Although Rhea Roberts-Johnson has worked in entertainment her whole career, working in ticketing was an industry niche she fell into completely by accident. After graduating college, her heart was set on working in radio. Her first post-collegiate job was at a Los Angeles country radio station, 93.9 KZLA, which also was a sister station to hip hop’s Power 106.
“It was the best of both worlds,” Rhea says. (She even snuck in another gig, on-air, at another LA radio station, 102.3 KJLH!) Then, after several years of working for KZLA and recording voiceovers and other projects for Power 106, a new opportunity popped up unexpectedly. Her boss was hired to help launch marketing for Stagecoach, the county music version of Coachella, which was created and operated by concert and festival promoter Goldenvoice. And she asked Rhea to join her.
“I came over to Goldenvoice to work in marketing for Stagecoach and Coachella,” Rhea says. “It was definitely cool while I was doing it, but after a while I was looking to do something where I had a little bit more independence. A position opened at the company in ticketing. Although I didn’t know much about it, aside from working on the marketing side of it, I thought, ‘Well, it’s a step up from what I’m doing now.’
I’m one of those people who wants to learn everything so I can put the full circle together and figure out how it comes together. I thought that role was another step and another piece of the puzzle to learn.”
Now, five years later Rhea is at home in her role as Director of Ticketing for California at Goldenvoice, Rhea and her team of eight focus their efforts on the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets (along with some Canadian events). Among all the venues they oversee, they promote more than 700 shows a year for Goldenvoice’s concert division. Their events cover a range from country and rock, to metal, hip hop, R&B, K-Pop and even shows like Dancing With The Stars—Light Up The Night, Live!
What was your first job, and what is a lesson you learned in it that sticks with you today?
My first job was at a bakery, and my boss was so mean! One of the first things she told me when she hired me was, “I am the biggest bitch you’re ever going to meet.” I was so intimidated. I remember thinking, “I’m never going to be like that.” In this job though I learned about being on time and being communicative—constantly communicating with your colleagues and employer. I was young when I worked there—about 15 years old.
As far as on the management side, I learned how I do not want to be. I never want anybody who works for me to be intimidated by me, because I was so intimidated by her. Everyone was so afraid to talk to her.
How would you summarize your job in elevator pitch form?
It’s so funny, because when I tell people my title, they have no idea what it means. [She laughs.] My team and I are responsible for putting on 700 concerts a year. We’re promoters, but on our specific team we work on all of the ticketing. When most people think of ticketing, they think you’re sitting in a box and selling tickets, but it goes way deeper than that. It also focuses on pricing and VIP packages, and you’re working with agents, management and production companies. For example, Britney Spears may want a catwalk down the middle of the arena, and another act will want something else. Every show is different, and that’s what we do—we put on concerts and festivals.
What is the culture like at Goldenvoice?
One thing I always tell people about Goldenvoice is the people that work here—and I feel like this is where our company differs from most promoters. Everybody who works at Goldenvoice is a music head. This makes a huge difference because it allows us to put on shows looking at it from a fan’s point of view. We always look at it as, “What would I want to see? What would I want to experience? How would I want parking to be? What kind of food would I want to eat?” Everything is curated and fan-specific. Although we are promoters and work very closely with the artists, I think the culture at the company is really built around everybody being a music fan.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I really enjoy working with all different genres. At Goldenvoice we’re lucky in that we own a lot of venues and book a lot of venues. Our smallest venue is The Roxy on Sunset Boulevard, and that has a capacity of 400. Then we do something as large as Coachella, where you clearly have thousands of people.
Another part I like is watching the artists grow. I feel like we get to help them grow in their careers. We can start them off, when not too many people know them, at a small venue of 400. Then, when that venue sells out, we’ll move them up to our next largest venue. And you keep moving them up. I see some artists now headlining Coachella who were at the El Rey, which holds 771 people, 5 years ago. You kind of feel like you were a part of that.
What is something surprising someone might not realize about your work?
All the hours I work. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. Sometimes I work from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., and I might go for days without having a day off.
A lot of my friends will see me at a lot of shows all the time, but they don’t see that I was up since 6 a.m. putting another show on sale, and I’m managing five other shows that day—running from venue to venue. It may seem all cool all the time, but it’s also a lot of work, a lot of organization and it’s dealing with a lot of personalities. But once I see the look on a fan’s face, or see a kid who’s experiencing a concert for the first time seeing their favorite artist, it makes it all worth it.
What is a learning moment you’ve had in your career?
I was the one in meetings who was scared to speak up. The more I’ve grown in my career, the more I’ve learned to trust myself. I tell my team all the time, “This is your show to manage.” When you’re dealing with agents, managers, artists and general managers, you’re juggling 50 million personalities, and everybody wants something different. Sometimes you have to trust yourself and your expertise. Trust that you know what to do. Of course, be collaborative and talk to your team. Don’t just make decisions based off what only you think, but trust yourself. Know that you’re doing this. You have this position for a reason. In some areas, you’re the expert, and people are looking to you for guidance.
A lot of times in my industry people may make suggestions that make no sense at all, and people just go along with it because it came from the artist, or it came from the manager, and they feel like that’s what they’re supposed to do—go along with it. But if you’re the expert in this area, and you have an alternative that may work better, don’t be afraid to speak up. Most of the time, the team you’re working with will say, “Okay. That sounds right.” It can be intimidating working with managers, agents and artists, because in our position as a promoter, we want the talent and we want the shows. So, it’s part of the culture to go along with it and do what they say. But at the same time, I encourage my team to use their expertise and not second-guess themselves all the time.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m very collaborative, and I like to brainstorm. Everybody on my team is responsible for different venues, and although they work on different venues, a lot of their responsibilities are the same. I like to have everybody share their experiences with different shows, different agents and different managers, and say what worked for them. I’m not one of those people who will say to my team, “This is what we’re doing, and this is how it goes.” I like to ask my team for advice all the time, and say, “Hey, how did this work for you?” I’m the leader, but I don’t like to look at myself as being the person in charge. I like to empower everybody so that they feel like they’re steering their own ship, but I also have their back if they need me for anything.
What is a trend you see coming in ticketing that you’re very excited about?
Flash Seats. Some venues are already using it, and some artists like to use it. Flash Seats cuts down scalping, because every ticket goes through the Flash Seat app, and you have to have the app to get your ticket. On our end, it allows us to track the history of the ticket from beginning to end. So, if you purchase a ticket and you decide to sell it to your friend, I would be able to see who purchased it first, and then who it was transferred to. Then, say that friend sent it to somebody else. I could still see the whole history of the ticket from beginning to end, because you can’t print it out. You can only transfer it through the app. People currently are posting tickets on Craigslist, StubHub and Facebook. Sometimes I feel bad being at the venue, because somebody may come up—and they honestly purchased a ticket from somebody on Facebook—but it turns out to be a fake ticket. And there’s nothing I can do to help them.
Another thing that frustrates me the most is when you have a show that’s sold out, and there’s a sweet kid trying to buy a ticket. The face value for that ticket might be $40, but there’s a jerk online selling the ticket for $500 trying to make a buck. Flash Seats steers away from paper tickets, e-tickets and scalping, which is pretty exciting.
The only thing that concerns me with this is when you’re dealing with an older crowd. You don’t want it to be alienating, and so there’s definitely an exception there. If we had shows that drew an older crowd, I probably wouldn’t enable Flash Seats. For example, one time I had a Willie Nelson show, and I remember sitting with this man who purchased a seat from somebody. He couldn’t find his digital ticket, so I helped him on his phone for 45 minutes trying to find it. I finally was able to find it, but I felt so bad for him.
What advice do you have for someone who wants your job?
Be persistent. Don’t second guess yourself. If you’re looking for a job in entertainment, and you don’t want to be one of those people in front of the camera or on stage, this is definitely a way to be in the industry, get all the perks of the field, and learn a lot about work behind the scenes—without actually being the star.
- I’d love to grab coffee with: Michelle Obama.
- The best concert I’ve ever been to is: Sade at STAPLES Center or Beyonce at Coachella this year!
- My favorite quote or saying is: “Don’t wait until life is perfect to be great.”
- My favorite place to travel is: Jamaica. My husband and I have been there several times. It’s just one of those places where the people are so friendly, and it’s very welcoming and laid back.
- I can’t live without: Simply Lemonade. If I look in my fridge now, there’s probably four of them in there!
- My favorite way to unwind is: With a glass of wine. I’m a cabernet girl.
- I feel my best when: I have my eyebrows done.