RockmaniaLive to Mount Live Orchestral Concerts of Iconic Bands
RockmaniaLive is latest venture aimed at graying music fanatics
ILLUSTRATION: KYLE WEBSTER
By HANNAH KARP
Sept. 30, 2016 12:01 a.m. ET
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant haven’t performed together since a rare Led Zeppelin show in 2007. But starting Friday, fans can invest in a company that plans to stage hundreds of live performances of their music around the world over the next five years.
“This would be easier to do on a trombone,” said session guitarist Tim Pierce on a recent evening at his Los Angeles home, as he struggled to get his electric guitar to mimic Mr. Plant’s voice sliding from one pitch to another for an instrumental arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s 1973 reggae-inflected hit “D’yer Mak’er.”
As classic rock’s legendary groups wind down their tours, a new entity called RockmaniaLive is hoping to keep their fans buying concert tickets with live orchestral extravaganzas based on the bands’ most iconic albums.
Symphonies and orchestras across the country have been putting on their own tribute shows to such bands for years. But RockmaniaLive’s team—which includes two veteran record-label executives and the composer-father of rock star Beck—is hoping to scale the operation into a global Cirque du Soleil-style franchise that will roll out a new album-themed show each year. They would play across the U.S. and in markets where few classic-rock bands played in their prime, such as Asia and Eastern Europe.
Rob Cavallo PHOTO: ROCKMANIALIVE
Led Zeppelin’s 1973 album “Houses of the Holy” is likely to be the first venture, with an invitation-only performance in December in Los Angeles and 60 shows planned in the U.S. and Europe for 2017. Subsequent albums chosen will depend in part on which acts are next to call it quits—a move that could drum up demand. Only bands not touring will have concerts.
“With the retiring and passing of many of the modern rock icons of late, and unfortunately more to come, there’s a giant opportunity to create an experience for baby boomers and their kids that recaptures the classic rock experience,” RockmaniaLive founder Abbey Konowitch said in a video montage created for investors. The company omitted that line from a trailer for consumers to avoid sounding “gloomy,” he added. Mr. Konowitch programmed MTV from 1988 to 1992, helped launch Madonna’s Maverick Records and managed Walt Disney Co.’s Hollywood Records, where he worked with teen stars from Miley Cyrus to the Jonas Brothers.
Mr. Konowitch is planning to sell to the public $1 million of shares in the $10 million company. Those investors—who he hopes will help him promote the shows by hosting parties and inviting their friends—will get perks such as free admission and private dressing rooms when they buy in, at a minimum investment of $1,000.
Rather than conducting a traditional initial public offering, RockmaniaLive is taking advantage of rules adopted last year by the Securities and Exchange Commission allowing companies to sell securities through crowdfunding. Musicians who have crowdfunded on platforms such as Kickstarter have typically raised amounts of less than $100,000.
Mr. Konowitch’s startup is the latest aimed at graying music fanatics—a relatively well-to-do demographic that helped make Anschutz Entertainment Group’s Desert Trip festival in Indio, Calif., next month the promoter’s highest-grossing musical event to date. That’s largely because the six legendary headlining acts—including the Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Paul McCartney—are unlikely to share the stage again.
Now that their fans have demonstrated a willingness to snap up $1,000 seats, the live-music industry is trying to figure out what to offer them next. But banking on the participation of any one act appears increasingly risky, especially given the unexpected deaths this year of artists such as Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey, rocker David Bowie and pop star Prince.
“We’re getting old,” Eagles manager Irving Azoff said at a panel event earlier this week, noting that four of his management clients, including Mr. Frey, had died.
Abbey Konowitch PHOTO: ROCKMANIALIVE
Mr. Konowitch said the idea for RockmaniaLive was born several years ago when a group of booking-agency heads and promoters warned him against managing certain classic rock acts because it wasn’t clear how much longer they could tour.
He began researching the economics of symphonic tribute shows, which he discovered could reliably draw as many as 6,000 fans thanks to their nostalgia for the music and loyalty to their local orchestras—no matter how clumsy or “cheesy” the production, he said.
To help line up some initial individual investors—whom Mr. Konowitch declined to disclose—he hired Grammy-winning producer Rob Cavallo, known for his work with punk’s Green Day and rock’s Dave Matthews Band, and composer David Campbell, the father of Beck, to arrange classic-rock albums for orchestras that will perform alongside carefully cast guitarists, bassists and drummers. Vocalists will sing on only a few of the songs in a given show, in front of giant screens displaying elaborate visual effects.
A fan of “big dynamics,” Mr. Cavallo said that early in each show he planned to establish that “when it’s appropriate, it’s going be loud,” but that the volume and intensity would vary widely both within and between songs. He added, “You’re going to be rocking.”