Lauren Wayne, a Portland local, has been working in the music industry for almost a decade. She is now the General Manager, Talent Buyer, and Marketing Director for our beloved State Theatre and a part of the team that is running the Portland Music Foundation. We were lucky enough to get to chat with her for a bit about The State Theatre, the Portland Music Foundation, and the music community in Portland in general.
Here at The Way Live Should Be, we started from scratch…and with no experience. We have many questions that have come up along our various adventures. We’ve been networking with more and more quite established folks within the industry, and they’ve really welcomed us into the community, helped us grow, and taught us things we’d only be able to learn through catching that glimpse of how everything works on the inside. So, thank you Lauren Wayne, you’re one of these great people!
How long have you been working in Portland?
Well…it’s been about 9 years I think? So, since 2002.
Can you give us an idea of how you started out, where you started working…general background information?
I got hired by Jim Ahern. The company we worked for then was SFX Entertainment…it went through a couple changes because the industry went through a couple changes and the regional independent promoters were bought out and it turned into Tea party Concerts, then eventually Clear Channel Entertainment…which is now Live Nation! It’s so long and confusing! But Jim Ahern hired me as his assistant/marketing coordinator. So I started doing that stuff, and that was basically learning the business from Jim. It was more on the marketing side…he was doing all the talent buying and I was marketing all his shows. And then I started moving into some club buying. So, I was doing shows at The Big Easy. I got everybody from Clinic, Rachel Yamagata, ray LaMontagne show when he was known as Ray Charles LaMontagne. I had the Decemberists down at The Big Easy. It was a different city back then in terms of venues. There weren’t really that many options, and The Big Easy was the only place that I could really do rock shows. There were a couple at The Asylum at that level. But the market wasn’t really that strong back then, in terms of getting the shows that we’re getting now. We just didn’t have the venues around to do it in. It’s actually quite interesting to see the evolution of the venues that opened up in the past 9 years, and more and more shows that came into town because of that. That’s been really cool…SPACE Gallery is a big one and Port City Music Hall too.
We had the State Theatre open back then, and Live Nation, which was then Clear Channel, were the exclusive bookers, so we did all the shows at The State. Unfortunately back then it was kind of 3 or so separate entities with their hands in the mix. It was the owners of the building, the landlord, there was a tenant, and then there were the promoters. It was really hard to put the money into the theater when the owners weren’t doing it. The tenant didn’t want to do it because he didn’t have a long term lease, and the promoters obviously weren’t going to sink money into it. So that’s basically what happened with The State. It pretty much fell apart because no one was sinking money into it, and with it being 80 years old you need to do that. So it closed in 2004. I was working more and more on larger shows outside of the state, so I was doing all the marketing for northern New Engand for Live Nation, which was mostly NH, VT, Providence, and ME. In 2008 the director of marketing left on maternity leave, I got pulled in to replace her while she was gone, and then she decided not to come back. So I took over director of marketing in Boston, and they let me commute from Portland..I was going down Tuesday mornings and coming home Thursday nights!
I’ve known Alex Crothers from Higher Ground in VT for years.….I’m sorry, this is a really long history, but it’s what happened! Anyway, I’ve known Alex Crothers for years and we just kind of kept in touch about certain things. I knew he was really interested in The State and he’d been keeping in touch with the owners of the building. He brought the Bowery Presents people to come in and look at it, and they decided they wanted to move forward in trying to renovate it and reopen it. They offered me the job in April 2010 and I left Live Nation, and came on board here!
Did you originally go to college for any of this?
I’ve got a double major in history and journalism…so, not really *laughs* My journalism degree helps me a bunch because I’m doing all the marketing, the communications and the PR, so that’s obviously a big help. Really it was just Jim teaching me pretty much everything he knows, and basically throwing me into the shows and settlements. There were things I had to figure out on my own too, but Jim Ahern was and will always be a big mentor of mine. He taught me a lot about the business, and it was just learning from the ground up, really.
Through your experiences, has this been a consistently demanding industry to work in?
It has. It definitely slowed down when I was with Live Nation when The State closed because it’s really one of the few venues in Maine doing larger shows. It’s just crazy the number of shows they’re doing out of Boston compared to the amount of shows there are in Vermont, NH, RI and ME combined.
And doing what I’m doing now, in terms of the buying and the marketing, it’s definitely demanding.
Are there any techniques you’ve seen work really well for artists/bands or marketers?
Well…as a marketer and someone trying to get people to the show, I completely understand that you’ve got to spend money to make money. Unfortunately, a lot of the smaller clubs, because they don’t have the budget, it ends up being more difficult to get people out. Not to say that our budget is huge per show either..we have a specific ad budget depending on the show. But you’ve definitely got to do all you can to get people in there, and that usually means spending money.
In terms of fads…that’s such a long and complicated answer, in terms of trying to track what’s popular…there are so many moving pieces. WCLZ didn’t used to play as many independent artists, and definitely not as much local music as they do now. There was a definite shift when the station went over to Portland Radio Group. The market back then wasn’t as pro-indie music as they are now. I don’t know if you’ve seen a playlist from CLZ, but it totally kicks ass.
You’ve definitely seen a decrease in demand for…well, for lack of a better term, maybe heavy-rock and metal. The CYY type bands they used to play, like a lot of Godsmack and Disturbed, Sevendust…that stuff used to slam and now it’s just sliding off everybody’s radar.
Indie music is doing pretty good at The State, it’s doing way better than it used to. And jam bands have always historically done well in this town, and they always will.
Now…I switched gears for a minute here. I am currently in the process of designing a proposal for a Music Industry Major and/or Music Business Major at USM. If the proposal goes through, it would be great to have the support, and maybe be working hand in hand with The State Theatre, and especially a local non profit organization like The Portland Music Foundation.
How are things going with the Portland Music foundation?
It’s going well! It’s definitely a different experience being involved in a non-profit because it works so much differently than a for-profit. We’re an all volunteer board, so time is limited. But for being an all volunteer board and working in the non-profit style, it’s definitely been an amazing experience and I think we’re doing a bunch of good things for the city…hopefully! Because we don’t have the budget like a for-profit does, what’s been most difficult is just getting the word out about our organization and what we do.
Does the PMF do internships?
We do! We actually had an internship coordinator which I think has recently left, so I’m not positive where we stand on that…but yes we definitely need an intern! Another issue is that we don’t have any physical work space, so we’d have to figure something out like a rental space or work from home or something…
Do you feel USM or Portland in general could benefit from a Music Industry/Music Business program?
Yes, definitely. It’s pretty much the one business sector in Maine that has constantly been growing, the arts scene!
When talking more in depth with Ms. Wayne about this program that I am working to put together, she offered to help in any way she can (these are things that will help my proposal lots…so if you are someone that would like to become involved or feel you could help in a way, please contact us on facebook or at TheWayLiveShouldBe@gmail.com!) We discussed how USM, Portland, and the music industry could all possibly benefit from such a program.
I read some great facts posted on Facebook by the Portland Music Foundation last week. Thursday, July 28th, Portland had the Alive at Five concert, as well as Wiz Khalifa (the biggest show ever on the pier) and Elvis Costello at The State Theatre
“With Alive at Five, Elvis at the State, and Wiz at the Pier, plus all the bar/club shows last night, we had more than 5000 people looking at live music last night in Portland (equal to about one in every 12 people in city limits), generating (very conservatively) more than $250,000 in revenue in tickets/merch/beer/food. How many other industries in Portland touch as many people and account for as much business?” How awesome is that? As things keep growing, I can imagine we’ll be needing some sharp, passionate, and motivated people to keep up with the scene!
In terms of the local scene in Portland, has it grown a lot over the years, or do you think there are just more forms of output?
I think there has always been a healthy local scene here. I definitely think the internet has helped get some of those smaller, garage band-types that were playing in their bedrooms out there a little bit more. And I think that the number of clubs that have opened in the past 10 years or so..there’s been so many. It keeps the music and the local scene alive here. I mean, in my opinion, if you’re playing in your bedroom or in your garage and you want to do this as a living, you’ve got to play out. You can limit the times that you’re playing out, but you’ve gotta have places to play.
Back when I started, there was The Big Easy, Geno’s and The Skinny, but that shut down after 2 years…so there weren’t a lot of options. Now you can just walk down Congress St. starting from Blue and there’s music everywhere. It’s a healthy scene, it’s really great.
Would you say the amount of musicians trying to play out and the venues available are relatively equal?
I’d say it’s pretty perfect right now. Especially with the hole that The State has filled..it’s kind of like there’s that extra incentive to keep playing, you know? I love having local bands here, having them either open up for national bands, or like that day we did last year featuring all local music.
I think that it’s definitely good right now…a couple more clubs maybe opening would be fine, but there’s only so many people in Portland.
Do you think the industry in Portland as a whole is up to date?
Portland’s a tertiary market, it’s a small town compared to where a lot of these other bands are playing. Portland’s never really been ahead of the curve…but you definitely have that group of people here who are. And it’s like that in every city…it’s not so different, it’s just smaller.
What do you feel is the best way to network and get your foot in the door, whether you’re a musician or someone trying to work in the industry?
A lot of it is really about persistence, no matter what job you’re trying to get in the music industry. The PMF does the music seminars on exactly how to do that…it’s really about playing out too. It’s important to limit your playing in your city, though, and branch out of Portland as well. You’ve got to be persistent if you wanna get a gig. These people are getting 150 emails a day, and yours might get missed, so send ‘em another email. It’s a hard industry to break into in this market because it’s so small. So it definitely helps knowing people and knowing what you do and being passionate about that.
What aspects of the music community in Portland do you feel need to be improved upon?
I don’t think there’s much…I think it’s unique here, and it’s because we’re such a small community that people are able to communicate with each other so easily. That’s really important. I think venue and club owners all get along, and we try to stay in touch with each other so we don’t step on each other’s toes. We’re not booking similar nights at clubs.
I would say the only thing to improve upon is that musicians and venue owners stay more in touch with the city, city council, and the Portland Downtown District. The PMF was trying to get the city to approve some more signage opportunities and poster boards…because that aspect of the business here just sucks. It sounds stupid, but it does. I mean, they give us like 3 poster boards to hang posters up on, and it’s a huge grassroots style marketing tool! So far, it seems to be a joke in this city and that’s definitely something that can be improved upon. The PMF is really trying to be the liaison between the musicians and the city to keep that line up of communication open.
We feel the festival aspect of the music industry has picked up quite a bit…what are your thoughts on a city-wide music festival, or has anything like that been instilled in Portland before? (Local acts and larger acts, venue to venue, people buy bracelets for the weekend or single days type of thing)
Well…it’s happening to some extent. We’ve got the Old Port Fest which has been going on for years, and they have mainly all local music. Definitely a different kind of vibe than a music festival…but still has some great aspects of it. We’ve had a couple day long music based events…Jason Spooner and friends put one on and their first year was last year.
The State Theatre would love to be involved in kind of spearheading something like that in the future. It’s a little tough with this being our first summer, and it’s a lot of work and money! We’d need a commitment from the city to help partner, and a couple of other people in town to work with us….but it’s definitely on our radar for next summer. It just takes a lot of time. Without giving away too much information…we’re working on something like this happening for next year.
Why is there no re-entry at The State Theater?
Ahh, it’s a bunch of different reasons. The first big one is liability on our part…once we let them out our door, we have no idea what they’re doing..they could go anywhere and return and get in a fight or cause issues for us so we try to avoid that. We can’t do a smoking section out on the sidewalk because of some issues, and the fact that we’re trying to be the best neighbor as possible. We are surrounded by other businesses that aren’t ours. There are galleries, a hair salon next door, a tattoo parlor, etc. I don’t want a bunch of people smoking in front of their businesses, I just think that’s being a bad neighbor. Being an 80 year old theatre with space limitations, there’s really no space to set up any sort of court yard, or an inside/outside area where we could still consider everyone to be inside the venue. We’re just trying to keep everyone as safe as possible!
Thanks again to Lauren Wayne. There are some incredible musicians that will now be coming to Portland, that did not have a place to play before . Some of the shows we are most excited for: Umphrey’s McGee, Primus, Lotus, Buckethead, Soulive & Lettuce, and The Pixies. I went to the Beirut show on the 29th, which was my first time back since it reopened! I know, I should have been back sooner than that. What an amazing band to see in such a beautiful space. The venue is probably my favorite that I’ve been to in New England. The shows have been selling out more often than not…and the love and excitement in the air inside the theater is incredible. It’s filling what once was a vast hole in Portland’s music scene, as well as a hole in the hearts of all music lovers in Portland. Rejoice! And go enjoy some great live music. Check out the upcoming schedule for The State Theatre Here!