STORY BY JENNIFER NETHERBY // PHOTOS BY ANTHONY PIDGEON
October is one of the busiest months for concert promoters. College students are back at school and summer’s good weather has passed. Portland promoter Mike Thrasher Presents put on 75 shows in Portland and Seattle in that month alone in 2010. For each one, a group of high school and college-aged volunteers, members of Thrasher’s street team, hit concerts, schools and neighborhood record shops passing out flyers to get the word out. Marketers, meanwhile, mailed concert flyers to a network of tattoo and piercing shops, pizzerias, cafes and other businesses that have agreed to hang them up for customers. Those marketers also hype the shows on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, even buying Google Adwords for bands to find every potential audience member.
The Swedish pop star Robyn packs a December 2010 show at the Wonder Ballroom in North Portland.
It’s this marketing machine that has helped make Mike Thrasher Presents one of the biggest concert promoters in the Northwest and a recognized name among indie, punk and metal music fans.
Leading the effort is the man himself, a 39-year-old former punk rock kid who works from the company’s Northeast Portland office, an easy-to-miss bungalow on a residential street behind the Wonder Ballroom that’s denoted by a small Mike Thrasher Presents sign near the front door. Inside, the office is functionally furnished with a couple concert posters on the wall from years past. From here Thrasher negotiates with agents and band managers to book talent and plan marketing strategy for each new show his company promotes.
In the next few months, Mike Thrasher Presents will put on concerts in Portland and Seattle with better-known acts that include the pop band Chromeo, heavy metal group Danzig, punk bands Social Distortion and Bad Religion, and dozens more largely-unheard-of punk, metal and indie artists. With nearly 400 concerts a year, Thrasher is one of the top promoters in the country. In 2009, he sold 201,309 tickets, ranking him the 29th top U.S. promoter, just behind Portland’s Mark Adler/True West and ahead of other local competitors Monqui Presents and Double Tee Concerts, according to industry trade magazine Pollstar. In December, Thrasher launched Cascade Tickets, a concert-ticketing service that will handle sales for McMenamins venues and compete with the newly merged Ticketmaster/Live Nation in the Northwest. Thrasher promises to eliminate “pre-order fees” and lower service fees that he says have frustrated concertgoers.
Unlike local competitors who own their own venues (Adler owns the Aladdin Theater, Monqui the Doug Fir Lounge), Thrasher has built a successful business out of putting on hundreds of shows a year with mostly up-and-coming musicians at different clubs across Portland and Seattle. Those who work with him credit it to the stealthy street team he created and his work ethic.
For someone who has made a name for himself in the Northwest through his marketing prowess, Thrasher the man comes off as more guarded, answering questions about his business in a matter-of-fact way, without elaborating. When asked whether he has crazy stories about artist requests on concert riders, he says yes, but doesn’t divulge any.
But he clearly knows his business down to the smallest detail, rattling off seating at venues around town off the top of his head.
“He’s very knowledgeable about his skill,” says Trevor Solomon, who started out as an intern for Thrasher in 1999 and worked for him for six years before moving to Willamette Week to head its Music Festival Northwest. Thrasher, he says, is “very sweet but at the same time, he’s very intense about how he wants things done and wants things done in a certain fashion. He’s very thorough and he cares — that’s the best thing. He cares about the concert, agents, the people working for him and he cares about the consumer.”