Lady Gaga calls him her Oz—the man who saw enough potential in this modern-day Dorothy to save her from bankruptcy. Bono says he's George Clooney's character in ER: "The operating room's about to explode, and he keeps calm, doing open-heart surgery with a Swiss Army Knife."
The man they're praising so extravagantly is probably the most powerful behind-the-scenes figure in modern music: Arthur Fogel, the head of Live Nation's global touring division. To date, the Ottawa native has helped run four of the five highest-grossing tours of all time. He has the clout to—as he did for Gaga—cut a performer a $40-million cheque and send her touring to the world's biggest venues (all currency in U.S. dollars).
In the post-Napster era, live shows have become the rock star's sole source of reliable income (music and licensing sales went from $14.6 billion to $6.3 billion from 1999 to 2009). As Fogel's friend Guy Oseary, Madonna's manager, has said: "You once toured to promote albums, now you release albums to promote tours." This has multiplied Fogel's importance in a beleaguered industry.
Interviewed in his L.A. office—hung with photos of himself with Madonna, U2, and his wife and five kids—Fogel is understated, his clothing dark and plain. But under that, he burns with what critic Walter Pater once called a hard, gemlike flame. This is a man who once told legendary promoter Bill Graham—the guy who brought Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin to the masses—to go f--- himself, who recently enjoyed showing off to a small-time Canadian promoter because the man long ago refused to help Fogel get his foot in the door.
And why not? Fogel's rise looks inexorable only in retrospect. The headmaster of his private high school, Ashbury College, predicted that Fogel would never amount to much, and for a while, that prediction looked likely to come true. After graduating from McMaster in Hamilton, his career as a drummer faltered. He took a job as a night manager at Egerton's—later the Edge—a club at the centre of Toronto's vibrant new wave scene. ("What didn't I see there? I had to learn how to fight—literally and figuratively.") He managed small bands on cross-continent tours, then worked as an assistant for one of the principals of CPI, the firm led by Michael Cohl that booked acts into Canada for a time. (1)
Fogel had become part of CPI's leadership team by the time it revolutionized the concert-tour industry. Acts used to have to work via local promoters in each city. But CPI began booking venues for the Rolling Stones' international tours directly—giving rise to Fogel's confrontation with Graham, who ran the San Francisco concert scene.
The Edge's former owner, Ron Chapman, recently made a documentary on Fogel (2), and comments: "Until Arthur came along, the industry was full of promoters who championed their own brand more than the artists they booked—they were large, public personalities like Graham. Fogel, meanwhile, is the biggest in the industry, has been for some time, and until recently he didn't even have a Wikipedia page."
Fogel's claim to posterity will be that he helped some album-era artists lengthen their careers. When we talk, he's firming up tours for U2, Madonna and Rush, and overseeing Australian shows featuring Sting and Paul Simon. His staff will often hire over 1,000 people in each city and book out 200 hotel rooms. When Bono had to get emergency back surgery midway through U2's last tour, Fogel had to postpone all North American dates for a year, and place what one insider calls the highest insurance claim ever in this sphere.
Most of the acts Fogel represents are heading into that good night (though Mick Jagger et al. are hardly going gently). What does he see after they (finally) retire? "People have been moaning for a while that no artists who came up in the digital era will be able to fill the stadiums," he says. "It's such shit." He name-checks Gaga, Ed Sheeran, Adele and Rihanna. "There's an explosion of talent."
Floor tickets near the stage for U2's summer shows are posted at nearly $10,000. Aren't such prices exorbitant for one night out? "You have to look at the expenses that go into the show, the number of people employed, the stages," says Fogel. "We don't pull the prices from the air."
Fogel claims people are willing to pay more if the shows are high-octane. In short: Spend more, make more. (3) Not every tour goes as planned—to wit, Guns N' Roses' 2002 tour, where Axl Rose often no-showed and fans rioted. "With the expenses of touring, the stakes are so much higher. I can't say I've found myself in that situation since then, but you never want to get cocky."
(1) Live Nation and Cohl, its former chairman, parted ways in 2008 and recently settled significant outstanding litigation. "Michael is amazing with numbers, with deals," Fogel says carefully.
(2) The film Who the F*** Is Arthur Fogel? efficiently recounts the major changes swirling around Fogel, from the '80s to the present.
(3) Live Nation invested $3 million to build the stage for U2's 360° tour, which allowed the band to perform in the round in stadiums—
only possible in arenas before.
History's Top Five Tours
(*Fogel-managed Live Nation tour)
1. U2, 360°* (2009-'11)
2. Rolling Stones, A Bigger Bang* (2005-'07)
3. Roger Waters, The Wall Live (2010-'13)
4. AC/DC, Black Ice* (2008-'10)
5. Madonna, Sticky & Sweet* (2008-'09)