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ATC’s Alex Bruford on Fontaines DC’s arena ascent

ATC Live founder and MD Alex Bruford has given IQ the inside track on Fontaines D.C.’s live progress ahead of their biggest run of shows to date.

The Irish post-punk band, who release their fourth album Romance on 23 August, have a packed summer in store, with slots at festivals including Sideways (Finland), Hurricane & Southside (Germany), Fuji Rock (Japan), Sziget (Hungary), Pukkelpop (Belgium), Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds (UK), among others.

They will then visit the US & Canada in the autumn, followed by a European tour in November/December, stopping at venues such as the WiZink Center in Madrid, Verti Music Hall in Berlin, two shows at Alexandra Palace in London, a three-night stand at The Factory in Manchester and arena dates in Cardiff, Nottingham, Leeds and Glasgow.

The outing will then conclude in their native Dublin, Ireland, with two concerts at 3Arena on 6 & 7 December.

In the following Q&A, Bruford, their agent, talks IQ through the story so far…

“Working with Fontaines D.C. has been a joy, primarily because of the bands remarkable drive, determination and prolific output”

How have you managed the band’s growth on the live scene up to this point? 

“Working with Fontaines D.C. has been a joy, primarily because of the bands remarkable drive, determination and prolific output. The band released their first three albums in the space of three years – Dogrel in 2019, A Hero’s Death in 2020 and SkintyFia in 2022. Each album pushed the band forward musically and creatively, and the momentum they were able to build with this pace of releasing has been crucial to their growth live.

“Managing the growth has come down to long term planning, building of multiple territories simultaneously, reacting quickly when necessary and working with promoter partners who are as dedicated to ensuring the band achieve their goals as we are. In particular, Dan Roberts at Metropolis Music in the UK has been instrumental to the UK touring success.

“It’s not all been plain sailing – on the first album campaign the band’s career acceleration was so fast that there were too many demands on the band members, and we all had to learn what pace of touring worked best for them. Now we have a good balance and a fantastic production team, led by PM Marcus Haughton, who takes care of the band globally. Marcus and myself work closely together from the inception of tour plans to ensure all routings are as strategic and logistically efficient as they can be, whilst ensuring the necessary rest is built in for the guys to be at their best on the road.”

What is the strategy around the coming campaign? 

“Working closely with the band’s management, Ian McAndrew, Emma Greengrass and Trevor Dietz, and Cerys Vaughan at ATC Live, we started working on the strategy for the Romance campaign two years ago. 

“The bands last show in Europe was 2022 so it feels like the right time to hit the stage again. The first shows back will be at select festivals in the summer of 2024 that don’t clash with our November headline tour plans, allowing us to announce the tour in April 2024 around the release of the new single Starburster.

“We’ll headline the Park Stage at Glastonbury and then release the album with XL records on 23 August, the day before the band hit the main stage at Reading & Leeds, two key media moments.

“We’ve added headline shows in markets we won’t get to on the album tour around the 2024 festivals”

“We’ve added headline shows in markets we won’t get to on the album tour around the 2024 festivals, including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria, Slovenia, reaching more fans and further building the band’s touring footprint. The 2024 headline run will be the band’s biggest shows to date, and a springboard to extensive UK and European touring in summer 2025.

“The strategy laid out relied on one key factor – the band delivering the new record on time to release the first single in April and album by the end of August. Whilst we never want to put pressure on the creative process, the fact is that artists that can deliver music on time and in a planned window have a huge advantage over those that can’t.

“In the interim period [vocalist] Grian Chatten released an acclaimed solo record, which received much support at press and radio. Grian had the option to tour the record, but made the wise decision to focus on writing and recording the next Fontaines D.C. album, a decision which is paying dividends now.

“Knowing that we could rely on the band to make the timeline work enabled us to secure the best nights of the week for every key show – so we went up with Friday and Saturday in London, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Manchester and Friday and Saturday in Dublin, crucial to the success of the tour launch. They hit the target, delivering their best record to date and on schedule.”

“Demand has exceeded expectations by some way – it’s clear that the band have made a major step forward”

There is a “reduced price ticket” option for certain tour dates, what was the thinking behind that?

“The band have always been keen to ensure there is an opportunity for those on lower incomes to come to the shows, and not be priced out, so we made sure some reduced price tickets were available for this purpose.”

What are your expectations for the group in 2024?

“Demand has exceeded expectations by some way – it’s clear that the band have made a major step forward. To sell out two Alexandra Palaces (20,000 tickets) in London and three Aviva Studios in Manchester (15,000) tickets in one weekend is phenomenal business.

“In addition, we sold out the band’s first arena show in Ireland at the 3 Arena Dublin in a day, with a second date immediately added. My expectation is that all 2024 headline shows in the UK and Europe will be sold out.”

How would you compare their live popularity in the UK & Ireland with the rest of Europe? 

“The UK and Ireland are the biggest markets for the band, but thanks to their hard work touring internationally many markets are a close second.  In Amsterdam we sold out one AFAS arena (6,000 tickets) and added a second the morning of onsale. We had strong starts at our first arena shows in Madrid, Brussels and Paris. In Rome we have already sold out our summer show at the iconic Auditorium Parco della Musica, and our two summer headline shows in Poland are sold out.

“Further afield, Australia is a strong market for the band, with a very successful tour around the Laneway Festivals in 2023, and the band will return to Japan to play Fuji Rock Festival this summer.”

“The number of markets we can play arenas will continue to grow”

What’s the plan for Fontaines D.C. from here? 

“The band are already an arena band, playing arenas in many markets on the 2024 tour. The number of markets we can play arenas will continue to grow. After the headlining their first festival at Green Man in 2021, we will see more festival headline shows.

“With four albums of material and extensive touring experience to draw on, the band will take the show to another level in 2024.  The exciting part of where we are at now is that we are only 1 single into the new album campaign, with a phenomenal record to come.  

“Fontaines D.C. are not here to tick off achievements, but to consistently challenge themselves and their audiences, which I have no doubt they will continue to do. We look forward to seeing where that takes us!”

 


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Alex Bruford: Transforming the industry landscape

Having toured globally with indie-electro headliners Infadels, Alex Bruford has first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be a working musician and has used that experience to establish and develop ATC Live as an agency that puts its clients front and centre. Gordon Masson speaks to Bruford as he celebrates 20 years in music…

When ATC Live launched in 2011, its founder and managing director Alex Bruford set out to create an agency that would be markedly different from existing companies. And 12 years later, that goal continues to be central to the London-headquartered operation.

“Our number-one priority is delivering for our artists. That’s why this company started, and it will continue to be the case,” states Bruford. “We’re not interested in volume. We’re focused on ensuring we can provide our artists with everything they need to build the career they desire. We’ve proven that we can take artists from small clubs, like [London’s] The Shacklewell [Arms] or the Hoxton [Square] Bar & Kitchen and turn them into festival headliners.”

While the agency started out with one employee and just five client acts, today there are 35 staff across offices in London, Glasgow, and Paris, representing close to 500 acts. Bruford’s personal roster includes Amyl and The Sniffers, Baxter Dury, Black Pumas, Fontaines D.C., Metronomy, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Julia Jacklin, Sleaford Mods, and The Lumineers, among others.

“The goal is to continue to grow ATC Live but at the same time to make sure we have the infrastructure, capability and services we need to deliver for our artists,” adds Alex.

“When we created ATC Live, we wanted to do something different, and I think we’ve achieved that. Historically, a lot of the agency landscape was dominated by a small number of men who wanted to retain control over the industry, whereas I’m much more in favour of supporting the next generation to come through and be successful, as well as introducing more diversity into the music industry – diversity of thought, diversity of background, diversity of people – and just trying to make it a more representative place.”

“When you’re growing up going to big arenas and on American tours, it obviously has an influence on your path in life”

His journey to this point has been a storied one, but with his father, Bill Bruford, acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest drummers and percussionists, a career in the music business always seemed a likely path for Alex.

Early Years
Born in London, Alex grew up near Guildford in Surrey and from the cradle was surrounded by music, often being taken on the road to see his father performing with the likes of King Crimson and Yes.

“When you’re growing up going to big arenas and on American tours, it obviously has an influence on your path in life,” notes Alex. “At school, I was definitely into music – I did my piano theory and learned the drums. And in my early teen years I started getting into bands and playing outside of school.

“My parents very much tried to persuade me not to follow in Dad’s footsteps, but I specifically remember a day when I said to my dad, ‘I think I know what I want to do: Iwant to be a drummer,’ and him turning around and saying, ‘Well, you better start practising because you’re not very good.’”

Unperturbed, Alex threw himself into his music. “My first gig was in 1996 at the Rock Garden in Covent Garden,” he recalls. “But it took about seven years from then to get it right and for it to become something that I did professionally.”

“A lot of the festivals and promoters that I met through the band, I still work with today”

In 2003, Bruford found himself behind the skins for newly formed quintet Infadels. “Our first gig was at the Betsey Trotwood [pub] in London, and while we only got paid £40, it felt good – we knew we were onto something. We got signed to Wall of Sound and then PIAS and Sony fairly soon after that. We were championed by Eddy Temple-Morris who hosted XFM’s The Remix Show. Eddy was really the man – he put us on his club nights and played us on the radio all the time.

“It was an exciting time. […] We were going out on tour as support for bands like Prodigy, Faithless, Chemical Brothers, all those kinds of acts, which was great: we learned the ropes through them before eventually doing our own headline tours.”

As a group of lads in their mid-20s, Infadels made the most of their moment in the sun and enjoyed close to a decade of making music together. “We went everywhere,” says Bruford. “We toured around Europe multiple times, as well as America, China, Australia, Russia, South America. In total, we played about 500 gigs around the world.”

Bruford contends those experiences were a fundamental learning curve for his future career as an agent. “I understand what it’s like to be on the stage as an artist; what it feels like to be driving in the wrong direction on your day off, and things like that. These are the memories that I look back on and use every day to try to make life for my clients as easy and comfortable as possible.”

Being on the road with Infadels also introduced Alex to a wide range of industry personalities – many of whom he still works with in a professional capacity, two decades later. “A lot of the festivals and promoters that I met through the band, I still work with today. I remember Barnaby Harrod in Spain coming to meet us at the Moby Dick in Madrid, where he promoted our show – and I still work with Barnaby now. That goes for a bunch of other people as well.”

“I remember teching for Calvin Harris at V Festival when the backing track went down. The trauma of being partly responsible for that technical failure was absolutely horrendous”

Getting Behind
Recalling how he first became involved backstage, Bruford tells IQ, “The band was quite successful, and we had our own crew. But when things started on a downward spiral, we couldn’t afford the crew anymore, so I took over a lot of the tour managing side, and I’d be settling the shows. That’s how I met the network of promoters that sort of kicked off what I do now.

“Infadels did three albums – all great in their own right. The first record was when it was really hot and going really well. But by the time that we got to the third album, I was thinking, ‘Okay, what are we going to do next because I don’t think I’m going to be doing this in 15 years’ time.’”

Having tour-managed Infadels, Bruford explored that side of the business with a number of acts. However, he was soon looking for another avenue. “I remember teching for Calvin Harris at V Festival when the backing track went down. The trauma of being partly responsible for that technical failure was absolutely horrendous. So, I realised that was not the path for me. But as a result, I have huge respect for the production crew and professionals that put our shows together. Witnessing how they assemble and tear down shows with military precision is incredible.”

Looking back at his time in the band, he confesses, “I loved being on the road, to start off with anyway. The first time around, visiting all the cities and the festivals is incredibly exciting and a wonderful experience. But when you go around again and there’s a few less people at the gig than last time, then it doesn’t feel so great.”

Nonetheless, Infadels enjoyed some stellar highlights. “Playing Glastonbury, Coachella, playing shows in Moscow and then going straight to touring Australia. China was a highlight as well, as was playing great European festivals like Roskilde and Eurockéennes and those kinds of events. We were lucky that we got to do most of them.”

“I was an agent with no experience and no roster, and I worked at a DJ company, so persuading live acts to join my roster was a bit of a tough sell”

And it could have been even better but for the intervention of Belgian festival gremlins.

“We had a memorable show on the main stage at Pukkelpop, where it was the biggest show of our career – 40,000 or 50,000 people there to see us. And all the power went down in our second song. It was the show that was supposed to be the one to break us in Europe, but sadly, no. We managed to get the power back, but it took a long time and the momentum had gone.”

Special Agent
Searching for a long-term career solution, in 2010, Bruford applied for a role at Reprise Agency, which specialised in the electronic and DJ world. “I saw they had an admin position, and I needed a job and thought I could probably do music admin. The company founder, Howard Gray, gave me the job, but he pretty quickly asked if I’d like to work as an agent and try to bring some live acts to the roster.”

The switch was challenging. “I was an agent with no experience and no roster, and I worked at a DJ company, so persuading live acts to join my roster was a bit of a tough sell. But a couple of people took a bet on me: Johnny Pinchard, the founder of music collective Off Modern, was managing a band called Fiction. And Stephen Bass at Moshi Moshi had signed a band called Teeth. And for whatever reason they chose me as their agent, for which I will always be grateful. Years later, Stephen appointed me agent for Metronomy, and we’ve had a great time working with them over the last couple of records.

“But that’s how I started my journey as an agent. I managed to get a few acts on board, and then I signed an artist called Ali Love who was blowing up at the time. We did some good work together, and he was managed by Jean Coffey, who was at ATC management.”

“A number of established agents told me that it was impossible, but that only made me more determined”

Having impressed Coffey with his carefully crafted strategy for Ali Love, Bruford was invited to meet ATC founders Brian Message and Craig Newman, and that conversation planted the seed for an ATC agency division.

Bruford reveals, “It turns out that they had been trying to persuade established agents to join them in some capacity for a while, but no one was crazy enough to do it. However, I just thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’ So, in 2011, it was agreed that I would launch a new agency – ATC Live – in partnership with ATC.”

With an initial headcount of one and a roster of five acts – Ali Love, Fiction, Teeth, The Duke Spirit, and Treetop Flyers – Bruford set about creating and building the kind of agency that he, as a former artist, would like to have been represented by.

“It was interesting,” he notes. “A number of established agents told me that it was impossible, but that only made me more determined. Immediately after the deal was done, I got on a plane to South by Southwest to start telling as many people as I could that there was a new agency called ATC Live.”

One of the first new acts to enlist Bruford and ATC Live as his reps was Baxter Dury. “He was the first artist I signed up where I thought we could have a long-term relationship,” states Alex. “He is a brilliant artist, but he was such a rough diamond at the time and was not close to being fully formed. But we supported each other as we learned our respective trades, and now, 12 or 13 years later, he’s about to play a sold-out Roundhouse – his biggest show to date. It’s been a fantastic journey with him. Those are the kinds of relationships that I love and exactly what I wanted to achieve when we established ATC Live as a home for career artists.”

“I believed there was a space in the business for an agency that was focused on artists rather than volume”

Philosophy
Given a blank sheet to create the type of agency he perceived was missing from the industry landscape, Bruford tells IQ that his years of being a touring musician, coupled with his experience of working on the crew side of things, helped shape a doctrine that exists to this day at ATC Live.

“I believed there was a space in the business for an agency that was focused on artists rather than volume,” he states. “For me, the music and the artists are at the heart of everything that we do. They have to come first.

“An artist can walk onto a stage and deliver that unique, magic moment that you get from a brilliant live performance. The whole live music industry and its infrastructure exists because of artists who are able to create those incredible moments, but I think people sometimes forget that. A major part of our job is making sure that when the artist arrives on stage, they are in the best possible frame of mind to create something special.”

He continues, “I wanted to have an agency that wasn’t high volume, high turnover. I wanted it to be focused on artists that we really believe in and who we’re going to support over their entire careers. I also felt like there was a space for an agency that wanted to create collaborative relationships with promoters and managers and artists: relationships that were much more based on partnerships working together, rather than the traditional old-school agent/promoter power dynamic.”

Delving into detail, he adds, “I wanted to have partnerships with our promoters in a way that we could talk and collectively decide the best way forward for artists to build their careers.”

“Taking on-board local advice is really important for an artist’s career”

And the result? “It’s been good, because historically, agents just told people what to do and when to do it. But actually, taking on-board local advice is really important for an artist’s career.”

Developing Talent
While Alex’s ATC ethos was – and is – to target quality over quantity, in those early days, he was aware that his personal roster needed to grow. “I needed something that was going to really make a mark,” he admits. “At South by Southwest in 2012, Henning Ahrens, who was at Four Artists at the time, tipped me off about The Lumineers. I went to see them playing in a church, and it was an unbelievable show: the song writing, musicianship, everything about the performance – the way they engaged the crowd – it was knock-out.

“I knew that nobody in the UK really knew about The Lumineers, but they would very soon. So as soon as I got home, I jumped back on a plane to Boston to see them at a regional show where they were touring with the Kopecky Family Band. They were kind enough to give me some time backstage to chat, and I shared my vision for them. And soon after they joined the roster, which was a turning point because their album came out in April of that year, and it was just a rocket ship journey.”

Indeed, as The Lumineers’ popularity grew, Bruford had to upgrade venues four times on their debut record cycle. “Within 18 months, in London alone, we played Koko, Shepherd’s Bush, two nights at Brixton Academy, and Alexandra Palace. It was a real calling card for the agency,” he states.

“Since then, the band has gone from strength to strength and are now a stadium band: this summer they played their biggest-ever outdoor shows in Europe, headlining the 20,000-cap St Anne’s Park in Dublin and the 20,000-cap Crystal Palace Park in London.

“For a long time, it was just a case of working all the hours there were to keep up with the growth of our artists”

“It’s been a brilliant journey, but for a long time, it was just a case of working all the hours there were to keep up with the growth of our artists. When they played Alexandra Palace, I came back to the office, slept on the sofa, and got up a few hours later to crack on with the next day’s work because that’s what I had to do at the time.

“But after The Lumineers’ success, it was clear things were happening here. And that’s when other people started to get onboard and join ATC Live.”

Alex’s Army
Having taken his time to establish the agency as a bespoke home for talent, Bruford’s first employee was assistant Josh Adley. “He was really important in helping me to get things going,” says Bruford. “In 2013, we were joined by Colin Keenan and shortly afterwards Will Church, Stuart Kennedy, and Bertie Gibbon came along.

“The fact that Colin, Will, Stu and Bertie are still at ATC Live ten years later is testament to the way we all worked together to establish a new approach. They are cornerstones of what we do here: Colin brought Passenger with him, an established artist; Will had the experience of being at Elastic and Mainstage and had a cool electronic-leaning roster; Stu was assisting Colin and has since become an agent in his own right; and Bertie joined us to help shape the roster from an A&R perspective.

“We’ve since added agents Clemence Renaut, Sinan Ors, Alice Hogg, Marlon Burton, Skully Sullivan Kaplan, Graham Clews and Ed Thompson, and internally promoted Sarah Joy, Roxane Dumoulin and Caitlin Ballard to the role of agent.”

“It’s those people that pick up the phone and give you the support when nothing’s going on that really stick in your mind”

Key to those appointments was Bruford’s growing reputation among industry colleagues who supported the culture he was trying to establish at ATC Live. He tells IQ, “I put the word out that I was looking for the right people and promoters and other people connected the dots and said, ‘You should speak to Colin’ or ‘You should speak to Will.’ That’s the pattern of how things happened with everyone that joined in the early days of the agency.”

Among those early industry supporters, says Bruford, were the likes of agent Natasha Gregory and promoter Steve Tilley. “Natasha was always a big support to me. She helped me a lot when I didn’t know whether someone was trying to rip me off or not. Also, very early on, Steve Tilley came and met me for a cup of tea. It’s those people that pick up the phone and give you the support when nothing’s going on that really stick in your mind.”

Another tenet of the ATC Live philosophy has been to allow agents to work outside of the traditional agency locations. “We have offices in Glasgow and Paris, and we’ve been very keen to facilitate flexible working for people and allow them to live and work wherever they needed, even before Covid made that more common.

“My attitude has always been that as long as people can do the job and we can support what they need, then we can make things work no matter where they are based. For us, having people on the ground in Scotland and mainland Europe has been a bonus because they know about what’s going on in those scenes more than we ever would in London.”

Another expectation at ATC Live is that agents will not simply sign up as many acts as possible in the hope that one or two of them will break. “Having a personal roster with 100 acts doesn’t seem fair on the clients, to be honest,” says Bruford. “I don’t think you can effectively service an artist if you have that many acts on your roster.

“We want to ensure that we have the time to build unique touring plans for every artist”

“We want to ensure that we have the time to build unique touring plans for every artist: whatever is right for them, for their album, for their journey, their music, their career path. Some of our artists want to play 300 shows a year, others want to play one show a year. And others want to tour skate parks. We want to be able to facilitate all those different wishes, and our job is to help artists build something unique around them every time they play live.”

Positive Attitude
Regarded as one of the agency world’s deep thinkers, and described by peers variously as “level-headed,” “sensible,” “intelligent,” and “approachable,” Bruford himself states that when it comes to the bad times, he tries to focus on the positives.

“We all make mistakes, and of course I’ve had moments where negative things have happened, but I’ve always just tried to put that behind me, learn from it, and move on,” he tells IQ.

But he is still deeply affected by the 2019 death of ATC agent Chris Meredith, aged just 37. “Losing Chris was the toughest time that we’ve had here as a business. He was such an incredible agent and beloved friend and colleague. Losing Chris was hard on everyone at the company.”

Rivalry
Attention to detail has served Bruford well, as he can only recall losing one act from his roster over the years. “Unfortunately, it’s part of the job, and it just comes with the territory, but I would like to think that other agents are fairly respectful. But, of course, if there’s an opportunity, they’ll go for it,” he laughs.

“We’ve had a lot of knocks at the door, but we’ve been following our path for all this time, and we will continue to do so”

The ATC Live ethos, devised by Bruford, has also attracted acquisition interest from rival agencies. “We’ve had a lot of knocks at the door,” says Bruford, “but we’ve been following our path for all this time, and we will continue to do so.”

To that end, Bruford brokered a partnership deal with Arrival Artists when the latter launched as an agency in 2020. “Erik Selz, John Bongiorno, Ali Hedrick, Karl Morse, and Ethan Berlin all came out of Paradigm in America during Covid and were setting up an agency. Erik, in particular, wanted to find an international partner, and at the same time, we wanted to have a partner in North America as well.”

Reporting on the success of the tie-up, Bruford says, “It’s three years now, and it’s going really well. Collectively, we’re the only independent agency to be able to offer global booking, which is great for us and the acts we represent. We communicate clearly, and we just provide a very dedicated and experienced service with agents in each market. We’re able to offer a personalised approach to global booking, so it’s been very satisfying to have found the right people to work with and to whom we’re very aligned in terms of the roster.”

Looking to the future, he does not rule out ATC Live satellite offices in other continents, especially as he believes that music coming out of the likes of Africa and Asia will see the emergence of new artists from those regions.

“We’ve got people in the building that represent clients from all around the world, but I think having agents that are more specialised in some of those territories will be certainly something for the future,” he comments.

“I feel very strongly that the artists need to be paid a fair share of the gross of the show, rather than just the small portion that they’re getting at the moment”

Activism
As for personal plans, Bruford tells IQ, “I’m very ambitious to continue improving our industry. I really feel as though there needs to be more transparency. We’ve had an industry that [for] too long has revolved around backhanders and rebates, and I feel very strongly that the artists need to be paid a fair share of the gross of the show, rather than just the small portion that they’re getting at the moment.

“I’d like to see serious dialogue about how we divide the revenues associated with live performance. When you get into ticketing, F&B, merch, and all the different revenue streams, we need to find a way for that to be split more fairly.”

And Alex is confident others in the industry agree. “Generally speaking, people are moving towards a more transparent business,” he says. “We’re seeing that in the States, especially with ticketing, where people want to understand where the money is going. But there are also a lot of people who like things the way they are.”

Cutting the carbon footprint of live performance is also a personal goal for Bruford. “I sit on the board of an American environmental non-profit called Sound Future, which is focused on activating tech solutions and leveraging the influence of live events to accelerate climate action.”

As a result, ATC Live provides green riders that its clients can adopt, depending how far each act wants to pursue such matters. “We want to have the tools to be able to advise them on all the possible options,” notes Bruford.

“We have to be cognisant of the wider ecosystem: we have to remember that grassroots venues are struggling, and without those grassroots venues, the talent pipeline stops”

Back To Basics Going Forward
Having successfully steered ATC Live through the Covid years, Bruford reports that the 25% of its headcount who departed during the pandemic have since returned, and employee numbers now exceed those of 2019.

“Live music is definitely back, and it’s great to see people going to shows and willing to spend money. But I think we have to be really careful about how much we charge for our tickets,” he warns.

“Lots of people are very focused on their own shows and maximising the revenue for those shows. But we have to be cognisant of the wider ecosystem: we have to remember that grassroots venues are struggling, and without those grassroots venues, the talent pipeline stops.

“Ultimately, we need to figure out a way of not just syphoning off all the money at the top but making sure that some of it finds its way into the grassroots end of the spectrum.”

That support is fundamental to the ATC Live chief, who discloses that a lot of his job satisfaction derives from breaking new talent. “Seeing an artist play their first-ever festival headline show is such a thrill,” he says. “Two years ago, Fontaines D.C. stepped on stage to headline Green Man, and the set was blistering, making it clear to everyone involved that this is a band that is going to headline many more festivals.

“Some festivals are taking risks on the next generation of headliners. Artists are getting bigger faster than they ever have”

“That moment of when you’ve taken an artist who was playing 100-capacity rooms, and you help them develop their career – the likes of Julia Jacklin springs to mind, where she recently sold-out 3,000 tickets at the Roundhouse. I started with her with 100 tickets, so it was a super-emotional evening for everyone.”

Getting Nicked
The appreciation works both ways, too. Such is Bruford’s relationship with Nick Cave that at the completion of his 32 headline festival run across Europe last summer, the artist left a signed photo album on Bruford’s desk detailing his performances with a heartfelt personal message to Alex thanking him for all he had done.

Meanwhile, the agent is genuinely excited about younger acts being given the chance to shine. “Some festivals are taking risks on the next generation of headliners,” he observes. “Artists are getting bigger faster than they ever have. Look at the likes of Boygenius who’ve gone stratospheric. So, it’s important that festivals give those artists an opportunity to headline.”

But he acknowledges that other acts – and often career musicians – are having to work hard on creative campaigns with their agents in order to entice fans back through venue doors. “If you’re hot, exciting, and new, then everybody wants to see you. But if you’re in the mid-level, where you’re used to grinding out 1,000 tickets a night, then rising costs and simply retaining the attention of fans is making life a lot more difficult than it used to be.”

Nonetheless, Bruford and his ATC Live team relish such challenges, and he concludes that he cannot imagine working in any other sector.

“It’s been a brilliant 20 years,” he acknowledges. “The interesting thing about this job is it’s all relative – a highlight can be an artist playing to 40,000 people or it can be an artist selling out to 2,000 people if that artist has slugged their guts out for ten years to get there. It’s all relevant to what that artist’s ambitions and expectations and career goals are. And we’re here to deliver on those wishes.”

To see the full feature on Alex Bruford’s 20 years in music, login or click here to subscribe to IQ from just £8 per month. 

 


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IQ 123 out now: Alex Bruford, Louis Tomlinson, The Sphere

IQ 123, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine, is available to read online now.

The November 2023 edition sees Gordon Masson talk to Alex Bruford about his first 20 years in music and the philosophies behind his ATC Live agency and, elsewhere, the IQ editor goes behind the scenes of Louis Tomlinson’s Faith in the Future world tour.

In addition, the issue offers a deep dive into the growing live music cruise business, as well as a health check on the Danish market. Plus, the IQ team reflects on the recent International Festival Forum (IFF) and looks ahead to the ‘out-of-this-world’ 36th edition of ILMC.

For this edition’s comment and columns, IQ passes the mick to Nick Morgan for some key takeaways from a decade of producing and organising festivals, while Rachel Flaszczak explains how MVT’s Own Our Venues helped save her grassroots music venue for future generations.

As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.

However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ from just £8 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:

 


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ATC Group revenue up 33% to £12.1m

UK-based music company ATC has beaten its own expectations to record a profit on revenue of £12.1 million (€13.9m) in its first full year as a a public company.

The London-headquartered group, which opened a New York office in February 2022, has posted its financial results for its first full year of trading since listing on the Aquis Growth Market in London in December 2021 after raising £4.15 million in its initial public offer (IPO).

Its divisions include booking agency ATC Live – which it says is now the sixth largest touring agency worldwide – ATC Management, ATC Services and livestreaming company Driift. In addition, it launched ATC Experience in 2022 to “create and distribute artist-led digital and in-person experiences for global audiences”.

Revenue was up 33% for the year ending 31 December 2022, contributing to an “ahead of expectations” pre-tax profit of £0.01m, compared to a loss of £2.69m in the pandemic-hit 2021. Artist representation contributed £6.57m of total revenue, up from £3.7m in the previous 12 months, while services accounted for £2.87m (2021: £778,502).

When taking into account streaming service Deezer’s acquisition of a minority stake in Driift, the group achieved an overall post tax profit of £2.44m for 2022. ATC, which previously owned 52% of Driift, retains a 32.5% interest.

“We are delighted with the progress we have made in our first year as a PLC, delivering 33% top line growth and profitability earlier than expected”

“We are delighted with the progress we have made in our first year as a PLC, delivering 33% top line growth and profitability earlier than expected, whilst also investing in a number of important strategic developments for the group,” says ATC Group plc CEO Adam Driscoll.

“Our performance has been driven by strong growth across our core artist representation businesses, supported by improved trading conditions as live touring resumed, together with progress within the group’s complementary services and livestreaming divisions. During the year we expanded the group’s geographic footprint, attracted new agents, managers, artist clients and key operational management into the group, and launched new innovative artist service lines.

“The new year has started with continued positive momentum and a pipeline of exciting projects and opportunities. As the music industry continues to undergo rapid change, we believe there is substantial opportunity to co-create, co-produce and deliver new IP via events and experiences, underpinned by our multi-service approach across artists’ commercial interests. We look ahead with confidence in the group’s growth prospects.”

ATC Live, led by Arthur Award-winning agent Alex Bruford, boasts a roster of more than 350 artists including Fontaines D.C, Georgia, Alma, Goat Girl, Mac Demarco, Metronomy and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and says it is on course to deliver 6,000 shows in 2023.

“The live music scene in 2022 has seen strong growth in live music activities and this has created a huge demand for ATC Live’s roster”

“The ATC Live business continues to perform in line with management expectations following a highly successful 2022 and we now represent over 500 clients,” adds Driscoll in the report. “New agents continue to join the business, the most recent being Ed Thompson whose clients include Jungle, a festival headlining act.

“Our relationship with North American agency Arrival Artists continues to deepen and prosper and we are excited about the opportunities to explore new markets together in the coming months and years.”

Driscoll continues: “The live music scene in 2022 has seen strong growth in live music activities and this has created a huge demand for ATC Live’s roster as evidenced by the 400% growth in revenue from £0.56 million in 2021 to £2.22 million in 2022. In a similar vein, ATC Management also achieved double digit revenue growth of 33% from £2.89 million in 2021 to £3.85 million.

“The group expanded its live and management businesses during the year and expects to reap the long-term benefits from these investments.”

“Driift is now poised to play a key role in the renewed growth of the livestreaming sector, which is forecast to become a multi-billion dollar segment over the next three to five years”

Driift, which was co-founded by Ric Salmon and Brian Message at ATC Management, has produced dozens of online shows for artists including The Smile, Westlife, Laura Marling, Nick Cave, Niall Horan, Andrea Bocelli, Kylie Minogue, Fontaines DC and Dita Von Teese, and produced the BAFTA Award-winning Glastonbury Festival: Live at Worthy Farm in cooperation with BBC Studios. It acquired technology and sales platform Dreamstage last year amid a fresh £4m investment from Deezer.

“Driift has had a positive start to 2023 as artists and managers look beyond traditional touring and ticketing and seek promotional and revenue-generating opportunities within the livestream market,” adds Driscoll. “Having weathered tougher trading conditions in 2022, and with strong end-to-end delivery capabilities and a solid balance sheet, Driift is now poised to play a key role in the renewed growth of the livestreaming sector, which is forecast to become a multi-billion dollar segment over the next three to five years.

“Having recently signed a number of deals for upcoming events alongside partnerships with the likes of IMAX, the prospects for the business are looking very good for the coming year.”

A statement from ATC co-chairs Brian Message and Craig Newman says that ATC “continues to cement its position as a leading independent music company at the forefront of a rapidly changing industry”.

“We continue to assess any implications from wider macroeconomic headwinds, including potential pressure on consumer budgets or rising production costs,” they conclude. “However, music and ticketing have often outperformed the wider market in difficult economic times and the livestream sector should improve for Driift as larger players cut expenditure on productions, opening opportunities from talent looking to expand revenue streams. We remain positive about our prospects.”

 


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‘India’s music landscape has seen meteoric growth’

India is fast becoming a global entertainment hub, according to some of the world’s leading executives.

Just as the pandemic hit, the country was on a promising upswing in its patchy live music history, having welcomed U2 to Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium in January 2020. The show was the latest in an intermittent stream of superstar visits to Indian soil – The Stones, Sheeran, and Beyoncé have all been down, though Bieber cancelled in October – and was a collaboration between Live Nation and local ticketing giant BookMyShow, which is increasingly positioning itself as India’s foremost international promoter.

In January, the two promoters teamed up on the first Indian Lollapalooza at Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Racecourse, featuring Imagine Dragons, The Strokes, and Diplo alongside Indian-born rapper AP Dhillon, Delhi-based singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad and others. The event drew 60,000 fans over two days, with 40 artists performing across four stages on a 50-acre site.

James Craven, Live Nation president, Middle East, says Lollapalooza coming to Mumbai is a great example of the market’s growing importance.

“It’s really exciting to see global markets open up to music and artists from the Indian sub-continent, as well as seeing how the Indian market continues to open up for international acts,” says Craven in the IQ’s Global Promoters Report. “Expanding global touring routes for artists is key to their growth and that of the industry, and India will play a key role in that going forwards.”

“Expanding global touring routes for artists is key to their growth and that of the industry, and India will play a key role in that”

Kunal Khambhati, head of live events & IP at BookMyShow, says the entertainment and ticketing platform has worked hard to break down barriers to live shows, which included a 28% goods and services tax that now stands at 18%.

“India’s music landscape has witnessed meteoric growth in the past few years,” says Khambhati. “Slowly but steadily, the country has set the stage to become a keystone for some of the biggest music performances and markets in the world – from hosting acclaimed international and Indian independent artists at large concerts to smaller formats that are gradually shaping the music landscape in the country.

“BookMyShow’s work in this space has focused on creating exposure for both global talent to the Indian audience and Indian artists on the global stage,” he adds. “Lollapalooza is a global music phenomenon, an incomparable international experience, that will not only amplify this exposure in India but in all of Asia and put the spotlight on the country as a global entertainment hub.”

Elsewhere in the festival market, India’s biggest metal festival Bangalore Open Air sold out for the first time in its 10-year history.

“This will go down in the history books,” said Bangalore Open Air founder, Salman U Syed. “A heavy metal festival in Bangalore, India, is sold out. Thank you for your support. Ten years of hard work determination and patience.”

“The country has set the stage to become a keystone for some of the biggest music performances and markets in the world”

The 3,000-capacity event, which is produced in partnership with Germany’s marquee metal festival Wacken Open Air, will this year celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Mayhem, Pestilence, Kryptos, Godless, Born of Osiris, Dying Embrace and Amorphia will lead the celebrations at the 1 April event at Royal Orchid Resorts at Yelahanka.

It’s not just domestic executives that are touting India’s rapid growth. The likes of Wasserman Music’s Alex Hardee and ATC Live’s Alex Bruford testified to the market’s upward trajectory at the most recent International Live Music Conference (ILMC).

“I was just in India, where Lumineers headlined the NH7 Weekender and it was incredible,” said Bruford. “More than 20,000 people drove for about eight hours to get to the show – all completely local fans – and it was one of the band’s favourite gigs they’ve ever played.”

Hardee told ILMC delegates how Alan Walker (represented by Lee Anderson and Tom Schroeder at Wasserman) recently broke new ground in India: “He did ten shows in ten cities…I don’t think an international act has ever done that.”

“More than 20,000 people drove for about eight hours to get to the show”

While streaming rates point to a large pop market, challenging routing and a lack of infrastructure have hampered the development of an Indian circuit for rock and pop shows. Venues for shows typically have to be built from scratch on outdoor sites, and purpose-built venues are only a long-term prospect.

The EDM market is already creating circuits of its own. Percept Live’s three-day, 30,000-per-day Sunburn Festival in Goa returned in December, having brought many of the world’s top DJs down since 2007, and Percept has expanded into increasingly ambitious tours – including a six-city trek for DJ Snake in November, visiting Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore but also less-travelled spots such as Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.

“This is the first time we have done a six-city tour over two weekends with such a big artist,” says Percept Live COO Karan Singh, noting that DJ Snake drew anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 per city. “If you have eight or ten markets where the top international acts can play, that’s good for the industry overall.”

Other experienced electronic promoters include Mixtape Live, Submerge, and Mumbai’s Krunk Live, whose travelling Bass Camp Festival celebrated its tenth year in November. Another major player in the Indian business is payments provider Paytm, which bought OML’s ticketing arm Insider in 2017.

As well as presenting tours by artists such as Singh and Dosanjh, Paytm Insider is behind the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, which has featured Basement Jaxx, A.R. Rahman, and Megadeth and brought The Lumineers, Dirty Loops and J.I.D. back to its home city of Pune for its 11th edition in November.

 


This article contains excerpts from the Global Promoters Report, a first-of-its-kind resource that highlights the world’s leading promoters and the 40 top markets they operate in. The report is now available to subscribers of IQ.

Top agents weigh up consolidation of the biz

Top execs weighed up the pros and cons of the continued consolidation of the agency business at the recent ILMC.

Alex Hardee (Wasserman Music), Alex Bruford (ATC Live), Charly Beedell-Tuck (Solo Agency) and Ella Street (WME) shared their views on the matter during the Agency Business 2023 panel, moderated by IQ Magazine‘s Gordon Masson.

The panel, which took place at the beginning of March, marked one year since Paradigm UK was acquired by Wasserman Music, with Hardee becoming part of the managing executive team.

He told ILMC delegates he thinks the convergence of the business will continue, leaving a handful of major agencies that operate on a global scale.

“I think that there’ll be fewer and fewer agencies and they’ll fold up into bigger ones,” said Hardee, who represents Liam Gallagher and Lewis Capaldi among others.

“I don’t know how you can survive on a big scale without having a global footprint moving forward because the Americans have rigged the game in streaming and the majority of the new acts that are going to be global acts will come from America and perhaps Korea because that’s where the streaming base is. Branding – even though a lot of its smoke and mirrors – seems to be quite important. We’ve got 300 people working at our company now, just in the UK.

“I think that there’ll be fewer and fewer agencies and they’ll fold up into bigger ones”

“I don’t know how you’d operate on a cottage industry level and retain a world-class band. You’d be under so much pressure from people. I think it will be very hard. I think that there will be four or five main agencies probably like there are four or five main record labels.”

While WME’s Ella Street stressed the importance of independents in a healthy marketplace, she echoed Hardee’s point about the need for agencies to have a global footprint.

“I think competition is obviously important and we need to support those independent agencies, venues and festivals to create a healthy marketplace for everybody,” said Street, a WME veteran who represents the likes of Keane, Goldfrapp and more.

“And obviously, some artists are looking for a more boutique experience and don’t want to sign with WME or Wasserman. But I think Alex does have a point; artists and managers are coming to us and wanting a global plan. We’re having to project 18 months, two years ahead. So unless an artist is just looking to just tour the UK at a certain level, they are eventually going to involve a bigger team – they’re going to be looking for that next part of the conversation.”

Bruford, founder and MD of independent agency ATC Live, argued: “I think it’s well proven now that you don’t need a major record label or a major agency or major management to be a global success. I think there are a lot of artists out there that have managed it with all kinds of different levels of teams. For me, what matters is the quality of the work that you do. Whether you deliver not for your artists, it’s not really about the size of the company.

“It’s well proven now that you don’t need a major record label or a major agency or major management to be a global success”

“For us, the continued consolidation is beneficial because rather than being focused on volume, we’re focused on the creative and strategic representation of our artists. And that’s really our priority, rather than how many acts we represent and how big the numbers are. We’ve had really positive responses to that from a lot of the biggest artists and managers out there who want to have their artists represented in that way. There are obviously different ways of doing it and it just depends on which path artists want to take with their careers. I do totally agree that you need a global footprint – we have one – and I think that that’s a really important part of the business. It’s just part of the game.”

Beedell-Tuck, a senior agent at John Giddings’ boutique Solo Agency, reinforced Bruford’s point about the bespoke service independents can offer artists.

“It’s about how you’re servicing your clients and what kind of service you’re offering,” said Beedell-Tuck, who works with artists ranging from Iggy Pop to Megan McKenna.

“If you’re represented by a smaller boutique agency, you’re likely to get a more tailored experience because, in my opinion, you get more of the agent’s time and you’re not just another number. Having a global footprint is very important but there are other ways of satisfying that.”

Since the panel took place, there has been more movement in the agency business, with Primary Talent returning to being an independent music talent agency following a management buyout.

Primary was sold to ICM Partners in 2020, which was subsequently acquired by CAA.

 


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Q&A: ATC Live’s Alex Bruford’s transparency call

In the most recent issue of IQ, we talk to some of the architects who are helping to shape the industry of the future, to quiz them on their blueprints and predictions for how we may all be operating in a few years’ time. Here, Alex Bruford, founder and MD of ATC Live agency, maps out a route towards a future-proof live music business.


IQ: The cost-of-living crisis has emerged as yet another threat to live music. How can agents work with their clients to keep ticket prices affordable for fans?
AB: By exercising restraint, being sympathetic to the requirements of the audience, and considering our business as a whole. We hear a lot about maximising gross potential and not leaving any money on the table. But I believe we have to be cognisant of the wider ecosystem producing the artists who now make the money. In my view, the more money individual shows or tours take out of the market, the less there is for others, especially newer artists.

Be sensible on ticket pricing, and if using dynamic or platinum, set upper limits that are fair to the customers, not just driven by inflated secondary demand. Having a clear and open dialogue with the artists on pricing is important – some of our artists request reduced ticket prices for low-income earners or to scale their shows across a broad range of price points to ensure there is a category for all. Similarly, with dynamic or platinum, ensuring the artist understands how it works and that they are happy with upper-limit decisions is crucial.

We have to acknowledge the huge rise in touring costs for the artists. But rather than just raising the ticket [price], we should be having an open discussion with artist and management about what can be done to reduce costs to make the touring more viable.

“We need festivals to be paying a fair fee, not relying on artists taking a hit because it’s a good look”

A-list acts seem to be doing bigger business than ever at arena-and stadium-level. What more can be done by the live music industry to support and develop the next generation of headliners whose club and theatre gigs may not be selling out?
We need to leave some money in our customers’ pockets so they can still go and see the up-and-coming acts after they’ve bought their expensive red-hot tickets that are going to sell out.

Also, we need the next generation to be able to supplement their tour costs by getting 100% of their merch sales, not 75% of it.
We need to not be enforcing touring and festival exclusivities on newer artists whose other summer shows will have very little impact on the major event(s) but will likely fund their entire year as an artist. We need festivals to be paying a fair fee, not relying on artists taking a hit because it’s a good look.

By securing external sponsorship and funding, MVT’s Revive Live team [in the UK] does an incredible job of supplementing tour costs and allowing new artists to play shows they wouldn’t normally be able to play. Some of my artists performed extensive grassroots tours as a direct result of this support, and it would be fantastic to see more initiatives like this.

For the most part, the live music industry did very well to survive pandemic lockdowns, but now that business is returning to something approaching normality, what long-term strategies should everyone be looking at to ensure the post-Covid landscape is a healthy environment that can attract new professional talent?
For me, the people who make up this business are everything. It doesn’t matter if you are day-one work experience or head of a multinational, all people should be valued, respected, supported, and encouraged to grow. Workplaces where this happens are usually healthy and positive working environments. People want to give their all and stay in the business long-term in these environments. Having lost so much talent during the pandemic, we need to support the next generation coming into the business and ensure they – and their skills – stay in music.

“We won’t have an equitable and future-proof live music business that can support our rising stars until we achieve transparency across the board”

What needs to change about the live music business in the short-and medium-term?
The live music business only exists because of the artists who create unforgettable moments on stage. We must cherish and support those artists.

To continue to do this over the long-term, I believe we have to fix many of the broken and old-fashioned models that this industry runs on. We need artists to be paid a fair share of the entire show gross, not just the ticket gross. Aside from a handful of the biggest artists in the world, there is no transparency at all on the multiple revenue streams that are generated from an artist’s headline performance. Booking fees; venue levies; food and beverage income; merch commission; parking charges; and other revenue streams are all being generated solely because the artist is performing. Yet 99% of the time artists are not sharing in this at their own headline concerts. We need an industry that is transparent, not one that works on concealed rebate payments.

How can we have a transparent discussion about what is a fair share for everyone, artist, promoter, venue, when there is no transparency on total show revenue? We won’t have an equitable and future-proof live music business that can support our rising stars until we achieve transparency across the board.

 


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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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