Below is the results of an interview between Jeanie Gale, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Joe Sullivan, Show Producer for the Sullivan Company. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2001.
Jeanie: What is you job description and what are you responsibilities?
Joe: I am Joe Sullivan, the president of the company, and my primary job is to find people like you and Chip Kidd to work here to take care of everything so I don’t have to do anything. That is what the president is supposed to do, right? No. Our company is a small closely held corporation that is primarily evolved in the live entertainment industry. We, among other things, buy talent, produce shows, put tickets on sale to the public market, and advertise those tickets in hopes of selling more tickets then we spend money to make a profit at the end of the day. In addition to that we hire out our services as producers and marketers of various special events and in those cases we have no risk because they pay for our services.
JG: Now when you say “we buy talent” do they come looking for you or you looking for them?
JS: A little bit of both, but usually the ones we really want are the people we go seek out. Generally, if they are looking for us to buy them their really not what we are looking for.
JG: How do you find them?
JS: I’ve spent my life in this business so I have a lot of relationships with good talent and their managers and their agents, its different in every case. The case with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, I called Larry because we have been friends for a long time. We had talked about creating an opportunity in Branson; to work together here and try to make something happen. In most cases though, a promoter–which is really what we are–doesn’t goes through the direct talent. They go through certain protocols. That is, they go through their agent, who then goes to the manager and says, “look I got this opportunity in Branson, why don’t you take a look at it,” and the manager, in some cases, is empowered to make a decision on behalf of the artist, on other cases, he goes and discusses it with the artist. Very few cases, there is no manager involved and the agent takes the opportunity to the artist. Then they make a decision.
JG: What attracts people to this career and what keeps people here?
JS: I think that most people who are in this business are awful lucky. There here because they enjoy doing it. They like being involved in the entertainment industry it’s exciting and challenging. Its a business where nobody pays much attention to the amount of hours they put in; they just do what they need to do to get the job done, and the rewards and perks involved are the facts that there is something new and different everyday. It’s not a routine job, a lot of work gets done in social situations, on the golf course. You spend a lot of time working at night, at places at night, and they are always fun places to be.
JG: What are your recommendations to get where you are today, as far as, education, training, and opportunities? What would you suggest to someone like me to try to get a position like this?
JS: You are doing the right thing by interning. There are formal opportunities today that didn’t exist when I was trying to get in this business. Most of what I learned I learned on the streets the hard way and today there are college and university with proper courses and most of them are taught by people who are in the business or have been in the business. I taught a class in artist booking, and what I tried to stress to my students is, “I can teach you just so much in this classroom, but the best opportunity you have is the intern program at Belmont. You need to be all precipitating in that. You need to be out in someone’s business where you have the opportunity to ask questions of the professionals who are there. Not only that, you have the opportunity to make contacts that will a value to you once you graduate and put yourself out in the job market.”
JG: When you think about the most successful people in this position, what are the keys to their success, and what are those who are not successful lacking?
JS: It is very much a people business, a business of contacts, and there are for all the hot tour attractions out there, on every single date there are over a half dozen qualified promoters competing for that date. Those who get it the dates are the ones who have the best relationships with the artist, manger, and agents. Along the lines of developing people skills, I would highly recommend to anybody to read the Dale Carnegie book How to Win Friend and Influence People. I read that book early in my adult life and took a Dale Carnegie course when I was in my twenties, and I repeated that course with my son because I wanted him to experience that earlier in life then I did. What I realized is, even after a couple of decades after I took the course, is it is still appropriate for today. The book was written in the thirties or way back then. This man, Dale Carnegie, was genius on how to get people to do what you wanted them to do, and I use tips from that book everyday. Those who are lacking, are lacking the people skills it takes for this business.
JG: How did you get where you are? Is this typical?
JS: My philosophy is anybody can accomplish just about anything that they want to if they set their head to it and set goals. My career stated in broadcasting. I created an internship for myself, there wasn’t such a thing then and the word hadn’t been invented yet as it relates to business. I just went down and started hanging out at the local station in my hometown doing anything I saw that needed to be done. I’d sweep the floors for free just to be around and learn. Like what you are doing here but now it is a formalized where you call and say, “I’d like to be an intern.” I was just a kid hanging out. I got a job there, and then along the way I begin working my way up. The years I was in broadcasting I managed to make a lot of relationships in the music industry, because artist need their music played on the radio. So that helped me a lot to get started in the live entertainment business. The success of my company has been rapid, and can be, that is one of the nice things about this business.
JG: What are the pros and cons of you position?
JS: Well, when I was teaching the course in Belmont I use to ask at the beginning of the semester how many people in the class thought that they wanted to be a concert promoter, and I would have any where between 50-70 percent raise their hand. When we finished the course I ask that same question and was lucky to get two or three hands up. When they learned it is not a real easy business and it’s a risky business with a lot of hard work, and a lot of long hours once you get past the glamour. I told you early in an early question some of the pros and the perks that are there. In fact, we love it that why we are willing to work the long hours and travel and put ourselves in unusual places in many cases, because we enjoy what we do so much.