This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Dan Steinberg, president/founder, Square Peg Concerts.
At 37, Dan Steinberg’s complete life has been centered around being a promoter.
President/founder of Square Peg Concerts, the colorful Steinberg began producing club shows at the Mercury Café in Denver while still a high school student.
Today, based in Auburn, Washington, located 20 miles (32 km) south of Seattle, with offices in Nashville and Denver, Square Peg Concerts oversees some 600 concerts a year throughout the United States.
After graduating high school in 1993, Steinberg founded 2B Announced Presents that promoted Colorado dates by Johnny Cash, Pam Tillis, No Doubt, Blink-182, Jello Biafra, and others.
While continuing to promote shows, Steinberg attended the Community College of Aurora, graduating with an Associate of Arts degree in 2000. The same year, he started summer classes at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon.
All during his school years and afterwards, Steinberg continued to produce shows in the north-west, often co-promoting with Mike Thrasher.
In 2002, Steinberg relocated to Seattle and began promoting under the name Dan Steinberg Presents that, quickly rebranded as Square Peg Concerts, grew to produce live events all over the U.S.
Your life since high school has been centered around live music. What’s the attraction?
What is different about our industry is that it doesn’t stop. There’s no clock in our industry. Deals may get cut from 9 AM to 5 PM but then the shows happen. Load in starts at 2 o’clock normally, or if it’s an arena show, 8 AM. Settlement doesn’t happen until 11 PM or midnight. Your club show, maybe, 1 AM. Then you go out to get a bite to eat or a drink with one of your friends that’s on the tour. So you are not home to 2 AM or 3 AM sometimes. You are traveling constantly. And you see the same people over and over again.
With the multiple talent agency buy-outs in recent years, has anybody been knocking on your door to sell Square Peg Concerts?
We’ve had talks with people. Nothing excites me. I think that it’s a little hard to call someone “boss” at this point. I get to do pretty much whatever I want. If something scares me, I call Jason (partner Jason Zink) for a second opinion. I get to say whatever I want. I get to make an ass of myself whenever I want. I don’t have to ever worry about coming in Monday, and getting an ethics phone call from head office. I can have the word “motherfucker” on my business card, and nobody gives me shit about it.
Surely, you don’t have that on your business card.
I actually do. It says, “I SELL TICKETS, MOTHERFUCKER!”
How many shows does Square Peg Concerts oversee annually?
We do about 600 a year. We’ve got some strategic partnerships but we do the same acts over and over again. It’s a lot of clip/copy repeats.
How large of a staff do you have?
There’s four of us in Seattle; two people in Nashville; two people in Denver; and about five guys that just do production who don’t see a bed a lot.
Your partner is Jason Zink.
Jason is my partner in everything. He was at Outback (Outback Concerts). After JAM Production bought into Outback in 2006, Jason left shortly afterwards as the business model for Outback had changed quite a bit. Jason wasn’t happy. So he left, and we started doing some co-promoters together. We became even closer friends. We trust each other.
Have you two known each other long?
We were together in Denver because he ran The Paramount Theatre when I was promoting Johnny Cash and Pam Tillis. He worked for Mark Norman. When Jason went to Outback, we continued to co-promote together. Nickel Creek, he did a lot of dates on. And Old Crow (Old Crow Medicine Show). Jason always brought some interesting stuff to the table. I brought some weird stuff to the table. I remember we lost $40,000 together on Kenny Rogers in Sacramento about five seconds after Outback hired him. He had to call his boss and say, “Thanks for the job and, by the way, I just lost 20 grand on that side of that show.”
Many independent promoters questioned the 2010 merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster. Now that the dust has settled, are there advantages of being a smaller company with Live Nation on one side, and AEG on the other side? That you can pick your spots.
Both AEG and Live Nation have partnered on shows with us from time to time. I have found them both to be good partners. At the end of the day, it’s easy to talk crap about the big guys. But when you break it down, they are just people. The buyers over there (at both) are some of the most entertaining people in the world and they are great at their jobs. I was recently in New York doing a panel with Bob Roux (Co-president of North America Concerts, Live Nation Entertainment.) There’s a reason he’s survived through the hirings, the buy-outs, the spin-offs and the sell-offs. The guy is incredible. He’s a straight shooter, and you just like him. Mark Norman (Senior VP Live Nation Global Touring) is a huge idol to me. He’s been a great mentor.
As I have moved up though the industry, the guys that were at the club and theatre level when I was just starting out in the smallest of small dives, are now running the business. Jason Miller was the local guy in Denver; and now he’s running the New York office (as president) for Live Nation.
You have said that you don’t think the proposed sale of Anschutz Entertainment Group’s subsidiary AEG will happen. What’s going on there?
It’s an easy way to evaluate what the company is worth. If you are trying to get a line of credit or a loan to put up a stadium or a football team in L.A. it’s a great way to say that, “Our company is worth $10 billion. Here you go.” At the same time, I’m not Randy (AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips). I’m just guessing that’s what is going on. The company is making money, and they are doing great. The brand is amazing. I can’t imagine for the life of me that suddenly that they want to get out.
It’d be a complicated sale with the league teams, and the buildings.
Yeah, it’s also a worldwide company. There’s multiple regional bodies that would have to approve it.
[AEG's holdings include pro soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, part-ownership of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, and sizable entertainment and real estate holdings in Los Angeles. AEG also owns Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamo and all or part of several arenas around the U.S. and in Sweden, China and Australia. Any sale would throw uncertainty into Los Angeles’ nearly two-decade attempt to bring the NFL back to the city.]
You promote in major, secondary, and tertiary markets. How have you picked those markets? Trial and error?
No. We are not trying to carry market share, and fill an ad anymore. There was a time and place (when that happened). When I was in Denver, I was definitely carrying that brand of, “Let’s try a full page every week in the weekly (paper).” I wanted to have my Westword page as a full page and run enough volume that we could keep the page so we could have a presence in the market. But the times have changed. National tour promoting is a thing of competition. It breeds bigger opportunities. I don’t want to be the local promoter down the street because the local promoter down the street gets fucked.
He’s one guy in one market with limited shows. To survive as a promoter, you have to have a volume of shows to take advantage of opportunities.
Right. If my act is opening for this band on the tour and I lose on this tour, I am hoping to still see them in the album cycle two or three times in other markets. If not more as a headliner or pick up the off days. I want to be the easy guy to deal with, that the band loves seeing; that the road manager loves seeing; that the manager loves seeing. I like to call it “concierge promoting” where the act knows my crew when they see them. We try to keep the same production people with the same acts over and over again to save on the advance back-and-forth (discussions). They already know what it (the touring) is. That memory lock. This is what it is. This is what it’s going to be.
There are also shared experiences as well as a bonding between the two parties.
There certainly is that. It is always great to see a friendly face on the road. You find people that click personality wise, and we try to do that as much as possible. We had six Straight No Chaser shows recently. (Prior to the dates) there were tweets going back-and-forth between my crew and the guys in the band and management. “Where are we going to go and drink?” It’s a cool thing. You get to see family while on the road.
You get a better relationship with the act when you do multiple dates. I don’t have to learn how to promote jazz, metal and Mormon acts. Whereas we still play a lot of different genres. We know how to promote Jim Brickman. We know how to promote Paula Poundstone. We know how to promote Straight No Chaser, Kris Kristofferson, and John Prine. If a fit works in one market, I can probably make it work in 30 markets. We continue to do a lot of volume with a lot of the same people. People wouldn’t keep coming back if they weren’t…we don’t keep contracts with artists for exclusivity. They can leave whenever they want. So obviously, it’s about them being happy. It’s a service industry, and about repeat business.
Today, many performing arts centers (PACs), faced with smaller budgets and greater competition, are partnering with outside promoters.
We have had a lot of luck in that sphere. PBS has helped us work our way into that crowd. Skyline Music introduced me to George Winston, probably just after the Millennium, and asked about us taking on more markets. They had these big performances for PAC dates on series, and then George would have a week free in between. They were like, “George really doesn’t care about the money. He just loves to play. And he wants to play every other day.” We were like, “That will be a fun way to market more shares.” So they would hand us one or two markets every tour. Obviously, it’s a great copy/repeat thing but it got us in business with the PACs.
We started picking up more of these acts that we could run through there (the PACs). Judy Collins, Don Williams, Paul Poundstone, and Arlo Guthrie. Like-minded acts that would have easy production, and were easy to work to with. And as we started opening up more of the PACs, we realized there’s a sexiness that is missing in the Billboard Hot 100 that is still there. People like to pay to see their favorite acts that may not fill the current hit out. They love the older acts, and they love to see them in nice theatres. But nobody was chasing those acts in a lot of markets that went uncontended.
Acts from the late ‘80s, ‘90s and from the early part of Millennium are part of the new nostalgia market. People don’t care that those acts aren’t on radio.
There’s definitely this move with the iPod radio format where you get to listen to your favorites, and you are reminded of the stuff that you love.
Four years ago, pricing grew to be a sizable issue with concert and club goers. Is ticket pricing generally now more reflective of the marketplace?
We saw all that rolled back quite a few steps. The acts that wanted to be reasonable, and that wanted to work, lowered their prices across the board. Both talent fees and ticket fees because one is a factor of the other. It just is. It is just the world that we live in. Or an act plays a smaller room, and they keep the ticket price up. But one way or another, your gross is going down. And it did. The market is flooded with acts. There are enough out there that we can all work non-stop (promoting shows). There is enough low hanging fruit out there that we can continue to pick up a million acts. We could do 3,000 shows a year if we had time, and if we wanted to step up to doing that. We wouldn’t be stealing off anybody’s plate. That stuff is there. There’s plenty to do. It’s just a matter of what the public is willing to pay. The economy has gotten better over the past four years because people are continuing to buy tickets.
Among the newer bands, who tours smart? Mumford & Sons?
Yeah, they do it right. The Avett Brothers have done an amazing job of picking each play precisely. Paul Lohr (president of New Frontier Touring) is just great at that. You have got to hand it to the guys from One Direction realizing that they might not be Justin Bieber a year from now. They put their shows on sale 18 months in advance when the song ("Live While We're Young") blew up. Those arenas are sold out already.
Well, advance word was that their second album was going to be huge.
And I would still have put the arenas up. My gut is those arenas could be empty by the time they roll around, and those tickets are expensive.
[One Direction has scored its second #1 album in less than a year, as its second album, “Take Me Home” debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart (Dec. 1, 2012) with 540,000 unit sales its first week of release. Only two other acts have had a stronger opening week in 2012. Taylor Swift moved 1.2 million units of “Red” and Mumford & Sons sold 600,000 copies of “Babel.”
“Take Me Home” follows the group’s “Up All Night” debut release which bowed atop the Billboard 200 on March 31, 2012 with 176,000 sold. Interestingly, that release marked the first time a British group's debut album debuted at #1 in the 56-year history of the chart.]
Naysayers predicted failure for the Maroon 5 tour.
I hear those dates are doing fine. “The Voice” (singer/guitarist Adam Levine is a coach on the American TV talent show “The Voice”) definitely helps with his career. The reality shows have helped with those guys for exposure. It keeps them out there. I don’t think that Cee Lo Green’s song ("Forget You") from three years ago, and that made him the pop megastar that he is, would have kept him in the limelight as long, had that show (“The Voice”) not come along. The timing was perfect. He’s very charismatic. It’s hard not to like him. You start to realize that Cee Lo Green, as Cee Lo Green has had one hit but then you start to really think of Goodie Mob, and the other transitions of acts that he’s been in (including Gnarls Barkley), and then you put those pieces together, he’s actually a bit of an icon.
With any pop act, managers and agents must evaluate their status as a touring attraction before touring them. Often these acts go out too early. Like Kelly Clarkson did.
It happens. It’s all just a gut (feeling). It wasn’t our tour but we were talking here about this with the Gotye tour. How the hit (“Somebody That I Used To Know”) was everywhere and how they were moving into really big rooms the second time around. Was it going to work or not? It (the tour) had the possibility of absolutely being explosive. It could have been massive. In some places it worked. In most places it didn’t do the business that they wanted to do. Nowhere was it really embarrassing.
Would it have been more advisable to go for the underplay?
It’s easy to say that now. I know that a lot of people made money on that (tour). The song was everywhere. Looking at it now I think they probably would have scaled down one size in most markets. Every artist in the world wants to play a full room. I think that Foster the People did an amazing job of putting their second leg on tour on sale immediately for the tour so they could capitalize on how strong the hit ("Pumped Up Kicks") was and they played very successful dates.
Has the advent of social media had an effect on your marketing of shows?
I am a big fan of leaving little crumbs everywhere and hoping that everybody finds their path back to my ship. We do Twitter, Facebook and we still do posters for every show for retail. On average, we poster 240 locations per market regardless wherever the show is. I believe in radio if it makes sense for the format for the market. We do an enormous amount of cable advertising. I still do print. I’ve kind of given up on daily print although we do a little bit for the on sale. We do a lot of weeklies still but less than we used to. Every year, it seems to be less.
I’m still a huge believer in the Village Voice. Ironically my first sales rep when I bought for the Mercury Café (in Denver) and I was doing shows, was Scott Tobias at the Westword. He has since become the publisher of all of the Village Voice papers (as Voice Media Group CEO). Scott was my sales rep when I was 18.
So luckily, we have this amazing relationship with the Village Voice. Every time we roll into a random market, they are a great partner, and are incredible to work with. So I still believe in the print media. We try to do a lot of that. Then there’s radio pieces and all of the random promotions and the email blasts. We don’t text to phone. I think that it’s annoying.
I’m always thinking, “How do we get to kids?” I went the Aspen Live Conference two or three years ago, and Tom Higley (President & CEO at Vokl, Inc.) said that kids don’t check email. They don’t even set up their email on their iPhones. They have iPhones but they don’t set up their email on them.
The secondary ticket market remains a volatile marketplace in which resellers and primary ticketers heatedly square off. Starting early next year, fans shopping for tickets sold by AEG's AXS Ticketing platform will be offered the chance to buy or sell tickets through StubHub. What’s your take on AEG aligning with StubHub?
It always seems toxic whenever a promoter gets involved with reselling tickets. But in all fairness, it’s how I got into the business. Scalping tickets in high school, yeah. I was a high school student (at Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado). I was buying group sale tickets from Barry Fey’s office. Just buying them like a regular group. Metallica tickets for kids who couldn’t get out (to buy) because tickets went on sale on Monday at 10 AM or Friday at 10 AM. We always had tests during those times. You couldn’t miss school, and concert and arena shows were going on sale every two weeks. I would buy for Queensrÿche, AC/DC, Metallica, and Grateful Dead shows. I would buy 200 or 300 tickets; mark them up $5 or $10; and sell them through the (local) high schools. If I could get some floor seats, I would mark them up real money. I could move 300 or 400 tickets per show.
Is a ticket worth the original ticket price or is it worth what people will pay for it? Prime Rolling Stone tickets are over $800. If someone wants to pay that, an argument can be made that’s the true ticket price.
There is something to be said for the Garth Brooks’ point of view that just because you can get more money from your fans doesn’t mean that you want to beat your fans over the head, and get every dollar out of them because you think that your show is worth it. I remember seeing Van Halen on the Unlawful Carnal Knowledge tour. Someone had a sign in their hands in the front row that said “I paid”-- something outrageous--“to party with Van Halen.” And Sammy grabbed the sign and said something like, “I want to apologize to you because I don’t think that I can deliver an $800 show to you. I think I can deliver a $39.50 show to you, and I feel good about that. I don’t think anybody should pay that, and I don’t think that anybody should allow that.” I truly got that at that moment.
When I was in high school and selling tickets for $3 to $5 over (the ticket value) it wasn’t like we were scalping tickets. We were performing a service so we didn’t have to get out of school. And so we could pay for our pot.
Today there are premium tickets for fan club members and paid meet and greets. Those kind of things outrage some music fans.
There is something to be said for that (view). But, at the same time, we did the Fresh Beat Band in Boise and The VIP Fan Club Experience to meet the act and have better seats was $100 and change. Or $39.50 to be in a P1 seat. As a parent to see the smile that was on my kid’s face when she went to the show, I would have bought it all day long. All day long.
Getting to do Yo Gabba Gabba, the Imagination Movers, and the Fresh Beat Band are a perk of my job that make me the coolest person in the world for my kid. It’s a great thing. The younger they are the better. That’s what I feed off now. (My six-year-old daughter) Reese running around backstage with Jason Mraz is one of my favorite memories of the business. It’s not, “How close did I get to the stage when Springsteen played?” anymore. There are definitely some musical moments that are like “Wow. They are crushing it. This is a great show.” But the moments that I appreciate more is getting to see the other people appreciate what we have delivered.
What first attracted you to the live music business?
My parents took me to see Tony Orlando and Dawn at the Turn of the Century Showroom in Denver in 1984. I was just mesmerized with their showmanship. Then I was in a band. People always knew that I was into music, that concerts were my thing. I was always into that.
Was your band any good?
For a high school band. I played drums. I could hold a beat. I played a lot. I’d come home from school and I would play for 45 minutes or an hour until my parents came home and told me to shut up.
What was the band’s name?
Funky Fish and the Toast. We were together for two years of high school, maybe. We were packing basements, and we got to play some big theatres. We opened for the biggest bands on the (local) scene. They loved playing with us. That’s when I realized that I could market shows. We could bring people to a show. We opened for Angellic Rage (the pre-eminent progressive metal band in Denver the ‘90s) that was managed by Bill Bass (of Fey Concerts) at the time. It was hard to do an all-ages show back then so we put together a theatre line-up and, if they put us on the bill, they were guaranteed 100 kids. The problem was that they (our fans) wouldn’t stay because we’d throw a kegger afterwards. It would always piss off the headliners. We would get dick for playing. It was like props for us to be on the bill.
In 1989, you were a production assistant on a KRNZ-sponsored show at Mammoth Gardens (since rebranded as The Fillmore Auditorium) that featured the Kingsmen, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Sonny Graci and the Classics IV, and Billy K. Kramer.
It was the first show that I worked. I was really young. I was kind of running around like a production hand. The show would have happened just as smoothly if I wasn’t there. I was like a sponge soaking it all in.
At 16, you worked briefly as a runner at the Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre?
Gene Felling was running the venue. I don’t think he knew I existed. Nigel James, who was head of production there before he went to Bill Graham (Bill Graham Presents), hired me. He could only use me on days that he needed a third runner because the first two runners had to be able to buy alcohol. Still there were plenty of shows that needed three runners because these were shed shows. Usually, each act had their own runner, and the headline had two or three. So on a day with Def Leppard or something, there’d be multiple runners out there. So I would get to run, and I got to meet some of the (Fey Concert Co.) office staff that I am still friendly with. I still know Rob Buswell, who was in marketing a Fey at the time. I still hang out with him a lot.
After high school came 2B Announced Presents?
Yeah. Right after. It was my little thing. It was me doing shows at the Mercury Café with my buddy Grant Aslin. We had some investment help. Every so often we’d get a show that was just too ridiculously big.
How were you able to land Johnny Cash, Pam Tillis, and No Doubt shows?
No Doubt was a $500 act when I started booking them. Pam Tillis was a “grab” (date) for sure at the point I got her. She was big in country, and that was a big show to do. We were building everything up.
You must have been terrified in promoting Johnny Cash that you’d lose your shirt.
I was. I got to a level where Wayne Forte (of Entourage Talent Associates) sold me Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson and Steve Vai on the first G3 tour. It was a $50,000 guarantee for Denver. I sent the offer in thinking, “He’s never going to sell me the date, but how cool is it to bid on it?” Then Wayne called to confirm. I then called Bill Silva on it. Bill asked, “Can you cover half?” I said “Yes.” He said, "Good. You are never going to work so hard in your life to make that half.” It was Nov. 4, 1996. I was about three years out of high school.
Bill Silva, if I had a godfather in the industry, he’d definitely be my godparent. He’s a role model, and the guy that I totally tried to pattern my career after which is not easy to do.
After receiving an Associate of Arts degree from the Community College of Aurora Colorado in 2000, you began summer classes at the University of Oregon on to work towards a BA.
College didn’t work for me at first. I went back after I had a little bit of real life experience. I went back to community college when I was promoting shows. Eventually, it got too crazy between (Denver-based independent concert promotion firm) Nobody In Particular Presents (NIPP) and Chuck Morris and Donnie Strasburg.
When BGP (Bill Graham Presents) backed Donnie and Chuck (Morris) in opening up The Fillmore, it made Denver hell for me. I had all of this history but the trickle down shit was killing me. Regardless that I had great relationships, and had love from some acts, they were being poached with these amazing offers. Everything was getting stolen on high. All of The Ogden acts were going to The Fillmore and my acts were going to The Ogden. I was going broke trying to promote in Denver. I was like “Screw it. I’m going to going to college now.”
[In 1998, Chuck Morris partnered with Bill Graham Presents, the San Francisco-based promotion house founded by the legendary concert pioneer Bill Graham, to launch Bill Graham Presents/Chuck Morris Presents. Six months into the co-venture, Bill Graham Presents/Chuck Morris Presents was purchased by Robert Sillerman’s SFX Entertainment that eventually evolved into Live Nation.
In 2007 Morris joined AEG Live as president/CEO of the Rocky Mountain Region after his non-compete agreement with Live Nation expired. By then Brent Fedrizzi, (today COO AEG Rocky Mountain Region) and Don Strasburg (now VP and partner of AEG Rocky Mountain Region) had spent months set up the regional offices for AEG in advance of his arrival.]
Had Barry Fey moved out of promoting when you started promoting?
No. Barry was there. I worked through Bill Bass mostly there, and a little bit through Pam Morris. Chuck (Morris) was mostly managing at that time, and was out of the promotion side. He was focused on Big Head Todd & the Monsters and, I think, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I came in when Chuck had stepped out and before he came back. 1993 was when I started dabbling and doing shows full time.
Were Don Strasburg and Brent Fedrizzi then picking up some of the slack?
Brent was Pam’s assistant at that time. Donnie was booking (Boulder's) Fox Theatre, and having a day of it. The Fox was still struggling. It was a cool room and the vision was there but the world hadn’t quite caught it yet. So it was like, “Are they going to be able to take The Boulder Theatre down?” Buying against Donnie is something that I don’t wish on anybody. It will truly teach you how to hold a relationship and nurture it. At first, you wonder, “Will I get the date?” And then, “Will I be able to keep the date after Donnie makes the case that I shouldn’t be getting the date. And hold onto it?" He’s a competitor.
[Don Strasburg’s first entertainment job was a one-night roadie gig at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1988 for the Monsters of Rock Tour. His first promoter gig came while he promoted Phish at the Boulder Theater in 1990. The band wasn't even signed to a label at the time.
Strasburg, then a 21-year-old graduate of Colorado College, and several partners Richard "Dicke" Sidman, Jon O'Leary, James Hambleton and Dave McKenzie developed the Fox Theatre in Boulder into one of the musical showcase gems of America.
Strasburg and his partners, however, didn't quite anticipate the difficulties they would encounter in getting the club off the ground. The group had originally sought to use the Marquee Theater but after they lost that bid, Strasburg stumbled upon the Fox, originally constructed in 1926 as the Rialto Theatre.
The Fox launched on March 6, 1992 with two sold-out performances by The Meters.]
Promoting in and around Denver is practically a blood sport.
Learning how to buy in Denver, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I used to go over to Salt Lake City and hang out with the promoters there. We’d co-promote a little bit together. I was messing with expanding into multiple markets even when I was doing clubs. So I was messing with Salt Lake City and Albuquerque, and taking on some theatre stuff like Johnny Cash towards the end of his career. I was looking at how to promote in other markets. I found how much easier it was to get shows in Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins than it was in Denver/Boulder proper.
That was fascinating to me.
Buying against Don Strasburg when he was booking The Fox while I was booking the Mercury Café, and Doug Kauffman was booking The Gothic Theater (in Englewood) and The Ogden, was an amazing challenge. I realized that if you could buy in Denver, than you could produce shows anywhere. There were people that I got along really well with in the early days but they couldn’t sell me anything. It was like William Morris was locked up by Doug Kauffman. (William Morris agents) Don Muller and Marc Geiger went to Doug. There were deep relationships there. I wasn’t going to break that. Those guys were always cool. But they had a relationship with Doug. I had to respect that loyalty. History mattered then.
Afterwards you left to take summer classes at the University of Oregon?
I went to Eugene, Oregon. I wasn’t going to do any shows. Then Rich Egan said (promoting shows) would be a great way for me to get my social career going. By doing a couple of his acts, I’d meet some people right off the bat. “You are doing summer school so you have time.” Rich was the manager for Face To Face and all of these emo type acts at the time. He also owned Vagrant Records with Trevor (Keith) from Face To Face. So he gave me a whole bunch of acts. Before I knew it was stealing all of Mike Thrasher’s history from Oregon without even thinking twice about stepping on somebody else because it didn’t occur to me. The next thing, Mike and I were sitting down to have drink, and we cut a deal (to co-promote). I ended up doing 300 shows with Mike that first year.
Then you moved to Seattle.
Yeah, I met a girl (Alodie Griese) whom I’ve been married to for nine years now. We wound up getting together. Mike and I wound up doing so much business together between Oregon and Washington that we thought that it would be more prudent for one of us to be in Washington to oversee the amount of volume that we were doing. Since Mike was so embedded in Portland, and I was just in Eugene it didn’t make much sense for him to move. So, I covered Seattle, and we did a good amount of business together.
You promoted as Dan Steinberg Presents?
We were promoting under Steinberg/Thrasher for a little while but it was our two companies. We just branded together, and we were doing everything as co-promoters. Then Mike wanted to do the rock shows, and I wanted the Ani Di Franco and Kris Kristofferson shows. I wanted to promote nationally and Mike wanted to promote shows in the local market. We had two different visions. We were driving our employees nuts. We kind of went our own ways.
In 2002, you had started Dan Steinberg Presents which was rebranded as Square Peg Concerts.
I incorporated as Dan Steinberg Presents but, yeah, it was Square Peg Concerts. We promoted under Square Peg almost immediately.
For many years, you stayed a fringe player in Colorado. Are you back in the market in a substantial way?
We have had a Denver office for 18 months. Not to carry market share as much as Jason wanted us to be in the middle of the country. We probably do four shows a year in Denver. Last year, we did Kathy Griffin, Tim Minchin, and we did Kris Kristofferson with Merle Haggard. We recently did Richard Marx in Boulder. It’s a couple of shows here and a couple of shows there, in Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins. I play in Denver a little bit. I love it but it’s not so much that I am trying to buy share for Denver, it’s from routing a tour, and I’m getting Denver as part of the route. It’s part of the markets. We will submit sometimes on 15 or 20 markets and we will get six of them. Sometimes Denver is in; sometimes it’s not. We lost Colorado Springs and got Denver on one run which shocked me. Colorado Springs isn’t usually the one that you fight for.
You seem to attend all of the major live music conferences.
All of the bigger ones. I’m the face of our company. The last couple of years I’ve been able to moderate panels at all of the big ones. Because I moderate, it doesn’t cost me much at all (to attend).
You will be attending the Aspen Live Conference Dec. 13-16th (2012). The conference has been around for 16-years. How important is it to you?
If SXSW is high school; if the Pollstar Conference and the Billboard Touring Conference are college; then I like to consider Aspen the grad program. I get to interview The Agency Group's (North American President) Steve Martin this year.
Generally, what benefit are the industry conferences?
Well, the access is incredible. My favorite one is Aspen. IAVM (the VenueConnect trade show) is the best deal overall. It is just all for the venue managers from North America. So you are alone with 2,500 venue managers from around the country. And they are in a room.
We all go to New York and L.A. So I’m going to see Lee at Staples (Lee Zeidman, Sr. Vice President & General Manager, Stables Center in Los Angeles) one way or the other this year. Or see him at this conference or that one. I don’t need to go to IAVM to hang out with him. But the guys that are in Brookings, South Dakota or Bemidji, Minnesota, I’m not going to those markets. We may do shows in those rooms but I’m not going go there. So I get a chance to have a drink with those guys, and hang out with someone like (BOK Center GM) John Bolton instead of going to Tulsa (Oklahoma) to do it. It is absolutely priceless for me to be at IAVM.
Contacts with venue managers from there become useful later on.
Right. I am not the local guy that they have known for 20 years, but when I call them they know who I am because they saw me on a panel or we had drinks or a bite together at some point. Absolutely, it affects the deal. I'm not trying to explain who Dan Steinberg 101 is. They have seen my shtick. They know who I am. Hopefully, they can get past the “This is the rack rate deal, and here’s the family rate that we extend to the promoters that we like.” Whatever. It’s the little things; the little crumbs. IAVM, Billboard, Pollstar or Aspen all help. The nominations for the awards…it all adds to credibility. So when I call and say, “I’m bringing a show to your room” I’m not the kid trying to bring in Nelly who has never done a show before that they are going to ask for a $25,000 deposit before they even let me hold a date.
Meanwhile, you continue to have fun.
The business continues to surprise me. Recently, my peers nominated me for the Bill Graham Award which blew me away. I’m the youngest nominee. I lost it. I’m only 37.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
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