About

ABOUT SELLING OUT

I’ve got this ticket framed and stuck on the wall of my office. I didn’t sell it or buy it; it’s not from the Springsteen show I saw in high school, or The Book of Mormon on Broadway, or Celtics vs. Lakers in the NBA Finals.

It’s made of bronze; it’s 2,000 years old, and, if you’d bought it in Rome the day it was sold, you could have gone to the Circus Maximus and seen the chariot races. If you look at it closely, you can still make out a lot of details: the horses, the driver, the wheels. I keep it where I can see it because it’s a reminder that those of us who are in the live entertainment business — whether in theater, sports, music, comedy, performing arts or whatever — are in an ancient business. Older than every country on earth; older than most major religions; older than just about every human technology.

Long before my Roman ancestors spent hard-earned denarii to see the chariot-racing equivalent of Lebron James going for the title, people wanted to go somewhere, be with other people and see something special. Perhaps it started with the first cave dweller who could tell funny, spellbinding or thrilling stories, and who the rest of the cave people rewarded with extra slabs of mammoth meat. And even though we’re not trading prehistoric steak anymore, live entertainment moves us just as much as it did then. And that brings us to today.

We’re launching this site, Selling Out, as a resource, tool and meeting place for everybody whose job is to create, market or manage live entertainment. I’m your host, and I’ll write some things, but we’ll also have guest contributors, and, hopefully, you’ll participate too. If we do this right, we’ll all learn from each other.

Those of us in this business have an immense blessing: We’ve got the best product in all of entertainment. Think of entertainment as a pyramid, with the least interesting, cheapest but most easily accessible things at the bottom. Watching Daft Punk on YouTube, for example, is free, easy, kinda fun, but not really all that great. Nobody would pay for it, but in day-to-day life, people do it a lot.

That’s the bottom. But at the top of the pyramid, Live Entertainment is the king of the mountain. This costs the most and it’s relatively hard to “consume,” but it’s also by far the best.

My evidence for this?

People pay. They pay a lot for the privilege of being somewhere that live entertainment is happening. Even a $7 pay-at-the-door concert by an unknown musician, or a $10 small theater show, or a Tuesday night comedy showcase earn money from every person who comes through the door — at a rate envied by people in the fields of recorded music or video streaming. And when you get to the best, most valuable events … there’s almost no limit to what people will pay. In between these extremes is a vast, healthy ecosystem of content in many genres being produced in greater variety and quality — and in more places — than ever before.

Not only will people pay for live entertainment, but people actually care about it. Get someone started on the Springsteen show they went to, the day they saw the Lakers beat the Celtics for the championship or how many times they’ve seen Rent. They go crazy, bubbling over to tell you about it, until you probably wish you hadn’t asked. We all have to spend a lot of time in our lives on things that are hard to get excited about, but live entertainment doesn’t have that problem. By nature, our business is exciting.

But we’re in a funny moment right now. We’re blessed to be at the top of the pyramid, but we must do better. Live entertainment has its own disadvantages. It’s relatively inconvenient compared to playing Angry Birds on your phone; it’s expensive to produce and deliver; it happens in places outside the consumer’s home and only at specific times.

Our mission, as professionals in the production and marketing of live entertainment, can be expressed pretty simply: sell out. Connect with lots and lots of people, over and over again, and get them into the venue. But that’s not all. Once we get them there, we have to dazzle and delight them — give them that unforgettable thrill that comes from witnessing something special.

Sell out, so you can create more and more stuff for audiences to see, so you can sell that stuff out, too.

If that’s your job, and you want to do it better, you have found a place where our goal is to connect you to people and ideas that can help you do that: sell out. Sell everything you’ve got, so you can make more, so you can sell that out too.

This one may not be made of bronze, but I was looking at an old ticket of mine the other day. It was my ticket for KOOZA by Cirque Du Soleil a few years ago on the beach in Santa Monica. Two or three hours of pure fun, the show turned adults into kids throughout the audience. People looked up with wonder and awe and laughed out loud with astonishment and delight. But not just that. They looked at the people on stage and, by extension, everyone who had brought the show to life, and said, “I want to be more like that.” A little braver, a little more creative, a little more colorful and a little more fun.

That beautiful printed ticket will have long turned into dust, so no one will be looking at it in a frame on their office wall in 2,000 years. But what we in the world of live entertainment do today, all of us collectively, might have an impact that lasts that long. If we can bring delight and excitement to the lives of more people — and inspire that same sense of wanting to be better versions of ourselves after seeing a great performance — we can make the future.

And have a whole lot of fun in the process.