With the music industry now in a constant state of flux, new business models are emerging daily on how best to change with the times. While most of those ideas fall by the wayside (some for good reason), one company has found a way to support artists while helping brands find an audience through strategic, non-traditional marketing. Truly living by their slogan, “On tour forever,” Backstage Artist Lounge creates an exclusive artist area backstage at major concerts where sponsors can connect with talented bands for product sampling and relationship building opportunities and rock stars can live out the swank lifestyle they always dreamed of.
LA Music Blog recently had a chance to talk to BAL founder, Christina Martin, about the company, its exponential growth, and her favorite moments on the road…and she has a lot of ’em!
You have a background in international affairs and have spent time in the financial world. How did you end up in entertainment?
It was a fun transition from finance to entertainment, and I think my finance background has been a great asset to my entertainment career since it has kept me focused on the bottom line. What happened was I had a fast-track career in investment management—worked at the Federal Reserve, a hedge fund, and an institutional fixed income manager—raised a couple billion dollars in assets, then retired at age 26 to London.
From there, I ended up spending all my time at film festivals and fashion screenshots for Embeddingweeks, which led to celebrity friends hiring me as a business consultant on things like product placement in feature films, public relations, marketing, and business strategy. Finance was, and always will be, my first love. Entertainment was like a breath of fresh air though. Finally, instead of conforming, all that mattered was standing out!
What sparked the original idea for BAL?
The writing was on the wall. I just paid attention.
Both music and advertising were at a crossroads. The music industry was completely redefining itself. Record stores and record labels were imploding. I recognized an opportunity to build a new type of company that focused on the one area still going strong…touring. Simultaneously, the advertising industry was shifting from traditional advertising to more interactive, experiential marketing methods. Advertisers were all wanting solutions for building their brand. In 2005, I did a fun party for a radio station and fell into a couple key relationships in concert touring. It was “the perfect storm,” so I hit the road and started a life of taking brands on tour!
The funny thing is, I knew BAL was a good idea…I just didn’t realize how good of an idea! Not only did BAL deliver solutions to advertisers and attract advertisers to concerts, but BAL also significantly enhanced the artist experience and opportunity set.
Artists thank me all the time; they say BAL makes life on tour more fun, and they like the career opportunities they get from connecting with brands to promote their music. As if that weren’t enough, music fans started telling me how much they love BAL because they get to see their favorite bands backstage in videos and photos from inside the Backstage Artist Lounge. Plus, fans get to interact with Backstage Artist Lounge social media to see everything their favorite artists are wearing and doing backstage and enter BAL’s constant stream of social media contests to gain access to the same cool gifting their favorite bands get backstage!
More than anything, BAL was born out of a series of ideas, and every year we evolve and refine those ideas as the BAL story continues to unfold.
What do you feel BAL is bringing to the music industry that it has been missing?
Maybe something BAL brings to the music industry that there was not enough of previously is a novel sense of luxury for badasses. Artists get to be spoiled by BAL gifting from companies as varied as Tippmann Paintball, Wicked Headphones, Snug-As-A-Bug pajamas, and alcohol-infused flavored whipped cream. Abundant smiles, laughter, a state of great comfort, and extravagant living are all part of the lifestyle BAL proliferates.
You were at KROQ’s Epicenter recently. How did you get involved with Epicenter and what do you feel BAL brings to the KROQ event?
2011 was the 3rd year of Backstage Artist Lounge at KROQ’s Epicenter. BAL has been there every year since Epicenter began in 2009. That first year, our headliners were Tool, Linkin Park, Hollywood Undead, Wolfmother, and Alice In Chains. Last year in 2010, we had Eminem, Kiss, Suicidal Tendencies, Big Boi, and Rise Against in Epicenter’s Backstage Artist Lounge. This year, 2011, we had Five Finger Death Punch, Limp Bizkit, Staind, Papa Roach, Crossfade, Asking Alexandria, Everlast, and Puddle of Mudd.
Our partnership with Epicenter originated in ’09 when the owners and promoters of Epicenter asked Backstage Artist Lounge to join them. That’s what usually happens; headlining bands or major concert promoters who know BAL usually reach out to us and ask us to add their concert to our BAL tour schedule.
What BAL brings to the event was actually summed up best by one of the promoters of Epicenter when he said, “Backstage Artist Lounge brings the festival experience to the bands.” In other words, just like fans have more fun at a large festival vs. a smaller venue show, BAL sets a festival apart for the artists—artists have a more fun and elaborate backstage experience thanks to the Backstage Artist Lounge.
Epicenter’s Backstage Artist Lounge has featured some of the coolest gifts of all time: from Sportie LA (shoe store on Melrose), Happy Hoodie Friends (super colorful animal hoods with paws), Rag Dynasty Clothing, Rivet De Cru Jeans, Smile Angels (Beverly Hills dentist), Bubba Brands (keg-shaped beverage holders), Bella Voda Water, Rev 7 Gum, Line 6 Amplification, Schoodie (a scarf and a hoodie in one), Creative Recreation Shoes, ISO Beauty, Recycle-a-flask, Justin’s Nut Butter, Dirtee Hollywood, Ksino, The Futon Shop, The Slanket, Magnets.com, Kabang Energy Candy, Yak Pak, Crazy Bands and, for the rock stars who have pets, Pet Head and Fetch For Cool Pets. Epicenter’s BAL has been especially fantastic every year since it is local to BAL’s Southern California main office headquarters.
BAL is involved with several bands each year. Do you have one band or story of time spent with a band that sticks in your mind?
There are soooo many stories…more than I could fit into even a thousand books! For instance, watching Seether destroy dressing rooms has always been among my top favorite pastimes on the road. Shaun and Dale excel at manifesting chaos! One time, after a game of “dressing room baseball” which I will leave up to your imagination—I’ll just tell you that it involved breaking the legs off a table for bats, and, instead of baseballs, cans of beer and sandwiches which, come to find out, make interesting wall art—okay, so after the dressing room was properly obliterated, before we left the venue, they even switched the name on the dressing room door with one of the other bands on the ticket that night so the other band would foot the bill. These guys are the real deal.
Just last weekend, Seether took the stage in their Snug-As-A-Bug adult footed pajamas! In front of 25,000 fans, they rocked the stage wearing Snug-As-A-Bug! By the way, yes, the pajamas have a drop seat! Shaun’s pajamas were black with guitar-print, and Dale’s were red flames. Oh, they also made ALL of their techs wear the pajamas while teching on-stage for the entire set. It was hilarious enough watching techs run around stage working in duck-patterned pajamas reading “Quack quack quack” all over them, but I about died when Shaun and Dale walked out on stage in them!!
Still, it is impossible to pick just one favorite story or one favorite band. I could go on forever. Among the most near and dear to my heart is Three Days Grace. I mean, when I watch them perform, I am proud, so proud that I work with such talented artists. Seriously, 3DG’s live show is so good that it makes me feel bad for other bands.
What makes 3DG special is that they (and Seether, for that matter) were in my very first line-up. In 2007, 3DG and Seether headlined Pointfest. Since then, I have had more tour dates with 3DG than I can remember all over the U.S. and Canada. They are always so friendly, gracious, and kind. Adam, Neil, Barry, and Brad are some of the absolute nicest people I have met in this business. They deserve all of their success, and I always look forward to the tour dates where they are in the lineup.
So imagine how I felt when last week I woke up to a text from 3DG’s tour manager asking me if I’d seen the video they made me on Facebook. 3DG has like 5 million fans on Facebook! I ran to my computer and logged in. There they were, Adam, Neil, Barry, and Brad, on camera saying “Thank you, Christina, and thank you Backstage Artist Lounge,” and my eyes welled up with tears. It was one of the most surprising and thoughtful things a band as famous as Three Days Grace has ever done. I was touched.
Oh, and I can’t quit before telling you how thoughtful the guys of Sevendust have been! L.J., the lead singer of Sevendust, has thanked Backstage Artist Lounge on stage like 10 times! Once, I was standing side stage watching them perform, and all of the sudden, L.J. was pointing at me calling my name. I just think it’s so cool when the bands let us know that BAL means as much to them as they mean to BAL. Spending so much time on tour, it’s really great to see all these friendships as a result. Last week, Morgan of Sevendust totally tried to convince me to stage dive with him during their set! That would have been an epic moment, but I was wearing a mini-skirt that day so thought it prudent not to dive into a sea of strangers LOL!
Tom Morello is my all-time favorite drinking buddy. He taught me how to do my first Irish Car Bomb, which is his favorite drink. He loves drinks at Rainbow as much as I do, and he loves hearing about my “shenanigans” on tour, as he put it. Tom always introduces me to people as, “This is my friend Christina, and she’s even more metal than I am.” That’s an accomplishment, right? I have to be proud of that status coming from him…I mean, it’s just about the highest compliment you can get from Morello. When I delivered the commencement speech at my alma matter, University of Colorado at Boulder, Tom gave me a quote to tell the graduating class. He said to tell them, “Death to false metal!” And I did!
You call your business model “On Tour Forever.” Why did you chose that name and what does it mean to you?
We have indeed established a motto of, “On Tour Forever,” because life has become one big, neverending tour. Tour dates are always on the horizon. Travel is always eminent. I’m actually answering this interview right now on a plane 30,000 miles above somewhere. City after city, hotel after hotel, it is the life that every band leads on tour.
Home is where you visit occasionally to unpack, do laundry, and re-pack. Diving into the unknown adventures ahead on a daily basis, the only routine is the lack of routine. Every day is different. Every obstacle must be overcome, and you rarely encounter the same one twice. New surprises and challenges give rise to new lessons. Life is in flux. Serendipity is your companion. Coincidence is your guide. At all costs, the show must go on.
It is an unconventional life, marked by the highest highs and the lowest lows. For better or worse, places and faces melt together until you don’t know what day it is anymore. And it doesn’t matter. Everyone touring for a career can relate to the phrase, “On Tour Forever,” and after 5 years of touring and a monster 6th year ahead, Backstage Artist Lounge has earned it! With no end in sight, BAL is literally on tour…forever.
This year you have 40 dates that BAL is attached to. How much growth do you see for 2012?
Considering we completed 40 tour dates this year, and turned down 100 others this year, the expectation is that in 2012 we will complete around 80 or more major tour dates. To give you the idea of our rate of growth, we went from a half-dozen tour dates in 2007, to a dozen in 2008, to 2 dozen in 2009, to 30-something tour dates in 2010, to where we are now at between 40 and 50 completed tour dates for 2011. In other words, we double each year.
Pointfest 2007 was the first real tour date of the Backstage Artist Lounge, and 2012 will be the 6th year in a row of Pointfest’s Backstage Artist Lounge. BAL touring already covers all of North America, the Caribbean, and parts of the UK. It has become impossible to keep up with the demand from festivals, national tours, and uber-famous headliners to get the Backstage Artist Lounge on tour with them. We are trying to keep up with demand, managing growth and building the business for scale. 2012 is going to be a huge year for BAL internationally. More than ever, we are spotlighted by industry power players trying to align with BAL’s bright future.
What do you think is the most exciting thing you get to do on a daily basis?
Meeting talented artists and getting to know them as people is probably the part of my job that people say they envy most.
BAL also supports local music as well as mainstream acts. What do you look for in the local acts you work with?
When BAL supports emerging talent, we look for several things: (1.) Raw talent, because if they have that, then they actually have a shot at a career; (2.) Potential, as in do we think they will ever break, do they have that x-factor to appeal to fans and be able to tour successfully; (3.) Are they good/cool people deserving of our time and resources and (4.) What are they working on, albums, tours, press, interesting projects, what is their vision, and what do they having coming up?
How can a local artist get your attention?
The very best way to get our attention these days is to hit us up on Facebook because our social media team is involved in our entire company. Every sponsor on our tour is involved in our Facebook. Major managers and industry follow our Facebook, so it’s good exposure for bands to post on our wall there. A lot of bands have gotten deals from BAL sponsors through our constant social media promotions.
Also, we pay attention to who enters all of our Facebook contests and interacts with BAL sponsors on Facebook. Oh, and the biggest thing we’re doing is sponsoring a band to tour in 2012—and this contest is also listed on our Facebook—the winner is based upon a submission of a song featuring a theme related to the BAL / backstage / touring lifestyle.
For more info on Christina and Backstage Artist Lounge: