LESSONS FROM THE ASPEN CONFERENCE

This year’s Aspen Live Conference was one of our best yet.  Although I can’t speak for every member of the Aspen Family, below are some bullet points of important items discussed, learned, and debated.  Please comeback with comments and ideas.

  • Overplaying – Because most artists aren’t making their money from record sales and publishing anymore, touring has become a vital part of keeping cash flowing.  The problem discussed; some of us continue to book the same acts in the same markets over and over as we watch their business fall off.  This hurts everyone…fan, promoter, and especially artists.
  • Pricing – It really was the same old debate…ticket prices and ancillary charges are too high for fans…certainly for them to take a chance on discovering something new.  The only answer is for each one of us to take responsibility for and do our best to bring prices down.
  • Posse – This is blowing up in Australia and seems like a good idea.  Instead of just letting your friends know about a show you want to see like you would on Facebook, fans actually get commissions for each ticket that they sell.  Check it out… http://www.posse.com/home/index.  We did debate how that works in terms of credibility (your friend may just be sending you this to make money), but that’s not really how the internet works.  You don’t spam your friends (although many of you do and need to stop)…and fans are passionate about “their acts”.  We should get this going in the U.S. big time!
  • Don Strasburg’s Facebook Campaigns – Most of us can agree that Don Strasburg from AEG Denver is a great, passionate promoter.  He has followers on Facebook…creates cool contests…and the fan feels like they are on the inside because of it.  He is selling tickets, but more importantly building a community to help sell tickets for him.
  • Goldstar vs. Groupon – We were lucky enough to have 2 people from Goldstar attend Aspen this year, including the Co-CEO and founder of the company.  Some concert promoters use Goldstar and some don’t.  Both services are about discounts no doubt. I’ve received some pretty strong responses to Goldstar and whether they are good for the business.  Theatre, Sports, and Family has gotten squarely behind these services because they are selling “remnant inventory”.  Our group pointed out that it is different with most theatre, sports, and family shows since they usually play multiple dates in the same city.

 Currently, Groupon sells tickets at half the retail price and takes 50% of the sale on top, leaving the promoter with a “trickle” of revenue that doesn’t make up much.  As for those guests spending more money on ancillaries, most of my experience has been that “paper” or discounted ticketed guests actually spend less at the shows than the fan that paid full-price.  From everything we heard (and continue to see), you can really work with Goldstar.  They don’t take a 50% commission on the ticket…you can limit the number of tickets you give to them to sell (which works best prior to the on-sale)…and based on what I’ve seen recently, they even sell full-priced tickets (New Cirque show in LA)…so they can make for good marketing partners regardless. http://www.goldstar.com

 The argument to use these services…their members wouldn’t normally buy a ticket for your show.  As stated above, everyone who uses these sites is looking for a deal.  At the same time, some believe that fans will find the cheapest tickets no matter what and that we are selling a ticket at half of what the guest is willing to pay.  What do you think?

  • Customer Service – As the world gets better at customer service, we seem to stay stagnate.  Employees at our shows are not usually well-informed or trained properly.  In many cases this lack of information gives guests the opposite effect as the desired intent by management.  We need to spend more money and time in training everyone who touches the consumer.  When you go to a Disney Theme Park, every cast member can give you directions to anything.  Try asking one of your parking attendants or security people how to get somewhere and see what happens. 
  • Four Square – The jury seems to be out on whether this is a good tool for live entertainment and music or not.  If there was a consensus it was that like everything else in life, using Four Square is a case-by-case.  It may work for some and not others.
  • Filters / One Place To Go – There is still room and a need for filters to spread the word about live shows and music in general.  Fans and potential fans need one place to go (like a Google) where they can find all information.  Marc Geiger and company had this concept long ago with ArtistDirect.  It can suck sometimes to be too far ahead (as Marc and Don seemed to be) of the curve before everyone has caught-up.  Personally, my finger points to the labels here and their need to own the artist’s sites.  Eventually there will be one place to go…currently it seems to be iTunes although you can’t buy tickets…yet.
  • Marketing Materials – Well, if we are going to overplay our talent, let’s at least show them a new look.  Steve Kelly from Bill Young Productions talked about showing (in TV and Web) or talking about (radio and print) the new stage, something amazing the fan will experience, etc, versus the same old – same old.  U2 is doing this with the 360 Tour on their website…and as a fan; I couldn’t wait to see what the stage was going to look like.  We need to look into this much harder.
  • Quality Is A Problem – Again talked about forever, but with the live business now meaning so much to an artist’s livelihood, actually being good is more important than ever.  Everyone agrees there should be fewer releases…but we are talking about actually having fewer artists put out more material.  Remember when your favorite group would release two-albums a year?
  • Facebook Ads Sell Tickets – Almost everyone in Aspen could agree that their most cost-effective, measurable, and fun way to market shows is through Facebook.  Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or whatever, the important thing is to have a conversation versus a monologue with fans.
  • Reward Programs – Reward programs work for airlines, movie theatres, supermarkets, drugstores, theme parks, banks and credit cards, hotels, rental cars, gasoline, retailers of every kind, even pot dispensaries…why are we still not onboard with this?  Start a program today.  You could bring in some of the good people who have just been laid-off that know this stuff…Like Piper Taylor formerly of Live Nation as an example. 
  • Back To Singles Business – Lefsetz pointed out that we are back to a singles business.  Young music consumers are not out getting the full album; they want the song they like or their friends like.  Knowing this is the case, how do we take advantage of this fact? 
  • Jennie from Guerilla Marketing – Many from our group are fans of Jennie from Guerilla Marketing.  One quote was “she really understands the artist”. 
  • Mix Match Music – http://www.mixmatchmusic.com.  This is a fun website that actually serves several purposes…but really it’s about fan engagement and interaction.
  • Mobile Roadie – You want to create a mobile app for your artist, show, whatever… http://mobileroadie.com/  
  • Bandzoogle – Want to build a website for your artist, show, convention, etc, and don’t have a lot of money…not too internet savvy?  My good friend Jon Topper (manager of moe.) turned me onto this site.  If I can build a website with them, anyone can.
  • Search Engine Optimization – Not sure where we ended-up on this subject as there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix.  If a fan types an artist’s name into a search engine, they will most likely find Stub-Hub and sites like it on the top of the list…and I’m not talking about the ads at the top that are put in a different color to show they are ads, I’m talking about the regular searches.  A fan, promoter or ticketing company site is usually a few spots down.  What happens is that some fans that don’t know better will Google phrases like “Rolling Stones Tickets”…see that they are $1000 a piece and turn away.  They never realize that just a few spots down there are tickets for sale at face value.  No answer came out of our meetings, but that doesn’t mean we should drop the issue. 
  • Taylor Swift On-Sales – A question was asked on why Taylor Swift put her shows on-sale for next summer in 2010 (they all sold-out btw).  The answer everyone came up with is that they wanted to strike while the iron is hot.  If they waited, many of Taylor’s fans may fall-off…this way they stay engaged. 
  • Business with Friends – This is really what the Aspen Conference is all about.  It is much easier, smarter and quicker to do business with people who you know, trust and care about than to just serve up your goods to the highest bidder.  In sales they always say that you don’t make money on your first sale…it is about repeat business.  Why would it be different in your business?

 Our dates are set for Aspen Live 2011 so mark your calendars now.  Our dates are December 8-11.  Stay tuned for more information.

Happy New Year!

Jim

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