Showcases abound at IEBA, including this one by The Company Men prior to the opening panel. (VT Photo)

REPORTING FROM NASHVILLE — “Creating a direct relationship with fans; that’s the winner now, fan to artist,” said Ali Harnell, AEG Live.

The challenge is capital. The challenge is competition. The challenge is developing headliners. The challenge is the internet.

Gather four leaders in the entertainment industry and they can pinpoint the challenges, as did a power panel of past winners of IEBA awards: Rod Tate, Calgary (Alta.) Stampede; Harnell; David Kells, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville; and Renee Alexander, Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul. The four comprised the opening power panel of the International Entertainment Buyers Association, which met here Oct. 10-13.

Free stages at fairs help develop talent, Alexander noted. The internet has created a broader audience for all acts, internationally, Tate said.

Kells is a fan of the three-band bills. “Country is best at that, at feeding the conveyor belt,” he said.

International festivals are a growing market for country, Harnell added. They have a lot of satellite and pop-up stages and Q&As. But acts need a record company to support such forays.

Tate noted that women in music are in demand, or “we hear about it from our guests.”

Festivals are a game changer in Alexander’s opinion, and Harnell agreed. Tate noted the Stampede is citywide and his competition is also his supporter, people who use that week to create ancillary events while promoting the Stampede.

The group saw no pattern in ticket sales today, except that they are selling more in advance. Tate had an onsale last week in advance of their July event. “We call it the hockey stick model,” the Canadian said. The sale is strong early, then builds and builds and builds to a crescendo.

Since fairs have to buy earlier and earlier, sales start earlier.

“We frontload on our marketing, then let it lull till we get closer,” Alexander said. “We book shows in December for an August onsale.”

“Certain things you have to frontload,” Harnell said. “And when you’re wrong, you’re so wrong.” She recalled being concerned Outkast wouldn’t sell 20,000 tickets in 12 months, but in the end, they sold 60,000. “Sometimes it has it’s own fire.”

There seems to be no template for promoting shows today, panelists agreed. They were also concerned about the plethora of email. Sure we have data, but how do you use that data to truly communicate with individuals?

They agreed that as an industry, we must agree on the use of the data to use it in the right way and not inundate people with emails they don’t want.

Calgary has a Stampede Planner, which is a Bible of what’s  coming up. They print 750,000 of those brochures. They tried to go online, but it is a slow build. Now, about 50 percent of people will look at it online.

Streaming music and quantifying that market is another matter. “In general, streaming is important. I will figure it out,” Harnell said.

Interviewed for this article: Rod Tate, (403) 269-9822; Ali Harnell, (323) 930-5700; David Kells, (615) 770-2096; Renee Alexander, (651) 288-4400