Phil Rodriguez: Reopening a “great opportunity” for new acts
As the worst year in the history of the live music business finally nears its end, IQ caught up with several industry leaders ahead of the new year, asking for their predictions for 2021, as well as the lessons they can take forward from 2020.
Here, Phil Rodriguez of Move Concerts, South America’s biggest independent promoter, speaks about the challenges that lie ahead, including the opportunities for emerging and local artists, and why cooperation will be important than ever on live music’s road to recovery…
IQ: This year has been difficult, to put it mildly, but have there been any positive aspects you are taking forward from this annus horribilis?
PR: Aside from spending more time with family… business-wise, it was a power kick in the ass that made us all look at costs, reinvent ourselves, etc. We got into the streaming business with LivePass Play and expanded our management roster.
When the “curtain opens” again, we will have more tools in our toolbox and run leaner and meaner.
How has coronavirus vaccine news changed the conversations you are having with colleagues, agents, artists, venues, etc.?
Everyone I have spoken with is more positive. The vaccine was the thing everyone was waiting for. Finally hope, and a better idea of timelines.
Livestreamed shows have shown that fans will pay to see their favourite acts remotely. How do you imagine this technology might develop when regular touring activity resumes?
The shut down of live events made the streaming business grow and become a new asset in our business. It will evolve and find its niche once live events come back – marketing, special launches, tour end (or start), streams, etc.
What advice or encouragement can you give to those who were hoping to break through in 2020, knowing that the market is going to be overcrowded with onsales when the industry gets back to work?
The upside for many artists is that they had over a year off the road to write, record, write, record. When they go out, in many cases, it will not be with just one or two singles out. It will be three-plus deep. That will help.
But be careful with dates/routings and be clever with what extra value your show offers to the punters. Is it priced right? Is the show a must-see? There will be a tsunami of tours!
“Moving forward with new routings and tours, we better be speaking with each other!”
Do you think Latin America’s return to business will be a different experience from that elsewhere?
The lockdowns in most of LatAm were very strict. Folks are inching to go out.
LatAm markets will open sooner – but with local artists. In fact, Brazil started having socially distanced concerts in Sao Paulo this month (50% of capacity up to a max of 2,000 with social distancing, seated). Rio, as of 1 November, can have up to 50% of capacity seated and socially distance, Buenos Aires has theatres opened with 30% capacity and socially distanced. Chile starts with socially distanced shows end of the month, and Uruguay never locked down and has live events at 30% of capacity. Only Peru, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Central America are still without live events.
The front end of the ‘opening’ of concerts around the world will be with local artists. A great opportunity for them to take advantage of and be front and centre.
The way various rival firms have cooperated and collaborated for the common good during the pandemic has been impressive. What hopes do you have that closer industry bonds can continue, post-Covid?
It has always been the smart thing to do. I have always felt that there is a sense of community in our business – no matter how warped we may seem at times!
We just went through a storm like never before. No one in our business was immune. No one will forget this black swan and, also, who stood solid in the storm.
Plus, moving forward with new routings, tours, etc., we better be speaking with each other!
What do you think the biggest challenges are going to be for Live 2.0, and how do you think industry leaders can best guide the business as things reopen?
Everyone will come back wanting to make up for the time lost and costs incurred. This should not cloud our decisions.
Finally, are there any bad habits the industry had that you are hoping might disappear when normality returns?
Yes, high ticket prices! We better look at ticket prices carefully.
There are more reasons than ever before: many people lost their jobs or businesses, others burned through their cash reserves, many currencies devalued during the pandemic, and there will be a lot of options for the consumer – from tours, to sports, to travel, etc. All the things most folks gave up for over a year.
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Uncertainty for promoters as Covid-19 spreads in Latam
Promoters in Latin America are facing much uncertainty as shows are shut down, curfews imposed and currency values decline due to the worsening spread of coronavirus
The first case of Covid-19 was reported in Latin America in late February, in the Brazilian city of São Paulo. The virus has now spread to many other countries in the region, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
In the region’s biggest touring markets, quarantines are in place in Argentina, Colombia and parts of Brazil. In Chile, the government has imposed a curfew between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m, with over one million residents of its capital, Santiago, put under lockdown today (26 March).
This week, the Mexican government placed a ban on all public and private gatherings of over 100 people for the next month, as the country moved into phase two of the epidemic.
“It is still way too early to gauge the full impact in the mid and long term,” says Phil Rodriguez, CEO of Move Concerts, which has offices in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru and Puerto Rico, as well as its Miami headquarters. “The first impact is that shows and festivals have been cancelled or rescheduled.”
“For now, we are rescheduling shows from September onwards assuming that is a safe bet, but this could change.”
Major festivals in Latin America affected by the virus include the Lollapalooza festival franchise, which has been rescheduled for 23 to 26 November in Argentina, 27 to 29 November in Chile and 4 to 6 December in Brazil. Estéreo Picnic, due to take place in the Colombian capital of Bogotá in March, has now moved to the start of December.
“For now, we are rescheduling shows from September onwards assuming that is a safe bet, but this could change”
Rodriguez notes that promoters’ associations in all markets have been meeting and reaching out to governments for assistance in various forms, such as “ low interest credit lines, moratorium on taxes and extensions on the time period for reimbursements on cancelled shows.”
Asked what can be expected over the next few months, Rodriguez simply replies: “I wish I knew”.
“This is a continually changing scenario that can change at any minute and has so many parts involved that any speculation is sheer conjecture,” says the Move Concerts boss. “I think we all need a few more weeks to get a better handle on the longer term picture.”
Guillermo Parra, director of international events at Ocesa, the largest promoter in Latin America, agrees that the upcoming weeks “will be crucial”.
Live Nation announced its plan to acquire a controlling stake in Ocesa Entertainment, the world’s fifth-largest promoter and the parent company of Ticketmaster Mexico, in July last year. The promoter puts around 3,100 shows a year and operates 14 venues across Mexico.
“At the moment, all gatherings have been banned – from movie theaters to concerts – until 19 April,” says Parra, “but I honestly think this will go on for longer.”
“When we wake from the virus nightmare, the economic reality will begin”
In Chile, a market which has seen heavy disruption over the past few months due to wide-spread anti-government protests, promoters are rescheduling shows to June, subject to venue availability and touring schedules, says Carlos Geniso, president of DG Medios.
On 18 March, Chilean president Sebastian Piñera declared a “state of catastrophe” for 90 days in the whole country, including a ban on gatherings in public spaces and the establishing of a quarantine and curfew. After Brazil, the country is currently one of the worst affected in the region, with 1,142 confirmed cases.
“We are trying to move as much we can to the last quarter calendar of 2020,” says Geniso, adding that the income loss for thousands of people working in the country’s live industry “will be great for a long period of time”.
The economic impact of the virus is of great concern for all in Latin America. Rodriguez states that Brazil and Colombia have been hit particularly hard by the virus, not just in terms of numbers – Brazil has reported 2,201 cases and Colombia has 378 – but rather because “the exchange rate with the dollar has skyrocketed”.
One dollar is equivalent to 5.05 Brazilian reales, up from BRL4.45 at the end of February, whereas 4,066 Colombian pesos now equal $1, increasing from COP3,460 a month ago.
In Mexico, Parra states that, between the virus and declining oil prices, “the Mexican peso has been crushed”. The Mexican currency fell to a record low against the dollar earlier this week, with $1 selling for over 25 pesos on Monday.
“When we wake from the virus nightmare, the economic reality will begin,” says Parra.
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Decade’s End: Phil Rodriguez’s 2020 predictions
As we enter the new decade, IQ caught up with leaders from the global live music business to reflect upon the development of the industry over the past ten years, as well as looking forward to what we can expect in the 2020s.
Following Wednesday’s Q&A with UTA’s Neil Warnock and yesterday’s chat with AEG’s Jay Marciano, in the hot seat today is Phil Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Move Concerts, who talks festivals, data, industry consolidation and more…
IQ: Consolidation has been a constant theme of this decade. Looking ahead, how do you see the balance between the industry’s key corporations and the remaining independent players?
PR: I believe there’s room for everyone in the food chain. Independents have to up their game and focus on whatever their particular strengths may be.
As with everything in life, one size does not fit all.
One of the great success stories of the last decade has been the growth of the festival market. In terms of format, scale and programming, how might the festival scene develop in the coming years?
Some will remain, others will fade away… and the great ones will evolve with with the times.
What, in your opinion, are the most significant developments (positive and/or negative) in the live music industry over the past ten years?
Data. The amount of data that is now available, and will certainly grow in the future, is fantastic.
Long gone are the days of calling the local record store to check on sales!
“The amount of data that is now available, and will grow in the future, is fantastic”
The growth of the live business has been impressive in the last decade and the current level of investment by financial institutions seems to indicate that they think that growth will continue. Where do you see those growth opportunities, and how do you predict this growth will compare to this decade?
International expansion and consolidation on all fronts: promotion, venues and ticketing.
To continue the growth curve the emerging international markets hold the most potential for growth.
Looking ahead, what do you perceive will be the biggest challenges for the live music sector in the 2020s?
There are so many fronts – ticketing, international expansion, and worldwide stability, both politically and economically – but the most important challenge is to keep music important and relevant to the next generations. Everything else springs from that.
What are your own personal highlights from the last decade?
The creation and growth of Move Concerts in five years – plus my daughter going to graduate school for her master’s degree!
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¡Olé! Industry experts on Latin music’s inexorable rise
Madison Square Garden, NYC’s legendary venue, has borne witness to just about everything over the years: debauchery, madness and all manner of weird and wonderful stage shows. But until J Balvin rocked up this September for an eagerly anticipated sold-out show, it had never played host to enormous, inflatable, pop-art sculptures, a squadron of puffy, bouncy mascots that looked like sentient clouds, or a singer riding across the stage on a huge yellow duck.
“¡Por la cultura!” (“for culture!”), he declared, before departing, raucous applause and calls for another encore ringing in his ears. It was yet another milestone in the reggaetonero’s meteoric rise to arenas and the top of the charts, and something of a dream for the Colombian star. But then Latin music – música urbana – is enjoying a surge in popularity all over the globe and giving birth to a new generation of superstars.
Bad Bunny, the Puerto Rican rapper, sold out MSG back in April; Rosalía, the Spanish singer who combines flamenco with pop, has taken Europe by storm. “I believe we are experiencing the best time for Latin music ever,” says Dody Sirena, a founding partner of DC Set Group, one of Brazil’s biggest promoters.
“If you look at the 2019 RIAA mid-year report, you’ll see that Latin music is continuing to grow at a double-digit pace.”
Henry Cárdenas, CEO of the Cárdenas Marketing Network and the recently crowned Billboard Latin Power Player Executive of the Year for 2019, agrees. “Latin American music is the fastest-growing genre in the world, and it has a tremendous commercial force,” he says. “We have witnessed general market artists venturing into the Latin American market, which continues to expand and pique mass appeal.”
música urbana is enjoying a surge in popularity all over the globe and giving birth to a new generation of superstars
That’s an observation echoed by Nelson Albareda, CEO of Miami-based sports and entertainment operation Loud and Live: “Latin music has quickly become the fastest-growing genre in the global market,” he says. “As it pertains to Latin America, genres such as reggaeton, cumbia, bachata and merengue dominate in major markets including Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and Venezuela.”
That mass appeal means that the genre is “more popular globally than ever before,” according to booking agent Jeremy Norkin of United Talent Agency (UTA). UTA is home to both longstanding Latin music stars such as Pitbull and Sean Paul, and break-out artists like Lali, and Norkin notes that “Latin music has gained a strong presence among multi-genre events that previously haven’t featured the genre.
“For example, Spanish-speaking talent had a significantly larger footprint at 2019’s Lollapalooza festivals in South America.”
The absolute biggest artists remain those who came to prominence during the late-nineties ‘Latin explosion’ – household names who long ago crossed over to ubiquity (think Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and Enrique Iglesias). But a new generation of musical talent is selling out arenas in Latin America and beyond while racking up staggering streaming numbers and video views; J Balvin and Bad Bunny are just the tip of the iceberg.
Ozuna, Maluma, Luis Fonsi, Becky G, Manuel Turizo and Sech are the most common names cited as representing the future.
A new generation of musical talent is selling out arenas while racking up staggering streaming numbers and video views
“They have tremendous talent,” says Cárdenas, of the latter three in particular, “and they are leading the way for a new generation of stars.”
“Ozuna, Lunay, and Rosalía” are Phil Rodríguez’s choice regarding those ready to ascend to the next level internationally. But Rodríguez, founder of Move Concerts, also notes that it can vary from country to country; in Puerto Rico, for example, trap and reggaeton stars top the charts, while in the USA it’s a more balanced mix of urban acts.
Albareda, whose company recently agreed a deal with Rodríguez’s promoting powerhouse Move Concerts, cites Bad Bunny, J Balvin, Pitbull, Maluma, Ozuna, Daddy Yankee, Romeo Santos, Karol G, Nicky Jam, Farruko, Becky G and Natti Natasha as some of the genre’s biggest stars.
Fernando Moya, of Buenos Aires-based Ozono Producciones cites Maluma, Sebastian Yatra and Tini as his picks, but states, “Paulo Londra, Duki, Wos, Louta and other trap artists are pushing and changing the music charts, having more listeners than pop, reggaeton and Latin music.”
While Latin music has always enjoyed a certain level of popularity – Bruno Del Granado, an agent at Creative Artists Agency, points to Julio Iglesias and Gloria Estefan’s Miami Sound Machine “blowing the door wide open globally” in the 70s and 80s – Cárdenas points to successes by “the Godfathers, Daddy Yankee and Nicky Jam” as opening the floodgates more recently.
“I believe we are experiencing the best time for Latin music ever”
Bad Bunny, too. “You could say he is a poster child for the movement,” says Cárdenas.
And then there’s ‘Despacito’ (which, ironically, translates to “slowly” in English). The song, released in January 2017, was a phenomenon; the official video now has over 6.4 billion views on YouTube, and over 2bn streams on Spotify. It was also the first track primarily sung in a language other than English to pass the billion mark, a game changer that signified a paradigm shift – no longer was an English-language version a necessity for artists looking for hits abroad.
‘Despacito’ also underscored a change in consumer and listening habits. In this brave new world, streams outrank sales and power a model where singles, or a constant flow of new material, matter way more than the narrative and commercial build-up around traditional album campaigns.
Much like in the world of rap and hip-hop, Latin music’s rise has mirrored that of technology and social media, platforms that today’s savvy stars know how to game to their advantage.
“YouTube is the platform of choice for consumers of Latin music,” argues Michel Vega, CEO and founder of Magnus Media, a global management and representative company. “If you look at the top 25 videos globally on any given week, a disproportionate amount will be Latin music.”
“Look at Nicky Jam or Bad Bunny – before, it would have taken an artist years to gain that kind of traction”
Moya believes that radio’s local language format historically held back Latin repertoire. “Digital platforms changed the market, as the audience started to choose what to listening and not just what the radio plays,” he says.
“Before, radio [stations] only played music in English and the native language of the country – they did not experiment with new varieties or styles of music or artists of different countries, regions or cultures. Now, there are no limits. On the contrary, consumers are able to reach random options based on their tastes and have the possibility to discover new types of music, new artist, whatever they want.”
Cárdenas agrees. “Streaming has changed the landscape of the industry for new artists, as these methods of distribution make for easier consumption for the listener. Look at Nicky Jam or Bad Bunny – before, it would have taken an artist years to gain that kind of traction.”
And, as Norkin notes, while word of mouth has always been key, “the difference is that today there are a wide variety of platforms that allow recommendations to be communicated instantaneously and on a massive scale.”
“They have more options than ever to become very popular as an independent”
Such a shift has also seen the new breed of stars ripping up the rulebook and essentially creating new norms as they go. Traditional routes to the top are not as relevant, and artists know their worth.
“Most of them are not interested in advances, 360 deals or traditional media,” says Sirena. “They have more options than ever to become very popular as an independent through distributors or with a major.”
Norkin notes that within this brave new world, some artists got their start – and continue to operate – as their own publishers, record labels and producers. “Many of them even own their own masters,” he says.
A DIY ethic is also strong. While bigger stars still tap into traditional record label systems, Del Granado believes that many new talents “are cognisant that we’re living in a DIY world and so need to do things themselves. From recording to shooting videos to handling social media, they have become masters of their domain.”
Carlomagno named Move Concerts COO
Sebastian Carlomagno, partner and managing director of Move Concerts Argentina, has been appointed chief operating officer of the Move Concerts group.
Carlomagno is a veteran of the Argentine live music industry, having served as regional commercial director of Ocesa/CIE Group from 2000, and then, as president and regional director, playing an instrumental role in the Argentine launch of Time for Fun (T4F) in 2007. He has led Move Concerts Argentina since 2014.
Phil Rodríguez, founder and managing director of Miami-headquartered Move, comments: “Sebastian has done an incredible job with our office and operations in Argentina in the three years since we opened there. Furthermore, he has made it a point to become well acquainted with all our other offices and personnel in the region, and has been instrumental in securing yearly sponsorship platforms in Peru and Puerto Rico.
“With the growth of Move Concerts, it became evident that we needed a chief operating officer familiar with all aspects of this business and cognisant of the direction in which the company was moving, as well as the opportunities therein. Sebastian is that person.”
“My objective now is to strengthen the company’s growth in the region”
In preparation for his new role, Carlomagno – who will for now remain based in Buenos Aires – has brought in Marcela Pinelli as COO of Move Concerts Argentina to assist with day-to-day operations.
“The values that Move Concerts has in its DNA, creativity, professionalism, experience and transparency, embodied in Phil Rodríguez for over 40 years as a promoter in Latin America, make it possible to quickly accomplish a new project in any country,” comments Carlomagno.
“Sustained by the professional and personal support from each Move office in the region, conscious of the company’s standing and aware of the strategic plan that has been developed, my objective now is to strengthen the company’s growth in the region. I appreciate the confidence that Phil and the directors of each country have in me as I take on this important task and new position.”
In addition its regional headquarters in the US, Move Concerts has offices in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Peru and Puerto Rico.
Move Concerts launches WMM booking agency
Move Concerts has launched a new full-service talent agency, WMM, in partnership with management/booking firm WorkShow and Brazilian entrepreneur Marcus Buaiz.
WMM will provide a full-service operation, including booking, sponsorship/branding and social media, to artists on the roster of Move, Latin America’s largest independent promoter.
It is headed up by Pepeu Correa, who explains: “We plan to improve the professionalism of a market known for its peculiar and challenging characteristics. Our roster of artists will benefit from WMM, as they’ll be able to rely on a company structure and support rarely seen before in Brazil.”
“With WMM we plan to invest in various verticals within the world of live entertainment”
Move Concerts CEO Phil Rodriguez, who recently celebrated his 40th year in the business, comments: “This is an exciting opportunity. We bring not only our extensive touring experience in South America to the table, but also, with our offices in various countries throughout the region, the possibility of assisting some of our artists to become established in these markets as well as in Brazil.”
“Live entertainment requires productive performance in several areas,” adds William Crunfli, president of Move Concerts Brazil. “With WMM we plan to invest in various verticals within the world of live entertainment.”
Move Concerts is the biggest independent promoter in Latin America. It has offices in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru and Puerto Rico, and regional headquarters in Miami.
Phil harmonic: 40 years of Phil Rodriguez
Every great career starts somewhere, and usually it’s somewhere ignominious.
With Phil Rodriguez, for 40 years the Latin American tour guide, cultural translator and problem-solver for artists from The Ramones to Guns N’ Roses to Ed Sheeran, the difference is that he freely admits it.
In his case, it was 1977 with Joe Cocker – Rodriguez’s first tour as a promoter. Problems piled up along the route: an angry Mexican promoter confiscated the band’s passports; the Brazilian sound systems, cobbled together from three suppliers, were horrendously out of phase. By his own account, Rodriguez was an innocent, barely hanging on amid the madness.
“In a hotel in Buenos Aires, I walked in on Joe’s manager – Michael Lang of Woodstock fame – talking about me on the phone, saying, ‘the kid is way out of his depth.’ The patience he had with me was incredible.”
Rodriguez’s best stories – legendary among those who consider him a friend or ally – tend to have quality ingredients: high-stakes shows in heady Latin American cities; famous rock stars enjoying rock-star “pursuits”; currency headaches, nightmarish infrastructures, dangerously prickly military regimes; and a promoter in the thick of things, grappling with it all in a continent where you get nothing on a plate.
“Unlike America, Canada, Europe, England, where there’s a minor league, we never had that in South America. So you had to learn by banging your head against the wall, busting your ass”
“The big, important thing to note,” says Rodriguez, in defense of his early mishaps, “is that, unlike America, Canada, Europe, England, where there’s a minor league – a system for you to learn your trade, do your apprenticeship – we never had that in South America. So you had to learn by banging your head against the wall, busting your ass.”
When Rodriguez came into the South American live business – “I fell ass-backwards into it,” he specifies – it was through a combination of ambition, circumstance and sheer naivety. In those days, there was barely a wall to bang your head against – just a big, wild mass of territories where British and American bands simply didn’t go.
Today, they go there in droves, though that exotic quality remains, and agents and managers queue up to sing the praises of a man who has done more than perhaps any other to pave the road from the English-language markets down to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and other key 21st century touring spots.
Ed Sheeran manager Stuart Camp says he couldn’t imagine operating in Latin America without him. Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme emails to compare Rodriguez to Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone. Others bluntly credit Rodriguez with carving out a market that didn’t exist when he arrived and now ranks as a staple of the global business.
“He literally is the pioneer in South America,” says CAA agent Chris Dalston. “He did it before everybody else did, and he is the one who stayed around longer than everyone else.”
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