Brooklyn Bowl Hosts the Relix Live Music Conference

May 11, 2017

all photos by Marc Millman

Yesterday, Brooklyn Bowl hosted the first Relix Live Music Conference, a full day of panels, presentations and discussion with some of the top names in the music industry, including managers, promoters, agents, publicists, festival planners, venue proprietors, journalists and more.The day kicked off in the morning with some opening remarks from Brooklyn Bowl co-founder Charley Ryan, who spoke about the importance of creating and engaging with the community surrounding music, particularly with a venue like the Bowl. The first panel, a discussion on talent buying, then got underway, featuring New York-based speakers from City Winery and The Bowery Presents, along with Don Strasburg from AEG Presents in Colorado and more. The group discussed the importance of reputation in acquiring acts and making them want to return to a venue multiple times, along with radius clauses, club shows versus festivals and more. Strasburg likened the position of talent buying to being an air traffic controller, picking and choosing when and where to place bands in a certain area while working with other buyers.

The Festivals panel followed, with moderator Dean Budnick, co-editor-in-chief of Relix Media Group, along with representatives from Newport Folk Festival, Lockn’, CID Entertainment and Superfly (who put on Bonnaroo, among other festivals), plus lawyer Janine Small, who talked about the logistics of running a festival, even before the lineup is set. “It takes a village to put on a great event,” she said, referring to the community coming together to make the events happen. The conversation also moved to destination festivals and the set of issues those offer, while Newport Folk’s Jay Sweet stressed the user experience in festivals, saying, “If you’re not enhancing the experience, you’re interrupting the experience.”

Dave Frey, Janine Small, Dean Budnick, Robin McNicol, Jay Sweet, Dan Berkowitz

Three presentations then followed, beginning with a talk on activism from HeadCount co-founder Andy Bernstein, who talked about coming up with the idea for the voter-registration nonprofit and how this point in history will force us to “dig down deep” to make a difference. Alluding to the importance of music in the tumultuous times of the ‘60s, Bernstein asserted that we can do the same for the issues faced today. “I don’t know how this story ends,” he said, “But if we do that, when they tell this story, it’s gonna have one hell of a soundtrack.”

Andy Bernstein

Josh Baron, who works with SongKick, a company that helps artists sell their concert tickets directly to their fans and bypass third parties, then spoke on the current state of ticketing, where it’s winning (better data and analytics) and where it’s losing (ticket bots and scalpers), along with a call for the US to adopt the UK’s model of ticket allocation, where the largest UK venues set aside a portion of their tickets for other companies besides the venues, opening the market to reach new fans. A presentation on the present and future of technology in music followed, conducted by Justin Bolognino, head of META, which works in interactive installations, virtual reality, stage design and more. The speaker stressed the importance of not getting lost in technology such as virtual reality, saying the future is definitely not an audience of people with virtual reality headsets on. “No amount of technology will ever outdo the feeling of being there,” he said. “No amount of technology will ever make up for human emotion and human storytelling. It starts there.”

Josh Baron, Andy Bernstein, Jon Wilson

After a break for lunch, the theme of storytelling continued with the Publicity panel, bringing together independent publicists and those working for larger companies. All of them discussed the act of crafting a story to pitch for their artist, although Ken Weinstein of Big Hassle Media added that he prefers his artists to “keep their thorns” and resist the urge to conform to fit a certain “playlist.” The conversation also covered the large impact of social media in an artist’s image these days. As Dayglo Ventures’ Emma Matthieson said, “Your news can get overshadowed by a tweet, and all of your careful planning has gone out the window.”

Mike Greenhaus, Emma Matthieson, Ken Weinstein, Kevin Calabro, Rebecca Shapiro, Jonathan Azu

Brooklyn Bowl talent buyer Lucas Sacks moderated the next panel on agenting, bringing together professionals from Paradigm, William Morris Endeavor, Creative Artists Agency, Founders Entertainment and more for a discussion that touched on the ever-evolving game of getting an artist booked at venues and festivals. “We’re thinking anywhere from 12 to 24 months out,” Paradigm’s Lee Anderson said. CAA’s Kyle Wilensky added the importance of forging bonds with venues, buyers and others to have success in the industry, saying, “It all boils down to relationships.” Anderson also spoke on the balance of underplaying at a smaller venue before moving to a larger venue, noting that “you’re better off having 500 tickets sold in advance than 900 total sold in a 1600 venue.”

Jordan Wolowitz, Lee Anderson, Seth Seigle, Joshua Knight

The last panel of the day, on management, featured animated moderator Jake Szufnarowski of Rocks Off, who brought together Umphrey’s McGee manager Vince Iwinski, Warren Haynes manager Stef Scamardo and members of Madison House Presents and Red Light Management. The group went over some of their less-successful ideas, including “Muletallica” and String Cheese Incident + “Taj Mahal & Oates,” along with some of their successes, like Patrick Jordan helping Ween reunite and Iwinski’s Holidaze destination events with Umphrey’s. Iwinski also provided some closing advice to the audience, saying, “Be nice to everybody, because you never know when they’re gonna come back later in your career. Don’t burn any bridges”

Jake Szufnarowski, Mike Martinovich, Vince Iwinski, Patrick Jordan, Stef Scamardo, Mike Luba

The conference came to a close with an intimate and candid conversation between legendary promoter Ron Delsener and Brooklyn Bowl co-founder Peter Shapiro, moderated by longtime Rolling Stone rock journalist David Fricke, who introduced the duo by saying, “Right here I have live music in New York at its best.” Delsener spoke frankly about the industry and the job of promoter, saying, “First of all, you have to be an ass-kisser” and “It’s called beggars and caterers—we beg for the act, then we have to cater to them.” He also talked about his start in the industry and how difficult it is, as promoters lose much more money with failures than they gain with successes, but showed an obvious love for the business of bringing music and high-quality events to the fans. Shapiro, for his part, discussed his own start in the industry when he took over New York’s famed Wetlands venue in the ‘90s, all the way to his acquiring of the Capitol Theatre, his founding of Brooklyn Bowl and his orchestrating of the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well reunions in 2015. He also expressed his reverence for Delsener, saying how much he respects that he still sees the elder promoter at shows around the city. “I go to a show, and Ron’s there,” he said. “That’s it. That’s what you want.”

In all, the event was a successful meeting of music industry professionals that provided ample insight into various aspect of the business, told from the mouths of those who have decades and decades of experience among them, surely setting the basis for further yearly conferences in the future.

David Fricke, Ron Delsener, Peter Shapiro