Is the touring boom hurting festivals?
Leading promoters have spoken to IQ about how the boom in huge stadium tours and outdoor concerts is impacting festivals.
In an industry first, a record five tours – Taylor Swift ($300.8 million), Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band ($142.6m), Harry Styles ($124m), Elton John ($110.3m) and Ed Sheeran ($105.3m) – grossed more than $100m (€913m) in the first six months of 2023.
Earlier this week, it was revealed Styles, who headlined last year’s Coachella, grossed close to $600m overall with his recently wrapped 2021-23 Love On Tour. And with stadium runs by the likes of Coldplay, Beyoncé and The Weeknd sure to impact the rankings for the second half of 2023, Pollstar declared “the age of the blockbuster tour is upon us”.
With summer historically reserved for festivals, and touring more consigned to colder months, the recent boom in stadium shows puts A-list tours and the outdoor season head to head. With greater financial return than a festival appearance, the ability to play to more fans and complete control over a show’s production, it’s easy to see the appeal.
So with A-list artists increasingly skipping festivals in favour of their own, what’s the impact on festivals, and what does that mean for those lower down the food chain?
“Festivals fulfil a very special role in live music. The variety, value and intensity offered during several days of live music and entertainment is greater than the sum of its parts”
Courrier International reports that attendance at Dreamhaus’ Rock im Park in Germany, which was topped by Kings of Leon, Die Toten Hosen and Foo Fighters, fell to 75,000 this year, having attracted 90,000 in 2022, with expense cited as a factor. According to trade association BDKV, the average price of festival tickets in the country is up 15% on 12 months ago due to rising costs.
FKP Scorpio reported more positive news, with its twin Hurricane and Southside festivals – headlined by Muse, Die Ärzte, Placebo and Queens of the Stone Age – coming close to selling out, pulling in crowds of 78,000 and 60,000, respectively. FKP MD Stephan Thanscheidt accepts that bigger acts often prefer to play solo shows, but believes the festival sector retains a unique selling point in a changing market.
“Festivals fulfil a very special role in live music,” he tells IQ. “The variety, value and intensity offered during several days of live music and entertainment is greater than the sum of its parts – therefore, the demand for well thought-out festivals remains high, even in economically demanding times.”
Eva Castillo, communication director for Last Tour, promoter of festivals such as Spain’s Bilbao BBK Live and Cala Mijas, and Portugal’s MEO Kalorama, says there is no reason both scenes cannot continue to coexist and thrive.
“They go hand in hand and are compatible with each other,” says Castillo. “A festival is an experience that goes beyond music, featuring both well-known and emerging artists in a venue that has its own distinct characteristics.”
“One of the key challenges posed by the rise of big stadium shows is the financial aspect”
Over in Australia, Christian Serrao, co-founder and managing partner of Melbourne-headquartered Untitled Group, says the explosion of outdoor music spectaculars has had a “noticeable impact in flooding the market”, affecting festivals and diverting people’s spend on entertainment.
“Our one-day festivals face more challenges than camping festivals,” he contends. “We are finding that people are seeking the immersive camping experience, which allows them to connect with nature and create lasting memories beyond music performances.
“One of the key challenges posed by the rise of big stadium shows is the financial aspect. These shows often require a significant investment from attendees, which can take a toll on people’s wallets, especially considering factors like inflation and the rising cost of living. As a result, people have become more selective in the events they choose to attend.”
The trend has prompted the firm to think outside the box and make strategic decisions, like booking Nelly Furtado for an exclusive show at its flagship festival Beyond The Valley.
“To ensure the success of our festivals, we focus on creating distinct experiential brands,” adds Serrao. “Our marketing emphasises the unique selling points like location, stage design, art installations, and activities such as workshops. For instance, [the festival] Grapevine Gathering offers a winery experience with live music, vineyards, and wine tasting.
“Some stadium shows cost around $400, comparable to our camping festivals, which provide four days of music, art, and camping—an irreplaceable immersive experience. Festivals set themselves apart from big stadium shows by offering experiences beyond music.”
“Putting on a stadium show doesn’t come cheap… It’s becoming a serious investment for a customer and I do think it will have an impact on festivals”
AEG Presents UK Steve Homer admits to being taken aback by the sheer volume of “high quality stadium shows” around Europe this summer, and feels it is inevitable that others will suffer as a result.
“We’re not talking the odd date – people like Harry Styles, Beyoncé and Arctic Monkeys are doing large numbers of dates, which is really impressive, so I do think it has an impact on available money,” he says. “No matter what people say, the cost of living is a real issue and it’s expensive to go to shows at that level. We’ve all gone through the rigmarole of increased costs from transport, to fuel, to everything else.
“Putting on a stadium show doesn’t come cheap and obviously the ticket price has to reflect that in some way. I think it’s becoming a serious investment for a customer and I do think it will have an impact on festivals.”
The 20th anniversary edition of Live Nation’s Download Festival, however, became the fastest-selling in its history, offering headline sets Bring Me The Horizon, Slipknot and Metallica, with the latter playing two unique sets on separate nights. AEG’s London concert series BST Hyde Park also enjoyed a record year, shifting around 550,000 tickets for gigs by Guns N’ Roses, Take That, Blackpink, Billy Joel and Lana Del Rey – plus two nights each from Pink and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
“Download had its best year ever, but that’s a very genre specific event, and British Summer Time is more like a big stadium show than a traditional festival,” argues Homer. “But we may see some of the more boutique festivals struggle if people have been going to these mega stadium gigs and it will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the summer.
“It’s great that these things are happening, but there is a finite amount of money and I think we’ll see the pinch somewhere. Whether it’s smaller festivals, whether it’s theatre tours, people just don’t have the money.”
“The top level is always protected. It’s the small to average level which is going to get affected”
As promoter of Isle of Wight Festival and MD of Solo Agency, John Giddings has a foot in both camps. IoW 2023 was a 55,000-cap sellout, and Giddings, who has worked on Lady Gaga’s Chromatica Ball and Beyoncé’s Renaissance stadium dates for Live Nation over the past couple of summers, has a hunch is that if anyone loses out, it won’t be the festival business.
“People are prepared to pay a load of money to go to something they know is going to be fantastic, but they might not go to one or two smaller gigs,” he tells IQ. “I haven’t seen much evidence of it yet, but it does worry me to an extent because the top level is always protected. It’s the small to average level which is going to get affected to be honest.”
Elsewhere in the UK, last weekend’s Kendal Calling, which starred Nile Rodgers & Chic, Kasabian, Blossoms and Royal Blood, was a 40,000-cap sellout. Andy Smith, co-MD of the Lake District festival’s promoter From The Fields, says the season appears to have been a mixed bag across the board.
“On the grapevine, I hear a bit of difficulty with the newer shows and the generally less established ones,” says Smith. “If you were just making do previously, it sounds like it’s a struggle now. But if you were doing well previously, it seems to have got better. So it does seem to be more more extreme one way or another.”
“We had some concerns at the beginning of the season, but it had no impact on our ticket sales”
The UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) previously revealed that its members are on course to attract a total audience of 3.3 million to their events in 2023. The trade body represents the interests of 105 UK music festivals, including GreenBelt, El Dorado, Deershed, Valley Fest, End of The Road, Pitchfork London, Field Maneuvers and We Out Here, and AIF CEO John Rostron says he has seen “no evidence” that big ticket gigs are affecting festival sales.
“What we are seeing with gigs of all sizes this year is a new trend for very last minute sales,” he adds. “It looks very likely that last minute buying is a trend, though ‘last minute’ for festivals tends to be a few weeks before, rather than the day before, as people need to plan their travel, camping and the like.”
Meanwhile, Dany Hassenstein, booker of Switzerland’s Paléo Festival, reports the 2023 Nyon event sold-out in record time, aided by a line-up headed by Rosalia, Indochine, Martin Garrix and Black Eyed Peas.
“We had some concerns at the beginning of the season, but it had no impact on our ticket sales,” he tells IQ. “Probably because there are no stadium shows in our immediate market.”
Recent research by economist Will Page using data from PRS for Music found that the portion of spend on live music by UK consumers had grown hugely when it came to both stadium shows and festivals – from 23% of the total market in 2012, to 49% in 2022.
Evidently, fans are spending more of their money on bigger shows, whether that’s festivals or stadium tours. And with Page noting the club market has also grown over the last decade, where that leaves traditional theatre and arena shows – as part a much bigger pie than 10 years previously – promises to be equally revealing.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
IOW’s John Giddings: ‘Business is booming’
Isle of Wight Festival promoter John Giddings says “business is booming” ahead of one of the UK’s biggest live music weekends of the year.
The 210,000-cap Glastonbury welcomes headliners Arctic Monkeys, Guns N’ Roses and Elton John from tomorrow to Sunday, while AEG’s British Summer Time Hyde Park (cap. 65,000) kicks off in London tomorrow with All Things Orchestral, followed by two shows by Pink.
Solo Agency boss Giddings has worked on Beyoncé’s recent Renaissance stadium dates and Madonna’s upcoming Celebration tour for Live Nation. With Festival Republic, meanwhile, Solo is staging Dog Day Afternoon, a one-off outdoor show at Crystal Palace Park on 1 July, featuring Iggy Pop, Blondie and punk supergroup Generation Sex.
“I was really worried at Christmas about the cost of living crisis, but it doesn’t seem to be evident – people want to go out and have a good time”
“Beyoncé sold out to the rafters, we’ve sold out Madonna in the autumn, we’ve got Iggy Pop and Blondie at Crystal Palace Park a week on Saturday and we’ve obviously got some acts at Glastonbury, so there’s a lot knocking around,” Giddings tells IQ. “Business is booming – booming. I was really worried at Christmas about the cost of living crisis, but it doesn’t seem to be evident – people want to go out and have a good time and enjoy themselves.”
Giddings is also basking in the glory of last weekend’s sellout Isle of Wight. The 55,000-cap event was headlined by Pulp, George Ezra, the Chemical Brothers and – for the first time in his career – Robbie Williams.
“It was incredible,” says Giddings. “You always wake up on Monday morning and think, ‘How the fuck am I going to beat that?’ I mean, Robbie Williams was a different level, he was absolutely extraordinary. He told his whole life story, warts and all, and played the songs to go with it. He’s such a showman.”
“We’ve definitely established Isle of Wight as one of the Premier League festivals”
More than 22,000 tickets for this IoW 2023 were sold in the week after last year’s festival.
“That’s better than usual,” he says. “Early birds [for 2024] go on sale this Friday. And it’s interesting that as soon as we sell out, I get a million emails and phone calls saying, ‘I haven’t bought a ticket yet.’ So I said to everyone, ‘Buy one early this time!'”
He adds: “I think half the audience come because they love the event and the other half come because of the lineup. We’ve definitely established it as one of the Premier League festivals. You can’t compare Glastonbury because that’s in its own league, but we’re up there with Leeds-Reading, etc.”
“You can’t do the same thing year in, year out. It’s like a Formula One car – you have to develop it as it evolves”
Giddings revived the legendary festival in 2002 after a 32-year hiatus and has continued in his leadership role since Live Nation acquired a controlling stake in 2017. Other acts on the bill this year included Courteeners, Blondie, OneRepublic, Sugababes, Anne-Marie, Sam Ryder, N-Dubz, Niall Horan and Manic Street Preachers.
“It’s just making it better for the general public because they pay us to come, and we pay the artists to come, so in a sense the audience are more important than the artists and you have to create different areas for them to be entertained,” says Giddings. “We’ve got 15 stages and I discovered things that I didn’t even know existed. There’s a special Cabaret Club at the back of the Intoxicated Tea Rooms, and we develop new things every year.
“This year we had a drone show, which came all the way from Australia because I used it with The Corrs last November, and it had an image of the Isle of Wight Festival evolving into the needles and stuff like that. It just makes it more interesting for people.
“You have to just keep doing things to keep everybody interested and you can’t do the same thing year in, year out. It’s like a Formula One car – you have to develop it as it evolves.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Solo strikes biofuel deal over IoW festival site
Solo Agency has struck a “groundbreaking deal” with an Isle of Wight biogas firm to generate more than 950,000 kWh of electricity using grass from the Isle of Wight Festival site – almost twice the amount of energy used during the festival.
The Newport-based Black Dog biogas plant supplies power to the Vestas Offshore Wind Blades facility, further contributing to the sustainability outcomes of the project.
Solo, owned by Isle of Wight Festival leaders John and Caroline Giddings, has turned over the land it holds for festival camping to biofuel production – with grass harvesting being conducted either side of the June event.
“I’m really pleased that we’re able to give our land a new lease of life, helping to generate renewable energy and making sure the fields are used productively year-round,” says John Giddings. “On top of delivering one of the UK’s best music festivals on the island, we have also sought to play a positive role in the local community and we’re proud that we will be doing our bit in the push for a more sustainable future for the island.”
“We want the Isle of Wight Festival to be the most sustainable festival in the UK”
The new project is the latest in a host of initiatives designed to make the festival more sustainable. Organisers are currently working with the Isle of Wight Council on a scoping exercise around installing a new electricity sub-station near the site. The move would enable the most energy intensive areas of the festival to be powered from the grid rather than generators, leading to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
“We want the Isle of Wight Festival to be the most sustainable festival in the UK,” adds Caroline Giddings. “Year on year we have done more to ensure that our event is as sustainable as possible, from small scale changes, such as the type of cups and cutlery we use, to systemic shifts such as the push to get the main stage area on the electricity grid. This latest initiative builds on that decade of work to keep us at the forefront of environmental activity in the industry.”
The 2023 Isle of Wight Festival takes place between 15-18 June at Seaclose Park, Newport, featuring headliners Pulp, George Ezra, Chemical Brothers and Robbie Williams.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Solo Agency names Jonathan Lomax as managing director
Solo Music Agency has appointed Jonathan Lomax as managing director to work with owners Caroline and John Giddings across the agency and the Isle of Wight festival, in the UK.
Lomax joins Solo after a 20-year career running communications agencies in London. For two years through the Covid pandemic, Jonathan ran the political lobbying and communications work for the live music industry body LIVE. He led a team working with a wide range of industry leaders to help them navigate the ever-shifting sands of policy during the pandemic, and fought to ensure the financial plight of the industry was on the radar of media and government.
In addition, he has also advised and overseen communications activity for international arena development businesses on their plans for new large-scale venues in the UK.
Lomax says: “It was one of the privileges of my career to support the live music industry during the pandemic, when I met the most interesting and committed people. Despite everyone telling me that I was mad, I was determined to work in the industry permanently and I am thrilled that John and Caroline have taken me into the Solo family.
“I find myself feeling incredibly lucky to be working with such legends of the industry”
“Yet again I find myself feeling incredibly lucky to be working with such legends of the industry as we push forward both the Isle of Wight Festival and Solo. I’m very excited and start the job knowing that, at the very least, there will never be a dull day at work.”
Caroline Giddings adds: “At Solo we’re always looking to bring in new ideas and fresh thinking and we’re excited about someone helping us run the company who has extensive experience in other fields. Like many people in the industry, we got to know Jonathan during the dark days of the pandemic and we’re excited to be working together as a team in happier times as we look to turbocharge both the agency and the Isle of Wight Festival.”
John Giddings comments: “Things never stay the same in this business, you either change or die. I’m really pleased that Jonathan is going to be working with the team on Solo’s next phase and I’m looking forward to many more successful days ahead.”
The lineup for Isle of Wight festival 2023 was recently revealed, with acts including Pulp, George Ezra, Chemical Brothers, Sugarbabes, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Anne-Marie, Gabrielle and Blondie.
Giddings on Lady Gaga’s seminal stadium run
John Giddings has told IQ how the European leg of Lady Gaga’s rescheduled worldwide stadium tour triumphed over prevailing issues.
More than 280,000 tickets sold for the six-date leg of The Chromatica Ball, which wrapped last weekend with two sold-out shows at Tottenham Hotspur stadium (cap. 62,850) in London.
The Live Nation-promoted tour, which also visited stadiums in Germany, Sweden, France and the Netherlands, marked the first-ever public live performances of Gaga’s #1 selling and Grammy-award-winning album Chromatica (2020).
“The show is incredible and everyone was blown away,” says Giddings, who worked as the European tour coordinator for Live Nation. “She’s proved herself to be a world-class superstar and this is her coming of age.
“Selling 280,000 tickets is fantastic,” he continues. “After the pandemic, you’re a) worried about selling tickets and b) worried that the people who have bought tickets either won’t come or will ask for a refund because they’ve got Covid. So it was a fantastic success to have all these people turn up.”
While Gaga’s packed venues bucked the no-show trend that some tours are still experiencing, the Solo boss says the European leg faced some of the same challenges, from staff shortages to illnesses to production costs.
“The problems of touring are two or three times worse than they were before the pandemic”
“First of all, you’ve got Brexit, so you have to import and export to each country,” he explains. “Then there’s the pandemic to go with it because – remember – countries like Germany are still a bit behind and you have to wear masks on planes and things like that.”
Countering the ongoing prevalence of Covid-19, the tour required crew to take a test and put on a mask before going backstage. “It was like the old days in the UK when you couldn’t walk down the road without taking a test first,” he says.
Add in the rising cost of fuel (which Giddings says costs at least a third more than it did pre-pandemic) and uncertainty around cancelled planes and trains, and The Chromatica Ball became a triumph over adversity.
The outcome, Giddings says, was an “incredibly successful tour” which garnered glowing reviews across the board. VICE said Gaga’s London show was “a once-in-a-lifetime artist playing a once-in-a-lifetime show” while NME hailed it “a thrilling, high-concept return from pop’s finest” and Evening Standard says it was “as perfect as a performance gets”.
The tour even broke some personal records for Gaga, who performed for her largest audience to date – 78,500 attendees – at Paris’ Stade de France.
But it was the shows at Tottenham Hotspur stadium that proved to be the standout dates for the Isle of Wight boss. “I have to give a gold star to Tottenham Hotspur stadium because it was fantastic and they really looked after us well,” says Giddings. “There was brilliant sound and the production looked incredible in there. The way it was built is perfect for a show.”
The Chromatica Ball tour continues across North America and Asia for 14 more shows with stadium stops in Canada, the US and Japan.
John Giddings trumpets IOW’s ‘brilliant’ return
Isle of Wight Festival promoter John Giddings has told IQ the event sold almost 50,000 tickets for its return to its traditional June date.
IOW’s 2021 edition at Seaclose Park was held last September due to the pandemic, but was back on more familiar ground this year from June 16-19.
“It was a brilliant weekend,” says Giddings. “It was back in its natural slot and it seemed like we were back in gear to be honest because last year seemed a bit scrambled. Although everybody was good natured, it was slightly odd being in the wrong month, and this year, everybody was just really up for it.”
Headlined by Muse, Lewis Capaldi, Kasabian and Pete Tong, other artists included Madness, Nile Rodgers + Chic, Sigrid, Blossoms, Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, Jessie Ware, Rudimental and Tom Grennan.
“Muse were incredible, Nile Rodgers was as brilliant as usual, and Kasabian blew me away, they were phenomenal,” beams Giddings. “You always worry when the singer changes, but [Serge Pizzorno] has taken it to a new level.”
“It went from a heatwave all the way up to Saturday lunchtime, then the temperature dropped like a brick”
The only minor negative was provided by the fluctuating weather, with high winds resulting in the main stage action being briefly suspended on Saturday on safety grounds.
“It went from a heatwave all the way up to Saturday lunchtime, then the temperature dropped like a brick and the wind blew and I had to stop Blossoms halfway through,” explains Giddings. “But we turned it around and Kasabian and Pete Tong went down a storm. And then Sunday was fantastic, finishing with Muse. Ninety per cent was brilliant weather, 10% was dodgy.”
Despite the well documented supply chain issues impacting the live events business, Giddings says the run-up to the festival went largely to plan, notwithstanding the reduced lead time.
“We only had nine months as opposed to a year,” he says. “But the fact that we paid our bills quite quickly mean we seem to have been a priority for suppliers.”
“Some festivals are struggling this year because there’s three years’ worth of touring in one year”
However, Giddings acknowledges the ongoing challenges affecting the wider sector.
“We were lucky, we sold just under 50,000,” he says. “But I’m aware of the fact that some festivals are struggling this year, because basically there’s three years’ worth of touring in one year. If you’re called Adele or Harry Styles, you’ve done great business, but there are people out there not doing as well.
“There’s just too much on in a short period of time. It’s always the mid range which is going to struggle and there’s a serious cost of living problem and if you’re going to spend some money, you’re only going to spend it once as opposed to three times.”
The Isle of Wight County Press reports two people suffered minor injuries when a metal pole came loose in a small bar tent in the Octopus Garden area during high winds on Saturday. “Medical attention was provided within four minutes by the onsite medical team, the structure was safely secured and both people were discharged back into the festival,” said a spokesperson.
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…
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.”
Tony Smith: “Artists need the truth from their manager”
Legendary manager Tony Smith has granted a rare interview with IQ after wrapping Genesis’ The Last Domino? Tour.
The legendary English rock band returned to the road at the end of last year following a 13-year hiatus.
The reunion tour kicked off last September in the UK, making stops in the US and Europe before culminating with a three-night stand at London’s O2 in March.
As the name of the tour suggests, it may well be the last time Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford – Genesis’ most commercially successful line-up – perform live under the pseudonym.
The tour would mark the end of a 50-year chapter for Smith who has managed the band since 1973 and played a crucial role in Genesis becoming one of the world’s best-selling artists.
Though Smith tells IQ that interviews are his “least favourite part of the job” (gulp), Genesis agent John Giddings managed to twist his arm for a rare conversation.
Here, Smith shares his philosophy on successful managers, reveals the motivation behind his extraordinary career, and sets the record straight on his age…
IQ: On a personal level, how are you feeling about this being Genesis’ last-ever tour?
TS: I’m not sure how I feel, actually. I mean, life’s gonna carry on afterwards. There’s still the Genesis catalogue and everything else to still deal with, but it might change. Who knows? Never say never but that was probably the last show. Probably.
The three-night stand at London’s O2 was postponed four times. Did those delays contribute to the anticipation in the arena?
The audience has obviously been waiting a long time so there was a lot of anticipation. But it’s interesting actually – I’ve noticed that in some places the first-night audience are the hardcore fans and they’re a bit in awe, so sometimes you don’t get the same reaction as you do on the second night. But [the opening night at the O2] was really good. The audience stood up all the way through.
“I think the role of a manager is to be the one person the band can hear the truth from”
How successful has The Last Domino? Tour been?
It has been very successful. Reviews have been great, the tour completely sold out – it has been a really good turn. In terms of numbers, it’s probably not as big as the tour in 2007, which was all stadiums. We wanted to keep this one to arenas. Given Phil’s lack of mobility, I don’t think a stadium show would work that well for him.
Even with Phil seated and not playing the drums, he’s still quite the showman…
He’s still got that entertainment spark. The voice is still there and he’s still got the sense of humour and stuff like that. It’s just a drag that he can’t move very much. I think it’s more difficult to sing properly when you’re seated but he seems to have overcome that.
Phil’s son Nic filled in on drums. How was it bringing him into the fold?
He’s fantastic. He played on Phil’s last solo tour which was in 2018/2019. He was only 16 and was good then but now he’s beefed up and is really strong. Phil has said to me on different occasions that Nick is doing things he didn’t do. Also, he’s a very nice guy! When a kid grows up in that environment, they could go either way but he’s really grounded.
“A manager is a bit of a father figure, in a way”
You’re 83 –
I’m not 83! Wikipedia is wrong. I’m 77 – I was born in 1945. It’s really annoying because you get someone to go in and change the Wikipedia and then someone changes it back! I’m glad you’ve straightened that out. Although, it’s always impressive when people think you’re 83 and still on tour.
Apologies! You’re 77 and probably the longest-standing manager in the business. What’s your motivation?
Well, first of all, I love the music and I love being in this business. I like the logistics of it all – putting things together, planning things out and having some kind of agenda. When you see all that fall into place, it’s very satisfying.
And I enjoy being a leader – it’s great when you’ve got a big team. I think we’ve got 100 people on the road and it’s good to be able to put a great team together that works really well – that’s very satisfying.
I like all the elements of management. There’s a little bit of creativity. You get involved with the setlists, the artwork, the marketing and the albums. Ultimately, the band will make those choices but they bounce off everyone. Plus, I like the challenge of managing a band and being able to follow it all through.
“How we ever did tours without mobile phones and computers, I cannot remember”
In the 50 odd years since you’ve been doing this job, how much has the role of a manager changed?
I think the role of a manager is to be the one person the band can hear the truth from – that hasn’t changed. I think the role of a ‘proper’ manager is to help guide the artist and help them to make choices, provide encouragement and discouragement at the right times. A manager is a bit of a father figure, in a way.
What has changed is the technology and everything that goes with that. How tickets are sold, how music is delivered. How we ever did tours without mobile phones and computers, I cannot remember. It all worked but it was probably a bit slower.
The other thing that has changed – as far as touring is concerned – is that the budgets and the finances are much larger than they used to be because there are bigger venues now. When I was a promoter in the late 60s/early 70s, the biggest venue was Wembley Empire Pool for 8,000 people. Most of the venues were for 2,000 and 3,000 people at the most. It was a very different kind of business. As a promoter, I did a Led Zeppelin tour which went on for two months around England and it was all town halls and theatres – those were the venues.
“You can’t look after more than one major act properly”
Do you get as much satisfaction out of the smaller shows as you do out of the big ones?
Yeah, absolutely. When Mike + The Mechanics [Mike Rutherford’s band] go out on tour we’re playing 2,000-seat theatres. And the same with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, which I look after, as well. It’s just as satisfying. In fact, in some ways, it’s more satisfying.
Back in the 80s, you said all the most successful managers very rarely look after more than one major act. Do you stand by this philosophy?
I still think that’s true. A good relationship with a major actor should be an intimate relationship and you can’t have that with too many artists. I’m lucky insofar as Genesis has always been great and there have been lots of solo spin-offs. The only other thing is, when Steve O’Rourke [manager of Pink Floyd] died, Nick Mason [the band’s drummer] asked me to look after his interest in Pink Floyd. But [Steve] and I were always mates because of motor racing so that was easy to manage.
In the main I still believe that the management relationship is special. You can’t look after more than one major act properly. I look after every element of Genesis, including things like personal finances, so it’s more of a holistic approach. Whereas I think there are managers out there that have got 234 acts but they’re more like agents than they are managers.
“A good relationship with a major actor should be an intimate relationship and you can’t have that with too many artists”
What’s your take on modern management?
I don’t know about younger managers and what goes on. I’m not involved in that kind of business anymore but I suspect it’s very different. I think a lot of managers these days tend to be more employees almost. They don’t direct, they don’t manage in the same way. They’ll take instructions from their artists. If you ask a question about something they’ll always say, “I’ll get back to you”. In most cases, I instinctively know what the band are going to be okay with.
I think a lot of that [bureaucracy] is due to when lawyers started getting involved with management contracts and insisting on minimum earnings for the artist. If the manager had to get in X amount, that compromises the manager’s decision straight away because he’s going to go for his money or think short term and won’t think about the career. I’ve never had a management contract and that has worked for the last 49 years. I don’t believe in contracts; it’s either going to work or it’s not going to work and that’s the end of the story. The only thing I have is a piece of paper in a file somewhere that says what happens if we part ways.
“Aside from interviews, dealing with bureaucracy is my least favourite part of the job”
What’s your least favourite part of the job?
Interviews. I do very few. Aside from that, dealing with bureaucracy is the main thing. I don’t mind the shitty bits of the job, like when you’ve got to give people bad news – it’s part of the job and it’s what’s expected of me really. The rest of it is fun, apart from dealing with John Giddings…
Tell us your best John Giddings anecdote.
John and I go back a long time. It has been a very good partnership. There was one tour that John was booking and he called me up all worried about the mileage between one city and another. I just turned to him and said [indignantly]: “John, do you drive the trucks?” That quote comes back to haunt me all the time.
“John Giddings and I go back a long time. It has been a very good partnership”
What are some of your highlights from the 50-year journey with Genesis?
We played Rome in 2007 with half a million people in the audience – that was pretty spectacular. Knebworth is a highlight. Also, we sold out four shows at Wembley Stadium back in the 80s. At the time, that was a record – which I think has subsequently been beaten by Ed Sheeran. The first time went to America in 1973 and played the Roxy in LA at Christmas was a highlight – that was the West Coast’s first experience of Genesis.
With Genesis retiring from the road, which other projects will you spend time on?
I’ve got lots of other interests, aside from Genesis, so I’ll be just as busy. There are a couple of other Genesis projects in the background at the moment – we’re looking into orchestral stuff and things like that. I don’t know what Phil’s gonna do – the same with Mike – but there are always things to do. I start on the road with Nick Mason in two weeks’ time and that’s running through the summer. I’m also one of the producers of Bat Out of Hell the musical and I’m one of the four managers of Pink Floyd ‘industries’ so that’s a full-time job on its own.
John Giddings on getting Genesis back on the road
Solo boss John Giddings has told IQ how Genesis’ The Last Domino? Tour has navigating the challenges of Covid to triumph over adversity.
The legendary Phil Collins-fronted band last toured in 2007 before announcing a reunion in 2020. The European leg of the tour is due to finally wrap up at the fourth time of asking with a three-night stand at The O2 from 24-26 March.
The London arena dates were originally scheduled for November 2020 before being postponed multiple times thanks to the pandemic, including last October, when they were due to wrap up their UK run.
Giddings, who will appear alongside Paradigm agent Alex Hardee as part of ILMC’s popular Dragons’ Den sessions at next month’s conference, explains the course of events.
“Last November, two of the band got Covid the first night in Glasgow, so we had to cancel the second night in Glasgow and postpone the three O2s,” he says. “So I postponed the three O2s to the end of March and suggested to the band that we play some European shows prior to The O2 – because you can’t just do it on its own – as a farewell thank you to all the European fans.”
However, the emergence of the Omicron variant late last year – and the subsequent tightening of restrictions on gatherings – threatened to derail plans once again.
“Getting it all together at two weeks’ notice was pretty hard”
“We sold all of the tickets, then something called Omicron came along and all the countries kind of closed down again,” sighs Giddings. “So three weeks ago, we had three shows at The O2 [lined up], but we couldn’t play France, Holland or Germany.
“I think the first country that opened up was France, so we could play two Paris shows and three Londons, with a week in between, then Holland said it was looking likely.”
But going ahead with the German stretch – two nights at each of Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, Hanover’s Zag Arena and Lanxess Arena in Cologne – was not as straightforward.
“I wrote a letter to the minister of culture in Germany asking for special dispensation because they said we could the play gigs, but only to 60% capacity,” says Giddings, “and anybody in the music business knows that just pays for the costs of the show.
“Germany consists of five different countries really, five different states – so we had to go to the local governments of each of them and beg to be able to do them, saying everybody has to wear a mask, tests have to be shown, anything to make the shows happen.
“Eventually, we got permission. The first to give us permission was Hannover, then Cologne and then, with about two weeks to go, Berlin. Getting it all together at two weeks’ notice was pretty hard with equipment, trucking, coaches for the crew, etc, but here we are and it’s going incredibly.”
“Germany is their biggest market, France second and Holland is probably third”
The tour, which has been met with glowing reviews, continues tonight (17 March) at the 40,000-cap Paris la Défense Arena in France before returning to Germany’s Lanxess Arena in Cologne, followed by two nights at Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome in the Netherlands (21-22 March).
“The responses are phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,” reports Giddings. “Audiences love this group, love their history and realise it’s the last time they’ll ever see them live. Phil sits down for the whole show, but his personality shines through. He’s singing better than ever, and the band are playing better than ever.
“Germany is their biggest market, France second and Holland is probably third, but some people were flying in from Ukraine to come and see some of these shows and obviously they can’t get here, which is horrible. Phil refers to it during the show and dedicates a song to them, Land of Confusion, which was originally written about a different subject, but is pertinent in today’s world.”
The trio – Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, toured North America last November/December. The tour was the 54th best seller of 2021, according to Pollstar, shifting 134,323 tickets for a total gross of $23,743,403 (€21,461,200).
“We did 21 shows just ahead of the new wave of the variant,” notes Giddings. “America was interesting because you talk about different countries in Germany, the different states in America had different rules. The Democrats had certain rules, obviously in New York you had to show Covid passes and all that, and in the Trump states, nobody gave a fuck! You had to remember where you were.”
Isle of Wight Festival promoter Giddings is currently appearing in the four-part BBC Two series Rock Till We Drop, which offers the chance for a band of musicians aged over 64 a chance to appear at the festival. He gives a brief update on this year’s IoW, which will be headlined by Lewis Capaldi, Kasabian and Muse from 16-19 June.
“It’s shaping up really well,” he says. “We’re just under 40,000 tickets so far and it’s picking up like there’s no tomorrow, it’s going to be lovely.”
Top agents discuss the war’s impact on touring
Top agents from the western world have discussed how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may impact the future of international touring.
Meanwhile, a growing number of artists are cancelling concerts in Russia including Green Day, Oxxxymiron, AJR, Imagine Dragons, Louis Tomlinson, Yungblud, Franz Ferdinand, Health, Roisin Murphy, Iggy Pop, The Killers, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Bring Me the Horizon.
Paradigm’s Tom Schroeder tells IQ that the outlook for future international shows in Russia is “pretty bleak”.
“Unless there is a really significant change to the situation, I think Russia could be pushed out in the cold as a touring market for some time. It’s important to say, I have been talking to our Russian promoter friends this week, making it clear we know this is Putin’s war, not Russia’s war, and we support them fully.
“I think Russia could be pushed out in the cold as a touring market for some time”
“Sadly that doesn’t mean it is viable as a touring market, and they are very aware. After the last two years we have all faced, for these promoters to now have this – is mind-blowing, and heartbreaking,” he adds.
Solo’s John Giddings echoes Schroeder’s sentiment: “I can’t see any shows being booked there in the foreseeable future. We have cancelled Iggy Pop and we’re in the process of cancelling all of our shows there. We were negotiating other tours but never got to confirmation because of the uncertainty.
“I don’t think Putin is going to care much about having no concerts but the population will and hopefully put pressure on him to stop. The music business has to act as one – alongside all of the other sanctions”
Paradigm’s Alex Hardee, who represents Louis Tomlinson, added: “I cant see that acts would be willing to tour Russia until the Putin regime ends. Unfortunately, acts won’t be able to tour Ukraine until the same regime ends for entirely different reasons.”
But how will Russia’s isolation from the international touring industry affect artists whose income is partly made up from the private gig economy?
“This is a point of considerable concern – how much bleed there is into other countries”
For years, western artists – such as George Michael and Amy Winehouse – have been able to secure lucrative deals playing at private and corporate parties in Russia.
“[The private gig economy] is a significant market for us,” admits Schroeder, “but in reality, everyone can still rebuild post-Covid without it. I just hope we quickly get to the point where art can heal – like it has done so much in the past.”
Sadly, it’s not just Russia’s live music industry that will suffer as a result of Putin’s all-out assault on Ukraine. Both Schroeder and Giddings anticipate repercussions for neighbouring markets, such as Poland and Romania, too.
“This is a point of considerable concern – how much bleed there is into other countries,” says Schroeder. “I expect there will be concern and caution from US-based acts – we really need to see what happens with the conflict and how contained it is. It is very early days, and the priority is the safety and protection of Ukraine, not our desire to put on gigs.”
Giddings believes there will be a “heavy impact” on the aforementioned eastern European nations: “With fuel prices rising, among other costs, and probably currency fluctuations, it will be hard to make offers that are sustainable.”
“I don’t see us having to cancel dates in neighbouring countries for the time being”
He also thinks that fewer international artists, in particular those from the US, will want to tour eastern Europe because of the conflict.
“We book tours well in advance and no one knows whether the war will expand or not, so until there is some certainty, artists will not want to take the risk – financially, or for their own safety.”
But for now, Hardee says, tours previously scheduled to visit eastern Europe will remain intact.
“I don’t see us having to cancel dates in neighbouring countries for the time being,” he says. “Most tours don’t depend on Russia or Ukraine to work so I haven’t seen any tours yet fall down, due to the forced cancellation of individual dates in these territories.
“Everyone seems to be strong in their resolve against Putin and let’s be clear this is a war against Putin and not the Russian people.”
“Let’s be clear this is a war against Putin and not the Russian people”
Meanwhile, sanctions implemented by the EU, the UK and the US could have an effect on live music markets around the world – not just the neighbours of Ukraine and Russia.
UK artists are prohibited from playing at Finland’s largest arena, the Hartwall arena (cap. 13,349) in Helsinki, after two of the three owners were added to the UK’s sanctions list.
Gennady Nikolayevich Timchenko and Boris Rotenberg, who founded Arena Events Oy in 2013 and bought 100% of the arena, are among the 120 oligarchs and businesses that have wound up on the list.
Timchenko is Russia’s sixth richest oligarch and close friend of Russian president Putin. He also owns the private investment firm Volga Group, which has holdings in energy, transport, infrastructure and financial services.
Rotenberg is a co-owner of SMP Bank, which is linked to the energy firm Gazprom. Rotenberg is described as having “close personal ties” to Putin, a friend since childhood when they trained in judo together.
Arena Events Oy co-founder and brother of Boris, Arkady Rotenberg, is not on the sanctions list.