October 29, 2013
About 18 months ago, Gary Richards was preparing for his massive HARDfest summer bash to capitalize on the growing popularity of EDM. The concert sold out, attracting 35,000 fans. Later that year, HARD threw another 35,000 sellout at Day Of The Dead. One year later, Day Of The Dead, returns for two nights this weekend, with expected sellouts for 70,000 people. As for EDM itself, a couple more artists have crossed into the mainstream, but its potential on radio remains untapped. Here, Richards charts the movement's progress so far and how his company will continue to prosper -- not just in Los Angeles, but nationwide.
How, in your eyes, has EDM has grown in the past year to 18 months? Is its popularity still growing dramatically or is it starting to plateau?
Sales have definitely grown in the past more than I thought and then some. I can only speak for our events and our numbers are doubling. Last year at this time, we sold 50,000 for our shows. This year we're at 70,000. Last year Day Of The Dead sold out with 35,000 for one night. This year we're doing two nights and will do 70,000.
Yet, outside of Aviici, Calvin Harris and a couple others, radio still has been reluctant to jump on board. Does that bother you at all?
It's interesting when it comes to radio. Someone who happens to be a friend of a DJ on a local radio station sent me an e-mail with an audio clip where the station was giving away Day Of The Dead tickets. I asked around here and no one got a request for tickets from that station. So how did they get the tickets? It turns out they bought them. I guess that means these stations are starting to get hip to electronic music.
The truth is we haven't gotten a lot of airplay. It's still very limited, usually on mix shows, but fortunately that kind of exposure is not essential to what we do here at HARD.
Considering how well EDM seems to be doing without much radio play, is it worth making more of an effort to get this music on radio?
We'd welcome more airplay on mainstream radio. We'd like to see a HARDfest channel on satellite or HD. Electronic music is getting heard on the streaming services and Internet radio such as Pandora. The bottom line is the fans who attend our shows want to hear something different - which makes me wonder if they listen to much radio at all -- but that's why I don't work at a radio station
Whether or not radio decides it wants to reach our audience, I'll still be spreading our brand, starting with staging a series of HARD shows with Destructo and friends in Las Vegas. We have two tours booked with stops in Toronto, Chicago, Terminal 5 in New York and Miami. We're also ready to go to Australia. We're getting out there.
If not more radio airplay, what will be the next step EDM will have to take to cross over into mainstream success?
In a sense, I feel we've already crossed over. What HARD is doing with new talent is a bit different than the acts we booked on the Day of the Dead show. I believe most of those are pop acts already, whether or not radio plays them
Just how deep is the EDM talent pool?
The talent pool is very deep. There are amazing new artists coming up, yet sometimes the most popular ones aren't always the most talented. I almost wish people would dig as deep as I do instead of just being served the most-liked bands on Facebook, but that's kind of how it works. I've always said that if I had a record label to sign acts to, I wouldn't just go after the music that wins popularity contests, but those artists who produce music with quality that stands the test of time
Right now, what EDM artists do you believe will stand the test of time?
Skrillex, Boyz Noise, Maya Jane Coles, Benoit & Sergio, Calvin Harris, Giorgio Moroder, Deadmau5, Eric Prydz, to name a few ... want a couple smaller acts? Claptone and Oliver
It sounds as if you don't have a problem filling your shows with quality EDM talent.
My problem is that I only have so many slots, with so much quality to choose from. When I listen to what's out there, I know which acts I want, but with so many people sending me stuff, I no longer have the time to listen to it all. I'm not a record label with an A&R staff who can listen to things. Sometimes I have to rely on others to lead me to acts, and when I find them, I try to get behind them as much as I can. I just wish I had more time in the day to do it.
Last year at the summer HARDfest, you booked Bootsy Collins. This year, Day Of The Dead brings in Giorgio Moroder. How do you know which legends will work at an EDM show?
He's definitely a legend, that's for sure. I always try to mix it up a bit. A lot of promoters of electronic music do the same things at their concerts, so we consciously try to be different. As for getting Moroder, he did a DJ set for Red Bull Music Academy in New York earlier this year - and the Red Bull Music Academy is sponsoring one of our stages at Day Of The Dead. When I found out that Moroder's set was the most-streamed set they ever had at Red Bull Music, that's all that I needed to hear. The question became could we ever get him for one of our HARD shows. It turns out he lives pretty close to me. I contacted him to ask if we could book him - and he came over to my house to close the deal. It was amazing. I'm a big fan, but I don't know if the kids know who these acts are. Nevertheless, it's important to have real icons as part of our experience.
Are there any dream icons you have on a wish list?
I've always joked about getting Eddie Van Halen to do "Eruption" on guitar, but seriously, that would be insanely great. More realistically, obviously Daft Punk would be at the top of the list, but they're not from the '60s to the '80s, which I feel is important for us to have. We've done pretty well with what we've gotten so far.
Is there any other entertainment aspect you'd like to add to your shows?
Maybe performance art, but for the most part, we're going to keep it focused on the music. My main thing is to set up a great environment and a good stage, then leave it for the artists to perform. I try not inject too much of my creativity into the music on that level, but I'm always open to cool things like new digital art.
Are EDM shows ideally suited for open-air parks like the one where Day Of The Dead and the summer HARDfest are held?
We're pretty good at adapting; we can make it work anywhere. We've done shows everywhere from parking lots and cruise ship to clubs that only hold 100 people, from dome arenas to Governor's Island in New York. For us, it's just finding a location we like. From there, we can make it work.
In Los Angeles, you have a major show in the summer and one around Halloween. Could you see adding a major HARD event in the spring to round out the year?
I'm not sure. We added a show at Red Rocks in Colorado this year ... it sold out with 10,000 people ... but I don't know about adding another big fest in southern California. We still do pretty big shows at the Hollywood Palladium and at the Wiltern, as well as smaller clubs. There are a lot of other places in the country we can go to that are lacking any big EDM shows, as well as other countries, too.
Your pact with Live Nation is now over a year old. Has your working relationship with them been all that you hoped it could be?
For me personally, it's been amazing. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life because it provided a backbone and structure for our company that it never had before. We now have all the financial support we need, as well as extras such as insurance contracts and extra manpower for our productions. All the things that go into our events -- on a large scale - are so time-consuming and taxing.
Live Nation has really set this up. Before, everyone in my company wore 10 different hats. Live Nation has whole teams of people who can look at sales patterns and tell you when the shows will sell out. I always go off my gut, but having this information enables me to be more creative and set up more shows, as well as spend more time on artists and lineups. I can make shows better from a creative standpoint because I don't have to worry about the structure of the stage and the engineering, or figuring out how many toilets we need.
Robert Sillerman, who courted you for his SFX Group, is now putting that company up for an IPO. Has that affected your business at all?
It has a lot. Any time people on Wall Street pay attention to what you're doing, that's pretty good for your business. It was not that long ago when I was one of those people who'd be setting up underground shows in L.A. warehouses at 4 in the morning. I've definitely come a long way - and it feels good.