Show Business

As senior partner of Contemporary Productions, Sam Foxman has a job that would blow away many of the fans he caters to. During our conversation in his spacious yet sparely furnished office in Clayton, he said he always comes face-to-face with each artist he’s booked to settle any last-minute the details of the show.

Yet Foxman, 35, a graduate of Parkway Central High School who attended Webster University two years as an English literature major, was careful not to drop the names of performers big or not so big or of his clients, which could be corporations, individuals or non-profits.

Foxman lives in the Central West End and is a member of Temple Emanuel. When his cell phone rings, as it did a couple of times, it plays a bit of AD/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Foxman is tall and thin. For the interview, he wore dark-wash jeans, a dark blue shirt with the sleeves buttoned and dark loafers — but no socks.`

How did you get into this line of work?

A lot of people in this business start off like I did. I was in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I think I was a pretty good guitar player, but there are probably 10 guitar players as good as I am. I thought, why don’t I look for something I really enjoy doing? I realized I really like doing the business part of the music business.

When was this?

Oh, golly, 1993, ’94. I started young.

You didn’t finish college. Do you recommend that?

I had a choice. It was play music and hopefully go on tour and hit it big or stay in school and think about what could have been. The decision was pretty easy. The analytical side of my mind said, “If this doesn’t work, you are young enough to do whatever you want.”

You’re the go-between, aren’t you?

Exactly. We have a group of folks, our clients, who are paying for a production — a musical presentation, theatrical or whatever. They are paying us to ensure something is happening to entertain a group of folks. We are [also] there to ensure the performer is contracted and does what he is contracted to do — and make him feel comfortable.

[His] coming to a city and performing is stressful. We have to make sure he has all the equipment he needs, the hospitality he needs, while still accomplishing all the points in the contract. The art is you have to deliver on both ends all the time. You have to be – what’s the word? – valuable. And flexible. There are things nobody can account for – power going out in the building, a huge storm. Electricity is the lifeblood of everything we do.

What do you do?

Depends. I like to bring entertainers in the day before. I’ve had some very close calls, but I’ve never had a show not happen. I’ve had people come straight from the airport and walk from the car onto the stage.

Are artists too demanding?

These people are traveling. Some are in a different city every night. They have things so they can walk in and their dressing room is set up a certain way. It gives them a sense of consistency.

You have to be a diplomat, don’t you?

Absolutely. It takes a very special personality to deal with both sides of things all the time.

Are your clients mostly corporate?

We have four types: individuals, corporations, civic entities and not-for-profits.

How many shows have you done?

About 500.

Do you handle Fair St. Louis?

We book that and Live on the Levee.

Is this a good town to work in?

As long as the entertainment is free and there’s beer available, it’s a great town.

Do you work with artists directly or with their people?

There are different layers. When we’re talking about terms, we’re usually dealing with their agent. The agent’s role is to make sure the artist is being engaged for the kind of events he wants to play. Once the show is booked, we’re working with the crew that’s hired by the artist. There we’re working with the production manager or the wardrobe manager or the personal assistants. Some artists have an entourage of two or three people; some people have 16.

Why’s that?

Depends on the show. If the artist is carrying a set design or his own production, he has a bigger crew. Eventually it will end up where I am standing in a room with the artist talking about the show, the day of the show.

Do you work long days?

I’ve worked all weekend. For Live on the Levee, we do shows every weekend. Most people don’t realize that for every 75 minutes [of performance], it takes 30 hours of work. Sometimes it will take 20 hours to get all the lights and moving parts up.

Do most artists travel by bus?

Yeah. It’s pretty economical. They go from city to city. Buses are very, very plush. They can carry personal equipment in the belly. Flying doesn’t make sense unless you are Paul McCartney or Bon Jovi. These buses are better than any plane. It’s an apartment.

Is there an industry guide to artists’ fees?

There’s a database we all use. The funny thing about our industry is, wait for the Grammys. The week after the Grammys, everybody who’s won, their price goes up.

What’s your fee?

Usually we charge a percentage of the cost of the project. Our percentage hovers around 8 percent mark.

When the economy’s bad, do artists drop their prices?

No. Some are smart enough to understand that, “Hey, I do a lot of corporate work. I have enough forethought to see that business is not good right now. I’m going to take a little less than usual.” Some do, but when you’re talking about megastars, they don’t.

Has telecommunications changed this business?

All these 20 year olds don’t talk to people any more. There’s not this [talking face to face]. It’s text or Twitter or Facebook. In our industry, face-to-face communication is how the deal gets done.


When you’re paying someone a large sum of money to do something artistic, some of it needs very explicit direction. You can’t book a million-dollar artist online. With our clients, I want to talk with them, and I want them to see me, because I might have some idea I want to show them.

What’s ahead?

I see the rise of the festival, like Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza. Cities as civic entities are going to be very big players. They see a real advantage to attracting people to a city. This really helps the city’s economy. You can see a lot of music in three days.

I see the decline of crazy artist fees. There needs to be a market correction. You can only keep doing this to people for so long: Paying $100 for seeing a concert is crazy. If you love music, there are a lot of bands you can see for $20 or $30.