Interview: Rick Mueller, President of AEG North America

Interview by Yising Kao

Rick is featured in our Music Industry issue!:

Photo by Randall Michelson

Rick is the President of AEG Live’s North American division, which annually produces and promotes over 10,000 shows, including world-renowned festivals. AEG has produced tours for artists such as Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, The Rolling Stones, and The 1975. Rick oversees AEG’s regional offices and works in various areas such operations and ticket marketing, and has helped develop venues such as the Shrine Auditorium and the Santa Barbara Bowl.

What inspired you to want to work in the music industry?

I was always passionate about music. I grew up playing the drums, played in bands, and I worked at a high school radio station. I went to a lot of concerts growing up and when I went to UC Santa Barbara, I got my degree in Communications. During freshman year, I found a program council and it seemed like a natural gravitation to be like, the concert guy on campus. It just felt like something I was good at and passionate about, and I never stopped pursuing it.

When you were a college student, you started working in concert promotion. What were some important skills you learned through those experiences?

It was a very safe place to learn about fundamentals. We had student advisors who could help me guide the shows. I learned how to produce shows. Concerts is inherently a relationship business, so I learned how to build structural relationships with agents and managers who were selling these shows to UCSB. I learned how to do the blocking of executing concerts and built relationships with campus police, fire marshals, and security to make sure that all the events ran smoothly. I learned how to build relationships with the campus administrators in terms of getting contracting and getting artists paid. I had to learn how to communicate appropriately and make sure there weren’t going to be problems for anyone.

It must be difficult to work out concert ticket prices that would satisfy the artist and the fans, while trying not to underprice or overprice them. What are some factors you take into consideration when deciding how much to charge for concert tickets?

Every artist is a little bit different on what drives the ticket prices. Sometimes, an artist wants to charge a certain amount of money and we work with that. We take into consideration what other similar artists are charging in the marketplace or across the country. We look at trends within the genre of music as to where ticket prices are going. Some of it is how hot we think an act is going to be, like if they have a number one single, then we can be more aggressive on charging, but they have to be done in tandem with what the artist wants to charge and how we can protect the fans within all of that. So, there are a lot of variables and it takes a bit of collaboration with the artist representative to come up with an incentive of what is right. And even still, sometimes we go into that knowing that tickets prices are less than what the market would be willing to pay for it. unfortunately, that’s what creates the opportunity for scalpers to try to buy tickets and charge what someone’s willing to pay for it. That’s always a troublesome thing because the artist wants to charge one thing and the market’s charging another, and we want to make sure that we get the maximum amount of value for the artist.

What are some tactics AEG is trying to do to prevent scalpers from getting tickets?

We want to use a digital platform where we can assign a ticket to a person, much like you would buy an airline ticket. You can’t just give an airline ticket to your friend, so you have to show up with an ID to the venue. That would eliminate the ability to resale the ticket and make more of a margin on it, but that’s not foolproof. To eliminate scalping, we charge more towards what market value pricing is, meaning if the artist only wants to charge $20, but the market value of that same ticket is $60, if you charge $60, then there’s no money for the scalper to be made on that ticket price. So, that would essentially reduce the opportunity in the secondary market for somebody to sell a ticket. It really depends on what the artist’s goals are. A lot of artists only want to charge extra, but it depends if the technology of the company can help support making that ticket non-transferrable. Fanclub presales can work well, but scalpers can also participate in them.

AEG has helped artists develop a long-term growth, such as by booking them to play at small venues to larger venues like Staples Center, producing global and regional tours, and promoting artists. What are some ways that AEG helps promote artists and help them develop a long-term growth?

We’ve got the venue network and if we believe in the artist, we can put them through our venues and give them opportunities to perform and we benefit from that as well. We have a lot of festivals, from Coachella to Stagecoach to Firefly, so we showcase artists through them. We invest heavily in digital marketing, so when an artist has a fanbase and they’re trying to grow it, we have the ability to look at consumers who would potentially like that artist and reach out and help them grow awareness of the artist or the show.

What advice do you have for people who want to work in the marketing division of the music industry?

I'm a huge proponent in believing that digital marketing is the future, which is an obvious statement. This business was founded on a lot of radio promotion and flyers. Marrying digital knowledge, excellence, and marketing with music is really setting yourself up to be what makes you relevant in your career for the future. Having as much digital marketing experience as you can is helpful.