Gold at the end of the rainbow
For decades, LGBTIQ+ culture was forced to exist on the fringes of society. Few queer artists were allowed to bring their whole selves to the stage, instead forced to hide in plain sight. This meant there was little to no representation for LGBTIQ+ music fans, and queer-friendly spaces in the mainstream were non-existent.
In Europe, in 2022, queer culture is increasingly celebrated. During this past month alone, Harry Styles headlined two shows at the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium; Elton John stole the show at BST Hyde Park; and Years & Years delivered a “jubilantly gay set” on the Other Stage at Glastonbury. LGBTIQ+ acts and allies are taking up space on some of the world’s biggest stages. And this culture is big business at the box office.
“There are a load of artists who have made it and who are inspiring LGBTIQ+ role models – Years & Years, Sam Smith, Christine [& The Queens], Kim Petras, Lil Nas X, for example,” says Live Nation promoter Maddie Arnold, who is also an alumna of IQ Magazine’s LGBTIQ+ List 2021.
“I’m glad these days people are a lot less prejudiced; you have highly influential people like Harry Styles who will wear non-gender-conforming clothes on stage and celebrate the queer community through his lyrics and onstage performances.”
“You have highly influential people like Harry Styles who will wear non-gender-conforming clothes on stage”
Stadium-filling icons aside, the value of the pink pound is perhaps best evidenced by the emergence of specialist companies and festivals in the live music business that serve queer artists and audiences. The last 12 months have seen the launch of agencies such as Queer Music Agency (Denmark) and Gallos Talent (UK), ticketing companies like Red Eye (New York), and festivals including Flesh (UK) – all of which cater exclusively to the community.
But not just anyone can strike gold with the pink pound. While many behemoth brands and companies have cottoned onto the economic value of the pink pound (hello Pinkwashing!), few are able to truly connect with those audiences in the same way as those who have put down roots in the community. In 2022, it has never been more evident that representation pays.
Gaps in the market
More often than not, it’s the executives who are themselves queer who are best equipped to identify trends, spot gaps in the market, and develop new opportunities in the space.
Patrick Janssen, marketing manager at Live Nation GSA, is one such professional. During his previous role at Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion (KJK), he marketed the first one-queen drag tour in the German market with Sasha Velour’s Smoke & Mirrors.
“I thought, why is nobody setting up shows for these queens in Germany?”
Velour rose to fame in 2007 after winning the ninth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the smash-hit reality TV competition searching for America’s next drag superstar. The series has spanned fourteen seasons (plus several spin-off shows) and airs internationally in countries including the UK, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and Israel.
Thanks to the series, Velour earned acclaim on a global scale becoming a household name in certain circles, and yet… “When I spoke to friends, they were, like, ‘Oh, she’s going on tour in Europe, but she’s not coming to Germany,’” says Janssen. “And I thought, why is nobody setting up shows for these queens in Germany?”
Coincidentally, KJK was approached to promote Velour in Germany. The company’s CEO sought Janssen’s opinion who was readily equipped to report on Velour’s cultural relevance, fan base, and universal appeal. Fully immersed in the idea, Janssen ended up promoting the shows.
“I think if [the CEO had] had to decide on his own, he would have declined because he doesn’t know the audience or her background and career development – it’s not his thing,” says Janssen.
“It was really emotional to have brought so many people together to watch a drag queen”
Janssen’s alignment with Velour’s audience proved to be indispensable when it came to marketing the tour. “Another person on the tour marketing team might have spoken to gay magazines and run editorials and print ads, but the gay community is more digital than that,” says Janssen, explaining that he mostly relied on Grindr, a dating app that is geared towards gay and bisexual men.
“We had better click-through rates (CTRs) on Grindr than on Facebook and Instagram,” he continues. “On those social media platforms, I targeted different drag queens and the CTRs were good – like 10–14% – but on Grindr, the CTRs were like 20–28%. The product and the placement matched.”
The tour took place in spring and comprised one show at the Musical Dome (cap 2,000) in Cologne, one at the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg (2,025), and two at the Admiralspalast (1,756) in Berlin. Despite Germany being in the throes of Covid-19 restrictions, the shows were a success – both on an economic and a social level.
“Everyone had a good time, and people left the venue with a smile on their faces,” says Janssen. “It was really emotional to have brought so many people together to watch a drag queen.”
“Another person on the tour marketing team might have spoken to gay magazines but the gay community is more digital than that”
“The second tour that was offered was Adore Delano [an American drag queen who rose to fame on RuPaul’s Drag Race and then American Idol] in September. This time around, my CEO didn’t ask me if we should do this, he simply asked which capacity in the general market I would recommend.”
In addition, the success of Velour’s shows attracted an offer from a UK agent for The Trixie & Katya Show, [two drag queens who rose to fame on the seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race] who will tour in November.
Assembling the right team
As Janssen’s story illustrates, giving queer executives a seat at the table can have a direct impact on a company’s business and artist’s career. Though, as Live Nation’s Arnold points out, LGBTIQ+ artists don’t necessarily need a queer team around them to have the best chance of success.
“I definitely have my go-to agents when I find an artist that falls into this category who is looking for representation,” says Arnold, who promotes queer artists including Muna, ZAND, July Jones, PYRA, Alma, Lauren Sanderson, GIRLI, and Ashnikko.
“Some of [the agents] are queer themselves, but it’s definitely not a dealbreaker”
“Some of [the agents] are queer themselves, but it’s definitely not a dealbreaker. As long as I know they are inclusive, open-minded, and would be a good fit for the act, there’s definitely a conversation to be had. That being said… it’s always good to see if they already have LGBTIQ+ acts on their rosters.”
AEG Presents’ Chloe Pean, who works with queer acts including Duncan Laurence, Dhruv, and Will Young, and has launched an LGBTQIA+ club night/showcase called Melodaze, adds: “It’s always good to bear in mind that you can pick your team, whether you would like a queer marketing person and a female ticketing manager on the team, and think about all the options available that aren’t always traditional.”
Protecting the talent
Cherry-picking the right team is crucial to the success of any artist – no matter what their sexuality – but there’s an added layer of importance to that strategy when it comes to queer talent.
Even in 2022, LGBTIQ+ artists can face limitations ranging from unequal pay to discrimination to prejudiced language. With these considerations, it’s no surprise that the live music business has seen the launch of specialist companies that are well-versed in navigating such prejudice and protecting their talent.
“The drag events industry has always been a little bit of a Wild West”
Nathan Stone, the former creative director of TEG MJR and the creator of DragWorld, last year launched a new UK-based LGBTIQ+ talent management company, Gallos Talent.
The company is working with acts including drag queens Juno Birch and Joe Black (as seen on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK), and offers its services as a partner to events such as Trans Festival London and Cornwall Pride.
Discussing the reasons for launching Gallos Talent, Stone tells IQ: “The drag events industry has always been a little bit of a Wild West, which is something that has dramatically changed in the years since the huge success of Werq the World [an ongoing tour featuring drag queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race]. Before this, any club could put on events, change artists, cancel events, and withhold customers’ money – it wasn’t seemingly regulated in the same way.
“With artists of all sizes, it was always our priority to find partners who we know treat the artist well, as well as the customers, to stop these trends.”
“Unfortunately, there are far too many minorities who feel oppressed in the music industry”
That sentiment is echoed by Frederik Diness Ove, founder of Queer Music Agency in Denmark, which aims to provide non heterosexual talent with better opportunities to break- through in the music industry.
“Unfortunately, there are far too many minorities who feel oppressed in the music industry,” he tells IQ. “This industry is very much dominated by cis-gendered, white, straight men, and therefore we try to rally so we can hopefully stand stronger.”
While both agencies were launched with a mission to level the playing field for queer artists, both founders claim there’s a gap in the market for their specialist services.
“Whilst drag is a mainstay in the UK, there are still many European markets that are just beginning to get these events travelling through their countries, so that is really exciting to witness and be part of!” says Stone.
“Whilst drag is a mainstay in the UK, there are still many European markets that are just beginning to get these events”
Catering to the fanbase
According to AEG’s Pean, the choice of live space can be crucial in promoting queer artists and making their audiences feel safe and included. “It’s important to know what spaces work for a queer act and audience,” she says.
“There tends to be a more diverse roster of people that work in these spaces as well, which creates the right environment and means that there is expertise and understanding of what the act needs.”
But many who IQ spoke with said more can still be done to make venues more suitable for a community that has historically been marginalised. Gender-neutral toilets at venues are a priority for AEG Presents’ Chloe Pean. “It will take more time in venues that are owned by bigger corporations, but it feels like things are moving in the right direction,” she says.
Live Nation’s Arnold agrees: “The provision of gender-neutral toilet facilities is definitely something that should be thought about when putting on these types of shows; with adapted security protocols ensuring all staff members are fully trained and respectful of the audiences.”
“The provision of gender-neutral toilet facilities is definitely something that should be thought about”
Specialist crowd management agencies, which comprise exclusively of queer people and promise “a community-specific approach to security,” are becoming a common fixture in queer nightlife – particularly at club nights. Arnold also points to the importance of buddy systems, which are set up on online or at the venue and help solo gig-goers make new friends.
“A lot of ticket buyers are always looking for someone to go to the show with, and it’s great that a lot of artists promote buddy systems on their social media platforms so that fans can find other fans to go to the shows with,” she says. “It’s definitely the venue’s responsibility to ensure all fans feel safe and welcomed, whether it be a queer show or not.”
Pean adds: “It is also down to the person running the show on the day, taking care of the artists and making sure they are comfortable in their working environment.
“The promoter rep is also the one to brief the security staff and venue manager who relay [the information] on to the rest of their teams. You tend to see that once that ethos is implemented, it sets the tone for a night before a single ticketholder has walked through the door.”
These elements are crucial – but often overlooked – ways of connecting with queer audiences and capitalising on the kind of loyalty that has boosted queer artists from grassroots venues to world-renowned stages.
“From what I’ve been lucky enough to see, [fan bases of queer artists] are much more diverse, and very loyal,” says AEG Presents’ Chloe Pean.
“There’s no good way of explaining it, but the environment at a LGBTQ+’s person’s show is special and warm. You will have people that come who are fans of the music and then other fans that come for the community element and some for both!”
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UK’s first queer camping festival to launch this year
The ‘UK’s first LGBTQ+ electronic music and camping festival’ is set to launch this year.
Taking place at Springfield Farm in St Albans on 28–29 May, Flesh festival will offer a line-up that is majority women, trans+ and non-binary artists.
Ellen Allien, VTSS, LSDXOXO, Rebekah, object blue, Jaguar, Syreeta, Hyperaktivist and Juliana Huxtable are among some of the acts confirmed to perform across the festival’s three stages.
“Flesh will address long-term issues in festival programming, which is dominated by male artists, breaking the cycle and allowing emerging and underrepresented talent to break through on a worldwide platform,” reads a statement on the festival’s website.
“[Flesh] will create visibility and generate bookings for the artists involved and set an example for other promoters to follow”
“Being featured on a major festival line-up will create visibility and generate bookings for the artists involved and set an example for other promoters to follow.”
Riposte London, a queer club night, will also be hosting a sober tent where ticketholders can take part in workshops, attend panels and relax in a calm environment.
Flesh has also launched an open call for emerging QTIPOC (Queer, Transgender and Intersex People of Colour) artists to apply for two scholarships for the London Sound Academy and ongoing mentorship. Winners will have the chance to perform at the festival in May.
Weekend camping tickets cost £114, while two-day tickets without camping cost £89.
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