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Touring chiefs call for live industry ‘reset’

The roadmap to rebuilding the live industry back to pre-pandemic levels was up for debate during ILMC’s annual health check on the venue sector.

Co-chaired by ASM Global SVP Marie Lindqvist and Rockhal Luxembourg CEO Olivier Toth, The Venue’s Venue: Reconnect and reopen panel pored over the remaining challenges for venues around the world as they reopen from close to two years of inaction.

Production manager and 2022 Gaffer Award winner Phay Mac Mahon discussed the staffing issues he had experienced when returning to the road for a US tour last September.

“On the production side, we reckoned we were about 30% down on staff, so I think it’s going to be a tough year,” he said. “But let’s face it, we built this industry from nothing. We’re now going to have to redo it. We did it once, we can do it again.”

“They’re are not enough trucks or buses out there. Smaller acts are cancelling festival slots because they can’t afford to fly”

He added: “The biggest problem is that nobody has toured for two years, so everything got put back. The stuff that didn’t tour in 2020 got put back to this year. And then the stuff that didn’t tour in 2021 has been put back to this year, so we have a supply situation – there are not enough companies out there with equipment.

“There are not enough trucks out there, there’s not enough buses. Smaller acts that can’t get buses and can’t get trucks have to fly and their schedule is too tight. So they’re actually cancelling because they can’t afford to fly to festivals, etc, and that’s becoming a bigger issue. The bigger acts  booked a long time ago, so they have the stuff.”

ATC Live agent Alex Bruford said the overwhelmingly positive response to the return of concerts had demonstrated how important live music was to people, but warned the anticipated boom in ticket sales was yet to materialise.

“There is a lot of talk about the ‘roaring ’20s’ and how, when we reopened, we’d all get back to business super-quickly and other things would be great again immediately. And, as we all have found out, that has not been the case so far,” he said. “There have been some hot shows that have sold a lot of tickets and some festivals that have gone up at the right time and sold a lot of tickets. But on the whole, it’s definitely a mixed bag out there in terms of ticket sales. A lot of shows are underperforming and a lot of artists are wondering why they’re not where they were two or three years ago.

“Chatting to a few other agents about this, it does feel like there’s been a bit of a reset button pushed in the whole touring industry and people are having to be very careful. None of us know exactly how the autumn is going to play out yet… It’s super-busy and it’s great to have people back, but there are definitely a lot of challenges ahead before we rebalance.”

“I feel there is a limit on ticket prices. Don’t push your luck with audiences”

On whether ticket prices would need to increase, Rock Werchter promoter Herman Schueremans, CEO of Live Nation Belgium, expressed caution.

“I feel that there is a limit on ticket prices,” he said. “Don’t push your luck with the audience. They were very loyal to us in the previous two, three years. People stayed extremely loyal by keeping their tickets and those people will say, ‘Look, we’ve already bought X amount of tickets… And we have to pay all of our bills,’ so they will make a choice.

“We have to solve the problems together. I don’t see any other solution. We need to get as strong and be creative and rethink things, instead of just repeating ourselves. But I think it’s a creative process. And it should not only come from the artists, but it should come from all of us.”

Rotterdam Ahoy CEO Jolanda Jansen shared similar sentiments.

“There is no easy solution and there’s also not one solution,” she said. “We survived the crisis together, so we need also to [overcome] these challenges together.”

“I’d like to see transparent costs across the board”

Mac Mahon warned that artists and management were in for a “wake up call”, due to many still working off budgets from 2020.

“All the costs have gone up,” he said. “There was a time that you a trucking float included fuel; there was a time you got a shipping quote, and it included fuel; if you were chartering an aircraft it was included… So all these things are going to make a huge difference to the bottom line for the artist.

“It’s going to be very interesting when the manager has to sit down with that artist and tells them there was a time that we could ship a sea container from London to Los Angeles door to door for £7,000 but now it’s £20,000.”

Summing up, Bruford made an impassioned plea for the “reset button” to be pressed on transparency across the industry.

“I’d like to see transparent costs across the board,” he said. “I’d like to be having conversations with people where when we’re discussing a show deal, every aspect of the income of that show is discussed and then split fairly between all the stakeholders in that show. I’d like to see no more rebates. I’d like to see ticketing fees kept under control, I’d like to see merch costs kept under control…

“All of these things are taking slices out of the revenue pot, making it harder to make the show actually financially viable, and then pushing up the ticket price. And as the ticket price gets pushed higher and higher, we all collectively sell less tickets, so we’re actually eating our own lunch by doing that.

“I’d like to be in a situation where we can have these open conversations and have all those costs on the table upfront and go, ‘Okay, how are we fairly splitting this?’ I’ve done a couple of tours recently where it has been like that and it is so refreshing. And I think that’s needs to be the way forward.”


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ATC raises £4m+ in IPO

UK-based music company ATC is planning to float on London’s Aquis Stock Exchange next week after raising £4.15 million (€4.86m) in its initial public offer (IPO).

Asset management company Schroders bought almost a 10% stake in the IPO, which was priced at 153p per share, giving the company a market capitalisation of approximately £14.66m on admission, according to Proactive Investors.

ATC (All Things Considered Group Plc) said it will use the money raised to provide additional funds and presence to enable the directors to seek growth across each of the company’s separate divisions.

The company’s divisions include booking agency ATC Live, led by Alex Bruford, which boasts a roster of more than 350 artists including Fontaines D.C, Georgia, Alma, Goat Girl, Mac Demarco, Metronomy and Nick Cave.

“[The new investors] appreciate the scale of the opportunity out there for a holistic artist-focused music group”

ATC Management, meanwhile, represents artists such as Faithless, Jonny Marr and Laura Marling and PJ Harvey.

The company also produces livestream events through subsidiary company Driift, and now also operates in the sync, brand partnerships and promotions sectors through a variety of strategic partnerships.

Headquartered in London, ATC also has offices in Los Angeles and Copenhagen.

Chief executive Adam Driscoll, says: “I am delighted that new investors have bought into our vision, appreciating the scale of the opportunity out there for a holistic artist-focused music group in a rapidly evolving industry.”

“The board and I look forward to welcoming our new institutional and individual shareholders to the group.”


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Agents of Change: The agency business in transition

On 20 October, five US agents, all formerly of Paradigm Talent Agency, announced the formation of Arrival Artists – a brand-new booking agency with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle, a roster that includes the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Khruangbin and BadBadNotGood, and a partnership with European agency ATC Live for global representation of acts shared across both rosters.

Following the termination of hundreds of jobs by the Hollywood-headquartered global agencies since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s the kind of news observers of the agency space have come to expect – a group of agents from one multinational join forces and go independent – and follows the launch of two other new US indies, TBA Agency and Mint Talent Group, in late August and mid-September, respectively, and the likes of Route One Booking and Jon Ollier’s One Fiinix Live in the UK earlier this month.

The resurgence of the independent agency, and the apparent fracturing of the corporate giants following years of consolidation, is being watched closely in the broader live music world, where rumours abound of further agency launches and rebrands – including in Europe – in the months ahead.

Nowhere is this more the case than in London, where recent mergers include Primary Talent with ICM Partners and K2 Agency with Artist Group International. And while uncertainty reins, takeovers, strategic pacts and new ventures will all be under consideration for every business.

“It’s clearly a very challenging time for anyone working in live music at the moment,” says ATC Live’s Alex Bruford, whose roster includes Nick Cave, The Lumineers, Metronomy, Black Pumas and Fontaines DC. “No matter the size of the business, if your company relies on live touring, and there is no touring, it’s very difficult.”

“The idea in agency culture has long been geared towards an idea of ‘the bigger the better’”

“Clearly, we all have had to face major challenges in 2020, and we will continue to have significant challenges thrown at us for some time,” agrees Angus Baskerville, partner at 13 Artists, who works with artists including George Ezra, Brittany Howard, Jamiroquai, Michael Kiwanuka, Benjamin Clementine and Paolo Nutini.

But are ATC Live, 13 Artists and other UK-based indies such as ITB, Asgard, Midnight Mango and smaller boutique firms, better placed than their corporate cousins to survive, and even thrive, during the current crisis? With concert activity on hold, is it actually a blessing to be free of the structure of a large company – and are we witnessing a new era of independence in live music booking, the likes of which we haven’t seen for the best part of a decade?

Bigger: not always better
The past seven months have done much to expose some of the myths of pre-Covid thinking within the business, according to Earth Agency’s Rebecca Prochnik, who represents artists including Skepta, JME, AJ Tracey and Nines. “The idea in agency culture has long been geared towards an idea of ‘the bigger the better’,” explains Prochnik. “For a long time, the structural strategy of the larger agencies has been upscaling teams around artists, to provide a more intensive job. While I understand the reasoning, the model creates a lot of employment volume, and in fact the potential for disconnection that has never made full sense to me.”

“Sometimes I look at some of the bigger agencies, and you have too many agents or bookers squabbling over every artist that comes in,” echoes Obi Asika, founder and CEO of Echo Location Talent (Marshmello, Da Baby, Wizkid, Chase & Status, Pendulum, Major Lazer, Giggs). “Many artists have multiple agents, in part to ensure no one agent has too much power over the wider agency. That’s not workable anymore. There’s no guarantee this [a concert-stopping pandemic] won’t happen again – you’ve got to be careful of your overheads.”

“Some large businesses will have been better protected than other large businesses going into this, and I’m sure it’s the same for the smaller ones,” adds Baskerville. “Saying that, I do believe the independent sector has the possibility of thriving in 2021 and beyond, as we’re required to modernise and refresh approaches to the way we work – and do that quickly.”

“Independent companies have been able to be more nimble and adapt faster to new ways of working”

For many of the bigger, multinational agencies, the financial impact of this “surplus” is amplified by huge levels of corporate debt, which in some cases amounts to many times their annual revenues.

According to investment banker Lloyd Greif, Endeavor – the parent company of WME – is shouldering a staggering US$5.1 billion debt, while CAA has $1.15bn coming due in 2026, in addition to a $125 million revolving credit facility. Paradigm, meanwhile, is believed to owe around $80m, following multiple debt-financed acquisitions over the past decade.

Paul Boswell, of Free Trade Agency (The National, Tones and I, Wilco, Tash Sultana, Violent Femmes), says he believes that while the live entertainment shutdown is “clearly bad for all,” it will “hurt those that practice borrow-and-buy capitalism the most.”

“As an independent business, we’ve always been careful not to fall for the seductive culture of living beyond our means: even if money is flowing, we’ve stayed low to the ground on spend,” adds Prochnik. “We’ve always had a culture of working remotely – of needing an office solely for the wellbeing and connection of our staff community, rather than for external business. Throughout my career, I’ve taken my meetings in cars, in cafes, in parks, on the phone… It’s really only ever mattered that I can relate well and do a creative job for my clients as needed.

“What Covid’s done is blow away the myth that an independent attitude is a quirk. Big offices, gleaming receptions, plaques on walls, meeting rooms, games rooms, listening rooms… At the end of the day, those things are all just optics, and ones which suddenly seem tremendously outdated. None of those things shape business in a meaningful way…”

“When the dust settles, there are going to be huge changes”

“The importance of having an office as a status symbol – that, for me, has gone,” adds Asika. “You don’t need a shiny office, and you also don’t need people coming into work every day; if you don’t trust the people working for you, that’s a problem. I’ve enjoyed being at home with my family, and I want that flexibility for my business and staff.” “This virus is terrible, but there are potentially worse ones in the future,” he adds. “And when that comes, you want to be the little speedboat nipping around, not the big cruise liner…”

Agrees Prochnik: “Independent and smaller agencies tend to have a shared personality of sourcing and creating whatever there is to do, thinking outside the box, breaking moulds in order to make business work. I think this inherent culture of flexibility, nimbleness and creating value out of thin air is invaluable in these new times.”

“We’ve seen with companies across our sector, from agencies to promoters to ticketing companies, that often the larger the organisation – and therefore the higher the overheads – the harder hit they have been,” says Bruford. “In many cases, independent companies have been able to be more nimble and adapt faster to new ways of working, new opportunities and the changing landscape.”

The great equaliser
According to Asika, “When the dust settles, there are going to be huge changes” across the agency sector as a result of the current “correction.” “From the value of artists, to where people work, what people have started in this time, what new companies pop up… there are all these things happening in the background, and it’s going to have a long-term impact,” he predicts.


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Ex-Paradigm agents launch Arrival Artists

Five former Paradigm agents have established Arrival Artists, the third new booking agency to launch in the US since the effective shutdown of the concert business in March.

Arrival sees Ali Hedrick, Erik Selz, John Bongiorno, Karl Morse and Ethan Berlin, all of whom most recently worked at Paradigm Talent Agency, join forces with agent Matt Yasecko, the former COO of Chicago-based Billions Corporation. A partnership with established London-based agency ATC Live, meanwhile, will “facilitate global representation” for shared acts.

The launch of Arrival Artists follows that of TBA Agency – also established by a group of ex-Paradigm staff – in late August and Mint Talent Group (founded by agents from Paradigm, WME, CAA and Madison House) the following month.

The wave of activity in the independent agency sector comes as the large corporate firms continue to slash staff numbers in a bid to cut costs (with Paradigm specifically known to have laid off 180 of its 600 employees globally).

Explaining the ethos of the new agency, Selz says: “We want to construct an environment that encourages collaboration, crossover and artistic risk-taking among our clients. This is not high-minded, nor a vision with tight guardrails, but rather a practical approach to a platform best suited for the creators we represent.”

Arrival’s roster includes the likes of Khruangbin, Sufjan Stevens, BadBadNotGood, Mt Joy, Andrew Bird, Nubya Garcia, Car Seat Headrest, Goose and Chicano Batman, booking from offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.

“I am thrilled to be able to construct a new agency alongside friends, mentors and some of the best agents in the business”

“A diversity of artists yields a diversity of opportunities,” adds Yasecko. “Our goal isn’t to corner the market on one genre, it’s to be a home for unique, singular talents that we can champion.”

Non-agents joining the Arrival team are director of marketing Jenna Neer, formerly of AEG Global Touring, and agency associate Jess Bumsted, also formerly of Paradigm.

Selz says Arrival Artists and ATC live share a “similar ethos”, which led to the partnership on international bookings.

ATC Live MD Alex Bruford says: “There is a clear space in the agency ecosystem for agile, independent companies that can provide innovative worldwide solutions for artists. The relationship between ATC and Arrival has quickly blossomed through a mutual desire to put the artists first, and we are delighted to be working together.”

ATC’s roster includes Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Lumineers, Mac DeMarco and Julia Jacklin.

“Historically, opportunity sprouts from crisis,” says Berlin. “I am thrilled to be able to construct a new agency alongside friends, mentors and some of the best agents in the business while we navigate a new touring landscape, strategising hand in hand with our clients.”


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Keychange pledge: ATC Live among new signatories

UK booking agency ATC Live is among a slate of new signatories on the Keychange gender equality pledge, committing to achieving 50% representation of women and under-represented genders.

The agency, which boasts a roster of more than 350 artists including Fontaines D.C, Georgia, Alma, Goat Girl, Mac Demarco, Metronomy and Nick Cave, joins over 350 organisations which have signed the Keychange pledge since 2017.

“Despite all the challenges that 2020 has brought, at ATC Live we are determined to remain focussed on doing what we can to achieve equality and diversity in our industry,” says ATC Live partner Alex Bruford.

“As part of this process we are signing up to the Keychange initiative and will work towards ensuring new additions to our roster and staff include 50% women and under-represented genders.

“Every year the important conversation around the balance of festival bills and equality on our stages and across our industry resurfaces.

“We understand that festivals can’t book the acts if the agents don’t represent them, so we are committing to playing our part”

“We understand that the festivals can’t book the acts if the agents don’t represent them, so we are committing to playing our part in the process of achieving real change.”

It has also been announced today that eight UK trade bodies have signed the pledge towards achieving 50% board representation of women and under-represented genders.

The new signatories are PRS for Music; The Incorporated Society of Musicians; the Featured Artist Coalition; the Association of Independent Music; the Music Managers Forum; the Music Publishers Association; the Ivors Academy, and the Musicians’ Union.

Keychange has also announced collaborations with Sound City, the Musicians’ Union and Gorwelion Horizons for ‘Keychange Week’ panels, discussing gender equality in each nation.

Three new ambassadors have also been appointed today including songwriter and founder of Girls I Rate, Carla Marie Williams, electronic musician planningtorock, and founding Keychange project manager Jess Partridge.


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UK industry lambasts Arts Council over venue funding

Arts Council England (ACE) has insisted there is no culture of elitism at the organisation, telling IQ it is ready to work with more of the country’s embattled small venues – despite allocating just 0.06% of its total funding to popular music venues in its latest round of grants.

The announcement of ACE’s latest funding priorities come at a critical time for the UK’s small venues. Despite some signs of improvement in the health of the sector over the past 18 months, especially in London, many independent venues are still struggling to survive, and UK Music’s most recent Wish You Were Here report showed a 13% drop in direct spending at music venues with a capacity of under 1,500 in 2016.

In spite of these challenges, ACE has chosen not to fund a single new music venue over the next four years – a decision ATC Live MD Alex Bruford says will only perpetuate the poor quality of UK venues relative to continental Europe.

“As an agent booking artists into venues across the UK and Europe, the difference in funding and support for contemporary music has always been stark,” he explains. “Musicians expect to go into venues in countries like the Netherlands or Denmark and find vibrant, well-supported establishments, with the latest production equipment and artist facilities – as well as a primary focus on creating an excellent experience for the audience and making the venue an important pillar of the local community.

“The lack of contemporary music funding in the UK has never been more apparent than it is now. So many of the venues just cannot afford to provide the experience, equipment or hospitality they would like to, or have just gone altogether…”

“These venues are an integral part of towns’ and cities’ identities, and it’s almost criminal to not help them survive”

Of the £1.6 billion in public money that makes up ACE’s ‘National Portfolio’ of funding for 2018–2022, announced earlier this summer, around 13% – £368 million over four years – is allocated to the music industry.

There remains, however, a vast discrepancy between the amount of money given to ‘high’ culture and contemporary music, with roughly 85% of that £368m allotted for the former sector – 62% for opera and 23% for classical music – and just 7% for the latter. (The remaining 8% is split between ‘mixed’ musical programming, world music, jazz, folk music, brass bands and several other music-industry nonprofits.)

Of the £28m set aside for contemporary music by ACE in 2018–22, £5m is being put towards music education, with a further £2.5m given to festivals and promoters and £1.5m to recording studios. The only two venues with contemporary music as their main programming being funded by ACE are Band on the Wall (340-cap.) in Manchester and Café Oto (200-cap.) in London, both of which also received National Portfolio funding in 2015–18. (London’s Roundhouse received £3.8m, but is defined as ‘combined arts’.)

Almost unbelievably, half the entire 2018–22 contemporary music budget – £14m, or £9,622 per day – has been awarded to one venue: Sage Gateshead, a mixed contemporary/classical music venue and centre for music education in the north-east of England, operated by the charity North Music Trust.

This, says an ACE spokesperson, is testament to Sage Gateshead’s status as “one of the leading music venues in the country”, renowned for “the range and quality of its programme, which includes jazz, classical and world music”.

The organisation adds that it receives “relatively few requests for direct support” for music venues, but always welcomes “applications from venues looking to develop their artistic output, develop new audiences or to build touring networks for diverse and/or emerging artists”.

“This is about the fabric of our society and the opportunities we want future generations to have”

While ACE may not receive much in the way of correspondence from individual venues, it did, however, receive three separate requests for funding from Music Venue Trust (MVT), whose Music Venues Alliance association represents grassroots music venues (GMVs) across the UK.

Beverley Whitrick, the charity’s strategic director, says ACE encouraged MVT to submit an application to its Strategic Touring fund, which was turned down. She says she “wasn’t that surprised” when the request was denied, as “arts funding is hugely competitive”. “Local authorities used to have money to invest in arts,” she explains. “Now they can barely cover statutory funding.”

MVT was then encouraged to apply for a Small Capital Grant, then for National Portfolio funding as a sector support organisation (SSO), both of which were also ultimately unsuccessful.

MVT’s unsuccessful applications were the culmination of three years of discussions with ACE – three years, Whitrick says, the charity could have put to better use “courting other [potential] funders”.

Whitrick admits that it’s “impossible to support everything”, but says she feels led on by ACE: “If you actively solicit applications, there’s a real tension there,” she continues. “We are an SSO – it’s defined as an organisation whose role is to support a particular sector of the arts – but by not getting the funding it means we’re not recognised as such. It means ACE says we’re less deserving of that funding that other organisations who do other roles…”

Arts Council England’s inaction on the plight of grassroots music venues contrasts with the message from its deputy chief executive of places and engagement, Laura Dyer, at MVT’s Venues Day 2016, when she called venues “an important part” of making the ACE’s vision of “great art and culture for everyone” a reality. “Let’s keep talking and working together; we won’t always agree, but I honestly believe we are making progress,” she told delegates.

“ACE is not funding anyone in the grassroots music venue sector to do any of the work they have already accepted is needed to safeguard it”

There were similar sentiments from ACE’s area director for London, Joyce Wilson, at Venues Day in 2015. She admitted only a “relatively small” number of music venues attracted funding, but suggested the fault lie with the venues: “Not many of you do apply to the Arts Council,” she said. “It’s really hard to support you if you don’t come and talk to us.”

Sam Tucker of independent promoter/agency CloseUp Promotions is critical of “Joyce Wilson’s lazy excuses” and says the decision to “not fairly divide the funding between various genres, venues and promoters” has the potential to be “catastrophic in the long term”.

“Small venues are becoming less and less common,” he explains. “Often these venues are an integral part of towns’ and cities’ identities, and it’s almost criminal to not help them survive in increasingly difficult and uncertain financial times.”

Commenting on MVT’s latest bids for funding, an ACE spokesperson denied the council had solicited the applications – and suggested their lack of success stemmed from an insufficiently strong case. “We’ve had a positive conversations with Music Venue Trust over the years, and they have received funding for the first Venues Day, Music Venues Alliance, the Music Venues Alliance regional meetings and as part of the Catalyst: Evolve fund in July 2016,” the spokesperson says.

“We don’t solicit applications. However, we do try to be supportive when applications are being made, but we are not able to fund applications that aren’t strong.”

For Whitrick, this explanation doesn’t hold water when “funding that should have gone to our sector continues to go to opera, classical music, ballet… I don’t want want to see anyone de-funded – but I’d like a share of it for us.”

“I don’t want want to see anyone de-funded – but I’d like a share of it for us”

ACE’s National Council, which has final sign-off on any funding decisions, has only one member who has ever worked in the (popular) music industry (Universal Music UK’s David Joseph). ACE declined to comment on the make-up of the National Council or any potential review of its membership.

Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith says, “looking at the facts”, it’s evident that there is a disconnect between the music industry and ACE. He calls for “much more dialogue between the venues and the Arts Council”.

The next window for SSO funding is 2022. “I can’t even imagine how many venues will close in the next four years,” continues Whitrick. “The 100 Club [in London] almost closed [in June] until we interceded with Westminster Council. Last time it was saved by Paul McCartney and Converse, this time it was Fred Perry and us; who will it be next time?

“‘This is not a priority’: that’s the phrase that needs challenging. When is it it a priority?”

Whitrick says ACE has not set out to deliberately cripple small venues, “but they are not funding anyone in the grassroots music venue sector to do any of the work they have already accepted is needed to safeguard it.”

“We need young people to want to go to venues, work in venues, and perform music in venues,” adds Bruford. “Music is an important creative outlet for so many young people. It’s positive use of their time and energy and really aids development.

“Yes, without the venues we won’t create the superstars of the future – but it is about so much more than just that. It is about the fabric of our society and the opportunities we want future generations to have.”


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ATC Live makes hires from Earth, UTA

UK booking agency ATC Live has made three new hires.

Isla Angus and Sarah Besnard join from Earth Agency, bringing with them a roster that includes Sleaford Mods, Austra, Dan Deacon, Cass McCombs and Girl Band, while Sinan Ors, formerly at UTA, brings electronic artists Romare, Daedelus and Clap Clap!.

“All three share the same artist-focused and creative approach as ATC Live”

“All three,” says managing director Alex Bruford, “share the same artist-focused and creative approach as ATC Live, and we are delighted to welcome their artists alongside our growing roster, [which] includes Mac DeMarco, Julia Jacklin, Whitney, Shura, Shame, The Lumineers, Passenger and Benjamin Clementine.”

The London-based agency hired Clemence Renaut, Roxane Dumoulin and Chris Meredith in January.


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Brexit: The view from backstage

The British public will tomorrow go to the polls to vote on the most important decision they’ve faced in a generation: whether to stay in the European Union (EU), the 28-member politico-economic bloc of which the UK has been a part since 1973, or go it alone for the first time in over 40 years.

After months of campaigning by the leave and remain campaigns, the referendum on Britain’s potential exit (‘Brexit’) from the EU is finally here – and while The Guardian frets about air quality and the BBC ponders the power of the Australasian vote, what we really want to know is this: which way should the live music business be voting?

Back in March, IQ quizzed tour managers, travel agents and transport companies for their opinions and predictions. Now, on the eve of the vote, it’s the agents’, promoters’ and industry associations’ turn…

“The EU is far from perfect right now, but is still the best thing that has happened to Europe in the last 70 years”

Unsurprisingly, Fabien Miclet, the coordinator of Liveurope, an EU-backed association of 13 European music venues, tells IQ he believes Brexit “would be a disaster politically, economically and symbolically” and spell the beginning of the end for the union.

While he acknowledges that the EU is “far from perfect right now”, stating that “the enlargements of 2004 and 2009 increased [its] democratic deficit [and] lack of visibility of the core missions”, Miclet says it’s “still the best thing that has happened to Europe in the last 70 years”. “And I don’t see small countries like France or even Germany competing against China or the US at a global level without the EU,” he adds.

As for Liveurope, its sole British member – the 700-capacity Village Underground (VU) in Shoreditch – would automatically be out of the club, says Miclet. “The EU would most probably retaliate [to Brexit] by excluding Britain from its funding programmes, and this would automatically mean that VU can’t be a member anymore. This would apply for all British organisations involved in European projects, be they scientific, academic, cultural, etc.”

“All in all our lives have been enriched by being part of the EU”

Coda agent and partner Rob Challice, whose roster includes Ben Folds, John Grant and Bon Iver, echoes Miclet’s sentiments about the relative weakness of a UK-less EU (and EU-less UK) in a “global marketplace where some of the biggest economies are now in the east”, but also makes an emotional case for a union he says has “enriched” the lives of everyone in Britain.

“I know I speak for most of my colleagues when I say that thanks to the EU there are greater touring opportunities for our artists due to free movement,” he says. “We also work and travel across Europe, we do business at mainland European events – Eurosonic [Noorderslag], Reeperbahn and a whole host of events – we have colleagues work in our office from other EU countries; we are more ‘European’ thanks to the EU.

“All in all our lives have been enriched by being part of the EU.”

“I don’t understand this euroscepticism because I think the EU brings mostly good things”

Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS)’s creative director, Peter Smidt, is also a remainer, although he says that his festival is “about Europe, and UK is in Europe whether within or without the EU”.

The ESNS-backed European Talent Exchange Programme (ETEP) is, however, funded by the European Commission (the EU’s executive body), so British participation in ETEP will be “more difficult”, says Smidt, if not outright impossible. British band Blossoms are currently the second most-booked ETEP act of 2016 so far.

Smidt tells IQ he “doesn’t understand this scepticism about [the EU] because I think it brings mostly good things” and says he believes it “makes sense for Europe to unite and work together on lots of possible issues – especially regarding circulation”.

“The danger for the EU is that if UK leaves I think other countries will follow suit: The Netherlands will also leave and say, ‘We want the same deal, too!'”

In contrast to the EU-funded Liveurope and ETEP, OpenAir St Gallen booker and Yourope general secretary Christof Huber says “nothing will change” at the European festival association (whose British members are Download and T in the Park) in the event of the UK leaving the EU, but has a word of caution for British voters contemplating a ‘Swiss model’ for the UK post-Brexit.

Switzerland, while not in the EU, is a member of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and is bound by a number of EU treaties. It is, unlike the UK, in the Schengen free-movement zone, and recently paid for – out of its own pocket – the world’s longest rail tunnel, the Gotthard base tunnel, which Huber says was a “huge commitment financially, and more important for other European countries than for Switzerland”.

He says his “big fear” for the UK is that the EU will have to take a hard line on negotiating with a newly independent Britain in order to stop other countries following its lead. “The danger for the EU is that if UK leaves I think other countries will follow suit,” says Huber. “[Otherwise] the Netherlands will leave and say, ‘We want the same deal, too!'”

“EU tax treaties, border-crossing arrangements, carnet agreements, air traffic agreements and labour laws all make touring in Europe much more viable for our artists”

ATC Live agent and partner Alex Bruford, whose roster includes The Lumineers, Half Moon Run, The Districts, Soak and Broncho, says “taking the UK out of the EU would be a huge step backwards” for the industry and the country as a whole.

“Our business is built on international relationships,” he says. “We have spent years fostering close relationships with our European partners, and work closely with them to ensure our artists can smoothly and successfully traverse the continent. Current EU tax treaties, border crossing arrangements, carnet agreements, air traffic agreements and labour laws all make touring in Europe much more viable for our artists.

“Add that to the inevitable economic downturn through the uncertainty caused and the lack of a singular European voice to speak on current international issues – ie secondary ticketing – and Brexit would be a very negative [thing] for the live music business.”

“I think for the overall health of the country we should stay in”

CAA agent Emma Banks (Arcade Fire, Florence + the Machine, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry) says that while “many of the reasons [for staying in] I’ve read from the music industry are spurious”, she’s also backing the remain campaign. “I think for the overall health of the country we should stay in,” she tells IQ.

#InWithTheInCrowd supporters, British Music Debate: Does In or Out mean Win or Lose?

Miclet was a panellist at last night’s British Music Debate: Does In or Out mean Win or Lose? debate at the London offices of law firm Lewis Silkin, which also strongly concluded that ‘in’ means ‘win’. Joining Miclet on a panel moderated by FastForward/Media Insight Consulting’s Chris Carey was the Featured Artists Coalition’s Paul Pacifico, Lewis Silkin’s Cliff Fluet and Everything Everything bassist Jeremy Pritchard.

Beginning by saying that he doesn’t know “a single musician that’s ‘out'”, Pritchard said he fears the rest of Europe becoming as difficult to tour for British artists as Switzerland is currently if the UK votes to leave. “We announce shows in Switzerland and think, ‘That probably won’t go ahead’,” he said, criticising the bureaucracy involved in obtaining the proper visas and carnets for touring bands.

Pacifico added that he talked recently with Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason – another remainer – who recalled a time before visaless travel in Europe. “Can you imagine Pink Floyd doing a carnet?” said Pacifico. “All those articulated trucks full of lasers and smoke machines, and having to document every drumstick, every piece of gaffer tape…”

“I don’t know a single musician that’s ‘out'”

Miclet said the reason why so many British artists tour Europe – and why so many smaller US acts don’t – is because they don’t need a Schengen visa to do so. (Pictured above: Remainers at the British Music Debate. FAC co-chair Sandie Shaw is on the far left; IQ editor Gordon Masson front row, third from left; Pritchard behind Masson and Paul Pacifico to his left; and IQ digital manager Ben Delger holding a sign, with Fluet to his right.)

While most of the industry is clearly in favour of the status quo – to add to the chorus of ‘remains’ above, the FAC’s membership is 85% in favour of staying, while Music Week’s poll of its readership put the figure even higher, at 91% – there is at least one notable music biz Brexiteer: veteran promoter Harvey Goldsmith CBE.

Speaking to IQ from his London office, Goldsmith calls the EU a “busted flush”, saying that Britain should “vote out, then sit down with the EU and completely renegotiate a deal in cooperation with the other key countries that makes sense”.

Far from being the visaless utopia described by Pacifico, Nick Mason and others, the EU is currently a halfway house that in fact lacks the harmonised regulations touted by its supporters, says Goldsmith. “I’ve just travelled round 13 countries and 32 cities on the road with Hans Zimmer,” he explains, “and, believe me, being in the EU doesn’t make any bloody difference. The tax issues are different in every country, the visas are different in every country, VAT’s different…”

“Supporting a huge layer of bureaucracy and unelected leaders who have only one role in life – to create a federal state of Europe – is never going to work, because none of the constituent parts want it”

“Travelling through borders from some of the far-flung countries of the EU has been an absolute nightmare,” Goldsmith continues, explaining that he and Zimmer were held up for “17 hours in total trying to get from Croatia to Geneva because the borders were shut” amid the continuing migrant crisis.

Supporting “a huge layer of bureaucracy and unelected leaders who have only one role in life – to create a federal state of Europe – is never going to work,” he adds, “because none of the constituent [countries] want it”.

“The only way to shake everybody up is to vote out – it will cause mayhem for a short period of time, other countries will panic – and then sit down with the relevant part of the EU and reshape what a European community of trading nations should look like,” Goldsmith concludes. “Because, currently, it’s a mess.”

With the most recent polls showing the leave campaign edging ahead, and the portion of undecided voters still high, no one can predict the outcome of tomorrow’s vote with any certainty. But from the live music camp, some doubters aside, the sentiment is strongly in favour of the UK staying in.


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