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Merch company Playbill expands in New York

Platypus Productions, part of Australia-based global merchandising group Playbill, has announced the appointment of Steven Downing as chief merchandise officer, live entertainment, based in New York.

Downing brings to more than 25 years’ industry experience, including from the Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros’ merchandising departments, to Platypus, where he will oversee creative, operations and strategic planning for the company’s theatre and live events merchandise division, reporting to Playbill managing director Michael Nebenzahl.

“Steven’s international reputation and successful history in the live entertainment merchandise field is a tremendous asset for us,” says Nebenzahl. “His creativity, dedication and hands-on collaborative approach in support of the world’s most beloved stage productions has earned him a reputation as a global leader.

“Steven has a wealth of knowledge, experience and a unique creative talent, which will support our continued growth in live entertainment merchandising around the world. We’re delighted to welcome Steven to our growing global team.”

The Playbill Group of Companies operates in ten countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, South Africa, Germany, the UK and the USA. Merchandise clients include Les Misérables, Leo Sayer, Tina Arena, The Lion King, the New South Wales Waratahs, Mary Poppins, the Sydney Roosters, André Rieu, Diana Krall and The Phantom of the Opera.

“With live theatre reopening worldwide, I’m excited to work with Platypus during such an important time,” says Downing. “This opportunity allows me to develop new and innovative ways of partnering with producers, supporting each production and brand while elevating the theatre experience. I feel there are no limits to our potential accomplishments in this new era of live entertainment.”

 


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Dice launches direct-to-fan merch platform

Ticketing and music discovery company Dice has launched Merch on Dice, a direct-to-fan merchandise sales platform for artists.

In the same way as fans can find shows and buy tickets through the Dice app, Merch on Dice will allow them to order limited-edition artist products to pick up at the concert or have delivered. Consumers will also receive notifications and updates about available merch in the run-up to the show.

“We’ve built a beautiful direct to fan, mobile-only shopping experience specifically for live events, making it easy for fans to quickly order limited-edition products that they can pick up at the venue or get delivered to their home,” says Phil Hutcheon, CEO of Dice.

“The success of live streams has propelled the demand for limited-edition, rarer apparel in particular”

For artists, Merch on Dice will enable them to create exclusive limited-run product ‘drops’ in the lead-up to a gig which are only available to fans attending the show and/or live stream.

“In an increasingly virtual world, the need for physical memories are more important than ever. The success of live streams has propelled the demand for limited-edition, rarer apparel in particular,” continues Hutcheon.

“Merchandise will always have a deeply emotional draw on fans – it’s intrinsic to the live experience – and we want to make it better. We’re bringing artists and fans closer through merch on Dice.”

 


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D2C platform Townsend captures live streams on record

Townsend Music, the leading direct-to-consumer (D2C) platform, has been providing its artist clients with a new revenue stream during the pandemic by capturing their livestreamed shows on record.

The platform, which hosts over 1,000 artist D2C stores, has been converting its clients’ livestream recordings into one-off, collectable vinyl to be sold exclusively through the stores.

In December, British rock band The Darkness delivered a livestreamed concert from Indigo at the O2, London, in conjunction with Townsend, Live Here Now, AEG and Dice.

The ticketed performance, which took place under the banner of ‘Streaming of A White Christmas’, was transformed into a brand new live album, presented as a deluxe triple ‘sparkle green’ heavy vinyl with booklets and a deluxe double CD for £40 and £20 respectively – generating not one, but two income streams for the band.

“These campaigns have been a huge success and they’ve provided the artists with decent revenue streams and strong data”

Similarly, Townsend packaged Embrace’s greatest hits concert, livestreamed from their own studio during the pandemic, into a triple-coloured vinyl dubbed ‘Best Of Live From The Cellar Of Dreams’ which was informed by a fan-powered setlist.

“These campaigns have been a huge success and really enjoyable to put together. They’ve provided the artists with decent revenue streams and strong data capture,” says Bruce McKenzie, sales director at Townsend Music.

“It’s also been great to pay over some of the money to the band’s crew who are such an important part of the team who have been hit the hardest during lockdown.”

The company has also organised other exclusive D2C live albums using archive material from artists including Supergrass, James, Shed Seven and Bryan Ferry.

 


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Sony Music to acquire merch company Probity

The Thread Shop, Sony Music’s merchandise division, is to acquire Probity Europe, a leading independent music merchandising company offering worldwide tour, retail, ecommerce and licensing services.

Probity’s roster of artists includes Metallica, Noel Gallagher, Oasis, Paloma Faith, Rage Against the Machine, Robert Plant and Van Morrison.

Following the acquisition, London-based Probity will become a new division of The Thread Shop, with the existing Probity team serving under company founder Mark Stredwick. Stredwick will report to Thread Shop head Howard Lau.

The takeover of Probity is the third merch-related acquisition by Sony Music since last summer, following similar deals with the US-based Araca Group and the UK’s Kontraband last year. The label’s in-house merchandising business is now home to the likes of the Beatles, Camila Cabello, Jimi Hendrix, Maluma, Led Zeppelin, Lil Nas X, Pink and Rosalia.

“Probity is an established independent leader in the European merch market”

“We are delighted to fully cement the organic relationship we had already developed with Howard and Sony Thread Shop,” comments Stredwick.

“The deal with Sony allows our growing roster to tap into more opportunities globally and benefit from innovative and creatively driven merchandising programs that The Thread Shop deliver with such passion.”

Adds Lau: “We are very pleased to be further enhancing the reach and competitive capabilities of The Thread Shop around the world with the welcome additions of Mark Stredwick and the Probity team.

“Probity is an established independent leader in the European merch market, representing some of the world’s most iconic music artists. Together we can offer our artist clients and the music community an even more robust set of merchandising opportunities to complement their music revenues, branding and marketing.”

 


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LiveXLive to acquire merch company CPS

Live music media company LiveXLive has agreed to acquire CPS, a leading merchandise personalisation firm, for an estimated US$6 million.

LA-based LiveXLive has seen its core business – livestreamed live music events – grow exponentially this year while concert touring is on hold, having streamed shows by more than 1,400 artists in 2020 alone. In a ‘normal’ year the company also streams content from a roster of partner festivals that includes Rock in Rio, Sziget, Paléo Festival Nyon and Electric Daisy Carnival Last Vegas.

It also owns PodcastOne, a leading podcast network home to more than 300 shows, React Presents, an electronic music promoter formerly part of the SFX network, and a number of other related businesses.

Following the acquisition of CPS, LiveXLive, which trades on the Nasdaq Capital Market, plans to “partner with the music and entertainment industry, as well as stars who have massive social media and marketing reach, to create and distribute unique and limited edition personalized [sic] clothing, jewelry, toys, as well as virtual goods,” according to a market note.

Founded in 2012, Addison, Illinois-based CPS (Custom Personalization Solutions) formerly operated multiple ecommerce businesses, including jewellery company Limoges Jewelry, gift seller Personalized Planet and toy retail business TV’s Toy Box.

“We intend to fulfil super-fans’ dreams with personalised merchandise from their favourite artists”

With over 70 full-time employees, it now focuses on creating an “assortment of personalised merchandise unlike anything in the market”.

“The global licensed merchandise market is expected to reach $400 billion by 2023. This acquisition presents an immense opportunity for LiveXLive to leverage its audience, platform and artist and entertainment-industry relationships to add commerce and specialised consumer product revenues to our music stack and help drive the transaction components of our flywheel business model,” says Robert Ellin, CEO and chairman of LiveXLive.

“By integrating social commerce into our live and original content, we intend to fulfil super-fans’ dreams with personalised merchandise from their favourite artists and shows, directly to the consumer.”

“The worlds of custom merchandise, real-time fulfilment and social commerce driven by celebrity and influencers have collided to create a perfect storm” adds Scott Norman, CEO of CPS. “LiveXLive represents the perfect partner for us to take advantage of this next wave.”

 


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Face masks become must-have music merch

Music and sports brands are capitalising on the growing popularity of face masks, with bands including My Chemical Romance, Korn and Megadeth, and the US’s National Basketball Association (NBA), among those to have begun producing their own cloth face coverings.

Though the WHO says face masks only need be worn by those symptomatic with Covid-19, or caring for those who are, many countries, including the US, are now recommending non-medical face coverings be worn in public. Among those responding to the demand are the NBA and its sister league, the Women’s NBA (WNBA), which announced on Friday it would donate all proceeds from its new masks to charities Feeding America (US) and Second Harvest (Canada).

“As a global community, we can all play a role in reducing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic by following the CDC [Centers for Disease Control]’s recommendation to cover our nose and mouth while in public,” explains Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s president of social responsibility and player programmes. “Through this new product offering, NBA and WNBA fans can adhere to these guidelines while joining in the league’s efforts to aid those who have been directly affected by Covid-19.”

In the music world, thrash metal act Megadeth are sending their fans face masks featuring the band’s Vic Rattlehead mascot, while post-hardcore band Thursday are repurposing existing merch to create masks, the sales of which will go towards making more. Nu-metallers Korn, meanwhile, created masks featuring their logo in early March, which quickly sold out. Fans can now pre-order a new batch set for release on 8 May.

According to trade body Licensing International, the NBA “opened the licensing floodgates” to branded face masks

Recently reformed emo heroes My Chemical Romance will release their masks – originally created for a show in the desert that never materialised – on 29 May, donating all proceeds to the Covid-19 relief fund established by Grammys charity MusiCares.

“We are living in strange times, alienating times, scary times,” reads a statement from the band. “These masks were the brainchild of our beloved Lauren Valencia, who died before this madness, not of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the older evil that is cancer. We had these masks made to keep you dust-free in the desert, a show that never happened, never will – a protection that then seemed timeworn.

“And here we are, with these masks, as though Lauren was prescient or we were unknowingly waiting for the right time…”

Valencia, the band’s longtime manager, died last year.

According to US trade body Licensing International (LIMA), the NBA/WNBA masks – along with the launch of MaskClub.com, featuring masks with the Batman logo, Hello Kitty, Care Bears, Scooby-Doo and others – “opened the licensing floodgates” to branded face masks, with more launches expected in the near future.

LIMA’s Global Licensing Survey 2019 found music merchandise sales were worth nearly US$3.5bn worldwide last year.

 


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Report: PledgeMusic funds do not belong to artists

The artists that are owed money by bankrupted direct-to-fan marketplace PledgeMusic are “unlikely” to receive the funds they raised through the platform, a report obtained by Variety has revealed.

PledgeMusic was wound up in August, after suspending operations due to financial difficulties. The company entered liquidation with £7.4 million in debt and under £20,000 in assets.

Following its demise, industry organisations including UK Music, Music Managers’ Forum and the Association of Independent Musicians acted to assess and prevent financial damage to musicians.

However, a document from the official receiver working on the PledgeMusic liquidation has cast further doubt over the likelihood of artists seeing return of the money raised through the site.

“I do not anticipate that I will need to contact you again because there is unlikely to be a payment to creditors in this case,” concludes the report.

“I can’t believe that the artists are left without what is owed to them”

The report also reveals that legal advisors to the PledgeMusic board have indicated that money paid by fans on the platform “were not trust monies”, and that all belongs to PledgeMusic, rather than to the artists.

PledgeMusic co-founder and CEO, Benji Rogers, who returned to the company as an unpaid advisor early this year to try and resurrect it via a partnership or acquisition, told Hypebot the outcome was “devastating for every artist affected”.

“I can’t believe that they are left without what is owed to them. I am so sorry I was not able to do more,” said Rogers.

Enquiries into PledgeMusic’s “failing” are ongoing, states the report, with board members attributing the collapse to “the commission charged being insufficient to meet its expenditure”.

Rogers founded PledgeMusic along with Jayce Varden in 2009. The platform served as a direct-to-fan marketplace for merchandise, tickets, vinyl and CDs. Fans also donated money to cover artists’ recording and release costs via a crowdfunding platform.

 


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Universal reports merchandise boom in 2019

Universal Music Group (UMG) has revealed that its revenues from merchandise sales nearly doubled in the first nine months of 2019, boosted by strong demand and a healthy global touring market.

According to UMG parent Vivendi’s third-quarter (Q3) 2019 financial results, merchandising and other related revenues increased by a whopping 82.4% year on a constant-currency basis compared to the first nine months of 2018, “thanks to increased touring activity and growth in retail and D2C (direct-to-consumer) revenues.”

In total, UMG grew turnover 17.5% in the nine months ending September 2019, to over €5 billion (€1.8bn in Q3). France-based Vivendi is currently in the process of selling a 10% stake in UMG to China’s Tencent for €30bn – as well as, potentially, “other partners”, according to its latest financials, “some of whom have already expressed an interest in investing at a similar price level”.

The growth of the music merchandising sector has accelerated in recent years, with merch sales totalling nearly US$3.5 billion in 2018 (though the impact of Brexit is cause for concern in Europe).

Universal’s merchandising division is Bravado, which earlier this year expanded its footprint by acquiring rival operation Epic Rights. Its major-label rivals are also increasingly making inroads into the merchandise space, with Warner Music last year acquiring EMP Merchandising and Sony Music investing in the Araca Group and Kontraband.

Merch grew “thanks to increased touring activity and growth in retail and D2C revenues”

Elsewhere in the Vivendi group, Vivendi Village – the business unit that includes its live entertainment and ticketing activities – grew revenues more than 50%, to €108 million, in the January–September period, bolstered by a strong festival summer and growth for See Tickets in North America.

“Live activities, which include Olympia Production (France), U Live (Great Britain) and venues in France and Africa, recorded very strong revenue growth at €56 million, a strong increase (x2.4),” reads the Q3 financial report. “Vivendi Village now produces 12 festivals that experienced a significant increase in attendance this past summer, especially Garorock in France and Sundown in the United Kingdom.”

Vivendi’s other festivals include Les Déferlantes Brive Festival in France, the UK’s Love Supreme, Poptopia in the US and Universal Music Festival in Spain.

“Ticketing activities are now all grouped under the same See Tickets brand,” continues the report. “Ticketing revenues amounted to €48 million, an increase of 19.5% compared to the first nine months of 2018 (+8.5% at constant currency and perimeter), due in particular to the robust growth of the activities in the Unites States, where revenues doubled in one year.”

In total, Vivendi turned over €4bn (+7.2%) in Q3 2019 and €11.3bn (+6.9%) across the year to date.

 


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Live industry reacts to no-deal Brexit touring advice

Several UK live industry figures have described as inadequate new guidance from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on touring after a no-deal Brexit, amid growing concern within the business over the viability of future tours.

Two DCMS guides – one for movement of people and the other for objects, animals and equipment – highlight key questions and actions to consider before embarking on tour.

The guidance advises touring artists and their teams to check immigration regulations for each EU country, ensure they have appropriate insurance and obtain a ‘green card’, GB sticker and, in some cases, an international driving permit, for vehicles and drivers.

A £326 ATA carnet is recommended to avoid paying duty on equipment and other goods. For those wanting to sell merchandise, DCMS advises applying for an EORI number “as soon as possible”, as failing to do so may incur “increased costs and delays”.

“It’s not very clear, is it?”, Paradigm agent Rob Challice says of the new no-deal Brexit guidance. “It hardly conveys that the government is in a state of readiness for no deal.

“What we do know,” continues Challice, “is that advice is going to change over the next four weeks and some of it will not be clear before 1 November.”

Music industry tax specialist and Hardwick and Morris partner Kevin Offer, who believes “some form of agreement covering touring” post-Brexit is needed, agrees that not much “detail” has been given in the new guide.

“The guidance hardly conveys that the government is in a state of readiness for no deal”

“Emphasis [is] placed on ‘check with the country you’re visiting’, although the EU is one customs area so the procedures should be the same,” Offer tells IQ.

For Offer, the subject of merchandise is not given enough attention in the new guides. “My understanding is that there is a possibility of paying import duty and (possibly) VAT at the point when merchandise to be sold at gigs enters the first EU country,” says Offer.

“I think that is going to be one of the main considerations on cash flow and budgets when planning tours.”

In August, industry professionals raised the alarm over regulations that would see musicians pay import duty and VAT on all merchandise in advance of touring in the case of a no-deal Brexit, with many pointing out that merchandising is “essential” for grassroots musicians in particular.

Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), says the DCMS guidance, while useful, “does not translate into readiness”. He tells the Guardian he does not feel the live music industry was ready for a no-deal Brexit, citing issues including VAT, data protection and the movement of people and equipment. “Despite repeated calls for an EU-wide ‘touring passport’ in the event of no deal, all we have are short-term assurances regarding freedom of movement up to December 2020 – and then ‘leave to remain’ for a further 36 months.”

“A no-deal Brexit could effectively mark the death knell for touring for the majority of low-earning touring musicians”

The guidance follows calls from industry figures, including UK Music boss Michael Dugher, for more clarification on what to expect if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal.

Dugher had warned that the “worryingly inadequate” information previously available was preventing the industry for preparing for what lay ahead.

“A no-deal Brexit could effectively mark the death knell for touring for the majority of low-earning touring musicians who are immensely talented and add tremendous economic value to the country,” Dugher tells IQ.

“In addition to the additional cost and red tape potentially associated with a no-deal Brexit, anyone bringing goods into or taking goods out of the UK in baggage or a small vehicle, which they intend to use for business, will be forced to declare the goods and pay import duty and VAT before moving them across the border.

“Britain is a global leader in music. The live music sector alone contributes £1 billion to the economy and it is the jewel in the crown. Why would the government want to kill this golden goose?”

 


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The 1975 to plant a tree for every ticket sold

The 1975 have pledged to plant a tree for every ticket sold ahead of their upcoming UK and Ireland arena tour, as the band continue their eco-friendly drive.

Manager Jamie Oborne announced the news on Twitter: “Really pleased to say we will be planting a tree for every ticket sold!”

The pledge elicited a positive reaction from fans, with some users calling the 1975 “the best band in the world”.

The band, who this year headlined festivals including Reading and Leeds and Sziget, are embarking on a twelve-date tour in February and March 2020, playing arenas including London’s the O2 (20,000-cap.), Manchester Arena (21,000-cap.) and the SSE Hydro in Glasgow (13,000-cap.).

“Really pleased to say we will be planting a tree for every ticket sold!”

The tree-planting initiative follows the launch of the 1975’s sustainable merchandise range. “We are not making new shirts for now. Unsustainable,” the band’s frontman Matt Healy announced on Instagram. “This run is all old shirts that we had kept and reprinted.”

Fans were encouraged to bring old the 1975 shirts or those of any other bands to Reading and Leeds festivals to be reprinted with the new design.

The band also recorded a song with teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg for their most recent album Notes on a Conditional Form, with all profits going to civil disobedience movement Extinction Rebellion.

Tickets for the 1975’s arena tour go on sale on Friday 20 September at 9 a.m. (BST), with presale tickets available from Wednesday 18 September. A full list of tour dates and information on how to buy tickets can be found here.

 


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