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WASSERMAN'S NALPANT: "WE'RE NOT TAKING ANYTHING FOR GRANTED"

Jackie Nalpant has spent more than 20 years building the careers of young artists, catching the newest of the new and putting them on a career trajectory.

When the pandemic set in, things changed, and as much as Nalpant continued to check out young acts, she was often reaching for the familiar—“like a month of John Prine,” she says. “I was only listening to things I knew and loved. I think a lot of people with back catalog that’s very comforting are going to do really well” when touring resumes.

As EVP & Managing Executive at Wasserman Music, Nalpant has a roster of more than 60 acts, among them Walk the Moon, Cold War Kids and Sylvan Esso. She was combining business with pleasure during an ocean-side stay on New York’s Fire Island when we rang her up and, fortunately for us, she didn’t find an excuse like “There’s no cell reception out here.” She even got philosophical.

“I hope the industry realizes that some of the way we all behave was unsustainable to ourselves,” Nalpant says as the sun is setting on a delightful late June day. “And so I hope that we are all just good to each other and behave in a way that’s even more healthy for ourselves. That we’re not taking anything for granted because it was all taken away. It could have been way worse.”

How many of your acts were saying, “How fast can we get out there?”
Eighty percent, I'd say. I had a minimum of 10 bands that [put tickets on sale in May]—Local Natives to Cold War Kids to Durand Jones—so it’s been busy. There's still a science to it, and you still have to see what you can coordinate with a release, but there's a huge chunk of bands that had releases in 2020 that got no traction.

We saw arena tours keep blocks of dates intact and either move to next year or move July dates to the fall. It feels like that's a dicier situation at the club level.
Yeah. There are so many more club, theater and boutique-size bands, so the traffic is incredible. But if you’re being pretty careful about the ticket price and everyone is aware [of the show] you’ll be fine. When things opened up, ticket sales went past [expectations]. People really wanted to buy tickets for the bands that they'd waited for.

"When things opened up, ticket sales went past [expectations]. People really wanted to buy tickets for the bands that they'd waited for."

Bookers at the club and smaller theater level have to make sure they don't lose their shirts coming out of the gate. What are you seeing?
The expenses are changing and some expenses haven't been finalized yet because we're not quite sure if there are going to be any more COVID protocols. It feels like the vaccinations are working, but expenses still have to be fluid.

I'm a fan of a door deal and they are a little bit more prevalent.  The promoters got it the worst but hopefully they get their checks and they come out OK. They're the lifeblood.

Everybody's attitude is great. Everyone is very grateful that they can be playing again. Everyone understands you're trying to make up for lost money, but maybe you don't need all that production. I also hope we all learn some things and don’t go back to our old ways.

Are any particular markets starting stronger than others?
I've had a bunch of tours go up really strong. L.A. has been really great—Local Natives (left) sold out The Greek in like four days. We priced that very cautiously, because it wasn't about making money; it's about the statement of getting a first show for an L.A. band, a "love letter to L.A." sort of a situation. We have Durand Jones going out with My Morning Jacket and it’s going to be a triumph because they made it affordable.

Have you dared to think about when all of this is fully back on track?
People won't get into their patterns of Q1, Q2, Q3 and radio shows in Q4 until 2023 because ‘22 is going to be jam-packed. Next year is about getting back to normal. Hopefully, there'll be no remnants of any COVID restrictions or COVID protocols.

What about the acts whose music was released in late 2019 or in 2020? Are there strategies to tour months after those releases or do you kind of say, let's find a way to just move forward?
It depends if they have a new release coming in 2022. Local Natives are going to have a record in 2022 so they’re just going to do that Greek show and then the Greek in Berkeley. We're going to save everything for the release.

Sylvan Esso had a record in ’20 (Free Love in September), so we're doing a big tour [29 dates] this fall. A smaller client, SAMIA, had a great record come out in 2020 called The Baby (Grand Jury) and has hardly headlined, but we put up [eight] headline dates and a lot of them blew out. What’s really great is we see what the appetite is and it was better than expected. These sold out so quickly in major markets [New York, Philadelphia, Chicago] that she's never headlined, so it really depends on how starved the kids are and who discovered what during the pandemic.

It seems like a mystery as to which young acts built their fanbase over the last 15 months without touring. When you see newer artists with solid Spotify counts or YouTube counts in 2020, how is that data playing into the approach to touring?
There's been a sense of discovery. We had a client, Frances Forever (right), who had a big hit with “Space Girl” [50m streams on Spotify], who was going out as a support act, but she's just going straight to headlining [24 dates in November/December].

It's been fun developing a new artist [during the pandemic]. It’s almost a gift because your first time out, you're very vulnerable and very rushed. They had the time to really craft who they are and what their culture is, what their message was and how they wanted to present themselves. And to really write and not run around doing showcases or meetings. It was a pause that was really conducive to creatives. It was also a financial hardship and maybe not what everybody dreams happens when you get signed or put out music. But certain artists benefit by having that pause and to have that control.

You’re finding some silver linings for artists in this break from touring. What about on the business side?
I do really feel a sense of comraderie. The agents, the managers, everyone in my circle pulled together, listened to each other and made guesses about what to do because nobody knew the answer. The expectations had to not be lowered, but widened.

We’re seeing a lot of activity being booked for the end of 2021. What about the first quarter of 2022?
I'm a big Q1 fan. I do a lot of tours in the first quarter and now there's so much traffic in Q1 that I'm kind of bummed. It was my sweet spot. If you love music, you're going to have a smorgasbord.

What about festivals?
Everybody's ‘21 is booked. There might be things that fall off because some European or Australian or New Zealand talent can't make it, but 99% of my clients that were booked on these in 2020 are booked on them in 2021. We all believe we'll be back to normal in ‘23.

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ARE COMING
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TURKEY
Basting.
STUFFING
Stuffing.
YAMS
Candying.
PUMPKIN PIE
Stuffing (in face).
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