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Pollstar Live! 2019: Ray Waddell on topping a “mind-blowing” 2018

Pollstar Live!, the largest live music industry conference in the US, returns to Los Angeles next week, welcoming thousands of delegates to the Beverly Hilton hotel for three days of discussion, networking and deal-making.

Kicking off with the fifth Production Live! on Monday 11 February, Pollstar! Live 2019 is set to be the conference’s biggest year yet, with guest speakers including the Messina Touring Group’s Louis Messina, Live Nation’s Arthur Fogel, Paradigm’s Marty Diamond, KLG/Warped Tour’s Kevin Lyman, WME’s Tony Goldring, Live Nation’s John Reid and C3 Presents’ Leca Guimarães, as well as a recently announced keynote featuring Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl in conversation with Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino.

The 30th Pollstar Awards, meanwhile, take place on Wednesday 13 February, recognising the year’s biggest tours and most talented promoters, agents, managers and production staff who put them together.

Ahead of the event, IQ caught up with Ray Waddell, president of Pollstar parent Oak View Group’s Media & Conferences division, to find out what to expect from Pollstar Live! 2019…


IQ: How important was it for you to come out with your strongest conference line-up to date for this year’s anniversary event?
RW: Last year was the first Pollstar Live! since Oak View Group acquired Pollstar, so it was very important to us to come out of the gate with a mind-blowing conference. We feel like we did that to a large degree, with Garth Brooks, Eddy Cue, Michael Rapino, Mark Cuban, Jon Bon Jovi, Sharon Osbourne, Scooter Braun and a whole lot of other visionaries, along with plenty of those ‘in the trenches’ that make this business work, day in and day out. The immediate question before the 2018 event was even over was, ‘How are you going to top this?’.

Those attending are the ultimate judge, but this year we really tried to focus on making sure the content taps into what’s most important and relevant to those in the global touring industry, discussed by those who are influencing and making decisions. At the same time, we feel like we have plenty of big names as well, and address issues pertinent to the music industry at large. So, to answer your questions more succinctly, it was very important.

Dave Grohl and Michael Rapino… that’s quite a pairing. What was the genesis of that session, and what are you expecting from it?
The perspective of the artist is something I think music industry conferences don’t explore enough, and that’s something we’ve tried to address from day one. We were looking for an arena- or stadium-level headliner to offer the perspective of the artist, and one with lots of nuance to their career. Dave Grohl is someone I personally have been hoping to have speak since I was at Billboard, and it never worked out for whatever reason. From those initial discussions, it became about, ‘Who will interview Dave?’.

I believe there is a sort of mutual admiration there between Dave and Michael Rapino, and they both were into the idea. They see many parallels to their respective careers, and I expect this will be some of the more compelling content ever for Pollstar Live!.

How has the backing of OVG helped the business to grow, especially in terms of securing speakers and panellists? There’s collectively a lot of expertise to draw on there…
Certainly that is true, and there is no question that working with Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff and their various network of associates and professional relationships can be very helpful – they have a lot of friends! I would say they get involved on an as-needed basis. They never try to dictate the direction or topics of the content, the same as they never try to influence coverage in any of our publications. They, and everyone else at OVG, very much understand the need for the media/conferences division to be Switzerland when it comes to people and companies and coverage.

That said, there is indeed a lot of expertise to tap into across our various divisions, and being able to call Tim and Irving never works against us!

“The immediate question before the 2018 event was even over was, ‘How are you going to top this?’”

It’s a packed schedule that covers a lot of ground, but can you pick out some key trends from 2019’s programming?
We’re really happy we are able to come at the artist perspective from a lot of different angles, from a young superstar like Khalid to someone in the middle of a sterling career like Dave Grohl, to a veteran artist who has been working the road for over 50 years like the great George Clinton. We also have artists like Jim James and others offering their take on specific topics, and a panel we’ve always wanted in I’m With The Band, featuring experienced, top-shelf musicians to explore how they view this business.

Beyond that, the Louis Messina/Arthur Fogel session brings together two of the two most successful promoters in history for a candid discussion, and we dig into others of the most important discussions going on today, like inclusivity in our business, the rise of boutique festivals, tactics in mobile marketin, and what’s going on with blockchain and ticketing in general. Finally, we really made an attempt to increase our global live entertainment relevance, with the International Track in association with Midem, which tackles specific global challenges and opportunities over two days.

Personally, what are you most looking forward to seeing?
Tough question – it’s been such a long process and myself and the awesome [OVG] Media & Conferences team feel very close to all of the content. That said, I’ll have to go with ‘Two Guys Walk Into a Stadium…’ with Arthur and Louie, because I’m moderating it!

Finally, what do the next 30 years hold for Pollstar Live! and the Pollstar Awards?
We want to continue to grow our Production Live event, which this year benefitted greatly from the involvement of production guru Jake Berry, who is just an awesome, well-respected guy.

Of course, we want to keep trying to top ourselves and look at issues in different, relevant ways with the perspectives from those who are really influencing the course of this business, whether they are directly involved in live or not. This is the 30th anniversary of the Pollstar Awards, so we tried to treat that milestone with as much respect as possible while still evolving the scope of the awards, including more artists, incorporating a bit of box-office performance with the peer voting for some awards and, most of all, having some fun and recognising the great personalities and people in this business. Long term, we feel very much that the live business drives the entire music economy today – live is truly the leading barometer of fan passion around the world, now more than ever.

So we will always be trying to make sure we put on an event that rises to the level of this awesome business.

Pollstar Live! 2019 takes place at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, from 11 to 13 February.


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