The Flaming Lips will be playing on Tuesday, 7/20. If you are not a big fan of their music, trust me and make sure to see them live. They are without a doubt one of the most entertaining live acts touring today. It's not so much about the music as it is the spectacle of the stage.
The company who brought them to Pittsburgh is Drusky Entertainment. Brian Drusky himself was kind enough to answer some questions for us about booking bands and the business in general. For local acts trying to make it in the area, he gives some great advice that you should read.
Could you give a little background on how you got into the music promotion/booking business? From what I read you started out booking at Pitt and around town, went to work for a promotion company that eventually became Clear Channel, was laid off and then create your entertainment business…
You have it almost right I went to Pitt, but I didn’t book at Pitt. I started booking shows for a friend’s local band and also started my hand at booking college shows. Then I picked up other local bands, and then the rest is correct.
You have one person who assists you now. Is he part time? Full? What is his role in the business?
Part time, but practically full time. He assists me in booking and books some of his own stuff, he does a lot of the publicity stuff, oversees all of the internet based promotions we do, and all of the graphics work we do.
How fierce has the competition gotten with several promotion companies in the area? How is it different from past years?
No more fierce as it always has been. You have 7 or 8 entities all trying for the shows in the market place, it’s about being smart and keeping good relationships going and you can succeed.
With regards to booking at locations (Trib Center, Homestead, etc), how does the mgt decide to work with you compared to another promoter? Were you interviewed? Or is this more based on connections?
I have worked with these people in the past on other types of shows and mostly about my connections and me being an honest hard working promoter is how I work all of my business.
What are the challenges of booking shows in the Pittsburgh area?
Pittsburgh is not a New York or LA or Chicago or Philly (meaning, not a large major market) so sometimes you don't get shows that come here that may go to those places, and with that, also not being a major market, you also have the fact that you don't have as many people as those cities either, so you have to be careful and smart on what you book…sometimes things that are huge in those markets, might not be so big in cities like here.
What are the benefits of booking in the area?
It's a great area, with great venues, and if you are smart about what you do, you can succeed.
Is it difficult to land the larger/medium size artists because of the price they are asking? Obviously both parties want to earn a profit. Do you find the acts ask for contracts they might receive in larger markets? Is there any give when they do?
Yes, some do ask for larger guarantees that they ask for in bigger markets, but its you being good at what you do and being smart about what you book to decide yes or no on the shows. Sometimes it may be very enticing to book something, but usually if you have 2nd thoughts about it, you are usually right on not to book it.
I imagine one of the biggest signings this year was The Flaming Lips. They put on one of the most entertaining shows I have seen (even if you don’t care for them you will love them live). How did that happened?
I saw they were touring this summer, called the agent, said there was a possibility to book them, negotiated deal and then the show confirmed.
How has the landscape changed with booking acts in the past decade?
The way people listen to music has changed and how they get their music has changed also. It’s no longer that you get look at how many cd's were sold in the market and the fact that a station is spinning them X amount of times a week. So sometimes it’s hard to do good research on exactly what others are doing.
How does booking an act normally work? Does the band’s mgt contact local promoters and ask for best offers from the various companies in pgh? Or is more based on contacts or if you had work with the mgt/promoters of the band before?
It's a little of all of that actually. Sometimes if you had them before, you should get them the next time, but not always, and sometimes, the acts just put it up for bid to whomever in the marketplace and try to get the best offer.
I recently did an interview with a local act who voiced concerns about promotion companies forcing them to sell ‘x’ number of tickets to a show if they want to open for a national band. What is your requirement and what might be the other side to this?
People, bands, especially forget this is music “business”. Hence it is a business. I really try to help the locals out in the market, I am always trying to get the bands on gigs when I can, but yes, I think it is imperative for local bands to be able to move tickets for a show. My answer is 2 fold. 1) It helps me to bring the smaller bands into the market that may eventually become larger and then you have a local that brings out people to the show so people can see the smaller national band and help the main fans. 2) it shows you the difference between the serious bands and the not so serious bands, a band who can go out and move tickets and bring people to the show , shows me that they are serious about what they are doing and have he chance to make it to the next level, they understand it is a business. Almost, every national band that is out there was once a local band and learned they had to work very hard to succeed and did and it paid off for them. So if I see a band that is serious about promoting their own band then it's a good relationship that is built between my company and the band. Most of the times, I have noticed that the bands who don't want to sell tickets don't’ really get the whole idea that it is a business, and more times than not are not a band for long.
What advice would you give to a local band trying to book a show here in pgh?
Don’t start off too big too soon. (meaning don't say you can bring 100 people to a club for your own show and 10 people show up) play a smaller show in a smaller venue and work your way up from there. The more honest you are with yourself and the people who book shows, you can succeed in the market. If you are dishonest just to get gigs, you won’t get gigs for long.
If you were starting a promotion company today compared to when you started, how much startup money is required?
I will say this, if you don't have money to back you up in case there are loses, you wont last very long, you do have to know going into this, you wont always make money on every show.
I imagine in a city like Pittsburgh (smaller market) that the margin of turning a profit can be tight. Do you find this to be the case? And given the economy within the past couple of years has it been more difficult?
Yes on both cases.
What was the most difficult band to deal with and what happened (you of course don’t have to mention by name)?
Not really one band, but sometimes bands just have unrealistic ideas on their draw or what they want to get things done, sometimes you just have to negotiate ad make limits to make sure bands aren’t being excessive.
What is the strangest request you have received on a rider?
No air conditioning in the club during the middle of the summer.
Is there a band or mgt team you won’t work with again? What happened?
No, I will usually work with anyone within reason.