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IQ 126 out now: The 1975, Country, Mid-level touring

IQ 126, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine, is available to read online now.

The April/May edition goes behind the scenes of The 1975’s Still… At Their Very Best tour, examines the rapid rise of country music around the world, and explores the difficulties facing the mid-tier of the live music touring business.

Elsewhere, the issue marks Mercury Wheels co-founder Barnaby Harrod’s 25 years as a promoter, dives into Switzerland’s thriving industry, and reports on the 36th edition of ILMC.

For this edition’s comments and columns, Pembe Tokluhan shares the inspiration behind launching a company that strives to increase representation of women, trans, and non-binary people working behind the scenes of live events.

In addition, creative comms guru Ella McWilliam (Full Fat) monitors the rapidly changing media landscape and provides tips on how festivals can entice Gen Z to become ticket-buying customers.

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

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

 


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ILMC’s Misogyny in Music panel: Key takeaways

In the wake of the recent Misogyny in Music report, key figures from the music industry came together at ILMC last week to discuss the “endemic” misogyny and discrimination in the UK music industry.

Louise Halliday (Royal Albert Hall), Christina Hazboun (PRS Foundation/Keychange), Jen Smith (Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority – CIISA) and John Shortell (Musicians’ Union UK) assembled for last Thursday’s panel, moderated by Eunice Obianagha (Enspire Management/UK Music).

The panel considered the report and its recommendations and what more the live music business can do to combat misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace. Below are five key takeaways from the session.

Women in senior leadership positions are crucial
Halliday: “If you’ve got women in positions of authority then that people feel that they have allies. For example, at the hall, we have our event managers and I think almost all but one are women. I think that’s a really important statement.”

Christina Hazboun, PRS Foundation/Keychange, said: “The core problem is mainly white cis men being in leading positions and the normativity that comes with the gender expectations and behaviours that come with that. This is very problematic for many women.”

The non-reporting of sexual harassment and misogyny is high
John Shortell, Musicians’ Union UK, said: “Our membership is made of about 35,000 musicians and 40% of that are women. We surveyed our female members about their experiences with misogyny and sexual harassment while working in the music industry. Over 48% of people who responded had been sexually harassed and of that 85% of them didn’t report it.

“So [the report] was an opportunity for us to voice the concerns, opinions and experiences of our female members without them suffering any dire consequences. We provided a written submission to the court for evidence, as well as oral evidence.”

Louise Halliday, Royal Albert Hall, said: “The thing that’s most worrying for us is underreporting. It’s easy to think that if you’re not hearing this as a problem, it means that it’s not a problem. So what we’re trying to do is to instil a culture of listening and hearing.”

Freelancers aren’t protected by existing policies
Jen Smith, CIISA: “70% of people working across the creative industries are freelancers so it’s really difficult to get a grip on the scale of what’s happening to people.

“We’re all reliant on freelancers and individuals who support the music. Sometimes they are left with nowhere to go or a multitude of places to report and that’s one of the failings that the report articulates – that the part of the jigsaw that’s missing is an overarching body.”

Resources and support must become unified within Europe
Hazboun: “This is a huge challenge where the moment you leave the UK and go to other countries, even across Europe, it becomes challenging to feel protected. The tools and mechanisms become less unified, especially after Brexit.”

Smith: “Jurisdiction is one of the key legal technical underbellies of CIISA. So if you are touring abroad, you’re based in the UK normally, we will consider that to be part of our jurisdiction. In terms of an international version, that’s something that the government is very keen to move forward with in the coming year.”

Shortell: “Different legislation in different countries prevents us from taking legal action but we’re definitely someone that you can always call to receive advice.”

If you’re not measuring representation, you can’t change it
Halliday: “We’ve got an audience development plan and we have milestones and targets that we were working towards because if you’re not measuring it, you don’t know where you are. It is a challenge for us, honestly, to get that kind of diversity and that balance in the lineup. But it’s something that having specifically measured and put targets in place, we can start to move towards it.”

To read more about the Misogyny in Music report, click here.

 


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TEL panel breaks down ‘The State of the Nation’

Industry leaders in live entertainment production gathered to kick off ILMC’s inaugural Touring Entertainment Live (TEL) and share their thoughts on ‘The State of the Nation’.

Chaired by Imagine Exhibitions’ Tom Zaller, the panel — which included guest speakers Liz Koops (Broadway Entertainment Group), Jenny Sirota (RoadCo Entertainment), James Harrison (ASM Global) and David Pitman (Cirque du Soleil) — discussed topics such as booming demand and higher costs, technological advancements, an over-reliance on established IP, and a lack of venues.

Zaller started by bringing up the effects of a post-Covid environment.

“Consumer demand is booming in certain areas, and inflation is causing issues for some of us in certain places,” he explained. “We’re also seeing different types of ticketing deals and dynamic pricing, but we’re also seeing production, operational, and labour costs rise.”

Koops, whose Broadway Entertainment Group has established itself as a key player in the Middle Eastern market with their productions of Disney classics, reckoned that while the increasing interest in the Gulf states is always a positive (“Doing 77 shows of Shrek across the region and within three cities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai, and Qatar was phenomenal!”), there was still a problem affecting the burgeoning territory.

“The touring world and circuit is getting smaller, unfortunately”

“There’s been genuine interest in developing the market, but while there are many more opportunities nowadays, there aren’t enough venues to accommodate the increasing demand,” she said.

That sentiment was shared by Pitman, who referenced certain geopolitical factors to explain dwindling availability in territories Cirque du Soleil used to sell out in.

“We used to tour Russia for 12 weeks, which isn’t going to happen for a long time now,” he said. “Prior to Covid, we held our ice show Crystal in Ukraine, the big venue in Helsinki [Helsinki Halli] is still shut, and there’s the situation in Israel as well to consider. The touring world and circuit is getting smaller, unfortunately.”

Another major point of discussion was the reliance on familiar IP, which the panel agreed made it difficult for original productions to get booked.

“There’s been such a massive spike in ideas being developed and everyone wants to get stuff out there, but especially after Covid, people crave the big IPs more,” explained Sirota. “It’s “comfort food”, they want to buy tickets to something they recognise,” adding that while the US doesn’t share the same experiences with venues as other territories, it’s still difficult to book fresh programming at present. “Especially with costs going up, it’s a real risk for producers to book anything that’s not heavily branded right now.”

“Customers tend to respond more in secondary and tertiary markets because it’s something different for them. There’s not as much competition”

Sirota also expressed concerns over heightened travel costs and a lack of transport availability.

“Trucking is incredibly expensive, and in terms of availability, buses for tours are booked up from 10 to 100 weeks,” she said, adding that it’s highly unlikely they’ll reduce their fees due to fuel prices anytime soon. “There’s so many shows nowadays, and there should be more trucking and bus companies to keep up with such demand.”

The panel soon moved on to entering new and developing territories. While Asia and the Gulf states have been her company’s bread and butter, Koops also stressed the importance of established markets that are smaller by comparison.

“We found that working with local promoters in the Eastern European markets has been incredibly successful for us,” she said, citing high demand in the likes of Croatia and Slovenia that enables her to develop multi-week touring opportunities.

“You don’t necessarily need to be in the A+ markets like London, Paris, or Berlin to have a successful touring production,” added Harrison. “Customers tend to respond more in secondary and tertiary markets because it’s something different for them. There’s not as much competition, so there’s more opportunities for fresher productions.”

To close out the panel, Zaller asked each guest for a one-word answer on what they’d like to change the most: Pitman responded with logistics, both Harrison and Sirota wanted more original shows, while Koops wished for more venues.

 


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Is a mid-level touring crisis emerging?

The litany of challenges facing the live industry – from breaking acts to gaming – came under the microscope in ILMC’s Touring: The Bread & Butter Business session.

Chaired by One Fiinix Live founder Jon Ollier, the panel featured Jan Digneffe of FKP Scorpio Belgium, Mercury Wheels/Live Nation Spain’s Barnaby Harrod, Finland-based Fullsteam founder Rauha Kyyro of FKP and agent Marsha Vlasic, president of Independent Artist Group in the US.

While the top end of the business is booming with record earnings for A-list tours, the discussion focused its attention on the potential crisis emerging in the mid-level.

Kyyro suggested the sector was struggling not only with high ticket prices, but from competition from other forms of media – such as video games.

“I think we’re losing out on a lot of young people going to the shows to get that experience because, well, first of all, the ticket prices are high. And also the market has changed in other ways, too,” she said. “But it actually might be a better 90 minute experience to play Fortnite than to go and see to a little show. If you look at what’s happened with gaming, just as an example, it’s developed so much faster than our live experience has. But the price of the live experience is going up all the time.”

“There’s a whole generation that don’t leave their rooms… They don’t even think about going to a live show”

Vlasic agreed the shift in habits among younger people was an issue.

“There’s a whole generation that don’t leave their rooms, and they know an act by one song,” she said. “They don’t even have the desire to go for the live experience. They’re very content on their group chats and TikTok and just discovering new songs, not artists. And that’s the worrisome generation, because they don’t even think about going to a live show.”

Vlasic added that the reluctance of some artists – particularly those outside the United States – to embrace VIP ticketing was a growing source of frustration.

“VIP is huge,” she said. “We had a package two summers ago that broke every record. But I have artists that just won’t do it. And it’s so frustrating because again, they don’t understand the value of it. It’s actually mostly non American artists that don’t allow it. But it’s such a big source of additional income.”

The subject switched to the topic of festival headliners, as Kyyro warned against an over-reliance on big name talent.

“We gave up on trying to get a seven-figure acts and we just focused on whatever we actually have access to and that the audience actually likes”

“If you’re really dependent on getting those few big names, then that’s going to kill your budget,” she said. “You’re probably not even going to even make any money unless you sell out.

“The key is to build a brand that is not so much dependent on having the number one artist every year. Provinssi, which is a Finnish festival we work with, has been around for over 40 years and it has had its ups and downs. I think the reason it’s now doing so well is that we gave up on trying to get a seven-figure acts and we just focused on whatever we actually have access to and that the audience actually likes. Then it doesn’t need to sell out, but we can still keep it going.”

The rise of joint headline and packaged tours was also touched upon, with Vlasic suggesting the acts do not necessarily have to be a perfect fit.

“As bigger acts are getting off the festivals and going into stadiums, the only way to do it is to piggyback and share the cost of the production,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be completely compatible, it’s just entertainment. When you think of packaging an act… it’s [about], how does this package look in terms of bringing in additional people and different audiences?

“[But] so many of them want to headline on their own and the market is saturated. I don’t know how to the summer’s going to do this year – and everybody’s gone on sale so much sooner.”

Some people need to step down from their throne in order to be able to play better venues

While Digneffe applauded the concept, he cautioned that persuading all parties of its merit was easier said than done.

“I think it’s an it’s an interesting idea, but you have trouble getting everybody on board,” he said. “If you look at the metal and the hard rock scene, there is a lot more going on and there is a lot more understanding between bands as well.

“We all know it’s an ego business. But I think that some people need to step down from their throne in order to be able to play better venues, and that will make the costs go down. It’s a more fun night for the punter anyway, so I see nothing but advantages. But to get it done, you need everybody on board. You need the agents to be on board. You need the management to be on board.”

“The metal thing is true,” added Harrod. “I went to see four metal bands in a 300-cap club in Barcelona. The kids had a great time.”

There was concern, however, about the lay of the land for breaking acts, and the apparent dearth of viable new headliners. Digneffe believed the focus on global tours was hurting those lower down the food chain.

“If I hear more streaming numbers I’ll go crazy. It’s just maddening – and streaming numbers don’t sell tickets”

“What is frustrating everybody about these world tours is this cherry picking that’s going on all the time,” said Digneffe. “I don’t want to be like a preacher in a church or anything, but the cherry picking also comes with a responsibility to look after the next generation. No one is doing that at the moment and I think that’s a real problem. The promoters that find solutions for that will help keep our business healthy.”

Vlasic lamented the obsession with streaming numbers, arguing they can give a false impression of an artist’s worth on the live scene.

“It’s all about the streaming and if I hear more streaming numbers I’ll go crazy,” she said. “It’s just maddening – and streaming numbers don’t sell tickets. I’ve always prided myself in working with career artists. How do we develop groups? It’s a really frightening thought.”

Harrod, meanwhile, remained hopeful that the tried and tested approach to building rising stars would still bear fruit going forward.

“We have to be proactive,” he said. “We have to get out, we have to support the new acts. Push them, get them out, and that’s it. It’s always been that. Nothing is easy. It’s [about] supporting bands, keeping doing those 200 and 300-cap shows and enjoying them.”

 


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ILMC 36: The pros and cons of dynamic ticketing

Dynamic ticketing took centre stage during ILMC’s Ticketing: At What Price? panel, as leading executives debated whether the growth of market-based pricing in the US will be replicated in other major international markets.

Chaired by Kilimanjaro Live promoter Steve Tilley, the session brought together Eventim Norway and Sweden’s Marcia Titley, Ticketmaster UK’s Sarah Slater, AXS’ Chris Lipscomb and Arnaud Meersseman of AEG Presents.

Recalling going to see Bruce Springsteen at New York City’s Madison Square Garden last year, Tilley admitted he was prepared to pay “whatever it costs” to get into the show. However, Meersseman pointed out the practice was less established in territories like France, which made it harder to compete when booking top acts.

“We’re being pushed more and more by artists to incorporate dynamic pricing,” he said. “To them, it doesn’t make sense on a financial level to tour Europe compared to the US, where dynamic pricing is widely common.”

Meersseman speculated there would be “massive pushback” against the practice across France. “It’s also a question of accessibility, and fans are likely to end up wondering whether gigs will only be reserved for the rich in the not-too-distant future,” he warned.

Lipscomb added that dynamic pricing is already happening in several European markets, including the UK, and predicted it will increase in prominence sooner than most think.

“Ten percent of all UK shows may already be sold under dynamic pricing. In a couple of years, I’d expect that number will increase by 30%-40%”

“Ten percent of all UK shows may already be sold under dynamic pricing,” he said. “In a couple of years, I’d expect that number will increase by 30%-40% and maybe even rise higher to 70%-80%.”

The discussion segued into the secondary market, with Titley noting that while countries like Norway and Denmark put laws in place to prevent resales above face value, dynamic pricing was necessary to “drive higher revenue”.

“Ultimately, it’s all about protecting the fans, and I believe in combining tech and legislation to eradicate those excessive profit margins,” she said.

Ticketmaster has successfully introduced its own fan-to-fan resale service in the UK, and Slater said: “There are plenty of safe, face-value resale sites to sell your tickets to in the UK. We’ve heavily pushed the fact that tickets are transferable, but we always encourage customers to only buy from authorised sites.”

Sam Shemtob, director of Face-value European Alliance for Ticketing (FEAT), made a brief cameo to explain the role that the EU Digital Service Act will play in combating illegal ticket listings.

“If the ticket is being sold by a trader, that needs to be listed right at the front in a clearly accessible manner, and ticket resale sites will now be banned from using design tricks that manipulate consumers into decisions, such as “pop-ups” or giving prominence to specific choices,” explained Shemtob.

“Nailing the on-sale is absolutely critical, but marketing the shows via a long-term campaign with the artists up until the actual event is just as important”

Shemtob, who is collaborating with the European Commission on how to streamline a complaints mechanism for fans and promoters, launched ‘Make Tickets Fair’ last year — a campaign to educate and empower fans to avoid being ripped off by ticket touts.

“The platforms will also be required to make it clear throughout the buying process that the tickets listed are provided by a third party,” he said. “If a platform fails to do this and fans are led to believe that the tickets are provided by the platform itself, the platform can be held responsible for any tickets listed in contravention of national laws.

“All of these sites need to have a clear and simple complaint mechanism.”

Another major talking point was the perception that tickets must be bought as soon as they go on sale.

“Obviously, nailing the on-sale is absolutely critical, but marketing the shows via a long-term campaign with the artists up until the actual event is just as important,” Slater said, citing the concert industry’s shift towards post-sale engagement, which includes events integrations in collaborations with Spotify and TikTok, as well as creative marketing strategies to keep fans engaged.

“Most people think that if they can’t get tickets within the first hour, they’ll end up being scammed when attempting to purchase them at a later time,” added Meersseman. “It all ties to what we discussed earlier about properly educating customers on the ticket sale process.”

 


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ILMC 36: The Venue’s Venue: New Frontiers

Experts in venue operations, events strategy and promoting convened at ILMC 36 to analyse the potential of new arenas in emerging and established markets.

Moderated by IQ Magazine’s special projects editor James Drury, The Venue’s Venue: New Frontiers panel featured Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery, Co-op Live’s Gary Roden, D.Live’s Daniela Stork and ASM Global’s Marie Lindqvist and Tim Worton, who discussed what the developments mean for customers, existing venues and touring routes.

Drury kicked off proceedings at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel by citing several findings from studies conducted by the European Arenas Association (EAA) and the National Arenas Association (NAA). Both indicated that overall attendances grew by 16% in 2023 (27,991,247 people) when compared to 2022 (24,224,783). Due to increased post-pandemic production and touring costs, average ticket prices also rose by 7% in 2023 (€62.04) when compared to 2022 (€58).

According to Worton, those figures were also reflected in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region.

“We came out of Covid a lot later than other territories, so our 2022 numbers were lighter compared to the rest of the world,” he explained. “However, our 2023 numbers were in line with or slightly higher than in 2019, which I credit towards a pent-up post-Covid demand to finally go out and watch live entertainment.”

“I’ve already sold out five new shows in January this year. I can’t remember the last time that happened”

Worton also confirmed a new multi-purpose facility opening up in Bangkok, as well as the 50,000-capacity Kai Tak Sports Arena in Hong Kong.

“2023 was a very strong year for us in general,” noted Lindqvist, referencing the fact that several European markets didn’t register full years in 2022. “‘23 has been a great year for stadium shows in particular.”

“I’ve already sold out five new shows in January this year,” added Bowdery. “I can’t remember the last time that happened.”

Roden has been overseeing the development of Manchester’s Co-op Live, which is scheduled to open in April, and is looking forward to what the venue can offer from a business and entertainment standpoint.

“At 23,500 capacity, it’s going to be the biggest indoor arena in the UK, and given Manchester being a huge regional market, the city can definitely take a second arena,” he said, adding that this year’s MTV Europe Music Awards will be held there in a collaborative effort with Manchester City Council — further emphasising how governmental organisations are waking up to the value of using music as a city attraction.

“Our energy costs went up by 50% last year. Staffing costs have also gone through the roof”

Another point of discussion was the new types of “concert content” being advertised and played in arena shows. Worton praised the rise of Asian and Indian pop shows, while Stork elaborated on the importance of working with less established acts and promoters.

“We always attempt to build and foster relationships with promoters who haven’t had a long history in the business, and we try to go the extra mile to help them set up shows in our venues,” said Stork, who added that D.Live has a great track record with specialty bands who aren’t associated with their regular shows.

“It’s challenging sometimes, but it’s also good fun because it’s something really different,” she said.

The panel also reached a unanimous agreement when it came to discussing the most significant cost challenges. “Our energy costs went up by 50% last year,” said Worton. “Staffing costs have also gone through the roof.”

However, Lindqvist stated the rise in energy bills enabled her team to “make all the necessary investments for reducing energy consumption that ensure environmentally-friendly standards”.

“It’s a very clear trend in all the markets… People want to upgrade their experience, and it’s something that we’re accommodating towards”

When quizzed about the increasing size of production sets and whether a reduction in the number of trucks artists require for their shows, Bowdery stated that such acts are mainly “thinking about their fans” while admitting that their concerts will only get bigger.

“They’re artists, so they want to make sure that everyone enjoys their shows,” he said. “It’s a sign for our times.”

The panel further commented on the shifts in consumer trends when it comes to a preference in premium VIP experiences over general admission tickets, despite a marked increase in the global cost of living.

“It’s a very clear trend in all the markets, which is why we’ve also shifted towards a more B2C model,” Lindqvist said. “People want to upgrade their experience, and it’s something that we’re accommodating towards. This trend is shaping up how we’re going into the market and how we engage with our customers around those different opportunities.”

In closing, the panel explored the role sustainability plays into their operations, which has become a top priority for them. Examples included the banning of single-use plastics, constructing washing stations, selling reusable cups, and more.

“Our buildings have been running on renewable energy for a few years now,” said Stork. “I think everyone from fans to artists have the right to expect that we try our best to be as sustainable as possible.”

 


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ABBA Voyage producer hints at new venues worldwide

As one of the keynote interviews during Touring Entertainment Live (TEL) at ILMC, producer Svana Gisla gave a fascinating insight into the creation and operation of ABBA Voyage.

The smash hit show has so far has sold more than two million tickets for the shows in its purpose-built arena in London. And Gisla told delegates that the need to duplicate the tech for the groundbreaking production may soon become reality, as its owners and operators explore building more facilities to entertain fans around the world.

Gisla began by speaking about her background working for a division of Ridley Scott Films, where she was involved in making music videos for the likes of Madonna, Coldplay, the Rolling Stones, Beyoncé and Kylie Minogue among others.

Having created a company with a Swedish film director in 2015, she detailed working with David Bowie in the last six months of his life, and how she swore she would not work with music again. “Then ABBA called,” she laughed.

“In the beginning, we thought it might be a concert and a production that we could take on tour, but it cannot – that is impossible. It needed its own space, so it actually felt very normal that we would build our own arena, so I found myself going around London looking for land… and we found an old car park in the Olympic Park, infested with rats – it was perfect!”

“When you have a team of people who are all already excelling in their fields, and then they raise their game even higher, how can you fail?”

Explaining how the creation of the show happened across various pandemic lockdowns, Svana noted that the production had to marry the digital world with the physical arena. “Light is the connector – we have five different lighting systems,” she said. But she confessed that there was a fear that if they did not get everything perfect, ABBA Voyage could have become just like watching a film.

Noting another moment that had the potential to end the project, she revealed that during the motion capture element of creation, “The whole project nearly derailed when the boys found out that they would have to shave their beards.”

Costing £141 million, the entire venture was funded privately from Swedish investors. Responding to a question from moderator James Drury, Gisla stated, “The size of it did not scare me because when you have a team of people who are all already excelling in their fields, and then they raise their game even higher, how can you fail?”

Answering a question from a TEL delegate, Gisla show down suggestions that the ABBA Voyage team is working to create similar shows for other artists. Indeed, she also put the record straight about the many erroneous reports in the press about other companies claiming to be behind the show.

Gisla also ran through some of the astonishing statistics behind ABBA Voyage, saying that the show attracts 21,000 people each week and to date has sold more than two million tickets. “25% of the visitors come from overseas, and 80% of those come to London just to see ABBA,” she said noting that an economic impact study found that the production had generated £322 million for the local area in its first year.

“25% of the visitors come from overseas, and 80% of those come to London just to see ABBA”

Digging further into the numbers she said that 70% of the staff working on ABBA Voyage were hired locally, while the company does its best to be part of the community in its East London location.

“You cannot just come in and take – you have to give something back,” she said. “We do workshops for the local schools and explain to the kids how we did the show, giving them the experience behind the scenes of one of the most high tech shows ever created.”

Describing the purpose-built arena as “the least demountable demountable building,” Gisla concluded that although it is impossible to take the production on the road, its creators are in talks to duplicate the venture in the likes of the United States, Australia and elsewhere in Europe. “It’s a complicated beast, however, because you need to have one million visitors per year to make it a viable business,” she added.

Leading executives from the world’s biggest and most successful touring shows and exhibitions gathered for the inaugural TEL on the final day of this year’s sold out ILMC to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the multi-billion dollar sector.

Companies attending included ASM Global, Live Nation, FKP Scorpio, Kilimanjaro Group, Neon, Semmel Exhibitions, Fever, TEO, RoadCo Entertainment, Terrapin Station Entertainment, Cirque du Soleil, Harlem Globetrotters, Imagine Exhibitions, Broadway Live, Pophouse Entertainment, Layered Reality.

AEG Europe, Great Leap Forward, Science Museum London, lililililil, Imagine Exhibitions, Universcience, Proactiv Entertainment, Let’s Go Company, MB Presents, World on Ice, Expona, Slam Dunk Entertainment, World Concert Artists, Grand Palais Immersif, Fierylight and Opus One were also in attendance.

 


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Kilimanjaro Live trio hold court at Futures Forum

The team behind DEAG-owned UK promoter Kilimanjaro Live offered a few pearls of wisdom to the next generation in a keynote interview at Futures Forum.

The conference for young and emerging live music executives returned to London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel on Friday (1 March) to conclude the 2024 International Live Music Conference (ILMC).

The FF programme spanned the agency business, artist development, sustainability, the evolution of festivals and more, with speakers including Connie Shao (AEG Presents), Beckie Sugden (CAA), Louisa Robinson (FORM), Caroline Simionescu-Marin (WME), Lottie Bradshaw (TEG Live Europe), Sally Dunstone (Primary Talent) and Jess Kinn (One Fiinix Live).

Rounding off the event, three of Kilimanjaro Live’s principals – Stuart Galbraith, San Phillips and Alan Day – were quizzed by IQ‘s Lisa Henderson about building a modern music company, what they’ve learned on the journey, and how they see both their company and the broader business developing.

Formed in 2008, the London-based firm currently works with artists including Simply Red, Ed Sheeran, Andrea Bocelli, Hans Zimmer, Stereophonics and Don Broco. Here is a selection of key talking points from the session…

“The ability to make a living out of music is getting more and more difficult”

Diversifying the business…
Stuart Galbraith:
“The ability to make a living out of music is getting more and more difficult. As a promoter, the risk versus return ratio is atrocious. If you talk to accountants who come into audit our books, they look at you as if you’re mad: ‘You risk this much money to make this much money?’ And if you look at us as a margin business by comparison to any other sector, it just doesn’t make sense – particularly as the world has become smaller and global deals are coming to play, those margins are even more tight.

“So we’ve deliberately in the last seven years diversified [into] more businesses where there is a better market. There is less risk. And it enables us to then justify running a concert promoting business that, to be quite frank, as a standalone business is suspect. However, the fact that you can send an email and say that we promote Ed Sheeran, or we promoted Live 8, or we work with Andrea Bocelli, opens so many doors, and it’s still a very, very crucial part of our business.”

Artist development…
Alan Day: “Some of our biggest acts we met at the very bottom. One of our colleagues, Steve Tilley, met Ed Sheeran supporting Just Jack at Shepherd’s Bush Empire.”

SG: “Which lost £3,500.”

AD: “Sabaton, the metal band, I met at South by Southwest. There were 40 people there [and I] gave them my number. Their first show I did in London was at the Garage, then Electric Ballroom, then Koko… While She Sleeps played Ally Pally recently, first gig Borderline. Don Broco, I met in a bar at a festival where they were playing to 50 people and now we’re in arenas. So that’s how we get there from the get-go.”

“It’s a way of life rather than just a nine-to-five job, seven days a week”

Work-life balance…
San Phillips: “Something that I say to people new to the industry and to the company is that gigs happen at the evenings and weekends. So maybe what do you want when you’re 20, aren’t things you want to be doing when you’re 40, so be mindful of the kind of goals that you want in life. We do what we need to do to get it done. But we love going to gigs. We go to a lot together and that’s what it’s about. You’re not going to necessarily work regular hours, and obviously when you’re launching something, of course it’s time consuming. I’m not going to lie about that. You can’t teach people stamina and I think stamina is one of the things that you really need.”

SG: “Promoting was one of the few jobs where quite literally the more hours you put in, the more successful you’re potentially going to be. And if you look at Alan or Steve, it’s a way of life rather than just a nine-to-five job seven days a week. And if you’re going to go on holiday, the manager still wants to talk to you.”

Challenges for the year ahead…
AD: “Rising costs – from PAs, to security, to crews, riggers, trucking…”

SG: “As a promoter we’re invariably a function of the bottom line, we’re a percentage of what’s left. And those rising costs are unfortunately, as we predicted during Covid, being met by increased ticket prices. So we’re seeing huge escalation in ticket prices that are way beyond anything that we would have expected two years ago. That’s fine if we’re on an indoor tour where we’re working in a finite environment, but when you then come to outdoors and you’ve booked either festivals or small outdoor shows, it becomes very, very scary.

“We run the festival in Scotland called Belladrum, which is now Scotland’s biggest camping festival and our costs at Belladrum in three years have increased by a million pounds. And I just can’t put the ticket price up to match that. With Belladrum, we’ve been able to get a margin increase in capacity, which has helped offset that cost, but we’re having to accept that that festival now can’t be as profitable as it used to be.”

“If we had a discussion, we probably would have avoided making the biggest mistake in Kili’s history”

Biggest career lesson…
SG: “I think our biggest lesson was making sure that within your opinion, because it can be absolutely crucial. When we took Kili private in 2012, within a week, we launched Sonisphere at Knebworth. Within three days, it became very evident that we’d made a huge mistake, and when we took a final decision to cancel it, Alan came up with the line which was, ‘I knew it wouldn’t work. I didn’t think it was a good idea.’

“From that day on, we said, ‘Well, if you have an opinion, then you must express it – particularly in a team environment, because Alan’s viewpoint was absolutely correct. And if we had had a discussion, then we probably would have avoided making what was then the biggest mistake in Kili’s history.

“It was a mistake because we were ahead of our time because we booked Queen with Adam Lambert as the lead singer and Queen fans had not embraced Adam Lambert at that point in time. Now, Queen sell more tickets with Adam Lambert as the lead singer that they used to with Freddie Mercury. But in that particular year, no one wanted to buy the tickets – and Alan knew that.”

SP: “Everybody gets their voice heard. Anybody can come up to you, whatever their position in the company, and say, ‘Oh no, what were you doing that for? Why haven’t we chosen to do this?’ And they’re not told off… Everybody in the company is a [music] fan, and we encourage them to say things.”

 


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Jay Marciano shines at ILMC’s Breakfast Meeting

Heavyweight executive Jay Marciano shared stories from his illustrious career in the (Late) Breakfast Meeting to close out the second day of ILMC 36 at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London.

The AEG Presents chair and CEO sat down with raconteur and former artist manager Ed Bicknell, who was bowing out as host after 23 years on the mic. Bicknell has interviewed some of the biggest names in the music business during his tenure, including Irving Azoff, Roger Daltrey, Nile Rodgers, Emma Banks, Arthur Fogel, Paul McGuinness and Marc Geiger.

Marciano, who is responsible for overseeing AEG’s tour and concert promotion, facilities, and digital divisions, touched upon topics such as AI and the future of the business, backstage tales of Chuck Berry, James Brown and Prince, plus Taylor Swift’s all-conquering Eras Tour…

Here is a selection of highlights from the hour-long conversation…

“We’re spending a lot more time thinking about music from other parts of the world coming to the US, and how best to promote these shows”

The globalisation of live music…
“This business is never-ending. There is no ‘endgame’. But what keeps things interesting is that streaming has created new music fans that are interested in all kinds of genres. We used to be limited by playlists which were driven by radio stations, but that’s no longer the case. Before, we spent most of our careers thinking about taking Western music to other parts of the world, but nowadays we’re spending a lot more time thinking about music from other parts of the world coming to the US, and how best to promote these shows.

“It’s not just artists who are performing in English, either. For example, out of the three Coachella headliners from last year, only Frank Ocean sang in English. Bad Bunny sang in Spanish, and Blackpink in Korean. The fact that we had over 750,000 music fans buy tickets to see them shows that the business has come a long way.”

Measuring rate of growth…
“We’re not growing fast enough [laughs]. Well, there’s the data points… Did we do more shows than last year? Do we have more venues? Are we selling more tickets? Are we selling more tickets at higher ticket prices? Are we paying artists in compensation based upon that? All those are the basic data points that you sort of measure yourself over year after year.

“We have a fully developed footprint in the US — we have 19 offices, nearly 100 music venues, and tens of thousands of shows. As we start to think globally, we’ve opened offices in the UK, our partnership with [independent media agency] Frontier in Australia, our Asian business which is growing, developing our South American market as well as other European countries… all of this takes time, as well as finding the right partners, and we’ve done particularly well with choosing our partners to both our long term benefits. These partnerships we’ve developed span across 15, 20 years.”

“AI is going to change everything, including the creative process. What we see on stage, how it’s presented…”

Where the industry goes from here…
“It’ll continue to be rapidly impacted by technology. There are people here who are more qualified to talk about this topic than I am, but AI is going to change everything, including the creative process. What we see on stage, how it’s presented, its use in the studio, how artists will creatively work with one another…

“Many of the young artists I talk to don’t wanna be limited by just one creative medium. Once upon a time, they simply just wanted to be, say, the best guitar player in the world. I hate to use the words ‘brand extension’, but nowadays they wanna branch out into films and other things. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one thing.”

A double bill with James Brown and Chuck Berry…
“I was in my late twenties coming up in the industry. I had this theatre in LA called the Beverly Theater. In those days, there was a 7:30 show and a 10:30 show, and I had a double bill with James Brown and Chuck Berry [laughs]. The William Morris Agency made a mistake on Chuck’s contract and pulled the 7:30 show down, but he finished the set anyway.

“It was a summer show, and the dressing rooms of the Beverly Theater had no air conditioning backstage. It was a hot summer’s night. There was a knock on my door, and I was told that, ‘Mr. Brown would like to see me.’ I was like, oh boy. I then go to his dressing room, knock on his door, and I hear ‘come in.’ James Brown was under one of these hairdryers and is straightening his hair in between shows. I said, ‘James, I heard you wanted to see me,’ and he went, ‘It’s Mr. Brown’ [laughs]. He then said, ‘I understand you have a problem with Mr Berry this evening,’ and I said yes. He replied that he would have to work extra hard, and I asked him, ‘How much?’ To which he said, ‘$5,000 in small bills.’ I race upstairs, pull out as many bills as I could from the cash registers, and it turns out I was $1,500 shy of what he asked. I then run across the street to a pizza place a friend of mine owned, and asked him if I could borrow $1,500. I got the money together, kept him happy, and he did another hour of his show.

“We all have stories like that of cranky artists. Usually over time, we had some laughs about it. In fact, I went on to have a great relationship with James over the years.”

“I just wish we had more artists to work with like Taylor”

Passion vs profession…
“There’s a saying about finding your passion, following your passion, and you’ll be good at it because it’s what you love doing. My slight variation is that your passion is your hobby, and whatever you’re very good at should be your profession, because I was an okay guitar player and that turned out to be my hobby. I think if I got down the road as a guitar player, I probably wouldn’t have gotten far…

“I was never good at geometry or algebra but it turns out you don’t need to use either of those to be a promoter. You just have to be really good at addition and subtraction, because it’s not a complicated business.”

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour
“I just wish we had more artists to work with like Taylor. She’s on time, she’s reliable, she does three-plus hour shows every night, she’ll do three shows in a row… her work ethic and dedication is something that’s rare. She’s always upbeat, she never complains, and her energy is infectious because everyone around the camp feels the same way. They know they’re making history, and they’re feeling happy about being a part of it. And of course, we’re happy to be the promoter on that tour.”

 


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ILMC 36: The Agency Business

Leading agents offered an upbeat overview of the agency trade in 2024 and pondered the future of the model in the annual ILMC panel on the sector.

The Agency Business 2024 panel chair Anna Sjölund was joined by guest speakers Bex Wedlake (One Fiinix Live), Brian Ahern (WME), Tom Schroeder (Wasserman Music) and James Wright (UTA) to debate a range of topics.

“The great thing after the pandemic, [Brexit], and the general inflation of costs, we’re still having a strong touring business. The difficulty is costs, be that for artists, promoters or venue operators,” said Wright.

Asked how it was to be an agent in 2024, Schroeder said, “I bloody love it. I don’t disagree that there are problems, but they’re a bit like a jigsaw that we have to work out and I really enjoy that challenge. The fact is that artists are a lot more involved in their careers these days, and that makes things fun.

“The rules have changed and some historic templates have [been discontinued], and because social media plays such a big part in things now, artists have to be a lot more involved in their career and decisions about their career, so I truly believe this is the best time I’ve had in my career.”

“The appetite for live music is bigger and better than ever before”

Wedlake noted, “The appetite for live music is bigger and better than ever before, and there’s a bigger emphasis on women in music and LGBTQ issues, led by the artists, and it’s amazing to witness that levelling of the [playing field] and the evolution of our job. There’s no one-size-fits-all for either clients or us as agents, so the fact that big corporations and independent operations can happily co-exist is pretty healthy.

Ahern agreed, commenting, “I believe our company can provide a competitive advantage to our clients, but there are also bands and artists who simply want to tour, and therefore being at another agency is a better fit for them. I have a lot of respect for the indie agents and what they do – thankfully there is enough work for all of us.”

Discussing the reality of global deals, Wright revealed that he had chosen a lower offer for one of his clients because a higher offer would have meant unrealistic ticket prices for that act’s fans. And talking about the changing role of the agent, Schroeder said that while 15 years ago his job involved booking gigs, “What was 90% of my job is now just 10%, as I spend a lot more time working on strategy and creativity. And the best thing is I don’t know how I will be doing things in 18 months because the business keeps changing and I think the industry is all the better for it.”

Schroeder courted controversy by stating that grassroots venues were no longer a part of the ecosystem for his roster of clients, although he acknowledged their importance. But Wedlake responded, “We all have a responsibility to feed back into the grassroots sector – that’s why I’m a proponent of using independent promoters.” She added, “My job as an agent is to ferret out promoters who understand my artists and with whom we can grow sensibly, slowly and creatively.”

Addressing concerns about agents signing too many acts to their rosters, Wright said, “We are opportunistic, but we have to believe in the artists we sign. It’s complicated and it’s hard work, but we don’t get paid straight away, so belief is a big part of it.”

“We need promoters to help us get to a point where touring becomes financially sustainable”

Underlining that point, Schroeder revealed that he has been working with Raye for eight years – “Six and a half years were a real slog, but I always had that belief and I stuck with her.”

Turning the discussion to the different ways in which agencies operate, Sjölund asked Ahern about WME’s territorial model, leading Ahern to dismiss some of the myths about the practice.

“We don’t simply hand off to someone who does not know what they are doing. We engage experts who have knowledge about specific markets, or who speak the local language, and who can advise me as the agent who can then use that information to make a decision. But the person who presents the artist always has that direct relationship – if I do not have that direct contact with my artist, I get fired.”

Schroeder also underlined the importance of the promoter in planning career strategies for artists. “If we choose a promoter that we trust, why would we not want their opinion in a meeting with the artist and management? They are the well informed gamblers that we rely on.”

He concluded, “We need promoters to help us get to a point where touring becomes financially sustainable.”

 


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