Promoting concerts is more than finding an open date on the calendar.
Whether it’s Elton John packing the Huntington Center or a smaller act loading into The Ark in Ann Arbor, those who promote concerts for a living say successfully booking shows is about choosing the right artist for the right venue.
When it comes to booking acts at Toledo venues like the Ottawa Tavern, Frankie’s Inner-City, and Headliners, promotion company Innovation Concerts knows what will attract the most people to each space.
Broc Curry, founder of Innovation Concerts, has been a promoter in the Toledo area for more than 25 years.
“There’s so many ups and downs,” he said. “In a way, it’s like gambling at times.”
Assessing an artist’s popularity in the market, the number of people interested in attending a show, and how much money an agent wants for an act are all factors in deciding to book nationally known bands.
“It’s really just a math game,” said Cody Sizemore, director of operations for Innovation Concerts, which focuses on lesser-known bands and smaller venues.
“Finding [bands] when they’re small, believing in them, working hard for them, and watching them grow, that’s the whole key,” Sizemore said. “Then, in return, we can grow with them.”
The history of rock tours is filled with artists making unusual demands — called riders — before they take the stage, from the fabled Van Halen insistence that brown M&M’s be removed from the group’s candy bowls to Beyonce’s request for cayenne-seasoned chicken legs, Adele’s insistence on the “best quality” red wine, Katy Perry asking for freeze-dried strawberries, and Kanye West asking for a barber’s chair. These are the exception rather than the rule, area promoters said. These days, they say less is more for most artists.
“Everyone is different. If there was a reason why [artists or bands] request M&M’s and want all of the brown pieces out, the reason they would do that was just to see if people were paying attention. Some might want a bouquet of flowers, certain kinds of furniture or maybe a vegetarian or vegan meal. It’s whatever makes them feel comfortable.”
— Troy Roeske, Huntington Center
“When we had Guided By Voices for the Main Street Music Festival a few years ago, all they wanted was booze. It was intense. It was more booze than they should have been able to consume. They wanted eight cases of Miller Light, two bottles of Jose Cuervo, and a bottle of Grey Goose. There were only five or six of them.
“They didn’t care about anything; that’s all they wanted. We went and got their stuff. Literally there were three Miller Lights left by the end of the night. They drank all of that booze between the band. I kept those three beers in my fridge because after that show they broke up. Guided By Voices fans worship that band. I was like, ‘I’ll wait a couple of years and sell them on eBay.’ They’re back together now.”
— Broc Curry, Innovation Concerts
“The whole rider thing is a bit oversold. A band will say we need $200 for catering and $200 for hotels. The weirdest thing was [hip-hop artist] Mac Miller wanted a certain type of body wash titled Swag. There’s nothing like, ‘I want M&M’s and I want all the M&M’s scratched off.’ They just send the rider because they can.”
— Cody Sizemore, Innovation Concerts
“[Last year] John Mellencamp came in with an Airstream trailer. He didn’t come into the building. They were specific where it had to be parked. We had to provide them with an aerial photograph of the building and showed him where the Airstream would be parked, what was around it, and how close it had to be to the back door.”
“For Theresa Caputo (Long Island Medium), the theater has to be set at 62 degrees and her dressing room can’t be any warmer than 68 degrees. That’s pretty cold. You just cater to those things.”
— Stephen Hyman, Stranahan Theater
“The old black M&M’s thing is over. It’s pretty cut and dried. Anything I read is pretty in the normal. There’s nothing that’s not in the norm anymore. My biggest pet peeve is production.”
— John Nittolo, JNP Concerts
Innovation Concerts isn’t the only promoter that looks to book shows for up-and-coming artists.
Anya Siglin, program director for The Ark, said that venue often brings in developing artists before their support outgrows the 400-seat house. For larger acts, she said other venues such as the Michigan Theater and Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan would be a better fit.
Siglin said the modest-sized Ark offers an intimate setting that “feels like a living room.”
“We take pride in the sound quality, and you can sit and listen,” she said. “It’s a different feel for artists to have people listening to them as opposed to a venue where they talk [a lot]. It’s different music and a different audience.”
Siglin said she works with agents and attends conferences to educate herself on which acts to bring.
She also studies other markets when it comes to ticket pricing. If she notices venues are selling tickets for a certain amount, she will continue that pattern.
“You get to learn your audience and how much you think people will pay for something,” she said. “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Troy Roeske, marketing manager for Toledo’s Huntington Center, said he looks to an artist’s popularity and production costs, factors that allow the venue to stay within budget and prevent high costs when pricing tickets.
“Would we love to have a Metallica show or a Lady Gaga show? Absolutely. Would it sell out? Absolutely. But we would lose money because of seating,” he said of the 7,200-seat venue. “We’re trying to find the right balance to see who is a popular artist [we can bring in].”
The Huntington Center is a rental facility owned by Lucas County and managed by SMG, a Pennsylvania-based venue management company. That means tickets usually include a service charge and facility fee. These factors allow the venue to make a profit even when the base ticket price would simply cover the cost of the act.
“It’s all about pricing and popularity,” Roeske said. “Figuring out what to do when we bring [the artist or band] in and not get too expensive on the tickets.”
Routing schedules are also taken into consideration. Innovation Concerts’ director of operations said, depending on the distance between shows, the mileage to visit Toledo may be prohibitive.
Occasionally, venue size also plays a factor.
“We’re fans of putting a large band in a small venue and packing it out, making it super intimate for people and making it a lot of fun,” Sizemore said. “Sometimes bands and agents aren’t up for that and say the venue is too small. Sometimes they want too much money, and we can’t afford it.”
Other concert promoters pride themselves on giving concertgoers the ultimate event experience.
John Nittolo of JNP Concerts, who books shows for Centennial Terrace’s Summer Concert Series and The Blade’s Northwest Ohio Rib Off, said he networks with other promoters to learn which acts are available for bookings at various venues.
“I have good eyes and ears out there,” Nittolo said. He has promoted concerts for 31 years and booked about 6,000 shows. “I take it very seriously.”
Most promoters are in the business of making money, not simply satisfying the needs of entertainers and fans. Nittolo said the four-hour event window is the time to maximize profits on concessions, bartenders, and merchandise sales.
“That’s the important part of the business, and we need to make [fans] have a nice concert experience,” he said. “It starts as soon as they walk in the door.”
Stephen Hyman, executive director of the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., said establishing a relationship with larger concert promoters works to his advantage.
“Unless you are really good at determining what’s hot and what’s not, you’d be a fool not to rely on a local, regional, or national promoter to be your partner,” he said. Another source for information is the concert tour trade publication Pollstar, which tracks artists and concert sales and helps bookers get a bead on an act’s popularity.
“Those folks have their hand on the heartbeat of the entertainment industry,” he said.
While every artist or band has a guaranteed performance fee, Hyman said a venue could make as much as $30,000 from concession sales.
He said the shows booked at the Stranahan Theater also benefit from not charging people to park, as well as not having a ticket tax.
“It allows us to immediately have an advantage over another zip code,” he said.
Location matters, especially in the Toledo area, which competes for tour dates against larger cities Detroit, Cleveland, and Columbus.
Innovation Concerts’ Sizemore said when Toledo is put up against places like Detroit and Cleveland, the Glass City is considered as “the passing-through city.”
If a band is performing in Cleveland and does not have a show in Detroit or Columbus, a Toledo show could potentially pull people from larger cities to one of Innovation’s three venues.
Here, new bands have a chance to make a name for themselves and the convenience of being within driving distance of other major urban areas, Sizemore said.
“We really want to have people in Toledo think, ‘Oh you can be in Toledo and make something of yourself,’ whether that’s being in a band or starting a business.”
Contact Geoff Burns at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.
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