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ILMC 34: Live business regroups after Covid storm

Co-chaired by Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery and CAA’s Maria May, the Open Forum session featured remote guest speakers Alona Dmukhovsla and Sasha Yerchenko from Ukraine, who updated delegates about the current situation in their homeland.

Yerchenko from SEA talked about the “terrible and awful war” they are experiencing. “It feels like we live in two different worlds now,” she said. Explaining that she and her 15-year-old daughter stayed in Kyiv, she said every citizen was now volunteering for various causes to support the war effort. “My daily routine is not just about concerts, it is about delivering humanitarian aid to older people and people in need,” she told delegates.

“If Ukraine fails, the whole of Europe will fail”

Dmukhovsla, of Music Export Ukraine, said every single Ukrainian believes they are responsible for the country’s mutual victory. On the music side, she said she is coordinating efforts to have Ukrainian bands play at festivals around Europe. And she highlighted the partnership with ARTmania in Romania and Pohoda Festival in Slovakia to find work for some of the live music industry professionals who are desperate to find employment. “If Ukraine fails, the whole of Europe will fail,” she warned.

Codruta Vulcu from ARTmania urged ILMC attendees to participate in the ARTery.community not-for-profit programme that centralises jobs at events for Ukrainian professionals “so that they can be treated with dignity rather than end up in European capital cities doing menial jobs for unskilled workers.”

Looking back over the past two years, Rauha Kyyrö (Fullsteam Agency) talked of the frustration in getting government assistance in Finland and the fact that freelancers and musicians in particular suffered when they could not work because of pandemic restrictions. However, she noted her company had survived and had organised some highly successful livestream events that captured the imagination of Finnish fans.

Kornett said that convincing baby boomers to return to live events would be a trickier task

Marty Diamond (Wasserman) noted that some streaming platforms that emerged through the pandemic were interesting because they were interactive, and some clients had embraced the technology. But he said persuading other clients to use livestreaming was not something he would do.

However, May noted that the opportunities for additional income and for allowing access to disabled people or fans who cannot make gigs means that livestreaming is here to stay. And she also lauded the opportunities that the metaverse might offer to concerts and live events for people who prefer to remain on their sofa.

Detlef Kornett (DEAG) said that convincing baby boomers to return to live events would be a trickier task, so bands that attract fans of a certain age group could struggle in the months ahead.

Talking about the return to touring, Diamond revealed that on the recent Louis Tomlinson tour the audience was noticeably younger and there was a degree of education needed to remind people how to attend shows, while on the latest Snow Patrol tour there was a degree of slippage in terms of fans who didn’t show up for whatever reason. And he noted that he is seeing ticket price rises in America, while many events are still priced at pre-Covid rates.

No-show rates had reduced from 40% last year in the UK, but spiked again during Omicron

Alex Hill (AEG Europe) said no-show rates had reduced from 40% last year in the UK, but spiked again during Omicron, however confidence among fans seems to be slowly returning. Diamond said this mirrored what is happening in America, where he also said merch rates have rocketed with fans eager to get their hands on t-shirts and the likes.

Having asked their guests about the Covid experiences and the challenges and opportunities that brought with it, the co-chairs moved the conversation on to the very real problems of the supply chain where both staff and equipment are in short supply.

May noted that some of the festivals that she is working with have dropped performance areas because they cannot physically find the stages for their events.

Meanwhile, Amy Thomson (Hipgnosis Songs Fund) explained that she had actually closed down her artist management operation just prior to Covid and while in isolation went down a rabbit hole where she looked at exactly where the money goes from performance rights around the world. And she criticised PRS in particular for increasing rates for struggling artists who turned to livestreaming to earn some money. As a result, she revealed details of a campaign to make performance rights more transparent and push for itemised statements that show exactly what the breakdown of payments are to rights holders.

Voicing their support for the people of Ukraine, the panellists concluded by talking about the year ahead and the hard work that will be needed to negotiate the hyper inflationary conditions that face everyone. Kornett predicted that at next year’s ILMC we will be talking about all the problems we had to deal with in fall and winter 2022 and the fact that ticket prices will only be going in one direction.

 


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Top agents call for action on diversity

Top agents called for a more diverse, inclusive and equitable industry during last week’s ESNS (Eurosonic Noorderslag).

Hannah Shogbola (UTA), Natasha Gregory (Mother Artists), Sally Dunstone (Primary Talent International) and Whitney Boateng (WME) came together for the all-female Agents Panel – hailed as “a long-overdue milestone” by moderator Maria May (CAA).

“We are representing the change we want to see,” said May during her opening gambit for the digital session. “I believe the music industry has a duty to continue to strive forward post-pandemic be even more progressive, more inclusive, and representative of the world that we live in.”

However, WME’s Boateng says there’s a “lot more work that needs to be done in the industry”. “It is still predominantly old white male and it has been for years,” she added. “Change has to come from the top-down and it has to be more than black squares.”

UTA’s Shogbola agreed: “If you are looking around your office and it does not reflect the society that you live in and the roster that you look after, then there is something categorically wrong.”

Black squares were posted on social media as part of the music industry’s Blackout Tuesday movement, a protest against racism and police brutality in response to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

“As a black woman within this industry, it’s frustrating that even 15-20 years into my career, it takes the death of somebody like George Floyd for our industry to finally open its eyes,” said Shogbola.

“The industry has a duty to be even more progressive, more inclusive, and representative of the world that we live in”

Boateng pointed out that it’s not just racial inequalities that the industry needs to fix but also disparities around sexuality and gender, with the panel unanimously agreeing that diversity on line-ups is still “not good enough”.

“It’s so important that when anybody is going to a show, they feel like it’s a safe and inclusive space for them,” said Dunstone.

Elsewhere during the panel, Mother Artists’ Gregory says that flexibility towards employees’ work hours will also be a key feature in a more equitable post-pandemic industry.

“Working 9–5 is not equality because everybody has a different situation, a different experience and different needs,” argued Gregory. “Being an agent is not a 9–5 anyway so just put trust in your team – working hard is a given in this industry.”

Dunstone agreed: “Adaptability and flexibility are massive takeaways from the last two years. Hopefully, we’ll pick and choose the bits of [pandemic life] that worked for us.”

The 36th edition of ESNS took place under the banner ‘Building Back Better, Together’ and focussed on getting the industry back on its feet after two years of the pandemic.

The hybrid conference and festival wrapped on Friday (21 January) and Dago Houben, director of ESNS said that “despite the fact that there is definitely screen fatigue, we were able to perform our platform function for the national and international music industry.

 


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“We’ve been rubbish”: Agents tackle diversity in IQ Focus panel

The evolving role of the booking agent, the increasingly crowded 2021 circuit, and the agency sector’s shaky record on diversity were among the topics discussed during yesterday’s IQ Focus session, The Agency Business 3.0.

Hosted by ILMC MD Greg Parmley, the session – the latest in IQ’s Focus virtual panel series – checked in with CAA’s Maria May, UTA’s Jules de Lattre, Paradigm’s Tom Schroeder and 13 Artists’ Angus Baskerville to see how the business has changed, three months after the world went into lockdown.

“It’s been proper bonkers these past few months,” said Schroeder, who recalled how, back “in February, we were saying, ‘We’re going we need 20 laptops’ [for people to work from home], and other people going, ‘You’re mad; it’s the flu!’

“We’ve gone from that,” he continued, “to ‘Is Glastonbury going to wobble’, to ‘Is Glastonbury 2021 going to happen…?’”

Despite the speed at which circumstances changed – as well as ongoing uncertainty about when live music will return in force – Schroeder said, as an agent, he’s never felt a more essential part of the music industry ecosystem.

“The majors [labels] have seen they cannot get traction for an artist without shows,” he explained. “I spent 20 years telling people that – I didn’t know if it was true, but now I know it’s true. Gigs are an absolutely integral part of the music food chain. I feel more valuable than I have before.”

May said a “day doesn’t go by” when she doesn’t receive an offer for things like “livestreamed shows, or pre-recorded sets being put into a virtual universe”, a la Travis Scott in Fortnite.

“It’s a good time for us to realise that we’ve been really, really rubbish at this, and we’re going to do something about it”

“As agents we all need to be across this massively,” she explained. “Nothing will replace a live music experience, ever – but with most of the shows that are successful, people can’t go to them, as they sell out too quickly. So this [livestreaming] is something that will become in standard in future.”

“Over the past few months we’ve all become experts in the livestream space,” agreed de Lattre, “which has enabled us to go to our clients and say, ‘Here are the pros and cons of the various ticketing providers, here are the different broadcast platforms, here are the different production options…’”

“The idea of our role as advisors, as consultants, as having expertise in the live space and in lots of different areas, I think gives us a reason to exist more so than ever,” he continued. “I think it’s that dimension, rather than just booking tours and taking commission, that is key.”

The growth of virtual concerts, he added, “has really forced us to innovate, and think creatively about ‘What can we learn here?’”

“I think over the next few months we’re going to see increased production values, and people offering opportunities for artists to perform,” predicted Baskerville, “and perhaps monetise, in a meaningful way, some of those performances. We’re involved in a couple of acts playing at Alexandra Palace this week at a streaming event the Wireless people are putting together, and the production values are incredible…

“In the long term, hopefully [these virtual shows] something we can learn from, and use those skills in future.”

Following the events of Black Out Tuesday and the launch of #TheShowMustBePaused, talk turned to racial diversity in the live music industry and (given the panel’s make-up) the agency business specifically.

“Over the past few months we’ve all become experts in the livestream space”

“CAA are very publicly out there and actively working hard… we’re looking at how we recruit, how we employ, how we bring people up, how we create departments and how we bring focus and light to these issues,” said May. “Last week was a great moment for the creative industries to step back, take stock and realise how much work there is to do in this area.”

“I think agencies throughout the UK are terrible at this, and that includes my company,” opined Schroeder, taking a different tack to May. “There just isn’t the representation there, and we have to look at why.

“What we need are some tangible results. One of the most startling bits from last week [Black Out Tuesday] was the brands which put a black square up, saying, ‘We’re going have a think’, and getting called out on it…

“I hated the Insta-moment of the whole thing, so I’m not going to use this opportunity to say what we’re doing at Paradigm. I’ll come back in a year and tell you then. It’s a good time for us to realise that we’ve been really, really rubbish at this, and we’re going to do something about it.”

“I think there’s a risk that the emotion and severity of last few weeks could lead to a rush to respond that isn’t genuine,” added de Lattre, who said the industry must be asking itself, “How can we do this in a genuine, long-lasting way?

“We’re going to be scrutinised for how well we’ve done in the coming weeks and months. The honesty and the dialogue so far is the best we’ve done, but there’s so much more to achieve. It’s for us to prove ourselves from here.”

Looking to 2021, May said it’s going to be challenge to provide space for new acts on already crammed festival bills, with many events choosing to re-book the majority of their 2020 acts.

“With the new acts coming through, it’s going to be difficult, because for the most part we’ve moved everyone into 2021,” she explained.

“It’s important that the events which happen next year happen well”

“If we want to have support for our newer acts, we’re going to have to be willing to work with festivals and promoters if we want to have conversations about the few slots they have left,” said de Lattre, referencing the ongoing renegotiations between artists and promoters of artist deals signed pre-Covid-19.

“There is a need for an adjustment,” said Schroeder. “In 2021 we all desperately need a super successful summer, to make money, for people to survive, for people get their jobs back, and for punters to have a wonderful experience.”

“What Covid will have done is put a pause, if not a stop, on some of those silly deals” from before the crisis, he added.

“We all need to work together very closely so we know clearly on what basis we’re confirming events,” added Baskerville. “But there’s an appetite among agents, managers and promoters to work it all out. […] It’s important that the events which happen next year happen well; if we all support them and work together we’ll be able to achieve that.”

More than anything, concluded de Lattre, the coronavirus has ushered in a period of “reflecting, not just about our work lives, but about lives in general, and there’s an incredible amount of change to come.

“It’s been an absolutely unbelievable year, charged with the promise of change and a more collaborative spirit within the business, and with real potential for change in diversity and inclusion. These are all incredible things that I don’t think anyone could have dreamt of really happening.

“So if we can turn a positive out of all the challenges and the anguish, I think we’ll have done well from this year.”

The Agency Business 3.0 is available to watch back on YouTube or Facebook now.


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