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UK ticketing platform Dice raises $122m in funding

Dice, the UK-based mobile ticketing and discovery platform for live events and live streams, has raised up to US$122 million in Series C funding.

The round was led by new investor, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with follow on investments from Tony Fadell’s Future Shape, Blisce, French entrepreneur Xavier Niel, Mirabaud Private Equity, Cassius and Evolution.

In addition, Tony Fadell, iPod inventor and iPhone co-inventor, is joining the Dice board to support further platform development and expansion into venues.

Launched in London in 2014, the mobile-first platform now works with over 3,600 venues, festivals and promoters globally.

According to Dice, with the company’s current rate of growth, 49,000 artists and creators will use the platform by the end of 2022.

The platform is live in the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Australia and, since 2019, the US. In October, Dice rolled out its app in India.

“We’re overhauling an unfair, inefficient system by pioneering a transparent, data-led, fan-first approach”

In April 2020, Dice expanded its offering with live streams and has since worked on exclusive live streams with Laura Marling, Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue and Bjork.

“Dice is rewiring the live experiences industry. We have proven that if you treat fans well, they go out more,” says Phil Hutcheon, CEO and founder of Dice.

“We’re overhauling an unfair, inefficient system by pioneering a transparent, data-led, fan-first approach – building a scalable ecosystem that helps artists, promoters and venues thrive. To have SoftBank as a partner enables us to expand into every market.”

Fadell says: “The concert business is a tangled mess of archaic tools and taxing ‘industry standards’ where artists are paid last. Venues shell out for marketing and are beholden to ticket conglomerates. Fans have to hunt for shows and regularly buy overpriced tickets from secondary markets or scalpers. This doesn’t make sense!

“Dice re-engineers the entire live industry, not just a part of it: Venues are connected to fans and artists. Artists get transparency, access and control. Fans easily discover local shows and global live streams, and buy scalper-safe tickets with a single click. I’m ecstatic to be joining the Dice board and to be part of another entertainment revolution.”

In the last year, Dice has worked with 6,400 artists and sold tickets to fans in 179 countries.


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Russ Tannen promoted to president of Dice

Russ Tannen, formerly chief revenue officer of ticketing firm Dice, has been promoted to president of the company, having relocated to New York to take up his new role.

Tannen, a founder member of the Dice team, now oversees the UK-based company’s second headquarters in New York, having played a key role in its expansion across Europe in recent years.

“We’re building our second HQ in New York and investing heavily in North America to bring fans the most amazing events at the best venues with zero hassle,” said Phil Hutcheon, founder and CEO of Dice. “The world is about to experience the biggest growth in live entertainment in history and Dice is backing the best partners to do so.”

As part of its expansion in North America, Dice has signed exclusive deals with independent New York venues and promoters including Avant Gardner, Brooklyn Made, Elsewhere, United Palace and Saint Vitus. It is also recruiting for more than 20 roles across marketing, operations, brand and artist partnerships in its new US team.

“I’m looking forward to continuing to build Dice’s position in the US and around the world”

“New York is a city that knows how to go out and we have always had our sights set on expanding our presence here. It’s awesome to be tasked to lead the effort,” says Russ Tannen. “There is a tangible energy and excitement for everyone to be out again.

“We’re building an epic team who will make sure that, as it comes back, live music is better for fans, venues, promoters and artists. I’m looking forward to continuing to build Dice’s position in the US and around the world.”

Other new hires for Dice include Jordan Gremli and Jo McNally, both of whom join the company after spells at Spotify.

Gremli, who has been appointed head of artist development, will work with artist and creator partners to manage all aspects of Dice’s livestreaming business, while McNally, the new new global head of music licensing, will oversee licensing in all existing and future Dice territories.

 


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I stream, you stream, we all stream (for live streams)

If there was one positive story to emerge from the unrelenting stream of bad news that was 2020 in live music, it was the dawn of the live stream. From the feel-good, lo-fi bedroom shows of March 2020 to the slick, professional ticketed events that become the norm by the end of the year, the willingness of fans to first consume, and then pay for, concert content beamed to the comfort of their homes was a small glimmer of light for the industry in the darkest year in memory.

A year on from the global shutdown that devastated the international live music business, how has the livestreaming market evolved, and where do paid-for concert broadcasts fit into touring plans in future – particularly when non-socially distanced shows are possible once again?

According to James Sutcliffe, chief marketing and content officer for LiveNow, the concert market is playing catch-up with sports, where pay-per-view (PPV) events – particularly with combat sports such as boxing, as well as ‘sports entertainment’ like professional wrestling – have long been the norm.

Unlike many companies in the livestreaming space, LiveNow “wasn’t, as a business, conceived in reaction to the pandemic,” explains Sutcliffe, who joined the company just before Christmas. Part of the Aser Ventures Group, whose Eleven Sports network holds broadcast rights to the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Uefa Champions League and Formula 1 across its platforms in Europe and east Asia, LiveNow was born out of Aser founder Andrea Radrizzani’s desire to “apply the things he’d learnt” in live sports to music, Sutcliffe continues.

Learning from its sister company’s experience in the sporting world, world, LiveNow was able to provide the industry with a quality product, free of the technical problems that plagued some newer platforms, right out of the gate, says Sutcliffe. Music events broadcast by LiveNow in 2020 include some of the biggest live streams of the year, including One World: Together at Home, Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054, Ellie Goulding’s Brightest Blue Experience, Gorillaz’ Song Machine Live from Kong and Pete Tong’s O Come All Ye Ravers, as well as a number of smaller livestreamed shows.

Another firm well placed to capitalise on the pause in physical events is Sansar, whose president, Sheri Bryant, says the digital concert boom of the past year is validation of its vision for social live experiences in the virtual realm.

“I think we’re way off having thousands of people in a field again, unfortunately”

Formerly part of Linden Lab, the developer of Second Life, Sansar launched in 2017 but came into its own over the last 12 months, with its platform used to create virtual-world festivals and venues for Glastonbury Festival’s Shangri-La (Lost Horizon), UK promoter LWE (Tobacco Dock Virtual), London Mela festival (Melatopia), German club Boothaus and Serbia’s Exit Festival, among others.

“We’ve believed in this for years,” says Bryant, who adds that 2020 “was a case of right place, right time” for Sansar, which found itself in high demand and years ahead of its newfound competition in the virtual concert space. “Now, it’s about fundraising and trying to grow as fast as possible, as we can’t keep up,” she continues. “We’re having to turn people away.”

For MelodyVR – which launched in 2018 as the first virtual-reality (VR) music platform – concerts will form part of a wider digital music offering that also includes music streaming from Napster, whose parent company, Rhapsody International, it acquired last year. The AIM (London)-listed company will soon rebrand as Napster Group, launching a new, integrated Napster app later in 2021.

It, too, was responsible for some of 2020’s most-talked-about streams, including Wireless Connect, a three-day VR stand-in for Wireless festival in July, and Live from O2 Academy Brixton with the likes of Fontaines DC, Blossoms and Tom Grennan, and hopes to build on that success this year – Covid-19 allowing – says Steven Hancock, co-founder and chief relationship officer of MelodyVR.

“We’re all on tenterhooks to see what the big promoters do – our strategy is to see what live looks like in its traditional sense,” he explains. “We’ve got some ideas around big showpieces, but there’s no requirement for us to rush this year.” (MelodyVR recently raised just over £8 million to help build and launch its new app.)

“But what we do know,” he adds, “is that ‘hybrid’ shows” – livestreamed concerts with a small, often socially distanced physical audience – “are going to become the norm. I think we’re way off having thousands of people in a field again, unfortunately.”

“Right now, as a promoter, there are very few other ways of making any money”

“I don’t perceive any concerts of note this year,” agrees Conal Dodds, co-founder and director of promoter Crosstown Concerts, which has partnered with PPV concert platform Stabal for its own on-demand shows, the first of which – a reunion concert by British folkies Bellowhead – took place in December.

Expanding into live streams is “completely inspired by Covid,” Dodds says. “People’s summer schedules are evaporating, festivals are tumbling away by the day… right now, as a promoter, there are very few other ways of making any money.”

Unlike one-and-done streams that can’t be watched back, Crosstown gives fans the opportunity to buy a deluxe ticket that gets them 30 days to watch the show, as well as additional exclusive content. “Anecdotally, 60-70% of sales so far have been for the more expensive of the two ticket options,” says Dodds.

Both Dodds and Bryant say they see a place for part-physical, part-digital hybrid concerts as restrictions on real-world events are gradually lifted – Bryant says almost all major Sansar-hosted shows in 2021 are “‘parallel’ events” – as does Russ Tannen, chief revenue officer of concert discovery and ticketing platform Dice, which rapidly repositioned itself as a platform for ticketing and promoting live-streams in the early days of the pandemic.

“We made a call in April that it was time to give livestreaming a go,” recalls Tannen. “I was very sceptical – we’d never talked about livestreaming before the end of March – but obviously it took off very quickly and before long we’d had thousands of streams entered into the app.”

Dice’s live-streaming successes to date include a string of shows with Ric Salmon and Brian Message’s Driift, including Laura Marling, Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue (who sold 30,000+ tickets), Rough Trade, David Bowie’s Lazarus and DJs David Guetta and Bicep – as well as thousands of events with emerging and mid-level artists, whose fans are willing to pay similar money for digital concerts, at least during the pandemic.

The concert market is playing catch-up with sports, where PPV events have long been the norm

“It’s obviously Nick Cave, Kylie, etc., that got lots of headlines, but there’s actually a really interesting middle section of emerging artists, people like Black Country New Road, Cinematic Orchestra, who are also putting on viable shows and delivering really great live experiences,” Tannen says.

As to the hybrid question, “what we saw before lockdown is that socially distanced hybrid shows were selling really well,” he adds, “so I think we will see more of those – they will happen again and they will sell.”

“This summer is not going to happen in any major way,” says Sutcliffe, “so that hybrid model will be key as the first step back to live.”Whatever the reason – whether it’s fear of Covid, or maybe because they haven’t got the vaccine – a lot of people are still going to be scared to go back into a stadium, so this allows for both: a [physical] live ‘experience’ and the livestreamed show.”

Interestingly, a large proportion of the people who are buying tickets for live streams aren’t regular gig-goers temporarily shut out of venues, according to Tannen.

“One of the reasons I think they’re going to stick around is that we’re reaching a different demographic,” he says. “Maybe it’s people who have moved out of the city, or are a bit older, or for whatever reason can’t get to a venue, a lot of those people don’t want to be locked out of live music.”

Similarly, Dodds says Crosstown aren’t necessarily focusing on acts the company has promoted before. “We target people that we think there’s an audience for,” he explains. “We’re not really going after a young audience, as I don’t think they’re prepared to pay £10–15 for a concert broadcast – our target, really, is grown-ups.”

“Everyone is interested in capturing that incremental revenue, and livestreaming is part of that”

Even after non-socially distanced, full-capacity shows return, live streams will offer artists and promoters a reliable additional revenue stream for little risk or outlay, Sutcliffe adds. “If you sell out the O2 in London and then do another 20,000 tickets on top, that’s pure profit,” he says. “We don’t want to replace live – nothing beats the live experience – but [with streaming] we’re able to dd a layer of extra value for fans, artists and the industry.”

“The objective used to be 75%, 80% – whatever the magic number was, once you reached that, everyone was happy,” Hancock echoes. “But it seems like now, from the agents and promoters we’ve spoken to in the last year, everyone is interested in capturing that incremental revenue, and livestreaming is part of that.”

Dodds says while it “remains to be seen whether people want to continue [doing dedicated live streams] after live music returns, “it’s definitely something that could augment touring in the future, particularly if all shows on a tour are sold out, or for territories where people aren’t able to tour.”

For some performers, even archive performances can be repackaged and ticketed as a standalone ‘live’ stream – British comedian James Acaster, for example, sold 30,000 tickets at £10 each for a show that was originally filmed at the end of 2019, Tannen explains.

For virtual worlds like Sansar, where fans participate in the show as opposed to simply watching, the key to long-term success is “deeper engagement,” both between fans and artists and between the real and virtual words, Bryant suggests.

“One thing we explored last year is this thing we call ‘windowing,’” she says, “which allows different audience from around the world to mix and mingle, blending the lines of who and what we consider ‘real’.” Windowing, Bryant explains, involves putting up an LED screen on which real-world concertgoers can see and communicate with the Sansar avatars, and vice versa, with those inside the virtual world able to see the physical concert crowd.

“I’m hoping the live streams coming out now might ignite that little spark that we need to plant in the heads of gen Z”

While everyone IQ spoke to sees a place for livestreamed or virtual concerts post-pandemic, all are clear that they must not – and cannot – replace the live experience, instead functioning as an add-on to physical shows that benefits the industry and live music fans alike.

However, from a sustainability point of view, consumer willingness to pay for live-streams could enable artists to reduce the environmental impact of their tours by playing fewer physical dates, Sutcliffe suggests. “I’m romantic about live, but we have to be realistic about the situation,” he says.

“The logistics involved in an international tour – from the many forms of transport to hotel rooms, bars, restaurants – has a huge environmental impact.” From a coronavirus perspective, “that’s also a lot of movement that the world won’t allow to happen again quickly.”

Dodds agrees, stating, “As something to augment tours – maybe by adding a few livestream-only dates, with an extra show filmed at the be ginning of the tour – it’s definitely an option for artists who want to minimise their carbon footprints.”

For Tannen, the hope is that live streams can help get the next generation of concertgoers – for whose attention concerts are competing with video games, esports, YouTube, Twitch, social media and countless other electronic distractions – excited about live music, just as watching and rewatching old pop-punk videos did him at the turn of the millennium.

“I had all these Warped Tour VHSes [tapes], and they’re what got me obsessed with the idea of live music,” he says. “I’m hoping that might be the same with the live streams that are coming out now, that they might ignite that little spark that we need to plant in the heads of gen-Zers. We need to make sure the kids that are coming through want to go and watch shows, the same way we did.”

 


Read this feature in its original format in the digital edition of IQ 97:


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

Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ IndexIQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

Dice launches direct-to-fan merch platform

Ticketing and music discovery company Dice has launched Merch on Dice, a direct-to-fan merchandise sales platform for artists.

In the same way as fans can find shows and buy tickets through the Dice app, Merch on Dice will allow them to order limited-edition artist products to pick up at the concert or have delivered. Consumers will also receive notifications and updates about available merch in the run-up to the show.

“We’ve built a beautiful direct to fan, mobile-only shopping experience specifically for live events, making it easy for fans to quickly order limited-edition products that they can pick up at the venue or get delivered to their home,” says Phil Hutcheon, CEO of Dice.

“The success of live streams has propelled the demand for limited-edition, rarer apparel in particular”

For artists, Merch on Dice will enable them to create exclusive limited-run product ‘drops’ in the lead-up to a gig which are only available to fans attending the show and/or live stream.

“In an increasingly virtual world, the need for physical memories are more important than ever. The success of live streams has propelled the demand for limited-edition, rarer apparel in particular,” continues Hutcheon.

“Merchandise will always have a deeply emotional draw on fans – it’s intrinsic to the live experience – and we want to make it better. We’re bringing artists and fans closer through merch on Dice.”

 


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Major artists to perform in aid of music charities

Newton Faulkner, Charlotte Church and The Supernaturals are among the artists set to perform for at-home charity festival Music Feeds.

Organised by ethical, non-profit promoter Everybody Belongs Here and with support from Co-op, Music Feeds will broadcast performances from more than 40 artists from 8 pm GMT on 28 and 29 January to raise money for charities dedicated to crew, musicians and tackling food poverty.

Tickets for the two-night event cost £15 and net proceeds from the sales will be split between three charities with 70% going to FareShare (a long-running charity network aimed at relieving food poverty and reducing food waste in the UK), 20% to Stagehand (live production hardship fund) and 10% to Help Musicians (the UK’s leading charity for musicians).

As part of Music Feeds, Co-op has also donated one million pounds, with the same percentage split, to all three charities.

As part of Music Feeds, Co-op has also donated one million pounds

Other artists performing at the event include: Sam Smith, Blossoms, Fontaines DC, Fenne Lily, Kyle Falconer (The View), Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals), The Slow Readers Club, Steve Mason, October Drift and more. See the full line-up here.

Tickets are available through DICE, the official ticketing partner of Everybody Belongs Here.

Stagehand – which is this year’s Nikos Fund, the ILMC charity of the year – recently raised £535, 840 for production staff and stage crew impacted by the loss of work caused by the Covid-19 pandemic through a prize draw featuring unique memorabilia from artists.

The charity has already raised £280,000 in donations from PPL, the BPI, major record labels and artist management companies – most of which went to the 300 crew members in the most desperate need late last year – and is also collecting more through other fundraising initiatives including Prints For Music.


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Dice rolls out across India

Dice, the UK-based mobile ticketing and discovery platform for live events and live streams, is rolling out across India today.

Dice India will launch with exclusive live streams from international and local artists, including retroFuture, Pabllo Vittar, Anushka Manchanda (Nuka) and Raghav Meattle, which will be aired globally.

In April, Dice expanded its offering with live streams and has since worked on exclusive live streams with Laura Marling, Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue and Bjork.

“With venues in lockdown since the pandemic struck, high quality livestreamed shows have quickly become an important new source of revenue and engagement for artists,” says Phil Hutcheon, founder and CEO of Dice.

“Dice’s long term aim in India is to build a more sustainable live industry to help venues, promoters and artists thrive”

“Dice takes event livestreaming to the next level by putting Indian artists on a global stage. Fans in turn enjoy a best-in-class experience powered by personalised recommendations. We understand what it takes to make a great show that fans love and only the best events make it on Dice.”

Arnav Banerjee, Dice India Lead, adds: “Dice’s long term aim in India is to build a more sustainable live industry to help venues, promoters and artists thrive. Our commitment to the highest production values, as well as our unique ability to recreate the sense of anticipation and exclusivity that fans love about traditional gigs, means we attract the very best in local and international talent.”

In the Indian market, Dice will compete with the country’s largest online ticketing company BookMyShow – which launched a pay-per-view streaming platform for live events in July – and Alibaba-backed digital payments platform Paytm.

Read the Indian market report in IQ 90 here.

Since launching in 2014, Dice has launched in markets including the UK, the US, France, Italy, Spain and Australia – and is accessible to fans globally through its live stream offering.

 


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Driift celebrates success with livestream concerts

UK-based virtual producer and promoter Driift is announcing a slate of ticketed livestream concerts after successful online events with Laura Marling, Lianne La Havas and Dermot Kennedy.

The company, founded by ATC Management’s Ric Salmon and Brian Message, trialled the pay-per-view livestream concerts with a performance from Laura Marling at the Union Chapel in London in June.

“Ticketed live streaming is currently a space that no one controls, and we believe there is a long-term and commercially viable business here. It’s incredibly exciting” says Salmon.

Capitalising on the success of Marling’s show, Driift has since produced livestream shows for Lianne La Havas at the Roundhouse and Dermot Kennedy at the Natural History Museum.

Kennedy’s livestream show, which took place last Thursday (30 June) and featured Normal People’s Paul Mescal, sold over 30,000 tickets worldwide and was broadcast live over four different time zones.

“It strikes me that this is just the beginning of an exciting opportunity for artists and their teams to create new art that many will choose to pay for,” says Message. “If we get this right, ticketed livestream productions, whether live shows or something not yet dreamt of, can comfortably sit alongside promotional videos, traditional live shows and other ways fans and artists relate.”

This is not a replacement for live, this is a coming of age for livestreaming

Now, with investment from shareholders Beggars Group, Driift is producing more high profile livestream shows including a one-off worldwide performance from Biffy Clyro on 15 August from an iconic Glasgow venue and a performance from Sleaford Mods at the 100 club on 12 September.

“We’ve felt for a long time that livestreaming has been undervalued,” says Ruth Barlow, director of live at Beggars Group.

“We’re excited about the creative and commercial opportunities for the business, the artists and their fans; who no longer have to be in a particular city at a particular time to experience unique live music events.

“This is not a replacement for live, this is a coming of age for livestreaming.”

Driift will oversee ticketing, production, licensing, rights management and digital marketing for the livestream concerts – allowing artists to rebuild live music into their release campaigns and overall strategies.

Having collaborated with live industry giants such as CAA, Dice, Universe/Ticketmaster, YouTube, Pulse Films and Jackshoot, Driift is expanding its offering outside of the UK, with a number of shows being set up in North America.

 


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

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IQ teams up with Wide Days for Focus special

IQ is joining forces with Scottish music convention Wide Days for this week’s virtual IQ Focus session, which will shine a light on the team behind Laura Marling’s pioneering live stream shows in London earlier this year.

The panel, Laura Marling – A Streaming Success is taking place as part of this year’s virtual Wide Days conference (23 to 25 July), and will be aired on Facebook and YouTube on Thursday 23 July at 4 p.m. BST/ 5 p.m. CET.

To access the rest of the Wide Days programme, purchase a ticket here.

In June, Laura Marling made history with two, back-to-back shows at London’s Union Chapel, with the first performance livestreamed to Europe and the second exclusively for North America.

Selling over 6,000 tickets, the gigs proved that it’s not just stadium acts that can generate revenue from broadcasting to an online audience.

IQ is joining forces with Scottish music convention Wide Days for this week’s virtual IQ Focus session

Key figures who helped make Marling’s vision a reality will come together on the panel to discuss how the shows can serve as a template for other acts.

Chaired by music industry consultant Tina Hart, panellists include ATC Management’s Ric Salmon, who was a driving force behind the Union Chapel shows and has since set up ticketed livestreaming business, Drift; Amy Oldham of Dice, who provided the ticketing and one of the livestreaming platforms for Marling’s concerts; and award-winning director Giorgio Testi of Pulse Films, who was in charge of filming the shows.

Additional members of the panel are yet to be announced.

To watch Laura Marling – A Streaming Success on Thursday head to the IQ Magazine page on Facebook or YouTube.

Read IQ Magazine’s feature on Laura Marling and the rise of the paid live stream here.

Laura Marling and the rise of the paid live stream


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Laura Marling and the rise of the paid live stream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 90, or subscribe to the magazine here


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‘The future is bright’: Tech leaders talk monetising virtual shows

The heads of some of the industry’s most inventive companies starred in the most recent IQ Focus panel, appropriately called The Innovators, which discussed the flurry of innovation going on behind the scenes during the ongoing halt in concert touring.

Dice’s UK managing director, Amy Oldham, began by speaking on the importance of “identifying the value” in new platforms and innovations. “In the beginning [of the pandemic], there was a lot of noise and a lot of not-very-good-quality shows,” she explained.

“Lewis [Capaldi] is a great example” of what the industry should be working towards, she added. “We did his show exclusively a few weeks ago. He did an acoustic set of the first album, and it actually felt like being on a night out – you had people taking photos of themselves hugging the TV saying it’s the best £5 they ever spent.”

Tommas Arnby of Locomotion Entertainment said his client, Yungblud – whose Yungblud Show Live (described as a “rock-and-roll version of Jimmy Kimmel”) was one of the early highlights of the livestreaming boom – was supposed to be “doing five sold-out Kentish Town Forums” in London this week, and his online presence is “about how to recreate that” live experience.

“In the very beginning these bedroom and kitchen performances played an important role,” but now people expect a more polished experience, said Ben Samuels, MelodyVR’s president and GM in North America. “What we’re doing is investing a lot to ensure these shows look and feel fantastic. […] They should be the best thing to actually being on stage or in the front row of a real show. So production values have been crucial to us.”

“Artists have to feel comfortable and confident about charging for their content”

Sheri Bryant, president of online ‘social VR’ platform Sansar, said a virtual concert should be looked as “additive; it’s not going to replace the live performance”.

Oldham – who revealed that Dice is now selling tickets in at least 113 countries following the launch of its livestreaming platform, Dice TV – agreed that while everyone on the panel is doing a great job keeping fans engaged while touring is on hold, “one thing we haven’t nailed is giving artists confidence that just because they’re doing something on a stream doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be charging.

“All the movie studios are shut, and yet we don’t see them dropping films online and saying, ‘Just pay what you fancy!’ Artists have to feel comfortable and confident about charging for their content.”

Chair Mike Malak, from Paradigm Talent Agency, compared charging for online video content to the transition in the recording business from fans pirating music to (legally) streaming it, noting that “we all grew up watching free YouTube videos”.

Bryant said Sansar wants “everyone to be able to experience” the platform, suggesting offering both a free tier and a “VIP experience” that could include perks for those who’ve paid, such as meet and greets with an artist or special powers inside its virtual world.

“The most important thing for us is to show agents and managers that people had a great time,” said Prajit Gopal, CEO of livestreaming platform Looped. “That’s always been really important – going back to them and showing them,‘Here’s the reaction, and this is why you should be charging for it.’”

“Imagine if this happened 20, 30, 40 years ago – it would have been catastrophic”

With talk turning to sponsorship in virtual events, Oldham warned that “sometimes you can oversaturate an artist by doing too many partnerships”. However, Bryant said the music industry has much to learn from the wider entertainment business when it comes to getting its talent out there.

“Look at how the YouTube stars, the Twitch streamers got big: through hard work and with lots of exposure,” she said. “If you’re good and you’re getting out there, you’ll see that growth. I don’t think people should be precious about exposure – you want to be across as many platforms as possible, because you never know when one of them will see a big spike [in traffic].”

The discussion ended on a positive note, with Samuels highlighting how fortunate the live music business is to have all this technology at its disposal at such a difficult time.

“Imagine if this [coronavirus] happened 20, 30, 40 years ago – it would have been catastrophic,” he said. “In a weird way, we’re lucky this happened now, with all these platforms that can continue to bring high-quality content to fans and enable artists to still make a living.”

Arnby agreed: “All these choices, all these ways to connect… The future is very bright.”

The Innovation Session is available to watch back on YouTube or Facebook now.


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