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Legacy Stars and New Ideas Fill Nashville’s IEBA Conference

Venues Today, October 07, 2010

REPORTING FROM NASHVILLE — Agents, promoters and building managers descended on Nashville earlier this week for the 40th annual International Entertainment Buyers Association Conference at the Hilton Hotel.

Several of the biggest names in country were on hand to honor a number of long-time entertainment professionals inducted into the IEBA Hall of Fame. Martina McBride helped induct talent agent Ron Baird, who retired from Creative Artists Agency in 2004. Baird opened the agency’s Nashville headquarters in 1991. Singer Lee Ann Womack inducted her longtime manager Erv Woolsey, who also managed the career of George Strait. Finally, superstar Kenny Chesney made a surprise appearance, honoring his manager Dale Morris.

Performers inducted into this year’s IEBA Hall of Fame include famed fiddler Charlie Daniels, who delivered the conference’s closing keynote address, along with Dick Clark and the late Johnny Cash and Lawrence Welk.

Also making an appearance at this year’s conference was actor and singer Kevin Costner, who played a four-song set with his band Modern West during the Agency Group showcase. Singer Amy Grant performed during the CAA showcase, while Gloria Gaynor performed during an IEBA showcase. Even Dolly Parton made a surprise appearance, stepping on stage to honor her manager Jim Morey.

The economy dominated discussion at this year’s conference, with ticket sales slowing and corporate sponsorship drying up. While many agents who participated in the Agency Row networking event said they believed that the world’s top tier of artists were still able to garner big guarantees, many mid-level bands were going to have to lower their asking prices.

Jeff Howard, an agent with Agency for the Performing Arts, said he believed guarantees would start to drop because “promoters can no longer shell out the big bucks like they used to. I definitely think that you’re going to see a lot stronger back end for the artist and hopefully lower split points and realized expenses. We’re going to have to both take risks on some of these deals.”

For most venues, attendance is down, said Anthony Wozniak, agent with Buddy Lee Attractions. “Right now we’re seeing our artists have to take lower guarantees to stay on the road,” said Wozniak. “Every venue capacity, whether it’s a casino, festival or club, tickets sales are dropping off. A lot of people are going out of business or cutting their budgets down and if we want to keep an artist on the road, we need to lower their costs.”

Wozniak said he expects more artists to scale down their production, their band size, and even their tour routes to reduce expenses.

“We’re actually seeing a lot of bands perform acoustically to save money,” he said. “In many cases, they can fly out with a guitar, and maybe play with another performer as an acoustic duo and cut their guarantee by half.”

The drop in guarantees also has meant an upsurge in sponsorship deals as more artists look for ways to augment their income. But corporate partners are also looking to get more from their artists, according to William Chipps, editor for the sponsorship newsletter IEG, who moderated a panel at the conference titled “Country Music in Corporate America.”

“The days of just hoping someone will nibble on whatever you throw out there are over,” said Chipps. Brands want sponsorship deals as part of an overall strategy, and while sponsorship sales in general are down, music continues to out-perform other sectors of sponsorship. Chipps said that music sponsorships actually grew 4.1 percent in 2009, outpacing the sports category, which is still the biggest sector in advertising.
Marcie Allen from MAC Presents said working with the sponsor to correctly fund and execute sponsorship activations is just as important as the money spent to secure the sponsorship.

“And it’s all about how you spin the event,” she said. “You may have a great country music event, but the attractive angle for a sponsor may be the behind the scenes portions, or the ability to participate in a live television broadcast. The days of presenting sponsorship packages as A, B or C are over. You have to get creative and tailor sponsorship deals to meet your clients’ needs.”

And the artists who have the biggest followings on social networks are often the ones with the most value to companies. Artists with large followings online have the most success at parlaying their fans onto the Facebook sites of the companies they work with.

“I’m finding the most valuable thing we can tell clients right now is ‘Here’s an artist you can be involved with that will boost your numbers,’” Allen said. — Dave Brooks