Longtime promoter Brian Murphy departs Live Nation to join forces with AEG Live
In a surprise move that has wide-reaching implications for the local live music scene, Brian Murphy, former chairman of Southern California music for Live Nation, the country’s top concert promoter, has jumped ship to become West Coast president for AEG Live — Live Nation’s strongest competitor.
“It was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make in business,” Murphy said in an exclusive interview with The Times. “There are employees I’m leaving who have been with me for 20 years. But it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I’m an L.A. guy, and AEG Live is an L.A.-centric company.”
One of the most respected promoters in the American concert industry — and a pillar of the SoCal scene, the country’s most competitive live music market — Murphy has worked closely with a Who’s Who of pop music’s biggest touring acts: U2, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica among them.
Rick Mueller will remain in place as president of Live Nation’s California division.
Over a 30-year career that he began by booking gigs while still in college, Murphy established Avalon Attractions (a dominant L.A. indie promotions company that was acquired by SFX, the company that presaged Live Nation, in 1998) and has forged close connections with a network of influential music industry contacts. Among them: programming directors at radio stations such as KROQ-FM (106.7) and KIIS-FM (102.7) and real estate developers (Murphy oversaw the rehabilitation of such cherished local music venues as Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre and the Hollywood Palladium). But the promoter’s deep relationships with talent agents and managers could provide a critical advantage for AEG Live — particularly at the arena-show level where Live Nation and AEG Live compete most fiercely to pin down top-tier performers.
Paul Tollett, co-founder of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and president of Goldenvoice, AEG Live’s Southern California-based regional division, will work side by side with Murphy in his new capacity; Murphy will oversee concert promotions from Seattle to San Diego as well as AEG venues in Las Vegas. Despite their parent companies’ corporate rivalry, the two have been friends for over a quarter-century, have co-promoted hundreds of shows together and have mutually attempted to hire one each other away several times.
“I’ve always thought he’s the most solid promoter out there,” said Tollett. “His relationships span generations to the biggest names in touring. To have us both on the same team is pretty great. My main competition before was Brian.”
Randy Phillips, chief executive of AEG Live, hailed Murphy as an “iconic promoter” and his part in a new initiative for AEG Live, spearheading the company’s shift emphasis from only providing venues — like downtown L.A.’s Nokia Theatre, the Warfield in San Francisco or Staples Center — where acts perform to becoming a more full-service organization.
“Having Brian really completes us as a company on the West Coast,” Phillips said. “We’ll be booking more shows at the Nokia at the expense of the [Live Nation-owned] Gibson Amphitheatre. We’ll be promoting more shows at Staples as promoters. We’ll be more vibrant, more important as a local promoter as opposed to being just a venue operator. It’s a game-changer.”
Murphy’s move to AEG Live arrives at a time of recent turmoil in the live music industry. Last year, concert ticket sales plummeted and prominent acts including Christina Aguilera, Rihanna and the Jonas Brothers canceled and postponed tours while engagements by the likes of the Eagles, Lillith Fair and American Idols Live! were rescheduled or scaled back.
Still, Murphy, 63, said his love of concert promotions remains undiminished after three decades in the business.
“I love promoting concerts, every aspect of it,” he said. “I’m a very hands-on promoter: working out marketing, ticketing, promotions, right down to night of show. Bands that work with me deserve my undivided attention.”
Asked what had triggered his exit from Live Nation, Murphy denied bad blood had anything to do with it, explaining the company had simply allowed his contract to expire at the time Phillips approached him with what seemed like to good an offer to refuse.
“This is not about animosity, not about anything that happened in the past,” Murphy said. “This was about opportunity. I have the opportunity to think about what I’m going to do next.”
-- Chris Lee
Photo: Bono, left, The Edge and Adam Clayton of U2 perform on stage at Mt Smart Stadium on November 25, 2010 in Auckland, New Zealand. Credit: Sandra Mu/Getty Images