The Second Annual Relix Live Music Conference Provides Insight and Opportunity

May 15, 2018

Expanding to two full days of panels and discussions, the Relix Live Music Conference returned to the Brooklyn Bowl on May 8 and 9. The event provided a forum for music industry professionals of all stripes to commingle and share strategies. As Rachel Baron – Chief Personnel Officer and Senior Vice President of Dayglo Ventures – stated in her opening remarks, “While we all work at different companies, we hope that you feel like you’re on the same team for the next two days… get comfortable, be interactive and don’t be afraid to meet new people and strike up a conversation.”

The RLMC’s first panel dealt with the ever-growing market of livestreaming, and featured Ted Kartzman of YouTube and Google Play Music, David Onigman of JamBase, Jake Saxbe of TourGigs and Brad Serling of Moderator Jonathan Healey challenged the audience to reconsider previously held perceptions of livestreaming as a niche market. “The phrase streaming is the lexicon now,” he explained.

The livestreaming panel was followed by a discussion about music festivals, and as industry representatives talked about the ins and outs of throwing a large-scale event, Kevin Browning of Umphrey’s McGee and Nothing Too Fancy summed out what many believe as the core tenant to the festival scene. “At the end of the day it’s about gathering people together for a sense of community,” he said. Kunj Shah of Live For Live Music added that “There aren’t too many festivals, there are too many of the same festival,” echoing the panel’s agreement that there’s a demand for more curated, boutique live music experiences. Ginny Suss, who was a producer of the Women’s March on Washington, also pointed out the need for diversity in all facets of the festival sphere. “Even behind the curtain, when there are more people of color and women in power, you’ll see it reflected in the programming,” she said.

After speeches by Cameron Smith (HUB Entertainment Insurance), Amy Striem (The Rock and Roll Playhouse) and Brendan Sheehan (Mr. B’s Festival Needs), the afternoon kicked off with “Restoring A Rock Palace — Bringing Back The Cap,” a panel examining the the revival and resurgence of Port Chester, NY’s Capitol Theatre.

Moderated by Rita Houston of WFUV, the panel was a freeform discussion among speakers Marc Allan (Jerry Garcia Family), Tom Bailey (The Capitol Theatre), Anthony Makes (Live Nation), Stefanie May (The Capitol Theatre) and Cap owner Peter Shapiro. Shapiro recounted the early days of restoring the Cap, explaining how the venue’s rounded ceilings inspired its now-famous lighting design. “From the beginning I saw the opportunity to combine visual projections and make a music venue a planetarium,” he recalled. Makes – the current President of Live Nation – later asserted that “The reason that most shows sell out at the Cap is people love going there and bands love playing there.”

A panel on Talent Buying followed. At one point Darren Pfeiffer of Madison Square Garden surveyed the industry’s changing landscape, telling the audience the key is “having creative conversations and not waiting for the phone to ring.” In the world of talent buying, you have to be proactive.

Representatives from the band Portugal. The Man then took the stage, to discuss the skyrocketing success of the band’s latest LP Woodstock. Nick Harvey of Atlantic Records, Matt Hickey of High Road Touring and P.TM manager Rich Holtzman all dissected the strategies of a band on the rise. As Hickey pointed out, oftentimes professionalism and kindness go a long way. “Universally, every promoter loves [Portugal. The Man] and wants them to succeed,” he said.

The emphasis on the vitality of live music was carried over into the discussion of musical entrepreneurship. “The bottom line of the music industry is live,” the War on Drugs and Grizzly Bear manager Ami Spishock offered. “No matter what’s popular at the moment hip-hop or pop, these indie rock bands are still doing great because there’s bodies showing up.” Spishock also reflected on the changing nature of the business by asking, “Are there ladies in the audience?” and saluted the fact that “there are many of us…I’m a woman who owns a business and most of the employees are women.” The panel was bookended by a discussion of the Jammy Awards, co-created by moderator Dean Budnick and panelist Peter Shapiro, who acknowledged the steady contributions of photographer Danny Clinch and production head Dan Parise (who later founded Diversified Production Services). Clinch considered the span of his career and offered insight on remaining active and responsive given an ever-changing environment: “It’s not about if it’s easier or if it’s harder. It’s about if you have the hustle,” he asserted.

Day one then drew to a compelling close with an interview between famed rock journalist David Fricke and musical renaissance man Don Was. Barefoot, wrapped in a scarf and rocking a wide-brimmed hat, Was talked about his work as both a musician and a producer, telling Fricke, “My style of production is to work with artists who I have tremendous respect for it. And the fun of it is helping them hear what’s playing in their head and help them realize it.” Following a segue about Was’ roots in the Detroit music scene, he answered an audience question about producing Gregg Allman’s final record Southern Blood. “It’s tough for me to play that album, and emotionally overwrought,” Was explained. “What I can tell you is Gregg was the living embodiment of everything that should be a rock and roll star… he was the shit, man. He was the real deal. But he was also one of the sweetest guys I ever met.”

By the time Fricke and Was wrapped their conversation, the RLMC’s first happy hour was in full effect. Attendees ate, drank and bowled until Leftover Salmon took the stage to play some tunes from their newest album Something Higher. Afterwards, Andy Frasco and the UN led the venue-wide We B-E-E Spelling fundraiser, a comedy-game show fusion with plenty of music to spare. All money raised went to benefit HeadCount.

Needless to say, after such a lively and boisterous evening, the RLMC attendees were a bit sluggish upon rolling into day two, but once the first panel started the audience was active and engaged. Authenticity and trust were the key themes the day’s first panel “Sponsorships: Fostering Cultural Connections.” 

“We’re always looking to what’s next, the next trend, what’s going to make things easier,” Liz Norris of ACTIVIST Artist Management asserted.

That theme of foresight applied to the subsequent “Parks & Rec” panel, which delved into the challenges of using public, outdoor spaces for live music. “You’re trying to create an environment, a unique voice. Think about the space and what’s naturally there, how you can enhance it and make it special,” Jack Walsh of the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival told the audience.

After enlightening talks by Scott Owens of DoStuff Media and Jon Bahr of CD Baby as well as Allen Cook and Jeremy Rollinson of TourTech, it was time for lunch with attendees enjoying some of the Brooklyn Bowl’s famous Blue Ribbon fried chicken.

One of the conference’s most talked about moments came during the activism panel, featuring Jay Curley and Brodie O’Brien of Ben & Jerry’s, Beth Montouri Rowles of Phish Inc./Waterwheel Foundation and Andy Bernstein of HeadCount. Not only did each representative explore the impact of their causes, and champion each other’s work, but Bernstein announced an exciting new partnership between HeadCount and Celestial Seasonings. to Offer Free Phish and Grateful Dead-Themed Tea Blends on Summer Tour. This is what makes voting fun,” Bernstein said afterwards.. “Anyone who comes to our booth to register to vote or sign up for election alerts will receive something really cool and collectable.” For the tea’s packaging, Bernstein also noted that HeadCount teamed up with noted poster artists Jim Pollock and AJ Masthay.

The two following panels, on agenting and managing, painted a detailed picture of the business savvy required in the music business, both of which featured an array of perspectives and viewpoints. CID Entertainment’s Dan Berkowitz led the spirited managers’ roundtable which featured Bob Weir manager Matt Busch along with Dave Frey (LOCKN’ Music Festival / Silent Partner Management), Andy Mendelsohn (Vector Management), Nadia Prescher (Madison House, Inc) and Rich Schaefer (LoyalT). Then Executive Vice President of New York Live Nation, Jason Miller, guided the agent discussion and elicited a range of views from Lynn Cingari (Paradigm Talent Agency), Alex Crothers (Higher Ground Presents), Mike Greisch (Paradigm Talent Agency) and Hank Sacks (Partisan Arts).

This was followed by the day’s final event: a case study on Superfly, the innovative and ever-growing production company behind Bonnaroo, Outside Lands and a number of other premiere events. Co-founders Kerry Black, Rick Farman, Jonathan Mayers chatted with Relix editor Mike Greenhaus about their origins in New Orleans music scene and their current strategy of booking classic, iconic and of-the-moment acts to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

“We’re all [working] in live entertainment,” Farman said to the audience. “There’s a lot of potential to apply that skillset beyond music… people are looking for real world, meaningful experiences.”

And as the RLMC’s final happy hour commenced, scores of music professionals were able to reflect on the past 48 hours. Indeed, everyone from industry heavy-hitters to wide-eyed novices were able to share in the communal experience of The Relix Live Music Conference; it provided priceless insight and fostered a collective urge to make the live music scene even better.