Column 146 — One Percent Then and Now; Hyannis, TSITR tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 5:52 pm October 17, 2007

When I sat down to consider how to cover One Percent Production’s 10-year anniversary, I initially drew a blank. I’ve already written the penultimate history of the company four years ago (You can read that here). Since then, I’ve written various columns about One Percent (including this one). And earlier this year I wrote a cover-length feature about The Waiting Room (here). What was left to discuss? Well it just so happens that in the last few weeks a few people have compared One Percent, and Marc Leibowitz in particular, to Matt Markel (who I wrote about earlier this year, here). Actually, every band that’s had a run-in with Markel complained about that Ranch Bowl story, saying I treated him with kid gloves. Maybe I did. I certainly brought up his business dealings and let Markel defend himself. But at the end of the day, I’m not sure what Markel ever did wrong other than try to run a successful business. Did he treat some bands like shit? I have no doubt that he did. On the other hand, I’m not sure what those bands expected. Is Leibowitz the new Markel? Is that really such a bad thing?

Column 146: 10 Years Gone
One Percent Productions adjusts to the times.
As One Percent Productions celebrates 10 years of business Oct. 24 with Bright Eyes at The Waiting Room, the company is looking toward the future from a different perspective than when they began.

A brief history: Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson, a.k.a. One Percent (named after a Jane’s Addiction song) booked Ani DiFranco and Indigenous at Sokol Auditorium Oct. 24, 1997. It was a success. Over the next decade, they booked more than a thousand shows at venues around Omaha and Council Bluffs. For the first seven years, Leibowitz said, it was a “break-even type business, a hobby.”

These days, it’s a full-time job. While their primary venue is the one they own — The Waiting Room in Benson — One Percent also continues to book shows all over town, including at Sokol, Slowdown, The Orpheum and the Mid America Center. One Percent is recognized as the only real promoter of indie music in a city known around the world for its indie music.

Their rise to prominence is reminiscent of another Omaha music mogul’s rise — Matt Markel. The impresario behind The Ranch Bowl, Markel was the Godfather of the Omaha music scene throughout the ’90s up to 2002. In addition to The Bowl, Markel booked most of the larger venues in town and controlled his network of national promoters with an iron fist. Eventually, his business policies made him reviled by some local bands that felt they were getting screwed (whether they were or not).

Leibowitz refutes the Markel comparison. He said One Percent has never tried gimmicks like Markel’s infamous pay-to-play scheme for local bands. “Matt ran a tight business, did arena shows and had good relationships with agents,” Leibowitz said. “He ran a smart business. And in a sense, we’re dealing with the same issues he did: How do you open a bar to new bands when you don’t know how well they’ll draw? They all say they’ll draw 100. That’s not possible.”

But dealing with local bands is the least of One Percent’s worries. Attendance at live shows is down, not only in Omaha, but across the country, Leibowitz said.

“It’s interesting where we’re at right now,” he said. “We’re getting too many shows and people can’t afford to go to all of them because the economy sucks.”

Consider the sheer volume that One Percent is booking. Last week, they hosted Wilco, Dr. Dog, White Rabbits, Pomeroy, The Good Life, Adam Franklin, Underoath, The Show Is the Rainbow and Pinback, with Blue October, Scout Niblett, Rogue Wave and Bright Eyes on the horizon. “How can people go to all those shows?” Leibowitz asked.

He said the problem is similar to what happened in Lawrence, Kansas, just a few years ago. That scene got overloaded with shows, drawing down attendance and forcing bands to look toward Omaha for relief.

Another reason for the high volume of shows is technology. “The irony is that downloads are killing the concert industry as well as the record industry,” Leibowitz said. “Band managers and booking agents are insisting that bands go out two or three times a year because they can’t make money off records anymore.” In a normal market, last week’s Wilco show would have sold out, “but there are too many shows going on, and people are still broke.”

That business climate, as well as owning a club, has changed the duo’s booking philosophy. Leibowitz said they started One Percent because bands they wanted to see weren’t being booked in Omaha, specifically at places like The Ranch Bowl. Thirty days after opening The Waiting Room, however, and they began to understand why.

“I remember thinking ‘The fucking Ranch Bowl won’t book Pavement but they’ll book Pomeroy.’ I get it now,” Leibowitz said. “Why take a risk on a flash-in-the-pan indie band that wants money versus a local metal show with no risk that does good bar business? When you can make easy money, why go after the difficult stuff? The Ranch Bowl didn’t book Pavement until the last Pavement tour, because it was too expensive and too risky in this market.”

“The market was a lot different 10 years ago,” Johnson said. “We were successful with indie bands because it was cheap. But when indie became mainstream, it became more expensive.”

The bottom line: “A mediocre touring show loses money,” Leibowitz said. “A mediocre local show doesn’t lose anything. It’s disheartening, but it’s part of the business.”

Another part of the equation is owning — rather than renting — a venue. “We didn’t care how the bar did when we first did shows. It wasn’t about concessions,” Leibowitz said. “At this bar, it is. We have overhead to cover.

“It’s very different from 1997,” he added. “We still bring in bands we like even if we think we’ll lose money. If we pass on someone we really like because of the risk, we won’t be doing this much longer.”

What will the next 10 years bring? “I don’t know,” Leibowitz said. “The Waiting Room is still in its infancy. It was going to be a springboard to bigger stuff, like The Ranch Bowl was for Markel. We want to do shows with artists as they grow. Just like Markel had Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins and Faith No More at The Ranch Bowl, we want to book that next band that becomes a huge success, and then hopefully be able to book them at an arena.”

“I guess the goal is to become Markel,” Johnson said, “to have a club and do festivals and shows at arenas and theaters.”

There’s a lot more to our interview, and I may lay it on you tomorrow, if I have time.

Tonight, two shows worth mentioning: At PS Collective, it’s the Hyannis CD release show with Shiver Shiver and Beaucoup. $2, 8 p.m. At The Waiting Room, it’s The Show Is the Rainbow with Baby Walrus and Talkin’ Mountain. 9 p.m., $7.

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