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Marsha Vlasic, Michele Bernstein look to 2021

As the worst year in the history of the live music business finally nears its end, IQ caught up with several industry leaders ahead of the new year, asking for their predictions for 2021, as well as the lessons they can take forward from 2020.

Here, Marsha Vlasic, president of Artist Group International, and Michele Bernstein, founder of Michi B Inc. and former partner at WME, talk livestreaming, vaccines and getting prepared for ‘Live 2.0’…


IQ: This year has been difficult, to put it mildly, but have there been any positive aspects you are taking forward from this annus horribilis?
MV
: Other than spending much-valued time with my family I really can’t think positive about having our lives controlled and halted this way.

MB: The ability to reset and make space for new ideas and concepts.

How has news of the coronavirus vaccine news changed the conversations you are having with artists, management, promoters, festivals, etc.?
MV
: I think most people are cautiously optimistic because we are all in such need of some good news.

We really don’t know when the bell will ring and when, and how fast it will be distributed, although the news coming from the UK is more promising.

MB: Conversations are very different. Plans are now very tentative and subject to change at a moment’s notice.

Livestreamed shows have shown that fans will pay to see their favourite acts remotely. How do you imagine this technology might develop when regular touring activity resumes?
MV
: Streaming has been very strong for me – my client Norah Jones charted as number one on Pollstar; Neil Young has done some beautiful live streams; Band of Horses have also, just to name a few of my encounters.

Having said that, hopefully it will not replace the live experience. I have had some success with the live streams, but there is nothing like the live show!

“Hopefully some amazing music will come out of bands’ experiences during this time”

What do you think the biggest challenges are going to be for Live 2.0, and how do you think industry leaders can best guide the business as things reopen?
MB
: We don’t know what the world will be like as we open up again.

That having been said: not flooding the marketplace with on sale traffic, remaining mindful and cautious that both volume and timing will play key roles in our shared recovery.

What advice or encouragement can you give to those who were hoping to break through in 2020, knowing that the market is going to be overcrowded with onsales when the industry gets back to work?
MB: Plan to seed the marketplace with some new content and redraft a new timeline/plan that includes a myriad of platforms.

MV: Hopefully there is always room for one more! I am sure every market will be saturated… Competition will be healthy, I hope.

Finally, are there any bad habits the industry had that you are hoping might disappear when normality returns?
MV
: I don’t believe so – business is business, and competition is healthy.

MB: Turning thoughtlessness into thoughtfulness.

MV: Hopefully – I use that word again – some great, amazing music will be coming out from bands’ experiences during this time. That could be really exciting.

I want my fucking life back!

 


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Marsha Vlasic on the ’20s: “There will be fewer independents”

As we enter the new decade, IQ caught up with leaders from the global live music business to reflect upon the development of the industry over the past ten years, as well as looking forward to what we can expect in the 2020s.

Following on from Q&As with UTA’s Neil Warnock, AEG’s Jay Marciano, and Move Concerts’ Phil Rodriguez, in the hot seat today is Marsha Vlasic, president of Artist Group International and agent to the likes of Neil Young, Iggy Pop, the Strokes and Elvis Costello…

 


IQ: The role that agents play in artists’ careers has undoubtedly changed over the last ten years. Considering the advent of global touring, and the various new income streams available to artists, how do you see this role evolving?
MV: As far as the agent’s role and the other income streams, unfortunately we are not a part of that. We are not directly involved in the other streams, but hopefully it helps us increase ticket buyers.

Looking ahead, what do you perceive will be the biggest challenges for the live music sector in the 2020s?
To continue building careers that will be long lasting.

What more could the constituent parts of the music industry be doing to deliver a better proposition to both artists and fans?
Figuring a way to exploit and share music that will allow an artist to gain new fans.

“My personal highlights have been keeping my clients and enjoying what I do”

Consolidation has been a constant theme of this decade. Looking ahead, how do you see the balance between the industry’s key corporations and the remaining independent players?
I think there will be fewer and fewer independent players.

Topics such as inclusion, diversity and mental health are commonly discussed these days. How is the live business shaping up compared to other sectors?
These are topics that cannot be buried or ignored anymore. It is completely out in the open, and hopefully that will continue to help people with problems feel safe to come out with it. There are many avenues and places in the music industry that people can seek help.

What are your own personal highlights from the last decade?
Staying relevant! Keeping my clients and enjoying what I do.

 


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ILMC 31: The Open Forum: With or Without EU

Live Nation’s president of international touring, Phil Bowdery, returned as host for this year’s standing room-only Opening Forum, which saw six heavyweights gather to discuss the last 12 months in the business, hot-button industry issues and the looming threat of Brexit.

After running through some of the headline figures from 2018 – the largest tour was Ed Sheeran’s ÷, which grossed US$432.4m from 93 concerts in 53 cities, with Taylor Swift’s Reputation in second – Bowdery asked what the trend towards rising ticket prices, coupled in many cases with falling attendances, outlined in IQ’s European Festival Report 2018 means for the industry’s future growth.

Deutsche Entertainment AG (DEAG) CMO Detlef Kornett said that while his company experienced healthy growth last year – and that sales of top-end tickets continue to grow – less wealthy fans are increasingly finding themselves priced out of shows. “Twenty per cent of the population in Germany now can’t afford to go to a show,” he explained. “The P1s keep increasing, but the lower end is a concern.”

Coda agent Alex Hardee said while he didn’t have any statistics to hand (“not that that’s stopped me before!”) he feels the overall market is “flat”. “You’re never going to have a problem selling [new, hot acts like] Billie Eilish, but it’s more difficult with bands on their second, third albums… Record labels are the strongest they’ve been since the ’80s, but the live industry feels like it’s plateauing slightly.”

Tim Leiweke, the ex-AEG CEO who now leads venues company Oak View Group (OVG) – which used the conference to launch its new London-based OVG International division – cautioned that the business “need[s] to address whether we’re pricing people out of concerts”, especially if the global economy takes a downturn.

Solo Agency’s John Giddings countered: “Every time we put a show on sale, it seems to sell out. People want to go out and have a good time.” He revealed that his Isle of Wight Festival 2019 had sold more than 30,000 tickets before it had announced a single artist.

Fortnite is a $60bn business, and it doesn’t charge to play. … I think there’s a lot to be learnt from that”

However, he added: “We push ticket prices all the time – the artists want more money, venues want that peripheral income – so there must be a level it reaches when we say it’s enough.”

Marsha Vlasic of Artist Group International (AGI) said AGI had a great year, with the likes of Billy Joel, Def Leppard and Metallica continuing to sell out shows. She said her biggest concern for the future is “who are the next headliners, and how do we get the next generation of acts to that level?”.

Asked about the impending merger of AEG Facilities and SMG, and the new company, ASM Global’s, potential to rival OVG, Leiweke said he doesn’t think “two [companies] coming together is ever good”, predicting that “they’re going to get challenged in the UK, they’re going to get challenged in Germany and elsewhere in Europe…” He also revealed that OVG’s lawyers are “looking at it” on anti-competition concerns.

Returning to ticket pricing, and the value of the market, artist manager Bill Silva argued that the live music industry – predicted to top $30bn in 2022, according to the latest PwC data – is actually small fry compared to the videogames business, where many IPs rely on a free-to-access model.

Fortnite is a $60 billion business, and it doesn’t charge to play,” said Silva. “That’s one game that’s bigger than our entire industry by a multiple [of two]. I think there’s a lot to be learnt from what’s going on there – people are spending their time on that activity, rather than music and concerts – there’s a model around engagement and experience that encourages them to spend.”

“It’s the old drug dealer model,” he joked. “‘First one’s on me,’ right? Not that I was a drug dealer…”

Kornett argued the success of games like Fornite could help open up to the live business to a wider audience, using the example of DJ Marshmello’s recent performance in Fortnite, which was seen by 10m people.

“We need to remember we work in a system where other people rely on us”

Following on from ILMC head Greg Parmley’s welcome address, when he paid tribute to the ILMC members who had died in 2018, Silva urged the industry to come together and look after those in need.

“When we watch our artists taking their own lives – Chris Cornell, Chester [Bennington] and now this week Keith Flint – as well as promoters [referencing Croatia’s Jordan Rodić, who committed suicide in January], we need to remember we work in a system where other people rely on us as well.

“I guarantee any of the people around people who have taken their lives would say they did everything they could, or that they had no idea… We all have a lot of fun doing what we do, but I like to end most interaction on a high note and let people know I appreciate and respect them.”

Inevitably, with the UK set to leave the EU (with or without a deal) at the end of this month, talk then turned to Brexit. Several people in the room said they were hedging dollars to prepare for any post-Brexit plunge in the pound. “We’re in a gambling business, and that’s just another gamble we’re taking,” said Giddings.

“We’ve been following everything on Brexit, all the scenarios,” added Hardee, “but what can we do?”

Asked the view from the continent, Kornett said: “Once in a while, it’s good to take the other side. The UK industry accounts for almost 25% of Europe’s, so if it gets harder to get to the UK from Europe our business gets harder. So there should be a vested interest to avoid that.”

 


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