Selling Out With Dan Steinberg
When Lord Chesterfield said, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” Dan Steinberg took his advice to heart. The founder of Square Peg Concerts works around the clock, promoting live shows across the United States — totaling about 400-plus events last year.
By the time Steinberg was 16, he was producing club shows at the Mercury Café in Denver. Now, he’s moved up to putting big names on marquees, from comic Kathy Griffin and singer-songwriter Jason Mraz to country legends Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard, folk rockers Indigo Girls and Grammy–winning duo Cheech and Chong.
Steinberg’s formula for concert promotion works. Pollstar nominated him as Independent Promoter of the Year in 2003, 2010, 2012 and 2013. Here, “Steiny” reveals what makes his company different from all the others, the power of listening and why you should never start a letter to a client with “I.”
Jim McCarthy: Dan, everybody in the concert business knows you, but for those who don’t, give us some color commentary on the success you’ve had with Square Peg Concerts.
Dan Steinberg: We have a different model than the average concert promoter. We don’t focus on a certain region of the country or where we live to promote our events. However, we tend to work with the same acts over and over, focusing on and specializing on an act’s needs. I like to call this “concierge promoting.” It’s hard to be an expert on marketing all styles of arts. Therefore, we find what works well for us and try to reproduce that success in as many markets around North America as possible.
JM: In your experience, what are the two or three most important factors in a successful concert or tour?
DS: Clearly be realistic about the value of the artist in each market and try to match the supply of seats in a venue with the demand for them in any given market. Going too big will lead to wasted costs and an empty venue, which never feels good for the fans and artist. Going too small just leaves money on the table, while leaving fans in the dark who wanted to see their favorite act in a show that sold out too quickly, leaving them to find an alternative for their time and money. That’s clearly not the goal. We want to make as many fans happy, in a full venue, in a cost-effective way.
Next is production value. Our hope is to leave the fan feeling they got a solid value for their hard-earned dollar when buying a ticket, in hopes they will return to us again on the next pass through the market. Building careers focuses on customer satisfaction. We want everyone to leave with a smile on their face and a bigger fan than when they walked in.
JM: You’ve been in the concert and live entertainment business for a long time. What’s changed the most in that time? Or, what’s the biggest positive change, and if you have one, what’s the biggest new challenge that appeared in that time?
DS: Over the course of the last 20 years, my company has grown and changed with the times and the music industry. Part of that is how the public finds out about the acts. In the old days it was radio and then MTV. Now it’s mainly online, a retweet, a Facebook post, or a shared song. We’ve moved a lot of our marketing online to be part of where the public is going to find out about music. We’ve also seen ticket sales go from record stores and venue box offices to phone centers and now online as well. Everyone’s computer is a box office sitting on their desk, making availability much greater to the public. It’s a great tool as long as you’re able to find your fans in each market. With so much going on, it’s always a fear to get lost among the white noise.
JM: Do you consider yourself more of an innovator or someone who succeeds through strong fundamentals? Maybe a combination of both? And if so, describe that combination.
DS: I love the fundamentals. I’m a very hard worker. I think most people think they are as well, but I am a tad O.C.D., making it impossible for me to leave anything for later. I have to reply to all emails in my inbox and clear my desk before I’m done with work for the day, or I cannot focus on anything else. It’s a little sad at times, but it creates an amazing work ethic and has lead to solid growth in my career — so I truly preach the Lord Chesterfield saying: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
JM: If you had just one piece of advice for your fellow live entertainment and ticket marketers around the industry today, especially people just starting their careers, what would it be?
DS: “Under-promise and over-deliver.” I believe that was Michael Dell’s concept. I could be wrong, but happy clients are hard to poach. Get everything done on time, on budget and as requested, and if at all possible get it done early, under budget and perfect in the client’s mind. Everyone likes to fight, and by that I mean, people love to talk, but the power is not talking. It’s truly in listening. By this I mean, ask the client what they want, then listen to them. Let them teach you what you need to do to earn their business. No one cares what you want. Never start a letter to a client with “I.” It’s not about you. It’s always, always, ALWAYS about them, the client. Focus on them. Concert promoting is a service business. It’s my job to serve, and I’m here to do that.
I remember 20-plus years ago, I called all the agents with rock bands to introduce myself, and my pitch was simple: I call and say, “Hi, you don’t know me. You’re not going to trust me with your big names. Why would you? I have not done anything to earn your trust. But I want to, and I’m willing to, so this is what I’m asking. Sell me your next “baby act” (brand new artist just starting out), the one no one else is asking for. Let me show you what I can do. If I do my job, we can go from there. If I don’t, it didn’t cost you much. Let me earn your respect, as I’m hungry, and I want to impress you. Please let me try.”
Agents eat that up, saving their favors on the baby bands, and letting me do the heavy lifting. I still work with many of those agents on a daily basis. Never be afraid to work your ass off.