Behind the ‘madness’ of ABBA Voyage
The team behind the smash-hit ABBA Voyage virtual concert residency have revealed the secrets of the revolutionary production in a new interview with IQ.
The project, which blends the virtual and physical worlds, reportedly had a budget of $175 million and brings the Swedish group – Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus (co-founder of lead investor Pophouse), Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – back to the stage (in avatar form) for the first time in 40 years, backed by a 10-piece live band.
Held at the demountable 3,000-cap ‘ABBA Arena’ – a purpose-built venue devised by entertainment architect Stufish, under the direction of producers Svana Gisla and Ludvig Andersson and director Baillie Walsh – the show debuted at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in May to rave reviews. Walsh had previously collaborated with Gisla on projects including the Springsteen & I and Oasis’ Lord Don’t Slow Me Down documentaries.
“I knew I could really push boundaries”
“She suggested I go on a call with Benny and Björn, but the idea wasn’t fully formed at that point,” he explains. “It was more of a cinematic idea, but there was a roadmap so that was something to work from. I just had to sit down and work out, essentially, what would I want to see? What’s going to get 3,000 people a night into that arena?
“There was no brief in a sense, but we had the avatars and the sense of these younger versions of ABBA – 1979 was our reference point – and ABBA were very trusting with me. We communicated well and liked each other, and that is essentially how I got the job. They put together a great team before I came on board like [visual effects company] ILM, for starters. So I knew I could really push boundaries.
“As the arena was being built, we’d visit and look up at that screen and go, ‘Oh, my God, it’s the size of a tower block!’ That was daunting, but exciting – it’s not often you get opportunities like this.”
Ludvig Andersson (son of Benny) tells IQ the show was six years in the making.
“An idea came to the Stockholm office of ABBA that it might be possible to create digital versions of themselves, and that’s basically how it started,” he says. “Then followed three years of research and development: a lot of conversations around tables in different cities, with different people about what can and cannot be done. Slowly, slowly through that process, we ended up with the idea that became what it is today.”
“The whole project is complete madness and always has been”
The intervention of the pandemic in 2020 set things back by at least six months, however, remembers Gisla.
“It almost pushed us down,” she admits. “We needed to convince a lot of people that this mad idea – that became insanity overnight when Covid struck – was going to be okay, so that took a while.”
“The height of the pandemic coincided with Svarna and me trying to get people to give us money which, in their defence, they ended up doing,” notes Andersson. “But, of course, it was a challenge to convince people not only of the qualities of a show that didn’t exist yet, but also of a project that was based on getting 3,000 people to come into a space during a time when no one was allowed to come into any space of any kind.”
The world’s largest demountable temporary venue, ABBA Arena is designed to fit 1,650 seats and space for a standing audience of 1,350. Outside the auditorium is a sheltered, extended concourse area used to serve visitors. Tickets are priced from £21 to £175, with a variety of different ticket types available for the concerts, including general admission (standing), auditorium seating and dance booths – of which there are eight, each named after people from the ABBA universe.
“This whole concept is complete madness and always has been,” grins Gisla. “There’s an audacity to the scale that is ridiculous. When Ludvig, Baillie and I did the fundraising, we were describing to investors what it was going to be, but we had nothing to show them. It was incredibly difficult and, had it not been ABBA, it would have been impossible.”
“This is an ABBA concert… They’re as involved in this as they would be in any other concert they’ve ever done”
The four members of ABBA spent five weeks being filmed by 160 cameras for motion capture as they performed the 22 songs that make up the show’s 95-minute runtime.
“They have been very hands on, incredibly so,” suggests Gisla. “It wouldn’t be possible without a considerable input from them because this is an ABBA concert. We’re not franchising anything, this is their concert, so they’re as involved in this as they would be in any other concert they’ve ever done. We’re really proud of it and ABBA are too.”
“ABBA came up with the setlist; I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to suggest to them what songs they should be playing,” laughs Walsh. “ABBA always wanted a live band, but when we had the live size avatars it made perfect sense because it added to the idea of, ‘Where does reality end and digital begin? And so I could really play with that. That is another big idea in the show – where you just don’t know where the digital world ends and reality begins.”
Other key team members include co-executive producer Johan Renck, choreographer Wayne McGregor and AV tech specialist Solotech UK, led by director of special projects Ian “Woody” Woodall. Hundreds of thousands of tickets have already been sold for the production, which is currently booking until late May 2023.
“There is no reason why it couldn’t run and run and tour”
The ABBA Arena structure is able to be relocated to another site at the end of its London tenure.
“There’s no reason why it couldn’t run and run and tour,” finishes Gisla. “We’ve done lots of things in our lives, but these last few years have been the single most enjoyable years of our careers.”
While ABBA Voyage debuted to universal acclaim, Walsh says his initial response to the positive reception was one of “enormous relief”.
“It’s obviously been a long process,” he says. “It’s been in my head for a long, long time and it wasn’t until a couple of months before we opened that I actually got to see what was in my head, so that was a big moment. And then to see it with an audience, which brings that extra element to show, was a wonderful thing. I couldn’t have wished for a better response. It was emotional.
“What I wanted to achieve was, can you be emotional about an avatar? Can you fall in love with an avatar? And I think we have achieved that. What I see every night is such a vast range of emotion: there’s pure joy, but there are a lot of tears, as well as that confusion about, ‘What am I seeing? What’s real and what isn’t?’ So for me, creatively, it’s been really successful.
“It’s rare as a filmmaker that you get this opportunity to see a response to your work in this way because usually, it’s in a darkened cinema where there is no applause and no direct response. Seeing this visceral response to something that I’ve made is a complete joy.”
“We wanted people to feel something. If they had gone away just thinking, ‘Wow, that was cool technology,’ we would have failed completely”
Gisla echoes those thoughts, describing being able to witness the reaction first-hand as a “privilege”.
“It’s wonderful,” she says. “It’s almost unbelievable how well it’s been received and continues to be received. It’s a special experience for us to be inside that auditorium with 3,000 people and watch people having such fun.
“This has never been about technology. This has never been about creating a spectacle. This has always been about creating the best possible ABBA concert we could. And every single decision, every step of the way, has been considered with only that in mind.”
“All we ever wanted was for people to feel something,” nods Andersson. “If they had gone away just thinking, ‘Wow, that was cool technology,’ then we would have failed completely.
“It’s really hard to take in that all this work that all these people put in actually seems like it worked, and that is something special. I still can’t really fathom that we got this far and that it went so well. We often say that our job has been to get out of the way and let this magical mystery train keep chugging, and that is testament to the extraordinary people involved, who have gone above and beyond to make these ideas reality.
“We’ve been trying for six years to describe what this show is and even now, when it exists, it’s impossible. You just have to come and see it.”
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Solving the supply chain crisis
Experts from the production and touring industries have been getting together to find solutions to the current supply chain problems that threaten to dampen the excitement after two years of no concerts. James Drury finds out more.
“We’re going to see a return to the roaring ’20s” was the refrain from the live industry last year as the global lockdowns eased and audiences seemed to be straining at the leash to get back to the concerts they’d missed so dearly. Promoters, agents and artists, keen to make up for two years or more of lost touring business, were just as eager to get back on the road. Although it was online only, the fizzing optimism of ILMC 33 could be felt through the screen.
But just as confidence grew among audiences, the knock-on effects of Covid, Brexit – and many would argue longstanding problems of low pay and long hours – are hitting the industry. There’s simply not enough crew, security, drivers, trucks, equipment, staging and everything else needed to fulfil all these shows. So what’s going on, and what can be done to solve what’s being dubbed “the supply chain crisis”?
“The live events supply chain problem is a term that is being used frequently at the moment. It’s being suggested that it has been caused by the pandemic. But that’s not necessarily true”
Production experts worldwide have teamed up across three conferences to share information about supply chain problems. They got together at ILMC in London, Pollstar Live! In Los Angeles, and EPIC at Eurosonic Noorderslag in the Netherlands to find solutions to this ongoing issue and share them with the industry through this report.
In many ways, the problems we’re facing are nothing new, as industry veteran Carl AH Martin points out: “The live events supply chain problem is a term that is being (ab)used frequently at the moment. It’s being suggested that it has been caused by the pandemic. But that’s not necessarily true. At the Event Safety & Security Summit (E3S) in 2017, a panel discussed the lack of security personnel throughout Europe due to a lack of money to pay sensible rates. In 2018/19, at both the IPM and Event Production Forum East (EPFE) conferences, there was discussion about the lack of personnel and materials.”
What challenges are we facing, and what’s causing them?
That noted, discussions on this current situation heated up in January. At EPIC, Okan Tombulca, CEO of global touring logistics specialists eps, raised alarm bells about what he saw were promoters’ intentions to squeeze two years of shows into eight months. He told the panel that we’re in a rare situation where a lack of equipment was now the deciding factor whether a gig could happen or not: “no stage, no gig,” he pointed out.
Equipment is in short supply for a variety of reasons. Tower lights are hard to get hold of because they have gone out to the construction and road-building industries; marquee and tent companies have found different markets, such as, the new £19bn (€22bn) east-west London railway, Crossrail, and use in Covid testing centres. Temporary buildings are being used as vaccination centres and temporary medical units. LED lighting is reportedly 25% more expensive than pre-pandemic, and prices for most equipment have skyrocketed. However, at Pollstar Live!, Jeroen Hallaert of PRG rightly pointed out that equipment from 2020 is still perfectly good to use. He challenged designers to use existing inventory rather than create productions using the latest tech.
In addition to not having enough production equipment to go around, there’s a severe staffing shortage. At Eurosonic’s EPIC, Oliver Gardiner from Vespasian Security in the UK, said staff have been lost during the pandemic to Covid vaccination centres. And many have left the industry – choosing instead to take full-time work in sectors that enable them to be at home more with their families or to have a better work-life balance than is offered by the music industry.
Illustrating this crisis, Martina Pogacic, who runs production company Show Production Ltd in Croatia and the Balkans, told EPIC that over 300,000 people had left the region, mainly to Germany and Ireland, while others have left the industry or died. As a result, locally promoted events are suffering. The knock-on effect is that newcomers to the industry can’t get the experience and skills they need to get fully trained.
“Not only must the show go on, it will”
Maarten Arkenbout from trucking company Pieter Smit said the increase in fuel costs and the loss of drivers to other industries means, like many firms, they are no longer able to guarantee their prices until the client confirms the work.
However, Michael Strickland, co-chair and founder of Bandit Lites, told Pollstar Live! “not only must the show go on, it will.”
But at what price? There are very real concerns that overstretched and understaffed production teams could lead to a serious accident. Even if the staffing issues are solved, production costs are skyrocketing at a time when many countries around the world are feeling the pinch of inflationary pressures. Will audiences swallow significant ticket price hikes, or will they choose to go to fewer concerts? Promoters could well be about to take some serious financial hits.
Artists also haven’t realised costs are rising and that this will reduce their income. They’re going to have to accept that for a while, they might not make as much money from touring. And while that’s less of an issue for the top flight of acts, what’s going to happen to smaller bands that make up the vast majority of the live touring industry? This is a problem that hasn’t been fully borne out yet. What effects will either massively reduced income or a lack of touring opportunities have on acts that don’t fill arenas?
“We’ve got tougher times ahead, but we can do it”
Having said all this, one thing the production industry excels at is finding solutions. “The show must go on” is a cliché for a reason, and there’s a feeling of determination to resolve this pinch point.
Paul Sergeant from international venues giant ASM Global said Covid had galvanised the industry like nothing before. “We’ve got tougher times ahead,” he told IPM, “but we can do it.”
The 7 Ps – the old British Army adage “Proper Planning & Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance” – has never been truer in these constrained times.
“It’s all about talking with clients. We say ‘plan to be late and over budget'”
In an effort to lock in prices and maintain some sort of stability in their budgets, some companies are seeking to contract suppliers on a longer-term basis. While this has the advantage of providing revenue security to suppliers, there’s also a downside. Bonnie May, CEO of catering and hospitality giant Global Infusion Group, said volatility in costs means it’s a struggle to ensure that margins remain sufficient over the lifetime of the contract. “How do we ensure year three is as cost-effective for us as year one?” she asked IPM.
Group COO at EFM Global, Lisa Ryan, said communication is vital. “It’s all about talking with clients. We say ‘plan to be late and over budget.’”
Consolidation of equipment
Faced with massive price increases and scarcity of equipment, more and more promoters are choosing to buy their own kit, such as staging.
Eps CEO Okan Tombulca said his company is frequently approached by promoters seeking to create joint ventures to buy equipment together – particularly in the US. He says Live Nation, for example, recently bought production for 28 stadiums and is touring eight bands through the venues, using the same set-up at all shows – much like at a festival. The bands are being told they have to use the set-ups in situ rather than bring their own production.
In Australia, the five major promoters got together, shared their lists of scheduled major shows over the next three years, and then invited vendors to make the equipment, leaving it in each of the major cities for all shows. The concept of “make it once and leave it there” is an effort to prevent huge convoys of trucks constantly crisscrossing the continent, plus the huge transport costs of getting gear there.
In the UK, Kilimanjaro-owned festival organiser UK Live already owns the kit it requires, deciding a few years back to acquire everything needed. They have toilets, staging, sound and more and are considering hiring them out to others, renting the greenfield set-ups to other promoters, or adding show days.
All this is old news for John Lickrish of Flash Events in Abu Dhabi. His company owns all its own production and has done since it formed. “When we started in 2007, we wanted to start the events industry in the region. So we trained people and invested in equipment.” He says this inspires strong loyalty in the staff, who tend to stay with the firm.
“We’ve been underpaying everyone for so long, and that’s going to come home to roost”
Pay & conditions
Long hours, being away from home for weeks or more at a time, below-average pay: life in music can be glamorous, but it’s not always attractive for everyone. A key reason for the staffing crisis is the pandemic not only saw people leave for full-time positions in other industries rather than zero-hours freelance roles. Equally, being forced to spend more time at home made them realise they preferred not being away from family and friends. So how can we attract people back?
An obvious solution is to pay people more. As Kilimanjaro CEO Stuart Galbraith pointed out at ILMC: “We’ve been underpaying everyone for so long, and that’s going to come home to roost.
You can’t blame a truck driver for working for Amazon if they can get more money and be at home at the weekends.” He predicted shows would likely be lost, sharing that a tour manager he knows has 16 shows but not enough staff to fill them all.
During that ILMC panel, an audience member reported that in Denmark, stagehands had seen a 10% increase in their hourly rates. Staging manager Mark Hornbuckle from ES Global said some stagehands were being offered increased fees from £220-$300 (€257) a day to £300 (€346). And crew boss rates are £280-£350 (€323-€498) a day.
It’s not just pay. Keeping staff and freelancers happy while they’re at work is just as important
But it’s not just pay. Keeping staff and freelancers happy while they’re at work is just as important. Flexible hours and opportunities to train and progress are vital. José Faísca from Portugal’s Arena Altice says his company helps train security staff, even though they don’t own the company. “They’ve worked with me for more than 15 years. They see our company as their own.” He says training staff, giving them opportunities to grow, a fair salary, and rights, is fundamental to ensuring motivated staff. And motivated staff will not only stay with you but ensure the customer has a great time, too.
The opportunity to work from home is also key to ensuring staff have a good work-life balance. But it’s important for people to come to the office to get the collaborative working skills and pick up and learn from others. An upside of having a flexible work-from-home set-up is you can tap into people who live far from your offices, enabling you to have even greater diversity of workforce. Global Infusion’s May said her company offers people as much unpaid leave as they want during the quieter months of January and February.
Some venues are discussing with the rigging crew about having static equipment in venues, leaving it there but providing a “guarantee of work” for riggers, so they know they’ll get paid.
There’s certainly an appetite to help recruit more young blood and train up the staff of the future
Many in the industry are calling for more production courses at universities. Plenty of people said that when they left school they had no idea about the career they’ve pursued and feel if more school-leavers knew this is a viable career, they would choose to
take it up. There’s certainly an appetite to help recruit more young blood and train up the staff of the future.
Bryan Grant from production company Britannia Row said his firm started its own training scheme as a way of making a difference and ensuring people are taught everything they need to know to start in the business. He added that they get great feedback about their trained crew, whether or not they stay with his company or go on to other things.
ASM Global’s Sergeant says Australia has a Venue Management School for venue staff that offers diplomas following successful completion of courses. “This is a career option just as much as being a doctor or truck driver or lawyer,” he says, adding the Venue Management Association-run school is very active in recruiting people from other industries, as well as people who have retired and want to try something different, such as being a steward.
“The current supply chain model is not the one we should be having for the next ten years”
While production costs increase but consumers face inflationary pressure, there’s going to be little room for passing on the cost increases to ticket holders. One solution could be to take smaller productions out. That’s not just good from a bottom-line perspective but also will be vital in the future from a sustainability point of view.
“Ultimately, all of us have to say to the artist ‘the current supply chain model is not the one we should be having for the next ten years. We can’t be driving 30 trucks around Europe and saying this is how it’s going to be on the stage every time,” said Galbraith.
Flash Entertainment’s Lickrish said the Middle East doesn’t usually get the full production – and he doesn’t miss it at all. “It’s all about the crowd experience. Them having a good time is the most important thing,” he said.
“Cutting back on these productions will benefit the artist, too – because they spend less. The audience won’t notice. While bells and whistles are great, it’s about having a wonderful time.”
Not only this but audiences will increasingly be looking to artists to think about sustainability when touring. It won’t be socially acceptable for touring to have a huge impact on the environment.
“The solution to supply chain issues is cooperation and sharing of information because together we’re more efficient
Collaboration is key
One of the best things to come out of Covid was the level of cooperation happening in the industry. Competitors talked to each other, and the whole industry came together to support each other, find solutions, and work as one.
Says Galbraith: “If there’s one conclusion, the solution to supply chain issues is cooperation and sharing of information because together we’re more efficient. We’re going to see this level of cooperation for the next decade for sustainability reasons and more.”
It might sound ambitious, but we’re facing unprecedented times. The immediate health impacts of Covid may be lessening for now, but the knock-on effects are just as challenging and will require an equally collaborative approach to resolve them.
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IQ 111 out now: The Long Tale of Coda
IQ 111, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite monthly magazine, is available to read online now.
The June edition celebrates 20 years since the launch of Coda with the talent agency’s founders, tracking its history and looking to the future in the wake of the evolved company’s acquisition by Wasserman Music.
In addition, we reflect on ILMC’s Brave New World-themed gathering after the conference made a successful return to physical form, and commemorate the richly-deserving winners of this year’s Arthur Awards.
Elsewhere, the magazine dissects the supply chain problems currently plaguing the business and speaks to experts in search of solutions, while a separate feature examines some of the challenges and opportunities for suppliers of event infrastructure. Plus, we provide a health check on the seemingly buoyant Swiss market.
For this edition’s columns and comments, Lorenz Schmid details MUCcc Arena’s ambition to become Germany’s first climate-neutral arena and Class of ’21 New Bosses alumni Theo Quiblier urges others to share stories of their failures and be honest about insecurities.
In this month’s Your Shout, meanwhile, execs including Geoff Ellis (DF Concerts), Dmitry Zaretsky (Pop Farm) and Will Holdoway (Method Events) reveal the act they rank as their greatest festival discovery.
As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.
However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ for just £7.99 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:
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LIVE CEO Jon Collins on next steps for key issues
Jon Collins, the recently appointed CEO of live music industry umbrella group LIVE, has spoken to IQ about sustainability, diversity, consumer confidence and the spiking crisis, in the second instalment of a two-part interview.
In the first part of the interview, published last week, Collins discussed his approach to tackling VAT reduction, government engagement, post-Brexit touring and the cost of living crisis.
Here, the CEO sets out the remainder of his key priorities and his plan of action for each, going forward.
“We’re out of the habit of going out and we need to find ways to get people back out”
We’re post-Covid restrictions but still dealing with the impact they’ve had on customers’ confidence to go out to gigs. We’re just finalising some consumer research which found that 14% are reticent. And there is still that tranche of people who did go to gigs beforehand and are saying they’re not quite there in terms of being comfortable to go out. The average person is holding 2.3 tickets from events that have been rolled over so they’re waiting to go to those events before buying something else – in some cases because they don’t have as much disposable income.
You’ve got 55% whose attitude towards attending gigs, in general, has changed – with 20% of those saying they’re going to fewer events overall. Not having as much energy to go out and not thinking about going out counts for 15% each, and 13% say travelling to events now feels like a lot of effort. We’re out of the habit of going out and we need to find ways to get people back out.
One thing we would like the government to do is to encourage people to come out. I think it’s Spain where they gave people a couple of 100 euros to go and spend in their local economy. That drives activity, which drives tax take, so there’s demonstrable value there. But beyond that, we also think there could be a positive communications campaign, a bit like Let’s Do London. We’re world-class at live music, so let’s bang the drum about it.
“We’re looking to do is build out a Green Information Hub which will have the information there in an understandable way”
Live Green chair John Langford has done a brilliant job of corralling everybody around that net zero by 2030 commitment. There’s a whole workstream that flows out of that about how can LIVE support the organisations on our board to then support their members to be able to hit that target – which is not that far away.
There are lots of passionate, informed expert actors in this space – such as Earthpercent, Julie’s Bicycle, Music Declares Emergency etc – and we’re not going to claim to have the same level of knowledge and understanding – but what we do have is an ability to broadcast to the live music industry in an effective way through our structures. So what we’re looking to do is build out a Green Information Hub which will have the information there in an understandable way, sometimes drawn from our own auspices but often we will just be signposting to those brilliant organisations.
I feel very encouraged by how serious LIVE, and the organisations within LIVE, are taking this issue and also by the practical steps that they are taking to really reshape how the industry operates for things like green riders – which is an addendum to an artist’s contract. We’re looking at putting something around sustainability into the contract itself because once both parties have signed that, there’s no wiggle room.
“There’s a risk that diversity, equity and inclusion become a talking shop… we’re pivoting to focus on actions”
There’s a risk that diversity, equity and inclusion become a talking shop. It’s so broad that you can be paralysed. We’re pivoting away from talking about the issues to focusing on actions. The first step is looking at how we diversify the entrance into our industry. We know that there’s huge vacancy across all parts of live music, across broader hospitality, so actually, there’s sound commercial and economic logic to asking: are you looking at the most diverse talent pool possible? By doing that we foster a more diverse, inclusive workforce. You have to supplement that with action taken for people mid-career too and action taken for people who have stepped away from the industry but want to come back. So as ever, these things are multi-dimensional.
We’re doing an immediate piece of work right now with the home office around spiking and tackling that threat within the wider context of delivering safe spaces. It’s such an opaque issue and the evidence base is very difficult to get to. Some people say it’s being underreported and other parties say it’s been overreported. What we care about ultimately, is the safety of our customers. So what we want is to make sure is that we tackle spiking in a way that doesn’t suck resources away from spotting vulnerable people in other circumstances.
Global Critical Logistics acquires Asesores de Flete
Los Angeles-based Global Critical Logistics has acquired Madrid based forwarder Asesores de Flete (ADF), a provider of mission-critical logistics services to the live event, entertainment, sports, and broadcast industries.
ADF will be integrated under GCL’s Rock-it Global brand, one of the leading providers of logistics to the global live touring industry.
Together with Rock-it Global’s expansive presence in Latin America, the ADF acquisition solidifies Rock-it Global’s in-house capabilities to serve customers throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
Rock-it Global is a provider of high-touch, mission-critical air, ocean, and surface freight forwarding and logistics services for the live entertainment and music touring, sports, broadcasting, corporate events, and tradeshow end markets.
“Establishing a company-owned presence in Spain not only strengthens our geographic footprint in continental Europe but also gives us direct access to customers in key end markets within the region,” says Paul J. Martins, Global Critical Logistics’s CEO and president.
“We are always looking for strategic opportunities to grow the business, enhance our value proposition to customers, and expand service offerings across the world.
“Establishing a company-owned presence in Spain gives us direct access to customers in key markets in the region”
“The acquisition of ADF builds on our strategy of enhancing capabilities to target customers in high growth industries such as live events, music touring, sports, broadcast, and film and television production.”
ADF will continue to be led by founder and MD Carlos Arauz Sanchez.
“For more than 30 years, ADF has focused on providing a customised service to very demanding clients,” says Arauz.
“Joining the GCL family of companies and spearheading Rock-it Global’s efforts in Spain is an exciting step for our team since we are culturally aligned and have the same passion for providing outstanding service.
“We believe this partnership will further allow us to leverage a global network and shared resources for our existing customers, whilst continuing to deliver critical solutions in Spain and the region.”
Founded in 1987, ADF includes an experienced team of authorised in-house Customs experts and specialises in critical, zero-tolerance for failure projects serving customers around the globe.
LIVE CEO Jon Collins sets out key priorities
Collins was appointed following a 25-year career running representative organisations in the hospitality industry. His most recent role was as chairman of the Institute of Licensing and the National Licensing Forum. He has also held roles including lead author for the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) Night Time Commission for London and as a senior adviser to UK Hospitality, where Collins focused specifically on late night and music licensing issues.
According to Collins, there is “no shortage” of issues facing the sector but in this first instalment of a two-part interview, he focuses on four of the most pressing matters.
VAT reduction, government engagement, post-Brexit touring and the cost of living crisis are top of the CEO’s agenda and, here, he sets out his plan of action to tackle each item.
“I think a cultural VAT rate of 5% on ticket sales would send a great signal about the government’s attitude to culture and live music within the UK, recognising its role as a driver of tourism, both domestic and international. It would actually boost the government’s Levelling Up agenda too because live music sits right across the country.
“Plus, it would be an economic generator that would make more venues viable and gigs more affordable. It’s going to put more money back in to allow us to keep more money in the industry, which allows us to pay artists better, pay students better, pay bar staff better. And we know that thriving live music venues act as a hub for culture-led regeneration in an area, all sorts of neighbourhoods up and down the country where they’re either defined by an existing music venue or they can be transformed when a venue moves in.
“There are cultural rates in a couple of dozen other countries, which are probably somewhere between 5 and 10%, so we think there’s established precedent elsewhere to say this is a good idea. We need to do another piece of economic research to show that if they cut VAT, the cost will be offset via reduced tax revenue. If you keep venues open and they put on more gigs, you’re getting 5% of a bigger cake than you would have had from the current 20% VAT rate.
“Then there are the other multiplier factors that would benefit the economy but we don’t have those numbers to hand yet, so we need to build that case. If we can get if we can win the arguments with the Treasury, then we might be close to getting the political decision-makers to press the button on it. I would love to think we’re close on this one but my guess would be that it’s a two-year campaign.”
“I think a cultural VAT rate of 5% would send a great signal about the government’s attitude to culture and live music”
Cost of living crisis
“It’s not in any industry’s gift to put more money into the consumer’s pocket, so the first thing we can do add pressure on the government to say they need to take steps to support households so that they do have disposable income and can visit their local gig venues. That money will then go back into the local economy and is a good investment to make. And then you can look at what the government could do to give operators and promoters and festival organisers more leeway to make cheaper tickets available. That brings you back to VAT and also business rates, which is such an outmoded, old fashioned system that just doesn’t work anymore and certainly doesn’t address the balance between the clicks and bricks economies.
“In New York, if a theatre doesn’t have an event on, they don’t pay rates on the auditorium. They only pay rates on the office space that is actually being used or maybe the kiosk on the curbside here. We don’t have that flexibility. So we think now would be a really a sensible idea – if there’s nothing going on in the theatre or a good venue or an arena then give them a break. Otherwise, you end up just constantly trying to make the space being used, which can mean you don’t have the time to actually do any refurbishments in the venue.”
“I want to have half a dozen figures that I can use to say, ‘This is why it’s in your interest to support live music'”
“With LIVE’s multi-year funding and its expanding member base, we’ve definitely sent a message to government that it should take this sector seriously. The thing with policymakers is they change every five minutes. I think the average lifespan of a minister in a role is about 18 months. So you send the message, but you have to keep sending it and refining it and amplifying it.
“Greg [Parmley, former LIVE CEO] worked with Chris [Carey, LIVE chief economist] to produce a robust report very quickly that said this industry has a £4.5 billion GVA and employs 210,000 people. They are take-me-seriously numbers at a time when most people felt our industry wasn’t being taken seriously. If we’re very honest, we probably still feel we’re not taken seriously enough and so that’s another challenge for me is to make sure that government is unable to underestimate us. We will be taking every opportunity we can to put those numbers forward, talk about the industry, how many people we employ, the regeneration that happens, the tourism etc. So we’re talking with multiple partners at the moment to try and pull all of these facts and figures together. I want to have about half a dozen figures that I can use to say, ‘This is why you have to support this sector – this is why it’s in your interest to support live music’.”
“A cultural exemption would just remove all of these [post-Brexit touring] issues”
“The LIVE touring group, brilliantly chaired by Craig Stanley, has done a tremendous job of trying to negotiate through government and then the EU for those post-Brexit touring challenges. But there is more to do because there’s not a stable framework.
“We’ve got the dual registration, which works for the larger specialist hauliers for this summer. We think we’re going to get a statutory instrument, probably when parliament comes back after the summer, around September, that will formalise that. Then there has also been progress on splitter vans, ferries and the Eurotunnel.
“But we know none of this solves the issue for a swathe of hauliers in the squeezed middle as we’re viewing them now. There is no obvious solution [for the squeezed middle]. There may be ways that they could find to step into that dual licensing regime, but that’s not cheap and not straightforward. The dual registration also doesn’t help own-account operators, which is the vast majority of British orchestras because of the particular needs of the classical music sector. So we continue to put the pressure on there.
“One of the things that LIVE was able to achieve just before I joined was to get a seat on the domestic advisory group of the trade and cooperation agreement between the UK and the EU. It’s basically the group that advises the UK government as it looks to shape its relationship with the EU going forward. We want to talk about the bigger ask of cultural exemption for artists and the technic technical teams and kit. I think it’d be almost impossible to get that before 2024 which is when the trade and cooperation agreement is next to be negotiated. So, we’ve probably got a couple of years of trying to make wins in a piece-by-piece way, while having that overarching target of the cultural exemption because that would just remove all of these issues.”
Featured Artists Coalition hires Genneah Turner as GM
Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) has appointed Genneah Turner as general manager, as the UK’s artist trade body continues to expand.
Reporting to FAC CEO David Martin, Turner will play a central role in ensuring that artists’ rights and interests are represented.
Turner arrives with two decades of experience in the industry, in areas including product management, label management and artist management.
She has worked with One Little Independent Records and Quest Management alongside Derek Birkett and Scott Rodger respectively, running projects with Bjork and Arcade Fire, and spearheading her own management company which represents M.I.A amongst others.
“Genneah’s credentials are evident and her knowledge of the needs of artists is second to none”
Turner recently returned to the UK from Australia, where she sat on the board of Melbourne’s Victoria Music Development Office and worked with the Victorian government on art grants for the creative sector.
Commenting on her new appointment at FAC, Turner says: “It has been my greatest pleasure to have been trusted in the role of artist manager, helping recording artists navigate the business of music in a way that centred their autonomy, and created the best foundation from which they could create and share their art. I’m thrilled to be joining the FAC where I can turn that micro-focus outwards to support recording artists as a whole and build on the great work that the FAC’s founding artists started and more recently that David Martin has built on across the organisation.”
Martin added: “I’m delighted to welcome Genneah into her new role as the FAC’s general manager. Her arrival marks an important moment in the growth of the organisation, as we expand our effectiveness on behalf of the artist community. Genneah’s credentials are evident and her knowledge of the needs of artists is second to none. I look forward to working with her in this next phase of the FAC’s development.”
LGBTIQ+ List 2022: Submissions now open
Submissions are now open for the LGBTIQ+ List 2022 – IQ Magazine‘s second annual celebration of queer pioneers in the international live music business.
Launched last year as part of IQ Magazine’s first-ever Pride edition, the list highlights and profiles lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer professionals contributing to, improving, or making an impact in the international live entertainment business.
Anyone who works in the global live music industry can put themselves forward, or be nominated by friends or colleagues.
Anyone who works in the global live music industry can put themselves forward, or be nominated by friends or colleagues
The final list will be decided from nominations, alongside an invited steering committee made up of individuals from key companies across the business and last year’s LGBTIQ+ List.
Finalists from last year will not be eligible for the LGBTIQ+ List 2022, in order to give others a chance to fly the flag. A full list of last year’s 20 outstanding queer professionals can be found here.
To submit yourself or someone you know for the LGBTIQ+ List 2022, email Pride editor Lisa Henderson with details of your nomination, and the reason why they should be on the list.
The deadline for submissions is Wednesday 8 June, giving you three full weeks to spread the word.
New Bosses name one thing industry must change
Alumni from IQ Magazine‘s most recent class of New Bosses have identified areas of improvement for the international live music business.
A handful of the next-gen leaders shared their thoughts during Meet the New Bosses: The Class of 2021, at last month’s International Live Music Conference (ILMC).
Theo Quiblier, head of concerts at Two Gentlemen in Switzerland, believes the one thing the industry needs to get better at is normalising failure.
“We are in a fantastic industry where everyone is signing the new top artist or selling out venues or sealing huge deals with festivals but that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “I feel that we’re all a bit afraid of saying, ‘I went on sale with my favourite band and it didn’t go well’ – as simple as that.
“I feel that we’re all a bit afraid of saying, ‘I went on sale with my favourite band and it didn’t go well'”
“As a promoter, I could say, ‘Oh, I work with this top band,’ and people think, ‘That’s amazing, he must be rich,’ and, in reality, it’s your biggest loss of the year. We need little reality checks, and to say ‘I’m doing my best but I’m not the best’. Sharing insecurities is great because failure happens to everybody.”
Flo Noseda-Littler, agency assistant at Wasserman Music (formerly Paradigm UK), called for better pay for junior staff so more people can viably start their careers in the industry.
“Fair salaries for junior staff and internships so that it enables people in those positions to live in the cities in which they work,” comments Noseda-Littler. “By providing a free internship or a low paid job, you’re cutting off so many people who don’t have the ability to still live with their parents or be subsidised by their parents. And then you’re just reducing the number of people you can recruit and missing out on potentially really ambitious and amazing people.”
Anna Parry, partnerships manager at the O2 in London, echoed Noseda-Littler’s thoughts, adding that companies also need to improve their recruitment strategies in order to reach a more diverse pool of talent.
“This is a job that costs you a lot of time at your desk and a lot of time in your head”
“Companies really need to put more effort into understanding why people aren’t applying for these jobs, and then they need to create a lower barrier of entry for those types of people,” says Parry. “It’s not just saying, ‘Oh okay, well we posted the job on a different forum than we usually would’. It’s going to take a lot more of that to actually make a difference. We need to focus on that because it’s important our industry is representative of the artists we represent.”
Age Versluis (promoter at Friendly Fire in the Netherlands) on the other hand, is petitioning for a four-day workweek: “This is a job that costs you a lot of time at your desk and a lot of time in your head. Since Covid, we’re seeing a lot of people burning out and having trouble getting to that fourth or fifth gear.
“We forget that moving shows for two years to the same months is quite stressful. I think we could use some extra ‘me’ time.”
Tessie Lammle, agent at UTA in the US, echoed her peers’ points, adding: “I was going to say diversity or work-life balance but Theo’s point is huge. I think the younger generation is getting much better at [sharing insecurities].”
Each of the panellists appeared as part of IQ Magazine‘s New Bosses 2021, an annual list celebrating the brightest talent aged 30 and under in the international live music business. See the full list of the distinguished dozen here.
ARTmania spearheads launch of job site for Ukrainians
European festivals ARTmania (Romania) and Pohoda (Slovakia) have teamed up with Music Export Ukraine to launch a pan-European job site that aims to help displaced Ukrainians from the live music industry find work in other countries.
The companies say that ARTery was launched as a reaction to the war in Ukraine but that the platform will also counter the effects of the staff shortage in Europe caused by Covid.
“We want to help [Ukrainians] resume their lives with dignity in other countries and give them a sense of normality by helping them to do what they’re trained to do,” Codruța Vulcu, festival director at ARTMania in Romania, previously told IQ.
“We want to help [Ukrainians] resume their lives with dignity in other countries”
“The aim is that these people don’t end up washing dishes in Berlin, for example, but that they can continue the work they’ve studied and prepared for – and all that added value will not get lost,” she says.
The platform officially launched on Saturday (7 May) and is already advertising jobs for ARTmania festival, Music Export Ukraine and European Music Exporters Exchange in Belgium.
Companies can post a job, while Ukrainian music representatives can register and create a profile in order to browse job offers and apply directly. Visit the ARTery website here.