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A day in the life ... of a concert promoter

This guy's not only with the band, he also lines up the gig that brings them to a stage near you.

David Werlin
Concert Promoter
Great Northeast Productions Inc., Boston and Townsend, Mass.
I couldn't rattle it out of him, but he did tell me, "The concert promoter is the last one to get paid. Six times out of ten, you make money. You've just got to keep rolling the dice."

So you think that you could be a concert promoter. Maybe you throw a mean keg party that would make Woodstock look like a Promise Keepers' convention.

Well, you may want to consider the work it takes to pull off a huge concert event before you hang up your Dunkin' Donuts apron.

Before Metallica shoots off their pyrotechnics, or Ozzy Osborne bites his first bat, there are months of planning and negotiating that go into a successful concert. Enter the concert promoter. A promoter does more than hobnob with the stars; they're the person responsible for planning a concert or tour.

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I'll have my people call your people

Concert promoters spend their days booking talent, negotiating with the band's management and arranging different venues to create a tour schedule. This wrangling ensures that the venue is not only available, but also willing and able to accommodate the fans.

Another part of the job is hammering out the cost of holding the event. The promoter watches the bottom line, which keeps your concert tickets within your budget.

In addition, a promoter must factor in the liability of having an act perform on the stage, because ultimately, they become the den mother of the event. Any liability falls into his lap. For example, after the first Woodstock event in 1969, the show's promoters were specifically named in about 80 lawsuits. Avoiding that kind of disaster will keep anyone busy.

One such promoter that stays busy is David Werlin, president of Great Northeast Productions, in Boston and Townsend, Mass. Werlin reorganized a Phish show that was slated to be held in South Florida one New Year's Eve. According to Werlin, a local sheriff squelched the plans because he thinks Phish fans present the threat of terrorist activity.

After Barney Fife laid down the law, Werlin went crazy trying to find a venue to welcome this Grateful Dead-type band and its audience. Solving this kind of snafu is nothing new to Werlin, who has been in this business for 25 years. The stress of an ill-fated show is just another part of his job.

Don't worry. Be happy.

Werlin's client list reads like a Who's Who of music. Besides promoting Phish, Werlin has worked with Bonnie Raitt, k.d. lang, Harry Connick Jr., Bobby McFerrin, The Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge, Bob Dylan, and the Dave Matthews Band.

By planning a successful show or tour, Werlin not only produces a great show for the fans, but he also makes sure the band is happy with his work. Such success keeps the bands returning for his help with future tours.

"At the end of the day, this is a business about relationships. If you have a good history with the artists, they'll be good to you," says Werlin.

How good will those artists be to him come time to pay the bills? While Werlin wouldn't give me a specific figure to answer this delicate question, he did say in passing that he has some cool "toys" at home, and that acquiring them takes money.

However, his income may be less than bigger promotion companies such as SFX Entertainment in New York City. He says they have become more aggressive in earning profits. These companies have started to buy concert venues to have more control over the production and cost of their shows. "Then they [the big promotion companies] can justify charging more money [for the tickets], and they are not sharing that with the talent," Werlin adds.

Werlin refuses to jump on the materialistic bandwagon, though. Werlin is not in the business for the money. "I care about music. I won't promote bands that have no social value. Music should be inspiring."

For example, his clients, Phish, fit his criteria for a great band. "They are breaking new ground. A Phish show is extremely unique. You'll rarely find a band that cares so much for their fans, to make sure they have a safe and enjoyable experience," he saythens.

For Werlin, promoting the bands is an equally enjoyable experience. He first got into this business when he was in high school. "I was in a band for fun, and then we decided to get serious. We went to college and dropped out after a year to do the band thing, like the Beatles," he says.

The can-do spirit

But his stint as a rock star was short-lived. "They [the band] kicked me out, but since I was the one getting us our bookings, they asked me to stay and be their booking agent. At the time, there was no one taking care of local bands. Eventually people were asking me if I could get larger groups like the J. Giles Band and Aerosmith, and I realized that I can do this," Werlin says.

With that, Great Northeast Productions was born. After several years of working for himself, he now has a staff to which he delegates most of the work. "They are talented and dedicated. I am now in a role where I empower people to bring in unique [bands]," he says.

Delegation to his "dedicated and talented staff" affords him his favorite part of his business. "I get to sleep in. I never have to deal with rush hour traffic," he quips.

Werlin says that working as a concert promoter is not something that can necessarily be learned. Though there are programs at UCLA and Berkeley that are offering degrees in music management and promotion, he says "you have to know music and have a good intuition."

-- Posted: July 1, 1999


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