This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Ben Baruch, CEO, 11E1even Management.
Colorado is where east meets west and where north meets south.
It is a general way station for people and attracts folks from all parts of America.
Ben Baruch, CEO of 11E1even Management, moved to Colorado from Los Angeles in 2008, to become head talent buyer for the Fox Theatre in Boulder
When the Fox Theatre and historic Boulder Theatre merged in 2010 under Z2 Entertainment, the Savannah, George native joined with Kirk Peterson in also booking the Boulder Theatre as well.
Baruch also began to manage the local emerging electronic dance duo Big Gigantic which is renowned for the mixing of electronic elements and live instruments.
Baruch had moved to Los Angeles after graduating in film and theatre studies at the University of Vermont and State Agricultural College in Burlington, Vermont in 2003 in order to pursue a dream of working in the film industry.
After stints working as personal assistant to esteemed British film producer, manager, and casting director Julia Verdin, and working at Peter Strain and Associates, Baruch struck out on his own, establishing the concert promotion company, Wagatail Productions. He had also formed the band, Underground Orchestra.
In 2013, Baruch left Z2 Entertainment to launch his own full-service artist management company, 11E1even Management. Its current roster includes Big Gigantic, the Oh Hellos, the London Souls, Family and Friends, Maddy OíNeal, Magic City Hippies, Real Magic, Rose Hill Drive, Russ Liquid, Sunsquabi, Cereus Bright, and Twiddle. It also represents Anthony Hull for film and television.
This soft-spoken multi-tasker also freelances as lead talent buyer for both the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, and Camp Bisco as well as being co-owner of the electronic music discovery site, This Song is Sick.
In 2013, when you parted with Z2 Entertainment to launch your own company, 11E1even Management, you could have lived anywhere. Why remain in Boulder?
I came to love Boulder. Itís a great place. There was no need for me to move to New York, or go back to L.A. Big Gigantic, being my biggest client, was living in Colorado and Boulder. It was always a nice thing for us to be all together, and meet. That was a big part of it, but also it has a music scene. I love the lifestyle here, and it is easy to travel in and out of to go to New York or wherever. Itís very central. I travel all the time. Itís a great home base. I still get what I need when I go to New York or to L.A. and have great meetings there. Itís (Boulder is) an escape.
Boulder/Denver is also one of the most unusual live music markets in America with a rich cast of unique characters that include promoters Don Strasburg and Chuck Morris. Is Boulder/Denver still an exciting, and distinct live music market?
It definitely is; especially after living in L.A., and also seeing music while in college in Burlington, Vermont. Thereís the passion that Chuck and Don have for music, and just what they bring here. The fact that with bands, DJs, rappers and whatever, there is something special about Colorado, and there always has been for artists because of the foresight, and the way that fans are here. They are here to see music. They are not here just to be seen at a show. There is just something special about Colorado. Don and Chuck have obviously been a very big part of creating that scene here, and thatís what it takes. Those types with their energy and willingness to build rather than just being a promoter. I think thatís the big difference.
Madison House too has been a real factor in Boulder as well.
One hundred percent.
Denver is one of America's most ethnically diverse cities with a population of approximately one-third Hispanic or Latino. Boulder's population is younger than the national average, largely due to the presence of university students. Thereís always a population turnover.
Yeah, there is, and thatís why you see all these different trends in music here too. Just seeing what the kids are liking. Itís been an interesting thing that Iíve seen since Iíve been here, the Boulder/Denver scene. People traveling more from Boulder to Denver, even though itís only 30 miles away. Back when I was booking the Fox and the Boulder Theatre, it felt like that there were a lot of kids that stayed in Boulder when the shows came there, but I think that now itís more and more common for kids to come to Denver to see music. That is different. Itís shaping the scene out here with Boulder and Denver being separate markets.
Whatís impressive about Boulder is the diversity of music that is popular there. Every genre is represented.
It is. You have to be with the college kids. We have always seen the Fox and the Boulder Theatre do extremely well. It (bookings) canít be genre specific. Youíve got to bring in the indie. Youíve got to bring the hip hop. Youíve got to bring in the EDM. We are really lucky that it all does well. You donít get that in every market with everything. Of course, there are rooms like that in other cities, but this is part of the music culture here.
There are fewer music venues today in North America that are genre specific, More and more rooms are hosting different music genres like on a conveyor belt.
You have to, especially a venue over 500 or 600 capacity. There are some EDM clubs around the country that are small and intimate and are known for that music. But, if you want to be a (successful) venue, you have to do that.
There are now more festivals and events coming along in the marketplace. You are involved with several new annual events, Camp Bisco, and the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, which launched in 2016 at the 600-acre Sunshine Grove in Okeechobee, Florida.
Yes, last year was our first year. I was brought on to do the talent buying. Iím pretty proud of that one. The fact that we sold out the festival in year one, and we sold out this year. The first year we did 26,000 tickets and change. This year we sold out at 36,000 tickets and change. As you know, not only is it rare to sell out a festival of this caliber in year one, and in year two, but Florida has not really been known as a great (live music) market. It also isnít a market that bands have a great history in. Florida is not an obvious market for bands. A market that they need. A lot of bands skip it. Thatís why we kind of created a cool thing down there besides being an amazing festival as far as with the grounds, and the vibe that we created. Since a lot of bands donít come there often, and we brought them all together, and we made it a multi-genre festival, I think that combination made it something that people wanted to come and see.
Any apprehension about dipping your feet back in as a talent buyer after doing primarily management for the past few years?
My whole goal when I left the Fox and Boulder Theatreówhich I loved it to death, but I thought that I outgrew--I always planned to still continue doing promoting shows or festivals--whatever it was going to be--if the right situation came up. People ask me all of the time, ďWhat do you like more, doing management or throwing shows?Ē I honestly love both. If I wasnít doing one, I would always be itching for it. That was always the goal, and this came to me. I got a call from one of the original (festival) co-founders, ďThis is what we have going on. This is what we want it to be.Ē And that is always scary because for a new festival who knows what can fall through? It all comes back to me and my relationships in booking these things. So yes, I was definitely concerned, but I also wanted to take that risk because what I wanted to do when I left the Fox and the Boulder Theatre was to find what that next project was that I could take on to start promoting and booking at a higher level.
At the same time, as you age you probably also like to see if your booking chops are still there; to see if you can still spot new talent, which is the fun part of being involved with live music.
Right. When I started my background and my knowledge was primarily in the jam band scene. When I got to book the Fox and The Boulder Theatre I had to dive in and learn about a ton of other genres, and learn how they do (in the market), and extend my knowledge on different kinds of music. So I felt that I had a good sense, and Iíve always worked off of my gut as to what I felt would do well. Itís kind of crazy in a way. I donít really know the Florida market, but I went in there with my gut of what I felt kids would want to see in that region, and what was doing well, and what I could book before things would really pop, and it worked. My whole thing last year, and even this year was that I booked artists early with the foresight that they were going to be worth a lot more tickets before the festival. And it worked.
The magical craft of being a talent buyer is catching that first real curve in the popularity of a group. At the same time, agencies are telling you, ďThis is the next big thing.Ē You go either ďNo, they arenítĒ or ďYes, they are.Ē
Yep. And itís pretty cool that a lot of it (talent buying) does tie into the other scenes that I do. By being a manager, when my bands are on tour, I see what other bands are doing well on the road. Keeping an eye on that around the country. But also being the co-owner of This Song is Sick, especially in the electronic and hip-hop spaces, being able to see what really is working in those genres. This Song is Sick is still the top curated site for electronic and hip hop. So Iím able to be ahead of the curve. All the things that I do go hand-in-hand, and has helped with the booking process with the Okeechobee and the electronic and hip-hop space, and also with managing electronic acts. Itís been awesome for me. I love every part of the promoting side plus working with the festivals is incredible. Just the fact that we have sold out two years in a row with Okeechobee in a market that is not primarily looked at as a big music market, especially being a multi-genre festival like this has made a statement and put us on the map.
You are also a talent buyer at Camp Bisco.
Yep. I bought all of the talent for Camp Bisco in 2015 and when the festival moved to Montage Mountain which Live Nation Owns, LN did some of the buying as well for 2016 and 2017.
Did you know Camp Biscoís organizers Disco Biscuit previously?
Yeah. Thatís how it all came about. I have been friends with them for years. They came to me and asked me to take over the bookings. That completely came from the band itself. We have been friends for a long time. Iíve supplied anything that they have ever needed. Weíve had a great relationship. They came to me and they wanted me to book the festival. That was three years ago. So I did that. When the location moved to Scranton Pennsylvania, Live Nation owns the venue (at the Pavilion at Montage Mountain and Montage Mountain Ski Resort) I stayed as an independent contractor as I do with all of these ventures, but Live Nation came on, and I also do some of the buying as well. Itís the same location where the Peach Festival is held.
How many people work at your office?
I have 11 people in the office counting myself. Thatís a mixture of a management team, and the This Song Is Sick team.
This Song Is Sick has become a growing concern.
Itís more of a music curation site than a blog. My partner Nick Guarino has an ear like none other. He was writing early on about Wiz Khalifa, Chance the Rapper, and Skrillex; even before they were selling 300 or 400 tickets. How I became a partner is that I noticed early on when I was booking the Fox that he was writing about acts before they were booked at the Fox. He had his thing on the pulse of the scene. I met him, and I said, ďWhy donít you present some shows?Ē He was probably 19 or 20 at the time and probably didnít know what that meant. If you talk to artists from DJ Snake to Skrillex to Logic-that is still a small listóthey still come up to us and say, ďYou were the earlier believers of us. We might not be where we are today if not because of you.Ē Nick has that taste. A lot of (music) blogs and sites take money to write about acts. Nick only writes about things that he believes in. Thatís why the site has continued to grow in such a big way. Itís because fans trust the ear that we write about. We stay consistent writing about quality music, and not just writing about things to write about.
While electronic dance music may have underground in the early Ď90s, the genre broke into the international mainstream a decade ago and remains one of the most popular genres anywhere. Still, there are music industry executives who will tell you that EDM will soon fade away.
Itís not going away. The only thing that has happened is what happens to every music, as you know, is that it has evolved. Itís still electronic music. It may not be the exact same as it was two years ago, but some of it is, and itís still working to the people that like that style. It just evolves, whether it becomes more musical or whether there are some new styles that producers try. But the electronic scene is never going to go away. It will evolve.
Well, we watched SFX Entertainment screw up Beatport after purchasing it in 2013 for reportedly more than $50 million (U.S.).
Beatport became the tribal drum of the EDM community after launching in 2004.
For sure. Again as everything evolves, there are more and more avenues to get this music out, and producers are more and more open to trying new things. Just like musicians do and bands evolve. Itís not going away. I witness it every single day with Big Gigantic, with This Song is Sick, and with booking festivals. Kids are still absolutely going crazy (about EDM), and tickets are being sold. Itís not going away.
Unlike with rap and hip-hop that took years to gain footholds outside North America, EDM proved to be more universal and was quickly embraced internationally.
Yeah, itís amazing. I went to India this past year. We (Big Gigantic) were playing there with Major Lazer, and it was amazing just to see the culture and how they loved the music and how enriched they were without knowing much of the bands beforehand. It is just really cool to see that.
Where did the bands play?
We went to Bangalore and Mumbai
India has a big electronic scene that started two decades ago. EDM is strong in such Indian cities as Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Kolkata, and Hyderabad.
Yep. Delhi was on the schedule as well. However there was some trouble there, and we had to cancel. The shows we played were packed, and the kids loved it. It was interesting that after the shows that we played India on our Facebook analytics became our second-biggest market after the U.S. which is wild.
How much work do you overseas?
Many of our bands are starting to tour overseas; some more than others. Itís starting from the bottom up, building properly and patiently like we did when building in the U.S. Big Giganticís release (ďBrighter FutureĒ on Big Gigantic Records) is just starting to be pushed over there, and they are starting to tour over there a bit. We are heading to Asia this year and, besides India, they have played Australia. One of my other acts, the London Soul, is starting to get some buzz over there. As far as my acts playing overseas, I donít do much business there yet.
Your experience as a promoter has likely helped you with artist management.
Oh man, when you are a promoter you know the ins and the outs of everything. When I started I was doing everything from taking tickets at the front door to making sure that production worked, making sure that the bands were fed, making sure that they were happy. By being a promoter early on, and working for myself, when you become a manager you can relate, or at least I could, because of that experience.
Artist management can be tiring.
It doesnít stop. Itís one of those crazy industry things. Itís clear that people are in it for the love because if we put this much time into a 9 to 5 (job) we probably would be making a lot more money.
Most acts eventually dump their early managers, and with newbie acts, you arenít making money. What are the rewards of being a manager?
The reward is seeing growth in something that you believe in. Itís having that eye and ear, and then saying, ďThis band has something special,Ē and thinking that you can help their career. Iím sure everybody has a different reason but, for me personally, yes itís nice to make a living off of it, but I pick up baby bands all of the time if I think that they are amazing, and if I think I can help them. I think the reward is actually seeing the plan as discussed really grow.
For decades, recordings provided a considerable share of overall income for artists but that revenue stream has largely been dissipated.
There are a lot of different things (income sources) like syncs. With this last album, Big Gigantic has 6 syncs going. The band is making a lot of money on syncs and with streaming. A lot of people say you can't make money on streaming, but if you arenít with a big label where many artists may have received large advances and overhead, you actually can make good money from streaming, but if you arenít with a big label you usually canít make money with streams.
Iíd guess that your history as a talent buyer also gives you the ability to deal with agents, venue owners, and festival bookers as well. You talk their language.
Right. There are a lot of pros. It is just having the knowledge that when a band comes to me and says, ďThe ticket system isnít right,Ē I can say, ďWell, Iíve been there before, let me see whatís going on.Ē Or they say, ďHey, we donít have any food,Ē I can say, ďLet me call that promoter. Itís his responsibility.Ē Just learning those ins-and-outs. But, as far as even on a bigger level, I was doing the deals as a promoter for bands. So one I understood how these bands should be paid. I worked with every agent and manager I can think of, especially when I was booking the Fox and The Boulder Theatre after I got out of L.A.
Some of my bands didnít have agents. I knew who the agents were that I thought would work best with them because of how they had worked with me on the promoter side. But it helped in so many ways having these relationships with agents and managers and, like you said, with venues on the promoter side. So I know where my bands needed to play, needed to be working with, and needed to be treated. Every step of the way.
Plus, your history as a touring musician gives you insights in how to deal with musicians, and emphasize with their problems.
Yeah, I was touring in the tour bus, acting as manager, tour manager, and percussionist, and I understood the ins-and-outs of every aspect of what it was like to be on the road and to deal with the situations that can come out that I had to resolve and deal with. I could relate when bands say, ďThree weeks on the road is hard.Ē And Iím like, ďI know. Iíve been through it, and hereís how I got through it.Ē
Itís funny because I still do go out on the road here and there.
I created a side project with the Big Gigantic guys or with the Disco Biscuit guys called Gigantic Underground Conspiracy. Itís a fun thing, but it puts me into the booking and the management world overseeing that project and being onstage with them. It only happens two or three times a year max, but it is a fun thing for us; especially to be onstage with Big Gigantic whom I manage. It creates a different dynamic, and with the Disco Biscuit guys, I book their festival. It is just a fun thing, and it makes me understand all of those aspects of being onstage, and dealing with promoters, and dealing with the guys that are booking us.
Like what to do after driving 300 miles to be told by a club owner that he doesnít supply food. You can tell him, ďDo you really want this band onstage without being fed?Ē
Or we donít play at all. I get us our deposit ahead of time. Yeah, so it all goes hand in hand.
Live music has a history of skirmishes with club owners. Is it better today than it once was?
It is. It definitely is, and I think that a lot of that is because there are a lot more options out there now. It definitely still happens.
Communication within the live music industry today is better. If thereís a problem with someone, it can red-flagged quickly to others.
Oh yeah. We know immediately. As soon as there is someone who doesnít seem right at the venue or they arenít going to play properly it comes back to myself or the agent immediately. We handle it, and we put it to bed.
If thereís a problem promoter...
They will not be promoting for long. The word is spread throughout the industry. Promoters know that there is only so much that they can do because their entire career can end with one tweet or one post.
How conscious are you of safety issues with the bands that you manage?
Traveling or at the venue?
Both. Any band manager, for example, accepting a routing from a booking agent that has an illegal drive in it and then coaxes his driver to make that illegal drive could be legally held responsible in case of a mishap or injury.
We are very conscious of that, especially on the bus tours. We only do the maximum amount of time that the bus driver can do to get rest. For those bands that are still on band tours, we make sure that there are enough people in the van to switch drivers, and there are people to switch shifts to give everybody enough sleep. What enough sleep is for these guys is a few hours, but we do our best to make sure they are aware, and that there are enough people that can take these shifts.
At venues, it is definitely a thing we watch over. Our tour manager and myself, if Iím at the show, we have security meetings to understand how they (the promoters) deal with specific issues that may arise. Safety, as far as our production team, we make sure that the stage and the lights are done properly. All of that. We are very aware of it. We go through every single venue--every single date--and make sure that everything is safe for the band in those spaces.
In the wake of the 2011 Indiana State Fair disaster with Sugarland, when heavy winds knocked a stage down and killed seven people, industry professionals began to recognize safe workplace practices. At a show site, you as the manager, the band or any one of your road crew could be legally held responsible in the case of a mishap or injury because of the legal duty of care for all of those things under your direct sphere of influence. As well, a decade ago clubs became more aggressive about security, adding metal detectors and wands, and hiring off-duty cops, but in recent years, safety has largely slipped in the club sector where new bands are trying to gain their footing in the music industry.
You are right. A lot of bands donít think of that at the early stages of their career. It is just something that we try to make them aware of. If they donít have a tour manager yet, or once we do bring a tour manager on the scene that they definitely have experience with that.
You are from Savannah, Georgia?
Born and raised there.
You grew up as an orthodox Jew in the Deep South.
Thereís a real big Jewish community down in Savannah.
Bnai Brith Jacob, which claims the largest membership of the three Savannah synagogues with about 400 active families, was organized in 1861.
Yep. Thatís the orthodox one. If you walked in there, you wouldnít know the difference between walking in there and walking into a synagogue in New York City. Itís pretty crazy. Itís just as orthodox. A big community, with the black hats, the whole nine yards.
How did your interest in film and theater develop?
I was always into film and theater and the entertainment industry as a young kid. People used to ask me where my interest started. It probably started at the age of 3 or 4 when I had a lady called Ruth who would watch me. My dad was a physician so he had to do a lot of lectures, and my mom would go with him. Ruth would take me to the Baptist church on Sundays. An orthodox Jewish boy at a Southern Baptist Church. That gospel (music) was something that never left me. I was amazed by it. The church musicians were always some of the best in the game. Thatís where I started coming into music, loving to see live performances every Sunday that I went with her.
True that you asked your father if you could manage some singers you heard at the Baptist church?
I did. That is true. I was 6 or 7. I donít know where I heard about what a manager does but I had Ruth, who was almost like a second mother to me, ask these singers to our house so my dad could hear them sing. They came over and sang with three of us sitting on the couch. I remember it like it was yesterday. My dad said, ďThanks for coming by.Ē I asked if I could manage those artists. I donít remember his response, but I remember wanting to manage them; knowing that there was something special there, and me wanting to help their career whatever that meant at the age 6 or 7.
In growing up I knew that I wanted to be in the entertainment industry. In high school, I always carried around a video camera. I was very into directing and making movies. I took it upon myself to do theater. I was always into the theatre as a kid. My parents would take my sister and me to New York City from a very young age every year for the Christmas holidays, and we would see three or four Broadway shows. I was always interested in the arts. Going from there, it was seeing live music when it was around.
How did you come to study film and theatre at the University of Vermont and State Agricultural College in Burlington, Vermont?
When my best friend and I were getting close to graduating high school, we visited a few colleges. There were a few places on my list, and some on his list. We ended up in Burlington on a full summer day. We saw people playing frisbee and people hanging out on the grass, and near the water, and there was some great music there. We thought that it was a super cool place. I had no real interest in staying in the South. I wanted to explore a little bit. After we went to Vermont, and after a few months passed and winter came along, we realized that we werenít aware of what the winters were going to be like for four years since we had visited in June or whatever it was. But we liked the vibe. We both thought it was a cool place. There was no real rhyme or reason as far as we picked it apart from the feeling that we got when entered into Burlington and saw what we saw.
Four years of film and theatre studies, including studying their history, and, of course, dissecting classic films.
Every single thing including dissecting films. The same with theatre. Learning the history of theatre and having to be in acting classes and having to learn costume design and spending hours in the basement of the theatre department sewing costumes.
After you graduated in 2003 what did you do?
If I wanted to stay in that (entertainment) field the obvious places to go were New York and L.A. I was pretty much over the winters, and I figured that I would try the west coast. So I went to L.A. I remember this like it was yesterday. I was going on interviews with different agencies, like William Morris and whoever had a film and a music department. I remember talking to my girlfriend at the time that I was having a little bit of a struggle whether I wanted to do music or to do film. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to do film. I thought that if I went into music that it might take away of how special that I thought it was. Going to shows and having that love, if I knew too much of the backend, and the backside of how the industry worked, might be disappointing to me. So I went into film. Literally every morning I was looking on Craigslist for any type of job in the film industry, whether it was with a production company looking for a runner for the day or in hospitality.
Where were you living?
In West Hollywood. I found a little apartment that was probably max 400 square feet. I had my Saint Bernard with. Me and a 200-pound Saint Bernard that drove cross-country to L.A. together in my (Toyota) Land Cruiser. It was probably the only thing that the dog would fit in.
Did your parents bankroll your move to California?
They did until I could get my feet on the ground. They helped a bit. They put a bit of a timeline and pressure on me. ďGet your feet wet in L.A. but starting on this day, this is going to stop.Ē As it should. They put pressure on me to find some jobs.
You had to look for a job.
I had to look for a job. I had zero leads. We had some family friends in the industry that did meet with me but nobody hired me. I just had to figure out how to make a living. Every morning I looked at Craigslist.
You worked as a personal assistant in some films?
Yeah, I did some P.A. work on some films and I direct shadowed a little bit. All that was pretty much for no money. I literally did anything and everything that I could in the industry to try and work my way up.
You eventually worked for the infamous Hollywood agent Peter Strain who later was found guilty of embezzlement.
Which is crazy. After working the Craigslist jobs, my first real job was working for (British) film producer, manager, and casting director Julia Verdin who has produced a lot of films, and who managed actors. At that point, I was doing every from reading scripts and giving her an opinion on if it made any sense to send a client for an interview. I would videotape different auditions to build our clientsí reels. Just kind of learning a little bit of the management side of representing actors and also understanding how producing films worked. She did both. I did that for, maybe, a year or a year and a half.
Then I started taking interviews at agencies, and I was hired at Peter Strain Associates. I started as an assistant, just learning the ropes. Doing everything. Answering the phones. Stapling headshots to resumes. Typing up new resumes. Organizing our clientís auditions. It was an assistantís job.
Peter Strain had some high-ranking television clients at the time.
Oh, yeah. The client list included such actors as Renť Auberjonois, Joe Mantegna, Ray Abruzzo of ďThe Sopranos,Ē and Doris Roberts, the mother from ďEverybody Loves Raymond.Ē His whole thing was (working with) actors who had studied acting or who, maybe, had stage experience. That was his thing. It was certainly the most intense job that I had had at that point just because of his personality. You dropped a call, and you might get screamed at, or you might be fired. He had a very, very strict way of an assistant faxing him papers. If he didnít get them at a certain time, you got reamed. You had to know how to take his messaging. I dreaded it (the job) for a long time.
[In 2014, Peter Strain was sentenced to three years' probation, six months' home confinement, and 500 hours of community service for embezzling more than $500,000 from clients. The talent agent pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of stolen property. According to the indictment, between 2011 and 2013, Strain diverted money he received on behalf of three clients in the television industry and used it to pay for $161,000 in jewelry, more than $310,000 in artwork and more than $57,000 at luxury goods.]
Working there would have provided you with great training in artist management.
It gave me great training. it taught me that you canít overlook anything. Now, having assistants I can relate. I can tell them, ďLook I was an assistant. If this happened in the job that I did, I would have been fired.Ē Even if it wasnít a big thing or didnít seem like a big thing. There, everything was a big thing. I was offered a junior agent position, but I left
Did you consider moving to another agency?
No. As I was doing that job I started to realize that this (working in the film industry) might not be for me. I wanted to dabble in music. I didnít really know what that meant. One night in L.A. I walked into a venue called Fais Do-Do that was very much off the beaten path. I walked into this room, and thought, ďThis is not a room that belongs in L.A.Ē It felt liked I walked into a room in New Orleans. A high ceiling, and checkered floors. It didnít feel like L.A. There were no rules, and there was no time that it had to close. I asked who the owner was, and I went up to him and said, ďIíd like to try and throw a concert or throw a party here.Ē He gave me a price, I donít think it was more than $500 or $1,000 to take the room, and do what I wanted to do with it.
Did you have an idea of what you wanted to present there?
Well, I started thinking about it. L.A. was a place that had a jam band scene which was what I loved at the time, and I knew the best. Widespread Panic was coming to L.A. In other cities, as you know, there are after shows with other jam bands, especially in New Orleans and, maybe, New York. They didnít have that late night scene for those artists in L.A. I thought about it, and I said, ďIím going to rent this room out for two nights after Widespread Panic. The two bands that were growing at that time on the West Coast were Tea Leaf Green and Alo. I didnít know what the hell I was doing, but I went on their websites and found contacts. I wrote these two agents. I didnít even know how to really structure a deal, I just told them what I was trying to do in L.A. which was build this scene around jam bands that was non-existent . L.A. is very much a pay-to-play type of town, especially for artists that arenít yet bringing in people. I remember seeing a band, it might have been Tea Leaf Green, playing The Viper Room. They had 30 minutes to play, and they had to get their shit offstage. And all the bands werenít in the same genre.
Itís a horrible club scene in Los Angeles, really.
Itís a horrible thing. You canít build (a band) that way, and kids donít want to come and see a 30-minute set. It was not how I was used to seeing these types of bands. I was used to two sets, and everybody enjoying the show. So I explained that to the agents. and they believed in what I wanted to do. I didnít really know how to do an offer, but I did what I thought was right. I paid the bands using my paycheck from the real (agency) job to rent the room out, and I got food. I made the fliers and handed them out.
Was this the start of the club series, the L.A. Sessions?
Yeah. L.A. Sessions is what I called all of my shows. I aimed to have one show a month in L.A. calling it L.A. Sessions. That was part of that starting.
You eventually expanded that out to other local venues.
Yes. After these shows sold out, I got an itch. ďI just put on my first two shows and they sold out.Ē I started putting on more and more shows at that venue. At Peter Strain, I got the offer to be promoted to junior agent, and I told him flat out, ďI appreciate the offer, but I think Iím going to go in a different direction.Ē So I eventually left. I had a little money saved, but not much. You donĎt get paid a ton as an assistant.
How did you survive as a club promoter?
I just kept bankrolling (new) shows from the money I was making from other shows. I began learning the business. As I remember it a lot of it (success) was just building that trust with these kids; that were coming to shows now because they knew that if my company, Wagatail Productions, was putting on a show that they were going to have a great time. I remember that I had a kid running around (the club) with a clipboard and every email that he got I would give hive him 25Ę. I just started building that email list.
Meanwhile, you were playing percussion with your own band, Underground Orchestra.
Yes. My band opened up those two first shows. That was kind of a way for me to get my band exposure by booking these two shows that sold out. Those shows started doing really well and promoters and clubs in L.A. started taking notice and these agents were telling these club owners that thereís a kid in town involved in these shows that can help motivate bodies to come to see bands.
[After its launch in 2005, Wagatail Productions became the leading grassroots/jam band promotion company in Los Angeles with shows at 10 local venues around Los Angeles including The Roxy, Key Club, The Mint, Fais Do-Do, Temple Bar, Knitting Factory, and El Rey. In time, Wagatail expanded its reach to Savannah, Georgia with five venues, including the Trustees Theater, Lucas Theater, Morris Center, Live Wire Music Hall and Locos; to Mobile, Alabama at The Soul Kitchen; and to Lafayette, Louisiana at the Grant Street Dance Hall.]
You were working with acts like Avett Brothers, Govtí Mule, Umphreyís McGee, the Bad Plus, Tim Reynolds, and Mike Gordon.
That all came as I began to get a bit of a name for myself, and different and bigger venues started bringing me onboard to put my name on the show, to use my email list, and to use my street team. I was promoting in the different venues in Los Angles with these bands because I was building them at such an early stage and they saw how much I cared. They had their managers and agents make sure that promoters and venues would bring me on because I could help their careers and they felt comfortable with me.
As I started doing that stuff in L.A. and understanding ó ďI got this thing downĒ ó I started booking shows in Savannah, Georgia, and Lousiana as well. I also met some people in Mobile that wanted my help. I started broadening where I was throwing shows. That all started getting the attention of managers and agents that I was doing all of this independently from the ground up. That led into me working at the Fox Theatre.
Was Don Strasburg still booking the Fox Theatre?
Don Strasburg was the owner as he still is (co-owner). After Strasburg (as the house booker), it was Eric Pirritt, who is the president of Live Nation here (pres. of Colorado & Rocky Mountain Region, Live Nation). There was an interim of time between when Eric left, and his assistant Sarah Finger (now marketing manager, AEG Live) was doing the booking until they found a permanent talent buyer. My name came up through Madison House. I used to book a lot of the Madison House acts, and they knew how I did business. My name came up with Don when he was looking to hire someone new. I got a call to come out here. I turned down the job the first two or three times. I was a young kid who owned his own business, lived in L.A., and I didnít want to come and live in a college jam band town after being in Vermont.
Were you being a bit cocky?
It wasnít being cocky. I was a very happy doing things myself.
Cocky in that you figured you could build your career better yourself.
I felt whatever I was doing at that point that I was very content with it. I believed that whatever I was doing would grow naturally. It was me thinking that I could do better myself. I didnít really want the change of lifestyle, and I wasnít sure that I wanted to book a venue. I liked what I was doing. I was able to pick and choose (shows). I wasnít in charge of an entire calendar of a venue. I was booking four or five shows a month versus 20 shows. So there were a few reasons. I just didnít know that it was the right move for me. After the third call. and in talking to Don, he was like, ďJust címon out here. Meet the owners of the venue, and see what we have in mind.Ē I knew that couldnít hurt. So I came out here, met with Don, and two or three other owners of the Fox.
One of my main points to them was, ďWill you still allow me to promote in L.A.?Ē I didnít want to stop that. And two, ďCan I still tour with my band as long as it isnít every single week?Ē At that meeting, they told me that I could do both. As long as I got my job done, they would let me do both. That was definitely a big thing for me. Now I could go and work with my company that I had started, and still do my passion of playing live music.
The first year, I toured with the band. Not a lot but, maybe, two weekends out of the year. Did one-off festivals and those kinds of things. I was going back and forth to L.A. to still promote some shows. I started getting into management. One year into the job, which was 2008, at the Fox I met Big Gigantic. They were just two guys (Dominic Lalli, and Jeremy Salken) I met here. They said, ďWould you help us get on some shows in Colorado?Ē I said, ďSure, letís try this thing out.Ē Thatís how that whole (management) thing started
The 625-seat Fox Theatre, which launched 1992, has a worldwide reputation as a proving ground for newcomer acts and a sought-after showcase for veteran headliners. Did you think youíd do 5 years at the Fox and then work on bookings at the Boulder Theatre?
I didnít know. I had no idea when I took this job what it was going to be like. As I said I was apprehensive of coming out here and booking a venue but I would definitely not be where I am today in anything that I do if I didnít make that move.
Was it Don Strasburg who suggested you for booking at the Boulder Theatre as well?
Yeah, at the point that it (Fox Theatre, and Boulder Theatre) merged in 2010. It came under one company (Z2 Entertainment). When they merged the talent buyers, Kirk Peterson--who now works with (concert promoter) Peter Shapiro (DayGlo Ventures) in New York-- was at the Boulder Theatre, and did stay in place. The way it originally was going to be laid out was I would still do the Fox, and he would do the Boulder Theatre. As we began working together, we just started splitting duties. He did some things at the Fox that he was well-versed in, and I did things at the Boulder Theatre that I thought made sense there. We worked hand-in-hand booking dates.
We talked earlier about how booking the Fox and Boulder Theatre broadened your musical outlook.
Oh, 100%. I learned a lot more about everything. The contemporary stuff, jazz didnít always work in the Fox. It definitely broadened me.
Following the merger, the essence of both venues seemed to remain the same. At the Fox you could present Skrillex or Alabama Shakes but, maybe, not at the Boulder Theatre.
Yes. Correct. But as I dived into the Boulder Theatre I did start bringing in some of the more Ďyoungerí stuff there just because of (its 1,150 seat) capacity. Needing to be in a bigger room than the Fox. It worked. But it was more the opposite (that didnít work). There were things at the Boulder Theatre that didnít always work at the Fox but things that were cool for the Fox but outgrew the Fox would work in the Boulder Theater. A lot of an older audience didnít always want to go to the Fox, whereas kids I think were open to going to wherever the hell the band was at that they loved.
How often are you on the road today?
It really depends. There are definitely months that Iím away half the month. Itís definitely a week a month but sometimes two or three weeks a month. I go to all of my artistís bigger shows wherever that may be. Festivals or club shows whatever it is. I do go to New York and L.A. for meetings. I travel a lot. I would say that itís half the year that Iím in, and out.
Are you married?
Iím not. Three dogs. I have a girlfriend now, and we definitely see shows together.
Do you go to many of the annual music industry conferences?
Pollstar and Billboard were the only two I went to this year. I like going and I love speaking at them too. My goal is to go to more and more of these conferences and hear people. They are all colleagues now.
And yet, you didnít attend South by Southwest recently.
I didnít. I respect what it is but itís become such a clusterfuck. For me, if I donít have an artist who has a big release or has something that is meaningful versus just going to play every single club just for the hell of it, itís a rat race for them, and itís a shit show for me. To be honest, all of the people that I would like to meet in the industry, I would rather do that not there, and when they donít have 50 meetings. I would rather set up a meeting with them, and then fly to New York or L.A. when itís a one-on-one, and they donít have a million things going on.
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 ďMusic From Far And Wide.Ē
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.
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