Jay Williams with WME, Jason Zink with Sherpa Concerts, Brian Hill of Paradigm, panel host and Square Peg Concerts Promoter Dan Steinberg, Andrea Johnson from The Agency Group, John Valentino from AEG Live and Scott Pang from ICM prior to the “Your Deal Stinks 101” panel at IAVM.
Reporting from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — It’s a sunny, sweltering day at a hotel cabana bar on the beach and promoter Dan Steinberg doesn’t miss an opportunity to dole out his trademark shtick.
“It was nice meeting you too,” he tells one building GM making his exit from the bar, “and I can’t wait to lose money at your venue.”
His buddies Jason Zink of Sherpa Concerts and Steve Mcfadyen laugh at the wit and awkwardness of the exchange, shooting the GM a look that says “he’s only kidding” and “he's here all week, folks.”
Welcome to the Dan Steinberg Show, an unsettling and unfiltered stream of consciousness mixing industry insight and raw humor, usually delivered at the expense of others, with Steinberg taking the most punishment.
Steinberg was at the Broward County Convention Center Monday to keynote the agency panel at the International Association of Venue Managers Conference, featuring promoter John Valentino of AEG Live Southeast, William Morris Endeavor partner Jay Williams and Andrea Johnson from The Agency Group, among others.
Already one of the most popular panels at the conference (and not just because it includes free drinks at the end), Steinberg added an air of buzz to the 2011 forum after making a strong impression with his pointed and sometimes raunchy questions of panelists like promoter Danny Zelisko. This year, he didn’t disappoint, prancing into the packed convention center ballroom dressed like Willy Wonka, throwing out profanity-inscribed chocolate coins and dropping at least a dozen f-bombs during the introductions. Steinberg served his seven-person panel two rounds of drinks (with AEG Southeast talent buyer Ethan Levinson dressed as a sommelier), mixing questions about tertiary markets with uncomfortable probes about their sex lives. Midway through the panel, he even sang his own version of the Oompa Loompa song.
And overall, it was pretty good ratings for the Dan Steinberg Show, with the head of Square Peg Concerts in Auburn, Wash., could do filling the ballroom with a few hundred people. For the most part, the panel format seemed to work, Steinberg both entertaining the audience while getting panelists to give honest assessments of the music biz. Here’s my top five most truthful moments:
1. When asked how much agent Brian Hill of Paradigm puts on the venue’s value of the artist in their market, he said promoters rely on the talent buyer to speak up if they’re coming back too soon.
“What I don’t want to happen is to go in there and (find out) the venue only wanted the show to keep the night from being dark, and you’re the sacrificial lamb.”
2. Do agents play venues against one another? “Absolutely,” said Scott Pang from ICM. “We work for our clients and we want to maximize our client’s income.” He also replied in the affirmative when asked if picking up a check at dinner helped a venue secure an act.
3. When asked where was a better place to work, Outback Concerts or Outback Steakhouse, Zink didn’t hesitate — “steakhouse, baby.”
4. “The biggest mistake (venue managers) make is overestimating the amount of time the honeymoon period lasts,” explained WME’s Williams. “Agents and managers get greedy as everyone tries to get in there during the first year and a half, and sometimes when that happens, the venue gets worn out pretty quick.”
5. Although Scott Warren, General Manager for Wolstein Center in Cleveland wouldn’t admit to joy-riding the arena Zamboni, Steinberg polled the audience and a number of GMs raised their hands when asked if they had taken the ice-cleaning machine for a spin. “See everyone with their hands up? That’s who we should trust at settlement,” Steinberg said.
If I have one critique, it would be that Steinberg’s rapid question format didn’t present an opportunity for panelists to contextualize their answers — many used as few words as possible in hopes that Steinberg would set his sites on a new victim. In fact some of the best back-and-forth came when a member of the audience asked a question about whether managers and agents really cared about how many fans and followers a venue had on a social media site (and that person was me).
“Absolutely not, people don’t go to shows because they like a venue, they go to shows because of what talent is booked there,” said Hill.
Zink disagreed, saying “as a promoter, I want to know who’s identified themselves with the venue. We actively make charts of those things, and if you have a lot of likes, odds are good people are more aware of you in that market.”
Valentino said a strong following online is often indicative of good customer service and that might drive his decision to bring a particular act there.
“You’re making decisions based on the number of Facebook friends they have?” an incredulous Hill asked.
“We often make decisions based on how many people pay attention to what’s going on at the venue and what they can sell without us having to shotgun market,” Valentino said.
Pang jumped in with “I think its important that venues have marketing staff that know what they’re doing. If they have a good following, you want to be there.”
And it wouldn’t be an agent’s panel without an artist update. Paradigm’s Hill said he’s having a lot of success with country crooners Eli Young Band and has a lot of love for radio-friendly The Lumineers and arena rockers Coldplay.
“They’re killing it right now,” he said. “Not killing you. Killing it.”
The Agency Group is having a lot of luck with Straight No Chaser plus Guns N Roses, comedy metal act Steel Panther and festival headliners The Black Keys of Akron, Ohio. At ICM, Pang said the buyers are all chasing after urban acts Trey Songz and J. Cole, while Williams said the WME country acts he’s doing great with include Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley, who’s currently on tour with The Band Perry.
“Between Luke (Bryan), Eric (Church) and Dierks (Bentley), you could single-handedly fix a venue’s quarter,” Steinberg said.
Barbara Hubbard shows the Steinberg bobblehead a little love
Steinberg said 2012 would be his last year hosting the agency panel at IAVM, noting that he thinks his brand of humor might run its course. That’s not to say the memory won’t live on. Before the conference, he mailed out a number of bobbleheads of his likeness to agents, venues and the media. Viral photos showed the bobblehead inside the Paradigm Nashville office and on the roof of the Comcast Arena in Everett, Wash., where he was photographed (and then accidently dropped and decapitated). Barbara Hubbard American Collegiate Talent Showcase chose a simple profile shot, giving Steinberg an innocent kiss on the check.
It’s all marketing Steinberg quickly admits, each stunt designed to outdo the next. As an independent promoter, Steinberg said he always wants to be top of mind with anyone he might do business with, whether that’s an agent, a band manager or a building GM.
“At IAVM, you get time to talk to the these venue guys, and that’s priceless,” he said.
“It’s a chance to hit up all the venues at once. I want relationships with a lot of those guys, the ones who are outgoing and searching for shows. If I can see that in your eyes, then I want to work with you.”
Below are a few more notable comments from the panel:
On whether or not an agency needs a film and television division for their comedy acts: “Absolutely. We’ve got the blue comedy guys and they wouldn’t be with us if we didn’t.” — Brian Hill, Paradigm
On family shows: “I have a six-year-old and a two-year-old and we just had our first experience with the Fresh Beat Band. They had a VIP experience afterwards and I thought it was brilliant. We paid an extra $200 but they included arts and crafts and all sorts of other stuff.” — Jay Williams, WME
On picking AEG over Live Nation: “The were able to take the vision of what we had at Fantasma productions as promoters and take it to the next level. I’m very happy.”
— John Valentino, AEG Live Southeast
On Steinberg’s future in comedy: “If you signed with us — which will never happen — we’d probably put you on a few clubs, maybe an open mic night. Once would be enough, then we’d probably just not return your calls and be done with you until you figured out you weren’t on the roster anymore. And then you can sign with APA.” — Brian Hill, Paradigm
Interviewed for this article: Dan Steinberg, (253) 887-8777; Scott Warren, (216) 687-9292; Brian Hill, (615) 251-4400; Jay Williams, (615) 963-3000; Andrea Johnson, (212) 581-3100; John Valentino, (561) 681-5610; Jason Zink, (615) 285-9592