Greg Marchant’s entrance into the music industry stemmed from playing music in rock bands and working as an independent production manager. The SVP and COO of the Knitting Factory didn’t expect to oversee risk management, code compliance, the construction of nine new facilities or be an integral part in development and implementation of an advanced database. But as it turns out, Marchant’s favorite part of being in the music industry is supporting his team.
“I’m a big fan of processes and giving people on our team the support they need to do their jobs. The slate database is the project right now that I’m most excited in rolling out because it continues to give our buyers better tools for buying and it gives our managers and our accountants better analysis and feedback as to how things were done,” Marchant told Amplify. “I know that doesn’t sound exciting to someone who’s not a geek, but I love stuff like that.”
Marchant has worked throughout the industry as a musician, a talent buyer and a venue operator. He said those who contributed the most to his success are the people he currently works to support.
“The people that were battling it out on a day-to-day basis and making a solid living at it who taught me the most. A lot of the things that I think I learned in this industry are not so much the nuts and bolts of this industry, but more the nuts and bolts of interacting with other people,” Marchant said.
Of his mentors throughout the years he added, “I worked with an operations manager who was an intensely honest and good person at the arena that I worked at who definitely influenced a lot of the ethical choices that I make in my life. The people that I really admire are the people there in the trenches. The ones doing good honest work for people and supporting the cause of my music.”
Amplify caught up with Marchant to talk about going to shows at 13 in his hometown of Los Angeles and how he’s bringing big names to small markets.
Knitting Factory Entertainment has a lot under its umbrella.
We promote in multiple states. We own and operate the Knitting Factory venues and own the Federal Bar restaurants. We have Knitting Factory Records and Knitting Factory management in New York and we have three festivals that we’re doing on an annual basis: Desert Daze in Joshua Tree, Travelers Rest in Missoula, Montana and Horton’s Hayride in San Pedro, California.
I’m also really excited that this season we just opened the enhanced version of the Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater in Missoula, Montana. It is a beautiful 6,000-cap outdoor space and we’ve got a great season going this year and things are already looking great for next year as well. It’s been really well received by the people in western Montana.
Montana is an interesting place to open a 6,000-cap venue.
It’s not New York City for sure. One of our niches is developing secondary and tertiary market venues whether they’re ski hills or public parks. We find that, especially with the media today, there are fans everywhere and our tickets are strong in these markets. Missoula in particular has a fantastic music scene.
There are a lot of things you manage. How did your career get you to SVP and COO of Knitting Factory Entertainment?
I started in this business like so many other people with aspirations of being a rock star. My first real job was as an audio engineer and I was also a keyboardist. So I was a keyboard technician and I worked with an artist named Thomas Dolby back in the 90s. I also was an independent production manager. Those those were my straight gigs while I was trying to be a rock star. Then I started getting into venues back in 1988. I was the regional manager of a chain of surf bar taverns. They were called Toes Taverns. We had one in Playa Del Rey, Redondo Beach, Pasadena, and Santa Barbara and they were your neighborhood surf bars. But several of them had stages and venues as well. So we did entertainment on a regular basis.
From there I moved to Boise, Idaho and began work at the what was then called the Pavilion at Boise State University. It’s presently Taco Bell Arena, a 13,400-seat arena. I started there as the events coordinator and worked my way up ultimately to the venue manager position. I was there for six years and we did hundreds of shows. We did Dave Matthews, Phish, Rush, Elton John. It was all the major touring acts and that’s where I really cut my teeth in the arena business and the venue business on a larger scale.
Where did you head after that?
I then took a contract to head up an office of business development for St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. They were opening a dual pad ice arena and needed some help maximizing ancillary revenue space on campus like the arena. They wanted dorms rented and it was a great opportunity. I have Canadian roots as well so it was a nice opportunity to live on the Canadian side of the border for a while.
In 2003, I moved to Spokane, Washington to open what was then the Big Easy Concert House and I worked as the venue manager there and a production manager for Bravo entertainment which was ultimately absorbed by Knitting Factory Entertainment. While working at Knitting Factory, I did a stint as a talent buyer and learned pretty quickly that I like being an operator better than a talent buyer. Then I was a divisional president of the Presents division and then ultimately SVP and COO.
Do you find that that moving around has helped you understand these secondary or tertiary markets?
Absolutely. If you have an opportunity that allows you to learn more, whether it’s a different type of business or a different region of the country or world, then I think you should take it. I think it adds to your world view and it certainly adds to the expertise you bring to the job. And our business is one that, for many many people, you do have to move if you’d like to move up.
Where are you located now?
I head up our operations office out of Boise, Idaho. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, but I got out in the 90s.
Were there any venues in Los Angeles that you went to a lot when you were growing up there?
The Reseda Country Club was legendary. The Whisky has always been there and The Troubadour. There was Gazarri’s which was then Billboard Live and there was the Roxy. There were event venues that came and went like Fender’s Ballroom. Living in Burbank, it was a quick hop over the hill and me and my buddies were at shows from age 13 on, just fanatics for the music scene. Hollywood in the early 80s was fairly insane. It was kind of the golden age of that scene.
Were you able to partake in any of that?
As a fan, for sure. There’s so many great shows and we went and saw. At the Country Club there was a band that still actually plays out called Accept; they’re a heavy metal band. To this day, people I bump into say that was the best metal concert they’ve ever seen, period. For stadium shows, there was David Bowie, The Stones, Genesis or my first concert was Yes in the round at the L.A. sports arena. I think that was in 1980 and my friend’s mom dropped us off in a wood-paneled station wagon. It was like a scene right out of ‘Almost Famous.’ We were 13 years old and it was fantastic. So, yeah I was in there. I knew at that point that I wanted to be a part of the whole scene and have been lucky enough to be part of the scene for my entire life.
What kind of music were you playing in at the time?
If it was punk rock, I played bass because it was pretty hard to bring the piano or the keys into a punk or metal band. But if it was if it was pop or if it was doing any sort of writing, I played piano. The keyboard was my first instrument. This was also the golden age of the synthesizers. I was big into that scene when it rolled out. I was into prog rock. I was playing it in one band. One of the bands I was in for for quite a while, we had a guitar player that was very inspired by Alan Holdsworth. I was sort of a Yes, King Crimson, UK guy. A lot of our stuff probably would sound as if it was pulled from that era, but our singer sounded like Steve Perry. So it was a little bit of a mash up. Just odd time signatures, prog type stuff. Rush was a big part of that scene, but they were a little bit later than some of the prog that we really liked. Yes was probably one of the bigger influences.
Did you like Yes and then go to see them, or did you see Yes play and then like the music?
I was into one album. When I went to that that was my first major concert. I was a huge fan at that point. I was the perfect fan. I’m the guy that immediately left and bought probably six or seven albums. I think that’s for sure bought a program and a T-shirt. Then when you started getting into those guys and there was a sort of family of guys that existed. Some came out of the Frank Zappa world and you started to become very familiar with each of the musicians and maybe some of their side projects.
Do you happen to have any music memorabilia still to this day?
I have moved around a lot, and when you move you tend to lighten your load. I still have three or four hundred records. They’re not in collectible plastic condition but they are in pretty good condition and they’re the original stuff like Led Zeppelin (and) Emerson, Lake and Palmer. A lot of the original ones that were more art pieces. I’m not that excited that it may be worth 50 bucks on eBay now or something. It’s more exciting for me to have it and to be able to put it on occasionally.
And I still have not parted with all my CDs which my wife would tell you is maybe pathetic. Everything I own has been ripped, but I still have all my CDs. Maybe I just want to prove to someone that I actually own the music. So I don’t have to feel guilty like I ripped a bunch of songs and stole them.
CDs definitely feel like the middle child form of media now.
It’s just different, right. I mean everyone goes to YouTube and we all just go online to find something and listen to it. If I like it, obviously I go out and buy it because I want to continue to support the artists in any way I can. I know that there is an entire revenue stream that was essentially pulled out from under them.
What kind of music are you listening to now?
I think that to this day my favorite music is anything that takes ability to do and is not contrived or formulaic. The kind of music I like is pretty much everything from Snarky Puppy to Sufjan Stevens to Tech N9ne. The cool thing about having smaller cap clubs is that it gives me the ability to keep my thumb on the pulse of the new and upcoming acts as well.
Do you find that you actually can keep up with a lot of the music that’s coming out now?
I have to credit the people in my office that force me to come out to shows and say, ‘You really have to see this band.’
Have there been any acts you’ve seen at these smaller clubs that have gone on to big success?
Yes, there are so many. We booked The Fray before The Fray broke, before ‘How to Save a Life’ came out. They were great and they still are great. It was great to see them in a small environment and then to see them explode.
Have your smaller venues also had some special underplays?
We were able to get Jack White when he decided that he wanted to go out and do four states that he had never been in, so he could round off all 50 states. We were able to get one of the four club plays at a theater called the Egyptian Theatre in Boise and it was just a magical show. In Los Angeles, I grew up being spoiled when people would say ‘Hey Elton John’s playing at the China Club tonight.’ You’d go and there would be 100 people there and a line down the alley. You’re used to it in the large markets, but we do occasionally get situations in some of our smaller markets where we have a Bob Weir up on stage and he says, ‘Oh hey, my friend’s in town. Here’s Joan Baez’ and she gets up and does a whole set with Bob Weir. It’s just magic. Those are the types of things I really feel lucky to be part of.
Part of your job is helping bring some of these experiences to these secondary markets.
Yeah. Many of the artists have been traveling through if they’re going from say Denver to Seattle or Portland and we have a great music scene here in Boise. We have great fans that will spend money on tickets and our job is to stay relevant and make sure that the agents and artists understand how much they’re appreciated in the smaller markets. And I think they feel that.
Do you do you see any big challenges coming for the live music industry in the next couple of years?
I don’t think there are any new challenges, at least in the venue industry. We could talk about consolidation and we can talk about the shifting revenue models that mandate that artists have to charge more for their tickets because they’re not making it in other areas. I think we’re a ways away from something like virtual reality or streaming to really even come close to replacing the communal experience of being in a live show with friends. I think our job is to continue. I think there will always be a need for for live entertainment and I think there will always be a demand for it.
Do you foresee a lot of artists having to push up the price of a ticket?
We’ve seen a natural progression of price increases in live music tickets for quite a while now. Some of that is an adjustment from the changing economics on the physical sales side, but I also think that we’ve had inflation occurring over the years as well. We can all talk about how great it was when there was a$20 ticket. I think as long as the market will bear it, people will continue to try and maximize revenues. We’re all in this food chain, whether it’s the band, the manager, the agent, promoter, the venue. Everybody is trying to coexist and maximize the experience for the rest of the folks on the chain, including the fan.
Would you say that it’s currently easier or harder to be an independent these days in the music industry?
Both. The larger companies and the smaller companies have advantages and challenges. The independents are very quick to react and are very nimble. They know their individual markets very well and would obviously say they are the best people to do the job. Clearly the national promoters have the advantage of being able to leverage large tour buys, and for us well, I think for everyone in this business, but certainly in our case, maintaining relationships with all the players even the larger promoters. We obviously fight for all the business we can get in all of markets. I think that there will always be room for both entities to exist. We are proudly independent and we try and maintain an agnostic relationship with a lot of the other promoters that we do business with in an effort to just maintain the level of traffic we can route.
Is there an artist you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to work with?
We do a lot of shows in a lot of different markets so I’m probably going to say an act and then of course one of our buyers will call and say ‘We did that show. How could you not know this?’ But I would love to be involved in a Pearl Jam show. I’ve always been a fan and I think they’re still fully capable of filling just about any space and their fans are extremely loyal. Every time I’ve seen them it’s been a very magical experience. So I’d love to be involved in a Pearl Jam show.
If you could travel in time to see any artist perform, who would you go see?
I would have loved to have been part of some of the classic rock bands before they disbanded. Certainly a Led Zeppelin date would have been high on my list. I mean, obviously the Beatles. There’s a few on that list but as far as a great rock concert I think Led Zeppelin would be would be top of the list. At the time, they were the epitome of the rock ‘n’ roll.
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