Nile Rodgers steals the show at ILMC 34
Nile Rodgers brought the house down at ILMC 34, regaling the (Late) Breakfast Meeting with tales of his work with legends such as David Bowie, Prince and Diana Ross.
The Chic co-founder even squeezed in a shout out to his promoter, Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery, during yesterday’s 90-minute chat with former Dire Straits manager and raconteur Ed Bicknell.
The multi-award winning, genre-defying musician, whose career stretches over five decades, has written, produced and performed on albums that have sold over 500 million units worldwide, and 75 million singles. In 2018, he co-founded Hipgnosis Songs with manager Merck Mercuriadis.
“No one in the club was talking to him, because he didn’t look like David Bowie”
Here is a selection of some of his best anecdotes from yesterday’s interview…
David Bowie & Billy Idol
“David had just been dropped from his record label. I was about to get dropped from mine. The day that we met, we met early in the morning. I thought that I had driven up to this brand new after hours club in New York, called The Continental, with Billy Idol. But, in fact, what happened is I had driven there with someone else, but Billy was right there at the front door. Billy and I loved each other, we partied all the time. We walk in the club and Billy goes, ‘Bloody hell, that’s David fucking Bowie!’ And as he says ‘Bowie’, he barfs, because he had been putting down the sauce all night.”
“At that point, I had seen David. It was so strange because no one in the club was talking to him, because he didn’t look like David Bowie. It was the beginning of the metrosexual look, and he was dressed in a suit while everybody else was all club kitted out. He was the only one that looked like he ran Exxon or something. It was so weird, he was completely by himself. We start talking, and right away, it flipped from us talking about pop music to jazz. I now find out that David Bowie is a complete jazz freak, as a matter of fact, an aficionado. So now we’re trying to out-jazz each other. We’re going for the most underground avant-garde shit ever, it’s like we were playing poker. We’re just going on and on and on and on and on. And it was like no one else in the world existed. We found our thing, and we talked for hours and hours. At some point, he must have asked me for my phone number. A couple of weeks had gone by and my house was being rebuilt, and one of the workers said to me, ‘Hey, Mr Rodgers, some fucking guy keeps calling up every day saying he’s David Bowie.’ I said, ‘Well what did you do?’ He said, ‘I hung up on the cocksucker!’ I said, ‘The next time that cocksucker calls, could you give me the phone? That is David Bowie!’ Anyway, I finally take the call. He and I laugh and we joke. And it was magic, it was so magical because he got dropped. I was getting dropped. By the time we decide that decide we’re going to make this record [Let’s Dance] together, it was just the two of us against the world.”
“There’s no Prince. We finish the song and I see him running away”
“The first time I played with him was here in London, at some little joint in Camden. I walk in and all I hear is Prince go something like, ‘Oh my God, Nile Rodgers.’ He was playing guitar, he and [Ronnie] Wood. I walk up on stage, he gives me the guitar and he sits down on the keyboards and starts calling out R&B tunes. Poor Woody, who is a sweetheart, didn’t know any of these songs. So Prince and I are all into it, but Woody’s looking for the key and looking for the groove. We finished the first song and I said, ‘I think you should sit down now,’ and it was all cool. It was all love, because we were having the time of our lives. So Ron sits down and then Prince and I… I don’t even know how long we played. The next day I bought every rose in London, and [Prince] told me that when he got back to his room, it was filled with thousands of purple roses. I guess I went overboard, I was so happy with that jam.”
Prince (Part II)
“Years later, we’re playing down in Turks and Caicos where I have a home. Prince has one there too because when he found out that I was building a recording studio, he said, ‘Really? Okay, I’m going to move to Turks and Caicos!’ I never built the recording studio, I’ve got a little writers’ room, but Prince moves down there. We’re doing a concert and Prince happens to be on the island. He comes over and he says, ‘Yo, can I play Let’s Dance with you guys?’ ‘Hell, yes, of course, bro!’ We get to the middle of the show where we do Let’s Dance and I say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, a really great friend of mine and a really great artist – Prince!’ And we go into the song, but there’s no Prince. We finish the song and I see him running away. I’m like, ‘What the hell?’ A year later, we were playing in New Orleans at the Essence Festival to 70,000 people. He says to me, ‘Hey Nile, can I come out and play Let’s Dance with you?’ ‘Of course Prince, but I’m not falling for it this time.’ So we set up his gear, we play Let’s Dance and we get to the part where we have the whole audience jumping up and down. In the middle of the jump sequence, we heard this roar. And I look to my left, and there’s Prince with one hand in the air jumping up and down with his guitar strapped on. He’s soloing his ass off and he’s killing it. We’re jamming together and it was amazing, it was like my heart was flying. I happened to post a picture of Prince jumping up and down with me and I’m waiting for how long it’s going to take for him to pull it down. [But] Prince reposts the picture. And this is exactly what it says. No words. And I feel like a gazillion dollars. I never had another encounter with him. I never called him and thanked him. I never did anything because he wound up passing away fairly soon after that event. But it was amazing. When you’re a live musician, everything is about playing, giving back and sharing. That’s the shit I live for.”
“We had to fight every step of the way to give her the biggest album of her life”
“Every song I’ve ever written is based on a non-fiction event, and then we use fictional elements to help complete the story. One night, I’m club hopping and I go to this transvestite club because they have the best music, they don’t have to worry about the Top 40 records, they can play all the records that they think that the crowd is going to be down with. I go to the bathroom. I’m standing there at this trough and on either side of me are at least five Diane Ross impersonators, and a light bulb goes off in my head – I’ve got to write a song about the queer community’s love of Diana Ross. So I call [Chic co-founder Bernard Edwards] and I say, ‘Bro, write down, “I’m coming out,” because I’m gonna stay up, I’m gonna get drunk and I’m gonna forget this. Imagine that she walks out on stage and the first words out of her mouth are, “I’m coming out.” We’re gonna sell a million records just to the queer community alone!’ The next day, he comes in the studio and we put together I’m Coming Out. Today, to you guys that probably just sounds like a pop record. But when we wrote that, [Motown founder] Berry Gordy was furious. He was like, ‘Whoa, this is not a Diana Ross record.’ After months of lawsuits and this and that, they decided to put it out. The biggest record of Diana Ross’s life is the album Diana. We had to fight, fight, fight, fight, every step of the way, to give her the biggest album of her life, and I’m so proud that we had that fight. I’m Coming Out has historically meant something to the LGBTQ+ community, which is exactly how I got the idea that first place.”
“He works his butt off. He’s the sweetest, sweetest guy, and we work in a business where I’m fortunate to have worked with some wonderful, charming people. I’d like to say a few things about him because he’s just so awesome. He’s been a part of my life for a number of years now. He’s celebrating his 50th year in the business, which is amazing to me. And I just want to give thanks to him for being one of the loveliest guys I know. Happy 50th Phil, I love you. David [Bowie] always called me ‘Darling’? Well, Phil always calls you ‘love’. I just want to say, ‘Thank you, love,’ to Phil Bowdery.”
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SJM’s Chris York honoured at 2022 Arthur Awards
SJM Concerts’ Chris York took home the Bottle Award for lifetime achievement as the cream of the international live music industry turned out in force for the 2022 Arthur Awards.
The awards and Gala Dinner returned in-person to its old stomping grounds, Grade II-listed ballroom Sheraton Grand Park Lane in London, for the first time in two years.
Hosted once again by Emma Banks of CAA, the biggest ever Arthurs paid tribute to a dozen of the industry’s trailblazers, in front of 400 industry professionals.
Rounding off the night, York name-checked SJM boss Simon Moran for changing the course of his life and paid tribute to late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins in a moving acceptance speech after being presented with the evening’s top honour by WME agent Lucy Dickins.
York is one of SJM’s four directors alongside Moran, Rob Ballantine and Glenn Tyrrell, and has worked with the likes of Oasis, Foo Fighters, Massive Attack, Stereophonics, Lily Allen, Smashing Pumpkins, Underworld, Fatboy Slim, Green Day, Placebo, Lorde, Robert Plant, Morrissey, Kraftwerk, Swedish House Mafia, and The Chemical Brothers across his 30-year career.
Other winners at the Oscars of the live music business included AEG Presents’ Simon Jones (Promoters’ Promoter), FKP Scorpio chief Folkert Koopmans (Festival Organiser’s Organiser), Mike Malak of Paradigm (Second Least Offensive Agent), Ticketmaster’s Sarah Slater (Golden Ticketer) and LIVE co-founders Phil Bowdery and Stuart Galbraith (Unsung Hero).
In full, the Arthur Awards 2022 winners are…
FIRST VENUE TO COME INTO YOUR HEAD
The O2, London
MOST PROFESSIONAL PROFESSIONAL
Sarah Martin, WME
THE PROMOTERS’ PROMOTER
Simon Jones, AEG Presents
THE PEOPLE’S ASSISTANT
Claire Macleod, X-ray Touring
FESTIVAL ORGANISER’S ORGANISER
Folkert Koopmans, FKP Scorpio
THE GOLDEN TICKETER
Sarah Slater, Ticketmaster
SECOND LEAST OFFENSIVE AGENT
Mike Malak, Paradigm Agency
SERVICES ABOVE & BEYOND
THE UNSUNG HERO
Phil Bowdery & Stuart Galbraith, CPA/LIVE
TOMORROW’S NEW BOSS
Dan Roberts, Live Nation (UK)
THE WINNER TECHS IT ALL
THE BOTTLE AWARD
Chris York, SJM Concerts
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ILMC 34: Top agents discuss post-pandemic landscape
Session chair Tom Schroeder (Wasserman) recounted his first ILMC experiences when he was accosted by private jet brokers who were not exactly relevant for his jungle acts. As a result, he said he wanted to make this year’s agency session a little more accessible for all.
Jon Ollier (One Fiinix Live) spoke of his recent experience with the start of the Ed Sheeran tour and the excitement around it, noting that outdoor shows appear to be more exciting than those indoors.
Looking for the positives in the current state of live music, Schroeder reported that young acts who have come through the pandemic appear to want to have a lot more ownership of their careers, with Lucy Dickins (WME) agreeing that there is a culture shift happening among the younger generation.
Ollier opined that it’s not just a generational thing, but also financial, as lots of people are buying tickets late, meaning that promoters have to take a leap of faith in investing in their events in the hope that people do turn up at the last minute.
The agents said [ticket] prices are not likely to come down as the artist’s costs have also increased
Sally Dunstone (Primary Talent) told ILMC that avails appear to have reached a saturation point, making it tricky to get to that next step with new artists. But she said this forced agents to be more creative and look to work with different venues, for example.
“We have to advise the artist on how they get to that next step in the career and if that means telling them to wait, rather than go out now and do a tour that could harm their long term prospects,” said Dunstone.
She said that her decision to switch agencies was down to the pandemic, thinking in a more entrepreneurial manner and searching for new opportunities – a sentiment echoed by Ollier who launched his own agency, saying that it was the CAA ethos of exploring new avenues and trying to always find a brighter path, that had prompted him to decide to establish his own venture.
Looking at the year ahead, Ari Bernstein (ICM Partners) observed the effect that festivals might have on other touring, highlighting radius causes and the like as issues that need to be discussed. He said Covid had made him look around for all the other revenue sources that his clients as artists could benefit from, which was something that would strengthen the sector going forward.
Schroeder said the new breed of young manager wants their agents to be a bigger part of the artist’s journey
Bernstein agreed with Schroeder that the price of living is going to squeeze the fans and there will be an impact that we are yet to experience. He also cited the war in Ukraine, rising costs and higher ticket prices, but accepted that it is now part of an agent’s role to negotiate those challenges.
On the thorny question of ticket prices, the agents said those prices are not likely to come down as the artist’s costs have also increased. But they said acts are already looking to tour with smaller productions in a bid to save money, as well as considering sustainability matters.
Schroeder said the new breed of young manager wants their agents to be a bigger part of the artist’s journey, rather than just a cog in the wheel.
Dickins also applauded the entrepreneurial spirit among young acts and younger agents. “The artists that tell me what they want to do, not the other way around,” she revealed. “There are things they are telling me that I think ‘shit, I’ve got to read up on that,’” she added.
Turning to the future, Dunstone predicted that in three to five years’ time the business would be fully recovered and progressed from where it was pre-pandemic. “People are looking at content differently now,” she said citing acts that have done well through the likes of TikTok. “I think we’ll see a fresh batch of new headliners in five years’ time, that have come through the pandemic,” said Dunstone.
“The artists that tell me what they want to do, not the other way around”
Ollier joked that Dickins would be working at his agency in three years, but on a serious note, he said there would be a period of natural selection with artists, events and probably even agents.
“Change is good,” said Dickins. “It’s been boring to see the same headliners at festivals for 15 years. I’m excited about the change and I’m embracing it – it’s already happening.”
Schroeder noted that while festival programming had improved, diversity in the actual industry itself was poor, with Dickins agreeing that the business needs to be a lot better.
Schroeder concluded that this summer will be bumpy but that agents need to navigate it. Ollier said, “The art is going to get better and better, no matter what us industry idiots have got to do.” That struck a chord with his fellow agents, with Bernstein believing that there will be more doors opening for revenue streams than ever before, as people embrace entrepreneurial ideas and think outside the box.
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OVO Hydro achieves A Greener Arena certification
Glasgow’s OVO Hydro has been announced as the first arena in the world to achieve A Greener Arena (AGA) certification for its commitment to sustainability.
Awarded by A Greener Festival (AGF), AGA takes a holistic approach to sustainability, not only looking at emissions and environmental impacts but also people, inclusion and wellbeing.
The award was officially presented to the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) venue at today’s Green Events and Innovations Conference (GEI), presented by AGF in partnership with the International Live Music Conference (ILMC)
Assessors highlighted the Hydro’s commitment to reducing emissions, enhancing local biodiversity, and being an instrument of positive change on the arena tour circuit. They also praised the venue’s use of 100% renewable electricity, elimination of single use plastic cups at live events saving two million cups per year, campus wide sustainable food strategy and expansion plans for electric vehicle charging points, in addition to its “outstanding” programme for inclusion, health and wellbeing for staff through the dedicated people department.
“Being the first arena in the world to accomplish this is a huge achievement”
“More than ever we are focused on the impact our business has on the planet and are proud to be awarded A Greener Arena certification,” says Debbie McWilliams, the SEC’s director of live entertainment. “Receiving such an accolade is further proof of our commitment to delivering a greener future for our events.
“Being the first arena in the world to accomplish this is a huge achievement and we hope this paves the way for others to follow. It is a significant milestone on our journey towards net zero by 2030, and a real credit to the team who work so passionately on implementing our sustainability strategy.”
Title partner OVO Energy supported the venue’s goal to achieve ‘Greener Arena Certification’ through funding of specific carbon-reduction and environmental initiatives. As part of the assessment, AGF will also share actionable recommendations with the Hydro team that are designed to further evolve the venue’s ongoing certification assessments in years to come.
“We’re delighted for the team at the OVO Hydro, and we hope that this leads the way for more arenas to get involved in the process”
“We’re proud to work with partners who support our commitment to drive progress to zero carbon living,” says James Watts, OVO Energy’s head of PR & sponsorships. “By becoming the world’s first arena to achieve the ‘A Greener Arena’ certification the OVO Hydro is sending a clear signal to the industry that lower-impact live events are possible.
“We will continue to support the OVO Hydro to further reduce its carbon footprint, so fans and artists alike can perform in a venue that’s supporting our collective goal; saving the planet.”
The milestone supports the SEC’s overall sustainability ambitions and adds to the moves it has already made towards reducing its carbon footprint and achieving net zero by 2030.
AGF co-founder Claire O’Neill adds: “A Greener Festival was launched in 2007 and since then we’ve assessed over 1,000 events, tours and venues across five continents, providing the first and only sustainable event certification including on site assessment of practical implementation and independent verification across 11 categories of event analysis, and the first dedicated arena certification. We’re delighted for the team at the OVO Hydro, and we hope that this leads the way for more arenas to get involved in the process.”
Dice boosts leadership team with senior hires
Ticketing and discovery platform Dice has bolstered its leadership team with four senior appointments.
Falko Mortiboys joins as VP of fan experience, Ali McCloud is made VP of partner relations, Antony Jackson is named head of expansion, Europe and Leon Sherman becomes head of artist partnerships, UK & Europe.
The company says the new hires highlights its commitment to scaling its offering into new markets, deepening its partner network and using technology and data to create a better live experience for artists and fans.
“Ali, Antony, Falko and Leon are great leaders who I’m confident will play an integral role in supercharging the growth of our platform”
“I’m very grateful to be working with such talented people at Dice and we spend a lot of time making sure we hire the right people,” says Dice CEO and founder Phil Hutcheon. “Ali, Antony, Falko and Leon are great leaders who I’m confident will play an integral role in supercharging the growth of our platform.”
London-based Mortiboys, who was previously director of data insights & CRM at Manchester United, is tasked with expanding Dice’s user experience globally, using research, data and insights to grow the fan community and deepen their engagement with the platform.
McCloud will work on growing the company’s network of venues, promoters and artists, with a focus on building long-term relationships with strategic live entertainment partners across the world. Based in New York, McCloud has previously held senior positions at ticketing companies including Eventbrite, Ticketfly and Ticketmaster.
Jackson will be responsible for deepening the company’s presence in its existing European markets as well as helping Dice break into new cities and countries. He joins from San Francisco-based micro-mobility company Spin. Prior to that, he was responsible for growing and expanding Deliveroo’s virtual brands concept globally.
Sherman makes the switch from SoundCloud, where he was global editorial director. He will be tasked with making the Dice platform indispensable for artists. He is a former head of marketing at global media and festival organisation Afropunk, and was also at Metropolis Music as a promoter and campaigns manager.
Touring Russia ‘has to be banned for a long time’
The future of the concert business in Russia, Ukraine and neighbouring countries was brought under the microscope during a powerful ILMC panel.
Chaired by Charmenko’s Nick Hobbs, Ukraine: Conflict in Europe session brought together Mikolaj Ziółkowski of Poland’s Alter Art, Codruța Vulcu of Romania’s ARTmania and Semyon Galperin of Russian live music venue Tele-Club Ekaterinburg, with Sergii Maletskyi of Ukraine’s H2D and Helen Sildna of Estonia’s Tallinn Music Week joining the discussion via video link.
Maletskyi was based in Kyiv before heading west the day Russia launched its invasion. “On 21 February, I woke up 8km from Boryspil airport and I saw the first rockets with my own eyes,” he said.
The promoter provided an update on music in his homeland, saying that some shows were going ahead in bomb shelters.
“This is the reality of the Ukrainian music industry at the moment,” he said. “Everyone is doing what they can. I heard maybe two or three cases where people were saying, ‘We aren’t making new music because it’s hurt us too much.’ When you’re hiding in a bomb shelter, it’s really hard to be creative… So the creative part of this business is frozen as well.”
“I can’t imagine that, without real peace, any international act will play in Russia”
Maletskyi said an anti-war video released last month by Russian rock artist Zemfira, which was shown to delegates during yesterday’s session, had garnered a mixed response in Ukraine.
“Generally, we are really thankful to everyone who is supporting the Ukraine wherever they can,” he said. “Talking about the Zemfira video, I was personally thankful but Ukrainian society was divided because she posted it only a month after the war began.
“Some people in the industry, as well as the acts, are thinking that this video should have been posted the beginning or maybe five years ago, or eight years ago. The rest are thankful for her statement – she is a big act and she made a proper example for the rest of the industry.”
“We can’t come back to business as usual”
Hobbs said that many overseas acts would play Ukraine as soon as it was safe to do so, but questioned what the international touring sector’s future relationship with Russia looked like.
“I can’t imagine that… without real peace, any international act will play in Russia,” said Ziółkowski. “That would be absolutely impossible for me; it would be horrible and awful. I think that any moral person would never accept it… so I don’t see any way to come back to business as usual in years.
“I think that we all have to say very loud that there has to be changes. It can’t be that there is a stadium show in Moscow in three months and everything is fine, no, not any more. We can’t come back to business as usual. International touring has to be banned for a long time.”
Maletskyi said: “For me, as a Ukrainian, it’s obvious – no business with Russian acts at this stage. I understand that they will need to pay for this war for generations. I don’t know what they need to do, I don’t have this answer. But I feel pain about it. But we need to ban Russian touring at this moment, 100%.”
“It’s really hard to completely cut off oil and gas immediately – they will do it gradually, I think. But it’s really easy to stop international touring,” added Galperin, who encouraged festival organisers to include stages dedicated to Ukrainian artists.
“I think supporting the dissidents in Russia… is something we should consider doing in a smart way”
Sildna suggested that festivals should not currently carry Russian programming out of respect for Ukraine, but added: “I think it is necessary to carry out a dialogue with people who we trust in Russia. And I think it’s important to support the opposition in Russia.
“Coming from the Soviet Union… the western connection to us back in the ’80s motivated us quite a lot to make these steps closer to democracy and closer to the west. So I think supporting the dissidents in Russia and supporting the opposition in Russia, is something we should consider doing in a smart way.”
The subject turned to the war’s impact on touring in bordering countries. Vulcu said there were indications the Romanian market had been affected.
“There are a lot of shows on sale, but the audience waits because there is a bit of a fear that this will escalate,” she said. “Many people say it won’t escalate because we are in NATO, but two months ago everybody said Putin will never get into Ukraine, so what can we say? We are not so sure.
“There is no two sides of the story. There might be misinformation in public… but there is one fact – Russia is in Ukraine and that’s very simple. They are on the Ukrainian territory, so it’s clearly one aggressor and one victim.”
“We have to support rebuilding Ukraine”
Ziółkowski claimed Russia’s actions amounted to “genocide”. “It’s not a conflict in Ukraine,” he said. “It’s Russian aggression and genocide.” However, he said he had no fears about the situation spilling over into Poland.
“We are absolutely safe, we are not afraid at all,” he insisted. “There’s 25,000 American troops on the Polish border. If something happened it means fighting with America and fighting with NATO, so it won’t happen. So don’t be afraid of Putin and don’t be afraid this bullshit they are talking to us. We have to support rebuilding Ukraine in our duty for their bravery, for the fight for freedom, for the fight for democracy.”
Sildna concluded on a positive note by referencing Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent pre-taped address at the Grammy Awards.
“If they find time to speak through music, then I think we need to acknowledge how powerful this medium is,” she said. “And I think it’s very touching and empowering to see that a sector that’s just coming out of two years of a pandemic crisis has been standing up all across Europe and the world and is making Ukraine visible. I think that’s something something we should embrace and take ourselves seriously as well.
“We have quite a lot of power in our voices if we combine them, so I think that’s something at least positive to take away from this.”
ILMC 34: Casey Wasserman talks Paradigm acquisitions
Casey Wasserman has discussed Wasserman Music’s acquisitions of Paradigm’s North America and UK live music businesses.
The latter deal took place earlier this week and comes a year after the launch of Wasserman Music, which itself followed the completion of its acquisition of Paradigm’s North American live music business.
Speaking yesterday (27 April) at the International Live Music Conference (ILMC), Wasserman revealed that his company had always planned to buy both of Paradigm’s businesses.
“We’re not myopic,” he said. “I don’t sit in Los Angeles and think the world operates and rotates around the United States. Building a global music business is fundamentally important to the clients we serve and the business we operate in.
“I don’t sit in Los Angeles and think the world operates and rotates around the United States”
“We can’t say to our clients, ‘We can only serve you in this little area or in this little way’. For us not to have a global music business that is integrated and operates as one unit would be a mistake.”
Explaining the reason for buying the businesses separately, Wasserman said: “Because of the different shareholdings, we separated those transactions to give them both the appropriate attention and focus.”
The entertainment mogul hailed Paradigm’s UK leadership team – which includes Dave Hallybone, Alex Hardee, Tom Schroeder and James Whitting – as “world-class” and says that the company weathered the pandemic incredibly well.
Discussing the tie-up between Wasserman Music and Paradigm’s North America business, Wasserman says the deal was “incredibly complex” and took more than 14 months.
“Building a global music business is fundamentally important to the clients we serve and the business we operate in”
“We brought on 80 employees and created a new music division and [because of the pandemic] we never had an in-person meeting to get that done,” he explained.
According to the American executive, the US deal came about after a “quasi-affair” with Sam Gores, founder and CEO of Paradigm.
“I had coffee with him once a week for multiple years, trying to buy the business,” he said. “Then February of 2020, Paradigm stepped on multiple landmines and kind of blew themselves up. And so I actually said to our guys, ‘Okay, enough of the dating game with Sam Gores, we’ll just move on to other things.
“And to their credit, Sam and his brother Tom called a couple of months later and said, ‘We’ve got some struggles here, we really needed to solve this situation and we’d like to talk about you buying the music business,’ which is kind of all we wanted anyway. And so we began that process on 4 April 2020 and end of May 2021 we closed.”
“[The Paradigm acquisitions are] the first two steps, not the last two steps”
He continued: “We went through a lot together over those 14 months to get close. And we knew coming out of it, we’ve got to bring that team together and go forward together. We don’t operate an agency to create structures and bureaucracy because that’s not how agents work. Our job is to sort of put the guardrails in, let them do their job, give them resources to do that, and help them when they need help and otherwise stay out of the way.”
Now Wasserman Music has both Paradigm businesses under its belt, the plan going forward is “to continue to put ourselves in the best position to succeed”. “We want to represent the best clients, help them drive their careers, and be incredibly relevant and influential in the music business. We’ve got a great leadership team, we’ve got great relationships, and we’re going to continue to be aggressive,” he said.
The American executive also hinted at future acquisitions to build a global music business, saying that the Paradigm acquisitions are “the first two steps, not the last two steps”.
“If we think [a company] adds value to our business and to our clients, we’re gonna go after it. We want to make ourselves the best place for an agent to pursue a career for themselves and for their clients,” he added.
IPM 15: Production heads on perfect storm of Covid and Brexit
The IPM programme concluded with what organisers referred to as the mega panel – a session that revolved around the current industry conditions, summed up by the strapline Covid & Brexit: The Perfect Storm.
Split into two parts, the mega panel involved multiple guest speakers from around the world, with Bonnie May from Global Infusion Group chairing part one and applauding those businesses who managed to get through the survival period by adapting their operations to negotiate two years of severely impacted activities.
Indeed, with the war in Ukraine adding to that ‘perfect storm’ analogy, hiking costs even higher and exacerbating the supply chain crisis, May turned to a plethora of experts to tell their stories over the past two years, as well as citing their early experiences of the industry recovery.
Singapore-based Paul Sergeant (ASM Global) underlined the fact that a lot of debt had been incurred during the Covid pandemic and that would continue to impact the live entertainment sector over the coming months and years. He advocated the pandemic’s effect on improving communications from top to bottom in his company as a massive tool in motivating employees.
Sergeant also talked up the Venue Management school in Australia that has been running for about 30 years and awards people diplomas when they graduate. He said that numerous sectors across the live entertainment business in Australia had bought into that programme and market its benefits to their various audiences.
“I’m still now educating people who have only started getting back out in the road”
José Faisca from Altice Arena in Portugal highlighted the importance of everyone in the live entertainment ecosphere that make the industry work – and the fact that those at the bottom of the food chain need more help and support than those who are at the top, if they are going to remain part of the business, rather than taking their skills elsewhere.
“We are better together,” he stated, adding that treating the freelancers and suppliers as part of his company’s extended family – eating together, inviting everyone to team meetings, and investing in training – encourages an atmosphere where everybody is happy to work for the health of the company. “We sometimes invite the families of our suppliers, the riggers, etc, to events so that they can see what their loved ones do and the results they help produce,” he revealed.
Asthie Wendra, a show director and stage manager from Indonesia said her team was almost back to full strength post-pandemic, despite the fact that many found work elsewhere, suggesting that lot of people want to return to the live entertainment environment in her country. Wendra also highlighted the importance of education and training in the workforce. “They need to get something other than money, but education and helping them return to the industry and see that they can have a career there helps us to do that,” she said.
Lisa Ryan (EFM Global) said Covid was a blessing for the Brexit factor, as the industry probably would not have coped had there been the normal level of events through the red tape nightmare, carnets and other new regulations thrown up by the aftermath of the UK leaving the European Union. “I’m still now educating people who have only started getting back out in the road,” she said, hinting at the carnage that could await the business when the busy summer season kicks in. She adds, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this [situation].”
Ryan and May agreed that improving the conditions for employees was a crucial part of keeping people motivated and retaining their skills in the industry, with both citing pay rises, better holiday terms, facilitating people to work from home on flexible hours, and even allowing staff to relocate abroad to fulfil life ambitions. However, they acknowledged the difficulty of recruiting new people to the industry, as well as attracting people back who may have found work elsewhere that offer them a more settled life-work balance.
“I don’t think the artists have realised yet that the costs have gone up and the profits will be less”
Part two of the mega panel was chaired by eps holding chief Okan Tombulca who explained that he has been on a number of conference sessions during the past year to specifically address the supply chain issues that are beginning to hit the international industry, both in terms of personnel and equipment. He voiced his personal opinion that the business is continually in a perfect storm, in terms of spiralling costs and pressure.
Andrew Zweck (Sensible Events) suggested it’s too early to know if artists have changed their views because of the various limitations that are hitting the business post-Covid. “I don’t think the artists have realised yet that the costs have gone up and the profits will be less. It’s unfolding now as we speak and that problem is not fully understood by the artists.” He added that the fact there are no double drivers this year is having an impact on tour plans, including at least one stadium show he had to cancel because they could not get a stage for that date.
“Artists are going to have less and I’m not sure they know that yet,” Zweck added, noting that he did not know who was going to tell them.
Production manager Phay Mac Mahon reported that the production side of the industry has lost about 30% of its workforce. “It’s the vendors’ time – they don’t need to reply to you because they are so busy trying to fulfil the contracts that they have,” said Mac Mahon. “With larger artists it’s planned further ahead, but for the younger artists it’s tough because their production manager might not be able to get the answers and therefore they may not be able to get the suppliers.”
Julia Frank from Wizard Promotions in Germany revealed that she started calling around a year ago for a certain tour for summer 2022. “I’m now just six weeks from that tour starting and I’m still ten riggers short,” she said.
“I’m now just six weeks from that tour starting and I’m still ten riggers short”
Anna Golden of UK promoters Kilimanjaro Live revealed that the company’s focus was on UK touring artists and outdoor shows. “We’ve been in constant communications with our suppliers so that at least they know these shows will definitely happen,” she said. “One of the festivals that Kili owns has actually bought its own stage because we have a five-year plan and that was financially more viable.”
Tombulca pondered whether that might be a new concept for promoters to own the infrastructure. Mac Mahon countered that the artist ego and ambitions for bigger and bigger shows might work against that. “Artist ego is the vendor’s best friend,” said Mac Mahon.
Zweck noted that the likes of the Royal Albert Hall has its own in-house lights and PA that it encourages bands to use, which also helps with sustainability. And he told IPM that in Australia, agreements are in place that equipment will stay in specific cities this year for artists to share, rather than shipping that kit on long journies for days at a time between venues. And on a similar theme, Tombulca says Live Nation has set up 28 stadia across America with exactly the same stages and kit for the summer.
Delegate Bryan Grant from Britannia Row noted that there is not enough equipment in the world to supply all the tours that are going out this year, revealing he had tried to fly in kit from South Africa for some of his events, only to be told it had already gone on rent in Germany.
Tombulca also touched on the impact of the war in Ukraine. Frank said the cost of fuel was the obvious impact, but she had not seen any difference in ticket sales in Germany. However, Zweck said it was another doubt to plant in the mind of the ticket seller for festivals and tours in the latter part of this year, going into 2023.
We’re in for a tough year, but humans are resilient and we will find a way”
Lisa Ryan from EFM Global noted that many of the Antinov aircraft that might be used for bigger tours are grounded in Russia and the Ukraine, while the biggest of all was recently destroyed in the conflict.
And speaking from the point of view in the Baltics, Renatas Nacajus from ISEG in Lithuania reported that ticket sales dropped immediately when the Ukraine war started, as confidence disappeared from the market.
Golden concluded that this summer is just about surviving and getting through 2022 as best as possible. Frank agreed. “It’s like going back to the 90s – it’s not going to be pretty, but it will do,” she stated.
Zweck commented, “We’re in for a tough year, but humans are resilient and we will find a way. Market forces will have a correction in terms of giving more money to the people at the lower end. But overall I’m pessimistic and I think when we look back in two years, we’ll struggle to see what we learned from Covid and we’ll be back to the greed of the big promoters and that will become rampant again.”
20 years of Finland’s Fullsteam Agency
From humble beginnings come great things. That’s certainly how it has panned out for Finland’s Fullsteam, a group of music companies that now encompasses a record label, management services, a booking agency, event organising, and publishing.
Currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, it started out like many music industry endeavours – as a hobby for music lover Rauha Kyyrö. “I was still in high school, and I never thought it would become my profession,” she recalls. “My plan was to go and study law! But then music happened…”
Tobbe Lorentz of United Talent, one of the first agents she started to work with professionally, can certainly recall her passion. “My first memory is when Rauha turned up at my home, unannounced, and I opened the door to see this unknown kid with dreads and piercings asking to book my bands,” he says. “I believe my response was: ‘Of course you can. Now go away.’ But I booked Turbonegro with her the week after, and we’ve been working together ever since.”
Booking bands was something that, by then, Kyyrö was already adept at. She started out playing in a band but was, by her own admission, “never the best or most talented musician.” But she had smarts and determination – “I was great at getting things done,” she says.
Booking shows, promotion, logistics, and taking care of releases became her domain, and she came up with a novel way of getting her own band shows abroad.
“We did everything ourselves – book the shows, sell merch, release records, and do the PR”
“The easiest way to do that was to book shows in Finland for a Swedish or German band in exchange for getting to play with them in their home countries,” she recalls. “That’s how I first got into the business of booking shows internationally.” Her abilities earned her the nickname “Fixare” (The Fixer) – and she soon found herself dealing with agents who had got her contact details from their artists who had friends in bands she had promoted.
To do things officially and pay taxes, she started her first company Sitruunamaailma (which translates as ‘the world of lemons’) with two friends, and then things really took off. “I started promoting the first ‘bigger’ shows – those with a 900 capacity – and also my first outdoor summer festival,” she says. Bear in mind, this was all before she even left high school – “prodigious” doesn’t even come close.
Yet the financial realities of promoting and booking were somewhat harsh – in the early years, it remained very much a hobby. “I was doing all this while working in a record shop in Helsinki,” she says. Even after starting Fullsteam proper in 2002 – it began life as a record label, Fullsteam Records, and was a subsidiary of her previous company, Sitruunamaailma – her ambitions were modest.
“The idea was just to release music for great bands that couldn’t get their music out on the existing labels. And I guess it felt great to have a record label.”
Releasing music was just the start. Kyyrö soon realised there were many things she could do to help her own and friends’ bands, and so the other aspects of Fullsteam began to grow organically. “We did everything ourselves – book the shows, sell merch, release records, and do the PR. We also had a rehearsal room centre with 50 rooms, so we basically just did whatever we wanted […] for our own and our friends’ bands. It was always some kind of a 360 ̊ model, but as the business grew and things got more professional, it was necessary to have different companies for different parts of the business.”
James Rubin of WME recalls [Kyyrö] being “exceptional in problem-solving and career-building”
Kyyrö admits that it wasn’t until 2004 that she actually got paid for booking shows, when she went to work for Welldone – now Live Nation Finland – for two years. The other Fullsteam
companies continued during that time, and on leaving Welldone in 2006, she founded Fullsteam Agency. “That was the first time I started to get paid from my own company,” she says.
Those early years were characterised by a can-do work ethic and DIY spirit, traits that continue to this day and endeared Kyyrö to all those who worked with her in the beginning. Kalle Lundgren Smith of international booking agent Pitch and Smith recalls booking tours with her back in 2000, when she was still running Sitruunamaailma, and being “so impressed with her professionalism. My hardcore band was used to dealing with promoters on a very DIY level, so this was very different. We were even offered accommodation on top of the fees, which seemed like an absolute luxury to us.”
Before they met in real life, Lundgren Smith assumed she was a seasoned pro. “I was picturing someone far older in my mind. Then, when we finally met in Helsinki, it was this very young punk rock kid with long dreadlocks. We’ve been working closely together ever since.”
Many others express similar sentiments, and it’s a testament to Kyyrö and the company she’s built that so many peers remain friends and colleagues 20 years later. James Rubin of WME, who began working with her 15 years ago through Bad Taste, a Swedish management company and promoter, recalls her being “exceptional in problem-solving and career-building. She always helped with any issues my clients had.”
Paulina Ahokas, managing director of Tampere Hall, remembers being so impressed by Kyyrö’s dogged determination that she badgered colleagues at Music Export Finland to bring her along on an export mission to Japan.
“All of the Fullsteam companies work together on some level, but we don’t work in the ‘traditional’ 360 ̊ way”
“Rauha was spot-on at every single panel discussion in Tokyo,” says Ahokas. “After the panels, I asked if she needed some help with meetings. She did not. She had a list of names and addresses, a map of Tokyo, and a bicycle – she cycled to the meetings she had sourced herself. I’d been to Japan at least three times, yet knew only half of the companies on her list. I told everyone at Music Export Finland that we would be hearing a lot more from this rasta-haired dynamo, and damn, I was right.”
And it’s not just in a professional capacity that Kyyrö won people overtaking the “work hard, play hard” mantra to heart, she’s had plenty of fun, too. “I first met Rauha at a showcase festival in Canada,” says Julia Gudzent, co-founder of Misc Berlin, an agency for cultural change. “We immediately got along really well, and together with Mikko Niemelä from Ruisrock and Nina Howden from Silver Circle Distillery, we founded a synchronised swimming group in the hotel pool. We had the time of our lives and all became best friends right away.”
Since 2006, Fullsteam has continued to grow organically, a slow and steady rise governed by one clear principle – serve the artist. Today, Fullsteam Agency – “by far the biggest company [in the group],” says Kyyrö – serves as a booking agency and event organiser, booking domestic performers into every venue in Finland and bringing international artists to the country (to date, Fullsteam has promoted over 2,000 international acts).
They also organise Seinäjoki’s Provinssi Festival and Helsinki’s own Sideways Festival. On top of this, they represent around 100 Finnish performers, both popular acts and rising talent, and Fullsteam group now includes management, publishing, and record label interests. But while the businesses are deeply integrated, Fullsteam is not your typical 360 ̊ company.
“All of the Fullsteam companies work together on some level, but we don’t work in the ‘traditional’ 360 ̊ way,” says Kyyrö. “We hope to work with all the music companies in Finland, so we do not push for 360 ̊ deals. They only make sense if it makes sense for the artist and everyone else involved, and to be honest, in most cases it actually doesn’t work that well to have ‘all your eggs in one basket’. But when it does work, it can be really fantastic – we have good examples of that.”
Fullsteam Agency is now co-owned by European promoter giant FKP Scorpio, following a merger in 2014
Fullsteam group’s smaller companies remain 100% owned by Kyyrö, and she’s involved in various other businesses, albeit in smaller roles. But Fullsteam Agency is now co-owned by European promoter giant FKP Scorpio, following a merger in 2014.
The deal, says Kyyrö, “Helped us to really enter the festival market and to become more professional in many different ways.” But it wasn’t driven by finances or a desire to wield more clout. “I just really liked the people at FKP Scorpio: simple as that,” she says. “I thought they would support our team in our ambitions to grow but also let us be who we are and work the way we do. They are good, kind people – I appreciate that a lot.”
That added professionalism has manifested itself in various ways. Fullsteam has, says Kyyrö, become a better employer and partner for artists and clients. Her colleagues agree. “The best part of working as a promoter at Fullsteam is probably the creative freedom that you have; we’re not tied to one or two or even three genres but work with everything that we believe has value – be it money or something else,” comments staffer Artemi Remes.
“I’m pretty sure that’s not the case with every big agency in the world. And for me, that’s really the greatest thing as it makes every workday and every concert special. Never a dull day!” Remes says it’s difficult to pick just one highlight from more than 1,000 shows he has promoted over the past 16 years. “But pressed, I’d probably choose the Ennio Morricone concert in Helsinki in 2016. That exceeded all levels of specialness and is one that I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life.”
Summing up the employee experience at Fullsteam, fellow promoter Aino-Maria Paasivirta says, “The great part of working at Fullsteam is that I get to work with so many different kinds of artists – I promote everything from small club shows to arenas and festivals and many different genres, which keeps the job interesting.” Asked to share her career highlights, to date, Paasivirta states, “Nick Cave’s sold-out shows on the Conversations tour was definitely an amazing experience.”
“We have a team that’s capable of anything”
She adds, “I’m very much looking forward to the business finally opening again and the festival summer 2022 and I’m, of course, especially looking forward to Provinssi. Our last editions have been great, and I’m very proud to be in the booking team. Everyone knows working with music is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle, and I can’t imagine a better community to do it with than Fullsteam.”
It hasn’t always been plain sailing, however, and Kyyrö admits to having struggled with “how competitive and mean this business can be sometimes.” Yet she has remained optimistic and never lost her passion. “I’ve always loved being part of this community and feel that I am actually really good at this thing they call the music business.”
Modestly, she feels the company has only recently properly “arrived” and achieved lasting success. “The first time I felt that wasn’t until the end of 2019, after we’d promoted three historic events in Finland within a year – Ed Sheeran in Helsinki in July 2019, Rammstein in Tampere in August 2019, and Cheek in Lahti in August 2018. We’d also succeeded in bringing Provinssi Festival back to the top. None of those things were on my bucket list, they just happened when the time was right – or when we were ready for it.”
That’s a view shared by Fullsteam Agency managing director Tuomo Tähtinen, who believes that the platform the company has built means the best is yet to come. “Fullsteam has already come incredibly far, yet there’s still so much potential,” Tähtinen tells IQ. “We have a team that’s capable of anything. And we all know that success shouldn’t be pursued at any cost, but we need to build for the future sustainably and with respect to everyone around us.”
Recently, Fullsteam’s formal successes have been numerous. They are now Finland’s biggest, most important concert promoter and booking agency, for both alternative music and global superstars. Fullsteam Records has won Independent Label of the Year a total of six times and remains a champion and supporter of new, exciting, and unique Finnish music. And, perhaps most impressively of all, Fullsteam scooped a total of seven awards at 2019’s Music & Media Industry Awards Gala, including Booking Agency of the Year, Concert of the Year, and numerous accolades for individual staff.
“I’ve always loved being part of this community and feel that I am actually really good at music business.”
So, what’s the secret, then? What has made Fullsteam such a successful company and given them – and Kyyrö – two decades of growth, excellence, and a stellar reputation? The accolades are numerous. “They are music fans first and foremost,” says Geoff Meall of Paradigm Talent Agency. “The first correspondence is always about them wanting to work with the band or act because they like them. In a world of expanding corporatisation, I’ll always have time for companies like Fullsteam.”
Kalle Lundgren Smith agrees. “Fullsteam has a very loyal and strong team. It’s like a nice big family of true music lovers with an open and welcoming mindset. I think Rauha’s single-mindedness and creative mind – combined with her amazing staff – brought them this far.”
Tobbe Lorentz says that it’s “hard work, a great team, having their finger on the pulse, and good timing,” that’s made them so successful; Julia Gudzent agrees. “What makes Fullsteam and Rauha so special is that they do their work with complete passion, but unlike a lot of other people in the industry, they also take care of themselves and don’t forget to live and celebrate their wins. And that makes them so much better at their job.”
James Rubin says their “dedication to personal attention, being artist-friendly, and sheer excellence in everything they do has been nothing short of exceptional,” while Xenia Grigat of Danish promoter Smash!Bang!Pow! adds that there’s a “special DNA that defines Fullsteam, and it seems like a workplace that is inclusive and sees the full potential in the team. That’s inspiring, and attracts talented staff and artists.”
For Paulina Ahokas, one of the many who’ve worked with Kyyrö since the very beginning, there are three main reasons behind Fullsteam’s continued rise. “Every single person in the company has the same attitude, the need and desire to excel. Every person is willing to work harder than anyone else. And every single person in the company knows how to party! I have no idea if this is the recruitment strategy, but I know it has worked.”
“And every single person in the company knows how to party!”
And the view internally, from new partner FKP Scorpio, is just as effusive. CEO Stephan Thanscheidt credits their “friendship, loyalty, creativity, attitude, professionality, and a great taste in arts and music,” qualities he says you feel at every single Fullsteam show or event. “Their team, in combination with their family values, is hard to beat. They have an extraordinary spirit; creative and professional entrepreneurship; a great social and political attitude; and good relations with loads of talented artists.”
Certainly, their legacy seems assured. They’ve brought a lot of live music to Finland that the country might not have been able to enjoy otherwise, from the likes of Disco Ensemble, early emo bands, many Nordic artists, and numerous international superstars. They have blazed a trail for diversity and inclusivity and redefined what a group of music companies – both working together and in separate fields – can achieve on behalf of their artists.
Ultimately, that might be the single biggest factor behind Fullsteam’s success – it really is all about the music and the people who make it happen. One anecdote in particular, from Julia Gudzent, encapsulates this attitude perfectly. “I went to the Finnish music awards show once, and Fullsteam won all the prizes. Rauha took her whole team up on stage because she knew that it was not only her prize, but the whole team that won it. That impressed me so much because I’d never seen this kind of leadership before. I’ve not met a lot of people in the industry who do their job with so much modesty, kindness, and team spirit.”
What then of the future? What focus, hopes, and dreams does Kyyrö have for Fullsteam for the years ahead? “I really would like us to be the best place to work at and best partner for the people we work with,” she says. “If we succeed in that we will always be successful. We have truly amazing people working for Fullsteam and close to us, and I truly hope they will stick around, keep up with the shit in the business and shape the company and the music industry to become a better and more inclusive place for everyone.”
So we’ll be back here in another 20 years, with Fullsteam continuing to go from strength to strength? “I am sure we’ll continue to have many victories, but there are also challenging times ahead of us. I think that at the end of the day, a business like ours is just a bunch of people working together, and I hope there is room for life to happen and for people to grow and pursue their dreams at Fullsteam.”
Manchester’s AO Arena to undergo £50m revamp
ASM Global has announced a £50 million plan to transform Manchester’s AO Arena.
The three-year phased development, which will begin this summer, will dramatically enhance the 21,000-cap venue, expanding its infrastructure while adding innovative guest features. Further details will be released in the coming months.
The 27-year-old arena has a string of sell-out concerts lined up for 2022, including Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Diana Ross, Alicia Keys, Swedish House Mafia, Snoop Dogg and George Ezra.
“The first phase will enhance and increase our standing floor capacity”
“AO Arena is one of the world’s iconic venues and a much-loved part of Manchester’s rich culture and history,” says Chris Bray, EVP Europe at ASM Global. “It has been delivering world class entertainment experiences for over two decades. As we approach our 30th anniversary, this ambitious endeavour will not only reinforce its position as a leading destination for live entertainment but will extend its market leadership for ‘live’ and fan experiences for the next 30 years, and we’re proud to be further investing into the heart of Manchester.
“The first phase will enhance and increase our standing floor capacity to share this historic arena with even more of our guests and we will also be adding new hospitality lounges and investing in delivering an upgraded concourse experience. Our performers will be immersed in an all-new back of house artists campus, unparalleled anywhere.”
Additional major developments will include brand-new arena entrances, specially tailored premium experiences, custom designed lounges, and new premium seating.
“This will not only elevate the experience for guests and fans, but for everyone who sets foot in the venue”
AO Arena’s back of house will also be upgraded with a complete overhaul of the backstage experience, including new artist dressing rooms and production areas, a “world-class” green room with meet and greet facilities, an overhaul of crew catering, and first-class connectivity and technology.
“This is a really exciting time for the AO Arena,” adds recently appointed general manager Jen Mitchell. “Not only are we able to welcome guests back after a challenging two years, with a programme packed full of world-class acts and entertainment; now we can reveal the first phase of ASM Global’s plans for the arena’s redevelopment. This will not only elevate the experience for guests and fans, but for everyone who sets foot in the venue, including artists, production, crew and our staff who work so hard to make the magic happen right here in Manchester.”
AO Arena is set to face competition in the city from Oak View Group’s new east Manchester development Co-op Live, which is scheduled to open in 2023.