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ILMC 35: Industry heads tackle big topics

ILMC 35 kicked off with the traditional Open Forum session with this year’s host, Maria May from CAA, addressing a swathe of issues, while looking back on a monumental year for live music around the world.

May noted various statistics about the growth of the business in 2022, including the fact that ticket prices for Pollstar’s top 100 tours had increased by more than 10%, before posing a question to her guests about whether those biggest-selling productions should be doing anything to support the grassroots side of the business.

Obi Asika from United Talent Agency noted that the year ahead was looking like it would be the strongest he has ever had, reporting that his dance music and afrobeat acts were doing great business. And answering a question about the stadium business harming grassroots, he stated, “I’m more worried about the stadium effect on festivals. But I don’t see it as an issue; it’s just different.”

“We have to be brave and inclusive if we want to have new headliners”

When it comes to helping grassroots acts, he added, “We have to be brave and inclusive if we want to have new headliners.”

Q Prime Management’s Tara Richardson contested: “There’s a whole generation of ticket buyers who have skipped [going to] sweaty clubs because they have been stuck indoors during the pandemic.”

But she agreed that perhaps stadiums could support grassroots venues through sponsorship or some other system. “The record labels and publishers develop talent, but the live side seems to be the only part that does not throw money back toward grassroots,” she observed.

Addressing the issue of spiralling costs, Herman Schueremans of Live Nation Belgium admitted that most people in the business had not expected such big rises. “The bottom line is that it’s a thing of give and take – listen to each other and be nicer to each other,” Schueremans pleaded. Looking back at 2022, he reported, “By respecting people and paying part [of the money] in advance and the balance the day after show, it worked really well.

“You cannot avoid rising costs – you have to live with it and deal with it. It might mean we have to work harder but earn less. Making a profit is important, but it’s not the most important.”

“The live side seems to be the only part that does not throw money back toward grassroots”

On a related note, talking about all the various challenges that the live sector is facing, Asika pointed to the example of some of his African artists who have had all kinds of obstacles to overcome to establish careers outside of their own countries. “However complex it is, we can figure it out,” he said. “There are enough ideas and enough good people to figure it out – it’s part of the fun.”

Tackling the controversial topic of dynamic pricing, John Meglen from Concerts West noted, “Most shows do not sell out, but at the very high end it’s a very simple supply and demand issue [and] dynamic pricing is a business decision. If you sell a ticket for $100 but then watch it be resold for $500, the artist should be receiving that money, not the tout.”

Meglen suggested that blaming the ticketing system for any issues was a cop-out. “It’s up to us to set those business rules – we cannot be blaming the ticketing systems, he said. “We have an issue of pricing, and we have a resale issue. We need to make sure that the money [remains] in our business. If we’re getting market value for our tickets, the artists are going to earn more and it’s not someone outside business making the money.”

Q Prime’s Richardson drew comparisons with the price of theatre tickets when it comes to tour pricing, but also had a pragmatic idea on how the teams involved in tour planning could better handle the subject. “Maybe there needs to be a middle ground where we involve tour accountants before we route – and we have a plan A, plan B, and plan C for the tour and the production, depending on the ticket price.”

“We have an issue of pricing, and we have a resale issue”

The session also looked at how the live music industry can attract a more diverse workforce, with the speakers agreeing that more needs to be done – from the top of the business downwards – to make true and meaningful progress.

Engaging in a debate regarding the environmental impact of the live music sector, Schueremans revealed, “At Rock Werchter 2022 we recycled or recouped 95% of our plastic. It was a hell of a challenge, but we did it and we should not just be doing it as festivals, we need to do it at all shows.”

However, Richardson concluded that rather than beat up the festivals and tours, “We’d be better off having a huge industry lobby to do something about the six big companies who are contributing most to carbon emissions.”


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Sustainability and diversity top of agents’ agendas

Discussing various big topics such as the post-Covid return to business and sustainability, the main discussion point arising from this year’s ILMC agency panel was diversity and how the business, in general, can be more open to attracting people from different backgrounds.

Session chairman Tom Schroeder of Paradigm Talent Agency admitted to guests Lucy Dickins (WME), Mike Greek (CAA), Sam Kirby Yoh (UTA) and Obi Asika (Echo Location Talent Agency) that prior to the panel he thought his passion, sustainability, would be the main takeaway from the panel, but instead it turned out to be diversity.

Earlier in the session, Schroeder had joked that UTA had been the most aggressive agency during the pandemic, so much so that they had a 50% market share of the panel guests, thanks to the 3 March announcement that the company had acquired Asika’s Echo Location operation.

“When everything comes back we’ll [either] return to being the same idiots or there will be some fundamental change”

And it was Asika who, in tackling a question about race and diversity, recounted a story from his youth where his mother, a sociology teacher, had urged him to read a book by Jock Young who wrote about labelling theory, opening Asika’s mind to the dangers of stereotyping.

“So I was aware from the age of 13 or 14 that I was constantly stereotyped by teachers at my school, by parents of the children, by school friends, and even maybe sometimes myself, because you end up, potentially, becoming that stereotype. It’s a seriously dangerous thing and it happens all over the world,” said Asika.

But he revealed that it was music at university, especially drum and bass, that first allowed him to think of himself as British, as he identified with the music. He added, “We all do it, but if you are judging somebody before you’ve given them a chance, think about how dangerous that can be. And on the other side of it, think about how powerful the industry we work in is – someone who felt that way, because of the love of music, is now sitting here and has just started as the head of the UK office of a global agency, having a talk with all you fine people.”

“The responsibility we have as an industry to become sustainable is something we haven’t thought about enough previously”

Addressing how the industry should approach its return to reopening, Schroeder stated, “There are two schools of thought: one is that when everything comes back we’ll return to being the same old idiots we used to be, or maybe there will be some fundamental change.”

Greek responded, “I do believe there will be fundamental change, but I do see there are certain elements of what we do that are going to end up being the norm again. Ultimately, the responsibility we have as an industry to become sustainable is something we haven’t thought about enough previously. Secondly, it’s important to note how loud our voice is as an industry when we collectively get together – that’s something we can hopefully see grow in the future.”

On a positive note, Dickins stated that she thought there would be a lot of silver linings to come out of the pandemic shutdown, not the least of which would be improvements to people’s life-work balance, and not being at every show, every night.

“We have to work together – not just agents, but also promoters and venues in regard to dealing with government and policy”

Noting that the industry is in a precarious position where huge number of tickets are being sold, Schoeder pondered, “When we get practical on this, how is it going to work? You’ve got festivals spending money on marketing, but no insurance system for the artist or for the promoters and tickets are being sold for events we don’t know are going to happen. At some point, the artist has got to invest some money to make a show to go on the stage, if anything is going to happen. It’s a jigsaw that confuses me every day.”

Greek agreed, stating, “I have sleepless nights about it as well because I’ve committed lots of my clients to lots of different events, but there’s no way of knowing without insurance and all other kinds of stuff… the conversations are about everyone around the artist trying to minimise costs they would incur in advance in order to make a decision as late as possible to do the show. It’s a big concern and some artists can afford to take the risk, while others can’t.”

Kirby Yoh commented, “We have to work together – not just agents, but also promoters and venues in regard to dealing with government and policy. But we can make it better for everybody – safer for the fans and the artists. In my mind, there is not a choice. It’s our responsibility to work together.”

“Just be careful. Make sure you’re not spending too much money unless you really have to”

Dickins noted that some of the problems around agreeing industry best practice involved the competition and legality issues. “But basically I think you have to conduct your business with empathy because every single person has had to go through this [Covid]. So it’s all about sharing information, talking people through each step, and listening to people. As regards different places opening at different times, that’s just something we’re going to have to work around and take on board because every single border is going to have a different issue.”

Indeed, in answer to a question from a delegate, Schroeder suggested that payment plans for advances were being discussed, although he admitted that these could become complicated.

And adding his advice, Asika said, “Just be careful. Make sure you’re not spending too much money unless you really have to. Hold back and focus on the areas that we know are looking positive. I honestly believe we will have shows in the UK this summer, but I have a policy of spreading my bets – I’m not focussing on any huge festivals this year, I’m spreading things across clubs to 5,000 to 10,000 all over the place and anyone who mentions exclusivity is told that I’m not interested.”


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UTA acquires UK’s Echo Location Talent Agency

UTA today announced it has bought Obi Asika’s London-based Echo Location Talent Agency in a deal that will see Asika assume the role of the conglomerate’s UK office alongside Neil Warnock.

Financial details were not disclosed, but in a statement the companies said that the deal “further enhances UTA’s global music footprint and will provide Echo’s clients with access to the company’s full-service resources and capabilities.”

UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer comments, “Obi and his team have built an impressive business and have done excellent work taking their artists to the next level.

“He is a highly respected leader in the music industry and is well-versed in the global entertainment marketplace. This acquisition further amplifies our efforts to expand UTA’s presence, and I know that alongside Neil, Obi’s leadership, drive, and passion will be a vital addition not only to the UK office, but for UTA at large.”

“Obi is a highly respected leader in the music industry and is well-versed in the global entertainment marketplace”

As co-head of the UK office, Asika will be responsible for driving UTA’s growing music business as well as expanding existing practice areas including comedy, sports, marketing, and other verticals. Asika will report to co-heads of worldwide music, Samantha Kirby Yoh and David Zedeck.

For his part, Asika says, “Throughout the years, Echo has been approached by several suitors, and as we evaluated the agency landscape, UTA’s strength, ingenuity and true commitment to their artists really stood out. UTA was ultimately the perfect fit.

“Jeremy, Sam, David, and Neil have shown strong and thoughtful leadership as they have built out the music division and the company’s global influence. I am so proud of what the team at Echo has achieved and I am fired up as to what we can all accomplish together.”

Joining Asika in the move across London to UTA will be senior agent Belinda Law and staff including Myles Jessop, Tom Jones, Jack Clark, Hannah Shogbola, Kazia Davy and Ishsha Bourguet.

“As [Echo] evaluated the agency landscape, UTA’s strength, ingenuity and true commitment to their artists really stood out”

UTA will also add Echo Location artists such as Alesso, Bugzy Malone, Chase & Status, Davido, Diplo, Galantis, Gorgon City, Giggs, Hannah Wants, Major Lazer, Marshmello, Pendulum, Pa Salieu, Sampa The Great, Teni, Clara Amfo, Mistajam, Charlie Sloth, Ocean Wisdom, DJEZ, and Wizkid to its international roster.

Those Echo clients will now have access to UTA’s full scope of services across multiple practice areas including fine art, licensing, branding, video games, digital content, publishing, television, motion pictures, public speaking and more.

Echo Location was founded in 2012 by Asika and represents a diverse roster of clients across multiple genres, focussing on Afrobeats, Grime, Drill, Hip-Hop and Electronic music.

The acquisition follows a number of deals that UTA has completed during the pandemic period, with the agency’s music division adding several senior executives and agents to its ranks across multiple offices during the past 12 months.

Its new hires include partner and co-head of worldwide music, Samantha Kirby Yoh, who is based in New York; agents Jeffrey Hasson, Brett Saliba and Jenny DeLoach, who are based in Nashville; agents Robbie Brown and Matt Meyer and coordinator Natalie Koe, who work out of Los Angeles; and agent Carlos Abreu, who is based in London.

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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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Learning & growing: 12 key lessons from the corona crisis

The latest issue of IQ Magazine features a bumper coronavirus special report that delves into the lessons learnt from the crisis, various governments’ responses to the pandemic, and predictions for the shape of the industry’s post-Covid-19 recovery.

Here, we look at the key business takeaways from the global concert business shutdown, with a little help from Paradigm’s Alex Hardee, Echo Location’s Obi Asika, Yourope’s Christof Huber and more…


1. Entrepreneurialism and creativity remain at the heart of the industry
While much of the debate in the live music sector in recent years has centred around independent versus corporate approaches, when the shit hit the fan the spirit of entrepreneurialism has shone through.

Artists around the world have been streaming live shows and content to maintain their relationship with fans, while companies big and small are thinking outside the box and going above and beyond to help out employees, crew and others in the business, financially and though other support packages.

“We adapt fast and we can deal with the curveballs,” comments Live Nation Belgium’s Herman Schueremans. “We are resilient and artists and fans will always find a way to connect.”

2. Technology makes mass home-working a possibility
The use of Zoom, Houseparty, Skype, FaceTime and other video conferencing platforms has helped millions of employees around the world to effectively communicate with colleagues, peers and clients in a way that many would have thought impossible a few months ago.

“Anyone who said home-working doesn’t work was wrong,” says Live Nation chairman of international music, Thomas Johansson.

3. The appetite for risk needs revision
The very nature of the live music industry had historically relied on a cash-flow wing and a prayer, with everyone in the chain relying to some extent on future earnings to pay for their latest projects. The sudden cessation of the business has put this situation into sharp relief, as thousands of event postponements and cancellations have highlighted that the global business could collapse if refunds were mandated internationally.

“You have to have reserves,” states Obi Asika of London-based agency Echo Location. “A lot of this business focuses on the future, prospecting and possibilities. We make bookings really far in advance and now this has shown that anything can happen.”

“This crisis has shown that anything can happen”

4. Every day brings new challenges
It seems that as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues, uncertainty will be the new norm. Agents, promoters, artist managers, venue operators and everybody in the production supply chain are working incredibly hard to make sure things are ready for business to resume, but with no concrete dates to work toward, the planning process is never-ending.

“We make plans and strategise and then overnight something happens and the next day we have to start all over again,” says Paradigm’s Alex Hardee. “When I’m doing my P&Ls at the moment, they are all Ls.”

5. Government intervention is crucial
The live music business has a long and proud tradition of policing itself and trying hard to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to issues like health and safety and self-regulation. However, it has become apparent in the coronavirus environment that businesses involved in the live entertainment sector need the co-operation of government and local authorities to survive.

At the time of writing, summer festivals in some countries are still waiting to announce 2020 cancellations because they have not been told by government that they cannot hold this year’s events, meaning that promoters could be liable to pay artist fees if they take that sensible decision themselves.

“There’s a fear among promoters when it comes to announcing festival cancellations, because nobody wants to lose the momentum when difficult decisions need to be taken,” says Christof Huber of European festival association Yourope.

6. One rotten apple can spoil the barrel
The domino effect of a cancelled show has never been more apparent than during the economic shutdown. Artists often rely on the revenues from certain key festival or headline dates to pay for visits to less lucrative markets, and the cancellation of one or more of those key dates can put the whole tour – and, therefore, other festival shows – in jeopardy.

With the pandemic amplifying this situation more than ever before, festival organisers who perhaps previously viewed each other as rivals have been working closely on key announcements and strategies.

“We make plans and strategise and then overnight something happens, and the next day we have to start all over again”

7. Honesty is the best policy
With millions of people suddenly and unexpectedly facing redundancy, business owners and senior management around the world have never been under greater scrutiny. However, early and continued communication has proved invaluable during the halt to commerce and, by and large, people who have been included in the hard conversations have accepted that everyone is in the same boat because of this global crisis.

“If you are transparent, honest and upfront with people, then when you have to make difficult decisions the reaction of people can pleasantly surprise you,” reports Paradigm’s Hardee.

8. There goes my hero, he’s ordinary
People that society has taken for granted are stepping up and putting the health of themselves and their families at risk to make sure the rest of the world’s suffering is minimised. Health workers, carers, supermarket employees, teachers, sanitation staff, pharmacists, truck and delivery drivers and many more ‘ordinary’ people are the true heroes of the hour.

9. Insurers need to take a long hard look at themselves
There’s no need to mention any names, but for reference have a look at Hellfest’s website about the small-print cowardice that has been manipulated to shirk responsibility. To quote our French comrades: “Fuck you!”

10. Coronavirus is kryptonite to the super-touts
As much as the legitimate live music industry is reeling from cancellations, postponements and having to deal with refunds and other unexpected costs, the situation for the secondary ticketing business is even more dire, as many super-touts have to deal with inventory they can no longer shift.

Having agreed a highly controversial $4 billion deal that would see it merge with Viagogo, in late March, StubHub announced it was furloughing two thirds of its staff, and company policy on refunds would change, whereby purchasers of tickets to cancelled events in North America would now be offered vouchers, rather than refunds. Cue class-action lawsuits.

With StubHub now reportedly struggling hard and Viagogo saddled with debt, the future for the world’s biggest secondary ticketing platforms looks precarious to say the least. “In the context of the unprecedented crisis being played out in all our lives, this could well be one the most poorly timed acquisitions in recent corporate history,” says Adam Webb, campaign manager for FanFair Alliance.

2021 could prove to be live music’s most important year ever

11. Trade associations and industry collectives are proving their worth
In days gone by – and they are not that long ago – the live music industry was a cutthroat, highly competitive battlefield where often ludicrous deals would price others out of the game, all in the name of market share.

Coronavirus has levelled the playing field somewhat, and it’s heartening to witness just how quickly previously warring factions have come around the table to collaborate and agree sensible paths forward to try to minimise the impact on staff, suppliers and, of course, the artists. Hats off to the many trade associations and organisations who are lobbying parliaments, government ministers and local authorities on behalf of the business – you have never been so important to the livelihoods of so many people.

“[The corona crisis has] certainly made me realise the huge importance of associations and representative bodies,” says Kilimanjaro Live boss Stuart Galbraith. “Government don’t want to talk to individual commercial organisations, but they will talk to the Concert Promoters Association, AIF, UK Music, etc., and there’s been huge co-operation between [the associations] as well. Because it affects everybody.”

12. It’s only rock’n’roll… but I like it
As lucky as we are to have careers in such a great industry, at the end of the day it’s only rock’n’roll. Yes, it’s important for culture and for people’s happiness and wellbeing, but people we know are dying – relatives, friends and neighbours – and the battle to minimise that death toll far outweighs any gig, tour or event (or shareholder expectations, for that matter).

However, the hundreds of musicians and artists who are livestreaming to entertain millions of fans confined to their homes shows that the power of music is as strong as ever. Once we emerge from this dark period, people will be clamouring to get out, socialise and see their favourite acts.

Twenty-twenty is undoubtedly going to take its toll, but for those able to remain in the business, 2021 could prove to be live music’s most important year ever.


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Covid 2020: The recovery position

Aside from parts of China, that are gradually reopening, and countries like Sweden, which has apparently adopted a herd immunity approach to the pandemic, almost everywhere else has seen live entertainment sectors shut down, with losses estimated as high as $9 billion until the end of the year, according to Pollstar.

Despite the uncertainty and lack of deals being agreed between the likes of agents and promoters, those at the sharp end of the business are working constantly to ensure that when business does resume, they are ready to act and kick-start the industry back into gear.

However, with teams of support staff either furloughed, redundant, or placed on indefinite leave, and production crews in similar situations, the live music sector is going to require a period to rebuild before any touring activity can realistically happen.

“The recovery is going to be slow and long; I don’t think the business is just going to bounce back,” says Paradigm Talent Agency’s Alex Hardee. “We had 15 years of straight growth and I thought we were peaking anyway. For a while now, breakthrough acts and those at the top have been doing well, while the middle tier was suffering, so maybe we can have some kind of correction there.”

“The recovery is going to be slow and long; I don’t think the business is just going to bounce back”

Obi Asika, who heads up London-based agency Echo Location also believes the pandemic may allow the business to reset itself. “There’s been too much money and domination in every sector of the music business,” says Asika. “The money and size of everything was getting outrageous. I think this will set us back in terms of 10-15 years, but this is maybe not a bad thing. It will be painful at first but exciting too. We can get back to business and be successful.”

For her part, CAA’s Emma Banks comments, “We must all accept that everybody is going to be away from the office and working from home for a really long time. We’ve just all got to stay a part of the music and touring business ecosystem, and we have got to be patient and understanding. We really must look after each other, and get enough sleep.”

And on the promoting side of the business, Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery says, “As chairman of the Concert Promoters Association, I am seeing that everybody is coming together at this time. Not only the promoters, but the artists rely on a huge workforce of production services; lighting and sound engineers; crew; security and hospitality staff ; musicians – I could go on.” He adds, “We will get through this together.”

“I am seeing that everybody is coming together at this time – we will get through this together”

Picking up on Hardee’s observation about what the rebooted international live music business is going to look like once the pandemic situation ends, it’s a fair assumption that the challenges will outweigh the opportunities as companies, big and small, and individuals try to figure out how best to ramp up their activities to pre-corona levels. So, what might the industry look like when it gets up and running again?

With scientists and government advisors forecasting that a vaccine for the virus realistically could take 12-18 months to develop, test in clinical trials, manufacture and distribute on a mass scale, even a partial lifting of isolation and social distancing guidelines will not appease everyone who used to enjoy the carefree joy of attending concerts and festivals, meaning that the pool of fans that artists and their promoter partners are targeting will be a fraction of their previous volume.

Looking at the agency business overall, Asika opines, “We will definitely see fewer people working in every company. I believe there will still be lots of business to do but the people might change.” And he hints that, for those  independent promoters whose businesses survive, the future could be bright.

“The whole world and industry had gone a bit crazy – I booked 90% of shows with indie promoters back when I tarted, now that takes up 10%, and then it’s fighting for festival slots. This [situation] will take us back to basics a bit,” he contends. “A lot of good things and opportunities could come from this, and it will give a chance to new players – everyone will have to show their value.”

“A lot of good things and opportunities could come from this, and it will give a chance to new players – everyone will have to show their value”

Noting a more collaborative, less aggressive business environment, Hardee also believes that the crisis might oust some of the more unscrupulous players from the industry. “People who do not act responsibly will be exposed quickly,” he says.

Kilimanjaro Live boss Stuart Galbriath agrees, noting that cooperation has never been as prevalent. “There’s no such thing now as normality or precedent. We’ve been having conversations that cut across any normal relationship – whether it’s with a manager, an agent, an ad agency, venues – and asked to do things way outside of what the contracts say, because needs must.”

But, like Asika, Hardee believes that the number of shows and events will take a severe hit. “If we can come back to 50, 60, 70% in terms of business volume, I think we’ll be doing well, but we have to work together to not turn the tap on full, all at once,” he says. “I think it will take at least a couple of years to return to the same level of business we were doing before the virus shut things down.”

On the other side of the planet, veteran Australian promoter, Michael Chugg, has similar concerns about the industry flooding the market with events, once restrictions are lifted.

“We are very worried about the long-term effect on the hundreds of companies involved in the production, presentation and running of the tours, festivals and events, as well as the thousands and thousands of contractors, crew, security and other workers, who lost all income  immediately when the public gatherings were banned,” Chugg tells IQ. “The doubt about when or if live entertainment can recommence is causing a lot of stress and depression worldwide, and I’m sure the industry will be a lot more cautious and careful about saturating the marketplace.”

“We’ve been having conversations that cut across any normal relationship and asked to do things way outside of what the contracts say, because needs must”

Despite such concerns, Live Nation Belgium’s Herman Schueremans is trying to remain upbeat and believes that pent-up demand for live entertainment will ensure positive results once venues reopen their doors. “We’ve seen demand for the on-sales for shows being scheduled the other side of the ban,” he says.

Christof Huber, who heads up European festival association Yourope, contends that the number of tickets in  irculation from postponed tours and shows will help reignite interest among fans. “There will undoubtedly be a period of recovery before people want to spend money on going to see concerts; young people will be quicker because they are all desperate to go out and enjoy themselves,” says Huber. “But there are a lot of postponed shows, so people already have the tickets for those. The big question is over the new shows that go on sale.”

On that note, Ticketmaster UK chief, Andrew Parsons reports that on-sales during the pandemic lockdown have been encouraging. “Live events have always been incredibly resilient,” he says. “We’re still seeing demand for the shows that have been on sale during this time, which only tells us that the power of live entertainment and its innate human connection always endures. Artists will want to get back out on the road and fans will want to be there to see them.”

In the meantime, Parsons says the Ticketmaster team is working hard behind the scenes to prepare for a return to normality. “We’re making the most of the situation and have focused our technology teams on creating and rolling out more features across the board at a faster rate than ever before – ready to hit the ground running when the time comes,” he says. “While we are certainly living in extraordinary times, it has been incredible to see the industry come together to ensure that we are all working for the benefit of one another, artists and fans. Personally, it’s been a proud moment to see how the Ticketmaster team has responded – as resilient and positive as ever.”

“We’re still seeing demand for the shows that have been on sale during this time”

It’s the multibillion-dollar/euro/pound/peso/ruble etc question that everyone is desperately seeking an answer to, and, at press time, there were ‘green shoots’ (to quote government parlance) of hope that some countries are cautiously looking to relax lockdown rules for certain citizens.

With China already phasing out restrictions, on 13 April scientists observed the rate of new infections slowing down in Spain, prompting the country’s politicians to ease lockdown measures by allowing some construction and manufacturing workers to return to their jobs. The same day, French president Emmanuel Macron told the country’s citizens that restrictions would last until 11 May, and further added that festivals would be banned until mid-July, giving hope to organisers whose events are due to take place later in the summer.

Such steps are heartening, but balanced by bans on large gatherings until 2021 in cities like Los Angeles, and a number of predictions by health officials that concerts and festivals won’t return in full until well into next year.

“Our business will be last in line,” states Huber. “First they will allow shops, small bars and restaurants to reopen, probably under strict hygiene rules, but music events, and festivals, in particular, will be last in the chain.”

Turning to the crucial question of exactly when the live entertainment business may be able to resume, Switzerland-based Huber states, “I personally still have hope that we will see shows in the autumn, but others I have been speaking to think there will be nothing for the remainder of 2020. At the same time, a few believe we’ll see live music in June. So, nobody really knows.”

“Our business will be last in line. First they will allow shops, small bars and restaurants to reopen, but music events, and festivals, in particular, will be last”

That June deadline seems very optimistic, but it’s certain that domestic acts in small venues will be the first to benefit as guidelines are eased. The question of a timeline for international tours is much more complex. “How do you route a European tour if the countries don’t all open their borders at the same time?” asks Hardee.

Promoter Galbraith says, “Realistically, we’re going to lose everything we have through June to August. And because the [spring/summer] sales window has completely gone, I think you’re going to see a lot of shows that postpone until next year.”

The Royal Albert Hall is currently dark for the first time since World War II, with many staff furloughed. Artistic and commercial director, Lucy Noble, who also chairs the UK’s National Arenas Association, ddresses some of the trials that venue operators may have to confront: “Every venue is different, and some will be able to withstand this crisis more easily than others,” she says. “The biggest challenge may well be getting audiences to come along. The public will still be nervous about venturing out, and it may take time to build their confidence.”

Addressing some of the trials that venue operators may have to confront, Noble continues, “Every venue is different, and some will be able to withstand this crisis more easily than others. The biggest challenge may well be getting audiences to come along. The public will still be nervous about venturing out, and it may take time to build their confidence. This is going to impact on concert attendance and ticket sales.”

“How do you route a European tour if the countries don’t all open their borders at the same time?”

Highlighting some of the angst that billions of people around the world are enduring because of the uncertainty surrounding the length of the lockdown period, CAA’s Banks says, “We have no idea what timeframe we are on and this is impactful on so many people’s lives – especially those working on zero-hours contracts and freelancers, they are really going to be hit hard.”

Northern hemisphere markets that share the same summer months have been hardest hit, but nowhere is so far unscathed. With a business that concentrates on Latin American events, Move Concerts founder, Phil Rodriguez, says, “We are much luckier because our touring cycles are at the beginning and end of the year, so we did not get hit hard with cancellations or postponements in April/May/June.”

“It’s way too soon to project the future of our business,” he continues. “When will shows return? How will they return? Well, just like there was a before and after for 9/11, there will be the same with Covid-19, unfortunately.”

In Australia, Michael Chugg finds himself in a similar position. “We are optimistic that Australian live music and public gatherings could get back as early as October/November, but it could be January,” he concedes. However, he adds a significant caveat. “International acts touring here could be a lot later: the government would be reluctant to take the risk of international visitors bringing the virus back to us.”

In addition to such political hurdles, those working in the planning side of the live music industry acknowledge that many artists either won’t want to travel, won’t be allowed to travel because of border control policies, or, in a bestcase scenario, might be otherwise engaged fulfilling commitments on rescheduled tour dates.

“The public will still be nervous about venturing out, and it may take time to build their confidence”

“We are all postponing shows to a point at which we think it will all be ok,” says Banks. “There is no point just pushing things back by a couple of months, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be anything in the interim.

“We are taking the worst-case scenario until we all get to grips with it. The most important thing is to pay attention to government advice, because it’s the scientists that are behind it. Let’s all be sensible, and we’ll wait and see.”

In Germany, Deutsche Entertainment AG (DEAG) boss Peter Schwenkow is optimistic that we will see concerts before the end of the summer, if steps can be taken to allay people’s fear of catching the virus. Speculating that medical testing is about to become more efficient, he says, “By taking the fear away, we might be able to reintroduce shows for up to 1,000 people.” He believes the UK will lag some weeks behind Germany reopening for concerts, while the Americas will be “much later.”

On a macro scale, however, he is painfully realistic. “The open-air season is destroyed,” he says. “We have been postponing about 85% of our events for next year.” And for those businesses that find themselves in financial trouble, he offers a lifeline: “In-between there is a window of opportunity for those who have willing investors.”

With a comprehensive insurance policy that covers DEAG for costs incurred during the coronavirus pandemic, Schwenkow finds the company in a privileged position to help others. “We work in a people business and our company, like many others, depends on people and other small companies. But at the moment, many of those smaller businesses and operators are in danger of going bust, so while we’re not involved in putting on shows, we’re looking at this as a time to buy other companies, both so we can save them, but also so that [DEAG] can expand and put us in a stronger position for the future.”

“We are taking the worst-case scenario until we all get to grips with it”

While everyone that IQ spoke to for this article agrees that international touring cannot practically resume until social distancing guidelines are lifted across multiple countries – perhaps continents – there are numerous plans afoot to reintroduce live music into people’s lives as soon as possible.

Live Nation chief Thomas Johansson says, “It looks likely that the recovery will follow the pattern of the spread of the virus, with Asia opening up first, Europe next, hopefully over the summer. Of course we are planning for the other side. I’ve every faith in our business. It’s resilient and adaptable. I’m pretty sure that demand for live music will be stronger than ever when we get there.

Live Nation colleague, Bowdery comments, “I really believe that as each territory comes through this, all genres will be eager to get out and enjoy the live music scene, including concerts and festivals. Music fans are extremely social creatures and they will respond to the return of live music as they have done for hundreds of years, with high energy.”

Indeed, tapping into the connection that fans have for their favourite acts, Paradigm’s Hardee has a plan to get bands back on stage that will both mark the return to normality, as well as reward fans for their patience and loyalty.

“I’m talking to my bigger acts about playing small venues – often their favourite venues – to celebrate the return of live music and people being able to go out and socialise,” Hardee reveals. And he divulges some of the details he is using to persuade his clients to buy into the idea. “I’m telling bands that we have to cut their production and cut costs down and by playing smaller venues we can work to keep the ecosystem alive.”

“Music fans are extremely social creatures and they will respond to the return of live music as they have done for hundreds of years, with high energy”

Hardee’s plan takes into account the reticence some people may have about voluntarily placing themselves in crowded situations. “Veteran acts might suffer in terms of their audience being reluctant to come out to concerts, but young people think they are indestructible and robust, so the younger acts should be ok,” he says.

Johansson warns that it’s not just companies who will have cashflow issues. “We’ll need to bear disposable income in mind,” he says, “but we also need to remember that live music is a major tonic and the whole world needs that. I have immense faith in the fans.”

Like Hardee, Asika is musing similar low-key relaunch strategies. “If we can only do 500-capacity shows for a bit, that’s fine, you can adapt and it will grow again. We’re going to face a recession on steroids after this, but everyone is going through it at the same time, so this could push us back on an even keel. Emerging with your health is the most important thing right now.”

Indeed, the pandemic’s devastating effect on society has many people re-evaluating more than just their careers. “I will make changes and make sure I don’t work too much, as this has shown that we need to focus on other things too,” says Asika.

Noting that the pandemic could spell the demise of companies at all levels of the business, he adds, “With my small-to-mid-sized company, I can make decisions quickly and adapt. My risk is spread out and I am making it effective, even if I have lost a lot of future earnings. It’s the bigger companies I feel worried for, with huge offices, workforces and debt. It is going to be a scary time.”

Far from rubbing his hands at the thought of his multinational rivals faltering, Asika admits, “It’s frightening, as we are all connected – we are part of the same system and we want everyone to make it through.”

Read more expert coronavirus coverage in the latest edition of IQ Magazine below, or subscribe here.

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New signings and rising stars (Jan–Feb 2020)

Pa Salieu, a new signing for the UK’s Echo Location Talent, is among the acts added to the rosters of international agents at the beginning of the new decade.

Find out more, including a full list of new signings, below…


Pa Salieu (UK)

Agents: Obi Asika and Jack Clark, Echo Location

Pa Salieu is a 22-year-old rapper from Coventry, England. He is proud of his Gambian heritage, fluent in Wolof and keen to represent his culture wherever possible. Pa has a deep-rooted belief that music is a calling bigger than him, whether that’s down to his family tribe’s folk music background, or the death of his close friend, AP, which drove him to write his first lyrics.

His new solo release, Dem a Lie, is a big step up sonically, helped by the production of Coolie, who is riding high on the back of his production on fellow Coventry local Jay 1’s hit record Your Mrs.

Agents Obi Asika and Jack Clark are looking at festival opportunities for Pa Salieu in summer 2020.


For full artist listings, including new signings for Primary Talent, UTA, ATC Live, X-ray, Paradigm, ITB and more, see the digital edition of IQ 87:

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