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Inside the changing face of live music sponsorship

The pandemic has changed the game for live music sponsorship, according to prominent figures across the business.

With question marks arising over whether brand tie-ins have lost its allure or remain a premier choice for brand leaders, most signs appear to point towards the latter.

Bijal Parmar, head of consumer marketing for Virgin Media O2, indicated much of the appeal for sponsors was derived from music’s “immense power” of connectivity.

“It’s a common culture and a universal language that during the pandemic – and even post-pandemic – has been able to unite people,” she said. “It’s something that has kept people connected, so we’re able to use it to articulate our brand strategy and provide an experience for our customers… So it’s a memory that we’re creating, not just an event.”

Dukagjin ‘Dugi’ Lipa, founder of Republika Communications Agency and co-organiser of Kosovo’s Sunny Hill Festival, with his daughter, Dua Lipa, discussed the evolving relationship.

“Rather than just being that transactional stance between the artist and the brand, we see a lot of changes and different approaches from brand partners,” he said. “Now it’s more connected to brand values: do they see anything that can have longevity rather than just one kind of interaction between the artist and the brand?”

“We get a lot of brand offers, but it’s never about the money”

Dugi pointed out that although the global success of Dua Lipa’s second album Future Nostalgia had placed her in even higher demand with would-be sponsors, there were additional considerations to take into account.

“We get a lot of brand offers, but it’s never about the money,” he insisted. “It’s always about the long term partnership and the values. You become part of the brand and the brand becomes a part of you for that period of time.

“Even though you have a lot of offers, you have to be very, very careful what your next step is and who you are going to be affiliated with, etc. We are living in a new kind of world, where everything is online, everything is reachable, everything is accessible to you. So you have to be very careful who you work and why you do it.”

US-based ASM Global EVP of marketing Alex Merchan summed up the venue company’s approach.

“A key thing we find is really looking beyond just the transactional relationship,” he said. “What is in it for both parties? We’re looking for partners that we can find unique, creative things that add value to the fan experience, or to the facility itself.”

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd explained the organisation’s formation in 2014 marked a turning point for the grassroots sector’s relationship with brands. Davyd referenced the Revive Live showcase, launched in July 2021 with support from the UK National Lottery, which contributed £1 million to directly underwrite the touring and production costs of hundreds of live performances.

“Post-pandemic, it seems to me like a lot of the brands are becoming smarter and not overlaying quite so much,” he suggested. “Our deal with them doesn’t really involve us saying ‘the National Lottery’ very much at all. What they’re looking to do is own the space where an artist broke through, from being unknown to being a touring artist. They want to own that across a number of years.

“In five years’ time, they’re hoping that one of the 60 or 70 tours we’ve already put out will be by the next Adele or Dua Lipa – and they want that reputational branding, rather than a big ‘look what the National Lottery has done’ shout, and that feels quite different. I’ve done a lot of branding where quite often you weren’t really sure why the company was there, but you liked their money. But what we’re now seeing is a lot more of a focus on, ‘What is the authentic experience and how can our brand sit alongside that?'”

“The reaction from the audience is tangibly different than it was before Covid. And I think brands can see that and want to be part of it”

Davyd added that Covid-19 had acted as a “wake-up” call for people who had previously taken their local venue for granted.

“They had to drive or walk past it when it was closed for nearly two years and they really thought, ‘Wow, I could lose that,'” said Davyd. “In this pandemic, a lot of the audience reconnected with what they’ve missed. I’ve been to about 200 shows already and the reaction from the audience is tangibly different than it was before Covid. There’s a real atmosphere in the room of being so happy to be there. And I think brands can see that and want to be part of it.”

CAA UK’s Bradlee Banbury continued on a similar theme, saying many brands had been forced to rethink their relationship with live music due to pandemic.

“They had been lazily badging tours or festivals, but not really activating in a different way with music fans,” he said. “And when we went into the pandemic and there were no live events happening, I think everyone had to reinvent the wheel a little bit. There were some brands that already had strong connections with musicians established for years and they lent into it quite easily. But there were others that were just completely shocked by the whole experience.

“Post-pandemic, I think everyone will have a bit more of a strategy to spread the money a little bit further and make that connection with the actual fans, rather than just badging a tour [although] there’s a place for that as well.”

Banbury spoke highly of drink brands White Claw and Jagermeister’s link-ups with All Points East.

“They’ve got their own stages,” he said. “So you’ve got a lot of fans seeing a show, drinking Jagermeister or White Claw; they’re having a party and they’re really enjoying it. Those brands have brought something to the table.”

This discussion took place as part of the Sponsorship: Falling through the cracks? panel at ILMC 34 in London.


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Dua Lipa: ‘Women have to work harder to be heard’

Dua Lipa played an astonishing 245 shows during the touring cycle for her debut album, the Grammy- and Brit-winning star revealed at the inaugural Futures Forum in London on Friday.

Lipa was interviewed alongside her father, Dukagjin ‘Dugi’ Lipa, by IQ editor Gordon Masson for The Futures Forum Keynote: Dugi & Dua Lipa, the final session of the new one-day event for young live music professionals, which took place as part of the 31st International Live Music Conference (ILMC) on Friday 8 March.

Described by Masson as the “hardest-working person in pop”, Dua called the period around the release of 2017’s Dua Lipa – when she played 245 concerts and festival shows, progressing from small venues in her native UK to arenas in Europe, the US and Asia – as a “whirlwind” and “the craziest three years of my life”.

Dua recalled one of her earliest shows, at the 450-capacity Rescue Rooms in Nottingham, when Tap Management had to “bribe” patrons to come and see the future star. “There was no one there,” she said. “My manager had to ask [a group of people] if he bought them a drink, would they come and see his show?

“It wasn’t so bad, because I wasn’t expecting anyone to be there anyway – and it definitely managed my expectations.”

Dugi also spoke about his own rock’n’roll roots as frontman of cult group Oda, who achieved popularity in the ’90s, especially among the music-loving Kosovar and Albanian diaspora. (Lipa Snr was born in the former Yugoslavia, in what is now Kosovo, while Dua was born in London but attended school in Pristina.)

After having a no 1 hit in Yugoslavia aged 16, Dugi moved to the UK and formed a band in London. “We made a couple of songs, played a couple of gigs, and people started to show interest,” he told Masson, “so we decided to make an album.

“We created a mini-studio in my friend’s bedroom to record this album, then we made 1,000 CDs. They took up half the flat we were living in! My wife and I were thinking, ‘What are we going to do with all these?’, but they went quickly. So we started to order more, and do more promotion and PR – we probably sold about 20,000 CDs, without knowing what we were doing at all.

“More often than not, I’ll say, ‘That’s the best show I’ve ever done’, and then I’ll end up saying it again two days later”

“We created a cult band, and with no Instagram, no Facebook, no Twitter… it was all organic, with people buying CDs they could hold in their hands.”

Dua has also always been grateful for the support of Kosovars, she said, whose backing boosted her early career. “When I first put out my song ‘New Love’ on YouTube, everyone was really impressed by how many hits we got,” she joked, “but if you looked at the stats they were all from Kosovo!”

Lipa, who is currently recording album #2, said she makes all her music “with the live environment in mind”. “This new album is more conceptual; I guess when I’m in that world [the recording studio] I’m really thinking about the live show.” The next tour, she added, will feature “something new and something different. Hopefully now I’ll get to do shows that are a bit bigger and stages that are a bit bigger, and we’ll get to play around a bit more with that.”

On her fans, she continued: “I’m so fortunate: more often than not, I’ll say, ‘That’s the best show I’ve ever done’, and then I’ll end up saying it again two days later. The fans that come to my shows are really special.”

Futures Forum took place on International Women’s Day 2019, and Dua also used the Lipas’ keynote to illustrate the struggle faced by young female artists trying to break into the industry.

“As women, we have to work harder to be heard and appreciated,” she said. “It’s just one of those things – when you’re a female artist, unless you’re playing a piano or a guitar people think you’re manufactured, and you have to take some time to show people your stories and what you’ve gone through. Sometimes it just takes a little bit more explanation and a little more time, but it’s something I’m willing and ready to do to be heard.

“I try to use my platform to speak out; I’ve always been quite outspoken and never been afraid to say things that are true to me. I feel a duty to be a voice for my fans, because they’ve given that [platform] to me.”

In addition to helping to shape Dua’s career alongside her management, Tap’s Ben Mawson and Ed Millett, and running London-based PR company Mercy & Wild, Dugi is also founder of the Sunny Hill Foundation, which boasts Dua as a patron.

“When you’re a female artist, unless you’re playing a piano or a guitar people think you’re manufactured”

Last year, the father-daughter duo organised the inaugural Sunny Hill Festival in Pristina – Kosovo’s first major music festival –  which aimed to put the young country on the cultural map while raising funds for underprivileged groups.

“Our first fanbase came from the Kosovar and Albanian diaspora […] so we wanted to give something back,” explained Dugi, who said the festival, which was headlined by Dua, Action Bronson and Martin Garrix, grew out of Dua’s shows in Pristina and Albania’s capital, Tirana, in 2017, which raised €100,000 for various causes, including music schools and festivals, as well as autism and Down’s syndrome charities.

“As much as wanted to help with arts funding, people in Kosovo also need a bit more than that,” added Dua.

Masson closed by asking the Lipas about the wealth of ethnic-Albanian talent, including Kosovar-British star Rita Ora and Albanian Americans Bebe Rexha and Action Bronson, lighting up the charts internationally, and whether it’s still necessary to relocate to a more mature market to achieve success.

No, said Dua: “Something I didn’t have that I needed was to be somewhere where everything is happening, and that for me was London.

“But now, with the power of Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming platforms, you can be anywhere and have your music heard.”

Dugi and Dua Lipa’s Futures Forum keynote followed the previous day’s ILMC keynote interview with Who frontman Roger Daltrey.

‘We tried to create the sound of war’: Daltrey does ILMC

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Dua Lipa announced for Futures Forum ILMC keynote

Organisers of the inaugural Futures Forum – the one-day event for young live music professionals which takes place as part of this year’s International Live Music Conference (ILMC) – have announced double Grammy-winning pop sensation Dua Lipa as this year’s keynote interview.

The Futures Forum Keynote: Dugi & Dua Lipa will see Dua (pictured) and her rock star father, Dukagjin Lipa, interviewed by IQ editor Gordon Masson about the pivotal role that live music has played in building Dua’s career, the demands of life on the road and their Sunny Hill Foundation in Kosovo.

Dua Lipa last year smashed records to become the first UK female to reach more than one billion Spotify streams with a single track (‘New Rules’). She has also topped charts globally, and on Sunday won best new artist and best dance recording at the 2019 Grammy Awards, becoming only the third British female artist – after Adele and Amy Winehouse – to take home two awards.

As the final day of ILMC, Futures Forum takes place at the Royal Garden Hotel in west London on Friday 8 March. All ILMC delegates are able to attend, while subsidised day passes are available for younger working professionals.

“It’s a huge vote of confidence in Futures Forum to have an artist of Dua Lipa’s calibre and influence as our first-ever keynote interview, especially on International Women’s Day 2019,” says ILMC head Greg Parmley. “With over 30 speakers confirmed, we’re also proud that Futures Forum has achieved a gender-balanced line-up in year one.”

Dua and Dugi’s interview will be followed by a drinks reception to celebrate International Women’s Day, hosted by Live Nation Entertainment at London’s Royal Garden Hotel.

“This is the right time to toast the women making the live music business thrive, from artists like Dua Lipa to our growing team of female promoters,” comments Denis Desmond, chairman, Live Nation UK and Ireland. “To close ILMC on International Women’s Day is a fitting celebration of our bright future and we look forward to welcoming all ILMC and Futures Forum attendees.”

“It’s a huge vote of confidence in Futures Forum to have an artist of Dua Lipa’s calibre and influence as our first-ever keynote interview”

The keynote caps a day of panels, presentations and workshops which also sees legendary radio DJ Steve Lamacq present 30 Years in a Toilet: Enjoying grassroots venues the Lamacq way in conversation with Mark Davyd (Music Venue Trust).

While the full schedule is online at FuturesForum.live, other highlights include:

ILMC runs from 5 to 8 March. Companies supporting this year’s conference include Live Nation, Ticketmaster, CTS Eventim, Showsec, Flash Entertainment, Integro, DEAG Entertainment and Mojo Rental.

Information about Futures Forum, including how to register, is here.


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