Jim Cressman, Invictus Entertainment; Dave Brooks, Billboard; Darin Lashinsky, National Shows 2; Danielle Maderia, Another Planet; Eric Milhouse, Nederlander Concerts; and Darren Pfeffer, MSG Live, were on the Promoter Poltics panel at Billboard Touring Conference and Awards, Nov. 15.

REPORTING FROM BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. — Independent promoters are always looking for vendors and opportunities. They don’t live and die by quarterly earnings reports; they don’t have boards to please and layer upon layer of upper management to go through to make a company decision.

A panel of top independent promoters shared their insight, ups and downs, and best practices at Billboard Touring Conference and Awards, Nov. 15 at Montage Hotel here.

“We need true partners, and we want to book shows,” said Darin Lashinsky, National Shows 2.

“If you want someone chasing the market and articulating the benefits of your building, you need to book with an independent promoter,” said Jim Cressman, founder and president, Invictus Entertainment Group. “We’re going to share the wins and the losses together.” He also stressed that he needs a venue to “show me if you want to be in business with me on the macro or on the micro.”

Cressman said it’s a fine dance that needs to be played out between promoter and venue, and he’s let buildings “beat me up on settlements and lose the battle so I can win the war six months later.”

Eric Milhouse, director of talent, Nederlander Concerts, said that being an independent promoter means “getting the word out no matter what you have to do.”

“The mindset is ‘do it yourself,’” he said. “We don’t often have big teams. If something needs to be done it’s not ‘call someone else,’ it’s roll up your sleeves and solve the problem.”

Danielle Maderia, VP, Another Planet, said that “not having to answer to Wall Street” was the biggest perk of being an independent. “When you answer to numbers, you can’t take a sharp left turn at the last moment when things are going in a bad direction; we can.”

“My partners and I can get on a phone call and make an instant decision; big promoters can’t do that,” said Lashinsky.

On the downside, Cressman said independent promoters have personal accountability and can’t throw blame for bad decisions sideways.

As with any group, there are a number of independent promoters, many in the festival space, who are bringing down the group as a whole with shady deals and canceled events.

“The bad promoters make the rest of us look good,” said Maderia.

“It’s lack of experience,” said Milhouse.

Maderia said “throwing money at something is often not a sustainable model” as she
discussed the ever-increasing high fees that artists are demanding— and getting — for playing festivals. “The overpaying is out-of-control. Agents need to understand that if a festival is willing to pay an outrageous fee, the artist will expect that fee at every festival and will eventually price themselves out of the market.”

On the positive side, festivals are a great place for independents to look for talent who will be in the area. “Find out their radius clause and book right on the border,” said Lashinsky.

Cancellations by an artist are a problem for promoters big and small. “The promoter takes the brunt of the hit,” said Milhouse. “There’s not much you can do about it.”

The recent flood of sexual harassment charges against high-powered industry players was also heavily discussed.

“We’ve got to teach kids from the get-go how to treat people and create safe environments,” said Milhouse. “We have to be better as human beings to women, to anyone who’s been slighted, and anyone who has been harmed.”

“It’s the imbalance of power,” said Maderia. “We’re seeing an underbelly now, but it’s been going on a long time.”

The discussion turned to what’s currently working in live touring in 2017.  Lashinsky said that rock, hip-hop and country were strong as well as “anything in Nashville.”

Milhouse agreed that hip-hop was strong but felt that the genre had challenges from the artists to the managers to the fans. He also cited touring smash “Hamilton” as particularly big in 2017.

Maderia said that Electronic Dance Music (EDM) was selling a lot of tickets. Cressman said that legacy equity acts, whether it’s metal, rock or country, all were doing great business in Canada.