Thursday, December 10, 2009

Concert Guarantees, 1969

The rise of 1960s rock also made the record industry into a hugely lucrative business. While the record industry had always been profitable, it had been a business where many middlemen--store owners, distributors, publishers, plant operators, A& R Men--took little pieces of the profit as it went by, so that many people made a living, but it was not a place where great fortunes got made. The "Baby Boom" created a huge teenage market, and the rise of The Beatles and transistor radios insured that popular rock music became big, big business. A rare insight into the concert business comes from this LA Times Wire Service article, published in the Athens, OH Messenger on December 21, 1969. In a surprisingly informative interview, talent agent Frank Barsalona discusses late 1969 rock concert economics in explicit detail.

Talent Agencies were the means by which promoters and acts found each other, across the country and around different region. A promoter such as Bill Graham couldn't possibly know enough bands to put 3 acts in the Fillmore 52 weekends a year, so he had to Talent Agents to provide performers. Talent Agencies were structured similar to a Real Estate firm, where the agent took a piece of the performer's fee (typically around 10%). Talent Agents competed with each other and worked with each other, just as Real Estate agents did. Understanding the 60s Concert industry is greatly illuminated every time I uncover information about which bands and promoters used which agency.

Frank Barsalona of the Premier Talent Agency is one of the most important people in 1960s rock, but he is hardly known outside the business. Premier Talent was the principal conduit for booking English bands in American venues, from about 1968 onwards. Premier Talent worked with a "circuit" of now legendary venues, including Fillmores East and West, The Boston Tea Party, The Kinetic Playground in Chicago and many others. Premier provided a steady stream of terrific English bands like Fleetwood Mac, The Who and Ten Years After for the American venues. These groups started out as opening acts, but after each killer show word got around, FM airplay increased and the next time through town they were second on the bill, and then headliners, and so on. Thus Barsalona's insight into the touring market is critical since he played an essential role in creating that market.

The article begins with an overview of how the music industry has changed, and then points up the way in which music has become big business indeed
In 1959, you could [promote a show with] a group or artist with a #1 record for $350. Now groups who haven't been within 50 positions of #1 can earn $3500. Some top acts can earn more than $100,000 for an hour on the concert stage.
After observing that the Rolling Stones earned $170,000 for two shows in one night in Los Angeles (November 8, 1969 at the Forum), Barsalona goes on to give a breakdown of the highest paid performers at the end of the decade.

After imagining that The Beatles would get $100,000 a night if someone could get them to perform, somewhat more than the Rolling Stones, he goes on to break down the top acts:
Tom Jones gets $50,000 a night (and so could Bob Dylan), while Glenn Campbell is earning $35,000 each evening. Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Englebert Humperdinck and Barbara Streisand are in the $25,000 to $35,000 category, with Johnny Cash not far behind. Between $12,500 and $25,000 are Blood, Sweat & Tears, Aretha Franklin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Iron Butterfly, Janis Joplin, Dionne Warwick, the Fifth Dimension and The Who.
To my knowledge, Led Zeppelin and The Who were the only Premier Talent clients amongst this list.

The article goes on to explain that most acts receive a guarantee against a percentage of the gate, so a promoter paying $10,000 for a band with a 60% "rider" will end up paying the act $18,000 if he sells $30,000 worth of tickets. Thus if Hendrix were guaranteed $25,000 for a large show (by 1969 standards), he would surely get more if he sold out the concert. Barsalona goes on to explain, perhaps somewhat defensively, of the vast expenses for bringing a rock band to town.

Barsalona breaks down a Led Zeppelin concert at O'Keefe Center in Toronto (two shows on November 2, 1969), where $31,000 of tickets were sold, and Led Zeppelin's share was about $18,000 (60%). The band's expenses were $12,100, so Led Zeppelin ended up clearing $5,900 for the night, according to Barsalona.

The intriguing details are at the end. The band has a road manager and two roadies, plus a "driver/lifter," and a ton of stuff that is airfreighted from concert to concert. Within just a few years, a four man crew with little enough equipment to go by airfreight would be a distant memory. In 1969, however, very few bands toured with their own sound systems. Most groups had their own amplifiers and used the "House" PA for the vocals and drums. Except for a few venues such as the Fillmores, this often led to poorly balanced systems, with little in the way of monitors and scant ability to mix the sound out in the audience. I believe the Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac were the first to tour with their own systems, and it was no coincidence that the soundmen of both bands (Owsley Stanley and Dinky Dawson) were good friends.

By the early 1970s, the Grateful Dead model had become standard, as top-line bands toured with a fleet of trucks carrying sound and lights. While band members and their guitars still traveled by plane, a vast road crew drove the trucks from gig to gig. Some of the biggest tours apparently had two sound systems that could leapfrog from venue to venue. The Dead took this to its logical conclusion with the legendary "Wall Of Sound" in 1974, which I can personally testify was beyond state-of-the-art but nearly bankrupted the band. By the mid-1970s, the numbers in rock had gotten so vast that an important Talent Agent like Frank Barsalona would be a lot less likely to name the prices for the top 10 acts in the country, as concerts got larger and larger and the number of zeroes in contracts continued to increase.

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