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Inside the changing face of live music sponsorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Livestreaming: What happens next?

A panel of industry experts debated what the future holds for livestreaming following the return of touring.

The ILMC session: Livestreaming: On trial was presented by Eleven Management’s Estelle Wilkinson, with speakers Ric Salmon of Driift, Grazia Tribulato of LiveNow, Max Wentzler of Zart Agency and agent Steve Zapp of ITB on hand to pass judgement.

While the format flourished during the pandemic, concerns have been raised that it has fallen down the list of priorities amid the return of IRL concerts.

But Driift CEO and co-founder Salmon, whose company has sold hundreds of thousands of tickets for livestreamed gigs with acts including Nick Cave, Niall Horan, Kylie Minogue, Biffy Clyro, Andrea Bocelli and Laura Marling, said he is convinced it is here to stay.

“I’d be shocked if it doesn’t become just part of the standard lexicon of what we do”

“I think we need a couple of years for us all to work out where this is going and hopefully, businesses won’t lose too much money through that process,” he said. “Unfortunately, development in [the digital] sector tends to be slowed down and stymied by arguments and disagreement, and it would be nice if we can find a way of that not happening this time.

“But in long term… I’d be shocked if it doesn’t become just part of the standard lexicon of what we do.”

Germany-based Zart Agency launched Zart.tv in 2020, with the first hybrid livestreaming concert with AR content in the country. Wentzler said he had been left scratching his head at the reluctance of certain parties to embrace the fresh opportunities created.

“There’s a potential revenue stream… And people are shutting their doors to it”

“What I think is a bit mind boggling about this whole conversation is there’s a potential new revenue stream… And people are shutting their doors to it,” he said.

“In five years, I would love to see labels really understanding the potential, especially with younger artists and up and coming hot artists.

“What I’m seeing right now in Germany – because of state funding – is that a lot of venues now have five, six cameras, all remote controlled. The house technicians are actually learning to do sound and do video at the same time. We’ve seen this a lot in jazz clubs in Germany, and they’re doing a lot of revenue – some that I’ve talked to have been doing six figures. I would love to see that business model being extrapolated on to bigger areas.”

Zapp’s artist roster includes Biffy Clyro, who played a behind-closed-doors global livestream show from Glasgow Barrowlands in 2020 to launch their A Celebration of Endings album. He spoke of the advantages offered by the format, particularly geographically.

“[There are] certain countries that you can’t tour because it’s too expensive to get to,” he said. “The streaming scenario is an opportunity to get the artist to be seen in those countries. You could put a bit of a spend behind it and maybe try and build it to then be able to afford to tour in the future.”

“If it’s a standalone livestream, completely outside of any campaign that’s going on, it’s really difficult to market”

LiveNow’s most successful livestream to date was Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054 livestream, which saw more than five million people tuning in live, according to organisers. However, more generally, Tribulato advised a certain amount of education on livestream events was still required for consumers.

“I think everybody is still quite confused on what are they going to get when they buy a ticket for a livestream,” she said. “When they get a ticket, what do they get? Are they watching the show live? Are they watching a pre-recorded show? Can they watch it after 24 hours? Can they watch it forever? There’s still a lot of confusion. and a lot of marketing is spent on actually explaining what it is.”

Tribulato suggested it makes more sense to position livestreams as part of an artist’s wider promotional campaign, rather than a one-off concert.

“If it’s a standalone, completely outside of any campaign that’s going on, it’s really difficult to market,” she said. “So what we tend to do is ‘tentpole events’, as we call them: big events… in the campaign of the artist. So I think the main task is to find a way to incorporate the livestream in the cycle.”

Salmon countered that Driift had seen considerable success with The Smile’s groundbreaking trio of gigs in London in January, where each performance by the Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood side project was held in front of a seated audience of 1,200 and livestreamed in real time for a different timezone.

“I don’t think you can make a blanket rule that they don’t work in isolation,” he said. “Admittedly, it was with a couple of famous people from a very famous band, but it was the definition of ‘in isolation’, because it was a launch event, and the first time they’d ever done anything, and the first time anyone had ever heard any of the music.

“Now it’s slightly different, of course, because it’s an offshoot from Radiohead so you’ve got a ready made fan base. But it was phenomenally successful and vastly outperformed our expectations.”

“The pandemic accelerated the understanding of the sector so rapidly”

Driift sold more than 85,000 tickets for Little Mix’s livestream from The O2 in London last month, which marked the final date on the group’s Confetti Tour.

“There’s loads of evidence that consumers want this stuff,” said Salmon. “There’s a convenience to it and there’s a geographical reach that you can achieve with with livestreams that you can never reach with physical shows, so there’s a demand for it.

“We were very fortunate that we were working in this vacuum of the pandemic, so we had this captive audience. But it accelerated the understanding of the sector so rapidly. It’s now a case of us as an industry catching up with that and working out how best to use it. Because, frankly, we’d be fucking mad not to find a solution for it going forward.”

Salmon also addressed discussions with performance rights organisations (PROs) over the livestream tariff, including the well-documented dispute with PRS for Music.

“One of the biggest realisations we had at the beginning of all of this was there was there was no precedent,” he said. “There was no licensing structure for this stuff, which was kind of remarkable in the fairly advanced industry we think we are, and so it’s been a challenge.

“The labels have  a very vocal view. The publishers have a very vocal view. Artists, managers, songwriters and everybody in between have a very vocal view. Some PROs have been very robust in their negotiations, others have been a lot more understanding and open-minded. But generally speaking, we’ve got it to a fairly good place and I think we’re getting to a point now where [Driift] will be signing some licensing agreements with the PROs that don’t set a terrible precedent.”

 


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Boom time predicted for mid-size venue market

Mid-size arenas will provide the new “battlefield” for venue operators in the post-pandemic touring business, it has been claimed.

ILMC’s New Builds: The venue boom panel looked at the growing number of new buildings coming online, from Swansea Arena to Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, along with future projects such as Manchester’s Co-op Live.

With investment in the bricks-and-mortar side of the live music business reaching record levels, leading venue operators stepped up to discuss the arenas and big buildings of the future.

Tom Lynch, ASM Global’s commercial director & SVP, Europe, brought up the company’s management of Olympia London, which includes a 4,400-cap live music venue and 1,575-seat performing arts theatre, and is scheduled to be completed in 2024. He also referenced the firm’s involvement in the 3,500-cap Wolverhampton Civic Halls and Derby arena schemes, which are both in development.

“We think more of these mid-sized venues will come to the market and help the industry grow”

“It’s reflective of where we think there’s some growth in the market,” said Lynch. “It’s great to build new arenas and stadiums, but actually, you look all across Europe and there are venues that cap out at 2,000 in every single city, and the next step is 10,000 to 15,000 capacity arenas.

“That’s a problem. It’s a limitation on shows and we think more of these [mid-sized] venues will come to the market and help the industry grow and sell more tickets, rather than saturate or steal tickets. We want to create venues where there aren’t venues and try and drive economic impact that way.”

DEAG executive Detlef Kornett agreed: “The new battlefield will be mid-size arenas… It’s very important to fill that gap between 2,000 and 23,000.”

Kornett said there was an increasing realisation that music events were no longer just attended by fans of the artist.

“Our industry had grown a lot over the last few years because of the baby boomers. Then we had a pandemic and that group is a bit hesitant to come back”

“It’s very similar to what happened in sports and that’s where the premium offerings and the diversification kicks in,” he said. “People come for more reasons than just listen to the music: they want to socialise, they want to have a good time prior and after, and they want to communicate on socials that they were at the event. New arenas have the ability to provide for that.

“Our industry had grown a lot over the last few years because of the baby boomers. Then we had a pandemic and it’s very clear now that group is a bit hesitant to come back. So all of the efforts of the new venues to take that anxiety away, will be very important. Once we’re out of this pandemic, if that ever is the case, you will see a lot of pent-up demand.”

Lynch explained the pros and cons of refurbishing an existing building compared to pressing ahead with a new build – referencing ASM’s 12,500-cap Newcastle Gateshead Quays arena scheme, which will succeed the city’s near 30-year-old Utilita Arena.

“Once you’ve built a venue, there’s so much carbon, trying to be sustainable from that point on is damage limitation,” he said. “You can do great things in energy consumption, and just the way that you interact with the community, but you need to be really conscious of the decision you’re taking.

“Newcastle Gateshead is a good example of where we’ve actively looked at renovating what’s there, rather than changing and building new. The reality for us was that it was built for £10 million in 1994, so it’s a shed, it’s not even an aircraft hangar. It’s been an incredibly successful venue. And we’ve evolved it over the years, but actually trying to renovate something that is all metal and was built for £10m, so long ago, is counterproductive.”

“New builds are a fantastic anchors for a regeneration project”

Opening in 2024, the arena is the centrepiece of a £260m regeneration scheme which will include a conference and exhibition centre, restaurants, a hotel and large areas of ‘outdoor realm’ and performance space on the same site.

“We’re shutting down one venue and bringing something new to market with other event venue aspects to it which we think, in turn, is more sustainable and better for the environment,” explained Lynch. “It brings more people in from different walks of life. What we’re aiming to get to in the end is not just one customer base or demographic, but a cross-section of society.”

John Rhodes, design director of HOK London Studio, whose past work includes Leeds’ First Direct Arena and recently recently completed the 18,000-cap Etihad Arena on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island Arena, outlined the wider economic benefits of new arena developments.

“They’re fantastic anchors for a regeneration project,” he said. “The footfall that these buildings attract just reinvigorates districts. You can see that in Leeds where the the amount of private investment around there, after we built the arena, is just incredible. Having 12,000 people going every week ensures that all of the local community, shops and bars and such like, have that footfall to survive from.

“There’s great opportunity for these buildings to be actually engaged in the community to actually become an anchor and facility for community activities and such like. The ’00s was about an experiential economy: buying stuff, buying experiences. I think the next generation is going to be buying experiences that improve us. And part of that is our cultural footprint – how we engage with these venues, how we engage with our communities – and we need to create buildings that allow you to do that.”

“We’re seeing much bigger event floors now. Everyone loves a mosh pit”

Rhodes quipped that the quest to design a bowl that is as large as possible but still capable of providing an intimate experience remained “the Holy Grail”.

“How can it be scalable to 6,000-7,000 – where you have a completely authentic experience without feeling like you’re in an empty venue? There are ways of doing that,” he said. “The size and scale of the event floor is key. We’re seeing much bigger event floors now. Everyone loves a mosh pit, so let’s make these mosh pits bigger. And you can flex in relation to that.

“There is technology there in terms of curtaining and such like, but I’m particularly interested in the super-theatre model, which ties in with that smaller scale arena, where you actually force the short stage configurations to create walls of people for the performers. The bowls have been tailored to create that Liverpool FC Kop or Borussia Dortmund Yellow Wall-type feel.”

“The driver of our business is music – and it took us a long time to figure that out”

Guy Dunstan, MD of ticketing and arenas for Birmingham-based NEC Group, spoke about the evolution of arenas, most notably in regards to the customer experience.

“I think of what the venues were like 20, 30 years ago and they’ve evolved significantly,” he said. “Venues back then were very much concrete, soulless spaces, and it was about getting people in, getting them to their seat, watching the show and maybe grabbing a beer. But as we’ve developed our facilities, we’ve elevated that whole experience. And what we’ve also done is open up the premium opportunity.”

Asked directly about return on investment by panel chair Stephanie Bax of CAA Icon, Oak View Group (OVG) UK’s Brian Kabatznick said 60% of revenues came from VIP offerings, naming rights and sponsorship deals.

“If you look at the revenue generation for New York, Seattle, Manchester, you’re basically driving your revenues by having a naming rights partner that’s engaged in the local community and wants to be associated with a quality venue that touches their consumer base – and they’re willing to pay for that,” he said.

“We all know that the VIP product, 10 and 15 years ago, was VIP boxes. Well, that’s over – people want to be communal, and they want diversity of product. So in all of our buildings, you have roughly 10 to 15 different price points, locations and amenities to cater to specific corporate and non corporate customers. So if you get sponsorship right, and if you get premium right, that solves it. But at the end of the day, we all know that it all comes down to content.”

He added: “In the old days, you’d have operators building arenas arenas around a hockey rink or a basketball court, but ultimately, let’s be honest, the driver of our business is music – and it took us a long time to figure that out.

“Getting out of the pandemic, it was strange timing that we just opened in four new buildings. But we’re pretty clear that the return on investments have been very successful.

“Moving forward, I think we’ll be a little bit more challenged with the supply chain and materials and the rising inflation rate. But we know that more people are listening to music before and more people are playing music than ever before. And our partners seem to be pretty pleased with what we’re doing, which is why we’ve got 10 other venues under development.”

 


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Touring chiefs call for live industry ‘reset’

The roadmap to rebuilding the live industry back to pre-pandemic levels was up for debate during ILMC’s annual health check on the venue sector.

Co-chaired by ASM Global SVP Marie Lindqvist and Rockhal Luxembourg CEO Olivier Toth, The Venue’s Venue: Reconnect and reopen panel pored over the remaining challenges for venues around the world as they reopen from close to two years of inaction.

Production manager and 2022 Gaffer Award winner Phay Mac Mahon discussed the staffing issues he had experienced when returning to the road for a US tour last September.

“On the production side, we reckoned we were about 30% down on staff, so I think it’s going to be a tough year,” he said. “But let’s face it, we built this industry from nothing. We’re now going to have to redo it. We did it once, we can do it again.”

“They’re are not enough trucks or buses out there. Smaller acts are cancelling festival slots because they can’t afford to fly”

He added: “The biggest problem is that nobody has toured for two years, so everything got put back. The stuff that didn’t tour in 2020 got put back to this year. And then the stuff that didn’t tour in 2021 has been put back to this year, so we have a supply situation – there are not enough companies out there with equipment.

“There are not enough trucks out there, there’s not enough buses. Smaller acts that can’t get buses and can’t get trucks have to fly and their schedule is too tight. So they’re actually cancelling because they can’t afford to fly to festivals, etc, and that’s becoming a bigger issue. The bigger acts  booked a long time ago, so they have the stuff.”

ATC Live agent Alex Bruford said the overwhelmingly positive response to the return of concerts had demonstrated how important live music was to people, but warned the anticipated boom in ticket sales was yet to materialise.

“There is a lot of talk about the ‘roaring ’20s’ and how, when we reopened, we’d all get back to business super-quickly and other things would be great again immediately. And, as we all have found out, that has not been the case so far,” he said. “There have been some hot shows that have sold a lot of tickets and some festivals that have gone up at the right time and sold a lot of tickets. But on the whole, it’s definitely a mixed bag out there in terms of ticket sales. A lot of shows are underperforming and a lot of artists are wondering why they’re not where they were two or three years ago.

“Chatting to a few other agents about this, it does feel like there’s been a bit of a reset button pushed in the whole touring industry and people are having to be very careful. None of us know exactly how the autumn is going to play out yet… It’s super-busy and it’s great to have people back, but there are definitely a lot of challenges ahead before we rebalance.”

“I feel there is a limit on ticket prices. Don’t push your luck with audiences”

On whether ticket prices would need to increase, Rock Werchter promoter Herman Schueremans, CEO of Live Nation Belgium, expressed caution.

“I feel that there is a limit on ticket prices,” he said. “Don’t push your luck with the audience. They were very loyal to us in the previous two, three years. People stayed extremely loyal by keeping their tickets and those people will say, ‘Look, we’ve already bought X amount of tickets… And we have to pay all of our bills,’ so they will make a choice.

“We have to solve the problems together. I don’t see any other solution. We need to get as strong and be creative and rethink things, instead of just repeating ourselves. But I think it’s a creative process. And it should not only come from the artists, but it should come from all of us.”

Rotterdam Ahoy CEO Jolanda Jansen shared similar sentiments.

“There is no easy solution and there’s also not one solution,” she said. “We survived the crisis together, so we need also to [overcome] these challenges together.”

“I’d like to see transparent costs across the board”

Mac Mahon warned that artists and management were in for a “wake up call”, due to many still working off budgets from 2020.

“All the costs have gone up,” he said. “There was a time that you a trucking float included fuel; there was a time you got a shipping quote, and it included fuel; if you were chartering an aircraft it was included… So all these things are going to make a huge difference to the bottom line for the artist.

“It’s going to be very interesting when the manager has to sit down with that artist and tells them there was a time that we could ship a sea container from London to Los Angeles door to door for £7,000 but now it’s £20,000.”

Summing up, Bruford made an impassioned plea for the “reset button” to be pressed on transparency across the industry.

“I’d like to see transparent costs across the board,” he said. “I’d like to be having conversations with people where when we’re discussing a show deal, every aspect of the income of that show is discussed and then split fairly between all the stakeholders in that show. I’d like to see no more rebates. I’d like to see ticketing fees kept under control, I’d like to see merch costs kept under control…

“All of these things are taking slices out of the revenue pot, making it harder to make the show actually financially viable, and then pushing up the ticket price. And as the ticket price gets pushed higher and higher, we all collectively sell less tickets, so we’re actually eating our own lunch by doing that.

“I’d like to be in a situation where we can have these open conversations and have all those costs on the table upfront and go, ‘Okay, how are we fairly splitting this?’ I’ve done a couple of tours recently where it has been like that and it is so refreshing. And I think that’s needs to be the way forward.”

 


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The latest on live music’s supply chain crisis

The perfect storm impacting touring’s supply chain ahead of the industry’s biggest summer in years took centre stage at ILMC.

Chaired by Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith, The Supply Chain: Restock, repair and recruit panel focused on the ongoing issues caused by the sector’s staffing exodus since the onset of Covid-19.

Galbraith noted that, with tens of thousands of freelance workers – and full-time staff – having left the industry over the past 24 months to find jobs elsewhere, shortages remained across the board.

“One of the key problems at the moment – and that’s been the case from last August, September and then through Christmas and now, as we head into what will be undoubtedly the busiest festival season ever in the UK and many other territories – is actually there just aren’t enough staff,” said Galbraith. “So many people have left our industry, whether it be riggers, bar staff, security, truck drivers, etc.”

It’s the task of everybody to bring in new talents and teach them”

Okan Tombulca of eps said that the uncertainty around the restart had deterred a significant section of the workforce from returning.

“A lot of people from the industry had other jobs and they said, ‘Listen, I’m happy to come back. But not only for two or three months, because then I’ll lose my other job,'” he said. “A lot of promoters brought in a lot of young people without any experience and the workload was really high. We saw many people burned out after the three months… It was just too much.”

Tombulca said that training the next generation of backstage talent was of paramount importance.

“It’s the task of everybody: promoters, service companies, that we bring in new talents and teach them,” he said. “We, as eps, were fortunate that we didn’t lose too many people. Nevertheless, we are very, very concerned about staffing.”

“We were trying to do eight months’ work in three months, with probably half the number of people”

Festival Republic’s Becky Grundy, event manager for festivals such as Reading and Creamfields South, described last summer’s season as the most challenging of her 25-year career.

“We were trying to do eight months’ work in three months, with probably half the number of people,” she said. “There was the uncertainty about when things would open up and the availability of equipment, because most of it was tied up on government testing sites. Working under those circumstances, you’re making 1,000 phone calls when you could be normally making 10. But it increased the dialogue between everyone in the industry. We couldn’t have got through it without the support of the suppliers.

“We did seven or eight full capacity events from July through to September and we didn’t really start bringing people back to work on those until May, so it was a lot of work to achieve in a very short space of time.”

ASM Global’s Ailsa Oliver, general manager of Utilita Arena Newcastle, called the circumstances around last year’s restart in the UK as a “nightmare” and said the situation was still some way from returning to normal.

“I’d like to say it’s fine [but] it’s not fine,” she said. “I think we’re possibly getting used to it. Our resilience plans are working. We’re working very collaboratively with our providers locally and really thinking about how we value our workforce and how we encourage people to come back to the industry, or just to join the industry. Because there’s been two years where they didn’t even know there was an industry to come back to.”

Oliver added that staffing costs were up “25 to 50%” in some cases. “Some of that is linked to Covid and hygiene protocols, and additional work is required from that,” she said. “But yeah, it is up to 50%-plus in certain roles.”

“There are no restrictions, but we have a lot of artists coming in who are still very much aware of Covid and want the safety procedures”

CEO of UAE-based Flash Entertainment John Lickrish said the company’s biggest challenge related to content.

“Getting content in a six-hour minimum flight, logistics and operations was really challenging during the Formula One [Abu Dhabi Grand Prix of December 2021] where we had four big concerts and Foo Fighters cancelled at the last minute,” he said. “Trying to get a backup artist, or anyone to come and perform, was next to impossible.

“We were working directly with the airlines and with the authorities to make concessions about Covid, but we couldn’t get the equipment in. We ended up sourcing two people who happened to be in the UAE: one was in Dubai and one was in Abu Dhabi for F1, so it was a bit of a challenge. We used to be able to snap our fingers.”

Xenia Grigat of Copenhagen-based promoter and booking agency Smash!Bang!Pow, brought the session up to speed on the state of play in Denmark.

“We didn’t have a festival season last year, but we did some headline shows,” she said. “Of course, the majority was with local artists – it’s just recently that we have had international artists coming in, with all the challenges that that brings with it.

“There are no restrictions, but we have a lot of artists coming in who are still very much aware of Covid and want the safety procedures that we cannot uphold because we can’t enforce that on the audience any longer. We get it that they want to have the audience wearing face masks and want crew to be tested, which we can do to some extent. But backstage, it’s still taking up resources.”

“Every change is also an opportunity to get to the next level”

Galbraith said that while Covid was “pretty much done” in the UK, there were still knock-on effects relating to neighbouring markets.

“It’s certainly done in the public areas of concerts and backstage pretty much too, but we’ve got artists that are coming in to the UK and touring who are still working on protocols based on what’s happening in Europe,” he said. “And they’ve got to, because they’ve got to go back there – and they can’t go back there with Covid because they have to quarantine there and they’ll lose the shows.”

Ending on an upbeat note, Tombulca suggested how the business could use the crisis to improve its inner workings.

“Every change is also an opportunity to get to the next level,” he said. “This situation is also bringing a lot of new ideas. From the vendors to the service companies, we’re developing a lot of new products, which are more sustainable and need less labour and transport capacities.

“We are forced to do that because we all know at the moment, we might be in a good position, because the demand is higher than the offer. But we all know in two years time, you guys will squeeze us again. So we have to be prepared for it, without doubt.”

 


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Road stories: Barry Dickins and Leon Ramakers

Live industry greats Barry Dickins and Leon Ramakers shared stories from their legendary careers in an intimate Dragons’ Den chat at ILMC 34 in London.

Dickins started his career more than 50 years ago arranging gigs for the likes of The Who, Jimi Hendrix Experience and Otis Redding. Going on to form agency International Talent Booking (ITB) with Rod MacSween in 1978, he still represents artists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Young, and ZZ Top.

Former Mojo Concerts director Ramakers, meanwhile, made his music business debut in 1970 at Holland Pop Festival, which featured Pink Floyd, The Byrds, T. Rex and Santana. Ramakers remains involved with Mojo – a company he has helped to maintain its market dominance in the Netherlands for more than half a century, latterly as part of Live Nation.

Here are a handful of highlights from their hour-long conversation…

“I’m so sorry I missed Sinatra, and that’s because I was too nice”

Selling Mojo to SFX in 1999…

Leon Ramakers: “[SFX founder Robert Sillerman] said, ‘Do you want to sell your company?’ I said, ‘It depends on what you want to pay for it?’ And he mentioned a figure. I said, ‘No, no, I’m not interested’ and I put the phone down. And I thought, ‘What have you just done?’ The next day, he called again and he doubled [the price]. He had no idea of my finances, they were crazy times. Finally, we went to see Sillerman in Madison Avenue. The door opens, Sillerman comes in and says, ‘Is this Holland? Today, I’m going to buy Holland.’ There were three reasons [to sell]. They were going to buy all of Europe and I didn’t want to be the island like Asterix and Obelix, like the Gallic village within the Roman Empire. The second thing, the money was good. And thirdly, I thought that we would have creative input from all these people from all over the world, although that never happened.”

Superstar clients – and the ones that got away…

Barry Dickins: “Dylan is still going. It’s very hard when you talk to a billionaire and say, ‘I’ve got this good gig for you Bob, it’s paying a million dollars.’ It’s like, ‘What? I get that for a painting!’ I’m very lucky because I worked with Jimi Hendrix; I worked with The Doors; I worked with Jefferson Aeroplane; I worked with Canned Heat. I’d like to have done Bruce Springsteen, I must admit, but so would everybody else. But I’ve been fortunate I’ve worked with some great clients.”

LR: “I’m sorry I missed Sinatra, and that’s because I was too nice. The previous promoter was [Dutch impresario] Lou van Rees, so I went to the Lou, and I said, ‘Shall we share?’ But then it turned out that the manager or the agent hated Lou van Rees, so they gave it to somebody else.”

BD: “I had Hendrix and I thought, ‘If anyone sees me at a Frank Sinatra concert, it’s all over.’ That was my mum and dad’s thing, and I never went. But I did go and see him the last time he played, which was a little bit sad, because had all the teleprompters around him and his son Frank Sinatra Jr. was playing the keyboards and leading the band. But he was a real pro and I’m glad I saw him, I just wish I’d seen him [earlier in his career].”

“You’re not entitled to keep an act forever”

Losing acts…

BD: “Nothing’s forever. We don’t live forever. You’re not entitled to keep an act forever. I’ve been very lucky I’ve had Dylan for nearly 40 years and it’s a bloody long time. Diana Ross was a bit difficult. I did have 32 years with her and earned every penny. She got pissed off once when I said, ‘I’m having an indoor pool put in my house, would you mind if I call it the Diana Ross pool?’ And she said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘Well, every time I do well on a tour, I buy something for my house – and I want to know if you’re happy to have the swimming pool named after you.’ Fleetwood Mac paid for a snooker room. You’ve heard of the house Jack built, this was the house that Fleetwood Mac built! No one enjoys losing a band, and sometimes you lose them for no reason. Other times, I’ve really fucked up on something and haven’t been fired. The hard thing when you’ve got the older acts is they want a younger audience. My way of thinking is that with any artist, their core fans are 10 years older and 10 years younger. You’re not going to start getting 20-year-olds. Dylan, funnily enough, crosses over a bit because he’s Dylan, but it’s still mainly older people. And, of course, he’s 80, so my audience is 70 to 90. I’ve got to tell you, that’s a dying business mate!”

LR: “Also, it’s scientifically proven that the vast majority of people don’t change their musical tastes after 30. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but the vast majority stick to what they like [after] 30 and that’s it.”

“You see some reluctance now in ticket buying”

Worst deals…

BD: “I did a Michael Jackson show in Cardiff and the ticket [sales] were really slow. About two weeks from the show, we were losing £250,000, which was a bloody lot of money. To cut a long story short, we actually made money [in the end]. That was probably one of the worst deals, but it ended up okay.”

LR: “The worst half a second of my life was on stage. I was supposed to announce the support act in Utrecht for a show and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please now welcome…’ and I’d forgotten the name. It took about a second, but it was the worst second of my life.”

BD: “I bet it felt like five minutes!”

Biggest hope for the industry…

BD: “Getting the business back to what it was, and I think we’ve got a shot at it. It was always a problem when it was just England [that was open]. Everyone kept saying, ‘Oh well, England is fine.’ I said, ‘Yeah, England’s fine, but nowhere else is.’ Try and say to an American act, ‘Come and do five shows in England: five arenas in England and that’s it.’ ‘No, I want Germany! I want Scandinavia!’ So now we’re kind of an even playing field.”

LR: “But you see some reluctance now in ticket buying. It’s the war; it’s the fact that they have got three tickets in their pocket already for shows that were postponed; it’s the inflation. Anything that went on sale before Christmas did very well, but what has been established this year is a bit soft… I’m not a pessimistic guy, but with ticket prices [going up and up], it could be that in three, four years time, we thought we saw the writing on the wall, but we didn’t act. I’m doing now a show with a really well known artist and the average ticket price is €110.”

 


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Execs talk investment opportunities in live music

A trio of leading live music executives have shared their views on the areas of the business most ripe for investment.

With the market bouncing back internationally following the Covid shutdown, Mumford & Sons musician and venue boss Ben Lovett, Oak View Group (OVG) International’s Jessica Koravos and Jarred Arfa, COO of Artist Group International, weighed in on the biggest opportunities for the industry.

Speaking during the Industry Investment: Field notes panel at the recent ILMC in London, US-based Arfa suggested the concept of Live Nation’s upcoming “emo nostalgia” festival When We Were Young in Las Vegas, which has expanded to three days due to demand, pointed a way forward for the industry.

“There are obviously so many festivals out there, but we’re seeing a lot of success where they’re focusing on specific niches,” he said. “People want to be part of that moment in time and relive that, as opposed to, ‘Let’s give everyone a little flavour of everything.’ Those that are focusing on specific genres, or overfeeding one time period, are seeing some success and a point of distinction.”

“The pandemic has made people really appreciate those coming together moments that maybe they took for granted before”

Koravos, who is also president of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, which oversees some of the world’s biggest theatrical titles, said Covid-19 has prompted a change of mindset in the public when it comes to live shows.

“One thing that pandemic has absolutely done is made people really appreciate those coming together moments that maybe they took for granted before,” she said. “Flipping hats and talking about the West End and theatre for a second, what’s very interesting to me is that what’s very successful in the West End right now is the shows that have been there the longest.

“I see it with Phantom of the Opera, which has flipped its age demographic down by 10 years over the course of the pandemic, and I think it’s because of exactly that – you take for granted that something that’s always been there will keep being there. But I don’t think that’s the assumption anymore.

“People want to go see Billy Joel at [Madison Square] Garden. They want to go see Phantom of the Opera. They want to make sure they are appreciating the things that might not always be there.”

“There are just not enough good venues. It’s really that simple”

TVG Hospitality co-founder Lovett urged would-be investors to put their faith (and finances) in the independent sector.

“I would back indie promoters,” he said. “Everything’s getting so algorithmic, we could end up with pretty watered down creative inputs into our lives unless those indie promoters go and stick their neck out. So I would say, invest money into those indie promoters… If we can get some great promoters coming through, it’s going to be good for everyone.”

Earlier this year, TVG Hospitality announced the closing of $50 million in new funding to expand its team and venue portfolio in the UK and US, backed by a heavyweight list of investors including OVG, founded by Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff.

TVG is bidding to create the next generation of music venues alongside elevated hospitality offerings in order to enhance the artist and fan experience and create gathering spaces as community assets. The company’s current portfolio includes London music venues, Omeara, Lafayette and the Social, and broader hospitality offerings at Flat Iron Square and Goods Way.

“This is going to be the most exciting few years”

“Across the board, I think what Tim and Irving saw – and the same issue that we were trying to solve – is there are just not enough good venues. It’s really that simple,” said Lovett, whose latest project – the 8,000-cap Orion Amphitheater in Huntsville, Alabama – opened earlier this month.

“For the last couple of decades there just hasn’t been enough investment into truly inspiring places,” continued Lovett. “There are people buying incredible bars and restaurants and hotels, and there’s lots of other things that are being constantly being reimagined and the envelope is being pushed. But when it comes to music venues it’s just stagnated. And this is going to be the most exciting few years where all of these new venues are going to [launch].”

OVG has already opened the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Moody Center in Austin and the UBS Arena in Long Island, New York, with schemes also on their way in Manchester, Baltimore, Coachella Valley and Cardiff.

“Venues are very expensive,” added Koravos. “The 2,000 seaters are expensive, the 20,000 seaters are super-expensive, so investment is a crucial part of getting those off the ground. But the whole point of Oak View Group is really just looking around at the fact that, around the world, the big music venues are actually all buildings that were built 20 years ago or more, for the most part.

“They were built for sports for the most part, not by anybody who knew anything about the content about what needed to go in them and what the fan needed to experience. So at Oak View, our whole reason for being is to build the best experience in the best markets.”

 


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Six of the best from Alex Hardee & John Giddings

Heavyweight agents Alex Hardee and John Giddings served up a treat for ILMC delegates by starring in one of the most entertaining panels yet seen at a music business conference.

Coda Agency co-founder Hardee, now of Wasserman Music, and Isle of Wight Festival promoter Giddings, of Solo Agency, sat down in front of a standing room only audience to review their respective career paths and retell some of the many stories of their lives in the concert industry.

Here are six of the best tales (that we can print) from the double act’s ‘Dragons’ Den’ masterclass…

Why they became agents…

John Giddings: “I couldn’t get a real job. When I was 14 at school my mate said his group had split up and why didn’t I learn to play bass and pull a few chicks, so I thought it was a good idea. But then we were playing Harpenden Youth Club and a skinhead came and stood in front of me and said, ‘If you don’t stop playing now, I’m going to hit you,’ which was the end of my musical career. But I was better at booking the gig than being in it and my mate was social sec at the local college and he got a job in the music business. So I knew if you went to university and became social sec, you’d meet people in the music business and get a job. I got offered a job… Barry Dickins couldn’t decide between me and Paul Loasby, so he employed both of us.”

Alex Hardee: “Believe it or not, I actually was doing aeronautical engineering at university. My brother [the late Malcolm Hardee] was a comedian and he introduced me to lots of other comedians like Steve Coogan, Eddie Izzard… And I started booking them while I was a student. Then I got a 2:2 in my second year in aeronautical engineering and [careers’ advice] said, ‘If you work really hard and get a 2:1 then you will be able to work in Enfield Aerodrome and get £16,000 a year.’ And I went, ‘Fuck no, I’m already earning £25,000 a year!’ So I left university the next day and that’s how I became an agent. I mean, some still say I am a comedy agent…”

“Groups should pay little commission when they start and more commission when they earn money”

Changing client relations…

JG: “When you start, you’re petrified about losing an act because you need to earn the money to pay your mortgage. And then finally, when you earn some money and you buy your house, the relationship changes. If a group comes to you and says, ‘We want to do this tour of beaches and rent a big top and go around the UK.’ And you can tell them it’s a fucking stupid idea which you couldn’t tell them before because you’re worried about losing them. But then when acts get to a stadium level, it’s a different level of representation. I’ve always thought groups should pay little commission when they start and more commission when they earn more money, but… it doesn’t work like that. Try telling a group they should pay you more money when they get bigger. And the poor little group has no money to pay you in the first place.”

AH: “As soon as you’re worried about losing an act, you’ve already lost them. What’s quite interesting is when an artist starts to become unsuccessful they can’t fire the record label. So probably first thing they’d do would be to fire the agent, because they don’t have a contract. But it’s interesting in Covid… I thought there’d be a lot more change. But the agents couldn’t get blamed for nothing happening for the last two years so they couldn’t get fired!”

“The middle is being squeezed and it’s going to be quite a tough summer. A lot of shows aren’t going to hit that breakeven point”

The ’22 summer season…

JG: “Shows that went on sale before Christmas have done quite well, but shows that have gone on sale since then are beginning to struggle and it’s becoming soft in the market, because there’s three years’ worth of touring in one year. So we’ve all got to watch out. I don’t think it’s going to come completely back to normal until the start of ’23. Everybody’s putting on a brave face, but there’s a lot out there and it costs a third more to fill up your car, or your electricity bill now… If you’re a punter, you’re going to worry about your food bill, as opposed to buying a ticket for a festival.”

AH: “This year, there’s too much on, there are too many shows. There’s more tickets on sale, but the P&Ls for the individual shows aren’t making profits. So it’s a good year to be an agent or a ticketing company, but the promoters are going to suffer and that will have to get readjusted the following year. The middle’s been squeezed and it’s going to be quite a tough summer I think… A lot of shows aren’t going to hit that breakeven point.”

JG: “The kids are still going out. I mean, the Little Mix tour we keep releasing production seats and they sell like hot cakes. Harry Styles sells out.”

AH: “Billie Eilish… The top never gets squeezed but the middle acts, the middle festivals, the middle events, there’s a lot of trouble there. it’s going to be hard.”

“I looked around and Prince Harry’s there with a crate of beer”

Best festival memory…

JG: “Jay-Z was playing [Isle of Wight] and the audience of going wild. I thought, ‘An audience can’t go more wild than they are now,’ and then Kanye West walked on behind him… I turned around to my left, and there was Beyoncé standing next to me and I thought, ‘This is worth it.'”

AH: “This isn’t my best one, but it’s reminded me of a good one: I was at Hyde Park and I managed to blag on stage to Jay-Z. There was Beyoncé, Sacha Baron Cohen, Madonna and somehow me on the side of the stage and I was fucking desperate for a drink but there weren’t any. I looked around and Prince Harry’s there with a crate of beer. I go, ‘Can I have a beer mate?’ And he goes, ‘Here bruv’. And I thought, ‘Fucking “bruv!”‘ I went, ‘Oh thanks. where are we going afterwards then? I hear it’s all back to yours because yours is the closest.’ That’s a true story!”

“All the contracts in the world are meaningless, you have to deliver on your word”

Least favourite thing about the live business…

JG: “When people bullshit you – it’s so boring. The easiest thing in the world is to tell the truth, because then you can at least remember what you’ve said. All the contracts in the world are meaningless, you have to deliver on your word. And it’s so disappointing when people let you down and don’t deliver… It’s rife with bullshit, that’s the thing I like least about it.”

AH: “Smoke and mirrors is much harder nowadays, everything’s a stat, you can’t say I sold out Brixton if you didn’t sell out Brixton. Within two seconds, you can find out every ticket count, everyone can find everything.”

JG: “One thing that’s changed in the music business is, when I joined it, everybody used to lie about ticket sales and say they were less than they really were. And they still lie about ticket sales, but by saying they’re more than they really are. So they’ve never actually told the truth in the whole of my career.”

AH: “The promoters used to say they were less?”

JG: “Yeah, because they didn’t want to pay you as much and now everybody’s embarrassed by it so they inflate it when they tell it to you. Unless you speak to Simon Moran, who knows every ticket sale for every show throughout the universe…”

Advice they would give their 16-year-old selves…

AH: “Don’t.”

JG: “It’s so long ago I can’t remember, seriously. I mean, to be in this business you have to work really hard. You have to work the room and you have to deliver on your word. It’s not brain of Britain stuff, but people have to be able to trust you. If people can trust in you then they’re confident in what they’re doing.”

 


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Festival chiefs preview the upcoming season

The cost of living crisis, an oversaturated market and rising costs threaten to create a “recipe for disaster” for the first full festival season since 2019, it has been claimed.

ILMC’s Festival Forum: New lands, new adventures panel heard divergent views from event bosses on prospects for this summer, with the public’s appetite for returning to music shows evident, but two years of lockdown and restrictions throwing up a litany of new problems.

UTA agent Beth Morton moderated the illuminating debate starring Eric van Eerdenburg of Mojo Concerts (NL), Geoff Ellis of DF Concerts (UK), Sophie Lobl of C3 Presents (US), Henrik Bondo Nielsen of Roskilde Festival (DK), Stephan Thanscheidt of FKP Scorpio (DE) and Reshad Hossenally of Festicket’s Event Genius ticketing and event technology platform.

Event Genius COO Hossenally said that, despite the anticipated rush for concert tickets after two lost years to Covid-19, other issues were cropping up.

“People don’t trust that everything is back to normal yet”

“There are a hell of a lot of shows and it’s almost a bit of a recipe for disaster because you’ve got costs going up, a lot of tickets being carried across and a huge amount of competition,” he said. “The other part is people are being told they don’t have any money in the press. I think you’ll see the buying pattern starting to become a lot later. People don’t trust that everything is back to normal yet.

“We ran a global survey and 75% of people said that they want to understand what the cancellation policies are. Before, that would have been an impulse buy – people didn’t even look at terms and conditions beforehand. The decision of buying a festival ticket now is a lot more considered. So as a festival promoter, I suspect it must be quite a scary road to see that we’re not selling as quickly.”

Roskilde head of safety and service Bondo Nielsen referenced complaints from some of his European contemporaries regarding fan behaviour since the restart, with the pandemic resulting in a lag in younger consumers attending their first festival.

“What I hear is that people talk about inexperienced audience and that they are not behaving well,” he said. “My view is that, as a festival organiser, it’s your job to manage the audience that you invite. So if they don’t behave well, you have to teach them.”

“Costs are going up at least 25% from 2019 prices”

Ellis, who heads up events such as Scotland’s Transmt, responded: “You’ve got gig veterans, and then you always get new people coming in – 16 to 17-year-olds coming along for the first time – and I think they get carried along and looked after by the older members of the audience a bit. It is a real community spirit that you get, no matter what the festival is. They’re all there for the same purpose: to enjoy music, and the shared experience of being at an event.”

Ellis considered increasing costs, exacerbated by supply chain and staffing issues, as the biggest challenge for festivals going forward.

“Certainly in the UK, costs are going up at least 25% from 2019 prices, which is really difficult,” he said. “And it’s the scarcity of kit as well, so stages, barriers – we’re having to beg, borrow and steal barriers from different arenas, because there are so many shows on. There are shows that have moved from 2020, and didn’t happen in ’21, all happening, plus the festivals, plus the outdoor business that would have taken place in ’22.

“Also, staff – lots of stewards left the industry during the pandemic. Toilets, again, lots of sporting events are taking certainly the high end toilets, maybe not the actual portaloos but the flushable toilets and trailers, so that’s a real challenge.”

“People have hung on to their tickets for a couple of years, you can’t go back to them and ask for more money”

The promoter added that simply hiking up ticket prices was not an option for this year.

“People have hung on to their tickets for a couple of years, you can’t go back to them and ask for more money,” he said. “And we’re going into a cost of living crisis globally, with people having concerns about how they’re going to pay their energy bills and everything else. So some of it will have to be passed on going forward, but it’s too late for this year.

“I think we all have to try our best to get costs down and look at innovative ways of delivering things as well. We need suppliers to give us a bit of a break really.

“The positive thing is there was a recent survey in America showing what people are looking forward to getting back to most, and concerts was top of the list, so that’s reassuring. Obviously we’re all worried about how they’re going to afford to do it, but at least they want to go to concerts.”

“There are so many artists, coming out of Covid, that haven’t done a hard ticket tour”

The conversation later switched to social media’s influence on programming and its correlation to ticket sales.

“There is so much that we have to take into account that’s not just ticket sales,” revealed C3 and Live Nation global festival talent buyer Lobl. “Obviously socials, obviously TikTok, but the show we’re booking kind of determines what we look at.”

She continued: “There are so many artists, coming out of Covid, that haven’t done a hard ticket tour. If you take someone like Doja Cat, who has been one of our biggest artists at all of our festivals, and probably had the biggest crowd at Austin City Limits and in South America, hasn’t done her own hard ticket run yet.

“It’s also a lot more global now, which makes it more fun. But it also makes it a lot harder to navigate. For us, the Latin market has been huge and there’s a lot more global booking of really sizeable bands.”

“We have also analysing tools for social media,” noted FKP head of festival booking Thanscheidt. “You also have to do look at where are the likes and plays are coming from because if they’re coming from another part of the world, it’s nice for the band, but maybe not for us putting on a festival or a show with them. Also, not every Tiktok hype translates to the festivals we book.

“In general, you don’t want to go away from the history of the festival. But you also want to keep it modern and fresh and cool at the same time. In the end, booking is a process. It is, of course, influenced by other things nowadays, but it’s still a mixture of very different facts coming together.

“It also really depends on the festival – because if you have an older audience, TikTok and all that does not play the biggest role and vice-versa, so you have to look at it very individually to make the right decisions. You have to know your market and  your audiences because sometimes it’s hard to explain, especially to agents, why this act is working and the other one is not.”

“It’s not an exact science and it never has been”

Van Eerdenberg, director of Netherlands’ Lowlands festival, shared his own booking philosophy.

“We had discussions in our programming team about this, and we ended up saying quality is not the thing we measure, but whether people are reacting and responding to it,” he said. “You have to work with what you see happening online. But it’s difficult to determine the value of an act, especially when agents are very convincing.”

Ellis pointed out that hard ticket sales were not always a barometer of an artist’s value to a festival because their audience might steer away from outdoor shows.

“It’s not an exact science and it never has been,” he added. “It’s always been a bit of gut feel, a bit of scarcity – if somebody’s not doing shows they’re more valuable to a festival than if they are doing shows because there’s a pent up demand to see them.

“Over the years at T in the Park, an act like Tom Jones went down an absolute storm. His audience wouldn’t have particularly come to a music festival, but… we had 50,000 people in front of the main stage, singing along to him, and none of them had ever seen him before. With that kind of booking, if you tried to look at the TikTok figures, it wouldn’t have synced. There was a gut feel that it would go down well, and it went down well, but sometimes we get those things wrong and nobody’s watching the act.”

 


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ILMC 34: Inside ticketing’s new normal

International ticketing executives have given a mixed picture on live music markets around the world as the business bids to pick up where it left off pre-pandemic.

ILMC’s Ticketing: All change please! session heard from Ticketmaster UK’s Sarah Slater, Marcia Titley of Eventim Norway & Sweden, John Talbot of AXS Europe, Dice’s Amy Oldham and TicketSwap’s James Fleury, with Michael Hosking of Singapore-based Midas Promotions offering a promoter’s perspective.

Quizzed on the state of play by chair Richard Howle of The Ticket Factory, the panel reported contrasting fortunes to date.

“In Scandinavia, restrictions were lifted in December in Denmark, in January in Norway, and February in Sweden, so we’re about three, four months in,” noted Titley. “When the restrictions were lifted, ticket sales jumped, which was great, we were all thrilled. And then they kind of plateaued.”

“We’re making progress, but it’s slower than I think we all had hoped”

While observing a week-by-week improvement, she added that Covid has appeared to have triggered a change in purchasing habits, with a shift towards buying tickets later in the day.

“They’re waiting, and I think we can all understand why,” she said. “I think we’re all holding our breath a little bit wondering if some new variant’s going to pop up tomorrow. And shows aren’t selling out, so that sense of urgency isn’t there.

“One thing we’re starting to see in Scandinavia as well is uncertainty if shows and festivals are actually going to happen. Just recently, last week, one of our biggest festivals in Norway had to cancel because of Covid complications… So this has also affected consumer behaviour.

“Also, I think we’re trying to find ways to get people to go back to live. I think people have got a little bit stuck on their couches and we need to try to find a way to get them to remember what live was all about. If we can get them into the shows then we will be able to build up that kind of credibility in the market. We’re making progress, but it’s slower than I think we all had hoped.”

“One of the greatest impacts of Covid is it has made people, generally, quite lethargic”

Citing sold-out stadium shows by Justin Bieber in Singapore and Malaysia, Hosking stressed that demand was visible for certain artists, but returned to the theme of audience lethargy.

“The real test will be maybe the B and C-listers,” he offered. “I think one of the greatest impacts of Covid is it has made people, generally, quite lethargic. The old days of having to do everything immediately seems to have waned. And of course, Asia’s not one country, it is several countries and there are still very different restrictions about touring. But Justin is living proof that if the people want you bad enough they’ll go out and buy tickets.”

Talbot, who joined AXS last summer, said the business had faced an “existential threat” and attempted to put its travails into perspective.

“To use a hospitalisation analogy, we were hit by a truck and now we are in the recovery from that period, and it’s not going to happen overnight. We’ve got a cost of living crisis. People can see the alternatives to going out – because they were denied so long, they’ve got other options and they can entertain themselves in different ways.

“We do need to teach the market that going out, congregating, seeing live events is a really, really important part of our culture and they should come back to it. But those challenges are nowhere near as existential as what we were facing only a matter of months ago, so I think there’s a lot of reason to be very cheerful.”

“Half of our customer services activity at the moment is reuniting customers with the tickets they bought in 2019 and 2020”

He added: “We’re finding that a lot of our best customers are holding four or five tickets to shows that are yet to play off… So how do you sell to the market new events, when they’ve already got commitments, and sometimes they’ve forgotten that they’re holding these tickets?

“Half of our customer services activity at the moment is reuniting customers with the tickets they bought in 2019 and 2020. So when that clog disappears, as it will, I think that’s when we can really start to see new on sales not being buffeted by those market forces.”

Slater and Oldham suggested the state of affairs in the UK was more favourable across the board, in part, due to being able to press ahead with a partial festival season in 2021.

Slater, who received the Golden Ticketer gong at the 2022 Arthur Awards, pointed to Ticketmaster’s stellar business in the final quarter of last year.

“We were really able to capture that pent-up demand that the pandemic brought,” she said. “Q4 was absolutely huge: We had Reading & Leeds sell out; Creamfields sell out; we’ve got new sites for festivals; there are lots of tickets out there, but we’re selling all our tickets as well.

“We’re really positive; we were lucky that we got the summer [2021] in the UK, so we’re in a slightly different position to everyone else.”

“People are demanding to have choice and flexibility now when it comes to buying tickets”

“The market’s certainly buoyant,” added Oldham, Dice’s VP of content, Europe. “We had over a million people go out in London last month, which is extraordinary. The place where it’s the most buzzy is with emerging talent – the waitlist for artists like Fred Again is astronomical. People are buying really early because they’ve got the protection of knowing that they can give their ticket back if they can’t go.”

James Fleury of price-capped ‘ethical’ ticket marketplace TicketSwap said the Amsterdam-based firm had already twice broken company records in the first four months of 2022, and backed up Oldham’s point on flexibility.

“People are demanding to have choice and flexibility now when it comes to buying tickets,” he said. “Buying a ticket anymore isn’t necessarily a commitment to attend that specific event. It is for the top four or five artists that I really love, but for the other artists where we maybe like one single or a couple of tracks… I think it’s important that we also promote that flexibility.

“Our challenge this year as a company is to educate both fans, but also partners – promoters and festivals – about why having that choice and flexibility is important on the fans’ side.”

 


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