Industry Profile: David Berger
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: David Berger, CEO, Future Beat.
Future Beat has already blazed a trail in live music by producing imaginative VIP programs for more than 125 tours over the past two years.
Operated by David Berger and Andrew Tenenbaum, the Beverly Hills, California-based VIP ticketing company creates premium ticket packages that offer front-of-the-house seating; meet-and-greets with artists and bands; access to soundchecks; backstage tours; Q&A sessions; as well as exclusive artist merchandise.
At premium prices, VIP programs have provided substantial opportunities for artists to generate new revenue streams derived from fans willing to pay whatever the market will bear to be at a concert.
Among Future Beatís clients have been Kiss, Aerosmith, Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, Yellowcard, the Fray, Def Leppard, Fleetwood Mac, Ringo Starr, ZZ Top, Jeff Beck, Peter Frampton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz, Juicy J, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, the Doobie Brothers, Yes, Cheap Trick, Chance the Rapper, the Weeknd, New Edition, Linkin Park, Trace Adkins, Trisha Yearwood, and Little Big Town.
Bergerís experience in venue ticketing dates back to the late Ď80s, when, as a high school student, he worked at the Newbury Comics retail chain in Boston, overseeing the in-store Ticketron machine, which offered computerized event ticketing. After acquiring his Bachelor of Science degree in electronic media from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, he worked directly for Ticketron in Boston and later in San Francisco where he also took on a second job at Bill Graham Presents.
In 2005, Berger joined Signatures Network, a maker of music-related merchandise, helping to develop the concept of high-end premium ticket packages at the company.
Following the acquisition of Signatures Network by Live Nation in 2007, Berger founded the companyís VIP ticketing division and produced VIP programs for Live Nationís global and North American tours, including for such artists as U2, Prince, Madonna, Roger Waters, Rush, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Sting, Ozzy Osbourne, Drake and others.
Following Live Nationís merger with Ticketmaster in 2010, Berger was instrumental in creating the new companyís premium ticketing division, VIP Nation before co-founding Future Beat.
In essence, Future Beat presents VIP programs that offer front-of-the-house seating, meet-and-greets, tours of backstages, and exclusive merchandising?
Yeah. We do backstage tours, access to pre-show soundchecks, and Q&A sessions with the band. Obviously, the exclusive meet-and-greet. Some bands offer side stage access for the first three songs for a select amount of fans to get onstage, and watch from the side stage.
Basically, itís (VIP is) always a great seat. If itís a GA (general admission) show, itís early entry so the fans can get in early, and get up close (to the stage). Get their spot. Front row. The first 10 rows. The first 15 rows.
I just did Kiss, and we did a very successful backstage tour where the fans meet the band and all that; but they go backstage and they check out the dressing rooms. They meet the lighting guys, and the sound tech. They can get onstage and sit behind the drum set, and they can hold Gene Simmonís bass guitar. Fans like all that stuff.
Itís the bandís management that hires Future Beat?
Yes. The bandís management is always involved in what they (an act) are going to offer. I work directly with the artistís management.
The bigger the group, the more appeal to fans?
Well, no. Every artist has a dedicated fan base. Obviously, some bands are more popular and have been around longer than others. At Future Beat, we produce programs for artists who have been around for some time, and we produce programs for upcoming or new artists. All types of artists in all music genres.
Future Beat does the entire tour for an artist?
Yes. When we produce the program for the entire (North American) tour, and overseas as well.
How big a staff do you have?
We have a small staff. We have 6 people. I have a great system. I have my customer service department. We have some project managers, and accounting staff.
Andrew Tenenbaum is your partner in Future Beat?
Andrew works with the financials, and he helps with legal matters. I worked with Andrew when he was at MBST Entertainment which reps a lot of big time comedians and actors.
Does Future Beat have dedicated staff on a tour supervising the VIP packages or do you utilize the bandís touring staff for things like meet-and-greets?
We have someone on the road or we have someone from the tour staff that is going to produce it. It depends on the tour. I do have VIP coordinators that are outside of my office staff that I do hire to go on the road to produce these programs. Itís important that the coordinator has the experience; has been on the road; and also fits the vibe of the band. They have bunk space. They are part of the crew. Their job is to produce the meet-and-greets. There are only coordinators when there are meet-and-greets or some kind of fan experience.
What do you suggest to the manager of a headlining act when pitching a VIP program?
Every conversations starts with, ďWhat is the band comfortable with doing?Ē Obviously, what I need is the tour plan. How many dates? Where is the band playing? What size venues? Whatís the average ticket cost? Will the band do meet-and-greets? Will they do autographs? Will they allow fans into soundcheck? Every program is diverse in that they do meet-and-greets or they donít. They may spend more time (with fans). They may do a Q&A. They, maybe, will do a soundcheck or they donít. They will meet X amount of people.
Every package is different. So then what?
Once I have what the band and management is interested in, and are willing to do--and I have the tour dates, and the pricing--I put together a detailed proposal with all of the financial numbers that basically says, ďHereís the package. I will come back to you.Ē
So we have an initial talk, and then I come back with a detailed proposal that shows them at X amount of dates that this is the pricing; this is what the band will make; here are the package details.
Thatís when the band and the management decides what they want to do. Once itís approved, that is what we do. I work very closely with the agent. The agent gets me the itinerary with the promoter contacts. I contact the promoters. They put me in touch with the box offices. I sell on the main ticketing system; whether itís Ticketmaster or not Ticketmaster. I sell packages on the primary ticketing system. The same system that the general tickets are being sold in. No matter who the artist is. No matter what the venue is. No matter what ticketing system. It takes a lot of detailed work to get in there. To build these offers, but the package is exposure and it helps generate the sales. It helps create revenue for the artists.
But you do sell all of the VIP packages on the main ticketing system?
Thatís one thing that I do differently than a lot of other VIP companies. Every ticket, and every package that is sold, I sell on the primary ticketing system. I do not take tickets off system. I place these packages on the same page as the general tickets are being sold.
Why do you do that?
Well, it maximizes the revenue in the package sales. Thereís also more awareness (of the VIP program). I can do a (VIP) package for a band, and they can tweet and post it and message it, and send an email to their mailing lists, and let all of the hardcore fans know that, ďHey thereís a tour, and there are going to be these special packages. Hereís where you get them.Ē That hardcore fan base will buy them (packages) anywhere. I could sell them (VIP packages) through Future Beat or any other ticketing system because that hardcore fan base will buy them no matter what. But what about everybody else that doesnít know?
By having the VIP offer on the main system, the placement is there along with the general tickets for fans who donít know about the offer.
Yes. They can see the package descriptions. They can see the pricing. They know what the normal ticket sells for and they can do the math. ďOkay, Iím spending an extra $100. What am I getting for the extra $100?Ē They can see it (the added value incentives) right in front of them. ďIím getting a ticket in the first 10 rows. Okay, thatís worth something. But Iím also getting a cool shirt. Or a silk-screened poster. Iím getting a laminate. Iím going to meet the artists etc.Ē That value is one of a kind and that helps maximize the revenue.
What is the price range of VIP packages?
It really depends, again, on the artist. A meet-and-greet, and first five row (seating), and soundcheck access, and merchandise, Iíve done some really big tours where the price gets up there. Generally speaking, if a manager asks what I recommend that we price these at, Iím pretty conservative about the pricing. With these packages, itís the artistís brand, and the artistís name that we are representing. So itís not healthy to come up aggressive with crazy pricing and packages that, maybe, donít have a lot of real value to them because you are really taking advantage of the artist, and the fan.
Today, thereís considerable anger directed toward the ticketing market in general over the mark-up on tickets as well as such practices as presale, premium, VIP, auctions, etc. How does that affect your business?
I look at it in two ways. It is a business, and it does generate a lot of money for the artist. And Iím good at generating money for the artist in the VIP world. I see numbers. I know numbers. I have them in my head. I can make money for any artist who wants to do this. I have. But, at the same time, what is important to me personally is the value and the care and the human touch that goes into these programs. I canít overemphasize that enough.
Have you had to advise managers and artists that they were being too aggressive with the pricing of their VIP programs?
I have. I respect the artistís and the managerís decision of what they want to do, but I do suggest pricing. When I discuss these programs with management, I give them suggested pricing. My whole thing has been about creating value; getting the great seats; creating great experiences; and not taking advantage of the fan by overcharging. I feel like you have be fair about the pricing. Itís a business. Thereís money to be made. Thereís money that should be made, definitely. And there are fans who want these packages. They want them, definitely. They will spend, but why take advantage of them? If you are way too aggressive with the pricing, and the value is not really there, fans may buy it but they may feel a little bit disgruntled. Thatís not a good representation of the band. It hurts the bandís image. It hurts their name. The next time that band tours that hardcore fanóand itís the hardcore fan that is buying these packagesómay not want to buy that package again because they didnít have that (memorable) experience. It was overpriced. They didnít get good customer service. The product they got was cheap. It wasnít worth the money. So thatís not a good thing.
To paraphrase Garth Brooks, just because an artist can overcharge, doesnít mean they should.
Not all packages are ďVIP packages.Ē Some of them are ticket packages or ticket and merchandise packages. I donít want to name artists because I donít want to use their brand to backup what Iím saying, but there are artists who say ďVIPĒ is not their thing. They do not want it to be known as a ďVIP package act.Ē So what does it become? It becomes the same package, but they strip away all of the VIP (associations) and they classy it up a little bit. It becomes what the tour name is, a ticket package with great seats, merchandise, and probably no fan experience whatsoever.
Thereís money to be made in simple ticket and merchandise packages. These packages donít need the meet-and-greet or the Q&A or the soundcheck or the backstage tour. You can have zero artist involvement, and still secure the better tickets, get really creative with the merchandiseómake real quality merchóand make the artist a lot of money. So, itís all about the language, and about how you present that package.
How do you scale a VIP program for an emerging act?
I do a lot of small groups. The small groups still have that a fan base that wants to meet them. I have been hit up by the agencies to produce programs for brand-new artists on their first or second tours. That are playing 300 person rooms. I have done small artists who are [playing to] 300 seat rooms. Troubadour size rooms and I have made the artist $20,000 or $25,000 at the end of the tour. That may not be a lot of money but, to that artist, it just paid for his tour manager, or it paid for a trailer or insurance. It paid for something.
Whatís the VIP strategy involved with emerging acts?
The ticket face is going to be $15 or $20. We will still do a meet-and-greet, and do a soundcheck and fans will still get the cool merchandise. We will make it (the package) $45. Itís very inexpensive, but thereís still a lot of value there. It still generates that revenue for that artist. Iíve done some artists that are so new.
We live in a world where artists are huge celebrities.
For the fan, itís often like meeting somebody bigger-than-life.
Yeah. Fans want to meet that artist. Everybody is living in that social media world where they are on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I think for a fan who meets that artist, and gets that photo with the artist to post, and share it with their friends and the family, thatís what itís all about for them. Itís like, ďHey, check me out.Ē
For meet-and-greets, how long do fans generally get with the artist?
It depends on the artist, and it really depends on how many fans are meeting the artist.
Do you try to limit the number of fans in meet-and-greets?
Yes, definitely. I would say 50 (fans) meeting is pretty comfortable. Most of them happen pre show. There are artists who do want to meet the fans after the show.
I heard Peter Gabriel lets fans attend soundchecks which I thought was kinda cool.
I do a lot of soundchecks. Listen, fans love it. Obviously, with the soundcheck the fan gets the better seat as well. So itís extra value. Listen, they can go to soundcheck but when the show starts, they have the better seat.
Do different groups have different VIP programs running simultaneously? I saw Nickelback on the ďHere and NowĒ tour, and it seemed like they had several levels of meet-and-greets going on.
Nickelback did meet-and-greets. On one of their tours, they did these little coves that were part of the stage design where they would let roughly 15 or 20 people in on each side of the stage. The second time around (on the ďHere and NowĒ tour) we upped it (the experience). It was supposed to be more like a bar scene where there were tables in there. That idea came from what I did for Princeís tour for Live Nation three years ago, and we created the Purple Circle (VIP Table Seats). The show was in the round so there were four sections. A section on each part of the stage. The stage was designed as the symbol. There were tables and waiter staff. It was cool. Fans got up really close. If they wanted to stand and dance they could. If they wanted to sit and drink, they could. Yeah, itís a great experience for the fan.
Does the promoter participate in the VIP revenue at all? After all, you receive the top tickets from them for all shows.
Itís a deal between the artist, the management and the VIP provider. Thereís a contract there that allows the VIP provider to secure the better seats for this type of package or for a fan club. I work with the artists, and itís (ticket sales are) in a lot of the artistsí tour deals. My job for the artist is to create value-added, cool packages for their fans. So their fans donít get ripped off by the brokers. So the fans are getting some one-of-a-kind experience. Yes, it does cost money. It does cost. But, in return, there is something for it. The promoter gets their ticket face (value), and the difference goes into the artistsí pot.
There are still fans left out screaming, ďWhy canít I get the best tickets? This is my band that I have supported, forever. I canít get great seats. I canít get backstage.Ē I understand them being pissed off.
The packages that I sell are open to anyone in the general public.
Anybody with money.
Anybody with or without money. Yeah, they need money to buy it.
With the rise of secondary ticket market a ticket that first sold at $75 then may sell for $150. So whatís is that ticket really worth?
What is it really worth? Itís still worth $75.
Maybe, the promoter underpriced the ticket.
Yeah. Thereís always a fan. Every artist or bandóand I mean every artist and or bandóhas a dedicated fan base that will spend extra to get the better seat. To get up close and to have that experience. They will pay. The fanatics will pay. When you put tickets on the secondary market, and the brokers get it, yeah, there is somebody out there who will pay for that.
Major artists became attracted to VIP programs after they saw tickets to their shows being sold in the secondary market for $300 to $400. They learned that there are fans willing to pay whatever the market will bear to be at a concert. Many artists, managers, and agents think pricing and distribution should be an artistís decision and that artists deserve at least part of that resell revenue.
Exactly. Why should this revenue go to a third party or to the broker network? VIP tickets are a great way to generate really great ancillary income directly for the artist; take care of the fan base; provide some value; provide an experience; and not have that revenue go to a broker. The brokers are ripping off fans. The brokers, they have a crazy network. They go in, and they get the better tickets. They sell them on the black market.
Itís not a black market. Re-selling tickets is legit in all but a couple of states in the U.S.
Right, itís legit. But even on Craigslist or online whatever, they are getting the better tickets. Listen, thereís always somebody there to buy the tickets. They are taking advantage of the fan. I believe in VIP. I think a lot of times the VIP packages are underpriced for what they (tickets) are sold on the secondary system.
What do you think of paperless ticketing in curbing the secondary market?
Any way to prevent the brokers from getting the better seats, selling them at really outrageous prices, taking advantage of the artists and the bands, and the hardcore fan base is a good thing.
It has proven impossible to prevent scalpers. People who want a ticket will get it at any price.
Exactly. If you are a real fanatic and you are a dedicated fan you will do anything you can to find that tickets whatever price itís sold out if you have the money itís there to buy.
As we talked about previously, Future Beatís VIP packages are listed on Ticketmaster and other ticketing sites.
Yeah, I work with Ticketmaster and I sell all of the packages on Ticketmaster. They (the listings) are on that main ticketing page for the event. If itís a Ticketmaster contracted venue, and the show is being sold on Ticketmaster offering packages for that tour, and that show, that package offer will be on that same ticketing page on Ticketmaster as a general ticket.
Do VIP packaged tickets sell faster than other tickets when listed like that?
Yeah, they move very fast. But also they have an initial rush of sales, and then they do stay on sale for quite some time. Up to one or two weeks prior to show date the packages are available. After the first couple of weeks, we do get a lot of the sales, but sales do continue until the packages come off sale.
You only put up a certain number of packages?
Yeah. I hold X amount per show. Then if the packages are not selling, I will work with the promoter to release tickets. My whole thing has always been working with the promoter. Releasing tickets that are not selling. Being flexible. Being easy. Coming from the box office world, and knowing how people shit on the box office management, Iíve always been kind to the box office people. I donít really push them. I make it easy for everybody. Therefore, I do get the better seats and it makes it easier.
You have been producing VIP programs for over a decade.
I must have done over 500 tours. I have always put in the creativity. I have always been cautious of the pricing. I am always checking out the wording (of the VIP offers). And a big thing, customer service. Customer service is very important to these programs. It is important to have strong customer service for that fan. If they have questions about the package. There may be concerns. They are running late. They may need to change their name on the ticket.
Itís about the follow-up.
The follow-up is huge in VIP ticketing. You are selling product. You are selling experiences and packages to the hardcore fan base. They are paying top dollar and they need to be taken care of. So itís about customer service, and providing the details, making sure that fan is taken care of. We want to answer as many questions as we can before they go in there so when they meet the artist they are relaxed. They know what they are going to get, and they are going to have a good time. Customer service is really important. The pricing is really important, and how you present the packageóthe description--make it very clear what people are getting.
Promoters have long had exclusive ticketing clubs. Of course, Shelley Lazar has been running SLO VIP Ticket Services for years, and there is also CID Entertainment as well as Live Nationís and AEG Liveís own in-house operations. Of course, Citi has VIP concert opportunities for its cardholders.
Iím not really re-inventing the wheel so much. Where does the wheel start? I donít know. (Michael Cohl) and Arthur Fogelís group, The Next Adventure (TNA sold to SFX in 1999) before they became Live Nation Global? They did golden circle. They created the VIP idea in a way by their pricing. Created that higher pricing for the better seats. Definitely Shelley got into this as well, as did Signatures around 2004 when they started to package. Taking the better tickets and selling them to fan clubs and stuff and, maybe, adding merchandise.
Thatís when I came in. Around 2004 and 2005. I started working at Signatures. I had already been working at Ticketmaster for a long time so I knew the ticketing background.
[Signatures Network, formerly known as Sony Signatures, Inc., was founded in 1993 in San Francisco. At the time of its sale to Live Nation Entertainment in 2007, Signatures Network held the rights to market and license merchandise for more than 150 artists, including the Beatles, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and the Grateful Dead.]
You are one of the handful of veterans in the VIP supplier world.
I donít ever want to be quoted as saying I was the creator (of VIP packaging) because there was the golden circle, and there were promoters who were being creative with their ticketing. But, yeah, I would say that I helped put together the VIP packages and made them mainstream. Iíve always been quite creative. I do care a lot about the consumer, and the consumer experiences. What they are getting. The value. I think that value is really important. I think that is what I added to it (the VIP sector). I think that I helped put a lot creativity, and lot of care and a lot of value into the package programs.
In the early days, fan ticketing programs were about assuring that customers had good seats.
When I got into the VIP world in 2004/2005 there really werenít VIP packages. A few were kinda doing it, but it wasnít mainstream at that point. The promoters werenít really doing what was called VIP packages. In some cases there was some kind of golden circle.
Working with artist management, promoters would secure the better seats and combine them with merchandise to create these fans packages which was very new at the time.
Yeah. It was like the golden circle (concept) and that was only for really for the tickets. When I got into it at Signatures in 2004, we had more creative packaging. We secured the better tickets, and we bundled them with really cool merchandise, and the fan experience. At first, they (the VIP packages) were sold through the fan club/artist website. Tickets werenít sold on the main ticketing system. They were sold through the fan club. Fan clubs were popular 10 years ago. The fan club subscription was popular. That was the model. So we would take tickets off the system and sell it through the fan club. Bundle it creatively. It became some great revenue for the artists.
With the fan clubs, the idea was the artists were going to reward those people who had been fans for years.
Definitely. And that was with pre-sale tickets and no packaging. That was like buying a subscription for $20, $30 or $40, and with that subscription you may get a piece of merchandise, a shirt or some smaller item, and you would get access to the better tickets. That was a way for that Łber-fan to get the great seat and, in return for their spend of the fan club subscription, they would get some kind of merchandise, and value back. That is really what VIP became. That is where it sort of came out of in a way. Going back to what I said earlier, I think that is why I really added a lot to it was just being creative, and providing value and not taking advantage of the fan. Not gouging the fan with really extreme pricing. Thatís been my motto forever.
Big festivals like Bonnaroo, and Coachella have since utilized and maximized the VIP template.
Definitely. They took the template, and they applied it to the festival setting. Most of the promoters are creating their own VIP programs for the festivals. Festivals are more venue based or festival based packages. They are not an artist package. I work with the artists. The programs that I produce are artist branded. When I go out there. I represent the artist.
Whereas festivals are packaging and branding their event.
Exactly and with that you are getting some kind of GA seating in the special VIP section and, maybe, you go backstage. But not really.
People who buy festival VIP packages arenít into roughing it at an outdoor event. Their attitude is, ďI donít want to sit in the mud with the audience. I want to be backstage or to have special access. I want to be splitting a beer with Brad Pitt.Ē
They may get a glimpse of some celebrities but the are not really hanging with them. Itís not like the real VIP section. Itís the fan VIP section where they have some concessions (to purchase food and drinks), and itís easier to get to the restroom. Some companies do travel packages. They meet and they greet you (at the airport), and they have your hotel booked, and they shuttle you to the event. Only to go into your pseudo VIP section, and still but the concession food, and be in the heat, and still have to deal with the traffic. It what it is. I have stayed away from festivals. My focus has always been on the artist and the fan.
Do you have access in casinos when your acts play those venues?
I do a lot of casinos. If you are a manager, and you say we are going to do packages for the artist, and the agent gives me the itinerary, then Iím going to get packages on every single show I can. I just did a Michael McDonald/Toto tour. I do a lot of country. I do Air Supply, and Peter Frampton tours. These are casino dates. ZZ Top. Whatever it is I do it. Nine times out of ten (shows), I would say, Iím offering the (VIP) package. Casinos always comp the high rollers and they get the meet-and-greet. We really try to get our paying customers in first.
Future Beat offers exclusive artist merchandise for its VIP packages.
All of the merchandising that is available on the packages is exclusive to the package only. You canít buy it on the merch line. You canít buy it online. You wonít find it in any store. The designs and merch itself is only available in the package. I work with a lot of cool designers, and we are working with artist management which give us a lot of great photos and logos and ideas. Then we cough up these merch items. Of course, the artistís management, and the band has to approve it all, but thereís a lot of creativity there.
What type of merch do you sell?
Hoodies, T-shirts, lithograph and silk-screen posters, tote bags, hats and so on. We give a lot of laminates, meet-and-greet laminates and sometimes just commemorative laminates. What does a commemorative laminate really get you? Nothing but the laminate. We bundle the album a lot with the packages, and work to get those Soundscanned which helps the artists. We bundle DVDs. When I was at Live Nation, I did the Ozzie Osbourne Ouija board (for the 2010-2011 tour). When I did Roger Waters, we made a replica of The Wall that was really well done.
Iím working on some really different merchandising items that Iím going to begin to offer. That havenít been done before. Thereís no artist memorabilia anymore. When I have the opportunity, and when the artist allows me to be really creative, I always try to create some really nice and unique pieces. They become memorabilia. They just donít become merch. I really like that. I really like making really unique and different stuff and fun stuff that goes beyond the merchandising line which become a piece of memorabilia, and becomes a memory.
All of this goes back to when you worked at Newbury Comics in Boston, and Mike Dreese (CEO and co-founder) had all that music-related memorabilia in his stores.
Oh yeah. Big time. Newbury Comics was a full of fun stuff.
What Newbury Comic outlets did you work at?
I worked at the Boston store, and at the Cambridge location. I also worked at the Government Center for a little bit in Boston.
I know Newbury Comicís original store on Newbury Street, and the chainís second outlet, the Harvard Square store.
Yes, the Harvard Square store. The first time out of the house when I was able to go out with my friends I used to go to Harvard Square. That was my hang all of the time. I used to go to The Garage, the Mall in Harvard Square.
You grew up in Boston?
I grew up in the western Ďburbs of Boston. We moved around Brookline, and the Cambridge area. Boston is a cool city. Iím glad to have grown up there. Itís a tough city. They keep it real in Boston. They tell you how they feel. I respect that. Thatís something. Today, Iím an east coast guy living in LA.
My background is that I have always been into music. Going to concerts,, and movies growing up. I got my degree in electronic media, and was a DJ. All of the type of things that you do when you are really young.
While in high school, as you said, you worked at Newbury Comics.
I worked at the cool record store. I loved it. That was cool experience. That wasnít an easy job to get back then. Iíve always been eccentric, enthusiastic and passionate. That has always come across. It was a cool job. And working that ticket machine was really cool. It was a good experience. Itís funny that that experience kind of started it for me in a way without me knowing. It wasnít like I was trying to start something or become something. I was never, ďWhen I grow up I want to produce VIP packages for some of the biggest bands in the world.Ē
It was a Ticketron machine offering computerized event ticketing.
Well, yeah they had the whole Ticketron machine there. The big ticket on sales used to be on Sundays. There wasnít the internet yet. So concerts would be promoted on the radio and through the newspapers and stuff. The big on sales were every Sunday. Fans would line up or sleep out if there was a big show with a big artist. They would go to the ticket outlets, and sleep overnight.
You could really feel the excitement for live music back then. You knew when there was a big show like Led Zeppelin. Thereíd be 150 people in front of a store.
Yeah, yeah. I liked that. It was exciting. It was good seeing people excited and being the guy who was behind the ticket machine. It was cool. We used to wrist band everyone, and get everybody in line. I used to run the machine and run the on sales.
Then you went to college in Arizona?
Yeah. I went to Emerson College (in Boston) for a little while. I was big into the rave scene in 1991. í92 and í93. Early on in Boston. First or second generation. Early rave. I was going to Emerson, and I was really into the music, and I was young. I wasnít focused. I didnít want to do school I ended up leaving. Too expensive. Not totally being focused. I ended up going to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. I got my Bachelor of Science (degree) in electronic media. It was basically a communications degree studying film, TV, public relations, and mass communications.
Moving from Boston to Arizona must have been challenging at that age.
Arizona was actually a great experience. Flagstaff is just an incredible place. I had a great education there. But after being in the high desert for a few years I was ready to go. But you donít know what to do when you leave college.
So what did you do?
I went back to Boston. My first job was at a dot-com called ICAST. It was an entertainment dot-com owned by (internet powerhouse) CMGI. I made all of the layoffs, but eventually everyone got laid off. That was when the whole dot-com thing started to crash in 1999. The market got flooded with people looking for jobs. I needed a job. I needed to pay rent. Ticketmaster was hiring. It wasnít the sexiest looking job, but it was still related to music. So I applied. I beat out a lot of people. I got the job because of my experience. Because I had worked on the Ticketron machine when I was at Newbury Comics helped me get that job. I was at Ticketmaster in Boston for a year as an event programmer. So I met Don Law and all of the (local) promoters. Weíd build their shows on the system. We build the ticket type. Weíd build the show. Put together all of the financials. The whole thing.
Then you went to San Francisco.
I just got sick of Boston so I left. I had an opportunity to move to San Francisco. No job. Really, no friends. I needed a job.. I had left Ticketmaster (in Boston) cold. ďThis really isnít my thing. I donít want to be in Boston anymore.Ē I had always wanted to be in San Francisco. So I just quit. I had a little bit of money. I drove to San Francisco. I needed a job, Guess what? Ticketmaster was hiring, and I applied and I got the job. I was a client rep, and I was an event programmer. I worked all of their shows. It was a great experience. I worked with some really great people there.
How did the job working at Bill Graham Presents come about?
There was a Dead show and they needed some help because there was scalping going on. They asked for some Ticketmaster employees to come down there to be there if thereís any problem with the ticket stub scamming.Ē There are ways to tell if a ticket is real or not. I did that and it was a great opportunity. I befriended the manager of the box office at the Warfield Theatre
You ended up managing the box office at the companyís famed venues, the Fillmore and the Warfield Theatre.
I became the box office supervisor. I was there for four years or so. I worked at Ticketmaster during the day and then I worked shows at Bill Graham Presents--which was SFX--at night. I was working 70 or 80 hours a week. I loved it. I loved working the Fillmore. I loved hearing the Bill Graham stories. I admire him. Obviously, Iím too young that I never met him. You hear crazy stories. His story of being an east coast guy and a Jew going out west and making it was inspiring to me.
Then you went to Signatures Network.
Yes, I left Ticketmaster and went to Signatures Network. Then they got bought by Live Nation, and I created the VIP Division of Live Nation. Then I created VIP Nation.
How did you get to Los Angeles? Through Live Nation?
Yeah Live Nation brought me down in 2009. Then I left in 2011.
You worked at Live Nation, and you arenít Canadian?
(Laughing) I was really close with Riley OíConnor, and I know Gerry Barad and Bret Gallagher. I worked for (Michael) Rapino. So I know the Canadians (there). Steve Herman, and Arthur (Fogel).
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.