As the majority of our features here at Blast focus on artist interviews and the concert experience from a live audience perspective, it’s not often that we take a peek behind the scenes at the talent there without whom some of the most memorable shows would not be possible. So we recently caught up with a good friend of ours whose contribution to the music industry spans more than three decades and asked him to shed some light on the other side of the curtain, so to speak, for us.
Among the most respected and requested independent production managers in America, Mick Treadwell’s work extends from benefit events to some of the most popular tours in the world. But while Mick’s appreciation for his work with veteran bands like Santana, Pink Floyd, and AC/DC is obvious, he also possesses a strong interest, as well as a genuine concern for the next generation of talent and the effect progressive change in the music industry will have on them and on the concert experience itself. Read on to check out his thoughts on the future of live music, life as a production manager from the ground up, and more in this in-depth exclusive.
CB: Hi Mick, how are you?
MT: I’m good, Courtney, how are you?
CB: I’m good, thanks. Let’s start with a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up?
MT: I’m from Birmingham, England, the second largest industrial city there.
CB: Was there anyone there in entertainment who inspired you or who you wanted to emulate then?
MT: Quite frankly, no, not at the beginning. I did have, in my early years, a mentor who was a friend at the furniture store where I worked for several years. He was the one who really took me into the world of being independent and, as a mentor, he taught me about the world, travel, arts and music, but nobody directly in the music business.
CB: What was it, initially, that interested you most about the music industry? Did it start out with an interest in recording and performing, or more of the behind-the-scenes work?
MT: My interest has always been in the practical side, in the production, in how it works, why we need it, whose going to build it and make it happen. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been a practical type of person. I fixed things when they were broken and that’s how it all started out.
CB: What was your first entertainment-related job?
MT: It was in the music industry and purely by accident. I owned my own company, a truck company which was very small with just two vehicles and I was hired one day by a friend of a friend to take their equipment to a music festival in the south of England and that was my real introduction to the world of music in a practical sense. The reason that it had such a profound effect on me is that it was the first festival that I’d ever been to. It turned out that they had a lot of problems with their equipment and I really didn’t understand very much about it back in those days, but I jumped in and tried to help them work out their problems. They were very appreciative and we became good friends and I ended up working with them for a couple of years.
CB: Once you started getting into the business and working regularly in it, was there anything that really surprised you about it?
MT: Yeah, the mess it was in! No, when I started in the music business, it was all very new; people were making the business as they went along. Those were the early days of sound and lights, so there were a lot of companies around with a lot of equipment, but there was a great shortage of people in the know, practical and production people. So I was kind of amazed by how all this functioned with very little experience behind it where it was in the development stage.
CB: So it just sort of came naturally to you to jump and help things move in the right direction?
MT: Yeah, absolutely.
CB: How did you come to work with Live Nation?
MT: Well, that’s a long story of traveling the world, but there was a company called Evening Star Productions out of Phoenix that had been promoting concerts for years and they were bought out by SFX which was the forerunner to Clear Channel, which then evolved into Live Nation, which was a spin-off. So I was working with Danny Zelisko, a very well known guy in the industry who I’d been working with up to that point, some fifteen years, and when they took over, it was just a matter of continuing to do the work. It is important to point out that I’m actually an independent contractor. I work for myself, but Live Nation hires me to be a production manager and promoter rep for their shows. It’s always been important to me that my work be independent.
CB: So as the industry was coming together and being built, did you find it easy forming relationships and networking at that time with other people with similar interests?
MT: Oh, absolutely, I’ve always thrived on that. I’m a person who enjoys being around people. My approach to it is that anybody I work with will enjoy working with me and they will leave at the end of that day having had one of the better experiences of their touring lives. I always enjoy the feedback from people who have had a great day working with me doing what we all love to do.
CB: Sounds like you’re really passionate about it, it’s not just another job to you?
MT: I’m all about the passion though, in saying that, although I do enjoy good music, it’s not the music itself I’m passionate about, but about the creativity of the music industry. And I have worked in every aspect of it, including recording studios and just about every element you could imagine, so my passion is very much about the practical experience. I’ll also say that I believe that a lot of the passion has been driven out of the music by Wall Street corporate companies that have moved in to make money off the industry. They have let go of so many people that have the passion that it has literally destroyed it in people, which is very, very sad. But it hasn’t died and it will thrive, because the music industry is all about passion in the people who write the music and the people who perform the music; they don’t do it just to earn a paycheck at the end of the week. There’s no facility for someone to do that, it has to come from the desire to do what they do which is passion.
CB: Definitely, and that’s obvious when you watch them play. Can you describe a typical day in the life of Mick and what it consists of?
MT: As a promoter or a production manager for a company like Live Nation, what basically happens is they’ll book a show in a city, for example, Phoenix, and they’ll look at the act and decide how big an act it is and how many people they think it will draw and from that, what the band wants to be paid, not always what they will be paid, but what they want to be paid. Then they add the expenses of the show, like stagehands, light and sound, security, the buildings, the venue, though Live Nation owns many of the venues. All of those things go into the making of the ticket prices, so if you’ve got an act that will easily sell out an outdoor amphitheater with twenty thousand seats, then they’ll figure that it’s going to cost a million dollars to have that show, which is one of the more expensive shows, and they want to make a profit, as much as they can on top of that, so they’ll divide twenty thousand into a million dollars and that’s where the ticket prices come from. Then they book the venue and the act, they put the show on sale, and they hand me the show, which becomes my responsibility. I’m always in the middle of everything that’s going on at that point. I’m the contact for everybody involved in that show, the security company, the staging company, the venue, the artist, the artist’s production manager; they all talk to me independently and collectively, then I pull all that information together. I put it into a one page sheet that says basically, ‘Ok, this is what we’re doing; we’re loading in at eight o’clock in the morning, sound check at four o’clock, the doors will open at six, the show will be at seven, it’ll end at eleven, we need a hundred stage hands, we need fifty-six security personnel, we need catering, etc.’ All of those elements of the show are mine to do, to make it work. So I make all of those calls and pass all of that information to the people who are involved and on the day of the show, I literally shouldn’t be doing anything, because if I did my job right in the advance work, then all I’m there for is to make sure it’s carried out. Of course, there are always situations or problems that can occur at any given time, so I do have to be prepared for that and be on hand to fix any problems as they come up. For example, one of the artists may get sick and I would get in touch with the doctor that we have on call to come in and treat them so that they can do the show. I also settle the show, meaning calculating all the costs and settling the show with the artist, give them their check, show them how much money was made, and so on. So that’s my busy day and once that day is over, I then send all that information of the show file back to the office and that show is done. But I’m usually working on several situations for different shows at any one given time, so I’m not just talking to one group of people, getting that done and then starting the next one. There’s always an average of about ten different shows being processed that I have to keep flowing.
CB: That’s a lot at one time, your days must really fly.
MT: Yes, and I love every moment of it. I’m standing here in Vegas in the middle of the Mandalay Bay lobby getting ready to put on a show at the arena tomorrow.
CB: Well that’s a nice place to be. So now you’re the middleman who runs the whole show. From your position in the industry, with regard to things like illegal downloads taking away from CD sales and the physical sales side of the business, do you feel that there’s that much more pressure for a show to be off-the-charts perfect to compensate for those potential losses?
MT: Well, no, here’s the thing. The music industry’s evolving and it’s evolving rapidly like a lot of things in the world today, which happens more quickly than we humans can actually calculate, and when we talk about illegal downloads, it’s only illegal because a person has written a song, recorded it and they would like to earn something back from that. We’re going through a transition with the media right now that requires us all to think differently. I think that in not too many years from now, we’re going to see a lot more corporate sponsorship supporting individual groups, musicians, and artists so that they benefit from that financially. I don’t profess to have the answer to this, but I do believe that there are going to be different ways for artists to get paid. First of all, it is impossible to pay an artist enough money to sustain their lifestyle through doing concerts. That’s what’s happening right now that’s pushed the ticket prices so high that people won’t buy tickets anymore; they just don’t want to pay a hundred and thirty dollars to sit in an uncomfortable seat for two hours even though they love the artist. Now, of course, there will always be a major fan base that will continue to go see an artist no matter what the price is, but we have to look to the future and your generation of fifteen, twenty, and twenty-five year-olds and try to determine what they want. Do they still want that huge experience that we used to enjoy when we were younger going to concerts. Do they want to deal with the aggravation of parking, standing in line, which is often longer because of cutbacks in security, so getting into the venue takes longer, that kind of thing. Do people really want to do that or do they just want to get a fifty or sixty inch television with an amazing sound system and some recordings of their favorite artists and sit at home and not bother with the concert. So, because of all this, we’re going through some major changes and I don’t think anybody’s got the crystal ball and, also, not everybody’s completely open to these changes. I’m an individual and I’m very excited about what’s changing and I’m currently looking into where to go from here, because my entire life I’ve been in this industry. I want to continue to work and I will continue to come up with ideas. The work is personal to me and there won’t be any if I don’t keep in touch with what’s going on in the world.
CB: Do you think there could be a point where the music industry could just fall as a whole?
MT: No, it could crash, but the thing is, there will always be a musician or a poet who somebody will listen to and decide to promote and the whole cycle will continue. That’s human nature; we as humans need that, we have to be entertained, so it might change with the crunch and transition, we don’t know, which is the excitement of life, but it’s never going to end.
CB: Do you also do benefit work Mick?
MT: Yes, every year I do Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding, it’s a fundraiser for children which we’ve been doing for ten years, and I do other charity events as they come up, too. It’s important to volunteer your time.
CB: What direction do you feel is most important to the future of the music industry and what role do you want to play in it as it progresses?
MT: Based on my experience, I’m working on some ideas right now to create some events for people to go to that are hassle-free, to hear the music, not necessarily to go because it’s a massive light show that’s going to cost them two hundred a ticket. I’d like to see kids today be able to go to a show to enjoy the music like I did when I was younger, and just really get a kick out of being there and the excitement of it without all the hassles. I also want to incorporate some environmentally responsible ideas with these events and stop all the abuse of plastic and bottles and so on; it’s got to get out of the entertainment industry, it’s one of the biggest faults. We’ve got to find ways around this; paper, ticketing, promotions. Now we’ve got websites like Twitter and Facebook, so most of the it will roll over into technology and eventually you’ll just be able to just use your phone as your ticket and they’ll scan that when you walk in. That would actually be a great idea, then there won’t be any paper. That’s why I want to be involved in that. I’d like to think that I helped to develop some ideas in that direction as something to leave behind when I’m gone.
CB: Are you going to bring other people in the industry in to try to make some of these changes happen?
MT: You can’t really tell people to do things, you have to do it by example. I’m looking to find new, younger bands who have the talent to go out there and enjoy playing their music and enjoy what the audience gives them back; the whole experience. If I can find bands that will do that and not come in with fifty thousand dollar equipment riders and ridiculous amounts for food and drink, we could bring an important change in the industry. That’s what’s killing it right now, all these bands are spending money in amounts way beyond what they actually need, because they’re like ‘who cares, Live Nation’s got the money so just take it.’ The sports industry’s no different. That’s the biggest culprit of all, paying twenty million for four years is just utterly ridiculous and so out of balance with reality. I don’t care who they are, no one deserves that and it’s the same with musicians, it’s got to be relative. The problem is that you’ve got an agent and a manager also pushing their artist saying ‘Well, you’re working now so let’s see if we can make you sixty million this year,’ instead of what they’re really worth which is maybe a million and that pushes the ticket prices up again. Look at the bands that you see touring today. How many bands under forty do you see touring today? Look at bands like U2, what are they, the youngest oldest band that’s out there? Like the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Buffet. These are aging musicians and it’s wrong that those people should be out there charging such huge ticket prices and taking the money out of the pockets of the people who would actually go and see new acts if they had some money left over, which they don’t.
CB: With all that in mind, Mick, and based on your experience, what advice would you give someone just breaking into doing what you do in the music industry today?
MT: Well, it’s just an entirely different business now, so I couldn’t give them advice based on my start because it has changed so much. I learned from the ground up and I had a lot of genuinely good people around me who helped me. That does not exist anymore. But the one thing I’d advise anybody to do is to get an idea of where they want to go and let that job find you. If you’re young and you want to work in the music industry as a record label owner, manager, promoter, agent, whatever, open yourself up, put yourself in the lane that you need to be in and start absorbing everything that you can about it. You will find out where in the system you belong. Don’t rush it, making statements right out of the gate about how you’re going to be the best, you have to quietly creep up and it will come to you.
CB: Mick, thank you very much, this has been such a great interview.
MT: Thank you Courtney, it was very nice talking to you.
Ok, that about wraps it up. Many thanks to Mick for taking time out with us and for a fantastic interview. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Stay with us for more on Mick’s work and his upcoming project. Til next time…
Interview by Courtney Ballou