6 Things We Learned from Coachella's Paul Tollett and AEG's Michael Harrison at SXSW Sydney
Events Blog
October 20, 2023

6 Things We Learned from Coachella's Paul Tollett and AEG's Michael Harrison at SXSW Sydney

The tone for South By South West Sydney’s Friday afternoon ‘in conversation’ between Michael Harrison and Paul Tollett was set early.

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Rod Yates
Rod Yates
Marketing Manager, Content
Audience Republic
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Michael Harrison and Paul Tollett, SXSW Sydney, Friday October 20, 2023

The tone for South By South West Sydney’s Friday afternoon ‘in conversation’ between AEG’s Global Touring SVP Michael Harrison and Coachella Founder/Goldenvoice CEO and Co-Founder Paul Tollett was set early.

Reflecting on the first time the duo met and Tollett poured Harrison a beer that was 80% froth, Harrison then called local radio personality Fitzy to the stage to demonstrate how to pour a beer properly, with Tollett then presented with the glass of amber ale.

What followed was a relaxed one-hour conversation in which Tollett reflected on the evolution of Coachella, and Harrison on the changing nature of global touring deals. Here are six things we learned…

The First Coachella Flopped

When Tollett launched Coachella at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, in 1999, he did so with a lineup consisting of acts such as Rage Against The Machine, Tool and Beck. Though “it was a beautiful event, we loved it”, attendance was underwhelming, with 17,000 people coming through the gates the first day, and 21,000 the next – a far cry from the 150,000 who roll up each day of the two-weekend festival now. The end result was a million-dollar loss which, Tollett said, equates to “$10 million in concert dollars now”.

YouTube Helped Coachella Go Global

Though initially Tollett was against the idea of Coachella being livestreamed, believing you “had to go to experience it”, the decade-long livestreaming partnership with YouTube has, he said, succeeded in opening the festival up to a global audience. “[Now] the whole world wanted to go to Coachella,” he offered, acknowledging that having artists such as South Korea's Blackpink perform “put us on the map in Asia”.

YouTube’s involvement coincided with Tollett leaning toward booking more international acts “naturally, it’s the way music went”. But with the livestream, “all of a sudden you have the biggest artist in that region. And what it does is, it just gets everyone watching from that area. Coachella wasn’t really that well known in Asia [prior to Blackpink appearing]. Now, everyone in Indonesia follows it, not just Korea. It became a thing where no matter what country you’re in, you could watch it like it’s your show.”

Coachella’s Future

“I don’t know it needs to be bigger,” Tollett commented, pointing to YouTube’s livestreaming as the vehicle for it to grow without increasing on-site capacity. Tollett also revealed he doesn’t have “a master plan” before joking, “If I do, it’s a rolling 90-day masterplan”.

Culture Determines The Music at Coachella

“I haven’t even finished booking next April’s show, and it announces in January,” revealed Tollett, who also stated that in the first 10 years of Coachella he wouldn’t start booking April’s event until the September beforehand. “Things have changed so much now, people want to book a year in advance,” he said. “I don’t want to, I want to wait and see what’s out there.

“I never say in the next three years I’m changing it to this, it just changes,” he added. “As it goes you look back and go, oh it changed over the last three years. You do it by the music. The music is leading the culture. You just start seeing trends when you look back.”

The Global Touring Deal Has Changed the Touring Landscape

When Harrison left Frontier in 2019 and made his move from Sydney to LA to take up the position of Senior Vice President in the newly launched Global Touring division of AEG, one of the deciding factors was the growing trend for artists to do global touring deals. “I would go overseas and do buying trips, and in the last four or five years I had been at Frontier I was hearing more, ‘Oh we’re doing a global touring deal’ before I could even make an offer,” he explained. “‘Australia’s already assigned, sorry.’ So I was starting to see diminishing opportunity.

“Global touring deals, they’re nothing really new, they’ve been around for a while, but there’s a growing trend out there between managers, agents, promoters, who like to do these multi-year, multi-cycle deals,” he added. “What that allows you to do is have longer periods of time where a promoter is engaged with an artist, and you can really get involved and invest in their growth campaigns by touring.”

Coachella’s Site Will Remain Sacred

Harrison suggested that using a festival environment for a concert series seems to be a future trend, though Tollett has no plans to use Coachella’s location for concerts other than annual country music festival Stagecoach and the recent Powertrip.  “I’m not dying to do more shows there,” he said. “It’s got to be historic within a certain scene. If it’s that I would do it. Other than that I don’t want to do shows [for the sake of doing] shows at that place. I just want to keep it special.”

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6 Things We Learned from Coachella's Paul Tollett and AEG's Michael Harrison at SXSW Sydney

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