This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Paul Bassman, president/CEO, Ascend Insurance Brokerage.
Insurance companies have long been aware of the inherent dangers involved with music events throughout North America.
With the number of live music shows continually on the rise, insurers understandably seek to work with a broker who not only treats what they do as a core business, but understands the nuances of presenting live music, and working with touring musicians.
This is a role that fits Paul Bassman like a glove.
Last month, Bassman acquired Ascend Insurance Brokerage from its founder James Chippendale, who had opened the Dallas, Texas-based firm in 2001.
With 19 full-time employees, Ascend Insurance Brokerage is a leading figure in the world of entertainment insurance, and risk management services. It places coverage for hundreds of clients, offering entertainers, festival and event promoters, and production companies of all sizes comprehensive insurance and risk management options specific to their businesses.
Among Ascend’s clients are promoter/producer Dave Shapiro (LOCKN’ Festival, and Brooklyn Bowl); CID Entertainment; Bowery Presents; Riot Fest in Denver and Chicago; BottleRock Napa Valley; as well as such celebrated venues as the Metro in Chicago, Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in Austin, and The Bomb Factory in Dallas.
Former manager of Damageplan, Drowning Pool, and Flickerstick, Bassman had joined Ascend Insurance Brokerage (then known as CSI Insurance Group) after becoming disillusioned with the music business following the deaths of Drowning Pool’s charismatic frontman Dave Williams in 2002, followed by the shooting death of Damageplan's "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott in 2004.
You have worked as an entertainment insurance broker for close to a decade?
Eight years. It’s been full bore for eight years.
Are you surprised that few people know much about your business?
I didn’t know anything about my side of the business until I did it so it doesn’t surprise me at all.
You seek out insurance coverage for clients?
We are brokers. They come to us with an insurance need. We determine what company would be the best fit for what they do. Being specialists in what we do we pretty much have an immediate idea that this would go well with this company. “Oh, they have camping, and this company doesn’t like camping. So we will have to go to this company.” Or “this has hip hop, and this company has an exclusion for hip hop so we have to go to this company.” We know where to go with it (coverage).
How many shows would you cover in a year?
I think right now, as far as festivals go, we have over 40 multi-day festivals that we currently share. But overall we have well over 600 different clients that do a variety of different things. A lot of concert venues. Everything from the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland to the Metro in Chicago. We have the smaller clubs to the large outdoor amphitheaters.
Ascend has a significant footprint in secondary markets throughout the U.S.
One of my competitors called me “an ankle biter.” I’m not exactly sure what he meant but I took it as, “We are there. We are nipping at his heels taking all these small clients.” I’m like, “Absolutely, man.” I will take smaller clients every day of the week, and hope that they will become big clients.
At one time someone seeking insurance in a secondary market may have gone local. But this has become a specialized field of insurance has it not?
Yeah, and a lot of it (the expansion), honestly, is due to the people that we have out there. There’s myself and (VP) Cameron Smith who is our top producer. The sales guys are called producers in insurance. Cameron was a talent buyer and a booker for Live Nation in Indiana for a number of years. Then he was at the Bass Concert Hall in Austin. Then he taught music business classes at the University of Texas at Austin. We brought him on board 5 years ago, and he has just done a bang-up job. He’s brought in The Bowery Presents; all of the I.M.P. Productions stuff, the Seth Hurwitz world, including the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia Maryland; as well as the Brooklyn Bowl, and City Winery. So he’s done a really bang-up job. I think that similar to me is that the people in the business like working with somebody who understands their business. You can read a book about the music business, and you can think that you know about the music business, but it’s such a unique industry that I think that unless you have done it, you don’t really get it.
Do you do work outside of the United States?
We will handle North America. We have clients like CID Presents that does events in Mexico. I was in Canada for the Pemberton Music Festival (produced by Huka Entertainment near Mount Currie in Pemberton, British Columbia July 14-16th, 2016). What a beautiful place. They killed it this year. Absolutely, just crushed it.
Does your work involve much travel?
I find myself on planes quite a bit but not every day. About twice a month I am traveling.
Summer is the peak time for entertainment insurance activities?
It is quite a lot, yeah.
How big is your staff?
How are the duties broken up?
There are two people that do small events. Cameron and I are bringing in new business. There are a couple of accountants. An operations head. We just hired a claims advocate, Michelle Carroll who is phenomenal. Boy, she’s good. Her job is to make the claims process is as easy and seamless as possible with our clients. Keeping them informed of what is going on with their claim. To be their advocate when it comes to working with the insurance carriers.
You must spend weekends waiting for the phone to ring.
No. Not all. Michelle is on top of it. She’s so good with the clients and the adjusters. Just sort of being the mediator on their behalf.
As a former artist manager, you seem now to have the best of both the music and insurance worlds.
I do. There are aspects of management that I do miss every once in a while. But those moments were actually few and far between. It’s unfortunate that I will probably never have those again, but I did have them. The moments that I am talking about are when you are on the side of the stage, and there are 16,000 people singing every word of your band’s song. You are thinking, “Wow, I helped make this happen.” It’s just an overwhelmingly, amazing feeling as manager.
Meanwhile, I can be onstage at a festival watching 40,000 people singing along to the Killers, and enjoy it. I saw the Killers at Pemberton. I love that band so much, but you don’t feel part of it, necessarily. (As an insurance broker) you are proud of your clients, but being a manager, and being close to the people onstage who are part of a family, there’s that overwhelming feeling. I will never get that in insurance. I do miss it, but just like athletes, eventually you do retire. That is kind of how I’ve taken it. I had my day in the sun. I had three bands in the Billboard Top 200. I have a platinum record from Drowning Pool. I’ve done what I’ve done. It is what it is.
When you came to insurance in 2007 were music industry people educated to what they needed in insurance?
Sort of the beauty of insurance in this world is that clients get insured mainly because they have to. So they will get a contract, they will execute a contract, and in that contract, there’s an insurance provision that has to be fulfilled.
Your background in music management must be a great asset as an insurance broker in the live music world.
Yeah. I think it’s a great advantage that I have when I approach my clients. I get it. I get how much of an afterthought it (insurance) can be. If I go to a client that has had a claim already, usually they care immensely about their insurance. Once they have gone through it (a claim), and seen what could have happened, or unfortunately what happened because they didn’t have proper coverage, then they become very, very focused and become excellent clients.
Once bitten twice shy.
Pretty much, yeah. Pretty much.
People don’t think of insurance until it’s necessary. They just think something bad isn’t going to happen to them. “Oh, it happened. Call a broker.” They then become the best clients?
They do. They become fantastic clients once they have gone through it, and seen what happened or what could have happened. It’s night and day.
Years ago insurance coverage of an event or festival wasn’t that complicated.
At first, yes. To be honest a lot of the clients were, “Get me the cheapest insurance possible. Just help me fulfill my obligations as inexpensively as possible.” You are right. Over the years, it has been “Let’s get the A+ coverage. Let’s get the A+ event cancellation.” Most of my festival clients get event cancellation now which five years ago wasn’t the case at all but you see that festivals are being blown out for various reasons. The financial devastation is catastrophic. You can’t withstand that. If you have a scenario that you can’t withstand, you have to insure it.
As the live music business became more consolidated and sophisticated, and as the focus of the music industry turned more to the live side of the business, did those elements lead to the greater focus on insurance?
While it was before my time, The Station fire is what brought insurance to everybody’s attention in the industry. The Great White fire made everybody go, “Whoa.” Then the Sugarland deal.
[Stricter enforcement of fire codes helped make clubs safer in the United States after 100 people perished during the notorious Great White show in 2003, when a blaze destroyed The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I.]
Weren’t insurance companies wary about dealing with music-related events a few years ago?
Yeah, it was tougher. There were more exclusions back in the day. There were alternative companies that we sometimes had to go to get business done because the standard companies were like, “We can’t touch that. It’s too risky to do this. There’s heavy metal....”
Heavy metal, punk and hip hop...
Yeah but over time they have come to realize that those kind of events might have more incidents, but the claims experience is similar. People who bust their nose in a mosh pit generally don’t sue. It’s sort of a badge of honor more than something that you sue for. Lawsuits happen but...
Do certain music genres face higher costs for policies?
Yeah. Hip hop for sure.
Have you had to deal with anything like a shooting?
Not that I can think of.
Given recent Florida club tragedies in Orlando and Fort Myers, it’s not unrealistic to suggest what happened with Eagles of Death Metal in Paris...
Oh my gosh.
Could happen in North America.
Eagles of Death Metal. Death metal yeah sure, but we all know that band isn’t death metal. But I’m sure there are insurers out there thinking, “Oh, it’s metal.” I always have to educate them on things that.
[While Eagles of Death were onstage at Le Bataclan in Paris, France on Nov. 13th, 2015, the audience was attacked by terrorists wielding automatic rifles, grenades, and suicide vests. The death toll inside the venue was 89, including the group's merchandise manager, Nick Alexander. The band members themselves escaped safely out of the venue via a door backstage.]
You were the manager of Dameageplan, the metal powerhouse led by “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and his brother Vinnie Paul, both formerly with Pantera. How did you find out about Dimebag’s death in 2004? Someone called you?
God, how did I find out? It’s been so long. Yeah, somebody called me. I can’t remember who exactly made the call. I remember sitting out in my office in my attached garage at ten at night, and somebody called and told me what happened. It was surreal. Time stood still. It really felt strange.
Particularly because it happened while the band was onstage.
Yeah, it was really bizarre. I was just speechless. It was like it was a joke. “Are you kidding me. No way.” Then I found out that Mayhem, the head of security, was shot dead. And Chris Paluska got shot. He was the tour manager for that tour. He was my right-hand man at the time.
You knew him from Last Beat Records.
Yeah. You dug in deep didn’t you? That’s great. I love Chris.
[On Dec. 8th, 2004, at the Alrosa Villa rock club in Columbus, Ohio, a deranged man in the audience Nathan Gale stormed the stage with a 9 mm handgun, killing Dimebag Darrell, tour security Jeff "Mayhem" Thompson, Erin "Stoney" Halk from the venue, and fan Nathan Bray, and wounding tour manager Chris Paluska and drum tech John "Kat" Brooks, before being shot himself by police officer James Niggemeyer.]
General liability, event cancellation, and liquor liability. Are those generally the type of things found in the insurance of events and festivals?
Yeah. Commercial property, and liability coverage. So a festival needs to have as you said liability cancellation (insurance). They also have to have equipment coverage. When you rent a stage...it’s not so much the stage. The biggest item that most promoters have to cover contractually are the generators. A lot of these generators are $1 million. The generator companies are very adamant about making sure that the promoter insures them. Yeah, I have gone on site and seen $3 million worth of generators at will. That’s a lot of generators.
Promoters are hiring other services.
If a promoter has insurance do the other people being hired not have to have separate insurance as well?
They all do. Yeah, that’s a huge part of what we do. We help go through all the different things if they want it. Sometimes they want in-house, and they don’t need our help. But a lot of times they do, and we will help track down certificates, and make sure they are accurate. Make sure that they match the contracts.
At the end of the day if anything happens everybody starts suing.
Everybody starts suing everybody.
We saw that with Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair in 2011 where almost everybody connected was sued. A month following the collapse, Sugarland—who never actually got to perform--was being blamed for the incident, together with their "members, agents and employees.” Everyone has to be aware of the consequences involved with a mishap or death.
[Seven people died, and 58 were injured in 2011 when the stage collapsed at a Sugarland concert in Indianapolis at the Indiana State Fair. At least four cases were instigated as a result of the collapse.]
With the cancellation of any event, a promoter still has to pay performers and many other people.
They do. They are contractually obligated. William Morris (William Morris Endeavor Entertainment) and CAA (Creative Artists Agency) have put in their contracts now that promoters will honor the obligation either with insurance or they warrant that they have the financial means to meet the obligation.
Even a cancellation due to weather?
Yeah. Absolutely. If the artist is ready, willing and able to perform they are getting paid. I guarantee you that an agent at William Morris or CAA isn’t going to tell their artist, “Sorry you aren’t going to be get paid because of the weather. We just feel bad for the promoter.” Well, no. The promoters need to get insurance because the agents are not going to be forgiving.
Is weather covered under a rain insurance policy?
Weather is pretty much covered under event cancellation. We don’t push rain insurance policies. Those are pretty lousy.
Insurance companies used to gauge payment on how much water was on the stage.
Yeah. That is kind of a lousy policy. It’s really expensive, and the triggers are hard to get. You have to get it exactly right. If it’s going to rain a certain amount between this time and that time. Event cancellation is fairly all-encompassing. If it’s unsafe to have the event, the policy will trigger. Whereas with rain, it’s a festival and it’s going to rain, and if it rains you are going to get wet.
I was recently at Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia where the Friday night main stage was shut down due to rain and lightning.
Lightning, of course. Yeah, you get lightning. Bam, you are done.
Being onstage in the rain is dangerous.
It can be, but the cancellation policies, for the most part, require a covered stage on three sides, and on top.
There can be financial setbacks for a promoter if an artist doesn’t show up.
Oh, if the artist doesn’t show up they don’t get paid. Absolutely.
But them not showing up can affect a gate.
It could but if the promoter is guaranteeing half a million dollars, and the headliner doesn’t show up the promoter has a half a million dollar kitty to give refunds if people freak out about it. If they demand refunds, then the promoter can optionally have that in a policy. But what I advise my clients is, “Hey this is not a Killers’ concert, this is a festival.” At a festival, you are paying for the festival experience. You are paying for the multiple acts. You are paying for the whole thing. So just because the headliner doesn’t show up doesn’t mean that the patron is required to be given a refund.
Most concerts are in event venues which have their own insurance in place, while festivals are often in open fields. The moment anyone steps foot on that property there has to be insurance in play from the ground up.
That’s absolutely right. You are not really covering the event. It’s a common misconception about how insurance works. You never actually cover the event. You are covering the companies that put on the event or are involved with the event. So when you say you are covering the parking lot you aren’t really covering a parking lot, you are covering the company responsible for the parking lot. If you have a third party that is responsible for parking duties you make sure that third party has adequate insurance limits, and is naming your company as being additionally insured, and the contract clearly spells out that the parking company’s responsibilities are X, Y, and Z.
That would be the case for each third party on the site?
Every single sub-contractor that you are dealing with, and with every vendor. A lot of people think, and this has been a common way of thinking, and I try to educate on a daily basis, that, “Why do they have to show insurance and all that when we have our own?” You almost have to behave as if you have no insurance because if you get hit with a claim your rates are probably are going to go up, or you will get dropped completely. So, if you behave like you have no insurance, you want to make sure that all your other people, and everything that is there that everyone is responsible for, has their own (insurance), and are protecting you. That way if there is a claim, the odds of it going against your company are greatly diminished.
Doesn’t a waiver of subrogation limit liability?
Waiver of subrogation is a strange concept. It’s hard to explain. If you have an insurance claim...Think about an example. Okay, just for simple illustrative purposes. You have a bunch of equipment that gets damaged or gets destroyed on your festival site. You put the claim into your insurance company. The insurance company pays the damages to the equipment company. What your insurance company might do is to figure out who is responsible. Let’s say that you didn’t destroy the equipment. It was destroyed by the staging company, but your insurance company paid the claim because the claim was made against you. So what the insurance company can do is subrogate against the staging company, and try to be made whole for what they paid out.
Liability, if a stage collapses, can come down to how many people were onstage or who built it and so on.
Right. Subrogation is just the attempt by your insurance company to recover what they paid out. If the damage or whatever wasn’t the fault of their client. What a waiver of subrogation does is that it makes it so your insurance can’t do that. if you are renting a venue for example, and somebody dies but that somebody dying was because of a defect from the venue but your company still paying out $1 million claim, but they try to subrogate against the venue if you signed a waiver of subrogation the venue’s insurance company won’t pay it because of the waiver. It’s a very strange concept.
The selling of liquor is always in play in club, concert hall or festival shows. As liquor laws have tightened up over the past decade, have clients become concerned about having greater insurance coverage?
For a liquor perspective, a lot or most of our clients try to sub that out to a third party. There are several concessionaire companies out there that have made a really good name for themselves in the festival world, and they provide all of the alcoholic beverage services. There are not too many festivals that do it themselves because you have to get licensed. You have to hire the bartenders, and there’s so much that goes into that.
In a liquor-related injury or death could the victim’s family not go after the promoter?
They could try but Dram Shop laws (that imposes civil liability upon those who sell intoxicating liquors when a third party has been injured), it’s pretty specific. If someone makes a Dram Shop claim against a promoter, and they are neither selling or serving (liquor) it’s kind of hard to prove that they are responsible if you sub that out to a third party. If the third party is hiring the bartenders, and they are training the bartenders, and they are the ones that are doing the selling, they are the ones that are responsible if someone injures or kills somebody if drunk.
How about if a fight breaks out caused by the consumption of liquor? Could that bring a claim against the promoter?
It could but that wouldn’t fall under liquor liability. It would fall under lack of security or what not.
All cheerful stuff we’re talking about.
My life. Welcome to my world man.
Is there a separate policy for property insurance?
Yeah, we do a lot of building’s insurance. But if you are renting a venue, we cover that in the form. The form covers damage to the building, and you can contractually push back onto the promoter. We don’t insure the building itself.
What is involved with insurance coverage for artists on tour?
Artists typically get the same things that everyone else gets. It’s not much different. They have to get general liability for their tour. They have to get workers’ compensation. All of the festivals have to get workers’ compensation too for the employees. Artists get equipment coverage for the stuff that they own that they rent. Auto coverage for their van or contingent auto (coverage) for their bus. We make sure that the bus company carries adequate limits.
With your background as a manager and a promoter, you may know more what a client needs than they do themselves.
Sometimes yeah. I’ve been through it. A lot of it was from when I was on their side of the table back in the day. I really didn’t care about insurance. It was an afterthought. I was busy getting my bands successful, working with the record labels and the booking agents, and all of that stuff. Insurance was sort of an afterthought.
Four guys with equipment in a car traveling to a gig requires insurance.
That’s right, but most people don’t care about it. Again, it is sort of an afterthought. So being in their shoes at one time, with a lot of my clients I get it. I can emphasize with what they go through on a daily basis and the fights that they go though on a daily basis. I get it. It’s a little painful to talk about, but this is why it’s important. I try not to bog them down with too much detail, and too much minutiae, but I also know what they need, and I can express that quite well.
A band is a company entity with group liabilities. Ideally, they should be insured early on in their careers.
In a perfect world, sure. But if they are making $100 a show they can’t afford to spend $100 a show on insurance. It’s not practical.
At what stage do bands or their management approach you for insurance coverage?
Business managers are usually the ones making those calls.
When the band begins touring outside their home territory?
Lately, we started getting the calls from bands when they started playing festivals. All of the festivals require bands to have their own insurance. The festivals are getting very good about making sure that every band that plays onstage has insurance. The theory behind that is they don’t know what band is going to cause a problem. They need to make sure that they are all insured. A runaway road case goes down a ramp, and hits somebody, they need to make sure that everybody has insurance. So we will get calls from managers or business managers saying, “Hey, my band is playing three or four festivals, and one of them is requiring insurance, and it’s $150 a show. Why don’t we look at getting an annual policy?” So it becomes a cost benefit at that point.
How did you fall into working in the music industry?
I was in college, and I just knew that I wanted to be in the music business.
University of Texas in Austin. I was taking economics.
And you knew then you wanted to be in the music business?
It had nothing to do with my degree at all. I got an internship at indie label CORE Records which Keith Dressel ran. It was my first gig in the record business. Just a college internship. I just fell in love with it. I just felt that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was there every day. I couldn’t wait to get to work. It was the best feeling.
One of the more established artists was Moon Martin and Ed Roland from Collective Soul. He did a solo album for CORE (“Ed-E Roland” in 1991) I think before Collective Soul came to be.
[Keith Dressel’s Woodland Hills, California-based alternative rock imprint, CORE Records was responsible for discovering and marketing some of the top indie artists such as Moon Martin, and Ed Roland as well as such bands as Vigilantes of Love, Jet Black Factory, Will and the Bushmen, and Monday Mornings. They also marketed albums by Tom Petty, Pat Benatar, Jimmy Buffet, and Steely Dan and operated as the marketing arm of Frank Zappa's Barking Pumpkin label.]
What did you like about the job?
I was doing radio promotion. I was doing college radio, and I got to call people and talk about music all day long which is the best. In the office, I remember clearly the record that played the most in our office was Stone Temple Pilots’ (1992 album) “Core.” That record just kicked my ass. It was so good. It was such a cool feeling. Here I am at work listening to great music, and calling people to talk about music. “What’s better than this, man? This is awesome. I want to do this for a living.”
Following college what did you do?
After college, I moved to Los Angeles for a few years. I had an internship at Elektra Records. Then I went to work at Discovery Records with Jac and (his young brother) Keith Holzman. That was my first paying job doing college radio promotion for Discovery. It didn’t pay much, and I was promoting jazz which was kind of really horrible. But I figured it was a means to an end. Do the job that nobody wants, and it leads you places.
What was your impression of Los Angeles?
I hated L.A. It was horrible. I was dirt poor. I had nothing. I had no game. No juice. I was promoting smooth jazz at Discovery Records to college and NPR radio. “A Man and a Woman, Sax At The Movies” (1993) was our biggest record. It was like Kenny G, man. It was terrible.
Well, you had a car.
I had a car. My parents helped me out a bit. It certainly wasn’t a lot. I worked at the Virgin Megastore when I was interning. Then I got the job at Discovery and did that for a little while. The lady I was working for Claudia Navarro (as head of national promotion) who was married to Dave Navarro’s brother, Dan. She was really cool. She said, “You should try management. I think that would be a good thing for you.” So she hooked me up with David Ehrlich. I went to work with him at a management company and we were managing the Gravediggaz which was a side project of RZA from Wu-Tang Clan, and Prince Paul from De La Soul. That was our biggest client.
In 1994, Gravediggaz put out the record “6 Feet Deep” (alternately titled “Niggamortis”) on Gee Street.
It was like hardcore. It didn’t really take. People didn’t get. It was sort of like Geto Boys’ horror-themed hip hop. But it was great stuff. We also managed a bunch of producers and engineers. I got to see another side of the business working with producers and engineers in the management world. Dealing with publishing splits. It was a strange world being in the hip hop world but it was fun. It was neat. I really enjoyed it. That sort of got me into management. I got out of L.A. I got a gig working for managers in Dallas working with a band on A&M called Jackopierce, and Sister 7 which was on Arista. So we had these two bands that were signed to major labels.
What was the management company?
Robinson-Wood Management. Scott Robinson and Brady Wood were the principals. I worked day-to-day with these artists, and with our little baby band was Vertical Horizon. They went on to do pretty good things. We had them on our indie label (Rhythmic Records). Sold 60,000 independent records for them prior to their RCA debut. (“There and Back Again”, “Running On Ice,” and “Live Stages.”) Helped them to get their deal on RCA. Our company dissolved because our main client Jackopierce broke up, and Scott Robinson went to work with Steve Schnur at Arista in Nashville. Scott went on to form Dualtone Records (in 2001), and (since then) blew one up with (the Denver-based rootsy pop band) the Lumineers. So he’s kicking ass. It’s pretty cool watching these guys do really well that I have known forever.
I recently saw an 82-year-old man on “America’s Got Talent” singing Drowning Pool’s “Bodies.”
Isn’t that great? That is so cool.
Does hearing about that make you think, “What I once did made a difference?”
Yeah. That was the best part of being a manager. Seeing first hand how many lives that you directly helped. Helped slightly even indirectly. It was a real cool thing to see.
[An 82-year-old contestant, John Hetlinger, a former Navy pilot and program manager, left the judging panel and audience of "America's Got Talent" in disbelief in June, 2016 as he sang Drowning Pool’s hit song "Bodies" during his appearance on the NBC-TV show. "Bodies" was the lead single from Drowning Pool’s debut album, "Sinner,” released in 2001.]
Artist management can be stressful because of the demands of clients.
I was lucky in the management other than the bad things that happened. People talk about three in the morning calls. I never got those mainly because I told my artists, “I am going to turn my cell phone off at night. If you need me at three in the morning you can call the house and my wife will answer the phone. You can talk to her for a minute. Then she will put me on the phone. If you want to call and talk to my wife you are more than welcome to.” They never did. I got some screaming phone calls in my voice mail in the morning.
You became disillusioned with the music business following Drowning Pool’s Dave Williams being found dead in the band’s tour bus in 2002 due to heart failure, followed by the shooting death of Damageplan's "Dimebag" in 2004.
Were those two deaths the reason you decided to get out of the music business?
First, you looked at attending law school.
I did the LSAT. I studied hard, and I took the LSAT, and I did pretty well. I’m not going to say that I got a perfect score, but I did well enough to be able to get into a good number of law schools.. I got the application for SMU Law School (SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas), and the first question on the application was, “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” For two days I sat around, and I looked at the application. I tried to start writing an answer, and I couldn’t. I left it for a while, and then I went back. After two days I went, “I don’t want to be a lawyer.”
You and Scott Beggs briefly partnered in Fifth Street Concerts around 2005.
Our first show was with Mindless Self Indulgence, and their agent played me so well. I admire him so much for doing it. He gets me on the phone, “My band is an indie band. Can you just let them have 100% of the merch, please? They have no label. They are just making their living off merch.” He just played my heart strings. I was a new promoter. I thought I’d do the agent a solid, and let them have the merch. Not really knowing that this band at the time was blowing it up. The show was sold out. I think they did 20 grand in merch. It was an obscene amount for an 800 cap room. I can’t remember the merch numbers but they were jaw-droppingly huge. It was the Galaxy Club in Deep Ellum (Texas). And (Scott) Beggs was like, You did what? You idiot. You gave 100% of the merch?” He was not happy about that at all. It was not a good moment.
The agent must have laughed his ass off. This newbie promoter trying to do a solid. Going from being a manager to being a promoter I thought, “Oh I can do that. No problem. There are so many nuances in this world that time and experience will teach you. I had no idea and that money would have helped the young brand new company so much.
How did you come to enter the world of insurance in 2007 at CSI Insurance Group that later became Ascend Insurance Brokerage?
My wife, in her infinite wisdom, said, “You should talk to (James) Chippendale who was the owner of the company at the time. He and I knew each other when I was working with Jackopierce. We shared offices in the same building. He was the insurance guy down the hall that I didn’t pay much attention to. I always liked him but it was like, “He’s in insurance. I’ve got other things to do.” I’d make fun of him but he was always cool. He was a great guy. He threw my wedding shower. So he had always been a friend. I can’t remember if he called me or she told me to go him but it was my wife who told me that it was time to get the ball rolling. That it was time to make this work.
What was then the extent of James’ business?
He did mainly nightclubs, bars, and restaurants. He had a couple of promoters and one of them happened to be the brand new C3 Presents. He had been working with Charles Attal Presents. Then C3 formed, and he had C3 from day one. He also had Red Mountain Entertainment and Blue Deuce Entertainment. He was like, “Come and see if you can bring on some of these music people.”
How much staff was there?
Steve Spalding was one of the partners. Including the owners, there were 6 people.
What learning curve did you have coming into the company?
It was substantial. I had to get a license. So there was a school that was involved in getting my insurance license. There were classes that I have taken and continual education and reading policies. I was really going through everything word-by-word. It really has taken quite a while to really get a firm grasp on it, but I love it. I really enjoy it. I enjoy the contractual review. I never thought that I would.
How did you come to recently take over Ascend Insurance Brokerage from James?
I think that (the transition) started when C3 Presents sold to Live Nation (in late 2014), and they left him as a client. It was sort of a signal of the end to him because he devoted almost every waking moment working on insurance to C3. Between that and his charity (the Love Hope Strength Foundation) that was his life. C3 sold to Live Nation, and he got let go. And that was kind of it. And frankly, the amount of business that I generated was considerably more than the rest of the company put together. It sort of just made sense for me to buy 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 1970-89. 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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