What new platforms are there for artists, and what brands are looking for when working with acts, were the two topics tackled by the Beyond Touring panel.
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Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett joined agent Lucy Dickins and manager Adam Tudhope to talk touring, touting, sustainability and upcoming plans at ILMC’s Futures Forum
By Anna Grace on 09 Mar 2020
Mumford & Sons’ live strategy formed the core of the Futures Forum keynote interview on Friday (6 March), featuring founding band member Ben Lovett, manager Adam Tudhope and agent Lucy Dickins, in conversation with journalist Paul Stokes.
“We are most passionate about the live side,” said Lovett, in a statement that proved almost superfluous over the course of the interview, given the palpable sense of enthusiasm he emitted while talking about Mumford & Sons’ past tours, their Gentlemen of the Road events and his own venues, Omeara and Lafayette.
Since the very earliest stages of Mumford & Sons – and even before they were known as such – the band members approached performing with a “sleeves rolled-up mentality”, unafraid of getting involved with staging and other aspects of putting on shows.
This resulted in a collaborative approach to touring, which remains to this very day. “I love the fact that it is always a conversation between us and the promoters,” said Lovett. “We respect promoters as a band – it’s in our DNA.”
The band officially formed in 2007, consisting of Marcus Mumford, Winston Marshall, Ted Dwane and Lovett, with Dickins and Tudhope coming on board as firm members of the team from the get go.
“We just toured non-stop,” said Dickins, who joined WME in May last year. “I’ve never seen a work ethic like it and that continues today.”
Lovett agreed that “the main reason Mumford & Sons exist is to tour”. The band’s most recent concert tour, Delta, saw them perform more than 60 dates at arenas across Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.
“I’ve never seen a work ethic like it and that continues today”
The mammoth tour sold 700,000 tickets in just a few days of going on sale, broke multiple attendance records and featured the band playing in the round for the first time. “It was very challenging but incredibly effective staging,” said Lovett, explaining there was a “sense of duty” to allow fans to experience their songs in a different way for their fourth headlining tour.
“We took some risks on Delta,” he said, “and on balance it really paid off. It really felt like there were connection happening between audience members throughout that tour.”
Forming meaningful connections in interesting places is at the heart of much of what the band do. The team revealed that upcoming plans to “go deeper into eastern Europe”, explore new “seemingly random places” and work with new promoters, were “scuppered” by the recent coronavirus outbreak.
“We really do have a really awesome idea up our sleeves,” said Tudhope, with the team hinting that plans would not be put on hold forever.
The band’s Gentlemen of the Road event series has seen them perform in many different places, travelling to small towns in the UK, Australia, the US, South Africa, and more.
“The culture clash is so beautiful”, said Tudhope, speaking of seeing tiny, off-the-beaten track towns inundated with festivalgoers, and local businesses benefitting from the event. “There’s a real community aspect.”
Dickins referenced the practical challenges of finding a suitable site for these unique events and curating the line-up. “It’s double, if not triple the amount of work but it’s worth every bit,” she said. “Enthusiasm drives it.”
“It was very challenging but incredibly effective staging”
From a business point of view, Tudhope said the events were a great way of gaining a true understanding of how promoters work, which has “really informed a lot of our own business decisions.”
“Promoters aren’t a bank for us,” added the Mumford & Sons manager. “They’re the enablers of a dream and you need a good relationship for that.”
If the experience of putting on their own events has enabled the band and team to develop a deeper understanding of how promoters work, then Lovett’s experience as a touring musician has informed him in his capacity as a venue owner.
Lovett, who owns and operates London venues Omeara and the recently opened Lafayette, stated that both fans and artists want something “unique” from venues, asking why the industry is pushing a more standardised “cookie cutter” model.
“Everybody wants to play Omeara because it’s so thought out from the artist’s side,” said Dickins. Artists that have performed at the 320-capacity venue include the Pretenders, Kodaline, the Maccabees, Beck and Circa Waves, with upcoming performances from Jake Bugg, Amy Wadge and Jesse Malin.
Lafayette (600-cap.) opened its doors last week with a performance by Brit Award-winner Dave and already has a full programme of upcoming events by the likes of Jack Peñate, D Double E and Hudson Taylor.
“The support I’ve received for Lafayette has meant the world,” said Lovett, adding that he has the lease on the venue for 25 years – equating to around 5,000 shows. “Just think of all the acts that are going to go through there.”
“For me, the sign of a successful band is longevity”
Lovett’s venue ventures have much to do with sustaining the live industry and providing artists with a place to perform. Lovett referenced the number of venue closures that have been seen in recent years, emphasising the damage that the secondary ticketing market is enacting on the grassroots level of the industry in particular.
Tudhope spoke of how the US leg of Mumfords’ Delta tour ended up generating “many millions” for the secondary market. “We didn’t want our fans to have to pay that money,” he said, explaining that it was the tickets sold at the affordable price band that were most heavily targeted by touts.
This experience “galvanised us really strongly to do something about it”, said Tudhope. Together with other managers and artists, the Mumford team has now created “a really good coalition” around anti-touting group FanFair Alliance.
Environmental sustainability is another area that the team is looking to improve upon. The band partnered with green touring specialist Reverb on its Delta tour to calculate – and later offset – carbon emissions, and create an eco-friendly touring template for future use.
“The key thing you have to commit to is spending money,” said Tudhope. “It costs money to be greener, that’s the reality.”
With sustainability remaining essential to Mumford & Sons’ ethos, it appears this will be a cost the band is willing to take.
“For me, the sign of a successful band is longevity, rather than number ones or show size, or anything else,” said Lovett. “All I want to know is: how can we do this for longer?”
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