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Outernet: Building the venue of the future

Outernet, a new entertainment district in the centre of London, is preparing to launch in spring 2021, aiming to bring at least 300 extra nights of live music to the capital each year.

The £1 billion complex, envisaged as the first in “a network of immersive media spaces” by owner Outernet Global, will consist of three subterranean music venues – a 2,000-cap. main space, the 500-capacity preserved and resurrected 12 Bar Club and an extra 300-cap. venue.

The main music venue will be the biggest new live music space to be built in the bustling heart of the UK capital for 60 years, as Outernet CEO Phillip Bourchier O’Ferrall muses, “it’s not the kind of thing people are doing nowadays, opening venues in central London”.

Having partnered with staging company Brilliant Stages for various different design aspects of the project and with audio specialists PMC, Meyer and L’Acoustics, the Outernet team is currently in talks with a number of key promoter partners.

While the “underlying passion” of Outernet is music and entertainment – a fact reflected in its straddling of London music mecca Denmark Street – the new complex is made up of much more than a trio of venues, which O’Ferrall believes will be the key to its future success.

Outernet will feature the biggest deployment of LED screens in the world in its above-ground atrium, which will showcase branded content and event tie-ups and a special interactive broadcast space.

“Having this commercial side is what can make a venue work in the centre of London”

The district as a whole will boast tailor-made artist accommodation, a free-to-use recording space, pop-up shops and food and drink outlets.

The idea, says O’Ferrall, is to create a whole ecosystem, with the massive media business upstairs funding the musical performances taking place downstairs.

“Having this commercial side is what can make a venue work in the centre of London,” explains O’Ferrall. Prohibitively high rents in the capital serve as a major bugbear for venues, a large percentage of which have been forced to close in recent years, with the ongoing coronavirus crisis only adding fuel to the flame.

The soft launch for the project – on which building started in 2018 – has been pushed back from February 2021 to spring due to the current situation, but O’Ferrall says that, in general, “we’ve been lucky as we’ve been able to reengineer to allow integration with social distancing and, importantly, technology solutions.”

Venues will have track and trace technology, flexible capacity requirements and high-quality cameras for livestreaming. “But I really feel for those who already have venues,” says O’Ferrall, “and I hope together we can all unite to get the industry up and running again with the right government support.”

O’Ferrall talks of the need for Outernet to play a part in re-energising London’s live music scene once it gets back up and running. “If we work together, we can all benefit,” says the Outernet CEO, who intends to use the complex’s advertising space to push audiences to bigger venues, and local bars and pubs.

“It makes sense for all parties,” he says. “We’re not trying to compete with the [20-000-capacity] O2 Arena, for example. People want to see gigs in all different kinds and sizes of venues.”

“We want to recreate this as the hub of British music”

Outernet’s location and multi-functional nature set it apart from many other venues as the focus is not on being a “destination”, but rather on serving as an integrated part of central city life.

The upstairs atrium is completely open to the public and the Now Arcade acts as a video-enabled walkway for human traffic passing through the area. It is expected that the site could welcome up to 400,000 visitors a day, a staggering thought in the current lockdown climate, although the business model is predicated on “high levels of engagement” rather than on audience mass.

The locality is also a key component of the project, with the Outernet team striving to ensure Denmark Street preserves its heritage as a music space. The company owns upwards of 90% of property on the street, giving shopowners preferential leases and mandating all remain operating as music-based retailers.

“We want to recreate this as the hub of British music,” says O’Ferrall.

The team resurrected the historic 12 Bar Club, which closed in 2015, and dug three stories below to create a new, four-level space.

The Chateau Denmark accommodation includes two 17th-century properties on Denmark Street which were once home to the Sex Pistols. Chateau Denmark will have 54 rooms for artists to stay in, with the band’s graffiti preserved inside – Johnny Rotten’s drawings portray his bandmates Steve Jones and Sid Vicious, Sid’s girlfriend Nancy Spungen, and manager Malcolm McLaren, as well as his own self-portrait. All of this serves as the centre piece in the party-focused Anarchy Suite.

“Having met local venue owners and promoters, I can say that the passion and dedication from them is what’s going to make this work”

Other properties that were originally built between 1686-1691 on the street, which became famous as Tin Pan Alley, include the studio where the Rolling Stones recorded their first album and the spot where a pre-fame Elton John worked in a music publishing company

Future Outernet projects, pegged for Los Angeles and New York, will similarly “embrace local attributes”, says O’Ferrall.

“We are not leading the charge for a new kind of venue,” says O’Ferrall, “but underpinning an ecosystem by putting together a lot of different attributes, and we believe that’s the right thing to do.

“In this way, as high streets become more and more challenged, we can help them to hold out by providing ‘atomised’ retail and brand space.”

As the coronavirus shutdown continues in the British capital – pubs and restaurants reopened on 4 July, but live events have yet to receive the governmental go ahead – O’Ferrall says he is “optimistic” for the future of live music in the city, although adding that the government needs to do more – the first steps came from the chancellor only very recently.

“Having met local venue owners and promoters, I can say that the passion and dedication from them is what’s going to make this work.

“Anyone that survives this crisis is going to reinforce a great future.”

 


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UK government slashes VAT on concerts

The British government has announced that value-added tax (VAT) levied on concert and event tickets will be reduced to 5% from next week.

A cut in VAT was one of three main demands of last week’s #LetTheMusicPlay campaign, along with a financial support package and a timeline with reopening music venues without social distancing. Following the announcement of on Sunday of a £1.57 billion aid package for the cultural sector, only the call for a confirmed date for reopening remains unfulfilled.

The VAT cut was announced late yesterday (8 July) by culture minister Oliver Dowden, following a ‘mini-budget’ that afternoon by chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak. According to Dowden, the reduction in VAT from 20% to 5% will apply to concerts, theatre shows, exhibitions, circuses and other “attractions”.

The reduction will last for six months from 15 July, said Sunak.

As for a timetable on reopening, Dowden says the government will “announce further steps on [the] path to reopening shortly”.

In a statement, the Entertainment Agents’ Association welcomed the VAT reduction but said clarification is needed on where the cut-off point will be. “[A]s we can’t open any [venues] at the moment, we need to know if this applies to tickets bought before the end of Jan for events in 2021,” the association says.

Concert Promoters’ Association chair Phil Bowdery comments: “Yesterday’s announcement on the VAT reduction for ticket sales is a significant show of support for our industry from the government and is a sign that they are willing to work with us to find targeted measures to support this vital part of the UK economy. We want to thank the government, and in particular Oliver Dowden and Rishi Sunak, for their support and the confidence they have shown in the iconic UK live music industry.”

“To unlock the potential value this creates, we urgently need some firm commitments to reopening dates”

“We also know there is lots more to do and our industry is not out of the woods yet, and we will continue to work hard with the government to get the support the industry needs over the coming months.”

National Arenas Association chair Lucy Noble adds: “The measures the chancellor announced yesterday include a hugely welcome reduction in VAT from 20% to 5% for various sectors, including tickets for concerts. We are extremely grateful to the chancellor, treasury ministers and DCMS [department for digital, culture, media and sport] for listening to us and for their willingness to consider and implement measures to support the music industry at this critical time.”

“We warmly welcome this sensible intervention into the live music sector, which responds directly to the asks we made of the government for the support we need,” says Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust. “To unlock the potential value this creates, we urgently need some firm commitments to reopening dates and some guidelines that would allow us to get tickets on sale and benefit from this tax cut.”

 


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Venues closed as major cities go back into lockdown

Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, has become the latest major live entertainment market to be put back into lockdown amid a surge in new coronavirus cases.

The re-imposition of lockdown restrictions for six weeks – which will see Melburnians permitted to leave their houses only for work, education, exercise or to buy essential supplies – follows a spike in Covid-19 infections in the state of Victoria, which as of 13.30 local time today (8 July) had recorded some 147 new cases over the past 24 hours.

The abrupt halt to Melbourne’s gradual reopening will come as a blow to nightlife businesses in the city. Speaking to the ABC, Guy Lawson, who owns Melbourne’s Napier Hotel, says he hopes the hotel survives the second shutdown but fears “a lot” of venues will not.

“The second round of lockdown will put on a huge amount of pressure for the industry. Once we are able to reopen, it will no doubt be under restrictions again for some time,” Adam Betts, co-owner of the city’s Bonny Bar, tells alcohol trade title the Shout.

“Needless to say, revenue will be right down when we reopen for many months,” he adds, “and the economy will be in a recession. With reduced revenue, we will also have an increase in costs as a double blow.”

In Spain, local lockdowns are in place in Catalonia and Galicia

The second lockdown in Melbourne follows similar restrictions aimed at containing a second wave of Covid-19 infections elsewhere in the world.

In Spain, local lockdowns in Catalonia and, more recently, Galicia are proving similarly difficult for venue operators; in Catalonia, in north-eastern Spain, around 400,000 people are subject to stay-at-home orders, while in the north-western region of Galicia gatherings are once more restricted to ten people, in a local lockdown that affects an area of 70,000 people. Capacity at bars and restaurants is also limited to 50%.

Federal Germany has also seen several areas, including the districts of Gütersloh and Warendorf in North Rhine-Westphalia, locked down after a spike in transmissions, with the English city of Leicester similarly currently subject to a local lockdown.

While music venues have yet to reopen in the UK, English bars, pubs and restaurants were permitted to reopen from Saturday 4 July. This, however, was not the case in Leicester, where residents face fines of up to £3,200 for repeatedly breaching stay-at-home orders.

As in Gütersloh, there is resentment in Leicester – home to around 330,000 people – that the rest of the country is being allowed to open up while their city is left behind. “It shows they have neglected Leicester,” resident Dhansukh Rana tells the Market Correspondent.

According to Leicester’s Curve Theatre, the 902-seat performing arts venue is losing £25,000 a day as a result of lockdown restrictions.

In China, customers may not spend any longer than two hours inside any one venue

Several US states, meanwhile, have been reintroducing restrictions as the country heads towards three million confirmed Covid-19 cases. A recent survey by the newly formed National Independent Venue Association found 90% of its members say, in the absence of government support, they will be forced to close permanently if the lockdown lasts six months or longer.

In contrast, China – where the coronavirus outbreak began in late 2019 – has “largely return[ed] to normalcy: restaurants, hotels and bars are open, and domestic travel has been loosened up so business people are able to travel around China now,” according to hospitality expert Ian Ford. The most recent local lockdown in China ended on Saturday (4 July), with residents of areas of Beijing judged “low risk” once again allowed to travel around the country without having to be first tested for Covid-19.

However, according to  the Chinese ministry of culture and tourism’s most recent reopening guidelines for indoor venues (including theatres, clubs and karaoke venues), that return to normality comes with several stipulations, including a two-hour time limit for customers.

According to the consumer protection section of the new guidelines, translated by Caixin, customers may not spend any longer than two hours inside any one indoor venue.

Additional restrictions include limiting entertainment venues to 50% of their normal capacity, while theatres are restricted to 30% and must leave at least one seat empty between every two people (ie ‘chequerboard seating’).

According to Caixin, the release of the guidelines on 22 June sparked heated debate among Chinese netizens: Some social media users argued that the two-hour time limit may actually backfire by speeding up the flow of customers, while others questioned how such a time limit could be strictly enforced.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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UK live industry cautiously welcomes £1.57bn aid

British live music industry leaders have said they stand ready to work closely with government on the details of its £1.57 billion culture rescue fund, but cautioned that the whole live music ecosystem must be protected.

The financial aid package of emergency grants and loans must also be complemented by an exemption in VAT for the sector, a government-backed insurance scheme for shows and a conditional date for reopening, they say.

Sunday’s announcement about the support package followed the hugely successful #LetTheMusicPlay day, which saw 1,500 artists write directly to culture secretary Oliver Dowden and tens of millions of fans posting online about the importance of live music, a £4.5bn sector that employs 210,000 people.

The campaign, coordinated by members of the UK Live Music Group and Concert Promoters’ Association (CPA), with additional support from UK Music, trended at No1 globally on Twitter and attracted media coverage around the world.

“Thousands of artists, venues, festivals, managers, agents, promoters and production crew came together for #LetTheMusicPlay, and we must ensure that all of them receive the support that they so desperately need,” says Phil Bowdery, chair of the CPA.

“We stand ready to work closely with the government to ensure that this world-class industry survives”

“We stand ready to work closely with the government to ensure that this world-class industry survives.”

Live music was one of the first industries to close as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and concerts are not expected to return in full force until well into 2021. According to member research compiled by live music associations over the six month period between October 2020 and March 2021, the operating costs of the broader live music sector will be £298.8million. This figure is in addition to the £47m required by grassroots music venues, called for by Music Venue Trust.

“The government’s £1.57bn package for the arts is welcome, but we lack detail of how funding will be allocated for music,” comments Annabella Coldrick, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum. “The thousands who work and perform in our sector desperately require comprehensive support if their jobs and livelihoods are to be sustained.”

Kilimanjaro Live MD Stuart Galbraith, co-chair of the CPA, adds: “We are ready to work on the details of the scheme, and our other requests – a VAT exemption for the sector, a government-backed insurance scheme to allow shows to go ahead, and a timeline for safe reopening without social distancing – at the government’s convenience.

“We look forward to this ongoing discussion shortly.”

 


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Are online experiences here to stay?

For many cultural organisations, such as live music venues, museums, theatres and arts venues, Covid-19 has meant a pivot to an online presence. But as attractions move through a phased period of reopening we have to ask: Are online experiences here to stay?

Over the last three months, Vivid Interface has put a variety of research projects in the field to track consumer sentiment, the mood of organisations and their online intentions. This has revealed an extraordinary growth in online consumption in terms of cultural experiences, media viewing and health and wellbeing. Add to that last week’s Ofcom report revealing that the average Briton has been spending 25% of their day online while in lockdown, and we know that this is an area we all need to pay attention to.

Vivid Interface, in association with Panelbase, conducted an e-survey with over 1,000 visitors to attractions and cultural venues in early June. The report, which can be read here, looks at what visitors have been watching and participating in online while venues and attractions have been closed. While taking a yoga class or watching a new release film are right up there, so are live music performances and stand-up comedy.

The report explores what they say they will continue to watch and also what they feel they may continue to watch online in preference to going out. It makes interesting reading:

What sort of unique experiences the visitor attraction sectors can come up with next is an exciting space to watch

These are significant stats that can’t be ignored.

The report highlights significant variances in age, gender and life stage, too, which are important in understanding online engagement opportunities for programmers and marketers.

The cultural sector was already well set up to pivot to online experiences, but the sheer explosion of content and audience reaction tells us that there’s plenty more to come.

Just looking at this week’s news we see the Royal Opera House building on its success of live streaming from Covent Garden with a programme of paid for online experiences (at £4.99 a performance). And the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, managed by English Heritage, received over 3.6 million views for its first-ever live stream of the event. It normally attracts around 10,000.

Are online experiences here to stay? Yes, they are. But what sort of unique experiences the visitor attraction sectors can come up with next is an exciting space to watch.

 


Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of Vivid Interface, a full-service market research agency serving the events, festivals and attractions industries.

DJs go shopping for World Club Dome Escalator Edition

Yet another innovative socially distanced concert solution made its debut over the weekend, courtesy of German EDM promoter and nightlife brand BigCityBeats.

The company – whose flagship World Club Dome event, like nearly all European festivals, is not going ahead this year – on Saturday 4 July staged World Club Dome Escalator Edition, which saw DJs playing on the roof of, and later on escalators in, the MyZeil shopping centre in Frankfurt.

The event was livestreamed on YouTube, and featured performers including Vize and Le Shuuk, who played seats from mobile DJ booths situated on the MyZeil’s 42m (138’) escalators. Fans who arrived together were situated across five storeys of the shopping precinct, at a safe distance from the other groups.

World Club Dome Escalator Edition brought to a close BigCityBeats’ ‘Roof Sessions’, which have been held on the roof of the company’s Frankfurt headquarters since the coronavirus lockdown began.

Watch Le Shuuk’s escalator set below:


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Socially distanced Unity Arena announces opening line-up

UK promoter SSD Concerts has announced the opening line-up for its new Unity Arena near Newcastle.

The 2,500-capacity venue – the first of its kind – ensures social distancing with a “parking-to-platform” system that sees concertgoers arrive by car and then proceed to a dedicated viewing platform located at least 2m from other viewing areas.

Unity Arena will open on 14 August with a DJ set by broadcaster Craig Charles, with the first live concert performance coming courtesy of Two Door Cinema Club the following night.

They are followed Supergrass on Saturday 22 August, Tom Grennan on Thursday 27 August, the Libertines on Saturday 29 August and Maximo Park on Saturday 5 September.

“We’re excited to be working with artists who have the same desire to make something happen during difficult times”

The first slate of programming also includes three comedy performances, from Jason Manford on 30 August and Bill Bailey on both 1 and 2 September.

Steve Davis of SSD Concerts, which – backed by sponsor Virgin Money and production company Engine No 4, is the driving force behind the arena – comments: “We’re excited to be working with artists who have the same desire to make something happen during difficult times for the industry and the general public.

“The rock’n’roll, can-do attitude of the artists performing and the team behind Virgin Money Unity Arena will make these shows ones to remember for the rest of our lives.

“We were determined to make this special, and hopefully today’s line-up is a strong statement of intent. We’re not finished yet and we’ll be announcing yet more acts soon.”

 


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Industry reacts to €1.7bn UK rescue package

Yesterday evening, the British government announced an unprecedented financial rescue package for the UK’s hard-hit cultural sector, promising £1.57 billion (€1.74bn) in grants and loans for arts and creative businesses to get back on their feet post-Covid-19.

While many of the specifics of the scheme – including eligibility and how much money is allocated to music specifically – have yet to be revealed, the government intervention has been widely welcomed by the live music business, which last Thursday came together for the #LetTheMusicPlay campaign to ask for immediate assistance for the industry.

See below for a selection of quotes from various industry representatives…

 


Phil Bowdery, Concert Promoters’ Association:

“On Thursday the live music industry came together in an unprecedented way to ask the government for support, and so this announcement is both timely and warmly welcomed.

“We asked for three things, and today it looks like the first of those – a financial support package – has been granted. We’re looking forward to clarification that this package safeguards our whole ecosystem – from our artists and crews, to our festivals, venues and many professionals – and working closely with the government to deliver it.

“Everyone who lent their support to the campaign on Thursday should be extremely proud of the impact they’re already having. Now let’s move forward and #LetTheMusicPlay!”

“We’re looking forward to clarification that this package safeguards our whole ecosystem – from our artists and crews, to our festivals, venues and other professionals”

Mark Davyd, Music Venue Trust:

“Music Venue Trust warmly welcomes this unprecedented intervention into Britain’s world-class live music scene. We’d like to thank the secretary of state and the team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for the opportunity to work closely together throughout this crisis to develop genuine solutions to the challenges faced by grassroots music venues.

“This fund provides the opportunity to stabilise and protect our vibrant and vital network of venues and gives us the time we need to create a plan to Reopen Every Venue Safely.”

“This fund provides the opportunity to stabilise and protect our vibrant and vital network of venues”

Paul Reed, Association of Independent Festivals:

“The AIF has had close contact with DCMS throughout the lockdown period, helping them to understand the needs of UK festivals during this difficult time. We have urged government to offer a robust financial package to the sector to ensure its survival.

“The announcement of emergency support for the arts is clearly welcome but it is worrying that there has still been no specific mention of the UK’s festival industry – a sector that contributes so much to the economy and people’s lives, and one that finds itself in a uniquely precarious position during this pandemic.

“The time for lip service is over. UK festivals have, to date, largely fallen through the cracks when it comes to financial aid and business support. Boris Johnson has told parliament that he is doing all he can to support our ‘very, very valuable sector’ but we are yet to see evidence of that. We need the prime minister to back this up with meaningful action and confirm that festival organisers will be eligible to access this emergency support package.”

“It is worrying that there has still been no specific mention of the UK’s festival industry – a sector that contributes so much”

Tom Kiehl, UK Music:

“A £1.57bn support package for the arts is a huge step forward and should be a lifesaver for many music venues. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden, chancellor Rishi Sunak and DCMS minister Caroline Dinenage are to be warmly congratulated.

“The music industry was one of the first sectors to be hit by measures to tackle COVID-19. UK Music has long called for sector-specific support to ensure live music can recover. Eligibility for grants and loans must be as broad as possible to ensure maximum take-up from across the industry from those in desperate need of help.

“Those that don’t have a track record of public funding must also not be put at a disadvantage. We are seeking urgent talks with Arts Council England to discuss further.”

“Those that don’t have a track record of public funding must not be put at a disadvantage”

Annabella Coldrick, Music Managers Forum:

“After months of discussions, meetings and advocacy, culminating in the #LetTheMusicPlay campaign last Thursday, it feels that government has accepted the importance of art and culture to our society and economy. Obviously £1.57bn is a substantial sum of money, but we still need to see the full details of this package and how it will be allocated to reach those most in need.

“It is absolutely essential that funding stretches beyond cultural institutions and can equally benefit artists and their teams around the UK, many of whom have fallen through gaps in support, despite seeing a complete collapse in their live income.”

“It is absolutely essential that funding stretches beyond cultural institutions and can equally benefit artists and their teams”

Michael Kill, Night Time Industries Association:

“This is an unprecedented commitment from the government and [this] long-awaited financial support reflects the importance of the sector to the UK and internationally.

“With many neighbouring European countries investing heavily in the culture and arts sector, the UK government had been under mounting pressure to mimic the actions of their international counterparts.

“We will await further details of the announcement in the coming days to gain a greater understanding of the businesses which will benefit from this investment. We hope it will also include the vital supply chain businesses which are fundamental to the creative and cultural sector, of which the night-time economy businesses are very much a big part of.

“We also look forward to receiving updated guidance with regard to the phased return of the night-time economy sectors.”

“We hope this investment will include the vital supply chain businesses which are fundamental to the sector”

Caroline Norbury MBE, Creative Industries Federation:

“This unprecedented £1.57 billion investment is a seismic step forward. Our creative industries are teetering on the brink of cultural collapse, and this could be the game-changer we need.

“The voice of the creative sector has been heard loud and clear by the government and we warmly welcome their response.  This investment acknowledges the mission critical role that the UK’s creative industries will play in recovery and growth in all parts of the country.

“However, while this support will rescue many, so much has changed during the pandemic; there won’t necessarily be an easy return to normal. It is particularly heartening to see the reference to supporting freelancers, who are a phenomenally important part of the creative-industries ecosystem.

“But there will be so much more to do to ensure that our world-beating creative sector can thrive once more – and as we move forwards through the challenging days and months ahead, it will be crucial that the creative industries work together to reimagine all of our futures.”

“It is particularly heartening to see the reference to supporting freelancers, who are a phenomenally important part of the ecosystem”

This article will be updated with more reactions as we receive them.

 


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UK announces £1.5bn culture rescue package

The British government today (5 July) announced a rescue package worth £1.57 billion to help the UK’s arts and culture sector weather the impact of the coronavirus.

The measures – which follow Thursday’s #LetTheMusicPlay campaign that saw the UK music industry come together to call for immediate government assistance for the live music business – will see emergency grants and loans extended to a range of creative and heritage businesses, including live music and entertainment organisations.

The package, described by HM Treasury as the “biggest-ever one-off investment in UK culture”, includes:

The devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will also receive extra funding, of £33m, £97m and £59m, respectively.

The repayable finance will be issued on “generous terms tailored for cultural institutions” to ensure they are affordable, according to the Treasury.

“Everyone who lent their support to the campaign should be extremely proud of the impact they’re already having”

The government says decisions on funding awards will be made in consultation with “expert independent figures” in each sector, including bodies such as the British Film Institute, Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Announcing the package, culture secretary Oliver Dowden – to whom the #LetTheMusicPlay letter campaign was addressed – describes culture as the “soul of our nation”. “I said we would not let the arts down,” he says, “and this massive investment shows our level of commitment.”

Further details of the scheme will be available when it opens for applications in the coming weeks.

Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery, chair of the UK’s Concert Promoters’ Association, comments: “On Thursday the live music industry came together in an unprecedented way to ask the government for support, and so this announcement is both timely and warmly welcomed.

“We asked for three things, and today it looks like the first of those – a financial support package – has been granted. We’re looking forward to clarification that this package safeguards our whole ecosystem – from our artists and crews, to our festivals, venues and many professionals – and working closely with the government to deliver it.

“This fund provides the opportunity to stabilise and protect our vibrant and vital network of venues”

“Everyone who lent their support to the campaign on Thursday should be extremely proud of the impact they’re already having. Now let’s move forward and #LetTheMusicPlay!”

In addition to announcing the new funds, the government release says Dowden and his colleagues are “finalising guidance for a phased return of the performing arts sectors”, to be published shortly. “The government is working with the sectors to get it back up and running as soon as it is safe to do so, and is being guided by medical experts,” it reads.

Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust, says the organisation “warmly welcomes this unprecedented intervention into Britain’s world-class live music scene. We’d like to thank the secretary of state and the team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for the opportunity to work closely together throughout this crisis to develop genuine solutions to the challenges faced by grassroots music venues.

“This fund provides the opportunity to stabilise and protect our vibrant and vital network of venues and gives us the time we need to create a plan to Reopen Every Venue Safely.”

He adds: “We’d like to thank everyone in the industry who gave us so much support during this incredibly difficult time, and also thank IQ, who have been a constant source of excellent information and help.”

 


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Laura Marling and the rise of the paid live stream

“When the first song was over and, of course, no applause followed… I found the awkwardness of it somewhat thrilling,” says Laura Marling of her groundbreaking 6 June livestreamed gigs – the first for fans in UK and Europe, followed hours later by a second show tailored for fans in North America.

“It felt similar to a sound check in that people around you are getting on with their jobs and, in my case as a solo performer, you’re left there to get on with it, to do my job – there’s something I really enjoy about that. To sing in an empty church is a pleasure at any time. Also, my shows certainly aren’t famous for my mid-set one liners… so a lack of audience interaction didn’t factor too much.”

While the thousands of fans who bought a ticket for the Union Chapel concerts were probably unaware of the historic significance of the shows, the reaction to the format was almost unanimously positive, with Marling’s haunting lyrics, song choices and mesmeric performance complemented by the setting of the empty and silent venue. Indeed, the artist herself was one of the biggest fans of the format and she is already working with her management team – ATC Management’s Brian Message and Ric Salmon – on another bigger livestreaming concept. To that end, Message and Salmon have established a new company called Driift to capitalise on the potential of the new ticketed livestreaming model.

Held down
In terms of performance, thousands of acts around the world have found themselves redundant since politicians started banning mass gatherings and confined live music to all but a memory of better times. Using a variety of platforms, however, numerous acts have been video livestreaming from their own homes, albeit with little quality control on either audio or visual aspects. And using the technology at hand, only those with huge followings have been able to generate revenues through the likes of advertising that, again, they rarely have any say about.

“Without an audience, there’s tremendous possibility with what could be done in a space”

Where Marling’s activity differed was in charging fans for a ticket to access the live broadcast of her show, which transported her out of the ubiquitous corona confines of the living room/bedroom/bathroom/home studio setting, to a proper, recognisable venue. There she could call upon state-of-the-art sound, lighting and camera equipment, and even an award-winning director, Giorgio Testi, and Pulse Films, to deliver something meaningful and give ‘attendees’ something lasting.

“Without an audience, there’s tremendous possibility with what could be done in a space,” enthuses Marling. “An unforeseen bonus to an audience-free show, which of course means no front-of-house sound, is that you can get incredible sound – close to studio quality… With this set-up, we could use mics on everything without fear of feedback.”

Manager Ric Salmon tells IQ, “The genesis of the idea was born out of frustration. Laura had sold out her solo, acoustic tour around Australia, North America, the UK and Europe. But then Covid hit.”

When it became clear that not just the North American leg was doomed, but the remainder of the entire tour, the Marling team, like so many others, announced the cancellation: 41 dates in total. Ever proactive, ATC management convinced Marling to fast track the release of new album, Song for Our Daughter, and started revising plans for promo. “Laura is social media averse, but she was comfortable doing guitar tutorials for fans, so we sent her HD cameras to use in her house and she quite enjoyed performing remotely – culminating in a home performance for Later with Jools on the BBC.

“For the tour, we’d refunded about 25,000 people who missed out on seeing her, so we came up with the idea of broadcasting a show from a proper venue, to tap into that demand. But then the discussion was about who would pay for it, as nobody had sold tickets for any livestreamed shows at that point.”

“Just like a normal ticketed gig, people were nervous about missing out so they decided to buy early”

Taking that situation as a challenge, the ATC partners set about pulling the necessary team together. “Laura suggested the Union Chapel because that venue means so much to her and, because we’re not technologists, we reckoned the best idea would be to aggregate the best companies in their class,” explains Salmon.

Pulse Films and director Testi topped ATC’s wish list and having worked extensively with DICE in the past, the company’s new DICE TV platform also made them a clear choice. Finally, YouTube was added, given its global footprint, but that plan, Salmon admits, had one major flaw: “Being ad-funded, they don’t do paywalls, but Dan Chalmers at YouTube really championed the idea and before we knew it there was terrific forward momentum.

“The primary function was not to make money, hence the ticket price of just £12 (€13). But Laura was mortified about cancelling the tour, so this was more about offering her the chance to perform to fans. And it worked brilliantly, as she is in her element when it’s just her and her guitar. So it was some sort of replacement for the tour.”

Wild fire
As often happens with any new concept, when word started to spread about the Laura Marling pay-per-views, sceptics rattled out cautionary ‘you can’t replicate live’ adages. But with locked-down fans desperate for any kind of shared experience, demand for tickets uncannily replicated ‘normal’ sales patterns.

“The level of interest around the announcement was incredible,” reports DICE chief revenue officer, Russ Tannen. “Just like a normal ticketed gig, people were nervous about missing out so they decided to buy early.” Another familiar aspect was a sales spike on the day of the event – a whopping 16% of total sales for the UK show.

 


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