb, and Michelle McAdorey, formerly of Crash Vegas.
Male-fronted traveling festivals grew in popularity following the 1991 launch of Lollapalooza, and with Ozzfest in 1996.
The Lilith Fairs changed the male-dominated model, perhaps forever.
They did. And back when the record companies really held the strings, it allowed them to have a further vision of what female artists could be. How big they could become and, maybe, for them push those records further, and not think that there was a ceiling. Then you had people like P!nk and others. Who knows if those kind of artists would have had the same opportunities had that landscape had not changed a little.
Was the 2010 Lilith Fair going to the well too many times, coupled with the fact that by a decade later the industry, as well as music culture, had changed?
I don’t want to be on the record about that.
What the hell happened at Paradigm Talent Agency that led Casey Wasserman to launch Wasserman Music on the back of its former music division?
Paradigm was first to deliver a shock wave throughout the industry reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic with its mid-March 2020 “temporary layoff” of 250 staffers of a workforce of 600.
Problems at Paradigm actually began before the pandemic. The agency had bulked up with a number of acquisitions of music booking agencies and artist management boutiques in recent years leaving it with substantial debt to service. Nevertheless, Paradigm’s management kept its structural problems away from the industry.
In hindsight, the abrupt end of the touring business with the COVID-19 pandemic left Paradigm in a financial pinch, but also the company got too big.
What’s your take?
I can’t really comment. I don’t really know. It is all kind of hearsay or above my pay grade. The cash flow of the music business is that the first quarter is always a little lean, and Summer and Fall are touring times for bands. Maybe had the pandemic been in October, as opposed to March, finances would have been different. But I can’t comment on that.
Where are you from originally?
I am from Norwich, Connecticut.
Did you grow up in a musical family?
My dad played saxophone in high school, and in college marching bands. My mom played piano a little. I don’t ever recall them ever playing together, but we had a piano in the house, and they encouraged me to play music. I played piano for 8 years, taking lessons, and played clarinet and saxophone before I became an asthmatic, and eventually I came to play drums. I was a drummer; and, especially before I had my driver’s license, my mom would take me and my drum set in the car to various places for band practice. Though band practice was usually at the drummer’s house. We did that a lot too, and she was very patient with all the noise, and the practice, and all of that stuff.
You got your start in entertainment booking while head of the Pub Entertainment Committee at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts?
Yes, that’s correct. There was a very active scene there. I got involved in the organization that brought all of the bands to campus. I was able to make contacts, and get more contacts for the bands that I was playing in. Through some dumb luck, as the only upper classmen in my sophomore year were all studying overseas, I was the only one around who was willing to run the organization. I ended up running it for three years.
I was very good at getting with agents, and negotiating deals, and getting national touring acts. We used to have lots of acts from the Boston area too because we were an hour away. There were a lot of kids there from New York so we had a lot of bands that were bubbling up in the city that were popular up there too. I focused on getting a lot of the nationally touring bands. Bands that are still around today. We had bands from England and Australia. We had Phish which was the band that became the biggest that I had during my time there. But we also had Blues Traveler, Lush, Hoodoo Gurus, and Dread Zeppelin.
What did you study at Clark University?
I was a business major, and I was a minor in music. I was really focused on playing in bands.
What instrument did you play in bands?
My main instrument in bands was playing drums. I became a hack at guitar and bass. There was one band, I played bass, and I was the singer. But I primarily was a drummer.
Growing up did you attend music shows?
I grew up in Connecticut, so all of the shows that I went to were Jim Koplik-promoted shows. In high school, I went to all the rock shows from Rush and Van Halen to U2 etc. Where I lived was an hour from four different arenas in Hartford, New Haven, Worcester, and Providence. So I had three or four chances to see all the big arena tours. I would also go to club shows in New Haven at Toad’s Place, and Providence at Lupo’s and The Living Room.
Jim Koplik, now president of Live Nation Connecticut and Upstate New York, is one of the true pioneers among American concert promoters. He has promoted roughly 15,000 concerts since the late ‘60s as Jim Koplik Presents, and as VP of Delsener/Slater Enterprises.
He launched his career in the late 1960s when he was a student at Ohio State University, and promoted a show for Steppenwolf at a $3,500 guarantee.
Jim still books shows in Connecticut, including the Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater, the retrofit of a minor league ballpark in Bridgeport.
Eventually when I got into the business, and I could book shows I got the chance to tell Jim about all of the shows that I went to. I love following his Facebook archive of his shows that he puts up each day. Every show year by year, and on this day. It’s like me saying, “I went to this one. I went to that one.” All through high school I went to those shows. A trip down memory lane.
While head of the Pub Entertainment Committee at Clark University would you book acts through middle agents like Harris Goldberg at Concert Ideas in Woodstock, New York or with Marc Gentilella of the Flashgroup Corporation in East Lyme, Connecticut?
Both were trailblazers who together built the model for middle agents in the American college industry, establishing an independent concert business model by working with college promoters across the country.
No, I booked direct. I called people like John Branigan and Frank Riley, and booked their bands. (Marc) Gentilella always tried to twist my arm to work with him, but I liked to book direct with agents. He later hired me because I would occasionally book a tribute band from him. He used to book Physical Graffiti, and the Machine, those kinds of tribute bands that were always popular, and kids liked to come here on Led Zeppelin night.
A 45 year veteran of the entertainment industry, Marc Gentilella is currently CEO / Founding Partner/ Editor-In-Chief of CelebrityAccess and Encore. Born and raised in Waterford, Connecticut, Gentilella was first a drummer in a high school dance band, and played through college. By the age of 20, he had begun promoting concerts. During college, he opened the talent management agency, Flash Group Corporation, and became one of the nation’s top talent buyers, as well a promoter.
Marc was the middle agent for wherever he did the shows at. Like Harris Goldberg, he did the same thing. But Marc also represented all of these tribute band that he’d book in clubs. Just another branch of his business.
Sadly, Harris died this year on January 25th. He was one of the smartest people I’ve met in live music.
Yeah, always pleasant to deal with. A great guy.
For 40 years, Harris had been a prime power player in the college and secondary sectors, working from Woodstock.
Now the business realizes that you can be anywhere. Back 20 years ago, you had to be in an office in New York or L.A. We had people like Dan (Weiner) and Fred (Bohlander). who moved up to Monterey (operating Monterey Peninsula Artists). They kind of broke the mode. Now you can work from anywhere.
I’ve worked for Marc for 13 years at CelebrityAccess overseeing the In The Hot Seat profile series.
I know. I worked for Marc (at the Flashgroup Corporation) for almost three years. My first job out of college. I can only imagine what 13 years has been like for you.
Weren’t Tim Bechert, who went on to work with Ares Management, and super sports agent Max Esisenbud both at Flash Group?
Correct. And Max is now head of IMG Tennis Worldwide. He pivoted into sports.
So that is where you get tennis passes?
I do get tennis passes from him, yes.
Max was a college tennis player too.
Yes, that’s correct at Purdue University.
A graduate of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, Max Eisenbud joined IMG in 1999. He so impressed his childhood friend Justin Gimelstob, a client of IMG, while helping him organize a charity tennis event that Gimelstob suggested he become a tennis agent. IMG took him on and sent him to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida to look at the young talent there. Twelve-year-old Maria Sharapova caught his eye, and he signed her. Sharapova won Wimbledon at 17, which led to a multiple endorsement deals. Eisenbud replicated her success with Chinese star Li Na, as well as with Emma Raducanu, Madison Keys, Ajla Tomljanovic, and Maria Shishkina.
Max and Tim weren’t there at the same time, but Tim introduced me to Letters to Cleo’s manager (Michael Creamer). They went to college together. That is how I got that. Tim now runs (as senior GM) the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire.
What first appealed to you about Letters to Cleo?
I loved the music. Female fronted. This was prior to Lilith Fair when there weren’t a million female acts that have come subsequent to that. They wrote great songs, and they were really great live. I was introduced to their manager, and they were looking for an agent. It was the right time and the right place. I rolled up my sleeves, dived in, and did the dirty work that you have to do for a brand new developing band that is just coming onto the scene.
You stickhandled Letters to Cleo from its regional standing to national status early on, and you are still working with them. This is a band that split in 2000 after 10 years, three albums, and thousands of tour miles together, largely due a pact that singer Kay Hanley–then having a baby–and guitarist Greg McKenna made with each other when they formed the band in 1990; that if it wasn’t any fun anymore then they would stop the group.
Letters to Cleo reunited for a small tour in 2008, and In 2016, the band again reunited for the first time in 17 years, and recorded new songs for an EP called “Back to Nebraska,” and played club dates in Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in November of 2016.
What happened was that guitarist Michael Eisenstein. and drummer Stacy Jones ran into each other at an L.A. club in 2016, then got together with Kay Hanley, and wrote and recorded a couple of songs, They sent tapes back and forth to Greg McKenna on the East Coast. He then flew out to L.A. and completed “Back to Nebraska.”
After the end of the run of their first November shows, their manager Michael Creamer asked, “Same time next year?” And the band has made it each year since — short of 2020 when the pandemic took out those shows.
It’s a labor of love. They were my first clients. They don’t work a lot. They do some shows in November each year, hometown shows in Boston, and a few shows around that. Then they do a handful of gigs over the course of the year. Not a lot. It’s not like it’s super labor-intensive.
While each of the band members had moved into new careers in and out of the music business, producing and being involved with other projects, they never quite broke up. Apparently, the opportunity to reunite came almost from out of nowhere. Each member didn’t have a reason to say no, so they just said yes. They didn’t have a plan. They just jumped in and everything unfolded really quickly, and it was fun again.
Yeah, they’ve got lives. They got jobs at this point. They revived the band, and their interest is certainly in the North East, and other places. From the ‘90s, they are kind of retro and cool now. So there are other opportunities that have come up. They are up to doing things if it makes sense. Most of them live Los Angeles. So we always do a couple of West Coast dates, and then do some dates around Boston.
With Letters to Cleo members music obviously comes first.
Starting out as an agent with the mantra of the band was that music was of paramount importance a good lesson for you?
I don’t think at the time I was looking at it that way. I was a young guy, in my early 20s. I just wanted to book bands and be in the industry. I wasn’t really thinking about those dynamics per se.
Part of being a good agent is understanding acts both as individuals, and as a full unit. Understanding the inner workings, the different emotional intelligence of each member, and the personality dynamics that often lead to inner conflicts, affecting not only themselves, but also management, producers, production crews, and agents around them.
I’m greatly impressed that a number of your clients have been with you for decades.
You have a long and rich agent history of working with some especially cool acts including Coldplay, Bastille David Gray, Del Amitri, Dropkick Murphys, Sloan, and Gomez.
Your roster also features an impressive slate of Canadians including Barenaked Ladies, Sloan, Chantal Kreviazuk, and Kevin Hearn.
I have a lot of Canadian artists. I have represented Sloan for well over 20 years. I also represent new artists from Canada too like Georgia Harmer which we started with recently, she’s fantastic, and also Common Deer, and Scott Helman. I have some really great Canadian artists.
Do you get to Canada often?
I’ve been to Canada a couple of times this year. I go every now and again. Toronto is a short flight from New York.
Barenaked Ladies are spending much of December on a 14-date national Canadian holiday tour. They are also re-releasing their 2004 album, “Barenaked for the Holiday” in an expanded new version.
Being one of the newer heritage acts, Barenaked Ladies have to cater to their hardcore fans. They make a new record every couple of years, and I have gotta say that their records are getting better and better each time. Their most recent record (“Detour de Force”) came out during the pandemic in 2021. They finally toured in 2022. They are very smart. They do these summer tour packages that we put together, and they do great business. They have great fans, and they are a great live act. People are very anxious to see them after a couple of years of no tours.
The Barenaked Ladies tour kicks off in Vancouver at The Centre for the Performing Arts on December 1st, and wraps up at Toronto’s Massey Hall on December 22nd. The expanded new version of “Barenaked for the Holidays” contains 9 bonus live tracks including “Santa Sabbath (Xmas Metal-y),” which is a medley of Christmas traditional songs sung to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Another highlight is “Green Christmas,” written for Ron Howard blockbuster 2000 film, “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.
I remember Kevin Hearn being in the second lineup of Toronto’s Look People from 1988-1993, prior to Barenaked Ladies.
Kevin is super talented. He was a great acquisition to the band when they got him to replace (keyboardist) Andy Creeggan (in 1996). I think that he has been instrumental to their pop success.
A group that takes a common sense approach to touring is Coldplay. Routinely charging less than they could demand, their ticket prices have remained reasonable.
Like most acts in recent years, Coldplay’s recorded music sales have slowed down. Yet the demand to see the band’s live performances has ballooned partly due to the affordability of their tickets.
Coldplay’s tour across 2016 and 2017 grossed almost $500 million. It was the 3rd best-selling tour in both years, outdoing Paul McCartney and Garth Brooks. That’s incredible.
In March and April this year, Coldplay sold more tickets than any other act, selling out stadiums across 11 stops in Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. The band grossed about $40 million.
Their Music of the Spheres tour recently featured multiple stops in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Chile, and ended with. an impressive 10 shows at the Estadio River Plate in Buenos Aires.
In 2023, Coldplay continues its world tour starting at the Estádio Cidade de Coimbra in Coimbra, Portugal on May 17th; and at the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys in Barcelona, Spain on May 24th-25th, 2023.
We only represent Coldplay for U.S.A., and Canada. I can’t comment on the rest of the world. I can say that the band made a conscious decision to keep ticket prices at the same level that they had been at in 2016. Nobody knew back when we started planning this (touring) at the end of last year what the world would be, given the pandemic. So they wanted to be cost-aware with regard to ticket prices, and it has paid off for them.
Other than “Music of the Spheres,” which came out last year, I can’t tell you Coldplay’s last couple of albums, but I know their catalog. The band sold at least 10 million units of its first four albums and more than three million of the next few.
They seem to have a #1 or #2 on every record. Like doing “My Universe” with BTS, (released in September 2021) through Parlophone and Atlantic Records, as the second official single from “Music of the Spheres,” and they have the #1 song around the world.
(The Coldplay/BTS English and Korean track “My Universe” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with 11.5 million streams, 5.5 million audience impressions from radio airplay, 127,000 downloads, and physical singles combined. In addition, “My Universe” topped both the Billboard Global 200 and the Billboard Global Excl charts.)
It’s impressive that David Gray was welcomed back this year in North America, and in Australia and New Zealand with open arms after delays with his touring due to COVID-19.
David toured all year with the 20th anniversary of his fourth studio album “White Ladder” (which has sold in excess of 7 million albums around the world) which was supposed to happen in 2020, and was moved to 2021, and moved again to 2022. It was an amazing show. He played the record in its entirety along with another set of songs. It was just a great evening of music.
David Gray and his Skellig choir are scheduled to perform songs from his acclaimed 2021 studio album “Skellig”–inspired by Skellig’s monks circa 600 AD who lived in the mostly inhospitable terrain of a chain of islands off the Irish coast near Kerry–live for the first and only time in a series of 5 intimate shows in England and Ireland including at: Union Chapel, London (27th Feb. 27th), Cork Opera House in Cork (March 1st), National Opera House in Wexford (March 2nd), National Concert Hallin Dublin (March 4th), and the National Concert Hallin Dublin (March 5th.
How about one of my daughter Robin’s favorite bands, Dropkick Murphys?
They are a fantastic act. Been around a while. Always doing different, and creative things. They recently released “This Machine Still Kills Fascists” which is essentially an acoustic, stripped-down record, and all of the lyrics are Woody Guthrie lyrics. They worked in conjunction with The Woody Guthrie Foundation, and Nora Guthrie. Got all of the lyrics from them, and made these great acoustic-based recordings, even though they are in the punk spirit. It is just a fantastic record. A musical challenge to some of their fans. They have been touring in seated theatres which is not what they have historically done. They will be back in March with their annual tour on St. Patrick’s Day which is always great. I don’t represent them in Europe, but their business in Europe has grown tremendously.
Dropkick Murphys have had a longstanding relationship with the estate of Woody Guthrie, as one of their signature songs, “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” (2006) features lyrics written by Guthrie. As part of the process for recording “This Machine Still Kills Fascists,”released Sept. 30th, the band was given full access to Woody Guthrie’s archives. As Dropkick guitarist James Lynch explains, “Nora gave us the privilege of going through the archives and selecting some lyrics to use. The common thread that I see through everything was this love for people and this understanding of the universal truth that there is no one person fundamentally better than another person.”
Can we consider live music back in North America? While there are an impressive number of shows and tours, there are also ongoing cancellations for varied reasons, and with so much entertainment and sports competition, there’s often a competitive pushback.
Music being consumed via streaming rather than being purchased brought about profound industry shifts, from a lessened value of recorded music, to greater economic importance of touring.
As you told reporter Char Morrison of the Carolina News and Reporter (Oct 3, 2022 issue) successful artists today “make 20% from selling music and 80% from touring.” You added, “Taking music on the road is also an expensive game, and with rising costs due to inflation, artists need to be sure they will be successful in larger markets before they experiment with smaller ones.”
Are we really back because it’s completely a whole different dynamic.
Yes, it has completely flipped.
If you are a successful American touring band, you might resist performing in 300 or 400 seaters. You may need a run of 500 seaters to cope with spiraling touring costs.
Yeah, with financial pressures at every level. The band has increased costs. Promoters have increased costs. Fans have increased costs, not only regarding the ticket, but gas is higher, the parking is higher, the babysitter costs more, dinner before the show costs more. Everybody is dealing with it.
A decade ago, an agent and manager would plan out tour routing, and it would generally be with minor snags. With cancellations and postponements happening so frequently nowadays how do you, with confidence, plan out a tour?
It’s different for bands at every level, but you have to figure out how much time is needed to tour. Bands kind of know their budgets, as to what they want to make, and you hope that the money is out there. You try to educate your clients to the state of the market. We are encouraging people to package rather than going out on their own. Strength of numbers. Affordability. We have a great set of data to know what markets are strong. What markets aren’t. This market isn’t doing so great. Maybe skip that place. It’s all about talking to promoters too. I think that a lot of people in the agent world use email too much. They send emails and don’t have conversations (with promoters and venue owners) about how everything is doing. I recently talked to a promoter in a major market, and he said, ”Look, we used to be in a Top 5 market where you could play any night of the week, and you’d be fine. Now Monday, and Tuesday, don’t bother.”
There’s also smaller secondary markets that now face competition from nearby markets which might not have happened a decade ago. They now compete against bigger, and more lucrative markets that aren’t too far away. I’m thinking of Columbia, South Carolina now being somewhat in the shadows of Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina music markets.
Only a 92-mile drive from Columbia, Charlotte is more than twice as large with more venue options, and a larger fan base available.
Raleigh has the most music in the state, playing host to a wide variety of artists in a wide variety of settings including Coast Credit Union Music Park on the west bank of Walnut Creek; Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary; and the Red Hat Amphitheater.
A new Music Industry Center is planned for downtown Raleigh. This facility will feature a soundstage, rehearsal, and workshop space as well as a recording studio.
As well, with Columbia being a college town (there are, in fact, 9 colleges in Columbia, including the University of South Carolina), athletic events often interfere with artists’ touring schedules. A big issue is fighting for space against the Gamecocks basketball teams at the multi-purpose Colonial Life Arena.
Columbia competing against Charlotte and Raleigh is difficult with acts most likely to go to a city where they can make more money.
Yea, a lot more markets have developed as people moved out of the cities in the pandemic. So there’s demand in other places, but you also have to weigh that against how a band is going to do in a market. If a band’s mantra is, “We want to sell out,” and they don’t know if they can sell that 1,000 seater in Columbia, South Carolina. Maybe they are better off playing in Charlotte or Raleigh. It will be a little safer.
The return of touring is presenting logistical and financial strains for artists, managers agents, and venues. Often, as an agent, you might be working with a veteran act, and you realize, “We are going to have to educate this manager as to what is now going on now.” Maybe they had specific expectations in going out after a two-year layoff, but the pandemic and other factors have disrupted expectations, and now changes have to be made. Have you gone through readjustments with some of the acts on your roster?
Some yes. Some haven’t needed it. Some tours go up, and they are gangbusters. That you can sell it at the prices that they wanted, and others probably should have been $5 to $7.50 cheaper. That makes a difference.
Many acts haven’t had new music released in several years, and if they have new music, their fans aren’t aware, or haven’t heard it.
That is just the case of how music is now. There are no more gatekeepers. It used to be there was radio, and things like that (including MTV). There is just so much music on the streaming services that you have to try and find your way. Pretty much with the established acts, you are catering to their existing fan base, and with new acts they have to turn over every rock, and try to get themselves exposed, and find a way to ride above it all, and be seen.
One thing that I’ve mentioned to people recently is that with no touring in 2020, and with limited touring in 2021; that all of these acts that were new acts in 2020 and all of the acts that were going to be new acts in 2021, and now in 2022 with new acts that is three years of new acts that are all out there at the same time competing for the same space.
Everybody wants to work.
After the coronavirus pandemic shut down music festivals, arenas and clubs throughout North America in 2020 and partly in 2021, fans were enthused this year to be able to attend shows with lockdown restrictions relaxed.
People abandoning masks, and embracing crowded live music venues and festivals contributed to “evidence” for some that in-person interaction has become safer now. But music shows are clear instances where social distancing quickly disappears. There’s greater physical intimacy including touching, close interaction and hugging, breeding grounds for the highly-infectious Omicron variant.
Rates of infections and deaths are still high throughout North America and the UK.
And people aren’t getting the new Omicron vaccine which I just got. I feel invincible because I just got it. I take the subway to work every day, and I’m amazed that people aren’t wearing masks. I am wearing my mask. I’ll take it off when I get outside. Everybody has a different level of risk, right? They want to risk it, and we still have COVID deaths. So, hopefully, if you get it, you aren’t one of those people (with greater health issues). It is going to be interesting to see how this evolves this winter. Not only with the business in general because if we have huge spikes we could be shut down again, and nobody wants to see that. Hopefully, people will get smart, and if somebody they know gets it, and has a bad case, maybe, they will be like, “I should get my vaccine.” They’ll go and get the vaccine, and hopefully that will get people some immunity through the winter, when potentially there may be the most spread as people are stuck inside with our cold winter climate.
There are a growing number of new variants. BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have overtaken the BA.5 omicron subvariant that had dominated in the U.S. since the summer. BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 appear to be among the most adept yet at evading immunity from vaccination, and previous infection.
New variants come, and inevitably there will be one that is a problem.
An infection can upend a band’s tour.
If you are on a tour, and you get shut down, and you have to cancel a few shows, it really hurts the bottom line. Talk about costs. I had Barenaked Ladies touring this summer, and there was a COVID protocol. They had to test every day before they went inside the venue. One of the support acts, the guitar player, came down with it, and they dealt with it. Nobody else got it, fortunately. The guitar tech sat in and would finish shows until near the very end of the tour when one of the Barenaked Ladies came down with COVID, and we had to reschedule the last two shows.
Worrisome for all involved.
You try to mitigate and minimize the risks to the tour for the health of the tour. No one gets backstage. No shaking hands. No In-person meet and greets.
Losing two or three shows on a tour could be a make-or-break proposition for a band.
Hundred percent. Even more so if they are a band from overseas. They have to fly in on a plane. The clock is ticking The register is ringing each day, and they aren’t making money, with each show that you have to cancel; especially if you can’t reschedule it.
Have you had to cancel many other shows in the past 6 months?
Yeah, I had to pull down a run of dates with somebody just recently because one of the guys in the band got COVID. There was no way to reschedule it so they canceled it.
Promoters and venue owners have struggled to adapt to the pandemic restrictions pinball as artists returned to the stage. Nevertheless, most artists still want vaccines to remain the protocol for their shows and want COVID prevention backstage as far as staff testing, and masks.
Are these things discussed during booking negotiations?
Yeah, for sure. I had a tour that wanted everybody to be at least tested. If they were vaccinated, they should at least be testing the people working at the venue. One venue in the South was like, “I can’t do that. Not because I don’t want to, but because I won’t be able to get anyone to work if I had to put that in place.”
Testing is a work issue?
Yes. But look at all of the staff in all businesses. Our business is not different. It’s hard to get stagehands. It’s hard to get all kinds of ticket-takers. Except for merch. There are plenty of people that want to sell merch.
Certainly, in clubs and theatres, it’s assuring for most people working to have been tested when there’s servers, and patrons, often elbow to elbow. If people are drinking, they often are letting down their guard. It’s assuring to know that the person next to you has either been vaccinated or has shown a negative test.
Yeah, hopefully, you can minimize the spread and you don’t have to deal with in the long term. For the short term, I think it’s going to be around.
There’s a lot of moving parts to club or theatre venue. People I think forget that.
Plenty of people there too. Loaders, stage hands, ticket takers, bartenders, cleaning crew, and box office.
Have you had COVID yet?
Twice. In December 2020 before vaccines, and then this year around Easter I got the Omicron. Luckily, both times I had very mild cases. I don’t want to get it a third time. The disruption in your life is not good. For me who has been going to shows with clients, and traveling, it’s worth wearing a mask at times so I can do those things. If I caught COVID and missed someone’s wedding or you miss things. I don’t want to miss things. I am happy to wear a mask so I can do the things that I want to do.
Then there’s post-COVID, and Long COVID with possible continual depression and anxiety. tinnitus, earaches, diarrhea, stomach aches, loss of appetite, high temperatures, cough, headaches, sore throat, and changes to smell and taste.
I have had a couple of friends that had that (Long COVID). It took several months for them to fully get back to normal. One person, beyond that, has had serious long-term issues. It’s a bummer. Nobody knows what the next variant is going to be. And the next pandemic, who knows? Hopefully, we will be more prepared for the next one.
Despite an ongoing pandemic, you flew across America from New York to Los Angeles to attend the historic Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert on Sept. 28th at Kia Forum, and then you flew back the following day.
If the pandemic taught us anything it is that life is short, and you have to take advantage of those chances when you have them. Fortunately. I had a chance to be able to go, and I took advantage of it.
An emotional night?
It was an emotional time when Taylor’s son Shane Hawkins was playing various tributes to him. I never met Taylor. He seemed like a great guy. I went not only to be at an event which had great musical things, but I’m a fan of Rush, and to get to see Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson play again was high on my list of things to do. Rush with three different drummers (“2112 Part I: Overture with Dave Grohl; “YYZ” with Danny Carey; and “Working Man” with Chad Smith). There was the James Gang (“Walk Away,” The Bomber: Closet Queen / Bolero / Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” and “Funk #49”) which was great, and Def Leppard with Miley Cyrus (“Photograph” also with the Foo Fighters). Interesting performances. Stewart Copeland (“Next To You” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”). There were a lot great performances. Queen with P!nk, and the Foo Fighters (“Somebody To Love”) was amazing. Joan Jett with Travis Barker (“Bad Reputation”). It was a great show. Great to see. I am really glad that I went, flew out the day of the show, and came back the next day. It’s a lot of travel in a short time, but it was worth it.
My heart goes out to David Grohl with the tragic untimely deaths of two bandmates, Taylor Hawkins, and Kurt Cobain.
Those inside the music industry—artists managers, agents, label executives, publishers, roadies, lawyers, and others—are likely acquainted or linked to someone fighting their demons amidst a drug and alcohol-fueled world.
People in entertainment are in the same bracket with other high-profile people in that they have the means, and the resources to access illicit substances faster and easier than, say, the common person.
So, all of the normal barriers are gone.
As an industry, we struggle to address drug and alcohol dependency. So many people just don’t know what to do when faced with such situations. Generally, if someone like a road manager goes to a member of the band or the star themselves, and says, “I think you have an issue” with drugs or alcohol, they will most likely quickly be off the tour.
Yeah, it all depends on how you attack it. A smart road manager would go to the manager and say, “Hey, here’s what’s happening,” and see if they can handle it, and get help. if someone doesn’t want to admit that they have a problem until it becomes a real problem, it might linger.
Performers are also within a culture in which alcohol and drug abuse are often tolerated until bad behavior starts costing money. It also becomes more of an issue at times today because the tours and the performances are longer and fairly complicated with staging and lighting cues and so forth.
The tours are longer, and the days are longer. People have challenges in regular daily life. Normal people also.
Someone in the artist’s world would surely step in if an issue was really apparent.
You hope that would be the case. A lot of bands deal with it. They figure it out. They send someone to rehab. They try to work things out. and hopefully, they can help the person who has the issue. There are a lot of organizations that are there to help people, and there are resources there.
Yes, there are many outlets now that offer full-service residential and outpatient programs as well as non-profit organizations like the MusiCares Foundation in the U.S., Music Support in the UK, and Over The Bridge in Canada that help musicians struggling with mental health, and addiction.
But then it’s really up to people to figure out how to incorporate or address problems when they see them.
What turns you on musically these days?
I like so much stuff. Maybe that comes from playing music, and having an appreciation for jazz, blues, classical, rock music, and all kinds of things. Guitar, piano things. Not so much electronic or hip hop per se. But I listen to so much stuff. From new stuff to things that I grew up with. There is such a volume of stuff out there that it is hard to keep up at times. I find myself sometimes on a weekend day just taking a couple of hours going through various playlists. We used to know every band that came across our desk. “This band is looking for a support act? What does the band sound like?” You have to go and listen to what it sounds like. I have to make myself aware of everything that is out there, and what is going on for my job because it may apply to a client. It’s good hearing, and identifying new music, and knowing where the market is going. What’s popular, and what’s not. You can see when you hear new things how it fits into the current landscape of the business.
So many music genres that developed in the ’50s and ’60s splintered off into subgenres. For example, heavy metal—which developed in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, with roots in blues, psychedelic, and acid rock—evolved into death metal, thrash metal, speed metal, black metal, power metal, doom metal, sludge metal, glam metal, and even Christian metal.
It (music) created whole subgenres, and there are tons of bands and tons of artists and you have to keep up. Sometimes I hear, “You didn’t sign” this or that act, and yeah it would be great to work with that act, but I have to focus on the acts that I did sign, and the things that I do work with. That’s my focus. You have to be passionate about the bands that you have. There are always other opportunities and new artists, and you do your thing.
Last year, you were among the angel investors in Flymachine along with Marty Diamond, Red Light Management founder Coran Capshaw; manager and promoter Bill Silva; Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons; Wired magazine co-founding editor John Battelle; Bay Area concert promoter Another Planet Entertainment; and LionTree Partners, a service provider and investment banking fund.
Flymachine delivers hybrid IRL-virtual performances in which participants are able to virtually move through various spaces, utilize proximity-based video chat to see and speak to each other, and experience chance encounters, similar to in-venue experiences. Meanwhile, performers are able to utilize high-quality visual effects, receive feedback in real-time, and interact with fans.
What impressed you most about what Flymachine CEO Andrew Dreskin and his team were doing in providing a participatory experience for viewers?
Andrew is a successful guy. He’s always got a good vision.
(Andrew Dreskin previously masterminded breakthroughs of two towering American ticket giants, TicketWeb and Ticketfly. As well, he piloted the Virgin Mobile FreeFest which ran for 8 years.)
At the time, during the pandemic, who knew when we would get back to live events? This on-line world of watching shows seemed to make sense. Their platform was interesting, compared to others, in the fact that it has a function where you can communicate with other people who are watching as well. Not just in a chat (space), but you can talk with your voice, and you can be in different rooms.
It was interesting, and the opportunity came, and we were like, “Yeah, let’s dive into this.”
Flymachine recently launched a 1:1 meet-and-greet product to supplement the experience, and cash flow of artists doing virtual events with them. It is designed to put money directly into pockets of musicians at all levels.
It’s moving forward. They are doing a lot of events now.
With the internet-driven disruption of music for the past two decades, and now with the ongoing pandemic, managers, and artists are more cognizant of growing in-person event programs by blending them with virtual event options.
Nowadays it’s more like trying to get bands to stream their shows, “Stream your Red Rock show.” Or try to get bands, if they are doing limited shows, to stream those shows. I think that all of the platforms are trying to wire up various venues with their equipment, and then get bands coming through. “Why don‘t you do a show for this tour or do multiple shows?” Depending on the culture of the band, and if the performances can be available to watch on-demand later, and depending on the deal, etc. So it’s a changing space I would say.
Live events and interactive music experiences sit at the heart today of so many metaverse aspirations, and will evolve to be a multi-events platform; to be a home, live, and theatrical event, all at the same time.
Yes, and you never know when the next variant or the next pandemic is going to come, and everybody is going to be locked down again. We are going to have these services up and ready to go.
Even without another pandemic, I believe those elements are going to stay with us.
Especially, as you talked about before, that it is becoming more expensive for band to tour. Who know? If they can’t do a 40-date tour, they do a 20-date tour. A bunch of places can’t see them so you throw up a stream here and there, and people who don’t want to go to the show or don’t want to travel to show, if you use the livestream.
I love what Todd Rundgren and his 10-piece band did last year with the livestreaming production partner NoCap. Playing a 25-date virtual American tour with each performance geo-fenced, localized, and tailored to a different city.
Yeah, like doing a residency.
Yes. In reality, each show was performed and televised from a venue in Chicago that Todd took over for a month.
As we get older, we don’t necessarily want to go to a late show at a club or theatre. Also, I don’t want to go to an arena show, and stand for 90 minutes to an hour.
I like to sit.
Even with vertical seating, people stand at arena shows. Why?
I don’t know. People want to dance. People feel the music. Everybody has their own thing.
In 2019, I went to “the Toronto date for the Diosa de la Noche Tour at Meridian Hall featuring Mexican singers Gloria Trevi and Alejandra Guzmán Pinal, and much of audience of 3,200 stood for the 3 ½ hour show. My wife and I lasted 3 hours. Not fun standing on chairs.
Great fans in Latin America.
At a recent Toronto show with the Eagles at the Scotiabank Arena, the audience was up and down. A summer show at Budweiser Stage headlined by the electronic music duo Odesza with Sylvan Esso opening, the entire audience stood for much of the night.
Being older, I don’t want to stand for hours.
The kids want to dance. They want to be fans and they want to be close. Adults just want to sit and watch and not be disturbed. There’s room for both.
I’m part of a generation that grew up going to shows at 2,500 to 3,000-seat halls. There aren’t a lot of major shows in those venues anymore.
Not for the big bands. They are all in arenas.
You have a rather famous uncle, Congressman Samuel Gejdenson, the former United States Representative for the 2nd Congressional District of Connecticut.
(Famous) in some circles back in the day. He was in Congress from 1981 to 2001. It was interesting growing up with an uncle in Congress. I would go down to Washington periodically, and I was on the floor of the House when they did the swearing-in, and I went to a bunch of inaugurations. It was a good insight into or just being more aware of politics at an early age, where other kids were focused on baseball and music and stuff, which I was as well. But I was just aware of politics too because my mom worked on his campaign, and we always went to campaign events. So I was very politically aware as a child.
Your uncle was born in a displaced persons camp in Eschwege in Allied-occupied Germany, the child of a Belarusian father and Lithuanian mother.
He was the first son of a Holocaust survivor to be elected to U.S. Congress.
He was somewhat infamous for just barely winning his seat until he didn’t win.
Not every time but there was one election where it was very, very close
During his tenure, he had a number of very close campaigns for re-election, only crossing the 60% mark three times. In 1992, state Senator Edward Munster held him to 50% of the vote. In 1994, as the Democrats lost control of the House, another Gejdenson- Munster rematch produced only a 21-vote victory for your uncle.
Sam Gejdenson also served as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Interior Committee (now House Resources Committee). In that capacity, he conducted oversight over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Beginning in 1989, Gejdenson assumed the Chairmanship of the Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
I believe you are a dog person, right?
Yeah. I think some of that was from moving to New York. In New York, on the street you see all kinds of breeds of dogs being walked. And Marty had dogs. I had a dog as a small child. A small poodle mix. When I got to 10 or so, the dog passed away, and we (my family) didn’t get another dog. Then my ex-wife wanted to get a dog, and once I had my own dog for 14 years, a Yorkshire terrier, you become very aware of animal issues and problems.
In Dec. 2020 you kicked off a GoFundMe campaign that generated $13,000 for a local animal rescue organization. You shaved your beard off in a zoom meeting in front of about 75 well-wishers following the campaign’s successful conclusion.
I set out to raise five grand, but we raised nearly three times that amount. I wanted to make people aware of those (animal) issues, and try to raise money for causes that I believe in, and places that I think do good work, and could use the help. I was surprised that we raised that much money, but it was well worth it. I was glad to do it.
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.