March 27, 2004,
'The Live-Music Business Is Very Much Alive And Vibrant'
By SUSANNE AULT
Peter Grosslight has been immersed in the live-event scene for nearly three
The co-founder of Triad Artists, Grosslight has been senior VP and worldwide
head of music for the William Morris Agency since WMA acquired Triad in
From his office in Los Angeles, Grosslight oversees 63 WMA agents handling
an elite roster that includes the Eagles, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Sheryl Crow,
Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Brooks & Dunn and Simon & Garfunkel.
With Grosslight at the music helm, WMA has maintained its position as
arguably the world's most powerful talent agency—even as the competition has
grown. Among Grosslight's WMA innovations are the opening last year of a
Miami office aimed at attracting Latin music talent. Recent wins include
top-grossing tours by Simon & Garfunkel and the Eagles and such signings as
Van Halen and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Clear Channel Entertainment VP of touring Brad Wavra is steadfast in his
admiration for Grosslight. "Peter has that delicate balance of being tough,
smart and fair. That's why he's at the top of the heap," Wavra says. "When
the things [artists] ask for are unreasonable, at the risk of losing the
client, Peter will tell them the truth."
Q: Your agency held its first Grammy Awards party in February. What does
this signal to the music industry?
A: I think it adds an element to the music industry that emphasizes the fact
that, notwithstanding the woes that are commonplace in the record business,
the live-music business is very much alive and vibrant. Audiences want to go
to concerts as much or more than ever. That there's been a downturn in
record sales has nothing to do with the live experience. We wanted to
celebrate that we are a healthy industry.
Q: With touring growing in importance to a musician's career, are there new
responsibilities that agents have for their acts?
A: I think we've always had the same responsibilities. I don't think that
part has changed. I think there is probably a heightened attitude in the
minds of artists and managers that the bulk of their income in current times
is going to come from touring. I do think the agent's role, while always
important, has become even more important in the current climate.
Q: WMA has a reputation for having a strong stable of rock, hip-hop and
country acts. Is that shifting in any way?
A: We are expanding. We have a large client roster and a very large music
division. And we focus on virtually every area of music—contemporary, adult
contemporary, country, urban and Latin [among others]. For example, we are
the first agency that opened up an office in Miami. There are 35
million-plus Hispanics [in the United States], which makes this one of the
largest Spanish-language-speaking countries in the world.
Q: As major labels cut their rosters and reduce tour support, will WMA be
taking fewer risks in terms of artist development?
A: We have always been in the artist-development business. The agency's
artist-development investment is sweat equity. But we have a very large
infrastructure and overhead to book developing artists. We are losing money
at that stage. That's how we invest.
With diminishing tour support, artists are having to make compromises on the
road. Some are having a more difficult time getting on the road. But we
provide everything we can to make that possible.
Q: How will the market fare this year with the summer concert season?
A: I think it is going to be a healthy market—certainly as good as last year
and maybe better. The economy is strong enough, so there's no general
economic conditions that would indicate any negative impact on the concert
market. Every concert year depends substantially on which artists tour. Some
years are bigger than [others]. That's been my experience in nearly 30 years
of doing this.
Q: Which WMA acts will go out in 2004?
A: The Eagles; Van Halen; Luis Miguel; Korn; Snoop Dogg; 50 Cent; Simon &
Garfunkel; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Ludacris; the Roots; Cypress Hill; a Stray
Cats reunion. Whitney Houston will do a few
shows in Germany. The Pixies reunion will be very exciting.
We are [working] on developing a number of new touring properties, in
addition to Lollapalooza, which we've been involved in since my days at
Triad. One is being in business with the Marley family to put out a festival
tentatively called Marley Family Presents Roots, Rock, Reggae. Smokin'
Grooves may go out again this year. We're also working on a children's
package. We're attempting to develop properties that can be annual events.
Q: Even though Lollapalooza had dates canceled last year, it is returning
this summer. Any key changes planned for 2004?
A: There are a couple of key changes in the works, and we are trying to do
some things that are very unique. [At press time, Grosslight said details
would be announced soon.]
Q: Who is on your wish list to come out on tour?
A: We would love OutKast to tour. That's No. 1 on the wish list. But I can't
speculate on the possibility of them touring.
Q: High ticket prices are an issue within the industry. Promoters blame high
artist guarantees. With agents working to determine guarantees, what do you
think of pricing these days?
A: It's unfair for promoters to say that the only reason for high ticket
prices are high guarantees. The general cost of producing a major tour on
the road and the local cost of producing and promoting a show on the
promoter side also contribute to the escalation of ticket prices. And
there's also surcharges and Ticketmaster convenience fees. All these things
have combined to raise ticket prices to record levels.
It is true that we are very sensitive to ticket prices when we are making
deals. We certainly advise our clients as to what we think is the
appropriate ticket price in the marketplace. Let's put it this way: Auction
outlets like eBay are selling tickets [worth] a quarter of a billion
dollars. For the best tickets, consumers are willing to pay substantially
over face value.
So, ticket price isn't the issue—supply and demand is the issue. The artists
get a bad rap for being the only cause of high ticket prices when they are
only part of the equation.
Q: What other key challenges does the touring industry face?
A: To present a first-class show by a major artist, the actual production
costs have skyrocketed. That makes it more difficult to put out as many
shows with a first-class production at relatively reasonable ticket prices.
Q: Will that problem be resolved anytime soon?
A: I think it's just a fact of life. Technology increases, and artists want
to have the latest and greatest, and the audience wants to see the latest
and greatest. And the latest and greatest is expensive. It's hard to avoid
those rising costs. I do think that we'll see more varying ticket scaling
from front to the back of the house. I think possibly that the best tickets
will be sold for higher than they currently are, and the less attractive
tickets will be less than they are.
Q: What changes do you see in the WMA music department during the next five
A: I see an expansion in the role of the agent and the agency into
additional areas of service to our clients. I see growth and diversification
as the mantra for the future. For example, perhaps managing data on artists'
behalf, helping manage their Web sites.
We're a focal point for a lot of their activities. We have a bigger
infrastructure than management companies, so most management companies have
to go outside their company to obtain additional services artists require.
So why not just come to your agency?
Peter Grosslight: Career Highlights
2003: Resurrects Lollapalooza tour with founder Perry Farrell.
2003: Opens William Morris Agency office in Miami to focus on Latin music
1994: WMA act the Eagles kick off landmark reunion tour.
1992: Named senior VP and worldwide head of music for WMA, following WMA's
acquisition of Triad Artists.
1984: Launches Triad Artists with several partners following merger of
Regency Artists and two other companies.
1975: Teams with former law partner Richard Rosenberg to create Regency
Artists, which becomes one of the largest personal-appearance agencies in
the United States.
19 MARCH 2004