Backstage on the Watch the Throne Tour

Luiz Augusto Buff and Aaron Gottlieb
January 3, 2012
Keith Keller (center) with the members of the Concert Promotion and Touring class.
Jay-Z and Kanye West
Photo by Cato Stevens
Photo by Luis Augusto Buff
Photo by Luis Augusto Buff
Photo by Luis Augusto Buff

On November 21, professor Jeff Dorenfeld from the Music Business/Management Department led a special student trip for his Concert Promotion and Touring class backstage at the TD Garden. We were able to watch the setup of the stage and the sound check for the Watch the Throne Tour. This tour marks the first time that hip-hop stars Jay-Z and Kanye West have toured and performed together in front of sold-out crowds. The reason for the visit was to attend a clinic with Keith Keller, the Live Nation promoter representative for the tour as well as two other concurrent tours (Prince and Nickelback), and Tom Bates, representing the local promoter.

Keller has worked for more than 35 national and international tours of major acts such as Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson, Rolling Stones, Rush, and Metallica. He talked about his career development, from studying economics at UCLA to serving as the man responsible for every detail in tours put on by the biggest company in the music industry, Live Nation.

"Basically, if something goes wrong on the day of show, it is my fault," said Keller.

He enforced that, as opposed to what the majority thinks, life on the road can be very exhaustive and stressful. For the Watch the Throne tour, Keller manages a 73-member crew, with 21 trucks full of equipment. For them, the show starts at 6:30 a.m. with the load-in and will just end after 2:30 a.m. the next day, with the equipment back on the trucks, ready to head to another city.

This intense process requires a lot of attention, not only with the final result, but also with other important issues, such as the safety of the personnel and artists' demands. The stars of the event are the artists and, according to Keller, for them "no is not an answer." Any artist's request can influence the quality of the spectacle and must be attended in the best manner possible.

Bates spoke about the technical aspects of the business that we learn in class, explaining about calculation of the gross potential of each show, estimating seats in order to maximize profits, and creating a good experience for the audience and the artist. He also explained the importance of the local promoter needing to work closely with the promoter rep, being the "go-to person" for issues with the venue and helping with last-minute requirements.

It was a great opportunity for students interested in the live-music field to receive an insider's view on the industry from two very active and recognized professionals. At the end of the clinic, Keller surprised us with tickets to the show that night. We watched it with a totally new perspective.