Our Partner Spotlight series is back and getting 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.
Today, we’re chatting with Trae Judy, co-owner of South Carolina-based Music Farm Productions, a group of concert promoters and venue operators that put on events across all genres—from comedy to outdoor music festivals. While it’s clear Trae’s obsession with concerts began with the music, his passion for the behind-the-scenes mechanics of building each show is what convinced him that putting on live events was what he’d be doing for the rest of his life. Trae compares his job to working at Disney World, where every event is a new opportunity to create a fun getaway for fans.
How did you get into the concert business?
I’m not a musician; I was a Red Manic fan when I came through college. I went to a lot of shows, did a lot of traveling, and did the whole tour thing. With music as my main background, I was always more interested in the mechanics of the show; all of the things that went into creating an event—the special moments.
I got into the business because I enjoy the business side of it as much as the event process. I was fascinated by that process—developing a show, creating an idea for an event, the planning and preparation that goes into putting it on. I’m hyperactive, so the idea that an event ends and you get to start a whole new process, a whole new event, gets me everytime. We really don’t do the same thing every day. Every day is different: different issues, different problems, different successes. That part really fits my personality.
I liken it to working at Disney World. How could you work at Disney World and not have a smile on your face every day? It’s the same thing with the music business. We’re creating an experience, we’re creating fun—a getaway from your everyday life. I truly get more enjoyment out of being at a show that everyone’s enjoying rather than going to see my favorite band. I always worry about the fan first.
How has tech changed the game for the concert industry?
My partner got started when we were cutting tickets out. Over time, with the digitalization of everything, the entire process became easier. From crafting the marketing to building the show, all the way through to allowing fans to walk in the door with a mobile ticket, we’re seeing a completely different process. For the fan, it’s a more streamlined process. At the end of the day, we’re able to move tickets faster and get more people in the room.
We do shows in a number of markets and we do a lot of different styles of shows, so we’re using technology to focus on all of the different demographics and genres. That allows us to pinpoint the marketing strategy and make it bespoke. From the consumer side, that can translate into the ability to share their experience, to be able to digitally turn to their friends and say “here’s where I am, here’s what I’m doing, I’m having fun.” It’s a constant building of your relationship with that consumer. Bands come and go, but you have to keep fans engaged in your system, in your show, in your venue—as we move through the jam band phase, and now the EDM phase, and onto the next phase. Technology has allowed us to get our message and the fan’s experience out to a much broader audience.
How do you approach creating memorable experiences at Music Farm?
The artist creates the energy, the moment, the scene, the vibe. From an operations standpoint, at Music Farm, we have the opportunity to make that experience smoother and a lot better. We’re only as good as our last show. The concert experience starts once we book the show and announce it. People think it starts when you walk through the door and the music starts, but it’s really from the time your get the info about an announcement about your favorite band. It starts when that information is relayed, all the way through clicking that button to decide. If any of those things mess up along the way, it creates a bad experience, and you may lose a customer. It’s important that ticketing, as a piece of that pie is solid, is consistent, easy, and intuitive.
What are the biggest challenges you face putting on live events?
The competition, and that doesn’t mean just other concerts or promoters. Our competition is the economy; it’s gas prices, high taxes. We’re certainly expendable income, we’re in a business where no one has to go to concerts, although some people do feel that way. From that standpoint, it’s a luxury. It’s important to give those people the value they’re wanting and consistency with good shows and a quality experience.
What were some of the most special, standout shows for you?
We do an outdoor festival in Charleston called the First Flush Festival. Last year, the Avett Brothers headlined, and we had about 8,500 people there. Standing there looking over that tea plantation, seeing something you helped create, but most importantly seeing the fans engaged in that excitement with you—that’s what it’s all about. It’s the only working tea plantation in the country, so there’s a unique feel about the place. The most “aha” moment was when we took over the farm in 2007. That was the first venue we took full ownership of, and a historic venue where we were doing the renovations. At that point, just over 10 years ago, I remember looking down and thinking, “I just want to get in the music business.”
My very first show was in 2001. I’d booked some regional local bands and my grandfather had bankrolled me. I was doing a lot of Bluegrass shows back then. We did a 6,600 capacity outdoor amphitheater and I got about 550 people there. We lost over $6K on that one show alone. We were sitting on the top of the hill in a golf cart, with my grandfather, tearing up thinking, “this is awesome.” And my grandfather is sitting next to me, and I’m thinking he’s going to say, “you really screwed this one,” but instead he said, “well, I guess this is what you’re going to do the rest of your life.” My grandfather raised me so there’s that personal connection to the whole experience, and ironically he worked the box office and sold my very first ticket.
What were some of the things that made Ticketfly a game-changer for your business?
The ticketing companies we used before were strictly accounting-based; it was all back-office and just about the numbers. Then, Ticketfly approaches the whole game from a marketing angle, and really changes things up. Ticketfly integrates websites, social media, and announcements, and you start to see this platform at work, generating information about purchases and trends. It was really easy to see the difference, especially with the analytics they provide. [Ticketfly co-founder and CEO] Andrew had the experience of being a promoter, so he knows what it’s like to be on both sides. Not all ticketing agencies have that background and experience in their arsenal. He knew from the onset what assets and tools promoters absolutely needed to make our lives easier, and to make us more successful at our jobs.