This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Seth Sheck, CEO & founder, ACCESS Event Solutions.
Put a half-dozen live music industry veterans together and talk will likely turn to how many tour laminates, VIP backstage passes or event security badges they’ve collected over the years.
Seth Sheck, CEO & founder, ACCESS Event Solutions in Sparks, Nevada will beat all such challenges without breaking a sweat.
For any major sporting event, concert or event with a celebrity or political figure in North America, it’s a darn good bet that ACCESS had something to do with the design and manufacturing of those credentials.
ACCESS Event Solutions began as ACCESS Pass & Design in 2002, an event credential company that soon integrated technology into passes that were otherwise just ink on paper. The company has since developed a state-of-the-art proprietary software platform to oversee credentials of any type, whether it’s a general admission ticket, the GOD event promoter pass and everything in between for any live event.
ACCESS’ prime list of clients runs from the New York Yankees, the San Francisco Giants, the Baltimore Ravens, Daytona 500 in sports to such music artists as Jay Z, Linkin Park, Justin Bieber, Drake, and Guns N’ Roses to TV shows “Saturday Night Live” and “The Voice” to big-scale political and religious events.
Reno-born and raised Sheck has had considerable experience in the credentials industry. He worked two stints with T-Bird Entertainment Printing & Graphics, one of the first companies that made backstage passes. After leaving T-Bird the second time, he decided to start ACCESS Pass & Design with T-Bird co-workers Brad Diller and Frank Himler as partners.
Two years ago Sheck rebranded the company’s as ACCESS Events Solutions and bought his partners out.
ACCESS Event Solutions is often listed as being located in Reno, Nevada but the office is in Sparks, east of Reno.
Most people don’t know Sparks.
Are you kidding? Home of the Great Basin Brewing Company, the Nugget Casino Resort, and Nevada’s first licensed brothel, the Mustang Ranch is east of town.
There you go. That’s our end of town. Where my wife Alma and I live is the last exit east of Sparks. It used to be out in the boonies.
ACCESS operates from a 10,000-square-foot facility in the Oakcrest Business Park in Sparks?
In the heart of Sparks on Greg Street.
ACCESS has 23 people on staff according to the company’s website.
I think that it’s closer to 27. The website is scheduled to be updated on July 1st. My wife Alma and I own 100%. We are totally self-funded. We have no investors.
Does the company work in five continents?
We have had our team on five different continents working with an older version of our software.
How do you and Alma divide duties?
Alma and I, obviously, live together. We (car) pool together. We share an office together. We travel together.
Many couples have difficulty with such closeness in their businesses.
We really enjoy it. We are best friends. Alma is the director of administration and HR, I am founder and CEO. The roles are very separate. Obviously, there’s plenty of crossover because it’s our company. She handles all of the hiring and firings, and all of the administrative things. We look at it (the company) like it’s a big ball, and we are both on the surface of the ball. Her job is to maintain everything inside the ball. My job is to be on the ball looking out, trying to make the ball bigger. But we end up doing it all together. It all gets blended.
It’s been long overlooked that in the ‘90s you created the die cut laminate pass, often referred to as the matrix laminate. Lammies had been awkwardly-designed pouch laminates.
Well, I did, yes.
The die-cut pass you developed became popular not just because it looked so much cooler, but it offered the ability to shape code laminates just like satin passes, which made the passes easier to identify.
What really hurts is the die cut laminate, where the artwork goes edge to edge--there’s no clear plastic pouch around the paper insert--I created that, and I never get cred for it. Every time I see it on TV or in the movies or on the sidelines or backstage, and it’s something we didn’t make, it just drives me nuts. The world adopted this new kind of pass, and it shows a level of innovation. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, and if I am remembered for anything in changing the world in the tiniest way, that’s my claim to fame, I think.
One of the first times we used it was in Canada at Mosport Park (in Bowmanville, Ontario). There was a big festival called Eden Fest there (featuring over 50 other acts including the Tragically Hip, the Cure, Porno for Pyros, Bush, Live, the Goo Goo Dolls, and Ani DiFranco. ICON were the producers. Every shape we made for a satin we made for a laminate to roll out this idea of a die cut laminate. It was enormous. I put them all on a board and saved them all.
Do people collect and sell passes?
They are sold all the time. Everybody asks the question, “How many old backstage passes do you have? Is there a way you can sell and monetize them?” The question is the most popular question to me other than “Do you get to go backstage at every show?” The truth is that we didn’t want to be both a security company and a company where the average Joe could get an all-access pass. It’s a confusing message. I recently had a conversation with Kevin Lyman with the Vans Warped tour. Kevin said, “Dude, pay me a 15% licensing fee, take every one of the Warped tour passes that you have done since day one, and make shower curtains and other things for college kids.” We have always had those type of conversations, but he was the first one to bite, and say, “Let’s do it.” We’ll see what happens.
When an artist approaches ACCESS Event Solutions for passes who is doing the contacting? The artist’s tour manager, production manager, security director? Or all three?
I’ve had instances where it’s been all three.
Do each have different criteria or demands that encourage them to come to you?
You know, I’m not sure. I think that part of it just might be the relationship. Take Linkin Park for example. Jim Digby is the production manager. He’s the one that will reach out to me first. I don’t know if it would be that way if I didn’t have that relationship with him. He might have a security guy reach out to us, and just deal with it. That’s a very good question. I have never considered when it was a personal preference or if there is a reason that he wants to do it.
Over the years, and certainly with increased security issues, the manufacturing of passes has become more complicated. Also the larger the tour, the more passes needed, and there will be different security clearances. Years ago, you’d just run off a handful of die-cut passes. It’s more complex in nature today.
Yeah, it is. I like to think that I personally brought innovation to a space that is quite often using old technology. Ink on paper, there’s nothing new about that. We were the first to go full digital, and the use of holographic foil stamping, and die-cutting, there’s nothing new about that. The equipment that does that is hundreds of years old.
Correct me if I’m wrong. A satin pass is usually intended for use the day of an event. The laminate for a full tour.
That is the general line of thinking. The satins are more for daily event staff and guests. Anybody who gets a laminate, it’s a little more permanent. I’ve gotten both when I’ve come to a show. I’ve gotten a satin, but more often than not, I would get a laminate that says, “Come back and say hello to me in the production office.” Most satins won’t get you back that far.
Satins are also multi-purpose in that they are, perhaps, color-coded. and marked off to where a person can and can’t go.
That is kind of a budgeted option. It is one that we offer where you can put four options on a rectangle pass, and just change the colors, and just use a sharpie to block out the versions of the pass or the levels of access that you don’t want them to have, leaving exposed where they can go. But those are kind of far and in between today. Maybe some of the smaller bands will go that route because they can’t afford a full security pass system with different shapes, colors and designs and such.
With a major act tour how much advance notice do you need to manufacture the requisite passes?
Well, here’s the thing. We at ACCESS are famous for our fast turnaround. The fact that we are full digital means that....in the old days we used to print offset lithographic printing. You would have to wait for the ink to dry, especially with something like cloth satins. That would take days. With our new technology and with our special process, satins we can print and run in the same day. I can actually get a call...Let’s take Justin Bieber, for example. This recently happened. I got a call on the weekend that some small access passes went missing. It was a security threat, and they needed a new set of passes created for a show in two days. We got that call on the weekend, and the job shipped out on a Monday or a Tuesday.
Years ago, a client would ship you artwork, and there would have been back-and-forth approval. Today with computers and with high-speed internet access, and with digital technology, artwork can be sent and returned digitally. Technology has made turnarounds easier, and faster.
Oh yeah. I remember cutting (the masking film) Rubylith, you know that ruby-colored acrylic transparent paper, and using sharpie (razor) knives on (light) tables. The process was with big giant cameras, and photo-ready art. That’s a thing of the past now. Everything now is digital.
You have an in-house design department but, with global touring demands for the major acts, do clients have more concise ideas for their security pass artwork than in the past?
That’s kind of a loaded question. Justin Bieber again. That’s someone you would think that would have a team of people showing him designs that he approves, and then they send to us. But instead, they sent a photo and said, “Go nuts. Design something from scratch. Make sure that this photo is in there.” So I can’t even break it down by percentages (of receiving advance artwork). It’s a roll of the dice. I can tell you that our team really gets excited when we get the chance to work from the ground up, and they are able to show off their skills. It’s less exciting, obviously, if someone says, “Here’s the artwork, print this.” So it’s a little bit of both. There’s also something in between where somebody will send us something that isn’t good quality. That we can repair or make it better so that it will reproduce well.
Your team will create great art, especially if they think the act is cool.
Absolutely. They take great pride. In fact, in some cases the only reason that we get repeat business from certain clients is because of our artwork. They know that we are more expensive, but they like our artwork, and they trust our art department and our turnaround time. Things are worth paying a little more money for.
Do you keep logistic books on clients, indicating what their past needs were?
Oh yeah. Our infrastructure is as about as modern as it gets. The whole shop is run on a very modern ERP system (Enterprise Resource Planning system) integrated with the sales force software that is integrated with our intelligent website that is integrated with our phones system and our online store. I get calls and emails all the time, “What did we do last year when we did blah blah blah. Can you look it up and send it to me?” We get those calls all the time.
ACCESS Event Solutions also prints itinerary books.
We do print itineraries. The art department hates it just because it’s not very creative. But we have made the itinerary book a sexy thing. Our designers took those words on a white page and they put in color, background images, and cool boxes and they do all kinds of cool designs. Our books are gorgeous. But they are more expensive.
Do passes for sports and music events differ?
In some ways, sports is very predictable. The seasons come and go the same time every year. We know when it comes, and we are ready for it. So, in that sense, it’s very predictable, and from the design standpoint, much of it very utilitarian, meaning that they need media credentials, and it has to be different from last year. It has to have this date and “We are playing at this stadium.” That sort of thing.
Obviously, passes differ for home and away games.
Well, yeah. For example, we do the Yankees. All the media and field passes are specific to Yankee Stadium, but when those guys play in a different venue they are subject to wearing the credentials of that team there.
What are differences of laminates and day passes in sports?
With baseball, for example, laminates are for the permanent staff and crew and returning members of the team. Everybody else gets a paper hang tag. It’s obviously a lot cheaper. It’s not laminated. It has a little an elastic tag on it that they can wear around their neck. What we do with all of the passes that we print is that we promote the security factor. So even though the paper hang tags are less expensive than the laminates, everything ends up with some sort of a watermark on it. We put on watermarks. We also put UV watermarks that can only be seen with a black light. Security features? We like bar codes, serial numbers, holographic foil. So even if someone ends up trying to sell one of these things on eBay. We protect the community by keeping an eye on eBay for the online sale of live (current) passes even if it’s not our customers just because we want to be good stewards for the industry. We do have a set-up with eBay that we can pull passes that we can prove are current.
What led to you investing $2 million in a proprietary software platform, an integrated technology platform for the now common RFID/NFC coded badges and wristbands?
Yes. Even before Intellitix was opened a year (from 2011), I could see which way the wind was blowing with technology. But it just wasn’t that. We go to other trade show shows, right? Because it’s not just music. We are in sports. We do film and TV conferences. Everybody needs a credential. Every event needs a credential. So we are all over the place. We had been going to some marketing trade shows and the notion of activating a brand, and kind of tracking attendees’ experiences from conferences and trade shows, it didn’t take a scientist to understand that the times were changing and that we needed to partner with—which is the path we choose originally—a company that was doing something like that. We worked with Thinaire out of New York, and with Fish Technologies (in Addison, Texas). But our customers are used to superfast turnarounds and super high-quality service, and products. Not to say anything bad about our partners but, with technology, it just takes so much more than turning around a fast print job superfast.
Most people don’t know the difference between RFID and NFC coded badges or wristbands.
All of the things fall under RFID (radio frequency identification). It’s more about proximity. One is less secure and long range which is good for tracking people and seeing patterns but it isn’t very secure. That’s what everybody refers to as RFID. Near Field Communication or NFC is where you have to be in proximity. You have to be close to be able to read (the serial data), and it’s far more secure. The standards are very much higher.
[Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a generic term used to describe a system that transmits in the form of a unique serial number for an object or person wirelessly, using radio waves. RFID enables readers to capture data on tags and transmit it to a computer system, without physical contact. Near Field Communication (NFC) is a subset of RFID that limits the range of communication to within 4 inches. RFID has a wide range of uses while NFC is generally used in instances where security is needed, such as when integrated into mobile phones.]
And you can use NFC with any smartphone.
Yes. Every smartphone, including Apple, but Apple keeps their system closed so you can only use it with Apple Pay.
Technology now plays an important role at festivals in providing a more personalized experience for audiences. RFID and an NFC coded badges or wristbands allow brands, artists, and promoters to connect directly with an audience. Meanwhile, event promoters can control entry levels to areas, including limiting stage access, scheduling of meals, and VIP tracking.
Yes, and here’s something that most people don’t realize. RFID is the buzz word, but it’s certainly a lot more expensive. It’s our goal with our Mission Control app (which allows immediate access to data associated with the pass holder via the cloud-based data on-site) to print a barcode on every laminate that we produce. To give users the ability to download our app onto their devices for free, and take advantage of a couple of features for free. If they want the full suite of features then, of course, we will charge extra for that. Our codes do the exact same thing that RFID does. RFID is just a bar code that is made out of a metal tag. It is just a unique number.
How have you come to understand all of the technology shifts and the innovations in your field? Do you have a college degree?
With increased security sophistication, the manufacturing of passes has become a challenging if not a daunting field.
Well, the thing is that it is daunting because it is constantly changing. What’s happening, in my opinion, is that the ticket has now become an integrated credential, and it is integrated with some form of technology. Our goal with Mission Control, and as a credential company, was to understand that if everything went through Mission Control whether it is a general admission ticket as credential to the Access All Areas (sometimes referred to as the Universal Pass) all of the way back to the GOD pass for the owner of the event that everybody associated with the event before, during and after would be in our system. And there’s some power in that.
At the same time, annual spending of festival sponsorships is increasing because such events are deemed the best way to reach a relevant audience.
So there’s a sponsorship play. That’s why we are integrated with Eventbrite. It (ticketing) is all-important to the event producer. The event producer has ultimate control over who gets to go where, when, and for how often, and if they get meals etc. And they (event promoters) also have access to all that data.
With an event wristband having RFID, there’s probably no reason to have a paper ticket anymore.
That’s exactly what I’m talking about. We have wristband manufacturing partners but I’m looking at acquiring a wristband manufacturer because as a credential company, knowing that wristbands with RFID are now becoming a considered credential in my opinion, then we need to close the loop on that. Having to use third-parties is just too risky. We can’t control price. We can’t control turn-around time. We can’t control quality.
As a 360-degree type company, you need to close the circle.
Wristbands are another form of credential but we don’t manufacture them in-house currently. In fact, nobody is manufacturing these things in America. They are all get made, to some degree, in China because getting those RFID tags on the printed ribbons, that’s intensive labor, and America can’t compete.
Those wristbands do provide tiered-level of access for crews. With an all-day festival, a promoter doesn’t want an overabundance of people having access to a stage. They can do hour-by-hour stage access.
We did that for the first time for Live Nation for HARD Summer festival, and the Day of Dead (in 2014).
Hour by hour access to areas, including the stage?
Yes. That’s what Mission Control does. Mission Control is where it’s not the wristband. It’s not the credential. We make the credential today. We are eventually going to make the wristbands too. Imagine a world where the credential provider also has software that is tied to the credential. And all of these credentials, all they are is a credential with a unique number that needs to be associated to someone. Once that happens in the system (that is cloud-based) and hopefully that system is Mission Control, now the event producer or the artist liaison or media person in charge of handling media can go back to you, send you a request form, “Hey Larry, how many passes do you want? What are you looking for? Fill out this form and submit it.”
A long way from holographic foil stamping, and die-cutting wristbands or laminates.
This is still going to take place because you are still going to show up at the event. They are going to mail you your credential, whether it’s a wristband or a laminate with foil and bar code or, hopefully, RFID. But they are going to mail that to you. What will have happened is that they have associated your name to that credential; that unique ID on that credential will be in our system. Inside of our system they have clicked what stage you can be on and for how and which VIP area you can get into. If you can get backstage. If you’ve got catering. If you have got all of that. Do you get a radio and a golf cart? All of that can be manned by Mission Control. That’s the idea. The big idea is that every single customer that calls us for a credential could use a system like this to some degree. Even to just turn a pass on or turn it off.
Every credential that we produce will have at least a bar code on it that any phone on the planet can read. You can download our app for free. We aren’t there yet. We are a few months away from making that announcement but at least the very basic features will be given away. Like the ability to turn a pass on or off. So if somebody steals passes or they lost passes or they were being sold online or whatever, you could deactivate the pass.
There is a generational apprehension that may be an issue. Millennials are an experience generation. They want you to take them somewhere unique. Older people are more nervous about the use of technology. They have concerns about companies gathering information about them.
Well, the privacy issue, remember that it’s opt-in. So when you pay for your ticket, and your ticket comes in the mail in the form of a wristband, it comes with a little note that says, “In order to get into the event you need to activate your credential.” The amount of information that is asked for may vary from event to event, and how long the event producer keeps the data may change because every state has different laws. I think that California has the most strict (data) laws, and everybody is going off of California’s law. But there’s only a certain period of time that you can keep somebody’s personal information, but you can anonymize the data.
if a wristband can track people at an event, it would feel like Big Brother to some people.
Yes. As you said, you and I are quite a bit older than most of the Millennials out there who are paying for these tickets. They are all on social media. They share everything. They don’t give a shit who knows about them. It doesn’t even actually bother me. I’m on Facebook, and tell everybody, “Hey guys, I’m leaving for New York for a week.” They don‘t know if I have somebody at the house or if there’s an attack dog at the house.
[According to Nielsen Entertainment’s Audience Insights Report on Music Festivals millennial festival fans are almost twice as likely to use Facebook to access music than the U.S. average. Music festival fans also use social media more than the average American. In general, they’re more likely to use it three or more times a day, and they’re especially active across social networks while attending live music events.]
We are now seeing competition by festivals to further enrich the fan experience. Providing further connectivity like this will likely lead to an enriched event experience.
Absolutely, it will lead to it. The reality is that the part of the system that is access control that is critical to every event and what our entire business is built on becomes commoditized. It becomes the part that is expected and the giveaway. The extra stuff is what people will charge for. That’s why we decided to get into the software space because any ticketing company can now do access control. “Why do I need a pass company?”
Let’s talk about your background. In the late ‘80s, you managed the Reno rock band Midnight Sky. Why didn’t the band happen? They recorded an impressive 6-song self-titled album with a top producer at Granny's House Recording Studio in Reno.
Yeah. Boy, you really did do your homework. The producer was Bjorn Thorsrud.
Bjorn went on to work with the Smashing Pumpkins, the Daddy Warhols, and others. Why wasn’t the band successful outside the region?
The band was probably the highest paid band in the region because it was the only band that had a manager negotiating on their behalf. We really worked hard to build a crowd. Every one of our shows, we had a huge following. Anytime that we’d play, there would be 100 or 200 people. The bars loved to have us play, but it’s a small town. It gets saturated. We got to be big kids on the block for a few years. At the end of the day, they were trying to hold onto to the Bon Jovi/Def Leppard days, and then Nirvana happened, and grunge was hitting the world like a sledge hammer.
Hair bands were starting to die out.
Yeah, they were starting to die out. They just wouldn’t let it go. I was like, “Cut your hair. Get a flannel shirt, and let’s ride the wave. It’s a business.”
Were you a good manager?
I cared. I certainly cared, and I worked hard. I don’t know if I was any good. I didn’t know what I was doing. The thing is that they had asked me to sing.
Had you been in bands previously?
No. I can’t play an instrument. I can even sing karaoke unless I’m really drunk. We were sitting in high school at Reno High, and Pete Murphy the drummer said, “Hey, we’ve got a band. With your personality, would you be interested in singing?” I said, “Hell, yeah.” Pete was really popular. He was like the quarterback on the football team. I was just some punker nobody. So I thought, “Here’s my shot.” I went out there, and I completely choked. I didn’t even try. I said, “I am not a singer. I am not going to be the guy onstage, but I’m passionate about music so why don’t you guys let me help you out?” And Pete became the lead singer.
You were born and raised in Reno?
Yes. My dad was born in a camp in Germany. He came to America and he lived in L.A. and then moved to Reno to avoid the big earthquake scare. That’s where he met my mom. My mom stayed in California and my dad worked for the state of Nevada for a mental health institute.
A camp in Germany...
It was more of a freedom (displaced person’s) camp. It was after America had come over (to Europe). They were starting to deal with the refugees, and starting to bring people over (to the U.S.). His family was from Poland originally. Everybody on his side of the family, every one of them, was lost to the Holocaust.
Were you waiting on tables while managing the band?
In 1990, while waiting tables, you met Tony Perry of T-Bird Entertainment Printing & Graphics, one of the pioneering tour pass companies.
Yeah. That was weird. I was obviously a better waiter than I was a manager. It was at Spinnakers Restaurant, the first restaurant at the Meadowood Mall.
What attracted you to working at a tour pass company? That you could still work in music?
He told me what he did, and I couldn‘t believe it. I said, “I don’t know how someone could make a living making backstage passes.” When he said who he worked with---the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, and David Bowie—I was like, “Holy shit.” I still didn‘t believe it. I asked him for his business card. At the time, not that I was interested in the backstage pass business, but I thought that if I got into that business it would get me deeper into the music business which would help the band. Of course, the band fell apart sooner than the backstage pass business did.
[T-Bird Entertainment Printing & Graphics was a wholly owned subsidiary of Thunderbird Printing, then owned by Pete Peterson, and later Walter Huff.]
How long did you chase Tony before he hired you?
It was at least a year. I drove that guy nuts. There was no internet, no email. All I had was his address on a business card. So I went to the office and saw what he was doing with my own eyes. I was like, “Holy shit, this is real.” I hounded him, regularly. He knew how badly that I wanted the job. I had no doubt that he needed the help, and I was going to be the guy that helps him. It’s funny how things work. How weird the world works. Here and I am. He’s dead. I bought his company. He fired me. I hired him back 10 years later. I had to fire him but we remained friends, and then he ends up killing himself by accident (in 2014 from an overdose of methadone). It’s such a crazy thing.
Tony Perry was a pretty wild character.
Tony was a maniac. He was probably bi-polar. He was just out of control. You either loved him or you hated him. I was at a point where I was hating the guy. He would yell and scream. He was just completely out of control. So I said, “Let Tony go, and I will take over T-Bird.” And that’s what happened. I took over T-Bird.
You eventually joined Tony at Perri Entertainment as VP of sales
It was a year later. He started Perri Entertainment about a year after he got fired. Then we started losing accounts. That’s when I realized that this business is all about relationships. He had somebody take me out to dinner. The night I got wooed into Perri Entertainment I said, “Here’s the deal. I want a laptop; I want one of those giant cell phones; I want $500 a week; I want commission; and I want a title that says VP of sales. I figured that I might as well as go for it all. It was important for me to look important.
You were laid off from Perri Entertainment in 1992. Out of work, you borrowed some money and opened a nightclub in Reno called Slaphappy's the following year. The club featured bright yellow happy faces on black barstools, using the tagline, "Come sit on a happy face at Slaphappy's.”
Yeah, that was absurd. It was a club where the band played. So I knew the owner and he was in trouble with taxes. He needed $20,000 to cover the tax bill or he was going to lose the property, and the bar. I borrowed 20 grand and said, “For 25% of the property, and 51% of the business, I will save your ass.” We cut the deal and he ended up being a creep. He later (allegedly) killed two people, and implicated me in the crime, and then threatened my life. Now we are friends again.
The club featured live entertainment, and different music each night.
Every night was supposed to be something different. Hip hop was the only music that paid the bills, but that was the one where about two in the morning the guns would come out. It didn’t matter how much security there was.
How long did you run the nightclub?
I doubt that I made12 months.
Then you did one of the coolest concept ideas I’ve ever heard. You had a 900 number called “CODE RED” that offered internal police communication recordings, and 911 calls.
Yes. That coincided with (the reality TV show) “Rescue 911” with William Shatner. It was so expensive to program. 900 numbers at the time were still big. The O.J. Simpson case had just happened and we had all of those tapes. Every time you call 911 what you are calling is a Public Safety Answering Points or PSAP. We were telling people we were doing a show to compete with “Rescue 911” and we needed to use these 911 calls that they were getting. All of the recordings. They were sending this stuff from all over the country. It was a cool idea. We got all of the O.J. stuff but we ran out of money.
Plus, the internet was exploding and the recordings could be put up online by anybody.
It was destined to fail.
Then you did the Lake Tahoe Talent Expo which also failed.
Yep. Lake Tahoe Talent Expo another series of shitty partners and bad decisions. I pumped everything I had into that and lost my ass, basically. I tell people all of the time that I have far more failures than success stories but they all got me to where I am today.
Next, you returned to T-Bird Entertainment working as a janitor, and as a secretary. Cleaning toilets too?
Yep. I painted the building and I cleaned the place.
In 2001, you attempted to buy T-Bird Entertainment but Thunderbird Printing wouldn’t sell. So you started Access Pass & Design with partners Brad Diller and Frank Himler, both employees of T-Bird Entertainment. Access Pass & Design opened for business Jan. 2, 2002. Why the partners?
In the very beginning, I needed Brad’s money. He was an artist.
[Over the course of his life Brad Diller has been a cartoonist, bartender, baker, carpet layer, and a writer. His first cartoons appeared in 1992 and ran continuously until 2000 when he left the newspaper business to pursue a career as a freelance illustrator. His comics have appeared in Funny Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Charleston Daily Mail, the now-defunct Nashville Banner, and the Reno Gazette-Journal, as well as various other smaller papers. He published his first book, “The Neighbors Have Two Flamingos,” in 2011.]
You three got turned down for a business loan by eight banks.
We went to the university and we had them build a business plan that we took to eight banks. Nobody read it. We didn’t even read it. Finally, the last bank in town that we went to the guy was young enough. I brought a pack of Creed samples with me from the last Creed tour. I asked if he liked the band Creed. He said “Yeah” and I started throwing the passes on his desk. I said “We want to do this. We’ve done it. We’ve got the relationships. We just need a good start.”
How much funding were you seeking?
I put in about $35,000. Brad put in about $60,000, and Frankie put in $15,000. I think that we went to the bank for another 60 grand or something.
What did you need the money for? Printing equipment?
When we started, we had computers, folding tables, and our cell phones. We had one copier, and we had an old press from Frank’s dad that was like a bucket of rust. Frankie somehow got that to run to die cut. That’s how we got started but yeah we needed new equipment.
Both partners left the company two years ago.
When I made the decision to become an event solutions company, a technology company, and to change it from being a pass company, Brad was already on his fourth cartoon book. And Brad was17 years older than me, he was getting tired and wanting to do something else. I had asked him to be president because I wanted somebody to run the show so I could travel around with my beautiful wife Alma and we could make bigger deals, do business development, and build relationships and know that the company was covered. But Brad was really focused on his cartoons more so than the business. We sort of had a bit of a blowout and, maybe, within two months Frankie thought that he might find something on his own as well. So they both left.
When did you change the name of the company?
It was 2 ½ years ago. Let me explain the name change. ACCESS Pass and Design really limited us to passes and design. That’s why we changed that to ACCESS Event Solutions And we changed our logo to make it more modern. One dimensional like Facebook and Twitter.
You have recently decided to invest in the Offbeat Arts & Music Festival that takes place this year Nov. 3-6 in Reno.
It’s a multi-venue festival. Its first year was last year and ACCESS was a sponsor because I knew the guys who put it on. Alma and I like being big fish in a small town. Reno is a small town. We wanted ACCESS to be a participant. After the first year, they broke even, which is pretty insane. All of the bands got paid. No debt. So I thought, “Well if on the first year they can break even, they have a shot.” They came back for sponsorship dollars, and I was like, “Okay we’re happy to sponsor again. We will be the biggest sponsor you guys have ever had at this point two years in a row.” So I asked them for an equity position, and they gave it to us.
Is there much competition for live music in the local market?
There’s no competition in the market. Well, what do you consider competition? There’s no arts and music (festival) in the Reno/Sparks area. Reno has a mess of big events in town, but there’s no music festival.
Most music acts would be coming to the casinos.
Yeah, the casinos have traditionally booked their own talent, but Live Nation is now booking the big theater in the Grand Sierra Resort.
Well, the Reno Events Centre has plenty of shows, including Slayer and Anthrax on October 23rd.
Hey, I’m down. I got hurt in the pit in a Slayer show when I was in my mid-30s. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.
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.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario, and a consultant to the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta.
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