Live platform Fever secures $110m funding round
Live entertainment discovery platform Fever has reportedly generated a further US$110 million (€103m) in a new venture funding round, giving the company a valuation of $1.8 billion.
According to tech.eu, the funding round was led by Goldman Sachs and attracted investors such as Eurazeo, Convivialité Ventures, Goodwater Capital, Alignment Growth, Vitruvian Partners and Smash Capital, and will enable the firm to invest in new content opportunities.
Based in Madrid, Spain and New York, US, Fever is led by Spaniards Ignacio Bachiller Ströhlein, Alexandre Perez Casares and Francisco Hein, and raised $227m in a previous funding round 12 months ago.
The platform makes personalised recommendations for users to enjoy unique, in-person local experiences such as immersive exhibitions, interactive theatrical experiences and festivals.
The firm says it has doubled its turnover in the past year, with North America now comprising over 50% of its revenues
It also collaborates with event organisers to create new attractions through its Fever Originals series, including its Candlelight Concert series in London, which has showcased the music of Hans Zimmer, Taylor Swift and Coldplay, among others.
The firm says it has doubled its turnover in the past year, with North America now comprising over 50% of its revenues. It has expanded its international presence from three cities six years ago, to dozens of cities across Europe, America, Asia, and Oceania.
“Fever’s success is underpinned by smart technology, amazing partnerships, and dedicated creators – three factors which we believe will ensure its continued growth and expansion in the future,” said Stephen Kerns of Goldman Sachs Asset Management last year.
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Saweetie set for virtual Super Bowl gig on Roblox
Hip-hop artist Saweetie is to star in a free virtual concert as part of the NFL’s Super Bowl LVII event lineup.
The Saweetie Super Bowl Concert Presented by Intuit on Roblox will take place in Warner Music Group’s Rhythm City, a music-themed social roleplay experience on the online game platform.
The American rapper will perform a family-friendly, fully motion-captured concert to celebrate the 2023 Super Bowl and promote a message of female empowerment. The show, which premieres on Friday 10 February at 7pm ET and will re-air every hour on the hour until 12 February, will also be paired with a collection of digital items that will be sold on the Roblox marketplace.
“I’m really excited to bring this iconic moment to the metaverse and share my music with a whole new audience in such a unique way,” says Saweetie. “As an artist, innovator, and football fan, to be able to perform during Super Bowl LVII weekend in this new world – Rhythm City on Roblox – is something I never imagined that I would be involved in. I am very grateful and happy about this opportunity.”
“The Saweetie Super Bowl Concert Presented by Intuit will be an anchor entertainment event bringing fans together in the metaverse”
The Philadelphia Eagles will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII in State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona on Sunday 12 February. Rihanna is scheduled to headline the coveted Halftime Show.
“The Saweetie Super Bowl Concert Presented by Intuit will be an anchor entertainment event bringing fans together in the metaverse and further cementing the tradition of content innovation at the Super Bowl,” says Ed Kiang, VP of video gaming at the NFL. “Working with Roblox has enabled us to create interactive shared experiences.”
The Saweetie Super Bowl Concert and Rhythm City are experiences developed in partnership with gaming and content company Gamefam.
“Bringing a cultural moment like the Super Bowl to the metaverse with such innovative partners marks a shift in how brands are coming together to create the next generation of metaverse gaming experiences,” adds Gamefam chief business officer Ricardo Briceno.
As previously announced, Paramore, Dave Matthews Band and Imagine Dragons will top the bill at the fourth Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest at Phoenix’s 18,000-cap Footprint Center from 9-11 February 2023.
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CAA signs Web3 entertainment company Hume
Creative Artists Agency (CAA) has signed Web3 entertainment company and record label Hume as it bids to encourage growth among virtual artists in the entertainment industry.
CAA, which hired Joanna Popper from HP as its first chief metaverse officer last August, will help Hume identify and create opportunities across areas including licensing and merchandising, brand partnerships, live events, and film and television.
“Hume is fundamentally changing the way fans interact with their favourite artists, experience their music, and benefit from their loyalty,” says CAA agent Phil Quist.
“Together, we believe we can help usher in a new era of musical talent and artistry,” adds CAA agent Jonathan Rodrigues.
A Web3 record label and an in-house entertainment studio, Hume remixes community-building with music creation, digital identity, and storytelling to “redefine the way fans engage with their favourite virtual artists”.
“Working with CAA presents an opportunity to bridge the gap between traditional media and Web3 to bring metastars into the mainstream”
Hume raised $11.7 million (€10.7m) in 2022 from investors such as TCG Crypto, Gmoney, Aloe Blacc, Cooper Turley, and Evan Bogart.
Angelbaby is the first in the firm’s roster of “metastars” – virtual music artists who blur the lines between the digital and physical worlds – and has performed at Art Basel, Fluf Haus LA and SXSW, and opened for both Chromeo and Dillon Francis. All 300 of the NFTs for his latest single All Gold Spaceship sold out within 10 seconds.
“By combining the latest technology with artful storytelling and music, we’re redefining what it means to be an artist,” says Hume co-founder and chief artist officer Jay Stolar. “Working with CAA presents an opportunity to bridge the gap between traditional media and Web3 to bring metastars into the mainstream.”
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Sold-out ESNS draws 44,000 visitors
The 37th edition of ESNS boasted 44,000 visitors, 315 emerging European artists and more than 150 panels, keynotes and networking opportunities, according to organisers.
The showcase festival and conference returned to Groningen, the Netherlands, last week for the first in-person edition since 2020.
The conference programme included keynotes from Scott Cohen, Dugi and Dua Lipa, Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Everrett (Sub Pop), as well as panels on hotly debated topics including diversity and sustainability in the music industry.
During the festival, 40 awards were presented, including the Popprijs 2022 which went to Goldband and Dua Lipa receiving The ESNS Excellence Award, celebrating her success as an ESNS Exchange artist. The MME Awards were presented to Schmyt, July Jones, Oska, Kids Return, and Queralt Lahoz are the winners of the Music Moves Europe Awards 2023. The prestigious MME Grand Jury Prize was awarded to Sans Soucis and the MME Public Choice award was won by Jerry Heil. At European Festival Awards, The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Atlas Festival & Music Saves UA.
“This edition addressed so many related topics and presented such a diverse and outstanding line-up of European talent”
This year also saw ESNS take significant steps towards increasing sustainability, diversity and inclusion, such as introducing an advisory board for diversity and inclusion, launching ESNS Green Touring support and a partnership with green travelling start-up Choo Choo.
“The past week has been exceptional,” says Dago Houben, director of ESNS. “The sector has been struggling and is still recovering from the pandemic, and we see our role as the platform for the European music sector as more important than ever. This edition addressed so many related topics and presented such a diverse and outstanding line-up of European talent. We came back stronger than ever with so many first-time visitors and a sold-out edition of the festival and conference.”
Robert Meijerink, head of programme, on ESNS Exchange, adds: “Looking at the first bookings results of ESNS Exchange, the European Talent Exchange Programme, we are seeing a beautiful country spread. With most mentions for artists like Bolis Pupul, Deki Alem, Heartworms, Aime Simone, Club Makumba, eee gee, Monikaze, Alina Pash, Gurriers, Duo Ruut and Marina Herlop. We look forward to seeing how emerging European acts show up in the coming festival summer.”
The Kid LAROI announces Fornite experience
Australian rapper The Kid LAROI has confirmed details of his ‘Wild Dreams’ Fortnite experience, which will include unreleased music.
The experience, set to launch this Friday 27 January, will be “an immersive, interactive musical experience portraying LAROI’s journey from humble beginnings to headlining sold-out performances as a worldwide superstar”.
According to the announcement, the Fortnite experience will feature The Kid LAROI’s new single ‘Love Again’ alongside three, unreleased tracks.
“In this interactive experience, players will quest throughout the cybercity ‘Laroitown’, ultimately attending a jam-packed LAROI concert featuring fan-favorite music and new music. Following the performance, players can join LAROI for the Afterparty. In the Afterparty, listen to the Wild Dreams mix on loop and get a look at the life of LAROI — both on tour and beyond.”
The ‘Wild Dreams’ experience will also include quests, with players able to earn XP and special The Kid LAROI items
The ‘Wild Dreams’ experience will also include quests, with players able to earn XP and special The Kid LAROI items.
Ahead of the experience, players can compete in a special cup from today for the opportunity to unlock Kid LAROI-inspired outfits, alongside a special banner icon and emoticon.
To participate, players must select the ‘The Kid LAROI Wild Dreams’ tile on the discover screen or enter the island code 2601-0606-9081.
In recent months, Fortnite has collaborated with the likes of Metallica, Charlie Puth, Wu-Tang Clan and Silk Sonic.
Woodstock to launch in the metaverse
Woodstock Ventures, the founders and producers of the legendary Woodstock Festival, are partnering with premium metaverse builder Sequin AR to develop 3D virtual environment, Woodstock World.
Sequin AR, which has previously worked on projects featuring Madonna, Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande, is building exclusive behind-the-scenes content, interactive archives and the chance to revisit history-making performances from the 1969 original Woodstock.
The platform will utilise archival 2D content alongside motion capture recreations, enabling fans to interact with historical tracks and artists in real-time., as well as discover new music from breakthrough artists.
“Woodstock was and still is all about people, from all aspects of life coming together for an experience that makes them one,” says Sequin AR CEO Robert DeFranco. “The metaverse provides a way for people all over the world, of all ages, to meet other people who love the same thing they do – and you don’t need an expensive plane ticket or a time machine, just the device you use every day.”
In 1969, Woodstock changed music history and defined a generation… Woodstock World allows everyone everywhere to have an even more magical experience”
Using Unreal Engine 5 and Sequin AR’s proprietary metaverse platform, Woodstock World “will integrate avatars, blockchain, streaming video, analytics and hosting to deliver a fully consolidated experience”.
“In 1969, Woodstock changed music history and defined a generation, combining the power of shared experience with culture’s greatest musical talent,” adds Joel Rosenman, co-producer of the original Woodstock and spokesperson for Woodstock Ventures. “Woodstock World allows everyone everywhere to have an even more magical experience liberated from the boundaries of time and space.”
Earlier this month, it was revealed that Woodstock is coming to South Korea in 2023, marking the first time the legendary festival will take place outside the US.
SGC Entertainment says it has signed an official copyright agreement with the Woodstock Music and Art Fair to host a three-day festival under its name with the theme of “freedom, peace and love.” The festival is slated for 28-30 July at the Hantangang River Geopark complex, in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province.
The Gaffer: Nicole Massey
As the production manager for Billie Eilish, Nicole Massey has become one of the most high-profile roadies in the world, thanks in no small part to presenting the young star to an audience of millions at The Grammys this year.
Her résumé includes working with some of the biggest stars to ever grace the stage – Coldplay, Beyoncé, Madonna, Prince, Rod Stewart, and Van Halen, to name but a few. But it was the Divine Miss M who first ignited Nicole’s passion for touring, while her insatiable desire to learn new skills has seen her seamlessly switch roles from performer to production guru. Unlike some of her peers who fell into the production sector, Nicole’s fate seemed sealed from the start. “My parents met while working on a theatrical production, so you could say it’s in my blood,” she reveals. Indeed, the smell of the greasepaint has never been far away. “I was a dancer and performer from a really early age – I was always being excused from school to go to New York for some audition or another,” she recalls.
Raised in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania – in the same county as global production hub, Lititz – Nicole was given free rein to exercise her imagination, as her parents could obviously see where her natural talent might take her. “They encouraged my creativity. I had imaginary friends as a child – Shamen, Camen, and Amy – who we would pick up on the side of the road on car journeys. My sister’s friends would be wondering what on earth we were doing, but it was a regular thing,” she laughs.
Growing up surrounded by adult actors and performers may have helped instil self-confidence in the young Nicole, too, because when she had the chance to compete for a dance scholarship across the country in Dallas, Texas, she persuaded her parents to let her undertake the trip on her own. Needless to say, she won the scholarship.
Having made a name for herself in theatrical circles, Nicole found herself living in Los Angeles until her first taste of life on the road on a live music show changed everything – dancing for Bette Midler on her 1999 Divine Miss Millennium tour. “It was my first rock-and-roll-style tour. And, honestly, within days I decided that I never wanted to not do this,” states Nicole.
Nicole next found herself out with Backstreet Boys, which saw her having to use her passport for work for the first time. “I remember being in Buenos Aires and just so excited that I could go see the Eva Peron balcony, because I’m a dorky theatre girl,” she says. “At any opportunity, I’d do all the sightseeing and stuff, so I got the nickname Pollyanna because I was so excited to be everywhere… I’m just a girl from little Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I’ve been to Uzbekistan; I’ve been to Prince Charles’s birthday party. I never want to take this for granted.”
“It was my first rock-and-roll-style tour. And, honestly, within days I decided that I never wanted to not do this”
Determined to keep touring, Nicole would offer artists her dancing prowess while taking on additional roles behind the scenes. “I was a professional dancer until about the age of 28 or 29,” she notes. “But even when I was on tour, I’d take jobs where I was dancing and doing wardrobe.”
Working for Rod Stewart offered such an opportunity and also allowed her to participate in one of the music industry’s favourite side-lines: nepotism. “Rod loves using people’s skills to the maximum – he has a drum tech who is also the percussionist, for instance. So, when we hired my sister, Danielle, for wardrobe on the tour and Rod discovered she was a Rockette – one of the dancing girls at Radio City [Music Hall] – he asked us to choreograph something for Hot Legs and for Sexy. As a result, we danced all of the 2008 tour. I would go from being a tour manager to dancing in the show and coming back, with full stage makeup on, to deal with promoters and stuff like that. It was funny.”
Taking on wardrobe duties for the likes of The Chicks and such costume-heavy outings as Madonna’s Re-Invention tour in 2004, Nicole’s curiosity for all aspects of production started to develop early on, but it was her long, on-off touring with Rod Stewart she points to as opening new doors.
“The first real production job was before working with Rod, when Bill Leabody asked me to be his production assistant on Enrique Iglesias,” she explains. “However, with Rod Stewart, I started out doing wardrobe, and then when the band’s tour manager was leaving, they were confident I could take on that role as well, so I was doing both for a while. And then that’s when we hired my sister.”
I didn’t change my number
Gaining a solid reputation for her can-do attitude, Nicole was on the end of a call from Craig Finley when he was planning Coldplay’s 2009 European stadium tour – drafting her in as production coordinator. And when Leabody took over for Coldplay’s 2012 world tour, the writing was on the wall. “I ended up telling Rod during a tour of Australia that I was going to work for Coldplay the following year, so I gave him about six-months’ notice.”
Rod Stewart’s influence continues in Nicole’s life, however, as his 2009 tour date in Ireland had life-changing repercussions.
“My dear friend, Tom McCarthy, who is an Irish guy that owns a couple of bars in New York, told me he’d be coming to Rod’s shows when we were in Ireland. And the night before the Dublin show, he asked if he could bring his friend, Dick Massey, who was in the movie The Commitments, to the show. Naturally, I said yes because I love that movie, but I didn’t know which one he was, and I hadn’t seen it since about 1991. In fact, one of my childhood friends reminded me that we had to sneak into the movie theatre because the movie was R-rated – up until Pulp Fiction came out, The Commitments held the record for the most F-bombs.
“But anyway, Dick came to the Rod Stewart show, and three months later I was living in Dublin. And three years later we got married.”
“I would go from being a tour manager to dancing in the show and coming back, with full stage makeup on, to deal with promoters”
Immersing herself back in the production side of touring suited Nicole perfectly. “I just fell in love with being part of the crew,” she tells IQ. “I truly love taking care of the crew and being the mama. When you’re the production coordinator or production manager, half of the job is just dealing with people, personalities, and managing their expectations.”
My strange addiction
Prior to her long stint with Coldplay, which took her from 2012 to 2019, many of Nicole’s jobs involved fulfilling more than one role – a work ethic driven by her determination to learn as many disciplines as possible.
“From the time I was on the road with Backstreet Boys, 24 years ago, I’d travel on the audio bus and ask, ‘How do you guys know whose cables are what?’ And they’d say, ‘Why don’t you come load PA with us to find out!’ And so, I started loading in and out PA on Backstreet with the Clair audio boys. That’s how I learned where everything was going and started to feel more comfortable on the floor, rather than hiding back in those offices.”
She continues, “I found out very early on that it’s good to push your cases to the truck: you have to find the things that actually help the whole tour, rather than just thinking of yourself.”
Eager to learn about different roles, Nicole would consistently volunteer for other production-related tasks. “I helped with confetti on lots of tours,” she reports. “I did confetti on The Chicks, on [Michael] Bublé, and I used to call the confetti cues on Coldplay.”
Her natural curiosity made every day an education process. “I just asked the questions. I realise that there’s no way that anybody can know everything, especially with how technology changes so quickly. But I guess it comes back to me being bold and not afraid to say I have a different idea about how to do something.”
Certainly, her work on arena and stadium tours offered countless moments to build her knowledge base, which for one of those rare people who can boast a photographic memory, has resulted in an encyclopaedic skillset. “Being a part of such big, heavy productions, you almost have to possess the knowledge just to operate,” says Nicole. “As the [production] coordinator, I had no freight knowledge until Bill [Leabody] let me be a part of the email chains, which really allowed me to learn.”
“You have to find the things that actually help the whole tour, rather than just thinking of yourself”
Citing other colleagues who nurtured her, she continues, “On Enrique, I had a tour manager called Jerry Levin, who encouraged me and made me his assistant. Through him I learned a lot about dealing with the artist directly in the sense of their needs, hotels, and flights, and all that stuff. Cary ‘Slim’ Ritcher was a production manager who I worked with on smaller shows, and he explained why we’d run the cables a certain way because we were near the [loading] dock, and you didn’t want to be rolling road cases over the top. There are a ton of dumb little nuances of touring, whether it’s in a theatre or whether it’s in a stadium. But if you treat every day as a learning experience, it all mounts up.”
Everything I wanted
As one of the most popular characters on the global tour circuit, it’s somewhat astonishing that Nicole’s work with Billie Eilish marks her debut as a production manager. Indeed, if she had not been vocal about her ambitions to become the boss, it’s conceivable she might still be waiting in the wings.
The magic moment came in South Africa on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s 2018 world tour. “Bill Leabody and I were in a runner van, and I just said out loud that I wanted to be a production manager. I put it out into the universe, and less than four months later, Bill recommended me for the Billie job,” says Nicole.
Taking up the story, Leabody tells IQ, “I first met Nicole nearly 20 years ago on a tour with The Chicks when she was in charge of wardrobe. We shared an irreverent sense of humour and hit it off straight away. Nicole was always in a good mood and was wonderful at her job.”
Reunited on the next Chicks’ tour, Nicole became Leabody’s production coordinator. “Other tours followed and, when Coldplay came around, I of course took Nicole with me,” continues Leabody. “We did two stadium tours together, which Nicole handled effortlessly.
“When the OTR2 tour, with Beyoncé and Jay Z came in, Carmen Rodriguez was already in place as coordinator. However, there was an opening for someone to go in advance to deal with steel crews and make sure production needs were all ready for us coming in hot. Nicole took on this challenge and did an amazing job.
“To say that Nicole has excelled is an understatement. She is now universally accepted as one of the best”
“[When] Nicole [subsequently] asked me if I thought she could step up to be a production manager, I had no doubt at all that she could do it, and I told her so.” Within weeks, Leabody was made aware that Billie Eilish needed a new production manager. “Unfortunately, I had other commitments, but when Billie’s manager, Danny Rukasin, asked if I could recommend someone else, I immediately thought of Nicole.” Leabody adds, “To say that Nicole has excelled is an understatement. She is now universally accepted as one of the best, and I am so honoured to welcome her into the community of ‘Gaffers’: the first woman to be invited to join and a fabulous role model.”
Nicole comments, “I’m very proud to be the first female Gaffer, and more so because of the company I’m keeping. I’m just so honoured to join Bill and Jake [Berry] and Chris [Kansy], and all those guys. I’ve known them all for a long time.”
Turning to her first official PM job, Nicole states, “Having the backing of a Gaffer – Bill – on speed dial has been a blessing. I’m so fortunate that I can call upon all kinds of people who I’ve worked with over the years to ask their advice about something. But sometimes I’ll say, ‘This might seem like a stupid idea…’ And it turns out it’s a winner and the feedback is ‘Why didn’t we think of that?!’ So, I’m definitely putting my own stamp on being a production manager.”
She continues, “I’m sure I annoy some crew members because I’m very positive and try to constantly motivate them. I was so involved in dance teams and sports teams growing up that I thrive on the camaraderie. Nobody on tour does this for the crazy hours and the stressful times. They do it because of the people. I look out into that crowd every night. And I look at those kids. And I’m like, ‘Oh my god…’ That’s why I do it!”
As for Happier Than Ever, The World Tour, Nicole has nothing but praise for artists Billie and Finneas after the lengths they went to in order to make sure the crew were kept as active as possible when Covid shut things down very early in the original tour schedule. “We got three shows in, and then the pandemic happened,” says Nicole. “It was pretty scary, and I felt very responsible, trying to make sure that everyone was okay.”
“I look out into that crowd every night. And I look at those kids. And I’m like, ‘Oh my god…’ That’s why I do it!”
Two of the crew were easy enough to keep an eye on – husband Dick, who is Nicole’s production coordinator, and four-legged, tail-wagging production chief, Reggie, whom Mr & Mrs Massey chaperone around the world. “Dick and I worked together on Coldplay, but we were in different offices: he was doing VIP ticketing when I was production coordinator. So, we’ve been out together before, but when Billie was about to go out in 2020, I asked him if he’d come and join me and Reggie in the office.”
Come out and play
Despite the moratorium on live music, Eilish’s core crew were only side-lined for a matter of weeks before a plan was actioned to keep them busy. “We actually started going to LA in July of 2020 because Billie created a whole bunch of different live projects, such as an Amazon project and a Disney project at the Hollywood Bowl,” reveals Nicole.
“Then, when her documentary came out, we did a little video release party. And for all the stuff like that, she used her touring crew: the backline guys, audio control… A small group of us would fly to LA, where we’d quarantine for the first few days, then we’d all test and stay at a hotel that had an outdoor firepit so that, after work, we could sit outside and have a beer, like you would normally, and hang out, distanced but safe. We even agreed that nobody would eat indoors to minimise the chances of catching Covid: those were the rules if you wanted to keep working.”
While the postponed tour dates remained on hold, the various other projects eventually rolled into Eilish’s festival season. “And then that rolled into the tour for this year,” smiles Nicole. “We loaded in for rehearsals in Los Angeles on January 2, so we were pretty fortunate in terms of work compared to a lot of our touring colleagues.”
While Nicole admits she has worked on more fraught tours, the production on Happier Than Ever, The World Tour is a complex affair.
“This show is a beast,” she tells IQ. “Normally, a show comes in, the stage is built at the other end, lighting goes up, stage rolls in. Bam! You have a show. Billie’s production involves lighting coming in, then some of the staging, then lighting deals with some of the moving trusses, then we roll in the diamond part of the stage, then we finish the lighting, then we have the lighting on the sides, then we roll in the thrust. It’s like an onion that you have to just keep peeling, layer on layer.
“This show just shows what is capable with an amazing team. I relied on my stage manager, Jayy Jutting, and then he relied on the crew chiefs, who were so dedicated – if we didn’t have Mattie Rynes, my head rigger, Jack Deitering, my head carp, Wayne Kwiat on lighting, Scott ‘Bull’ Allen from Strictly FX, Matt McQuaid with audio, Dave Keipert and Racheal Hudson from Team Video, Brian Benauer with Tait Automation… every department needed a strong leader or else we were just going to fail.”
“This show is a beast… It’s like an onion that you have to just keep peeling, layer on layer”
That respect is patently mutual, as Nicole has been affectionately nicknamed ‘The Hammer’ by Billie’s crew members, impressed by the way that the PM quietly goes about making sure her plan is adhered to, without having to raise her voice. “I hate shouters; it’s my pet peeve,” she says. “If you keep it internal and then use your loud voice when you need to, people know that you’re serious.”
Indeed, despite the North American dates requiring crew to wear full PPE to mitigate against Covid-19, Nicole’s strategy for that leg set the benchmark for the entire tour, with zero dates being lost to the virus.
Moving to Europe where restrictions were more relaxed should have been a relief. However, while the majority of American venues have loading bays, the opposite is true in Europe, where new driving regulations further complicated being on the road.
“I had a little breakdown in Dublin,” confesses Nicole. “I was very nervous about a few of the overnighters and worried we weren’t going to make it. So, I got all the crew chiefs together and told them that I needed help. It turned out to be a good moment for me as a production manager – just to gather all the people who I know are really good at their jobs, so we could figure it out together.”
One of the major headaches for the daily routine was dealing with the B stage: a crane that takes Eilish far and wide around venues so that she can literally be just a few feet from fans, even when they are seated in arena balconies.
“That arm weighs 8,000 pounds,” states Nicole. “We took it from the US to Europe to Australia, and it’s now enroute back to Los Angeles for Billie’s December shows at The Forum.”
Explaining the intricacies of dealing with such a massive piece of equipment, she says, “To load the turret you actually have to tilt it on its side because the containers are not wide enough. We even took it to festivals a couple times, like at Austin City Limits. It just makes such a cool impact because the people that Billie is looking right at never thought that they could get the chance to be that close to her. But it’s complicated. In Dublin, for instance, we had to change the orientation of the arm so that it was parallel to the audience because of how short it is inside the 3Arena. Each venue had to be approached on a case-by-case basis, and every day was different because of the elevations of where the seats were, etc. Our programmer, Pat King, did a great job.”
“I got all the crew chiefs together and told them that I needed help. It turned out to be a good moment for me”
As for the tour’s trickiest shows, Nicole cites the visit to the Accor Arena as a date that literally led to sleepless nights.
“My scariest day was back-to-back Cologne then Paris,” she reports. “On that overnight, a couple of us jumped ahead on the catering bus and were in the venue in Paris to start just dumping things as they came in.
“The planning worked well, though. We did a pre-rig and motors were in the air when we got there. But it took a lot: I had the video crew chief walking around checking on all the other departments to see where he could help – people just stepped up to go that extra mile for Billie. I mean, at 5:45pm, I was on my hands and knees doing barricade because I was determined we were not going to be late for doors.”
She adds, “We had to come up with an A, B, and C show because of timing. We knew that it would take minimum two hours and 11 minutes to complete the building of our automated video tile ramp once the main stage was in place. But I have the most amazing head [carpenter] Jack Deitering. If it was not for that man, I really don’t know if the show in Paris would have happened.”
With the spectre of Covid requiring the services of EMT (emergency medical technician) Gordon Oldham, trying to keep crew healthy was a fulltime task. “I’m not gonna lie; I don’t think I ever want to do a tour without some kind of medical person on tour, now,” says Nicole. “Gordon did a great job and proved invaluable for all kinds of things outside of the Covid situation.
“The crew was very international,” she says of a crew that sometimes had to be patched together to deal with Covid absentees. “We had Lithuanians, Polish, Ukrainian drivers, so we had a lot of language and communication issues, but Robert Hewett at Stagetruck was beyond helpful throughout the whole thing.
“In Ireland, we had riggers from Budapest, I believe, and there were one or two places in Europe where we struggled, but surprisingly we were never more than 20 short, so we managed to deal with it.”
“I don’t think I ever want to do a tour without some kind of medical person on tour, now”
Such issues were a piece of cake compared to Australia. “In Sydney, we had only 45 people out of 110 on the load-in,” Nicole says. “Luckily, we had a full load-in day and we organised accordingly: we talked to the crew chiefs and said when they officially really needed the hands, then great. But otherwise, these guys would break off and give lighting six hands, and then the special effects hands would go straight to audio, and we just had to juggle around like that. Sydney and Perth were the only ones where it was a little crazy.”
Having made the grade as one of the world’s top production managers, Nicole is determined to encourage other women in the business that they have the skills to do likewise. Not that everyone universally recognises her as the production chief, yet. “As a woman, people come up and start to talk to the stage manager before me, because they just think I’m a girl standing there,” she tells IQ. “It happens all the time in the office, where Dick has to say, ‘Have you met Nicole, our production manager?’ It’s ridiculous, but I’m lucky that I have really wonderful people around me that support me in that sense.”
She also namechecks some of the many women who have helped her on her journey and inspired her to aim for the top job. “Working with Marguerite Nguyen on Coldplay, I was given so much of an opportunity to do different things that most coordinators would never do on a tour. So, I feel like I was prepared to take the step up to PM, more than most, because that tour is just so massive.”
Advocating that more tours consider elevating women to production chief, Nicole observes, “We’re multitaskers and organisers. There are lots of amazing female leaders out there – we have Emma Reynolds-Taylor running the production for Glastonbury; Duchess [Sue Iredale] has been running productions forever; Bianca Mauro runs a stage at Austin City Limits. So, we have all these women that are running big festivals and stages and events, and while it just hasn’t happened as much on the road, there are still plenty of amazing women out there, day after day, delivering shows to fans. There just needs to be more, in the crew chief roles and upwards, but also just more women in touring, in general.
“What I think needs to happen is that women need to be trusted with management positions in touring and throughout the music business. We need to start pushing more of these strong-willed women, like myself, forward a bit more. There are lots of them out there who have been working their ass[es] off for years and feeling very good about what they do but who do not necessarily know or believe that they can do what I’m doing. But they can, and it’s a situation that we can all work on together to provide more support and encouragement to drive the change.”
“Women need to be trusted with management positions in touring and throughout the music business”
Indeed, citing one example of where her own personal experience as a dancer came to the fore, Nicole remembers a dilemma ahead of Eilish’s February 2022 concert at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena. “Billie’s toaster had a power issue,” states Nicole. “It’s the mechanism that allows her to pop-up onto the stage at the start of the show, and we all worked hard to try to fix it, but I finally knew it was time to go and tell her. But before I did that, I went out with the carpenter; we looked at putting a set of stairs in place and a bunch of different things so that I had three options for her to make her entrance.
“I’m not gonna lie; I really was proud of myself in the sense that it was my dance background that made me figure out the best way for her to enter. That was the first time I had that realisation that I can bring things to the table that a male production manager wouldn’t necessarily come up with.”
Breaking such news to the artist may be daunting, but Nicole’s bond with Billie is strong. “She’s an amazing artist,” states Nicole. “The thing that makes Billie so special is she doesn’t need the bells and whistles. So as the tour progressed and that muscle memory, night after night, developed, it was so good to just see her so happy and having so much fun out there.”
Indeed, that respect goes both ways, when Billie asked Nicole to introduce her Grammy performance when the Academy wanted to feature women in touring.
“The Grammy thing was an amazing moment; I had so much fun,” she smiles. “My friend, Patrick Logue from the Rod Stewart Camp, once told me that chewing gum was easier to get off the stage than me – and it’s kind of true; I’m such a ham! But I didn’t realise the impact it would have. Two weeks after The Grammys, when we were at Coachella, I had people I didn’t know coming up to me and thanking me for being the voice of our industry; speaking out for women. So, a really proud moment turned into this thing where I just had people stopping me left and right. And I was so honoured that it was perceived that way because I truly, truly love this industry.”
And having attained the top job, Nicole concludes that it’s given her a newfound understanding of her peers and former PM bosses. “I have so much more respect for all the production managers that I’ve worked with, because I used to keep my inbox as a to-do list, while I’d look at the likes of Bill’s email and think, ‘Oh my god, how can you let get it that way?’ But now I understand – I have 64,000 messages in my inbox now. It’s never-ending.”
“The thing that makes Billie so special is she doesn’t need the bells and whistles”
As for what’s next, Nicole reveals that industry nepotism has benefitted her once more, while the enforced time off that she and Dick enjoyed at the start of the pandemic has made her a little more relaxed about looking at next year’s employment contracts.
“After Billie’s hometown shows in December, the crew will all go our separate ways, but we’ve also got a little Finneas tour in Australia starting in January, where he’s doing the Laneway Festivals. So, we’ll get back together for that. And then we’ll come back to do some rehearsals before Billie heads to Latin America, then have a break in April.
“After that… I don’t really know, there’s nothing 100% confirmed, so I’m just going to play it by ear. Everybody keeps asking me what I’m going to do when The Happier Than Ever Tour ends, but I don’t stress about stuff like that anymore.”
Unsurprisingly, remaining in the camp for whom she described at The Grammys as “The best 20-year-old boss in the world,” would be top choice for Nicole, who concludes, “When it comes to work, I trust my gut and am hopeful that it means we’ll get to continue working with Billie.”
PRS sues LiveNow in livestreaming dispute
UK collection society PRS for Music has launched legal action against LiveNow over allegations the livestream company ran online concerts without a licence.
LiveNow has worked with artists such as Ellie Goulding, Lizzo and Gorillaz on live events, while its Studio 254 presentation with Dua Lipa in November 2020, which attracted what was billed as the biggest-ever audience for a paid livestream, with over five million people tuning in live.
However, PRS alleges that “no PRS member has been paid for the use of their songs in this event, or the other concerts held by LiveNow”.
“PRS for Music’s role is to ensure songwriters and composers, here in the UK and around the world, are paid when their music is used. We take this responsibility very seriously,” says Gavin Larkins, PRS for Music’s director of commercial development and sales.
“We provide a licence for businesses who offer ticketed online concerts and have licensed many users under this scheme. LiveNow chose not to obtain this licence prior to launching its programme of online concerts, including the globally-streamed Dua Lipa Studio 2054 online event in November 2020 – the highest viewed online concert worldwide. No PRS member has been paid for the use of their songs in this event, or the other concerts held by LiveNow.”
“We have taken action to defend the rights of our members and songwriters of other societies”
PRS says it has engaged in licensing negotiations with LiveNow for more than 18 months.
“These discussions remain unresolved and as such we have taken action to defend the rights of our members and songwriters of other societies,” adds Larkins. “Litigation has been put in motion to ensure we can collect the royalties due from LiveNow and its parent company Aser Ventures. We hope to resolve this issue, so that music creators can finally be paid for the use of their works.”
IQ has approached LiveNow for comment.
PRS has itself faced controversy over its livestream tariff in the past. A discounted 10% tariff on ‘online live concerts’ was introduced in 2021 for as long as artists and venues faced restrictions on in-person shows. The move followed earlier proposals by PRS for a new licence for both large and small-scale virtual shows – the former of which would have been charged at up to 17% of gross ticket sales – which were met with a fierce backlash from the UK live music industry.
ESNS detail long-awaited in-person return
The final touches are being added to this year’s Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS), which will be the first in-person edition since 2019.
The showcase festival and conference returns to Groningen, the Netherlands, from 18 to 21 January, with a line-up of 290 emerging European artists.
“After staring at cold glassed screens for the last two editions of ESNS it is like a dream come true to finally organise an irl edition and to welcome delegates from all over the world to beautiful Groningen to celebrate our return with great European music and fantastic networking,” says Ruud Berends, head of conference & ESNS Exchange.
“I am looking forward to many essential panel discussions and keynotes about the complex issues we and our world are facing.”
The ILMC and IQ teams will be present at ESNS and lead several of the conference’s main sessions.
ILMC head Greg Parmley will moderate the ever-popular Festival Panel on Thursday (19 January), during which Thomas Sonderby Jepsen (Roskilde, DK), Fruzsina Szép (Superbloom, DE), Kem Lalot (Eurockéennes) and Pavla Slivova (Colours of Ostrava) will outline just what makes their festival so unique and how they weathered the last few years.
The following day, Parmley will steer The Agents Panel, featuring Adele Slater (Wasserman Music), Jess Kinn (One Finiix Live), Summer Marshall (CAA) and Andy Duggan (WME).
“I am looking forward to many essential panel discussions and keynotes about the complex issues we are facing”
The assembled agents will discuss how they have survived Covid-19, what strategies they’re putting in place for their artists in 2023 and beyond, and how they’re continuing to grow their client’s live careers.
Elsewhere, IQ Magazine editor Gordon Masson will conduct a keynote interview with Robert Grima, president of Live Nation Spain, on Thursday.
The conversation will delve into Grima’s 30 years’ worth of experience in the industry, discovering what still drives his passion for live music; his unfaltering determination to care for his artists; and his unique vision that has helped Live Nation Madrid become a powerhouse promoter in the global business.
Masson has also been enlisted for a keynote conversation with global superstar Dua Lipa and her manager and father, Dugi on Saturday 21 January. The pair will discuss their philanthropic efforts with Sunny Hill festival in their native Kosovo, as well as Dua’s style, culture, and society editorial platform, Service95, and accompanying podcast Dua Lipa: At Your Service.
Meanwhile, IQ‘s deputy news editor Lisa Henderson will chair Grassroots touring is fucked, what are you going to do about it? on Thursday with Mark Davyd (Music Venue Trust), Rev. Moose, Marauder (NIVA), Audrey Guerre (LiveDMA) and Max van Bossé (Melkweg).
Henderson will also moderate Future Fit Festival, presented by Yourope/3F, on Friday. This panel will see Christof Huber (Gadget abc Entertainment Group AG, Yourope), Pavla Slivova (Colours of Ostrava), Stephan Thanscheidt (FKP Scorpio) and Maiju Talvisto (Flow Festival) discuss what makes European festivals resilient to meet the challenges of the future.
For more information on ESNS 2023 or to buy tickets, click here.
IQ Tour of the Year 2022: Ed Sheeran + – = ÷ x
It’s 8.29 pm at Dublin’s Croke Park, 23 April 2022. The sense of anticipation among the 82,000 fans present – here to see Ed Sheeran kick off his fourth world tour, the +–=÷× Tour (AKA the Mathematics Tour) – is building to fever pitch; a giant red and yellow screen in front of the stage has been displaying a ten-minute count down, and there’s just one minute to go.
When it hits zero, the screens go up and Sheeran launches into Tide, the opening track of his fifth studio album, 2021’s =; a joyous frenzy and outpouring of celebration ensues.
“Magic” is how the Irish Examiner describes it; “a show that will live long in the memory,” adds the Independent. “When the music started, to hear and see the audience’s reaction and share their excitement, was really emotional,” says Helen Himmons, +–=÷×’s production manager. “To be standing there experiencing so many original, custom-designed elements all coming together for the first time in front of 82,000 people was exhilarating,” adds Bren Berry of Aiken Promotions, who was responsible for all ten of Sheeran’s Irish dates.
But that night was just the start; over 53 more shows in 2022 Sheeran wowed fans and critics alike and truly put on a show for the ages. From the sheer number of fans that he entertained to some of the groundbreaking production elements and the success of touring such a mammoth show in the challenging post-Covid environment, it’s no surprise that we have awarded Sheeran and his team IQ’s Tour of the Year award for 2022.
Galway Girl(s and Boys)
The anticipation in Dublin wasn’t just because Sheeran is one the world’s biggest pop stars and musical icons or that he has a particularly passionate fanbase in the Emerald Isle (in total he sold 410,000 tickets in Ireland, incredible for an island with less than 7 million inhabitants). It was also the first major outdoor concert in Ireland in three years, following the Covid-19 pandemic. “We sold 225,000 tickets in the first hour,” says Berry, “and if the dates had been available, we could have sold extra shows in Limerick and Belfast.”
But being the first large, outdoor event post-Covid also brought challenges. “The venue, local council, and suppliers all had different opinions about what should happen regarding Covid-19,” adds Berry. “There was also quite a bit of debate in the media about conditions that should be applicable for what was really the first big show in Ireland for three years.” The show – and the tour so far – went off without a hitch though; no mean feat considering its scale.
“We sold 225,000 tickets in the first hour and if the dates had been available, we could have sold extra shows”
And the numbers themselves are mind-boggling. Over 3.1m tickets sold, generating over £200m in revenue. 125 crew spread over three separate teams (plus 80 local crew at each venue); 84 trucks hauling over 56 tonnes of gear; a unique, custom-built stage design that had never been toured before; brand-new, state-of-the-art pyro effects; and even discussions with the UK government at Cabinet level.
Chief architects behind the tour, alongside Sheeran, are artist manager Stuart Camp and agents Marty Diamond from Wasserman Music for North America and Jon Ollier from One Fiinix Live for Europe and the rest of the world.
Revealing the detailed planning for the Mathematics production, Camp says, “We were talking about this show before we completed the Divide tour in the summer of 2019. The in-the-round idea has been knocked back and forth for several years, but this was the time to take the plunge – although the pandemic did throw a curveball, so we did consider going to a more standard end-on show given the uncertainties regarding what touring would look like.”
Explaining why the tour visited the markets and venues that it did across Europe, Ollier tells IQ, “You can only do what you do in the short season of weather window for stadium shows, and that’s sort of what dictated our tour routing in 2022. Certainly, there were no ‘filler’ dates or markets on the European tour leg.”
Turning to the actual show itself, Camp says, “We just wanted to do something that we hadn’t done before…to make the show as special and unique as we could.”
That remit fell upon the shoulders of production designer Mark Cunniffe, who notes, “It’s a huge show in terms of industrial presence, but it has a very theatrical feel and attention to detail that give it its unique look.”
But the complexity of the production was daunting, and Sheeran’s agent discloses that the core team initially worked on two concepts, just in case the more ambitious option would not work. “The caution on our part was in our expectations as we emerged from the pandemic,” says Ollier. “Our attitude was simply to have a good crack at it to see what we could achieve.
“We just wanted to do something that we hadn’t done before…to make the show as special and unique as we could”
“We worked on the ‘plan B’, involving a traditional end-on stage, in parallel, flipping between the two concepts as we worked out what was feasible financially as well as logistically and from an engineering perspective. The watershed moment was when Ed decided that he had to deliver the best show possible to the fans because everyone had endured such a lot during the pandemic, and he wanted to give them something they could remember for the rest of their lives. So that’s the moment we dumped the idea of the end-on stage and put all our efforts into the show being in-the-round.
“What everyone has put together is the most ambitious tour I’ve ever worked on; the fact we were trying to pull it off while we were in the pandemic made it all the more complicated but also all the more satisfying.”
And hinting at the groundbreaking nature of the setup, artist manager Camp adds, “By far the most extraordinary feature of the show is the structural cable net system. Whist it’s an existing architectural principle, it has never been toured before and is rightly considered to be the first of its kind in the touring entertainment industry.”
The complexity of that system was developed over the course of 12 months, with Sheeran’s team working with Cunniffe and Himmons to come up with the initial concept before approaching Jeremy Lloyd at Wonder Works to see if it was possible from an engineering perspective. They then engaged Stage One to see if it could be constructed in such a way to make it tourable – could it be put together in the four days they had at each venue prior to the show, then dismantled and removed within 24 hours?
It was a tough challenge.
“I’ve always wanted to present Ed in the round, as I believe that’s the perfect way to get him closer to as many people in the audience as possible,” says Cunniffe. “Once he was happy with that concept, I busied myself designing a show that didn’t have the obligatory use of a four-post roof system, as that would have obscured the artist’s view of the audience. After a great deal of blue-sky thinking, I came up with a structural support with a cable net system that was as aesthetically pleasing as it was functional. It was also a unique design that hadn’t been toured before.”
Such cable net systems are usually supported by some form of permanent structure, typically a roof. Team Sheeran’s challenge was creating an in-the-round setup with no supporting pillars for the stage, screens, or PA – essentially trying to suspend 56 tonnes of equipment on a temporary rig, and one that was relatively quick to build and dismantle. Thanks to some clever engineering, a lot of innovation, and the construction of many custom elements, Cunniffe and co. made it a reality.
“The watershed moment was when Ed decided that he had to deliver the best show possible to the fans because everyone had endured such a lot during the pandemic”
“What we have is a central round stage with a circular ‘halo’ of video and lighting that rises up from the stage floor and suspends in the air,” says Himmons. “It’s held there by a complex cable net system, which is tensioned between six red ‘masts’ – these masts provide a rigging opportunity for plectrum-shaped IMAG video screens and audio hangs and the bases of them are also used as satellite stages for the band members.”
“To make the show efficiently tourable, an important part of the production design was to ensure that as many processes as possible could occur concurrently,” adds Lloyd. Thus, once the masts and cables were installed, along with some advance equipment, production worked in two teams, on opposite masts, ensuring the structure was loaded as evenly – and as quickly – as possible. Similarly, while all this was going on, the stage was constructed off to one side; when the cable net was done, the stage was simply rolled into place.
The resulting show was the event of the summer for millions of fans – and that will be the case for millions more in 2023, 24 and 25, according to Camp.
“2023 will see us go to Australia and New Zealand – a place so close to our hearts and always a joy to tour in – though also the first shows we have done there since the passing of Michael Gudinski, so it will be very poignant,” states Camp.
“Then we are onto the Americas: North America from April to September before we go for some shows into Central and South America. 2024 will hopefully see us go through southeast Asia and the European markets we weren’t able to visit this year, and I envisage the tour coming to a close in summer 2025.”
That’s music to the ears of the many promoters and partners involved in Sheeran’s career.
Salomon Hazot, of Saloni Productions, has worked with Sheeran “since his first show in a club” and is constantly impressed by how “he does all that is required to make things work.”
His two shows at the Stade de France could have been three, he says, but adding another was logistically impossible – the stadium was booked. But the show was, Hazot says, “really unbelievable. There was such a buzz, many French industry people came to the show to see how it worked.”
Steve Tilley of Kilimanjaro Live first promoted Sheeran back in 2009, and says, “The production was next level and really spectacular – they rewrote the rules on what can be achieved in terms of the way they designed and built the whole setup. Every night, I stood and watched in awe.” He adds that it’s an “absolute joy and an honour to be part of the team and work with Ed – everyone involved behaves with pure class and professionalism.”
“They rewrote the rules on what can be achieved in terms of the way they designed and built the whole setup”
FKP Scorpio chief Folkert Koopmans notes that despite Covid and “the extreme circumstances our society and economy find themselves in, this was probably his best-selling tour ever. The enormous ticket demand ensured the list of concert dates grew longer and longer – there was at least one extra show in almost every tour city.” He adds that the tour was “really something very different and special – working with him and his team feels like travelling with family. He’s never stopped being ‘just Ed,’ which is why his story as an artist is relatable – and he’s worked very hard to be where he is right now.”
In Switzerland, Johannes Vogel, owner and director of AllBlues Konzert AG, says that within hours of the first show going on sale, they announced a second – both sold out incredibly quickly (47,500 for both nights). “The production was not just huge and spectacular – it was made to help Ed deliver the best shows possible,” he says. “The level of intimacy for a stadium show and how close he was to the fans was extraordinary – it felt like being in a club with 50,000 others!”
In Austria it was a similar story – 130,000 over two nights, with 70% of the fans in Vienna being female. “The whole concept was incredible,” says Ewald Tatar of Barracuda Music, “and he’s one of the friendliest artists we have ever met. It’s always very professional working with Ed and his team, and we are very proud to be part of this ‘family’ for Austria.”
“It’s quite extraordinary how Ed beats his own sales records every time, and these shows were no exception, with four shows gone in about 48 hours,” says Xenia Grigat of Denmark’s Smash!Bang!Pow! “It’s spectacular to do an in- the-round show – it’s a treat for fans – but this one was in a different league. And the fact that there’s a lot of the same people working with Ed as when he first started out says a lot about the artist and the work environment he has created – everyone on the team is a pleasure to work with.”
“The production was genuinely incredible,” adds Simon Jones of AEG, who has worked with Sheeran for over 11 years. “It’s an engineering masterpiece, and by going to an in-the-round setup, he reached more people – it lent itself so well to the way he performs, which is so inclusive.” Jones also touches on another important element for the +–=÷× Tour – ticketing. “Ed’s main mantra is to protect his fans from unscrupulous touting and from being taken advantage of. So, we always put stringent anti-secondary measures in place, which require an extra couple of layers prior to purchasing.”
“It’s quite extraordinary how Ed beats his own sales records every time, and these shows were no exception, with four shows gone in about 48 hours”
“I think there’s a real legacy to this tour in terms of the ticketing strategy,” says FKP Scorpio’s Daniel Ealam. “We felt that in a post-pandemic world, there really needed to be a way of doing ticketing at this level in a regimented digital way, so we set about writing a comprehensive Ticketing Principles document with various rules for our ticketing partners to adhere to, to protect Ed’s fans. Our ticketing partners in the UK at Ticketmaster, Eventim, See, Gigantic, and AXS really bought into the idea that our tickets needed to stay with the person who bought it, unless sold through an official face-value reseller. This was rolled out throughout Europe and ran really smoothly.”
To fulfil that wish, CTS Eventim’s EVENTIM. Pass was put to the test, with its digital and personalised ticket abilities. “We used EVENTIM.Pass exclusively for the first time in ticket sales for Ed Sheeran’s European tour,” says Alexander Rouff, CTS Eventim’s COO. “After the start of presales, more than 1m digital tickets for the tour were sold in eight countries within a very short time.”
He explains, “The ticket purchased via EVENTIM.Pass can only be accessed on the smartphone using the EVENTIM.App – it is securely stored there, and the associated individual QR code for admission authorisation is only displayed shortly before an event. This and other security features largely prevent unauthorised resale, forgery, and misuse.”
The new system worked “100%” claims Rouff.
Indeed, there was only one attempt at fraud, and “it was detected and prevented by the missing security features of the ticket.” For fans of paper tickets, the company also offered EVENTIM. Memory Tickets. “The Memory Ticket for Ed Sheeran’s tour design was very well received by fans,” adds Rouff.
The A Team
Taking such a mammoth production on the road demands that Sheeran has two advance systems – basically the six red masts, cable net systems, and the satellite stages for the band. These leapfrog each other, so each advance team prepares every other venue. “But there was only one version of the universal production – sound, lights, video, automation, performance stage – so that was loaded in and out for every show,” adds Himmons.
Making sure the production equipment gets from A to B to Z is Global Motion who have been working with Sheeran since he first started playing arenas a decade ago.
“Getting back to work, post-Covid, has been great, but it’s been a bit of a nightmare in terms of finding people who want to work – it’s still not back to normal,” says Global Motion director Adam Hatton. “However, for a huge tour like this, the solution is all in the planning and thankfully team Sheeran are fantastic at that.”
Hatton reports that while for most clients concerned about sustainability, the advice is to simply take less gear on the road, for the huge spectaculars, like Mathematics, that isn’t always possible. “We decided to sign up to DHL’s sustainability programme which offers ways to offset carbon, as well as using electric trucks, etc, where possible.”
“For a huge tour like this, the solution is all in the planning and thankfully team Sheeran are fantastic at that”
And applauding the brains behind the Mathematics Tour, Hatton adds, “The show is extremely impressive – seeing a stadium show in the round is amazing. There were huge logistical issues to overcome to get this show on the road, but when you see the result, it makes everything worthwhile, and it’s been a pleasure to be involved with everyone who has made the tour possible.”
Working hand-in-hand with Global Motion were the trucking partners, who arguably faced the tour’s biggest dilemmas thanks to Brexit making the landscape even more complicated in what was already a Covid-challenged environment.
For the universal production element, KB Event were once again entrusted – the company has been working with Sheeran since 2012. In total, 27 Mega Box Artics and 5 Mega Curtain Side Arctics were required, each with a lead driver and two support leads. But with the tour starting in the Republic of Ireland, moving into the UK, and then touring for three months in mainland Europe, registrations and permits proved tricky to coordinate.
“Because of the Cabotage issues and the solutions we managed to agree with the UK government, all of the trucks on the tour had to be EU-registered vehicles,” says KB Event CEO, Stuart McPherson. “This gave the added complication that all the experienced UK drivers that had worked on previous Sheeran tours had to be sent to Ireland to sit their EU DCPC qualifications before the tour started. This also meant that replacement, standby, and substitute drivers all had to hold EU qualifications, too. This is an issue we have never had to deal with before and presented serious challenges and expenses getting everything in place before the tour started up.”
The proposed routing and show schedules also presented numerous logistical issues, again due to Brexit and the many new rules and regulations now in force regarding cross-border working. To get around this, KB engaged with the UK government and DfT, alongside trade association LIVE and the Road Haulage Association.
After months of negotiation, the UK government decided they would consider a duel registration option, where a company that has registered businesses in the EU and the UK (as long as both held a valid operator’s licence) could switch their EU trucks onto and off a UK operator’s licence. But with this not coming into law until August or September 2022, and the tour starting in April, things looked bleak.
“It’s an engineering masterpiece, and by going to an in-the-round setup, he reached more people”
The power of Sheeran – and the hard work of his transport suppliers – prevailed when a solution was proposed that would see the UK authorities adopt a short-term, temporary fix to get the industry through the summer. “This was accepted and pushed through cabinet just four weeks before the tour started,” says McPherson. “And I can tell you, we all slept a lot better that night!”
With KB Event handling the universal production, the two advanced systems were transported by Pieter Smit. They also faced challenges. “It was extremely difficult to get new trucks in Europe,” reports Steve Kroon, head of sales and relations. “We were lucky that through our extensive network, we found several brands that could deliver trucks with the highest emission class (Euro 6) – we had DAF, MAN, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz.” Kroon reveals it’s the first time the company has toured such a big production using renewable diesel. He adds, “We’re proud to be the first trucking company to have actually entered Sunderland’s Stadium of Light by truck and trailer combination – it was close and narrow, but we did it.”
There were plenty of other issues to solve for an outdoor, temporary, in-the-round setup. To ensure that no waterproofing or covers were required, everything – be it video, lighting, staging, or special effects – had to be IP65 rated. “A lot of time was spent sourcing, and in some cases, manufacturing from scratch, equipment that fulfilled this particular brief,” says Cunniffe.
Furthermore, the nature of stadium pitches or open, soft ground provided another challenge to overcome. “With the outer perimeter of the stage revolving, the entire performance stage has to be completely level in order for it to move,” says Himmons. “As we were not working on flat arena floors this was a challenge, specifically on the greenfield sites we played. And the floors also had to be able to take the weight of the show – some stadiums had underground car parks, directly beneath the pitch, so we had to look at our build process and crane movements, making sure we kept weight evenly distributed during the build, as well as consulting on how to support the floor from below because of the void underneath.”
I See Fire
Pyro was another element where the production and design team wanted to add something new. Tim Griffiths of Pains Fireworks was brought in to create some exciting effects; he didn’t disappoint. The brief, he says, was to “create something spectacular that could be repeated each night within the confines of the set. The incredible floating LED halo was the obvious place for us to mount close-proximity pyros, but the most exciting idea was trying to create a moment at the beginning of the concert using daylight effects. We decided to go for coloured, daylight smoke mines, which are the latest innovation of the past few years. They look stunning when fired in bright daylight and created an incredible rainbow feature four times at the start of each show.”
“Ed has set the bar high now, and I genuinely believe this is the most spectacular and ambitious live show on Earth”
Griffiths also utilised eleven of the latest liquid flame heads from German manufacturer, Galaxis. “The new Galaxis L-Flame was only released last year, and we had ordered the first batch in the UK, used them last summer, and knew that they would look fantastic built into the revolving stage,” he says. “The flame pumps sit under the stage and feed the heads with liquid IPA. The biggest challenge initially was to refine the flame heights and get a consistent flame using smaller nozzles than those supplied to reduce the height and avoid burning the lighting rig.”
Although the sell-out tour could have added extra dates in key cities, Camp admits the approach was a little more cautious than it may normally have been. “The live industry was still re-finding its feet when we put our shows on sale for ’22,” says Camp. “I think it was the first stadium tour to go up post pandemic, and we did the same level of business here in Europe as the last tour.”
Confirming the total of 3.1m ticket sales across Europe during 2022, agent Ollier reveals the next tour leg in Australasia will account for another 700,000 tickets. He says, “Of course, a production of this size doesn’t come without its challenges and there are always going to be bumps on the road and nuances, but Ed has set the bar high now, and I genuinely believe this is the most spectacular and ambitious live show on Earth.”
Talking of Sheeran’s development as an artist, Camp adds, “He really has just simply grown in ability and confidence. This is the first tour we have used a band – albeit only for a quarter of the set – but it has bought another dimension and enabled Ed to perform songs that were previously tricky with just one man and a loop pedal.”
Mathematics’ added element of supporting musicians was just one of multiple surprises to entertain and enthral millions of fans.
The emotion and ambition of that opening show in Dublin rolled all over Europe and is set to be repeated across four additional continents before returning to Europe in 2024. As Bren Berry says of that opening night: “You go all in, roll the dice, hold your breath, and hope you hit the jackpot, which of course Ed and his brilliant team have done with this incredible, ground-breaking show. The opening night worked like a dream – the in-the-round atmosphere was electric, and Ed absolutely smashed it out of the park. I can still see the utter delight on his face coming off the stage.” It’s a sight that sets to be replicated a few more times as the rest of the world gets to experience the +–=÷× Tour in all its brilliance and glory.