We recently launched our Partner Spotlight series to get up close and personal with the people behind your favorite events. We’re criss-crossing the country, putting some of the smartest, most creative, and most successful people in the industry in the hot seat to talk about everything from why they got into the business, to how technology has changed the industry, to the best acts they’ve ever seen.
This installment took us to the heart of Atlanta where Alan Sher, co-owner and general manager of Terminal West, reigns over the live music scene in the ATL’s historic West Midtown district.
Born in South Africa and raised in Georgia, Alan spent nights catching shows at Georgia Theatre and listening to greats like REM and the B-52s, sparking a deep love of music he couldn’t shake.
Working in an IT consulting job at one of the “Big Four” accounting firms by day, Alan spent weekends producing shows with friends. It wasn’t glamorous work – he did everything from setting up the stage and lighting to working the bar – but it was exactly what he wanted to do. Eventually, Alan turned his passion for music into a full-time job, co-founding Terminal West in 2011. Four years later, Alan sits down with us to riff on catching the live music bug and how that led to launching his progressive Atlanta-based venue.
You and your team had other career paths before Terminal West. What was it that convinced you that putting on shows was what you wanted to be doing full-time?
When we started putting these shows together we started getting feedback like, “This is so killer and this city really needs this.” You’d think with a city as big as Atlanta that there wouldn’t be that many gaps in the market of cool rooms of this size or this capacity. That vibe of getting embraced so much and constantly hearing, “When’s the next show, when’s the next show?”—it got to the point where we built this little family or community, this sub-culture in Atlanta, and we were either going to quit doing this because we were going to wear ourselves out by working 140 hours a week, or we were going to do this for real and build out a venue where we could continue the experience we built in a DIY way into a real player in the market. We’d been to enough shows in different cities to know exactly what that perfect room looked like for us, and that’s kind of what we went for and really embraced. Ever since, things just fell into place and we’re grateful to get to do what we do.
You’ve been in the game awhile now. In your opinion, how has technology changed live events?
I think everyone can talk about how hot mobile is now – it’s becoming almost a buzzword. If you’re not really focused on mobile, you’re a couple steps behind. We have competitors that aren’t even considering what’s around the corner. Being a young company with young owners and being pretty forward-thinking as far as technology goes, we really embrace all that stuff. I’m super interested in the way technology is going to evolve the live music experience and the music industry over the next couple of years. We’ve actually been developing some different apps and technologies internally at Terminal West, because that’s a testament to our forward thinking and trying to be ahead of the curve.
What are the live experiences that blew your mind or changed you?
There’s been so many of those moments it’s hard to say. Going to my first music festival when I was younger definitely had a huge impact on me. Even though I may not have known at the time, it definitely changed me. It helped really grow a passion I had for live music. As far as Terminal West, one of the more recent shows that comes to mind was one we did with Disclosure. When they were blowing up we had them [at Terminal West] and then within six months they were doing the crazy arena international stuff. That was one of the fastest times I’ve seen an artist explode. Being in Atlanta, we’ll also have crazy random hip-hop artists show up and grab a mic and jump on stage…it’s all over the place. Hosting a rock and roll legend like Leon Russell was pretty surreal. His show really blew my mind–50 years of touring and still killing it.
You mentioned that Terminal West has created a community, almost like a family. That’s a really powerful side effect of bringing people together to see shows. How has it impacted your relationships, and how does it feel to be an arbiter of experiences that can be really powerful for people?
It’s crazy how many people I’ve met through music. I think that’s the powerful thing, not necessarily what the band was, but how many people came together. Everyone in this industry has so many connections and friends that you can go to any city and ring up your buddy. We’ve had people meet at Terminal West that have gotten engaged – that kind of stuff is is super powerful for me — seeing those friendships and relationships happen in this big box that you’re facilitating. It’s a crazy thing. And the venue is rooted in community too. My co-founder and I have known each other for 15 years. It’s amazing to build a business with some of your closest friends you’ve known forever. We really have an amazing crew with so many people that share the same passion and love for it that I do and believe in the vision.
What are some of the biggest challenges you deal with in the music business?
I think anyone in the industry will tell you that there are a ton of challenges across the board. It’s not always the fun it may seem. There are long, crazy weird hours. Especially being a small business, you don’t really check out, ever. No matter what you’re doing – especially now with the phones – you’re pretty much locked in all the time. I could get a call or text or email starting at 7 a.m. and my phone will go until 4 a.m. That’s a big challenge. At a business level, we’re super particular about our experience and how our patrons and guests are treated—that’s a constant challenge to meet that high bar.
Tell us a little about why you chose to partner with Ticketfly.
Being an East Coast company, not everyone here has the Bay Area attitude of “let’s progress.” I think what’s cool about Ticketfly is that they’re ahead of the curve.That’s one of the main reasons we went with Ticketfly as a platform – because they are that forward-thinking, West Coast company that has a technology focus. When we were looking for a technology partner we were looking for a solid, stable platform that was backed up by a solid team of engineers and developers—everything else, like marketing services and client support, was a bonus. Out of all the places we looked, Ticketfly met that bar and that’s why we ended up working with you guys. I think you’ll see in the next few years some of these other companies playing catch up where Ticketfly has already done the groundwork – in mobile, with in-venue technology like beacons, and BLE (Bluetooth low energy) technology, for example. Having the pulse on the next big thing and incorporating that into the live music world through the platform matters. It’s nice to have a partner like Ticketfly that works at staying ahead.