“Just incredible”: Inside the O2’s emotional first shows back
The team behind Gorillaz’ two shows at London’s O2 Arena earlier this week have spoken of their joy in being involved in the UK’s first full-capacity arena concerts in 17 long months.
The Damon Albarn-led virtual band made their return to the O2, the world’s busiest music venue, on 10–11 August, playing a free show for National Health Service (NHS) workers on Tuesday and then a sold-out ticketed event for the general public the following night. Stuart Galbraith, CEO of the shows’ promoter, Kilimanjaro Live – who says he last saw a concert in May 2020 – tells IQ of his excitement at seeing “17,000 people all in one place, having world-class entertainment and just having fun. And [the first night] in particular, it’s brilliant that we could say ‘thank you’ in this way and give these heroes a night of free entertainment.”
Featuring special guests including Shaun Ryder, Little Simz, Leee John, Robert Smith and New Order’s Peter Hook, the shows marked both the return of full-capacity arena entertainment to the UK and Gorillaz to the stage, the O2 dates being the band’s first live performances since October 2018.
“The atmosphere was… I really can’t describe it. It was just incredible,” says Emma Bownes, vice-president of venue programming for the O2’s operator, AEG Europe, for whom the Gorillaz’ shows marked the first arena concerts at the venue since Halsey played on 8 March 2020.
“We’d been talking internally about how great it would be if we could have a really special first show back,” she continues, recalling the genesis of the free gig for healthcare staff, “and then Stuart from Kili got in touch, as he’d been talking to Ian [Huffam at X-ray Touring, Gorillaz’ agent] and also the band about this NHS show, so that was really fortuitous. He said, ‘We want to do this’, and we told him on the venue side we were also trying to think about how amazing it would be to have a special first show back, so it worked really well.”
“It’s brilliant we could say ‘thank you’ and give these heroes a night of free entertainment”
Bownes explains that the venue used a now-familiar system of Covid-status certification to keep concertgoers safe, with entry restricted to those who could prove they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, have natural antibodies against the disease, or had returned a negative lateral-flow test in the previous 36 hours. Due to a combination of effective communications ahead of the event, she says, and growing awareness among fans of the need to keep shows provable free of coronavirus as they return, a huge 95% of the 17,000 people who attended the second Gorillaz show had their NHS (National Health Service) Covid Pass ready at the gates – despite it being, in many cases, the first live event they had attended in nearly two years.
“What we spent a lot of time doing in the run-up to the show was trying to make sure that everybody knew what to expect before they arrived,” Bownes says. “For the ticketed show, only 5% of people weren’t quite set up, so the comms worked. Even among those 5%, she adds, “none of them required a test – some, for example, had already taken the it but they hadn’t uploaded the result to the NHS yet – and none of them were turned away.”
Helping with the speedy ingress was the fact that people turned up earlier than for a ‘normal’ gig, continues Bownes. “Because we did all these comms in advance, it wasn’t like it normally is, where you get a massive rush 45 minutes before the band goes on,” she says. “People turned up in good time and had factored into their journeys that we needed plenty of time to check their Covid Passes.”
Covid-status certification like that used at the Gorillaz shows is a “good thing to educate the audience on”, particularly as it could become mandatory for live events in the UK later this year, Galbraith says. “I think it’s a good thing to do it now and get people used to it,” he comments. “In the way that you’re going to use exactly the same system for travel, I think it will become the norm for many things in society for the next few months, and possibly a couple of years. And I don’t think it’s that big of an imposition to be able to just prove to your fellow customers that you’re safe – and that therefore enables us to say to the customers, ‘Come to the show with certainty that everyone around you is virus-free. That also adds to that overall customer confidence, which in itself will add to our ticket sales.”
“I think the vast majority of people are quite happy to do it and show that responsibility to their fellow members of the public,” he continues. “And we’re running similar protocols backstage as well: The ability to get a pass to work in the backstage area is contingent on providing your Covid certification in exactly the way that getting a ticket is in the front of house.”
“I will never take it for granted, being at a gig, again. Everybody says it, but I genuinely mean it”
With a busy diary of upcoming shows – Galbraith notes that ticket sales are picking up across the board, particularly among rock acts and those popular with younger audiences, with acts as diverse as Sabaton, Andrea Bocelli and film composer Hans Zimmer selling particularly well – the Kilimanjaro Live chief says he’s looking forward to getting back to doing what he loves after nearly 18 months of “politicking and lobbying” with LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) to help the UK business survive the coronavirus crisis. And while he’s under no illusion that the industry body will have plenty to deal with over the next few years, particularly the challenges posed by Brexit and the environmental impact of touring, “it’s going to be brilliant to get back to what we should have been doing”, he says.
“It’s been such a weird time because we’ve just been rescheduling constantly. We’ve rescheduled over 200 gigs, and we’ve had to cancel 55, and whereas normally we’d be doing all this work and have all these gigs – actually have something to show for it – the past 18 months have just been reschedule, reschedule, reschedule countless times,” adds Bownes. “So to have the show actually happen was amazing.”
“The bit that did it for me,” she continues, “was walking around the back of the stage to go and see Stuart and Ian. The O2 probably does 200 gigs a year so it was something that you used to do so often, but it was like you’d forgotten that you used to do it – just walking behind the stage on the way to see the promoter and the agent, and hearing the crowd… It was amazing. It was just great.
“I will never take it for granted, being at a gig, again. Everybody says it, but I genuinely mean it. You know what the industry is like: People don’t always go to gigs, or they’ll maybe see a few songs and go home, but I do feel like that will change.”
Another free show for NHS workers headlined by Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher will take place at the O2 next Tuesday (17 August).
UK live industry cautiously welcomes £1.57bn aid
British live music industry leaders have said they stand ready to work closely with government on the details of its £1.57 billion culture rescue fund, but cautioned that the whole live music ecosystem must be protected.
The financial aid package of emergency grants and loans must also be complemented by an exemption in VAT for the sector, a government-backed insurance scheme for shows and a conditional date for reopening, they say.
Sunday’s announcement about the support package followed the hugely successful #LetTheMusicPlay day, which saw 1,500 artists write directly to culture secretary Oliver Dowden and tens of millions of fans posting online about the importance of live music, a £4.5bn sector that employs 210,000 people.
The campaign, coordinated by members of the UK Live Music Group and Concert Promoters’ Association (CPA), with additional support from UK Music, trended at No1 globally on Twitter and attracted media coverage around the world.
“Thousands of artists, venues, festivals, managers, agents, promoters and production crew came together for #LetTheMusicPlay, and we must ensure that all of them receive the support that they so desperately need,” says Phil Bowdery, chair of the CPA.
“We stand ready to work closely with the government to ensure that this world-class industry survives”
“We stand ready to work closely with the government to ensure that this world-class industry survives.”
Live music was one of the first industries to close as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and concerts are not expected to return in full force until well into 2021. According to member research compiled by live music associations over the six month period between October 2020 and March 2021, the operating costs of the broader live music sector will be £298.8million. This figure is in addition to the £47m required by grassroots music venues, called for by Music Venue Trust.
“The government’s £1.57bn package for the arts is welcome, but we lack detail of how funding will be allocated for music,” comments Annabella Coldrick, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum. “The thousands who work and perform in our sector desperately require comprehensive support if their jobs and livelihoods are to be sustained.”
Kilimanjaro Live MD Stuart Galbraith, co-chair of the CPA, adds: “We are ready to work on the details of the scheme, and our other requests – a VAT exemption for the sector, a government-backed insurance scheme to allow shows to go ahead, and a timeline for safe reopening without social distancing – at the government’s convenience.
“We look forward to this ongoing discussion shortly.”
Playing Politics: Are governments offering enough support for live?
Millions of people have taken to tuning in to daily governmental updates, where politicians and advisers perform the grim task of revealing the increase in the death toll, as well as the rates of new infection. That horrific routine is allowing journalists to compare Nation A to Nation B to Nation C etc, and for many, isolated at home, to engage in the morbid game of envying those in New Zealand, Germany, South Korea, or wherever the reported head count is statistically low.
However, to date, little has been said in the public domain about the response of the live entertainment industry, internationally, and its voluntarily shut down, which, in many places, had to come ahead of government guidance. Indeed, in speaking to numerous festival organisers, IQ has heard that many had been forced to play a waiting game with politicians to hear whether their events in, for instance, June or July, would be allowed to proceed.
“Without government intervention, force majeure clauses do not work,” says Christof Huber of European festivals association, Yourope, who cancelled his festivals OpenAir St.Gallen, SummerDays and Seaside after the Swiss government finally announced that events over 1,000 people would be outlawed until 31 August, following weeks of deliberation. Yourope has been “actively lobbying governments to make decisions about large-scale gatherings in a more timely manner”, says Huber.
In beginning to tentatively embark on reopening plans, governments in countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Norway and Finland have given some sort of insight into when events may be allowed to resume – or at least clarification as to how long bans can be expected to last.
Still, without cross-border co-operation, the situation remains precarious for those who depend on the live music sector for their livelihoods.
In the venues sector, Lucy Noble, who chairs the UK’s National Arenas Association, says, “We found the early stages of the crisis difficult, as government advice wasn’t clear enough. That delay was problematic because it created stress and confusion for artists, audiences and staff.”
“In Switzerland and Germany the trust in the government and politicians has had a really big revival”
The various loan schemes launched in each market have worked to varying effect (Switzerland’s five-year interest free loan of up to €400,000 paid in a matter of hours stands among the best), while employee furlough or protection schemes have further propped up companies, without which many would have collapsed.
Stuart Galbraith, of Kilimanjaro Live, recalls, “Although it was fairly chaotic to start with, the line of communication that we, as a sector, have had into government has been very good. UK Music [acting CEO] Tom Kiehl has done a great job and so have people like Julian Bird at [Society of London Theatre]. In that first week of chaos, we had four calls with either cabinet ministers or secretaries of state. They listened and have taken action. They’ve helped us with the loans, business rates relief, the furlough scheme.”
Vincenzo Spera, president of Assomusica, is lobbying Europe to adopt such concessions, having already secured them in Italy, where it’s estimated that, by the end of this month, 4,200 events will have been missed, depriving live music operators of €63million, while the deeper economic impact for Italy is estimated at €130m.
“We ask the European Commission, MPs and the Culture Committee to [introduce] vouchers to replace the tickets purchased,” says Spera. “[This] allows the spectator not to give up their concert, and companies not to go to default.”
Voucher schemes of some form are also in place in Germany, Belgium, Poland and Brazil, with promoters including Live Nation offering a voucher option to fans who have tickets for postponed shows.
While those working in the UK and other countries have been able to rely on their authorities for financial bailouts, notable live music strongholds like the United States have offered very little, resulting in previously unimaginable unemployment statistics.
Yourope’s Huber observes, “It’s difficult to compare, but in Switzerland and Germany the trust in the government and politicians has had a really big revival, because in the initial phases they communicated honestly about the situation. However, as time passes, left wing versus right wing politics seems to be creeping back.”
“We are making hard decisions and the more clarity we get from government, the more informed we can be when looking at logistics”
Down under, Michael Chugg laments a horrendous start to 2020. “To cop corona on top of the bushfire season, I think everyone is coping well,” he tells IQ. “The federal government, which had already been offering tax breaks, freezes on loans payments, and no evictions by landlords, came up with their ‘jobkeeper payment’ scheme, which covers the equivalent of 50% of all Australian salaries for the next six months, taking an incredible amount of pressure off everyone.”
Live Nation’s Herman Schueremans – himself a former politician – reports, “The Belgian parliament agreed to provide €1 billion to tackle the consequences of coronavirus, and we will work with them to ensure this money reaches those who need it most in our market.” He adds, “It’s never been more clear that we are in a global business. We all know we have to work together.”
Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery, who leads the UK’s Concert Promoters Association, reveals he is now asking for an exit plan from lockdown. The UK government, which is yet to announce how it plans to ease lockdown restrictions, is expected to release the first details of its plans in a press conference on Sunday (10 May).
“They must have modelling for a resumption to whatever our new normal will look like,” he notes. “The sooner they share this, the better. We are making hard decisions and the more clarity we get from government, the more informed we can be when looking at logistics.”
The gap between the ending of employment protection schemes, loan availability and other protection measures, and the business being back up to speed with healthy cashflow, is arguably the largest challenge on the horizon. And close, strong relationships with government will be key to keeping that gap as narrow as possible.
Associations and lobbyists need to prove their worth, just as governments will need to continue to prop up live entertainment for at least a few months yet.
Learning & growing: 12 key lessons from the corona crisis
The latest issue of IQ Magazine features a bumper coronavirus special report that delves into the lessons learnt from the crisis, various governments’ responses to the pandemic, and predictions for the shape of the industry’s post-Covid-19 recovery.
Here, we look at the key business takeaways from the global concert business shutdown, with a little help from Paradigm’s Alex Hardee, Echo Location’s Obi Asika, Yourope’s Christof Huber and more…
1. Entrepreneurialism and creativity remain at the heart of the industry
While much of the debate in the live music sector in recent years has centred around independent versus corporate approaches, when the shit hit the fan the spirit of entrepreneurialism has shone through.
Artists around the world have been streaming live shows and content to maintain their relationship with fans, while companies big and small are thinking outside the box and going above and beyond to help out employees, crew and others in the business, financially and though other support packages.
“We adapt fast and we can deal with the curveballs,” comments Live Nation Belgium’s Herman Schueremans. “We are resilient and artists and fans will always find a way to connect.”
2. Technology makes mass home-working a possibility
The use of Zoom, Houseparty, Skype, FaceTime and other video conferencing platforms has helped millions of employees around the world to effectively communicate with colleagues, peers and clients in a way that many would have thought impossible a few months ago.
“Anyone who said home-working doesn’t work was wrong,” says Live Nation chairman of international music, Thomas Johansson.
3. The appetite for risk needs revision
The very nature of the live music industry had historically relied on a cash-flow wing and a prayer, with everyone in the chain relying to some extent on future earnings to pay for their latest projects. The sudden cessation of the business has put this situation into sharp relief, as thousands of event postponements and cancellations have highlighted that the global business could collapse if refunds were mandated internationally.
“You have to have reserves,” states Obi Asika of London-based agency Echo Location. “A lot of this business focuses on the future, prospecting and possibilities. We make bookings really far in advance and now this has shown that anything can happen.”
“This crisis has shown that anything can happen”
4. Every day brings new challenges
It seems that as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues, uncertainty will be the new norm. Agents, promoters, artist managers, venue operators and everybody in the production supply chain are working incredibly hard to make sure things are ready for business to resume, but with no concrete dates to work toward, the planning process is never-ending.
“We make plans and strategise and then overnight something happens and the next day we have to start all over again,” says Paradigm’s Alex Hardee. “When I’m doing my P&Ls at the moment, they are all Ls.”
5. Government intervention is crucial
The live music business has a long and proud tradition of policing itself and trying hard to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to issues like health and safety and self-regulation. However, it has become apparent in the coronavirus environment that businesses involved in the live entertainment sector need the co-operation of government and local authorities to survive.
At the time of writing, summer festivals in some countries are still waiting to announce 2020 cancellations because they have not been told by government that they cannot hold this year’s events, meaning that promoters could be liable to pay artist fees if they take that sensible decision themselves.
“There’s a fear among promoters when it comes to announcing festival cancellations, because nobody wants to lose the momentum when difficult decisions need to be taken,” says Christof Huber of European festival association Yourope.
6. One rotten apple can spoil the barrel
The domino effect of a cancelled show has never been more apparent than during the economic shutdown. Artists often rely on the revenues from certain key festival or headline dates to pay for visits to less lucrative markets, and the cancellation of one or more of those key dates can put the whole tour – and, therefore, other festival shows – in jeopardy.
With the pandemic amplifying this situation more than ever before, festival organisers who perhaps previously viewed each other as rivals have been working closely on key announcements and strategies.
“We make plans and strategise and then overnight something happens, and the next day we have to start all over again”
7. Honesty is the best policy
With millions of people suddenly and unexpectedly facing redundancy, business owners and senior management around the world have never been under greater scrutiny. However, early and continued communication has proved invaluable during the halt to commerce and, by and large, people who have been included in the hard conversations have accepted that everyone is in the same boat because of this global crisis.
“If you are transparent, honest and upfront with people, then when you have to make difficult decisions the reaction of people can pleasantly surprise you,” reports Paradigm’s Hardee.
8. There goes my hero, he’s ordinary
People that society has taken for granted are stepping up and putting the health of themselves and their families at risk to make sure the rest of the world’s suffering is minimised. Health workers, carers, supermarket employees, teachers, sanitation staff, pharmacists, truck and delivery drivers and many more ‘ordinary’ people are the true heroes of the hour.
9. Insurers need to take a long hard look at themselves
There’s no need to mention any names, but for reference have a look at Hellfest’s website about the small-print cowardice that has been manipulated to shirk responsibility. To quote our French comrades: “Fuck you!”
10. Coronavirus is kryptonite to the super-touts
As much as the legitimate live music industry is reeling from cancellations, postponements and having to deal with refunds and other unexpected costs, the situation for the secondary ticketing business is even more dire, as many super-touts have to deal with inventory they can no longer shift.
Having agreed a highly controversial $4 billion deal that would see it merge with Viagogo, in late March, StubHub announced it was furloughing two thirds of its staff, and company policy on refunds would change, whereby purchasers of tickets to cancelled events in North America would now be offered vouchers, rather than refunds. Cue class-action lawsuits.
With StubHub now reportedly struggling hard and Viagogo saddled with debt, the future for the world’s biggest secondary ticketing platforms looks precarious to say the least. “In the context of the unprecedented crisis being played out in all our lives, this could well be one the most poorly timed acquisitions in recent corporate history,” says Adam Webb, campaign manager for FanFair Alliance.
2021 could prove to be live music’s most important year ever
11. Trade associations and industry collectives are proving their worth
In days gone by – and they are not that long ago – the live music industry was a cutthroat, highly competitive battlefield where often ludicrous deals would price others out of the game, all in the name of market share.
Coronavirus has levelled the playing field somewhat, and it’s heartening to witness just how quickly previously warring factions have come around the table to collaborate and agree sensible paths forward to try to minimise the impact on staff, suppliers and, of course, the artists. Hats off to the many trade associations and organisations who are lobbying parliaments, government ministers and local authorities on behalf of the business – you have never been so important to the livelihoods of so many people.
“[The corona crisis has] certainly made me realise the huge importance of associations and representative bodies,” says Kilimanjaro Live boss Stuart Galbraith. “Government don’t want to talk to individual commercial organisations, but they will talk to the Concert Promoters Association, AIF, UK Music, etc., and there’s been huge co-operation between [the associations] as well. Because it affects everybody.”
12. It’s only rock’n’roll… but I like it
As lucky as we are to have careers in such a great industry, at the end of the day it’s only rock’n’roll. Yes, it’s important for culture and for people’s happiness and wellbeing, but people we know are dying – relatives, friends and neighbours – and the battle to minimise that death toll far outweighs any gig, tour or event (or shareholder expectations, for that matter).
However, the hundreds of musicians and artists who are livestreaming to entertain millions of fans confined to their homes shows that the power of music is as strong as ever. Once we emerge from this dark period, people will be clamouring to get out, socialise and see their favourite acts.
Twenty-twenty is undoubtedly going to take its toll, but for those able to remain in the business, 2021 could prove to be live music’s most important year ever.
Tales from Covid: Stuart Galbraith, Kilimanjaro Live
Ahead of the next issue of the magazine – which features concert business leaders offering their predictions for the industry’s post-coronavirus recovery – IQ is running a series of Q&As online looking at how our panel of experts are weathering the current crisis, as well as their forecasts for the months ahead.
Following the second Tales from Covid with Live Nation’s chairman of international music and the Nordics, Thomas Johansson, IQ catches up with Kilimanjaro Live founder and CEO Stuart Galbraith for a wide-ranging chat on vouchers, recessions, Zoom, and the importance of industry cooperation…
IQ: What’s the greatest professional lesson you’ve learned from the pandemic so far?
SG: That there’s no such thing now as normality or precedent. We’ve been having conversations that cut across any normal relationship – whether it’s with a manager, an agent, an ad agency, venues – and asked to do things way outside of what the contracts say. And we’re also asking, because needs must.
What has been very pleasant is that, with one or two exceptions, everyone’s been mucking in…
You’re also a member of the Concert Promoters Association…
Yes, and it’s certainly made me realise the huge importance of associations and representative bodies. Government don’t want to talk to individual commercial organisations, but they will talk to the CPA, AIF, UK Music, etc. – and there’s been huge cooperation between [the associations] as well. Because it affects everybody.
This situation is going to affect us all for months, and potentially years. I think there will be common ground into 2021, at least.
“A refund window extension … would literally enable dozens of small and mid-size events to survive”
What else has changed for you during lockdown?
Well, for a start, we’ve all discovered Zoom, which I’d never heard of a month ago. So that’s good for us with staff meetings – not only the core staff who have been kept on, but also those who are furloughed.
When do you think the recovery might start, or is too early to say?
Realistically, we’re going to lose everything we have through June–August. Then, I think, there’ll be smaller events taking place in September, and major events from late October to early November. And because the [spring/summer] sales window has completely gone, I think you’re going to see a lot of shows that postpone until next year.
What changes might we see long term across the industry?
Our industry was in boom off the back of a strong global economy, which is now heading for recession, or even a depression. People will have much less money, and they’re going to be focused on spending that on food and mortgages rather than concert tickets.
So we’re going to have be very careful on the risks we can take in the near future.
“We’re going to have be very careful on the risks we can take in the near future”
I also think you’re going to see many iterations of voucher schemes rather than issuing refunds. [In the UK], we’ve been working with government to change the consumer regulations to try extend the refund window up to a year.
We are now having conversations with them for guidance on whether we can issue vouchers, like in many other countries in Europe. A refund window extension or voucher scheme would literally enable dozens of small and mid-size events to survive, because it will give them the ability to delay that cashflow pinch point and continue operating throughout this crisis.
How do you feel about the UK government response to the situation?
Although it was fairly chaotic to start with, the line of communication that we, as a sector, have had into government has been very good. UK Music have been brilliant in leading that – [acting CEO] Tom Kiehl has done a great job – and so have people like Julian Bird at Solt [Society of London Theatre].
In that first week of chaos we literally had four calls with either cabinet ministers or secretaries of state, and they listened and have taken action. They’ve helped us with the loans, business rates relief, the furlough scheme – now we just need support with a refund window extension.
Kili refutes “ludicrous, laughable” Viagogo lawsuit
After years of silence – and ahead of a much-anticipated appearance at the UK parliament tomorrow – notoriously reclusive secondary ticketing platform Viagogo has gone on the warpath, announcing it is suing Kilimanjaro Live and CEO Stuart Galbraith for what it calls “multimillion-pound fraud” over the cancellation of resold tickets for Ed Sheeran’s recent UK tour.
Kilimanjaro, which co-promoted Ed Sheeran’s ÷ tour stadium run with DHP Family and AEG Presents, cancelled around 10,000 tickets last summer after Viagogo refused a request from Sheeran’s team not to list the tickets for resale. Seatwave, Get Me In! and StubHub all complied, while tickets on Viagogo were resold for up to £4,000.
In an extraordinary, personal attack-littered news release issued today by Viagogo’s long-dormant press office, the company says it has begun court proceedings against Galbraith and Kilimanjaro Live Ltd.
“All tickets on Viagogo are authentic,” says a Viagogo spokesperson. “Stuart Galbraith set up fake Viagogo booths at venues and conned our customers into believing that their tickets wouldn’t work. He confiscated their legitimate tickets and pocketed millions of pounds by forcing fans to buy new ones.”
The promoter, however, suggests the timing of the lawsuit is an attempt to detract attention away from tomorrow’s hearing, which Galbraith will also attend.
“Kilimanjaro will defend against this action vigorously and look forward to doing so in court”
In a statement , Kilimanjaro says: “The claims made today by Viagogo are ludicrous, laughable and, most importantly, totally false. This is a transparent attempt to deflect attention away from their upcoming appearance at the DCMS inquiry and the wide-ranging criticisms, multiple legal prosecutions in many territories, including by the Competitions and Markets Authority [CMA] in the UK, and condemnation of their business practices.
“Kilimanjaro will defend against this action vigorously and look forward to doing so in court.”
Viagogo, headquartered in Geneva, will send Cristopher Miller, its head of business development, to tomorrow’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee oral evidence session, part of the parliamentary committee’s ongoing inquiry into the benefits of, and threats to, live music. Viagogo controversially snubbed a previous hearing, last March, leading committee member Nigel Huddleston MP to decry its “lack of respect to parliament and, by extension, the British public”.
The court action was filed in Germany, home of Kilimanjaro’s parent company, Deutsche Entertainment AG (DEAG), despite the fact neither Kili nor DEAG promoted Sheeran’s German dates. Viagogo has also set up a Twitter account, @viagogopress, apparently to document the progress of the lawsuit.
The CMA lawsuit was launched in the UK’s High Court last week as a result of Viagogo’s continued failure to “overhaul the way [it does] business”, adding to existing uits and regulatory actions elsewhere in Europe and Australasia.
UK industry lambasts Arts Council over venue funding
Arts Council England (ACE) has insisted there is no culture of elitism at the organisation, telling IQ it is ready to work with more of the country’s embattled small venues – despite allocating just 0.06% of its total funding to popular music venues in its latest round of grants.
The announcement of ACE’s latest funding priorities come at a critical time for the UK’s small venues. Despite some signs of improvement in the health of the sector over the past 18 months, especially in London, many independent venues are still struggling to survive, and UK Music’s most recent Wish You Were Here report showed a 13% drop in direct spending at music venues with a capacity of under 1,500 in 2016.
In spite of these challenges, ACE has chosen not to fund a single new music venue over the next four years – a decision ATC Live MD Alex Bruford says will only perpetuate the poor quality of UK venues relative to continental Europe.
“As an agent booking artists into venues across the UK and Europe, the difference in funding and support for contemporary music has always been stark,” he explains. “Musicians expect to go into venues in countries like the Netherlands or Denmark and find vibrant, well-supported establishments, with the latest production equipment and artist facilities – as well as a primary focus on creating an excellent experience for the audience and making the venue an important pillar of the local community.
“The lack of contemporary music funding in the UK has never been more apparent than it is now. So many of the venues just cannot afford to provide the experience, equipment or hospitality they would like to, or have just gone altogether…”
“These venues are an integral part of towns’ and cities’ identities, and it’s almost criminal to not help them survive”
Of the £1.6 billion in public money that makes up ACE’s ‘National Portfolio’ of funding for 2018–2022, announced earlier this summer, around 13% – £368 million over four years – is allocated to the music industry.
There remains, however, a vast discrepancy between the amount of money given to ‘high’ culture and contemporary music, with roughly 85% of that £368m allotted for the former sector – 62% for opera and 23% for classical music – and just 7% for the latter. (The remaining 8% is split between ‘mixed’ musical programming, world music, jazz, folk music, brass bands and several other music-industry nonprofits.)
Of the £28m set aside for contemporary music by ACE in 2018–22, £5m is being put towards music education, with a further £2.5m given to festivals and promoters and £1.5m to recording studios. The only two venues with contemporary music as their main programming being funded by ACE are Band on the Wall (340-cap.) in Manchester and Café Oto (200-cap.) in London, both of which also received National Portfolio funding in 2015–18. (London’s Roundhouse received £3.8m, but is defined as ‘combined arts’.)
Almost unbelievably, half the entire 2018–22 contemporary music budget – £14m, or £9,622 per day – has been awarded to one venue: Sage Gateshead, a mixed contemporary/classical music venue and centre for music education in the north-east of England, operated by the charity North Music Trust.
This, says an ACE spokesperson, is testament to Sage Gateshead’s status as “one of the leading music venues in the country”, renowned for “the range and quality of its programme, which includes jazz, classical and world music”.
The organisation adds that it receives “relatively few requests for direct support” for music venues, but always welcomes “applications from venues looking to develop their artistic output, develop new audiences or to build touring networks for diverse and/or emerging artists”.
“This is about the fabric of our society and the opportunities we want future generations to have”
While ACE may not receive much in the way of correspondence from individual venues, it did, however, receive three separate requests for funding from Music Venue Trust (MVT), whose Music Venues Alliance association represents grassroots music venues (GMVs) across the UK.
Beverley Whitrick, the charity’s strategic director, says ACE encouraged MVT to submit an application to its Strategic Touring fund, which was turned down. She says she “wasn’t that surprised” when the request was denied, as “arts funding is hugely competitive”. “Local authorities used to have money to invest in arts,” she explains. “Now they can barely cover statutory funding.”
MVT’s unsuccessful applications were the culmination of three years of discussions with ACE – three years, Whitrick says, the charity could have put to better use “courting other [potential] funders”.
Whitrick admits that it’s “impossible to support everything”, but says she feels led on by ACE: “If you actively solicit applications, there’s a real tension there,” she continues. “We are an SSO – it’s defined as an organisation whose role is to support a particular sector of the arts – but by not getting the funding it means we’re not recognised as such. It means ACE says we’re less deserving of that funding that other organisations who do other roles…”
Arts Council England’s inaction on the plight of grassroots music venues contrasts with the message from its deputy chief executive of places and engagement, Laura Dyer, at MVT’s Venues Day 2016, when she called venues “an important part” of making the ACE’s vision of “great art and culture for everyone” a reality. “Let’s keep talking and working together; we won’t always agree, but I honestly believe we are making progress,” she told delegates.
“ACE is not funding anyone in the grassroots music venue sector to do any of the work they have already accepted is needed to safeguard it”
There were similar sentiments from ACE’s area director for London, Joyce Wilson, at Venues Day in 2015. She admitted only a “relatively small” number of music venues attracted funding, but suggested the fault lie with the venues: “Not many of you do apply to the Arts Council,” she said. “It’s really hard to support you if you don’t come and talk to us.”
Sam Tucker of independent promoter/agency CloseUp Promotions is critical of “Joyce Wilson’s lazy excuses” and says the decision to “not fairly divide the funding between various genres, venues and promoters” has the potential to be “catastrophic in the long term”.
“Small venues are becoming less and less common,” he explains. “Often these venues are an integral part of towns’ and cities’ identities, and it’s almost criminal to not help them survive in increasingly difficult and uncertain financial times.”
Commenting on MVT’s latest bids for funding, an ACE spokesperson denied the council had solicited the applications – and suggested their lack of success stemmed from an insufficiently strong case. “We’ve had a positive conversations with Music Venue Trust over the years, and they have received funding for the first Venues Day, Music Venues Alliance, the Music Venues Alliance regional meetings and as part of the Catalyst: Evolve fund in July 2016,” the spokesperson says.
“We don’t solicit applications. However, we do try to be supportive when applications are being made, but we are not able to fund applications that aren’t strong.”
For Whitrick, this explanation doesn’t hold water when “funding that should have gone to our sector continues to go to opera, classical music, ballet… I don’t want want to see anyone de-funded – but I’d like a share of it for us.”
“I don’t want want to see anyone de-funded – but I’d like a share of it for us”
ACE’s National Council, which has final sign-off on any funding decisions, has only one member who has ever worked in the (popular) music industry (Universal Music UK’s David Joseph). ACE declined to comment on the make-up of the National Council or any potential review of its membership.
Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith says, “looking at the facts”, it’s evident that there is a disconnect between the music industry and ACE. He calls for “much more dialogue between the venues and the Arts Council”.
The next window for SSO funding is 2022. “I can’t even imagine how many venues will close in the next four years,” continues Whitrick. “The 100 Club [in London] almost closed [in June] until we interceded with Westminster Council. Last time it was saved by Paul McCartney and Converse, this time it was Fred Perry and us; who will it be next time?
“‘This is not a priority’: that’s the phrase that needs challenging. When is it it a priority?”
Whitrick says ACE has not set out to deliberately cripple small venues, “but they are not funding anyone in the grassroots music venue sector to do any of the work they have already accepted is needed to safeguard it.”
“We need young people to want to go to venues, work in venues, and perform music in venues,” adds Bruford. “Music is an important creative outlet for so many young people. It’s positive use of their time and energy and really aids development.
“Yes, without the venues we won’t create the superstars of the future – but it is about so much more than just that. It is about the fabric of our society and the opportunities we want future generations to have.”
Google drawn into secondary ticketing controversy
Internet giant Google has been dragged into the ongoing debate over secondary ticketing in the UK, coming under fire from lawmakers for allegedly accepting advertising money from sites listing tickets fraudulently.
Nigel Huddleston MP – a member of the British parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee, which is leading an inquiry into ‘ticket abuse’ – says he believes many ticket resale sites regularly violate Google’s AdWords policies on misrepresentation, despite spending as much as £15 per click to appear at the top of its sponsored search listings.
Referencing Tuesday’s evidence session, in which MPs heard about non-existent tickets listed on Viagogo for the musical Hamilton (and for which the site controversially declined to send a representative), he tells IQ: “I was concerned – as were other members of the committee – to discover a Viagogo ad for tickets to Hamilton on Google, as highlighted by John Nicolson MP, and my understanding is that it would breach Google’s existing policies…
“I suspect other similar ads by secondary sellers may also breach such rules.”
Stuart Galbraith, founder and CEO of promoter Kilimanjaro Live, highlights how Google recently agreed to stop accepting advertising from companies offering pirated music and films and expresses his hope that a similar agreement is brokered in future to stop AdWords being bought by ticketing “companies which are defrauding customers”.
Huddleston says he has already asked Google to clarify its position on the removal of speculative and fraudulent ticket listings. “I do know that Google are generally quite quick at removing ads that breach their own rules and guidelines,” he explains, “but often the breach needs to be brought to their attention before they do so.
“We have a defined limit and the secondaries know that, so they outbid us every single time”
“I have written to Google to ask them to look into this and clarify the situation, and am awaiting a response.”
Reached for comment, a Google spokeswoman told IQ: “We have a set of strict policies which govern what ads we do and do not allow on Google. We do not allow fraudulent or misrepresentative ads, and when we discover ads that break our policies, we quickly take action.”
While the CMS Committee deliberates over further regulation of – and Google’s role in – the UK secondary ticketing sector, FanFair Alliance is advising ticket-buyers to avoid search engines altogether.
In its recently released 10 tips for ticket-buying guide, the anti-touting group tells fans: “Don’t trust search engines. Increasingly, search engine results for concerts and festivals are dominated by the big secondary ticketing websites […], all of whom spend big money to top the rankings. We advise that you ignore search engines and go straight to the artist website. This is where you should find definitive information about ticket sales and the authorised ticket agents.”
Galbraith also illustrates how promoters and primary-only ticket agencies, lacking the budget of the ‘big four’ secondary ticketing sites – Viagogo, StubHub and Ticketmaster’s Seatwave and Get Me In! – are struggling to make themselves visible on the world’s most-used search engine.
“It’s an auction,” he tells IQ. “The people that pay the most go at the top.
“We do not allow fraudulent or misrepresentative ads, and when we discover ads that break our policies we quickly take action”
“They’re [secondary sites] regularly having to pay £10–£15 – and the reason they’re happy to do is that is because their margins are huge.”
Galbraith says the most Kilimanjaro – a promoter which, he revealed earlier this month at ILMC, is frequently left with as little as 30% of a show’s ticket inventory, with the venue holding onto the rest – can pay is around £1 per click, “otherwise you’re spending more than you’re making”. Resale sites, on the hand, can afford to “pay £10 [per click] if they’re making £500” on a ticket.
While that £10–15 figure is generally only around a hot on-sale, IQ can reveal the major secondary sites are still spending up to £3 cost per click (CPC) on Google AdWords for tours which have been on sale for some time and have long sold out of face-value tickets.
To beat Viagogo to the top of Google’s search results for “Ed Sheeran show dates”, for example, would cost in excess of £2.75 per click – even without any guarantee of conversion into a ticket sale.
“We have a defined limit [on how much we can spend on AdWords], and the secondaries know that, so they outbid us every single time,” concludes Galbraith, who is a signatory to FanFair’s declaration against online ticket touts. “That’s why we’re urging fans not to use any search engine and instead go straight to the artist’s, venue’s or promoter’s site.”
Beese: Balance key for venues promoting own shows
The Roundhouse’s head of music, Jane Beese, has spoken of the challenges involved in venues producing their own shows – and the importance of not “pissing off” promoters in the process.
Beese appeared at ILMC’s new Venue Summit on 9 March, where she was a panellist for the Industry relationships session alongside AEG Ogden’s Tim Horton, Emporium Presents’ Jason Zink, Kilimanjaro Live’s Stuart Galbraith, UTA’s Paul Ryan, Ticketmaster’s Doug Smith and chair Lucy Noble, of the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Noble asked all three venue operators (Beese, Horton and Noble) on the panel whether they promote their own shows – and, if so, how much friction it causes with promoters. Noble said part of her role at the Royal Albert Hall is to develop its own and co-productions, which currently make up around 14% of the venue’s total programming. These shows – although still a relatively small part of its business, so “no one should panic yet!” – are good for the venue as “we can control the brand more, have an input on artistic quality and link in our education and outreach programme,” she continued, “and, being honest, we do quite well financially out of them as well.”
Beese said the north London venue welcomes more than 100 shows a year from external promoters, so “balance is important: balance between promoters coming in, corporate events and our own programming, which also includes circus, spoken-word and performing-arts events.”
“We’ve had steal shows from us – and that’s the last time we’ll work with that venue”
“Promoters are a huge chunk of our business,” she continued, “so it’s not in our interest to be pissing them off.”
UTA agent Paul Ryan said he “see[s] it from both sides.” “The word ‘balance’ was used – I think that’s a good term,” he explained. “As an agent working across multiple territories, we’ve got to look at what’s good for the artist. Venues like the Royal Albert Hall and Roundhouse are a bit different, but if it’s a standard rock ’n’ roll venue […] there’s got to be a good reason why you’d want to go into a venue directly instead of dealing with a national promoter.”
Noble asked Kilimanjaro CEO Stuart Galbraith if he’d be angry if the Royal Albert Hall bid against him for a one-night show. “Yes!” he replied, to laughs. While “there are a lot of reasons why venues should self-promote in certain circumstances,” Galbraith said going promoter-free only works if the show is a “slam-dunk sell-out. If you’ve got a show that stops at 60% there’s nowhere else to go,” he commented. “That’s where we [the promoter] would make a difference.”
The reason he’d be angry if Kili and a venue both bid on the same show, he added, is because “you’d only bid on shows you think are going to sell out,” leaving the promoter to handle the riskier prospects.
Emporium Presents talent buyer Jason Zink said he’s had venues that have “stolen shows from us – and that’s the last time we’ll work with that venue.”
“Promoters are a huge chunk of our business. It’s not in our interest to be pissing them off”
The discussion also touched on ticketing: specifically the merits and drawbacks of venues operating their own box offices. Ticketmaster’s Doug Smith said it’s up to venues whether they want to ticket their own shows, but by doing so they miss out on Ticketmaster’s “good technology line [and] huge market reach.” “We want to assist you in selling out your venue,” he commented.
Zink said venues have be to sure that if they do go the self-ticketing route, they have the infrastructure in place to deal with demand. “We had a case last year – an arena show – where the website went down for an hour after on-sale,” he said. “That’s not acceptable: if people can’t buy tickets when they want to.”
Beese said the Roundhouse holds on to 70% of ticket inventory, with the remaining 30% going to the promoter. That’s not enough, said Galbraith: “Many venues now are saying you need to give us 60–70%, and then the only tickets that aren’t selling are the venue’s allocation. I have to pay to take them out of the box office, which is wrong. […] Venues are stopping us being able to effectively promote.”
“The proportion held back is sometimes an issue,” agreed Ryan. “As an agent, all I really care about is having those tickets spread as widely as possible.”