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SXSW: How Alternative Radio Works In Concert With the Live Entertainment Business

At South By Southwest on Friday, an animated panel of music business veterans took on the topic: “Is Alternative Radio in the Concert or Radio Business?” The discussion revolved around alt-rock radio concerts, and whether the market has become so saturated with stations looking to book next-big-thing acts and tried-and-true headliners on their multi-band bills that they’re competing with “actual” festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella.

Is it harder than ever before to stand out from a multitude of similar bills? The answer seemed to be yes, especially when asked for examples of stations whose event booking strategy stands out as different than the traditional festival-style show. That question was met with resounding silence on stage.

Still, panelists Mike Marquis (an agent at Paradigm), Jim Fox (VP of Programming at Entercom), Danny Bush (SVP Radio Promotion at Red Music) and moderator John Manly (Assistant Program Director, Viacom) had plenty of thoughts to offer about alt-rock, which can feel sort of like the tail chasing the dog. Is radio amplifying songs and drawing fans to shows — or vice versa?

Among the most interesting topics covered was about radius clauses that prevent the radio shows from booking bands already scheduled to perform at large fests like Coachella. Fox told a story of trying to book bands within the 90-day radius clause of Wisconsin’s Summerfest — and being denied, even though his event was just two days from the end of the contract. Bush contrasted this with a duality of events in Las Vegas — a radio fest and Life Is Beautiful — on the same weekend, with both selling well. “Every market’s different,” he said. “They have their own nuances.”

Marquis also discussed his client lovelytheband (pictured above), who broke through at radio last year with the huge hit “Broken.” “You have to be realistic about who the band is,” Marquis said, talking about his strategy of playing a slew of radio shows over the year as the band’s hit grew and grew. “If we’d [done the traditional style of tour], they wouldn’t be as big as they are now.”

Other bands who the panel says made the long game work are Cage the Elephant and Portugal.The Man, both of whom spent time in the trenches before breaking via radio hits. “They hung around in our world long enough,” said Fox, shouting out the bands’ unwillingness to compromise their sound in order to break though.

Not surprisingly, the panel enthusiastically espoused the idea of radio shows boosting careers, and in that sense, seemed invested in rather old-school technology. But it’s a method that works, as the conversation showed in the push-and-pull of the programmers and agents — two entities working towards the same goal with different approaches.

That said, they seemed to agree on the same thing: the long play. The key to booking the best shows without running into competition? Said Fox: “You’ve got to be looking at things earlier [in the cycle of a song and event] if you’re going to do things right.”

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