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Neil Warnock: “It’s time to get entrepreneurial”

During a keynote interview at ESNS, UTA's global head of touring shared his vision on the future of touring, the agency business, and livestreaming

By IQ on 15 Jan 2021

Neil Warnock speaking at the virtual ESNS

Neil Warnock speaking at the virtual ESNS

UTA’s global head of touring, Neil Warnock, has predicted that the demand for live entertainment when the threat of Covid-19 starts to subside “will be like opening a floodgate”, but says the industry needs to be entrepreneurial about how concerts can return.

“People will definitely want to be entertained, they will want to go and see some music and I think [live entertainment] is going to have a boom time,” Warnock told ILMC head Greg Parmley during his Eurosonic Noorderslag keynote ‘What is the Future of Live?’.

“But if we can’t go and see music the way that we hope to see it, maybe we can provide it in a different way? Let’s be entrepreneurial and think about how we can actually bring everybody together. We’ve got an audience and we’ve got artists so how we are going to actually make it work in a safe environment, in a way that maybe we weren’t looking at before?” he said.

However, the UTA chief is optimistic that the pandemic – and the subsequent shakeup in the agency landscape – has given the industry the fresh sense of entrepreneurship that is needed.

“We’re seeing seeing some very interesting developments, as we always do in these circumstances, where agents have left the major agencies to set up their own shop and, to me, that’s very exciting because I think [those agents] are the new entrepreneurs of the future,” he said.

“I think what’s going to come out of this is very refreshing because it’s shaken up the industry. It’s all made us think of what we’re going to do and I think in the next couple of years we’re going to see some exciting stuff happening. I think the strong will get stronger, the entrepreneurs will make money, and the people we lose, we should probably have lost anyway.”

“Nationally, we should be looking at our own artists that don’t have to leave the country and how best we utilise their time”

Warnock said that one way agents could be enterprising in the current climate is to come up with innovative ways to utilise and develop their domestic roster, until international touring can properly resume.

“Nationally, we should be looking at our own artists that don’t have to leave the country and how best we utilise their time and how best we put bills and events together within the UK. And so we’re providing entertainment with local talent as much as we can and developing or redeveloping some of the talent that maybe hasn’t been out to a number of cities or towns in many years.

“For example, if you have an artist that has done 10 arenas, there’s nothing stopping them doing 50 theatres. Also, there’s a lot of smaller open-air events that one could look at and say ‘how can we successfully promote that?’. I think it’s just about entrepreneurship and thinking on the ground about how best we’re going to do this.”

While Warnock says the return of European touring will rely on both the safety and economic viability of shows, he’s hopeful about organising tours in Australasia in the not-too-distant future, where many countries have got the virus under control and are embracing a return to live.

“I can see artists flying independently and doing a Japanese tour, once they’ve got the situation under control, and maybe playing Singapore and Hong Kong if they are safe. Same, if Australia and New Zealand begin to open up, but they can be toured seperately or South America,” he said.

“Nationally, we should be looking at our own artists that don’t have to leave the country and how best we utilise their time”

As for Brexit, Warnock believes that the UK will find a practical solution for touring because it has to, but until then “we become third country status”.

“If you look at that as a definition of where the UK is in the world, that then gives you an idea of what can happen in terms of work permits, and how we actually work with our partner countries across across Europe. So we’ll be treated in the same way as the US, or Australia or Canada going into Europe.”

During the keynote, Warnock also addressed the snowballing popularity of livestreaming and says he believes it’s going to be a component of the live experience going forward.

“I don’t see it going away. Some are saying if you’ve got an artist that can generally sell 15,000–20,000 tickets in London, why not put them in the Albert Hall and sell 5,000 concert tickets and 15,000 livestream tickets,” he said.

“My view is, fine, I would much rather keep the live component going and play to all of those 20,000 people but I think this is going to depend on the artist and what they want to do with their time and their lives.

“Not every streaming show has been an unbelievable success, the big ones where there’s been good investment have proved to do well. But even then, it’s not guaranteed that a streaming show is going to do which is the same with live.”

Eurosonic Noorderslag concludes today.


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