Love him or hate him, when your band needs that last-minute show, or your club is strapped to book Christmas Eve, Sean Healy Presents (SHP) is most likely your first phone call. SHP hosts regular events at every major Los Angeles venue, including nights at most of the clubs on The Sunset Strip. A classic Hollywood success story, Sean Healy built his empire from scratch, carving a niche that eventually made him one of the biggest independent promoters in the country. Get to know the man behind the curtain…
How did you get your start booking/promoting?
I moved out to L.A. to be an actor in 1990 and had joined a theatre company called The Open Fist Theatre Company, where you had to pay dues….and I didn’t want to have to pay money. So I decided to get involved, and starting putting on underground performance art shows in this warehouse space that they had on Sunday nights. So what I would do is find actors who did things other than act — like play music or do spoken word. It was kind of like an open mic night… I did that for about four years and one day I was reading the LA Weekly, and on the back page there was an ad for Martini Lounge on Melrose. The ad said, “bookers and promoters wanted.” And my first inclination was, “Hey, I’m not a booker or promoter, but it sounds like this club needs some shows.” So I met with the owner, Steve Edelson,…and he hires me as the day manager and booker.
My first day there, he gives me the keys, shows me how to order the beer, and hands me a big box of demo tapes that had been sitting there for over a year; unopened… I felt bad for all the bands that were in this barrel. So I called all the bands and I booked them. And I knew nothing about booking — I’m not a musician — but by ear, I knew what I liked. My first night that I booked, I booked the four best bands out of this box, and I was excited, thinking this is going to be a great night of music. But nobody came.
I spoke to the sound guy and he said, “Well did you tell the bands to promote?” and I said, “no.” I just thought, these are good bands, and you guys are a rock club, and people would just be here. And he said, “No it’s not like that in LA, if you don’t tell them to promote, they’re not going to bring anybody.” And I thought, I’m not going to do this, this isn’t for me. But I already had my second show booked so I kind of stuck with it…
After that Steve started opening up other clubs in L.A., The Garage, The Joint, Union on Sunset. So he started opening these various live music clubs, and every time he opened one he would give me a night. So that’s kind of how I first got started.
So how did you make your way to The Strip?
The Roxy was the first club we started booking, I think around 1999. I started doing shows there with my good friend, another local booker, Wood Fowler… We did that for a couple years, and then all of a sudden they hired us to be the local bookers…[on] the club’s off nights. …In the early days, we’d have the bands meet us at the 7-Eleven on Sunset to deliver their tickets and contracts.
What does SHP do?
Well we started as a booking service for local bands. My initial conception was that this is going to be like central casting for bands. That bands have one phone number to call and they have access to all the venues, instead of them having to track down every booker and send their demo out to every club. They could call one number and have access to all the clubs.
How would you describe your business model?
In the old days, I used to just take everyone’s word for it. They [bands] used to say, “give us a Friday and we’ll bring 100 people,” and 20 people would show up… It was all handshake deals back in the day, and I quickly learned that if I’m going to rent these clubs for thousands of dollars, or whatever it is, I’ve got to protect myself. So we started doing contracts after the first two years.
As far as ticket packages, my system developed from Wood having bands do presale at The Roxy. So I learned the presale method from Wood when he came over to work with me. So at that point, we then began issuing contracts and doing presale tickets.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t make a band come in here and pay us for all the tickets up front. We for years have said, “Here’s your tickets. You have a month to promote your show. When you get to the show, turn the ticket money in”… It’s all laid out in a three-page, black-and-white contract.
When we started doing bigger shows, the shows that cost $10,000, $15,000, we started taking deposits from the bands that were on those national headliner shows. The local shows we can be ok without doing any upfront money or deposit, but when we’re hiring a $15,000 band we have to be protected. So we started doing deposits with the groups that are on those national shows.
As far as “pay to play” goes, I’m sure you’re aware that there’s a bit of a stigma attached to what you do. How do you respond to people who criticize your practices?
Here’s my take on that… It’s only pay to play if you don’t sell your tickets… Our contracts point blank, in black and white say, “We are very much against pay to play.” Pay to play means you didn’t sell your tickets. Pay to play means you weren’t going to sell your tickets. Pay to play means you were lazy and you just gave your tickets away, and you showed up and you paid the promotions company. We don’t advocate it. It happens. It happens mostly because the bands can’t, won’t or don’t think they should sell their tickets.
This is my favorite statement that I’ve always made about this business, my business: “You have to sell tickets, until you can sell tickets.” Until you’re worth something, you have to “bring it.” I don’t have your friends’ phone numbers, their emails, I don’t know how to get your crowd to your show. You do. So you have to do it. …
I’ve never lost a night of sleep because of what we do. I stand by what we do, but I also understand it’s not for everybody, and I respect that.
What are some of the bands that you feel SHP has cultivated or helped bring from a local level to a national headliner?
I would say some of the bands, and these bands all sold tickets, LMFAO…One Republic, Shiny Toy Guns. Those are the big ones. Now, we are not responsible for them getting signed, but what we did do, we were there when they needed those final showcases. When Shiny Toy Guns needed their last showcase before they signed with United Talent, we did their final showcase at the Key Club. One Republic needed showcases in the afternoon at the Viper Room. We facilitated those showcases. We were instrumental in providing the stage and the date and the show for them. While we take no responsibility for getting them signed, we like to think that what we did do helped them in the long run, getting what they needed on that particular evening.
What changes have you noticed on The Strip over the years?
Well, in the old days there were record labels, so the bands would do showcases for the record labels, and we would do them every night: Viper, Key Club, wherever. … The bands would turn in a list with record label guests, and there was excitement about that, because someone could get signed out of The Roxy or The Troubadour. Well, there are no record labels anymore …so that element from the showcase standpoint has really been minimalized compared to what it once was.
Who are some of the local bands that are hot on your radar right now?
We have a band called True Press that’s a reggae band. They’re awesome. We booked them at Viper Room in March. We have them coming back to Viper in June. … We have a band called Rust that we like a lot. There’s another band called Radius that’s kind of like a power pop rock band. I’d say those are my top three right now.
What’s the craziest or most memorable show you’ve done on The Strip?
Years ago, this was probably 2004, we did a show with the St. Lunatics at the Key Club, and we got a call a few hours before the show from their tour manager saying get an extra microphone for Nelly, because Nelly is going to get up and perform… Sure enough Nelly shows up, he’s in the Plush Lounge…and I was like, “holy shit, the crowd has no idea.” So I went into the stage area … because I wanted to see the reaction of the people when he came out. And I remember Murphy Lee [of St. Lunatics] was doing his thing and was like let me welcome my friend Nelly. And Nelly came out and the girls just went nuts. I remember looking up along the rails just seeing these girls trembling, like their knees and legs trembling because no one expected to see Nelly at this show…
My favorite part of any show is when the headliner goes on. That one moment, just to see the crowd reaction.
Any parting remarks?
The one thing I want to add with the bands, though the bulk of the stuff we do is presale, that’s not to say that we won’t do “walk-up deals.” We will do walk-up deals if the band is highly recommended by the other bookers in town. …
We do a lot of free stuff too. [We presented a show at] the House of Blues on Friday, June 18. All the bands [received] free tickets, and these are all bands that have presold for us and done a really good job. So our give back is to give them a free HOB date when we get them.
You can contact Sean Healy Presents at www.webookbands.com
–Brent X Mendoza