This week In the Hot Seat with John "J.T." Toomey, owner 25/8 Management.
This summer, veteran American tour manager John “J.T.” Toomey launched 25/8 Management.
He had spent the previous 12 years tour managing Journey, and wanted to re-focus his career.
So far Toomey’s life hasn’t, however, slowed down an iota.
After being married in the Philippines in July, he moved his son to Albuquerque, New Mexico in order to study for a PhD in linguistics.
Then Toomey coordinated the talent for two northern California music festivals in September: Folsom Street Live in Folsom, and The 25th Anniversary of B.R. Cohn Charity Fall Music Festival in Sonoma. He also co-produced a corporate event with Cee-Lo Green in Las Vegas.
At the same time, Toomey was fiercely structuring his agency and his own management clientele that has come to include veteran Bill Champlin and newcomers Frobeck, Eddie Bush, Rosie Hart, and the Miles Schon Band.
Based in Healdsburg, California, Toomey’s 25/8 Management team consists of: John “Grinder” Procaccini, Steve Conway, Patricia Sklar, Mark Braunstein, Maggie Sichel, and longtime Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally,
Conway directly manages Nathan Dale, and the Blues Rose Band; while Procaccini directly manages Fairhaven, and former Nightranger guitarist Jeff Watson.
Toomey’s life in the music business began by playing in a country rock band while in high school in Healdsburg. After high school, he worked for the local agency which had booked his band. Six months later, he launched the Head Start Talent Agency that booked the Sons of Champlin, Cold Blood, Stoneground, and Norton Buffalo, whom he also managed.
After a two year stint as tour manager for the Steve Miller Band in the late ‘70s, Toomey again hit the road with Elvin Bishop, George Thorogood, and others.
In the 1980s, he joined up with Bill Graham Management, and worked as a tour manager/accountant for Joe Satriani, the Neville Brothers, and Pat Benatar among others.
Eventually shifting over to Bill Graham Presents, Toomey continued to tour manage and also oversaw settlements on major traveling festivals including WOMAD and H.O.R.D.E.
During his career, Toomey has managed tours for Steve Martin, the Gin Blossoms, Crowded House, Stewart Copeland, Tora Tora, John Hiatt, Bush, Yes, Greg Allman and Friends. He also worked two years with Sammy Hagar.
Why name the company 25/8 Management?
I came up with 25/8 because, obviously, it’s one better than 24/7. We spend so much of our time running around, spending our life doing business that it seems like 25/8 to me. That can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. With the management company, I think that it is going to be a good thing.
Management is one of the most difficult jobs in entertainment. Managers are part psychologists, part baby sitters, etc. Why open up a management company in this economic climate?
For a number of reasons. One of the primary things is that after working 30 plus years as a tour manager; tour accountant; and, as you just said baby sitter, and part-time psychologist as well as part-time travel agent--I have had an opportunity to work with a cross-section of other managers. Some have been extremely successful; some have not been so successful. Some I have seen make brilliant maneuvers on behalf of their clients; and I’ve seen others where I have scratched my head and thought, “How the hell did this guy bring this artist this far? He hasn’t got a clue.”
With all of these years of working with others managers, I feel that I have picked up a lot of things that would benefit me going back into the management business, and that would be an asset to my artists.
So that is one of the reasons that I decided to do it.
One of the other reasons is that after again traveling around the world for 30 plus years, I’ve gotten tired of the travel thing. However, I haven’t lost my passion for music. The travel has gotten old, but my passion for the music is undiminished. I have been that way all my entire life. Music has always been such a passion for me, and I love working with talent.
You have directly signed for management a number of young acts, Frobeck, Eddie Bush, Rosie Hart, and the Miles Schon Band.
I am finding out that I like working with developing talent. It’s much more fluid; and it’s more exciting when you get a gig. That it really means a lot. It’s not like working an older heritage---or jaded may be the word---act. There’s a lot of excitement in doing this.
How did you plan out the management company?
After 12 years with Journey as their tour manager, I left them on the first of March this year. It took me a couple of months to put this (company) together and find a team that I felt comfortable and strongly about.
You launched 25/8 on July 1st.
What I had been doing for the three to six months before was that I had been scouting. I came off the road with Journey last year, and I started looking around the Bay Area, as well as around the United States. I started looking for talent that I could investigate so I could build a stable. I need a stable of talent because as we all know, the music industry revolves around talent; whether that is songwriting or performing talent.
So I went out on this (discovery) quest. It brought me back to the days when I first started out in this business. Going to clubs every night; going to see bands; and having people send me demos and on and on. I was looking to build a stable of talent that I could launch with this company.
You have ended up with 4 newcomer acts as well as Bill Champlin, whom you have worked with for years.
He’s what I like to call my heritage act. Frobeck was my first find. I had never even heard of them before. I found these kids because I went to friends who work in the business in north California, and I said, “Give me four acts you think are happening right now. Pretend that I am having a friend come in from out of town, and I want to take him out to see some new, unsigned, raw talent. Who would you say?” I got back all of these lists; I’m compiling them; and I see that the name Frobeck comes up on 4 of the 7 lists. So I bought their record, and then I went and I saw them, and then, I met them face to face. We started a relationship. I started what I like to call, “Doing the dance.” They are just such amazing, talented musicians but, even more importantly than that, these guys are also fine, salt-of-the-earth, feet planted firmly in the ground guys. Not guys who say, “Dude, I will do anything to be a rock star.” That wasn’t what they were after. They are high-quality writers. Their songs knocked me out.
With developing acts, it’s usually 3 to 5 years before there’s significant revenue generated.
Normally, you are right……
If it’s that time period, and you have a sizable staff, where’s the revenue to fund your management company?
That’s a simple question. You are right. Like any business, whether it’s a restaurant or whatever business that you start, if you go into business thinking that you are going make money the first year, you are kidding yourself; and it’s obvious you have never done it before.
I am personally bankrolling the whole start-up (of 25/8) and the floating of this company until it can make some serious revenue. We are making revenue now on commissions because we are booking dates for all of our artists. We are booking dates ourselves. So there is a little bit of revenue coming in.
Also Grinder (John “Grinder” Procaccini) came on board with his existing production company, Chilibop Entertainment Group. So through that, he and I now are able to offer corporate clients, small festivals and so on a production aspect to this company. We do it through Chilibop, and I am paid separately for my services accordingly.
How are you organizing the management of each of your acts?
Here’s our approach. We find the talent. We sit down with them and have long discussions with them about what their aspirations are; what their vision for their career is; and get whatever input we can get from them about direction.
Then we have a frank conversation about the realities of the business.
With a new band like Frobeck, it’s a total education process for them. With a guy like Bill Chaplin, who has been around the block a 100 or 2 times, then it’s not such a big deal.
For the young developing acts, we chart out their careers and do a game plan. I like to use a lot of analogies. In this case, I will use the ocean. Frobeck has never been out on that ocean. They have been in a few streams and maybe even a couple of rivers. So they don’t really know how to do this. If they did, they would have done it before I met them.
So, we sit down and we chart a course for their career. We take the long view; and we do short views. We have goals, and time lines--signposts as it were. It basically is what you do if you are doing a business plan for a straight kind of business.
Once we do that, and once we have targeted our next moves; the next (immediate) move is to build a team around each of these artists. We’re the main part of the team because we are the management but they all need a record company. They all need a booking agent. We also look into the publishing, and we set some goals with what we want to do with that.
We are at that point right now with all of these acts where we have targeted the teams that we need to put around each of them. Now it’s a hustle for me to interest an agent. It is such a key part of a career. I can’t stress that enough. You can’t do anything nationally or internationally (without an agent). And it is not just “finding a booking agency.” It is really more about finding the right agent.
Right. You’ve got to find a believer. You have to get someone who has the passion and the vision (of the band) and who will work hand to hand with management.
Do you take an overall percentage or do you do splits on publishing and merchandising?
Now we are in an overall position. Our percentages are based on the entire gross. I am not a music publisher, yet. Believe me; I have designs on doing that.
From the great managers you have worked with, what did you learn that you could adapt for your business?
What did I learn from the great managers---the few great managers I worked with? Believe me, they weren’t the majority; only the minority. If anything they were anomalies to the whole (business).
But what did I learn?
One of the key things that I learned was that you have to always listen to what your artist is saying to you. That is really important because they have to feel at all times that they still have control over their own lives, and over their own careers. Even though that is sometimes not the case. Some management have their artists running all over the country. It’s about money. It’s about, “We have this opportunity or that opportunity.” The line gets blurred with what is the best thing for this person (artist) as a human being. Is it putting them on a bus for 18 months straight, where they are going to get run-down and unhealthy and get bad habits and not be home with their family, or any number of things? You have to consider that artist as a human being, and you have to know where they are coming from.
Should a manager insulate an artist from bad news?
You have to. You really don’t have any choice. There are certain things that happen and certain things that come up that you have to insulate them from. For whatever the reason, you just have to make your best judgment (call) that you know what it is, and that it is probably better that he doesn’t know about this or doesn’t know all of the details that went into this. Or you’d spend half of your life trying to explain to your artist how this came to this point and that’s a waste of your energy.
There are managers who spark problems, and then ride in as the savior.
I have worked with those kinds of people. I call them “drama queen managers.” You are right. They set it up so they can ride in on the horse and be the hero, “Aren’t I great?” and “You couldn’t live without me.” It’s bullshit.
What are some of the worst management decisions you’ve come across?
I have seen a couple of managers advise their artists to do something that they knew---or they felt that in the long run probably wasn’t going to be best for them. A perfect example is that I have worked with management with a band that has a new record. Of course, the band thinks it’s going to go #1, and they are going to get Grammys, and all of this bullshit. But the reality is that the manager, even though he’s smiling, and patting them on the back, he knows that the new album is not even going to get close to even reaching the (sales) bar that they set on the previous album.
If I was that artist’s manager, I would say, “Okay guys. You know what? This is an okay record. Let’s just step back from this. I think what you really should do is to try and write your next #1 song because I don’t hear it on this record.” Now that is being brutally honest with your artist.
Do that as a manager, and you may be shown the door quickly.
Well, I guess you can be replaced; but let’s face it, if you get hooked up with an artist or a band, you are entering into a relationship, in essence. It is not quite a marital relationship—you are not having sex—but on all of the other levels that is what it is. If you have 4 or 5 artists like I do, I feel sometimes like I have 4 or 5 relationships going on. And I have to juggle all of those. Just like with your lover, you have to give her attention, and know her well enough to know when to back off. It is the same thing with talent. Talented people, they are different. They are different from you and I, and from the rest of the world.
How do you look back on your 12 years with Journey?
I didn’t think that I would ever work with one person (act) for 12 years. I look back on it as a great learning experience. This was probably the only time in my career that I was working with a band that was trying to make a comeback. I was right there in the beginning in 1998. Once (former singer) Steve Perry’s non-involvement was written in cement, and they made the decision to find another singer, and move forward with their career and hopefully have a resurgence, I was right there at that point.
Without Steve Perry, was it difficult for the band to carry on?
Well, during the first couple of years, it was just god-awful. Hideous to tour and try to make any money for them. Listen, it would be scary and risky--at best--to go, “We’re going to go out without the voice and without the identity that we have had for our whole career. We are going to get someone else to replace him. We are going to start out again at the bottom of the food chain and try to gnaw our way back up to the top of the food chain.”
To navigate those kind of waters takes some luck, obviously; but it also takes a game plan. They had some of those things in place when they made this decision to do it; but, with all of those fine intentions and game plans, it is still a dog eat dog world out there.
So, I worked with them from that point right up to March (2011) where they are now riding high. They are so fortunate, and so blessed. It is such a rare opportunity (in the music business) to have this second window open up for their career. We were talking about publishing before. They are making more money now, I know for a fact, than they did in the ‘80s when they were on the top of their game. They are just loving it.
[On Nov. 10th in New York, Journey received Billboard’s Legend of Live award, a lifetime achievement award that Bob Roux, Live Nation regional president presented by reciting the tour routing of the band’s first month of a nearly year long tour in 1978. It was impressive: 22 shows in 26 days. "Shit Neal," Roux said, "I can see why you went through so many lead singers."
"This last year was by far the best," said Journey co-founder Neal Schon, the only member who has been in the band for its 38-year existence. "It's all about the fans, all about the music. We've always been about the performance, writing good songs. (Singer) Arel Pineda brought us back into the forefront, really regenerated us. There's really no end to it. We have worked our asses off this year."]
As their manager, Irving Azoff has the contacts, of course.
One of things about Irving I admire is that when he sees an opportunity he goes for it. I admire that in anybody. Anybody who can see an opportunity, sees the potential in an artist, or sees the potential in a business transaction opportunity, and they go for it? My hats are off to them.
In life, that is sort of what this is about. There are people who see the writing on the wall—see the opportunity or hear that knock---and they go for it. Sometimes they jump with both feet as a leap of faith, and they go for it. Then there are others that see it but don’t take that leap or don’t take that chance or don’t go for that brass ring for a number of reasons. Who knows why? Maybe they are comfortable in their own box in life. Irving is one of those types of guys who always has had the foresight to see an opportunity. He goes for it, and I admire that.
If a band is doing 40 dates with Live Nation as a headliner, and grossing $100,000 a night, how does it come home with money? What are the pitfalls on the road?
Let’s back up to the beginning. Here’s what they do. They look at the tour that has been offered them. The cities, the routing, and the travel. They get all of those things on the table. Then they look at their own internal operation. Their team. Where they might waste money. Where they will absolutely need this person on staff to do this job and, maybe, don’t need this other person. They have to make their own team---the band, the crew, everybody that is involved with the tour—and everything as lean and as mean as possible, especially in this day and age.
Yeah, we have all seen the excesses. It’s having three people on staff to do one job because two of them can’t do it and the only guy that shouldn’t be out there is covering the asses of the other two that don’t know what the hell they are doing.
Where are they going to bleed money on the road?
They are going to bleed money on overpriced security people when there’s probably someone who knows what they are doing and can do an entire tour. They are going to waste money on having wardrobe and makeup; having a masseuse; and having their own caterer traveling on the tour.
The parameters you gave me is that this band is making $100,000 on a major 40 date tour. Even though the income is good, why waste money? They have to look inside to their own team. See where they are wasting money there. Payroll is one of the biggest costs of any tour. The second thing is that they need to look at their travel. They need to travel as economically as possible. If they can get by with three buses instead of five than they should do it. If they can get by with 8 tracks rather than 12, they should do it.
So a headliner can save money by keep a rein on internal and travel costs?
I have worked with so many bands that if I had a fraction of the money that I felt that they wasted on tour I’d be a rich man.
I will give you just one little example.
As you know, bands get done with the show at 11 or 11:30 PM, and they get on the buses, and go to the next city. In most cases, they are pulling into their next city—their next tour stop—at 5 or even 6 and 7 in the morning, sometimes. Well, the theory is that you get to the city, and to your next hotel that you check in at 11 A.M. Well, I have worked with bands that don’t want to be inconvenienced. They don’t want to stay sleeping on the bus for a few hours. When we get there, whether they are having insomnia or whatever the reason is, they are still awake or they wake up when we get there, and they want to occupy their room immediately. At 5, 6 or 7 in the morning, whatever it is.
In being able to do that, you have to block book (rooms) for the night before. Every time you do that, you automatically double your hotel accommodations costs. There is so much money wasted in that area.
Let’s talk about first-class travel versus coach travel in airplanes. It used to be that it was just a little bit more (expensive) for first-class, maybe 50% more. Well now it’s two to three times more. So is it really necessary to fly first-class? Is it necessary for your ego to have to be in first-class when the flight is only two hours? If you are flying from San Francisco to Denver, do you need to do 6 first-class tickets for the band? Is that really, really important?
Okay, if you are doing a cross-country flight, from New York to L.A., it’s a 6 hour flight, and if you feel that you can afford to do first-class, then go for it. I have flown first-class, and I would always prefer to be there, especially if someone else is paying.
An opener act probably making $1,000 a night should jump in the van and hang a light at San Diego?
Yes sir, that is exactly what they should do. That is exactly what they need to do. Those old days when your record company would advance you tour support—it would be a recoupable advance—that they gave to the promoters or the tour promoter, those days are over.
The road is full of stories of drug and alcohol escapades, and abuse. It’s hard to get a celebrity to stop drinking or taking drugs. Everybody around the artist has a financial stake to protect but they also could be fired if they stepped in.
True. Those kinds of problems are best dealt with off of the road. Anybody who thinks that they can take an artist out on the road, and try to get them to clean up while touring is stupid. Those things are done best off the road at home going to rehab or whatever.
Alcohol and drug abuse are often tolerated until bad behavior starts costing money.
Here’s the lesson I learned from Mr. Bill Graham, and that is this. If you see someone in your organization who is either bad for what you are doing or bad for your artist or whatever, you cut them out like a cancer. And those are Bill’s words. “You cut them out like a cancer.” Even if it’s an employee that has been to loyal to you for 15 or 20 years, you have to do that. Not only are you trying to keep the health of your own company intact but someone giving your artist drugs or partying too much—or being basically a negative—becomes a liability.
Name a few great road managers. These are the hidden people in the music business.
We have always been the frontline guys. We are out there in the trenches. I know that. I look up to guys like the Allman Brother Band’s manager Bert Holman. He’s still out there with the Allmans. He goes everywhere with them. He’s been their manager 15 or 20 years.
I have also had the privilege of working with, and knowing for years, Benny Collins, who is a production manager. A production manager, if they are good, is on the same level as a tour manager. He was Herbie Herbert’s right hand guy in the early years of Journey. From there, he went and worked with Michael Jackson; and has worked with all of the Jackson family in one form or another. He also has worked with Madonna. He’s a heavy hitter.
What managers do you seek to emulate?
The first one that comes to mind is Herbie Herbert. Not because of his affiliation with Journey—we know that whole story. I was there, and I watched it. Herbie was the kind of manager that always had morals, and in this business that is hard. He always tried to do the right and fair thing by everybody, including his artists and outside his artists. Herbie was mentored—like a lot of us were to an extent in those days—by Bill Graham.
There is also Mick Brigden who works with Joe Satriani (and also manages Chickenfoot), and Morty Wiggins, who has worked with the Neville Brothers and Gin Blossoms).
You played bass guitar in a country rock band Good Time Charlie Filth while you were in high school. Was the band any good?
I thought we were good. We were popular locally. We were 16 and 17 years old. I lived in a little town called Healdsburg (California). I was in high school. I got bit like everybody else in 1963 and 1964 by the Beatles and all of that stuff happening. I was blessed to be growing up an hour from San Francisco. Once I turned 16, and got my license I was on my way there. I was 16 years old when I bought my first car. Then there was no stopping me.
My parents were extremely liberal and understood and encouraged my participation in music. They didn’t have much of a problem I don’t think when their little boy was running out every weekend to go to The Fillmore (Auditorium), The Carousel or out to the Great Highway to the Family Dog (shows) and seeing all of this great music. That’s what I started doing, I started going as often as I could. That, of course, went from going on weekends when school was out to sneaking off on a Wednesday and going down to see the three-act $2 Fillmore nights. Oh my gawd, what an education that was.
Meanwhile, you were playing with Good Time Charlie Filth.
Yeah, they was very exciting times. What happened for me was that I got totally got caught up in this (music) thing, and my passion was lit. During my junior and senior years in high school, we were playing school dances and other things around northern California. We were really popular so we were working a lot. We each would have a couple of hundred dollars for the weekend and we were having fun. If you were in high school and making $200 a week in those days, you were damn lucky.
Of course, when you all graduated from high school, the band broke up.
When high school got out, reality slapped everyone in the face. The guitar player ran off and got married, and another guy went into the service. The band broke up. I went, “Oh man. I don’t want to start from scratch. I put two years of my life and energy into this band.”
What did you do?
I decided to call the people who were our booking agents. It was the Brainerd Talent Agency, a real sweet mom and pop operation, run by Roy and Jan Brainerd. Salt of earth people. I told Jan that the band had broken up, and I asked if there might be a job for me there. She said, “Sure. Be here tomorrow. You can take our car down to San Francisco, and pick up one of our artists that are coming in. Remember in those days, rock and roll was just starting to really take off. Roy and Jan people were old school. I get there the next morning, get the car, and they hand me a piece of paper. It has a flight number on it; an arrival time; and underneath it is (the name), the Irish Rovers. That was my assignment to meet this group of Canadians. I remember that was so nervous. I didn’t want to fuck up. I was so quiet.
How did you come to open up the Head Start Talent Agency.
After working with Roy and Jan for about 6 months, I realized “These guys are never going to get it about rock and roll. It’s all fine and well that they are making money with these kinds of (adult contemporary) acts, but this is not my future.” So I got a State of California booking agent license, and I opened my own company. I had it for about 6 years. I was doing okay. I was getting better and better bands. When I got the roster to where I had Sons of Chaplin, Cold Blood, Stoneground, a little bar band called Elvis Duck, and a couple of other acts, I decided it was time to make the move down to Marin County, and open my office there. Once I did that my world opened up a lot more. I met a lot more people there, and I was down where most of the rockers were.
You later began working full-time as a tour manager/ tour accountant.
I started in ’88. I did Joe Satriani, and I did three years with the Neville Brothers. That was ’89 through to ’91. What an incredible chapter in my career the Neville Brothers were. I have two time periods that I worked (directly) for Bill Graham. As a tour manager, I worked for Bill Graham Management (formed by the legendary impresario in 1977 as an adjunct to his pioneering Bill Graham Presents concert promotion business) from ’93 through to ’95. I did a number of their acts. Then I went away from the management, and did a few other tours. Then I started doing a lot of their tours including the Gin Blossoms, and I did some more touring with Joe Satriani. Then I did some independent stuff.
Then I was hired at Bill Graham Presents as a salaried employee starting in ’95. I was there to ’97. I was doing everything. I was doing settlements. They would send me out to settle shows. Bill Graham Presents was getting pretty deeply involved around with festival dates. The first thing they did was Lollapalooza (in 1996). I reported back to the Barsotti brothers (Peter and Bob), Danny Scher or Bill Graham.
As a Canadian, I’m not familiar with the Barsotti brothers.
Peter was Bill’s art direction guy, and was responsible for all of the Day On The Green large stage facades, and later he oversaw the festival tours that Bill Graham Presents did. Bob was Bill’s go-to Grateful Dead guy who probably worked more Dead shows than anybody at Bill Graham Presents, including Bill himself. Bob had a knack for being able to deal with police departments, city hall permit people, city councils etc. He was very good at persuading them that doing a Dead show in their town would be a good thing for their local economy. He underplayed the negative aspects of these kinds of shows to convince the cities to approve the permits etc.
Any golden tour moments?
A more recent golden moment for me was with Journey the second time we went over to Europe four years ago. We did a couple of shows that were just amazing. The audiences had been waiting a long time to see Journey. They had not, outside of Japan, cultivated any kind of an international following over the years. So, we got to Ireland, and we played this show in Dublin (on June 25, 2008 at The National Stadium, one of Ireland's best known boxing venues).
From the second they walked onstage, we knew that it was going to be one of those special nights. There were only 2,500 or 3,000 people there, but every one of those people came to sing. The band had to stop during the first couple of songs two or three times. They were just simply blown away. Suddenly, you have chorus of 2,500 people in a small room, and it is overwhelming.
The internet has greatly helped heritage bands like Journey stay in the public’s mind.
I think that’s good because I run into kids all of the time who have no idea of our musical history or its legacy. I was recently talking to someone at Live Nation in a dressing room, and I mentioned buying some CDs. He asked me what I had bought. I told him that I bought the prized “Super Sessions” with Al Kooper Stephen Stills, and Mike Bloomfield. He had never heard of Mike Bloomfield or Al Kooper. He said, “Stephen Stills? Who used to be with Crosby, Stills & Nash?” Here’s Al Kooper who has such an incredible legacy, an incredible history with all of the groups that he work with. His whole story is just amazing; and this kid didn’t even know who Al Kooper is.
It was at that point that I realized that there are people in high positions in this music business right now that have no clue where any of this came from. It would be like you and I being accused of not knowing about Chuck Berry and the early ‘50s development of rock and roll.
[Al Kooper began his professional career as guitarist in the Royal Teens that recorded "Short Shorts," which reached #3 on Billboard’s pop chart in 1958. As a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, Kooper's songs were recorded by Gary Lewis, Gene Pitney, Pat Boone, Freddie Cannon, Lulu, Lorraine Ellison, and Donnie Hathaway.
In the mid-‘60s, Kooper was a member of the Blues Project, and then he co-founded Blood Sweat & Tears, remaining only for its 1968 debut album, "Child Is Father To The Man." He began his production career with "Super Session" in 1968 featuring Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills. He is celebrated for his organ work on Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone."
Kooper is, perhaps, best-known for discovering Lynyrd Skynyrd and producing their first three albums. He has also overseen productions for the Tubes, Nils Lofgren, Eddie & The Hot Rods, Ray Charles, B.B. King, the Staple Singers, Lorraine Ellison, Bob Dylan, Joe Ely, Thelonious Monster and Green On Red.]
Even within the live music business, contributions by former powerhouse figures like Frank Barsalona, Bill Graham, and Barry Fey are in danger of being overlooked.
You know what the root reason for that happening? It is the natural development progression of this industry that has been accelerated by the internet in the last 15 years. It accelerated the growth of the short attention span.
The business of presenting live music has changed so much over the years.
When I started in the business, I watched that formulation of agents, regional promoters, and the whole (live music) network. I was right smack dab in the middle of all of that stuff, and I loved it. It is what I refer to as “the days of the golden triangle.”
When an artist went out on tour, there were three key players in that tour. Obviously, there was the artist. Then there was the promoter, and there was the building (venue). (As a manager or tour manager), you developed relationships more with the promoters over the years rather than the buildings. The promoters were building solid relationships with the buildings and with managers over the years.
In any given city in America during that period, there was a “golden triangle” of touring. An artist and their manager and their agent would contact the promoter for the region that they were going to tour through and cut a deal. The promoter would in turn cut a deal with the hall. And the artist was on their way.
One of the things that was so great about it was that any given time in your artist’s career--whether they were working their way up; or were on top; or were on the backside of their career—there was kind of an unwritten understanding between the three entities that if a show bombed then the promoter had recourse. They could go to the band and ask them for a reduction or they could go to the building and ask them to cut them some slack on some of the expenses so that he didn’t get put out of business. So he would be there for you (the artist) the next time.
I saw so much great co-operation between those entities in those days. I thought that was a great model.
Now let’s bring it up to speed (to today).
MTV came along and the visibility of artists suddenly became huge overnight on television. That was a good thing, but it was also the beginning steps of the growth of short-term attention spans.
We are seeing that now in this business, even right down to the fan base. Everybody is so friggin’ bombarded these days. There is so much content coming in whether it is one your phone or your computer. My gawd, it’s insane.
What we used to do in the old days with an act was look at the long view, say with a Bonnie Raitt or Bob Seger, where you knew you would have to tour and work really hard building pockets (of support), and build regional markets and fan bases. All of that long hard work---that absolutely worked quite well then—all that hard work has been accelerated because of the instant access to people all over the world with the internet.
There was a time when the North American concert field was divided into 20 or so empires, local promoters with strong regional roots. That structure also began to disintegrate in the late ‘80s.
What was happening concurrently (with MTV) was that we started seeing rollups. It started with Bill Graham and other promoters, even before the SFX buyouts. A couple of key promoters like Bill said, “Why don’t I build my own amphitheatre. Then I don’t have to rent. I will own the place.” So we started seeing that happening. Of course, the whole amphitheatre/shed vision became quite popular. As soon as that started happening, that was also the start of the breaking of that “golden triangle.” Suddenly, you had a promoter who was not only the promoter but he was also the landlord.
And Michael Cohl's Concert Promotions International scooped the Rolling Stones from Bill Graham in 1989, buying the tour and merchandising rights to their Steel Wheels Tour, and basically telling the local promoters, "Here's the deal."
Michael Cohl was brilliant. Brilliant. Anyone who could steal the Stones from Bill has got to have something on the ball. When Bill (earlier) went to the Stones and said, “I will do this tour. You don’t have to give me a fee. I just want the merchandising.” That was a brilliant opportunity. They went, “Er, T-shirts, sure.” That was the most brilliant thing I had seen him do up to that point. So to come in, and swipe the Stones away from Bill--a relationship that had been going on for awhile---Michael Cohl was brilliant. CPI, are you kidding me?
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 1970-89. 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 co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
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