Gary James' Interview With Concert Promoter
Joe Fletcher is a musician turned promoter. His company, Joe Fletcher Presents, based in New England, produces over 100 'live' music events per year in Colorado, Oregon, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine and Florida.
Joe Fletcher Presents is currently ranked the number 41 concert promoter in the world by Pollstar Magazine (December 2004 issue) averaging over 300,000 tickets sold annually.
Some of the artists Joe Fletcher Presents have promoted include: Motley Crue, Rascal Flatts, B.B. King, Hilary Duff, Kelly Clarkson, Korn, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 50 Cent, Eminem, Le Ann Rimes, Black Eyed Peas, Jimmy Cliff, Tori Amos, Snoop Dogg, Ludicris, Clay Aiken, Alison Krauss, Ani Di Franco and on and on and on.
Q - Joe, you're not only a promoter, you're a manager as well. Are there enough hours in a day to do what you have to do?
A - We're extremely busy, no question about it. On the management side, there's never enough hours in the day. There's always more you can do.
Q - Were you a manager first, before you started promoting concerts?
A - You know, I started promoting concerts when I was in high school and did a little bit in college. Really after college is when I got into management. I did a few concerts and got into management and doing the concerts full time came later, like in 1990, 1991.
Q - And who were you managing?
A - When I first started out I was managing a couple of guys basically after college. I went to Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. I had a couple of friends, a guy named Romero Madena and another singer / songwriter, Steve Kawalchuk. We all moved out to Los Angeles together from Massachusetts. When I got out there, I realized that I probably was a little bit better at the business side of things than the music side of things. So, they asked me to help them book gigs and do the business for them. Steve Kawalchuk, I got the first deal for at Atlantic Records. Ahmet Ertegun had signed him. He was a Jazz singer. But really it was working with those young artists in Los Angeles that I started.
Q - So, you were a musician first?
A - Yeah.
Q - Were you part of a group or a solo act?
A - You know, I always played with different groups in college. We had several different bands.
Q - You've lived all over - New York, London and L.A., yet you chose to locate your business in New Hampshire. How come?
A - That's a good question. Mainly because it's a beautiful spot to be. Really when I made the move was in the early 90s. It was at a time where technologically it didn't matter where you were, the internet coming in. I grew up in New York. If you lived in New York for any number of years, you realize you get out of there as soon as you can 'cause it'll kill you. So, me living in New Hampshire is like being on vacation all the time. It's just such a beautiful spot to be.
Q - You produce concerts in Colorado, Oregon, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine and Florida. I remember in the old days a promoter would pretty much promote concerts in one area only. Has that all changed too?
A - Well, you know I don't know that it's all changed. I think promoters still typically have a region. Even with Live Nation buying up a lot of big promoters, you still have those individual offices overseeing their respective territories, but with people like AEG and Live Nation doing national tours, there's no reason why promoters can't go into any market they want to. Eighty-five per cent of our business is still New England. We do a ton of shows in New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and then we'll do the occasional one in New York...Connecticut. When we've had an opportunity we've dipped into Florida, Oregon, Washington state. All kinds of places. It just really depends on what the opportunity is.
Q - Promoter Cedric Kushner told me back in 1982, that when he started out in the 1960s, he started with $500. He said in 1982, you would need $250,000 and be prepared to lose $100,000 before things turn around. I can't even begin to imagine how much money it would take today to get a concert promotion business off the ground. How much money did you have to start with?
A - I started with about $1.00 in my pocket in 1991. That's all I had.
Q - I could become a promoter!
A - You could, but I would advise against it. It's tough these days with gas prices and the economy's not that great. It's tough.
Q - Don't you have to have some kind of "seed" money to get started? Talent agencies demand up-front money from a new promoter for that artist, don't they?
A - Yeah, honestly I did not have that. We did a show. We made some money. We did a bigger show. We made some money. We just sort of earned our money. We didn't start out with anything. We didn't have any investors. I was coming out at a time in my life when I simply didn't have any money. I had finished up my college degree and really kind of fell into it by luck by friends asking me to do a couple of shows. We happened to make some money and we put it in the bank. We did a bigger show and it kind of grew from there.
Q - Who offered you the opportunity to promote the bigger shows? Was it the talent agencies?
A - Yeah. It always comes down to the agents and managers. When we did a show with an artist like Shawn Colvin and it did well, that manager said hey, I've got this other artist. That agent said why don't you take a shot with another artist we have. We started working with Alison Krauss when she was first starting out. They said New Hampshire went well, why don't you try Maine. That went well and they said why don't you try Rhode Island. So, it's really just doing a good job and it helped us spread to get more shows and bigger artists.
Q - How did you do with those first shows around the University of New Hampshire? Was that tough?
A - Yeah. The first small shows that I did were tough definitely. Every show we did taught us something different about production, sound, lights, security, ticketing. Every time we did a show we learned a little bit. Eventually it got us to a point where if we did an arena show or we did a big festival, it wasn't that hard anymore 'cause we'd already taken our lumps.
Q - Between artist's demands and the talent agencies, your profit margin has to be pretty slim. Can you still make a buck to make it all worthwhile for you?
A - I think it's getting harder and harder. There's sort of a disconnect between what you see on CNN and what you hear the President say about how good the economy is. The average American, when they go to the gas pump and it's costing them $60 to fill up their car when it used to cost them $30, people are feeling the pinch in their pocketbooks. People are nervous, and because they're nervous they're husbanding their cash, they're staying close to home and they're not blowing money on things they consider extravagant. A concert ticket is kind of a frill. It's not something you have to do. You have to buy milk. You have to feed your kids. They don't have to buy a concert ticket. I think the concert business is suffering because of that.
Q - What areas of the country are you doing well in?
A - We're doing well in New Hampshire, Amherst, Massachusetts. Our concerts at the University of Massachusetts have all done well. We do pretty well in Portland, Maine. In our backyard we do pretty well, but a lot of that has to do with really knowing the expenses inside out. When you leave your home turf, one of the problems is that you don't have the experience to know all of the little ways expenses can creep up and hurt you. When you've done 100 shows in one venue, you pretty much know there are no surprises. It definitely helps to work in the venues that we have experience in.
Q - You're the number 41 concert promoter in the world?
A - Yeah. At the end of 2005 we were number 50. After the first quarter of 2006, we were number 33. Mid-year report that just came out, we're ranked at number 59. Their number varies. But we've been in the Top 50 the last three years.
Q - Who's number one?
A - Live Nation, who used to be Clear Channel. Live Nation is number one. AEG is number two. House Of Blues is number three. And, Live Nation just bought House Of Blues, so they just keep getting bigger and bigger.
Q - What are you working on for the future?
A - Oh, we are very busy working on a lot of new projects, international bookings. We're working on our management roster. Rachel Davis, one of the artists we manage, is doing very well. We're working on some new festival concepts that we're just about to unveil. We're very optimistic. Our business is good. There's plenty of opportunity. I do hope the economy turns about a little bit. I hope that gas prices go down. Just look at the real estate market. There's such a glut out there. Nobody's buying the high-end homes. Again, I think the consumer is a little bit nervous right now, but, it's hurting ticket sales in general.