For the first time in 15 months, live music is returning nationwide after the global coronavirus pandemic ravaged the industry. Billboard’s “My First Show Back” is a series dedicated to sharing stories from throughout the touring ecosystem about what’s happening now, what has been forever altered and what will never change.
In this installment, ICM Partners’ Mitch Blackman talks about his client Blackbear performing at the grand opening of the new Money, Baby! club at the Virgin Hotel in Las Vegas on July 9, which fell on the first week of major events returning to Sin City. In addition, Blackman details his strategy for an artist who blew up during the pandemic.
It was the grand opening of Money, Baby! That was the night of the [Conor] McGregor fight. It was the grand opening of the club since Virgin took over the Hard Rock, and I had Blackbear do it for the grand opening. It was pretty f—ing exciting to be honest. That was the first weekend Vegas was kind of Vegas again. To see people without masks inside — gambling, clubbing with the bottle service — it was like, “Alright. We’re back.”
Blackbear programmed it to give them 25 minutes when normally people just do a couple songs [for club openings]. He really made it more special with his own video content. He didn’t have to do any of that. He wanted to. That is a testament of who he is as an artist where he always wants to over-deliver.
Coming out of this pandemic, we’re grateful to be back. The artists that are really winning are the ones that actually care about their fans and are giving back to their fans. We can see ticket counts for other tours of artists who don’t put that level of production into their events and they aren’t selling at the same level. It’s a partnership between artist and fans. If you have that, they will ride or die for you. There’s a reason Taylor Swift has all those Swifties. It’s because she puts fans over everything.
[During the pandemic], Blackbear didn’t leave his house for a year. The only time I ever saw him I had to get a PCR test that day and then I go to his house and I’d still be 10 feet away from him. He talked to me from the balcony of his house. He was very strict about it. I wanted to get Blackbear to do this to get him back on his routine performances again. He’s got to go out with Maroon 5 for their arena tour in two weeks.
The venue was packed. It felt good. Usually, I am the old guy. I am too old for clubs. At clubs, I’m usually hating everyone and I’m like, “Get away from me.” But I actually wanted to be there. The best part was to see how happy Blackbear was to be performing. These artists, that’s where they get their happiness. It is performing their music live and I saw it. He crushed it.
He had super fans there. Even just walking the floor of the casino, you could see how much he had grown in the last year over COVID. Every five seconds someone stopped him to take a picture.
During the pandemic, he put out a bunch of records. He had a single with All Time Low that entered the charts [No. 55 on the Hot 100]. He had songs with G-Eazy and Machine Gun Kelly. He dominated the alternative rock charts and he was on the pop charts with people like Charlie Puth. He put out a lot of good records. He’s an artist that broke out from Soundcloud. He knows how to brand and market himself. So when there’s a situation like COVID where you have to be your biggest driver of your brand, he knows how to do that stuff. He had over a billion streams on iHeart because he had so many records that came out.
[Because of his growth during the pandemic,] I am pushing off headline stuff. We are being strategic with him. I have a good idea of how many tickets he can sell, but we’re having him opening a tour and growing an audience before he does a headline. We’re going to do a headline tour next spring. We’re going to do amphitheaters. He’s growing to that level. What happens is when you start playing with people like Charlie Puth, Maroon 5 and some other people that maybe don’t have such a cult following, but have massive records, you get pushed up in brand perception as being more on the level of Christina Aguilera.
As told to Taylor Mims.