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Decade’s End: Neil Warnock on the challenges ahead

UTA's head of global touring says the future is looking bright for the live business, as long as it remembers that the fan experience is paramount

By Gordon Masson on 18 Dec 2019

IQ's end of decade Q&As: Neil Warnock, UTA

Neil Warnock: "The touring outlook for artists is looking good"

As we enter the new decade, IQ caught up with leaders from the global live music business to reflect upon the development of the industry over the past ten years, as well as looking forward to what we can expect in the 2020s.

In the near future we’ll share the insights of execs including CAA’s Emma Banks, Frontier Touring’s Michael Gudinski, Oak View Group’s Tim Leiweke, AEG’s Jay Marciano and more. In the hot seat, first, though, is Neil Warnock MBE, global head of touring for United Talent Agency, who talks global touring’s ups and downs, the importance of fan experience and his personal decade highlights…


IQ: The role that agents play in artists’ careers has undoubtedly changed over the last ten years. Considering the advent of global touring, and the various new income streams available to artists, how do you see this role evolving?

NW: Global touring is not a new phenomenon. It has been in place one way or another since before Michael Cohl became the promoter of the Rolling Stones. Elvis Presley, although he did not come to Europe, signed a global touring deal.

Global touring has its advantages and disadvantages. I always want my artists to play to their strengths for the promoters they are working with. In confirming global deals, it’s essential that the strength of each promoter in each market is evaluated, not only financially which can be an issue, but also ensuring that venues and marketing are strategically considered so that an artist can be taken forward in their aspirations.

Streaming has become a more sophisticated marketing tool along with all other social elements available to each artist, but essentially these should be viewed as extra add-ons available to artists, and not the be-all and end-all of making touring decisions. Our UTA IQ department is extremely useful when it comes to evaluating the data available to our artists.

In confirming global deals, it’s essential that the strength of each promoter in each market is evaluated

Consolidation has been a constant theme of this decade. Looking ahead, how do you see the balance between the industry’s key corporations and the remaining independent players?

Consolidation in the industry is interesting. When we see labels, agencies, managers consolidate, it also throws up a number of independents. My view is that it’s great to have both.

Consolidated companies give managers what they want but some managers like to have an independent view over the lives and professional status of an artist.

What more could the constituent parts of the music industry be doing to deliver a better proposition to both artists and fans?

The constituent parts of the music business being live, recording, publishing, merchandise, branding – all these elements should be fused together by good management and we should all work together so that our artists are getting the best service from each area. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.

Topics such as inclusion, diversity and mental health are commonly discussed these days. How is the live business shaping up compared to other sectors?

The fact that these topics are out in the open and are being discussed is fantastic and we are now seeing that the industry is working hard to continue to drive awareness to these areas.

Consolidated companies give managers what they want, but some managers like to have an independent view

UTA is a company that believes that diversity and inclusion are fundamental to our success as a business. This year we launched our employee-led, company-funded Employee Inclusion Groups (UTA Proud, Unity, Wellness and Women’s Interest). Two of our last three board appointments, Blair Kohan and Tracey Jacobs, have been women, and we are the first major talent agency ever to name a woman, Lyndsay Harding, as our CFO.

Looking ahead, what do you perceive will be the biggest challenges for the live music sector in the 2020s?

In my opinion, the touring outlook for artists is looking good. The challenges are to ensure artists give value for money to customers, and to ensure that the fan experience is outstanding so that a customer will want to come back and see that artist for another show.

What are your own personal highlights from the last decade?

I have many highlights from over the years, but from the last decade I would have to say the highlight that jumps immediately to mind is Dolly Parton live at Glastonbury in 2014.

Additionally, the tremendous steps that Nordoff Robbins have made as a charity and on a personal note, being awarded an MBE was tremendous for myself and my family.


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