Gary James' Interview With Promoter

Dan Steinberg

He's the man who's always takin' care of business. He's the business part of show business. He is the promoter. Dan Steinberg is the owner of Square Peg Concerts.

Q - Dan, here you are in Auburn, Washington, but you promote concerts all over the U.S.

A - Yes.

Q - How does that work? Do you personally attend each show you promote?

A - I've got a pretty good staff. Shows are divided out, two different guys. We try to put the same guy with the same act as much as possible.

Q - You're talking about somebody from your office?

A - Yeah. We've got different production guys that just do day of show production that rep shows.

Q - When you promote a show in another city, and I realize the business has changed considerably in the last few years, do you have to cut that city's promoter in on the action?

A - We're not a concierge promoter, so we stick with the act more than worry about the market. So we work with the same acts over and over again.

Q - So, it's no longer territorial?

A - It used to be, back in the day and there was a big thing about it, but it's really changed. There's so many acts. There's so many genres.

Q - And so, you don't get any promoter saying "Hey Dan, we wanted to promote such and such an artist at that venue"?

A - Well, in some cases that happens, but if there's a relationship in place, maybe we'll cut the local guy in. There has to be a reason, a relationship. Usually there's a reason we're coming in to do the act. It may be someone locally hadn't stepped up. In most cases we've got a short act with the manager and artist. They don't want to shop it out to 25 different people. They just want to get it done.

Q - With the high gas prices and demands of the artist's management and agent, how are you able to make any money?

A - Well, that's a statement in general. I don't think that's how business is necessarily done among friends. I think you need to keep your friends in business and you tend to protect them, which is why we do a lot of shows with the same people over and over again. So, I'd be the first person to say I don't think that's the way business should be done. I think you look to maximize revenue when you're dealing with people in general. When you see a promoter once every 5 years, when you route back through their market, maybe. In our particular case, agents and artists see us a lot more and they're more apt to protect us. So, I would have to say that's not the world we live in. I think we have more of an alignment with our acts, our managers and agents.

Q - Do you promote acts you personally like or doesn't it matter?

A - We do get through to a number of acts we do like, and I'm a fan of that. Do I like all the acts we promote? No, not really. I'd be lying to tell you I do. It's just not the case. But that's certainly the hope.

Q - You were producing club shows when you were 16 years old?

A - Yeah.

Q - At The Mercury Cafe.

A - Yeah. We like The Mercury.

Q - Did this place serve alcoholic beverages?

A - It did, but it was a restaurant.

Q - That's how you got around it!

A - Yeah. That was certainly something there. It was a different world when it comes to that stuff. When we did shows in 21 and over venues, when I was under-age, you had to be really careful about that, that I wasn't drinking or taking advantage of that.

Q - Did anyone ever ask if you were with a parent or guardian?

A - No, I was bringing revenues into venues. I was there to work. It wasn't really about that. This was 20 years ago.

Q - You got a job straight out of high school as a talent buyer?

A - I went to college for a little while. It wasn't for me.

Q - You must have had quite an impressive resume to land a job like that.

A - My resume is actually pretty simplistic because I've basically been doing one thing my whole life. I went back to school for a little while to get my Associate's and then to work on a Masters Degree, but I never got finished. I've done several thousand shows. I do one thing and I do it very well, but I do the same thing over and over again.

Q - Your first job in the entertainment industry was a runner. What's a "runner"?

A - It's basically a gopher, something you pick up for the day. You're sent on little errands. Whatever the act needs for the day. Since they don't live there, they don't know the area and they can't necessarily leave the venue. So it's like "Hey, we need drumsticks" or "Hey, we need our laundry dropped off at Fluff 'n' Fold" or "Hey, we feel like doughnuts and Chinese food."

Q - So, you're really learning the business from the ground up.

A - That's the hope. You really learn anything from prowling and the small stuff and build as you go.

Q - Did you have to get a lot of money together to start your promotion business?

A - I've never had a lot of money, so it was really working with the acts within my means at the time.

Q - Back in 1982, promoter Cedric Kushner told me you would need $250,000 to get started and be prepared to lose $100,000 before it turns around.

A - I would say that's not necessarily true. There are borders of entry to any business and ours is certainly harder than most because everybody wants to touch a little fame. It's like everybody wants to be involved with the cool shit. So there's a lot of that. At the end of the day it's just like any other job. The 80 / 20 rule applies. So the more you do, the better it gets. I've never been afraid of work. I like volume. The more you do, the more doors get opened. I've always kept this base of 15 to 25 shows a month going, which is a lot of repeat business, but it's also constantly opening up new doors. The first time working with an artist always adds to the volume. And you hope for repeat business. So, the idea is everybody comes back and leaves happy and brings back more shows. That's where we make our money, on repeat business. If you can make money on one, why wouldn't you want to do ten?

Q - What is the 80 / 20 rule you just spoke about?

A - In any industry, the 80 / 20 rule seems to be the basis of everything. 80% of the business is done by the top 20% of the companies. So look at Hollywood. 20% of the actors probably make 80% of the money. That leaves the other 80% on the industry with 20% of the revenue coming through. The money is made at the top, so only the big guys survive. At the end of the day, if you're only buying for one market, in this internet day, and you're working with a certain amount of things and you don't have another sideline like booze or food or anything else, you leave a whole lot of revenue on the table and we're trying to maximize our revenue sources.

Q - Do you have people in every city you promote in to tell you what the economic situation is?

A - We have the internet and the power of the internet is ridiculous. Anything you want to know. You can figure out what the size of the market is, what the average annual income of the market is. All of these things are important when comparing against other markets. So, if I want to compare Washington, D.C. to Cleveland, it's probably much safer than comparing it to Salt Lake City.

Q - I guess what I'm trying to get at is, how do you know what acts will go over in what venue in what city?

A - It's a business like everything else. You build profit / loss outlines on everything and you take an educated guess. The more you do, the better it is. Every time a cake baker makes a cake, they don't sit down and write down a profit / loss statement. From the beginning, they use their formats. I'm making a cherry cake. This is the recipe I always use for cherry cakes. If they need to double the size, they probably know how to do that in their head. They get used to it. They're good at it. Some things just happen over time.

Q - Is the position of promoter something that you can use as a stepping stone to something else? Maybe personal management?

A - No, absolutely not. I'm doing what I want to do with my life. I'm not interested in babysitting artist's careers. If I don't get along with an artist, it's a short term thing. They don't have to come back. But our business is based on long term, repeat business. At the same time, if something doesn't click, you don't have to fire each other. You just don't confirm any more dates. But nobody makes money on doing something once. It's like Burger King doesn't make any money selling one burger. They're hoping to sell you several thousand burgers throughout the course of your life. I hope to sell every fan multiple tickets. I want them to have the best possible experience at my concerts. I'm hoping that every artist feels that I'm giving their fans the best experience as well as their vision, the best outlet I possibly can. I want them to put as much of that control into my hands as possible, and utilize my services as much as possible. So, I have no interest in long-term partnerships with the concept of managing or producing. These are long term headaches built for better men than me that have people skills that want to be hands on in creating. I want to market.

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