Gore, Wall talk 'Live'
EmptyNASHVILLE -- First there was Live Aid, then Live 8, now Live Earth. The common thread here is historic live music events for a good cause -- and Kevin Wall. After executive producing Live 8 two years ago, Wall launched a company called Network Live, which has since produced and digitally distributed more than 100 concerts by such artists as Bon Jovi, Madonna, the Rolling Stones, Green Day, Elton John and, most recently, Kings of Leon. Along the way, Wall changed the name of the company to Control Room and shifted his online partner from AOL to MSN. Wall has been the owner from Day 1.
With Control Room thriving and digital distribution of live events taking hold in broad ways, Wall has been on a focused mission since Live 8. His focus shifted, however, when he saw Al Gore's now-famous slide show on global warming. Wall says Gore really put the issue on his radar, and when he saw the Oscar-winning film "An Inconvenient Truth," he says: "I was very deeply moved. This is not about the haves and the have-nots, this is about all of us. And I left that screening and decided that I would take time out from my Control Room activities and I would underwrite and put together a global media event around the world."
Wall put a staff together, met with the networks and spent three months putting the framework of Live Earth: The Concert for a Climate in Crisis, which is set for July 7 on stages in all seven continents. Apparently, the former vice president embraced the concept. "I told him, 'Fantastic -- because it was your movie that lit me up anyway,' " Wall says. "So at the end of last year we decided to work together, and that resulted in our announcement in February that we had plans to do this global show." Wall and the former vice president spoke with Billboard executive director Ray Waddell about what is shaping up to be an unprecedented day of music and message.
Billboard: You describe Live Earth as a "media event." Was this initially designed as a music event?
Kevin Wall: Yes. I felt that my expertise is these global events where you can get all these networks in sync to hopefully enable change or get to the tipping point for the cause. This was a very effective thing in Live 8, Live Aid, Amnesty International, the Freddie Mercury AIDS Day show, to name a few that I've been involved in. So I decided to do this on a personal basis, but I wanted to give (any profits) to charities or NGLS (nongovernmental liaison services) involved and give them a messaging platform so that they could speak to the world at one time.
Billboard: What was your first reaction when Kevin Wall came to you with the proposal for the Live Earth project?
Al Gore: My first reaction was that this was a great idea, but I wanted to know more about how it was going to develop. And we had so many conversations that I got more excited about it each time that we talked. He had been very open to a partnership on this, which both of us have enjoyed. I've very excited about it.
Billboard: When you say a partnership, that would be with SOS and Alliance for Climate Protection?
Gore: Yeah, I'm not using it as a legal term. We're working together in every way.
Billboard: Where in this process did you hit upon the 07-07-07 date and the seven concerts on seven continents?
Wall: That was early on. One, it was easy to remember; two, it was a Saturday in July at a time when a lot of artists are touring who I felt we could engage in this project to play on that day. So those things were together . ... Separately from the Control Room deal, Microsoft Network came in as a massive underwriter, and the NBC, BBC and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp.) deals were all together prior to me going to Al.
Billboard: Why does the concept of concerts and live music as a platform to deliver this message appeal to you?
Gore: Music engages people in a way that nothing else does. These acts are fantastic. The musicians who are involved in this cause are ones that have tremendous reach in their ability to engage people and to get them to focus on issues that they care about. It gives a momentum to the effort to solve the climate crisis that would be hard to generate in any other way. It's important that the concert be connected to an ongoing campaign that is launched on July 7, so it's not a one-time event. A one-time event would be great, in and of itself, but it can be the beginning of something even better. And to use this attention-getting, consciousness-raising event as an opportunity to beget longer-term conversations. That's what we're hoping to do because this is the challenge of our lives, and having the chance to get everybody focused on it to a greater degree is really a wonderful opportunity.
Billboard: Can you give me a ballpark budget to even undertake such a project?
Wall: Well, certainly I am at risk for millions of dollars. In the end we are not taking fees or a profit on this. We are giving all of the money in all of the names collected, and any of the IP (intellectual property) goes to the charity.
Billboard: Where are we at this stage in terms of cities, venues, artists, etc.?
Wall: We're doing Wembley Stadium in London, Giants Stadium in (East Rutherford, N.J.), Pearl Tower in Shanghai, Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Olympic Stadium in Sydney, Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, where we expect a million people. And in Johannesburg, we have an amphitheater called the Cradle of Human Kindness, which is outside of Jo-burg.
Billboard: What about talk of a concert in Antarctica?
Wall: We're doing a small show from Antarctica from the British Scientific Station, and it's a surprise what we're doing.
Billboard: So you've got your framework in place, you've formed your alliance with Mr. Gore, you've got your networks -- what are the next steps in the progression of producing such an event?
Wall: You have to put your sites in place, you have to -- at the same time -- have interested bands because the promoters you use in certain territories want to know who's on (the bill) because they want to know how much time they should devote to even taking meetings with you. The television networks won't even give you time unless they think there's really going to be a project. Now the fortunate thing is I have a lot of credibility in this area. Jeff Zucker (president and CEO) at NBC said, "I'm in, and we'll give you NBC and our cable networks." And I was able to get the same thing from BBC very early on.
Billboard: How would you define your role in putting these Live Earth concerts together?
Gore: Carefully. (Laughs.) I have done a lot of conversations and telephone calls and meetings with some great entertainers and musicians to ask them to be a part of this. So I guess you would call me a recruiter in that sense. I've also done a lot of outreach to different groups, including environmental groups, to get them to be supportive, and of course they all are. I've also done a lot to contact business leaders and other leaders to get them to be supportive of it. It's not a hard sell because people want to be part of it, and I'm getting a lot of yeses.
Billboard: Any particular bands on your wish list?
Gore: There are a lot of great ones that are already signed up. I recruited the Red Hot Chili Peppers; they told me yes when they came onstage at the Grammys. The Police are on board now. And Madonna's on board.
Billboard: Any other bands you personally asked to participate?
Gore: Oh, yeah, a bunch of 'em. I've made lots of calls. The Black Eyed Peas. I don't have the list in front of me, but I've talked to a lot of 'em, and I haven't gotten turned down yet.
Billboard: Do you feel like you have the kind of star power you had for Live 8?
Wall: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Billboard: Where will you be on July 7?
Gore: I haven't decided yet.
Billboard: That's a tough call, I guess.
Gore: Kevin and I have talked about it from time to time. I'm going to be wherever I can do the most good and add the most value.
Billboard: So the music community has embraced this in a big way?
Wall: Huge. And we're going to announce five major sponsors who are doing messaging for the next two years. We have a massive deal with a soft drink company that is going to be giving 2 billion of their cans for messaging; it's a huge recycling program. We have an auto company that's not only introducing a fuel-efficient car, they're buying (emissions-reducing) carbon offsets globally for everyone that buys the vehicle. We're going to announce a wireless handset manufacturer that will announce a global initiative around this. We're going to be announcing two big online efforts outside of Microsoft -- two of the biggest sites in the world that will be driving messaging off their front pages. So what you're seeing with this is not just seven concerts. It's going to be very solution-based, and these major corporations and media companies are giving us a massive amount of space to drive the message. We also have commissioned 50 new short films that are between four minutes and 10 minutes in length by everyone from Academy Award-winning filmmakers to big commercial and music video makers. Forty-four of these are already in production now. We commissioned 30 new PSAs with major stars, which will run across the NBC networks about 150 networks around the world, showing solutions and actions that people can take. In America, the lineup is NBC primetime but also MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, Mun2, Sundance Channel, HDNet. It's also XM and Sirius, five channels each; Premiere Radio's 2,500 channels across the country. We have a major book that's coming out with one of the biggest publishers in the world. It's not like Live 8, a concert where eight days later we have a change. This is the beginning of hopefully a change that's happening around the world anyway, the tipping point of behavior to get government, corporations and consumers to change the way they live and treat the environment. We have a fucking disaster here. We have a red alert.
Billboard: What did you learn from Live 8 that will make a difference in Live Earth?
Wall: I learned that this had to be a launch of a bigger long-term change. We needed the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) to be with us over the next several years. On Live 8, we really had all the NGOs, the charities, in a coalition for the show, and eight days later they went back to their respective businesses. We've got to get these people in lock step, and they have to stay in lock step, and we have to continue to drive this message over the next several years. This project, Live Earth, is the beginning, the launch of the change; it's not the end. This a very complicated, difficult issue to translate and connect the dots, but we're taking it on. I've got about 100 people working on this full time around the world that I've been underwriting, and sponsor monies are now starting to come in and pick up the slack for me. We're doing it because I'm worried about our children and our grandchildren. I'm affected by this in a major way.
Billboard: Any similarities between interacting in music business circles and political circles?
Gore: Yeah. On the surface, there are a lot of similarities when you're asking people to come to an event, play an event, support an event. But it's a lot different because this is a cause that everybody really cares about. And once they realize that it's really well put together and it's gonna be very effective, they want to be a part of it. So I guess the similarities with political events are only on the surface.
Billboard: What's your potential audience?
Wall: We have told people that we will reach comfortably 2 billion eyeballs for some significant time, more than 30 minutes. This whole show is being designed as 24 hours of broadcast around the world, and we're making sure that anyone who watches for 15 minutes will walk away with a message. Each show starts about 2 p.m. local time, so as we start each show, we will go around the world and at any point in time, two or three shows will be running at the same time over a 24-hour period. All of that will be put into a global high-def feed, a global TV feed and a global radio feed, live as we're doing it. Then we'll divide up the packages based on the different networks, and we'll customize them.
Billboard: What would be your best hopes for what comes from Live Earth?
Wall: That we see effects in how people shop in the next six months coming out of it. That we see an effect in government continuing to push this issue forward. That we see change in the Wal-Marts, the Office Depots, etc. You're going to see a land rush because "green" is going to be good for business. You're going to see consumers who are empowered; they're going to vote that empowerment. This is going to be a defining issue of the next election, I think.
Gore: I want people to first of all really enjoy the performances, and I want them to enjoy the music in the context of really feeling deeply the purpose of it all. I hope this will be a very successful launch of a multiyear campaign that, together with the concerts, really does change the sense of urgency that people feel about the climate crisis. And helps to move the world across a political tipping point, especially in our country, so that the majority of the political leaders in both parties will be competing with each other to offer the most effective real solutions to it. I think we've got a real good chance of the concerts coming off that way.
Billboard: This will be a massive stage with an audience of more than a billion people, an unprecedented opportunity in many ways to communicate a message. Is there a chance you might use this stage to make some other sort of announcement?
Gore: Well, there would be plenty of bands to cut me off in a hurry.
Billboard: So can you be a little more vague about that?
Gore: (Laughs.) Well, I don't intend to be a candidate again. This is a different kind of campaign.