Tag Archives: concert

Revamped Radio

March 18, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When the band Train came to Omaha’s Baxter Arena for a concert in December 2016, there were plenty of flashing lights and excited fans. “But when the lights go out and the audience starts screaming, there’s no rush like it in the world,” says Andy Ruback, general manager of NRG Media. Ruback knows a great deal about screaming fans—when a big concert comes to town the likelihood is that Ruback had his hand in the planning. His role as general manager has evolved over the years from managing radio stations to include managing events brought to town by NRG Media Live.

The business is a natural fit for NRG, which owns stations ranging from Power 106.9 to 1290 KOIL. The company was looking to the future for broadcasting and leaning toward live shows as a way to increase profitability. NRG used their strengths in connecting people to music to expand into the business of concert production. With the radio stations’ on-air talent knowing their listeners’ preferences, the media company naturally knew what acts had potential to bring in revenue, and which ones might not.

Ruback came to Omaha from Lincoln, where he served as general manager for their NRG stations. Upon his arrival at the NRG offices in Omaha in 2012, Ruback went full speed ahead. He says the intention was never to focus on live shows over radio shows; rather, he called his plans a method for “diversifying for growth.”

Concert production is a challenge that Ruback gladly accepted, but in it, found unique bumps in the road. Some of those bumps included special requirements, such as permits, that needed the legal team’s help. Shock rocker Alice Cooper, for example, required the team to acquire special insurance because of the pyrotechnics involved with his show. Ruback and his team figured out how to get the right insurance, and now know who to ask the next time someone wants to light up fireworks onstage.

Ruback says some of the more surprising challenges he and his team have faced come from smaller, more routine details.

“I would say it’s more about the crowd experience logistics,” Ruback says. “How do we try to work with the arenas to make sure there’s enough concessions on the floor? What should be the entry ticket price? What should be the price for the front row?”

Logistics is the simplest description for the business of producing concerts. Is the specific artist available at the time? Is there enough interest in this artist to fill the seats? Is a venue available on the day needed?

“We could have the great idea, and the right price, but there could be a UNO hockey game and a Lancers game on the night we want, and we’re out of luck,” Ruback says.

It is a revenue stream in which many community businesses desire to participate, and there are many ways for them to participate, including attaching their name to experiences such as meet-and-greets with the band before or after the show, and attaching their name to souvenirs. Attendees at the Train concert, for example, vied for flashing bracelets and cups branded with a sponsor’s logo. Signage prominently displayed throughout Baxter Arena featured sponsor logos.

The scenario is beneficial to everyone involved: the band gets to play to a well-attended venue, the fans get to enjoy the band, and the sponsors get to present their message in an effective way.

“On that day, no other media group is producing a concert,” Ruback says. “So you’re looking at content that advertisers want to be a part of, but no other client can do.”

The diversification proved wildly successful. Ruback says that since 2014, more than 100,000 people have attended an NRG Media Live event. Associate athletic director for University of Nebraska at Omaha Mike Kemp enjoys his business dealings with NRG Media Live and says that when Ruback puts on a concert at Baxter Arena “… it’s not just a concert—it’s an event. He has great vision and ideas and that’s the true charm of what he does.”

“I think NRG Media does a great job of engaging the community to get behind the events,” adds Kemp. NRG Media has the ability to promote coming shows using the radio stations on their roster and their strong social media presence. This equals solid attendance numbers at concerts and happy sponsors.

“Andy’s full of energy and great ideas,” Kemp says of Ruback. “He’s an honest guy with great enthusiasm for what he does.” Rubak’s vision has evolved NRG Media into much more than an organization simply running local radio stations. In fact, the next time there is a popular concert in town, there is an excellent chance that Ruback can be found there, smiling and enjoying the rush.

Visit nrgmedia.com for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Fantasy vs. Reality

April 24, 2014 by
Photography by Ralston Arena

Look at those squeaky-clean faces in the photo. If you are the grandparent or parent of pre-teen children, you will no doubt recognize Shout (keyboards), Marina, (drums), Kiki (guitar), and Twist (turntable). They are The Fresh Beat Band, whose Nick Jr. TV show of the same name is a bed-bouncing favorite whenever I babysit my grandsons, 4-year-old Easton and 3-year-old Barrett.

The quartet’s January performance at the sparkling Ralston Arena was to be Easton’s first concert experience.

It was probably a dirty trick, but I had decided that he would learn for the first time the purpose of our outing only when the band bounded onto the stage. Easton cannot yet read, but I was sure he would instantly recognize the band’s logo plastered across the towering video display. He didn’t. And I was equally sure that my deception would be exposed when he noticed all the Fresh Beat Band T-shirts and other regalia throughout the auditorium slowly filling with a horde of soon-to-be screaming tots and tykes. Again, he didn’t.

My ruse had worked.

When the wildly popular combo finally bopped onto the stage and tore through a truncated version of their theme song, his face froze and a glassy look came to his eyes.

Every parent and grandparent yearns to be able to read the minds of children too young to effectively communicate abstract ideas, and I would have given anything to be able to read his mind at that very moment. Easton’s hypnotic stare gave me the sense that an inner battle was being waged. He knew what he was seeing and hearing, but the visage was one that had to date existed only in the flat-screen, fantasy world of television. Now the characters of his fave TV show had a very in-your-face, corporeal existence, one entirely independent of their digital imprint.

I could almost hear the cogs turning as he puzzled through the apparition before him. Did he understand the difference between TV and reality?

Easton continued to think about it for what seemed an eternity while I did the same in terms of trying to divine any hint of what must be racing through his noggin.

He snapped out of his trance moments later when the band ripped into a raucous cover of The Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat.” It wasn’t half way through that number that he dropped from his aisle seat and was dancing frenetically in that spasmodic, herky-jerky style peculiar to small children.

If there had been any existential warfare raging in his little head it had now been erased by sheer reckless abandon as he whirled through such showstoppers as “A Friend Like You,” “Freeze Dance,” and “Just Like a Rock Star.”

Easton will soon be old enough to relate on a more complex level. In the meantime, I wonder if all will be lost to the dusty recesses of memory. Will he remember the high five he got from Twist, the band’s main purveyor of comic relief? Will he a year from now even be able to recall anything at all from this day? Anything?

His grandpa sure will.

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Maha Music Festival 2013

June 20, 2013 by

It’s hard to believe the Maha Music Festival will celebrate its fifth anniversary this year. First held in 2009 at the Lewis & Clark Landing in Downtown Omaha, the all-day outdoor indie rock festival moved to Stinson Park at Aksarben Village in 2011, where it remains today. Each year, the event expands and evolves into a bigger musical machine than it was the year before.

Even more surprisingly, Maha is a nonprofit endeavor, run strictly by volunteers and supported by a host of generous corporate sponsors, including Centris Federal Credit Union, Weitz Investment Management, Schnackel Engineers, and 20 other local and national companies. The event is built on a love for the Omaha community and a passion for music. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy feat. Maha Board President Tre Brashear admits he didn’t exactly know what he was getting into when it first began.

Photo by Chip Duden.

Photo by Chip Duden.

“I jokingly say if we knew how much work [Maha] was going to be, we probably would have never done it in the first place,” Brashear says. “But once it gets in your blood a little bit, you want to make it better and better so it keeps going. It was hard to explain to our families that we weren’t making any money [laughs].”

This year’s music lineup announcement sent shockwaves through the Omaha community when people got word The Flaming Lips were headlining the August 17 event. Lips’ frontman Wayne Coyne and his wild, gray-streaked Afro are all over television lately, with Coyne serving as the spokesperson for Virgin Mobile. Not only are The Flaming Lips huge right now, they’re also the most expensive act Maha has ever booked. The organizers spent 25 percent more on talent this year than last, Brashear shares.

Photo by Josh Hollowell.

Photo by Josh Hollowell.

The initial Maha concept was to generate enough profit from the event to donate to various nonprofit organizations around the community; so far, that hasn’t happened. But the Maha committee is determined to make that goal a reality. With The Flaming Lips headlining and prolific artists such as Matt & Kim, The Thermals, and Bob Mould (Sugar) rounding out the bill, Brashear is hopeful this is the year.

“We thought we’d come out gangbusters out of the gate, but we didn’t do that,” he says. “We’re trying to get enough money to put aside so we know Maha is safe and will continue on, even if it rains or nobody likes the headliners. We are slowly getting there, but it’s not to the point we can distribute anything [to nonprofits] yet.”

Despite the challenges, Maha always has an eye on the future. Hip-Hop has been noticeably absent over the years, and the festival also seems a bit confined with just one day of performances.

“Our vision for Maha is to have multiple days on a weekend,” Brashear explains. “We want to be able to expand to different genres. We still want to be true to all of our indie fans that have grown up with us, but we’re not trying to only be this indie music festival. We want to go beyond that.”

Tickets for the Maha Music Festival are available for purchase online at mahamusicfestival.com. Advanced general admission tickets are $45, and day-of general admission tickets are $55.