Part of the problem with interviewing people at the top of their game, is that it get's harder and harder to make them sound as incredible as they are in my introduction.
But just wait till you meet Leo Nitzberg. He's like a freakin' Jedi Knight of the production world. And his team... well they're a bunch of production ninjas as well.
Here's a little background: Leo spent nine years at Goldenvoice (Producers of Coachella, Stagecoach, Desert Trip...) and a few years ago, he set out to start BWG with his now wife Meg Dieter (works with Pharrell, Blink 182, Selena Gomez and others). Just wait until her interview. Emoji: Mind Blown
Photo Cred: The Nitzberg & Dieter Family Album
LET'S SET THE SCENE (This is the, why you'll want to read this section)
I've known Leo and the BWG crew for the last year and half. I can honestly say that my team and I have learned more from them about the festival production world, than anyone out there. Honestly, they all need to go on a speaking circuit.
So for the interview, I thought it would be cool to have Leo talk about:
- What it was like to leave one of the biggest producers in the world and set out on your own.
- Where we'll see the most disruption in the industry from technology (he's kind of a closet tech geek).
- How to survive in a saturated market.
- His friendship with Stallone, a little career advice and more.
From Leo's trip to the claymation studio. Acutally this is from Sly's VIP outing at Desert Trip.
You ready to do this?
Where did you grow up?
Grew up in Petaluma, California.
What was 15 year old Leo like?
Wow, I was such an asshole. I was playing in garage bands at that point, and partying a lot and promoting shows.
At age 15? Holy shit.
Yeah, I started planning at 14.
At that age, what's hanging on your walls in your room?
Oh! like NOFX posters, show posters, probably some local show posters. I was pretty into the local punk scene and scouting at that point. The typical grunge stuff that most 15 year olds had on their walls.
I might still have them somewhere.
If your friends were a little tipsy, how would they describe you now?
That’s a tough one. Probably still an asshole and hopefully a lot of fun.
Some production guy forgot to rent enough Portos. At least he only had to go #1. Doesn't she look beautiful?
If you were a piece of festival equipment, what would you want to be?
Probably an art installation because it's that thing that everyone wants to take a picture of but you're not really supposed to touch.
Interesting. I actually think I like your team’s answers?
Hah! Earmuffs kids.
Jess: A cone - he’s all about safety.
Rory: A Pole pounder (haha!! jk)...
Woody: He would be a Reach…. Around :)
They also said you’d be a pro drone racer, if you weren’t producing events. So I won’t take them too seriously.
Although a pro drone racer would be pretty bad ass.
If you weren't producing events, what do you think you'd be doing?
Man - probably playing music, or managing artists.
What's it like working with your childhood best friend?
I still work closely with a couple actually. It's really great just because we have a general understanding of how we both work. It's pretty seamless and he probably understands when I’m barking all over the place.
Festival Production 101: Enjoy what you do and who you do it with. Leo (Left) and his best bud Woody aka: DJ Yoplait
When you left Goldenvoice and started BWG, what were you most nervous about?
More than anything else I was probably most nervous about my relationships. We started with a client and everything happened so naturally that I was more concerned about keeping the friendships and the relationships that I had made at Goldenvoice.
So what’s keeping you up at night now?
Actually Nothing. I don’t sit up at night and worry at all, because we have such an amazing team. This morning I woke up at 5:00 am and came to the office just because I had so many different ideas. It’s more about excitement than it is about worry at this point.
I get up early in the morning and I’m like, “Alright. What are we going to work on? What new project? What can we build?”
What will be your, “HOLY SHIT! I made it moment”?
I feel like I’ve already had it. Just being at the office in our own environment. I keep talking about this team because the people that are here are so amazing on so many different levels. The fact that we’re friends outside of here is just super inspiring to me every day. The next step is to start promoting our own events which will be the next level of that feeling.
Festival Production 101: Hire well. Your people are your biggest asset.
Are you thinking of different festival ideas constantly?
I do. I struggle with it just because it’s so saturated right now. We’re always playing around with different ideas, but just really looking for the one that’s going to separate itself from the clutter.
We pride ourselves on being great. So we don’t want to just do something halfway.
What one project are you most excited about working on this coming year?
Air + Style is one. Just because it’s a challenge really looking at how to develop and expand the brand identity of that show. There's a lot we're excited about doing from an experience standpoint. It's going to be a lot of fun.
For those that may not know what Air + Style is, how would you describe it:
It's a pretty incredible combination of adrenaline, music and culture. I'm excited about it because it crosses over different categories of experiences.
Festival Production 101: Constantly find ways to innovate. It's so easy to stagnate. Photo Cred: Air + Style
At the same time, I’m also really excited about BWG. Our team is really special, because our experience now lets us take on all kinds of unique projects at scale. That's what gets all of us fired up. We want to keep pushing the limits of what can be done.
Since you're kind of a closet tech geek. What technology are you most excited about for the production world?
There’s so many different new technologies out there. For example, there are some companies looking to disrupt the current model of promoting which would be really exciting for us. It’s going to be interesting to see what disruption happens when artists start to leverage some of these platforms more and really want to own their IP. Right now it’s the top tier artists that are in the place where if Justin Bieber sends out a tweet, he can sell out a tour and they don’t have to worry about marketing. They don’t have to worry about promotion really. Promoters, like Live Nation, still have a lot of power because they own all the venues but I think there is that shift.
I think that there’s definitely not only going to be some great businesses but some very cool things that come out of that.
From a B to B standpoint, probably you guys.
Wow. Thanks man. Tell me more :)
[I mean everybody loves a little compliment every now and then.]
The production process is still so outdated. One of the reasons we were initially really excited about what you’re doing, was because of your backgrounds and how you carry yourselves. Historically it’s been music guys trying to build tech and that really hasn’t worked. So it was great to find you guys coming more from the tech world and really entrenching yourself in our business and trying to understand every nuance. Obviously you’ve got experience with events as well (which helps), but I think that was a big part of it. Now, as our team uses it and sees more and more of what you guys are building, it’s clear it is something that is so much more innovative than anything out there.
Given what you want to do with the technology, I really think it is going to be huge for the industry.
Wow - Woody was right. You are a reach around! Thanks brother.
If you were giving an industry state of the union address, what 3 topics would be the cornerstone of your address about this industry?
A big part of it would be surrounding health and safety. I would discuss how the industry as a whole is going to tackle some of the issues surrounding security, and some of the medical and production related issues that we’ve seen over the last few years. When you have thousands of people gathering anywhere, there’s going to be issues, but there are things that we can do as producers and promoters that can really minimize them.
Technology is a huge piece of it also. Most organizations are behind the ball with it and struggling to make decisions fast enough to really stay ahead. It's an area we all need to embrace and invest in more.
I have a scenario for you.
I’m a small to medium size regional festival and I definitely want to grow, what do I need to be thinking about?
The most important thing is to make sure that you have a clear identity and brand for your festival.
For example: FYF does a great job of that and it’s really due to the vision of Sean Carlson.
Festival Production 101: Know your brand and double down on it. Photo Cred: FYF Fest
I think everyone has an identity to some extent, but the ones that really win are the ones that truly invest in the experience and identity of the event. They weigh out, do we want to make a big profit or are we willing to roll the dice and maybe lose money for a couple of years to create a really unique experience?
If you had a crystal ball, what does the festival industry look like in 5 years?
It’s so saturated now. So the ones that are going to stick around and thrive are the ones that can provide a unique experience in an incredible setting. Crash My Playa, Pemberton, Coachella, Air n Style, etc.
I think it's going to be more about these unique experiences and smaller festivals where everyone is a VIP. I think CID Presents have nailed that with Crash My Playa. Although I don't see the Insomniac staples going anywhere and these little boutique festivals are really starting to pick up. They'll have some longevity if they can really establish their own identity.
Crash My Playa, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Who wouldn't want to see their favorite band on a beach in Mexico? Photo: Crash My Playa
Pemberton Music Festival, Pemberton, BC, Canada
Nothing like the Canadian Rockies and some great tunes. That shit never gets old. Photo Cred: Pemberton Music Festival
Even Coachella constantly re-invents itself. Phot Cred: Fest300
Air N Style (Los Angeles, Beijing & Innsbruck)
100 foot snowboard ramp with a festival experience. NBD
I understand you have a reputation that nothing rattles you. So what gets you really fired up?
Not a lot. I feel like that comes from growing up and being put in some ridiculous scenarios really young. Putting on shows when you're 15 years old and having fights break out and people spraying pepper spray inside the venue, how do you deal with that? I don't know, it's hard for me. I’ve probably gotten more fired up in my love life than in my professional life or anywhere else.
Leo and his partner in crime Meg Dieter
In your work life, are you insecure about anything?
I find it hard sometimes to make decisions when it comes to our brand as a company.
I think it probably comes from the fact that I'm so ADD. I want to do everything so it's really hard to focus. My partner comes in a lot there and helps to ground me.
What is the best piece of career advice you've received and from whom?
Honestly, it’s probably from my parents, which is just to 'do what you love'.
I love that advice because, it’s so simple, yet so hard, yet so simple: It’s so simple to say, yet so hard to make the decision to do, yet so simple when you make that commitment.
I think it comes back to being truly focused and honed in on your brand and what you want that to mean. The best experience that you're able to provide while also really staying ahead of the curve and all the technologies out there. I don't know what the next shift necessarily is, but there's so much happening every day that it's easy to fall behind and follow the same fate that the record labels have.
Speaking of Brand, I saw you recently launched a new BWG site. Congrats.
Thanks. We still have a lot we want to do with it, but it's up :)
I really appreciate the teams that have come up through the ranks and are not just sitting on their success. It's human nature to hold on to things once you have them. And the result of that is to be less open to change, less open to sharing and less open to innovation. But then are those that embrace that change (especially the change that comes with technology). It's people like Leo and the BWG Team that are self aware and confident enough in their expertise, to know that technology is only going to enhance their work and give them the opportunity to push the envelope on the world's experiences. This is exactly the type of partner we love to surround ourselves with.
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