Solve the Issue Not the Problem


When I signed up for my HMO health care provider, I chose a D.O. over a M.D. In my research, I found that while both save lives and treat illness everyday the D.O. focuses on the “whole” person while the M.D. seeks to address the disease itself.

Much like my medical provider preferences, I have found that the holistic approach to management may be best in the live entertainment field as well. This is due to two primary issues inherent in our industry. The first is there are numerous stakeholders with varying agendas working on a single project (the show). Many times these needs clash with one another. For instance, the artist may feel like the bass is overpowering her vocals, making it difficult for her to reach specific notes. However, the sound guy argues that the current bass mix is paramount to the best F.O.H. sound. Off stage, the waitstaff feels the overall volume is too loud, making it difficult for them to take drink orders while customers in one section feel as though they are struggling to hear the boom stick. Each one of these stakeholders has different needs regarding this one element of the show – the bass EQ. Making matters worse, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are additional sound frequencies that must be addressed along with lighting, seating, ticket pricing, bar service, security, and parking among others, resulting in a litany of stakeholders’ needs that must be balanced.

Contributing further to the need for a holistic approach is the subjective (and at times emotional attachment) these stakeholders place on the final product. This is especially true when there is a lack of communication between senior leadership and line-level employees. For example, a bartender may enjoy the light jazz he has always had in his room because he is a fan of Coltrane and it allows him to chat with his guests more freely. However, management has decided to attract a different demographic and in doing so has shifted entertainment to hip-hop, a style of music the jazz-loving bartender feels is nothing more than noise.

These two underlying issues in the venue space make reactionary approaches to problem solving oftentimes inefficient and short lived. This is because the quick-reflex tactic will likely address the problem, but only appease one stakeholder group, leaving the other factions feeling alienated. This alienation is only exasperated by their emotional attachment to the product, which can increase the probability that (given the chance) they will work outside the box to return to the environment they once deemed as satisfactory. This could lead to them challenging the new initiative a number of ways such as poor performance, internal gossip, and negative appeals to customers – all of which can ruin the guest experience and put the organization’s mission, strategy, and profitability in jeopardy.

While management will never have 100% buy-in from such a diverse and emotionally charged group of stakeholders, they can mitigate this risk by simply stepping back and analyzing the issue from a holistic approach much like a D.O. would do. For example, a few months ago there was a huge problem with volume at a venue I manage. Waitstaff in a particular location couldn’t hear their customers, so they demanded that the volume be turned down. The sound technicians obliged immediately and brought down the overhead speakers that made up the house. However, the volume was never low enough for the waitstaff who continued to complain and thus the cycle continued until there was nearly no sound in the house. The reactionary approach to the problem was not working and a result was needed. The technicians and myself decided to step back and walk the room. We stood by the bartenders who were having trouble hearing their customers and traced the problem to the position of the artist’s monitors. We then spoke with the artists, who informed us that they relied on the house system to hear their vocals and when it got lowered they needed to make-up the difference via their monitors, so they would turn them up. Stepping back, speaking with all stakeholders involved, and walking the room revealed that the reactionary problem solving approach of arbitrarily lowering the volume was actually contributing to a louder environment and making the problem worse. Instead, we followed a holistic approach, which led to true results that helped appease all involved and moved the program forward.

The take-a-way from this should be that it never hurts to slow down, step-back, and seek out the root of a problem. Most of the time it will only take a minute and a simple fix is all that is needed. However, the few minutes it takes to analyze the problem offers a host of benefits. As mentioned, it will provide keen insight into a potentially larger issue that will only re-occur or get worse if not properly addressed. In addition, there are numerous indirect benefits to the holistic problem solving approach. For example, it will force you to speak with and (more importantly) listen to your line-level employees. The benefits of listening to your troops on the ground are tremendous. They know your customers (probably better than you), have a unique view of the day-to-day operations, and can offer suggestions to better the guest experience, work environment, and profitability. After you are done listening, you can explain your plans to address the issue with them. They will see this as a sign of respect, which may help them buy into your ideas and act more patient as your plans unfold.

While this post is focused on my experience in the entertainment industry, the concept of tackling problems holistically can be carried over to many organizations. Give it a shot and let me know the outcome in your business model.


Photo Credit: Gavin Schaefer from Flickr.  

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Mariachi Trailblazers – Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles


I celebrated Mexican Independence Day (Grito de Dolores) as I do most other holidays – putting on a show. This one was special, because it featured America’s first all female mariachi group Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles.

To say this performance was great would be an understatement. Their intonation was flawless, their musicianship stellar, and harmonies angelic. I would argue this quality hasn’t come cheap. As the first in a male dominated musical style, I am sure these ladies have had to overcome huge odds. I would wager many have wanted them to fail and their performances have been criticized much more harshly than their masculino counterparts. Yet, they have endured, overcome, and continue to inspire through the power of music. When you listen to them perform, you hear and feel that strength only a woman can possess and if you work in the industry, it is one of those performances that will remind you that music is much more than entertainment.

Muchas gracias Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles.

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Herd Mentality in Entertainment

Regardless if we want to believe it or not, at our very core humans are animals. As such, there are primitive psychological behaviors that influence many of the things we do – even if we don’t notice that we are doing them. One of these rituals is the need to follow the herd.

At its core, herd mentality is a survival instinct ingrained in our DNA. According to Pat Thomas, general curator at the Bronx Zoo. Over the course of our evolution, we have been taught that individual members of a herd should relate and act in a similar fashion so they do not stand out and appear different from other members of the group. Why? Because, in the wild if a member of the herd acts too much out of the norm, they are often singled out by a predator and do not survive.

Over the course of human evolution, this survival instinct has become lodged in our brains. Dr. Gregory Berns, Professor of Neuroeconomics and Director of the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University, informs us that those fear receptors are located in a very specific spot called the amygdala, which is comprised of the brain stem and cerebellum. Some still call this the old mammalian brain and not only is this place responsible for that fear of being eaten by a predator, it is also accountable for our emotions, long-term memory, connects events with feelings and controls hormones and body temperature.

So, why is this entertainment manager spending his time explaining biology and evolution? What does this all have to do with booking entertainment?

Let’s put the pieces together.

First, the ingrained concept of pack protection that is inherent in all of our mammalian brains causes us to seek out crowds of people whenever we are in a public environment. It is something we do naturally and often without even noticing it. It works like this. A potential consumer walks by the room and sees it is jammed with people. Subconsciously the receptors in their mammalian brain begin to fire, kicking in long-term memories and coded DNA from the evolution of our species, which tells them they would be safer within the pack, so they enter.

Many will argue that sold out shows are the result of numerous causations such as marketing spend, notoriety of the performer or club, day of the week, etc. These are correct assumptions. However, marketing teams and management often cease their efforts once the show has begun. This is ill-advised, because it is likely that they will achieve greater success if they continue to strategically manage the room once doors are open in an attempt to first achieve, what I call, the adoption tipping point and then work to avoid (another one of my terms) the exodus tipping point.

The adoption tipping point is when the room begins to build at an exponential number. If you have ever worked in a live environment you will notice that a 200 plus person venue will not grow with only ten fans in attendance. However, once twenty, thirty, forty or more arrive the adoption cycle approaches a steeper upward slope. Studies by Rick Nauert PhD and his team at the University of Leeds, discovered that it takes a minority of just five percent to influence a crowd’s direction and the remaining 95% follow, without realizing it. In my years as both an entertainer and manager, I have witnessed this phenomenon. For instance, I have watched the attendance of a 253-person club jump nearly 370% in less than 15 minutes due to the adoption-tipping point being initiated.

Unfortunately, the same biological influencers can also work against club attendance. If enough of the crowd is removed, evolution causes the brain to re-investigate the environment and if it is deemed unsafe (too few in the pack) it will initiate the fight or flight reflex. As you guessed it, just like adoption a tipping point will be reached and exponential losses will occur.

These biological influencers suggest that, with the assistance of proper marketing and promotion, management should seek to ensure that (1) the adoption tipping point is achieved as soon as possible; and (2) the room should constantly be monitored and adjusted to avoid the exodus tipping point. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  1. Start with a stacked deck. Entertainers should have a following of at least 10% of room capacity or the venue should provide ways to increase the initial attendance to at least 10% out of the gate. Offering free entry, free drinks, etc. can achieve this. Females are of particular importance, because they initiate the mating behaviors of males, which are also controlled by the mammalian brain. However, many venues think that just letting ladies in for free the whole night will work. This isn’t necessarily true. It is best to find ways to stack the deck early and reach the adoption tipping point as soon as possible. However, it serves a club little purpose to let in females for free if they are approaching capacity. Instead, they should hold off on free entry until the exodus tipping point is being approached and then open up the floodgates to prevent the negative tipping point from being hit. Letting ladies in for free is important – but it should be done strategically throughout the night.
  1. The venue should never be dead. This is extremely true in live entertainment situations where bands take breaks. Keep the lights on, keep the instruments lit, keep the music pumping and keep people on the dance floor. If there are televisions in the club, do not turn them on, especially to sports or the news. Do everything you can to remind people that the show will continue.  Breaks should never be used to calm the room down as that would inevitably cause you to reach the exodus tipping point.
  1. Breaks should never be longer than fifteen minutes. To be honest, in today’s market breaks shouldn’t exist. I know a lot of entertainers will send me hate mail on this one, but it is the truth. There should be a DJ or other entertainment happening if the group must take a rest. Consumer behavior has radically changed to the point that even thirty-second television commercials are becoming obsolete. The modern consumer’s attention span has diminished by unprecedented amounts. What makes you think they will hang out for fifteen minutes while the band is on break? My on-site research estimates that for every two to five minutes after a fifteen-minute lull in entertainment attendance drops by nearly 10% and follows a strong negative compounding effect from that point onward. Keep the energy up. Do a raffle, have the bartenders do tricks, give out free drinks, monitor band breaks religiously, or find entertainment that doesn’t need to rest for so long.
  1. Be fluid. Someone needs to take control of the room and monitor behavior for an approaching exodus tipping point. They must have the authority to make changes “on the fly” including promotions, getting the entertainment back on stage, or letting in females for free without resistance that will cause the exodus point to be hit.

In closing, there are no hard numbers for an adoption or exodus tipping point. Entertainment is largely qualitative in nature and numerous outside forces impact the speed at which a room reaches capacity and when the process reverses. It is up to the club owners and management to gauge their venues. I would encourage many to start off by logging hourly headcounts. Don’t worry about bar sales or other metrics at this point. Create a baseline over the course of at least a month or longer. If you utilize numerous styles of entertainment, you should have multiple metrics for each act. Numbers are an amazing tool and they will reveal very valuable information including when the room generally approaches capacity, when the trend reverses, and which styles of entertainment help you approach a full house quicker and which hold crowds longer. From there, make adjustments and then re-analyze your results. Continue this process as you adjust for demographic parings relative to bar sales and marketing.

For all of you “marketing whizzes” out there, remember true marketing is not just about pretty posters and television commercials. It is part quantitative science that involves understanding numbers and how to adjust your business environment to move those metrics into a positive relationship. In entertainment management, a large portion of this analysis is done during the show.


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Strategic Analysis of Live Nation Entertainment

The following paper was the final deliverable for my MBA strategic management course at Southern New Hampshire University. The purpose was to analyze the macro-level strategy of an organization of our choice.  For ten weeks, we explored how that strategy impacted virtually every aspect of the firm from their financials to their competitive position and H&R practices. I chose to put my experience as a booking agent and undergraduate degree in music business to good use and analyzed the top promoter in the world – Live Nation Entertainment.

My analysis of Live Nation Entertainment revealed an organization executing a well-crafted strategy to vertically integrate the unique value chain elements of their main concert business. As a result, the company has catapulted past their competition in the U.S. concert and event promotion market as well as the global online ticketing industry where they hold commanding market shares in each. Despite this success, there is much more opportunity for the company to grow…almost an entire planet.  I touch upon management’s future plans throughout the paper and offer my own insight as well.

Jeremy Larochelle’s Strategic Analysis of Live Nation Entertainment


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