How Does KAABOO Choose and Schedule the Artists? Let’s Talk to the Guy Who Does It

If you have ever attended a festival, or scanned the lineup at a festival, you may wonder how the artists are chosen. And once the artists are announced, there is often a gap in time until the set times are released. And if you are like me, you often try to play the parlor game of what if: what if I could rearrange the schedule for my perfect schedule?

To answer some of those questions, I had a chat with the voluble Roger LeBlanc. It was a timely chat, with KAABOO just a week away.

We talked about how a slot during the golden hour of sunset on a smaller stage may be better for an artist than a slot on a bigger stage earlier in the day. I mentioned that I missed the table marked “Talent Buyer” at Career Day in high school, as what he does is fascinating to me. I asked Roger how he got his start.

“I played albums in Canada constantly, handled security and eventually worked in every aspect in the industry. I came to know how all the parts fit together. I am really gratified to be doing what I do now.”

How did the KAABOO opportunity come about?

“I first met Bryan [Gordon, Founder and CEO of KAABOO] years ago, and we have been working together since. This is a wonderful opportunity to curate a lineup that will appeal across different tastes and age groups. For instance, I put on a band like The Zombies last year at KAABOO and Dave Grohl [Foo Fighters] grabbed my shoulders and said ‘Thank you man, I cried watching these guys play.’ That is the kind of confirmation that is gratifying. I like to expose bands to folks who had not realized the derivation of current day bands, it’s a delight.”

Today there is so much consolidation across radio, labels, promoters. We no longer have the free form FM radio of days gone by that was so great for music discovery, for instance. What will that consolidation bring in the future?

“I strive to deliver the three Es: entertain, evolve, educate. In other words, keep evolving to expand the business, to turn folks on to someone new. How can I get someone to become a Perta fan? But it is a challenge. The cost of talent has tripled, but have ticket prices tripled? No.”

So, how do you start building a lineup?

I start from the top down. The undercard has to support the headliners. I try to expand the scope of who will attend, or bolster the headliner by beefing up the undercard, to encourage more people to attend. I want to make sure there is enough meat on the bone. You don’t want to narrow the scope of attendance, so look at headliner stylistically. So first you gotta know who the headliner is. Over half of the cost of the entire bill is for the headliners, which then determines the rest of budget. And then you have the reality of how many headliners are out there? We have had 15 thus far.”

And what do you mean about who is available?

“Who’s available, are there radius conflicts, are they touring, do they want to tour? [Radius conflicts are contractual prohibitions on artists performing within a certain area once they have signed a deal]. It is a giant Rubik’s Cube, like three dimensional chess. I look at the lineup grid straight up and down on the day, and across the three days, across multiple stages. We will create 5 or 6 concert posters for the proposed lineup. Once we locked down Dave Matthews, and we then see who else might fit. Each new artist changes the color of the day’s painting, the vibe of that day.”

Rather like the FM DJ of days gone by.


KAABOO Del Mar will be September 13-15. This year’s headliners are Kings of Leon, Dave Matthews Band and Mumford & Sons.

KAABOO still has some tickets available here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.