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One Year On: Industry leaders on the Covid anniversary

Even before ILMC in 2020, a number of countries were beginning to shut down when it came to mass gatherings such as concerts and live entertainment, while for many ILMC 32 attendees, the artist showcases that week in London were the last live performances that they witnessed.

Talk about the coronavirus, back then, swung between the hope that it was just a new form of flu, to fear that we might have to postpone a month or two of upcoming dates. Certainly, nobody was predicting the loss of a full calendar year of events and the redundancies of countless thousands of industry professionals around the world.

Indeed, as the year progressed and restrictions imposed by governments on everyday activities even drilled down to how often you can leave your home, the optimists among us still believed that, maybe, festivals in August and September might happen, allowing indoor venues to reopen in October.

Fast-forward to February 2021, and despite vaccine programmes inoculating millions of people every day, there’s a growing consensus that there might not be any kind of outdoor season in the northern hemisphere until next year, while a few hopeful souls are holding out for indoor shows by November or December, albeit featuring domestic talent rather than international superstars.

“Everybody underestimated the impact of Covid,” admits Christof Huber, general secretary of European festivals organisation, Yourope. “I remember being at the Swiss Music Awards in February last year, on the day when all the big events were banned in Switzerland. But our attitude was that in two weeks we would be back.

“The strange thing is, we could see what was happening elsewhere, but nobody was talking about it. Now though, we’re all working desperately hard and trying everything possible to make things happen. But the general consensus seems to be that Q4 is when we might be able to return.”

The gradual dawning of the reality of Covid-19 has been a harsh lesson for an industry that thrives on optimism and creativity.

“Governments are not using our expertise and instead they are relying on bureaucrats. If we could at least get a seat at the table with them, we could help come up with solutions”

“After the UK government announce on 22 February, we now have a ‘nothing before’ date, which has really helped us,” notes Toby Leighton-Pope, co-CEO of AEG Presents in the UK. “For so long we were operating in the dark not being able to plan for the future. Now we know officially there will be nothing before 22 June and although I’m not 100% confident we will be fully open directly after this, it does give us a decent roadmap to work to.

“I’m not a big fan of socially distanced gigs. Artists rely so much on the vibe for the crowd and seeing so many empty seats from the stage cannot be fun for them. It also doesn’t work financially for the artist, venue or promoter. In a doomsday scenario, if we never get back to full capacities, then I guess we have to deal with it, but for now, I’m not a fan.”

John Reid, Live Nation’s president of concerts in Europe, comments, “The reopening timeline will differ from region to region. The vaccine roll-out is encouraging and will underpin confidence. As that continues to scale we will be able to get back to regular capacities, and we’re still hopeful some events are able to return sometime in the summer.

“We are working with governments, scientists and local authorities to make sure that, as soon as it’s possible to do so, we’ll be there and ready to go. Don’t forget, there are markets in Asia Pacific that are already opening – it was great to see Rhythm & Vines festival taking place in New Zealand over the new year.”

Those regional idiosyncrasies are also highlighted by UTA co-head of music, Sam Kirby Yoh. “The need for industry support varies from country to country,” she says. “Smaller European countries like Norway or Iceland have prominent music scenes, deeply ingrained into their cultures, and their local fundraising efforts have been quite successful. Additionally, if a country’s recovery from Covid-19 is going successfully enough for domestic artists to be able to perform, we anticipate that it will open itself up to artists from nearby countries shortly thereafter.”

Detlef Kornett, Deutsche Entertainment AG’s CMO and head of international business affairs, is more blunt about the year ahead for the live entertainment sector. “I foresee that come March or April, government in the UK, but less so across Europe, will have run out of their reserves and will put on the brake for live music industry grants and support. Whereas continental Europe continues to support the event industry in various degrees, but all the way until the end of 2021 – that type of support is currently not foreseeable in the UK. So I’m afraid that, for us in the UK, the hardest days are yet to come, unless the government-backed insurance plan and flexible furlough schemes fall into place.”

Kornett is brutally honest about the current state of the business. “US artists are shying away and are not committing to anything before, possibly, the end of the year, but most likely 2022,” he says. “The local authorities have already said that no matter what happens they do not want a festival in July. That leaves the big question about what can be done in August, because it won’t work that events are banned until 31 July but then on 1 August you can have 50,000 people in a stadium. It will be gradual, with social distancing and test events, and depending on those results, we may be encouraged to do more. But that gets you to September or October, and it’s hard to see a full O2 [London] on the first of October as well, in the current circumstances.”

“What’s really important now, is to ensure that the industry is ready to ramp up as soon as we get the go-ahead”

Investing time in the future
One consistent observation from many involved in the live music supply chain is that never have they worked so hard but for zero financial gain. Agents and promoters have spent the past year endlessly postponing shows, securing new dates for the tour and making sure everything is in place for the tour to happen, only to have to do the exact same thing weeks and months later. It’s a similar tale for other professions in music.

“There’s a big pastoral role in my job and it’s all about keeping everybody – not just the band members, but everybody in our wider family – motivated and keeping morale up,” says Joyce Smyth, manager of the Rolling Stones. “I’m very fortunate because the Stones have such a terrific work ethic, and right from the outset, Mick’s first question was ‘What can you give me to do? We need some projects!’

“So there has been new music released. The single ‘Living in a Ghost Town ’was rather apt for our times. Goats Head Soup came out as a nice re-release, and it’s quite tricky organising that because the guys are all in different places: they’re not in one same jurisdiction, so it can be a challenge to keep everything cohesive. At the end of the day we had to be innovative and not dwell on what we can’t do and what we feel we’ve lost, but just concentrate on what we can get on with? As Keith would say: we’ve just got to hunker down and get through this.”

It’s a similar story for solo artist Imogen Heap, who tells IQ that uncertainty over Brexit and then the coronavirus forced her to shelve some international tour plans, leaving a blank hole in her usually packed schedule. “But what has come out of that are many new initiatives – lots of projects that would not have come about had I had the usual team of eight people around me, but who have had to go on furlough when there have been no revenues coming in,” says Heap. “It felt like it did ten years ago, without the team and back on my own. But I’ve enjoyed a greater closeness and a reawakening of the relationship with my fans, which is really, really positive and oddly, in a roundabout way, mentally helped to pull me through this period.”

Indeed, with the Stones taking the time to create some new music, Heap reports that she also has been rekindling her love for songwriting. “One of the fans on our weekly call suggested I try meditating,” she explains. “The effect I get from meditation in a ten-minute breathing space, is the same as I’d get when I was improvising with a piano as a child – it creates a calm and a space for everything. The combination of that and speaking with the fans every Thursday brought me out of a really quite awful depression.”

With her fans viewing her improvisation sessions, they noted down their favourite moments and entered them into a spreadsheet for Heap, suggesting which ones they want me her to make music out of. “For seven or eight years I haven’t written a song unless there has been a project associated with it – mainly for financial reasons – but this time there was no reason and it’s just because the fans liked it and I liked it,” she says. “And it feels so good to just be a musician again with no agenda – it feels like I’m 15 again. I’m just writing music because I want to.”

“The fans are loyal to their artists and our festivals – 83% of fans are holding on to their tickets for rescheduled shows, and 63% for festivals, which is incredible”

That element of rediscovery is something that AEG’s Leighton-Pope can draw parallels with. “Personally, I’ve found that everything is not as urgent as we once thought it was,” he says. “That allows us to spend a bit more time to think about things and give more attention to the planning process.

“Taking some time off also has its benefits. Talking to people and realising that not killing yourself with work every day was actually beneficial was a revelation. So, being able to work from home and to spend more time with family and friends helps in all aspects of your life, including work.”

That time off has, perhaps, allowed people to put their work/life balance under the microscope, helping to retain some of the positivity that otherwise might have evaporated after such a lengthy lay-off.

“Of course, everybody is frustrated, but I have not heard any negative vibes in the sense of just giving up,” states Yourope’s Huber. “Everybody is just concentrating on trying to arrange whatever is possible in their own country.”

However, highlighting the fact that no two countries are dealing with the pandemic in the same way, Huber says, “There are a lot of umbrella programmes in the Netherlands and Germany and Austria and Switzerland, for example, but we also hear from people in other countries who have absolutely nothing – zero governmental support – and you can only imagine how frustrating that is. But the people in those situations are the true survivors who try to solve things differently, because maybe they were used to similar situations in previous years. And no matter how difficult it is, even those people are saying that they are going to come back.”

That’s music to the ears of Leighton-Pope, who believes the industry’s work ethic throughout the past year will pay dividends when normality finally returns. “The thing is, if you’re late to the party, then you will miss out – you have to have tours pencilled and venues held and put in all that hard work, even though the dates keep shifting,” he says. “If you’re not ready to go on the day the green light is given, then you’re definitely going to be scrambling to catch up with everyone else who has put in that hard graft.”

Kornett agrees. “For a company that cannot host any events, we’ve all been flat-out busy because you’re chasing the events that you need to postpone or cancel; you’re chasing government grants or subsidies; you’re chasing banks and everyone else for financing; you’re re-projecting the re-project of the re-projected business; and when you’re done with all that, you start from the beginning again…”

“I’m afraid that, for us, the hardest days are yet to come”

Brexit
For those businesses operating in Europe and the UK, the past few years have been dominated by what the potential fallout from Britain leaving the European Union might be. With that date now passed, what has become apparent is that international touring didn’t even make it on to a list of priorities for policy makers, leaving the industry floundering to find solutions before venues are allowed to reopen.

Issues over work permits and visas have recently received a lot of publicity, thanks to the support of some high-profile artists – notably Elton John – but there are other significant hurdles that the industry at large will have to overcome to allow the successful resumption of international tours.

“With Covid falling as it has, although it has been an absolutely appalling time for everybody, it’s been a really sour blessing, because in an otherwise normal year, the industry would have come apart at the seams,” states Stuart McPherson, managing director of trucking firm KB Event, which has had to find £500,000 (€579,000) to open a new EU-based depot in Dublin.

“I’ve been living this for three years now to try to come up with solutions and options for solutions, because until 23 or 24 December 2020, we were not 100% certain, from our part of the industry, about where we were going. So we had to have different strategies laid out in terms of which button we were going to press in case of whichever scenario we found ourselves in.”

As things stand, McPherson explains that UK trucking companies can no longer legally tour in Europe as a result of Brexit, hence his newly opened European headquarters. “Our choices were threefold: either we do what we’ve done and move into the EU, or we become a domestic-only trucking company and cut our cloth accordingly;, or we shut down and go home. So it was a no brainer – we need our UK company and our EU company.”

Underlining the lack of support the sector has had from government, McPherson adds, “If we had been live and had tours out in January and February, the way we normally have, then we would have been in a world of pain.”

That situation is acknowledged by DEAG’s Kornett, who observes that under current Brexit rules, “Effectively, as a tour, you are better off hiring European trucking companies and equipment, touring Europe, and then going through the border exercise only once when you enter the UK. But what will that mean for all the stage and production companies in the UK? So many businesses will be forced to open European subsidiaries.”

“I’m very fortunate because the Stones have such a terrific work ethic, and right from the outset, Mick’s first question was ‘What can you give me to do?’

For his part, Live Nation’s Reid says, “Partners on all sides are invested in finding the optimal process, and lobbying groups across the UK and Europe are working hard on how to make travel work for touring acts. One up-side of the pause in live is that we have time to plan so that when restrictions are lifted across the markets the industry can still retain its strong position internationally.”

Rather than bemoaning the situation, McPherson is hopeful that his trucking peers will also invest in EU depots. “I know that a couple of our competitors are moving in to Holland, which is great news,” he states. “For the health of the industry, we need as many of the suppliers to be able to service the clients they currently service – if there are not enough suppliers to service everyone, it’s going to be a big problem.”

But the price to remain in the market is steep, as it’s not just the case of having a postal address in the EU. “Legally, we have to replicate the company,” McPherson informs IQ. “To get an operator’s licence for our trucks, you have to have physical parking space for the number of trucks that you want on that licence. So if I want a licence for 50 trucks, I have to have a depot with enough land to park those 50 trucks on it. We also have to have an office to store all the records, and we require a transport manager based in that EU state.”

And the expense does not stop there. All of KB Event’s drivers will now have to pass their Certificate of Professional Competence qualifications in Ireland to allow them to continue to drive in the EU. “Another kicker is that my insurance company cannot insure my trucks in the EU, so I also have to replicate my insurance in Ireland alongside my insurance in the UK: my insurance is £300,000 so I have to replicate that so we can use both fleets. It’s a horrific place to be, but it’s the right thing to do for the health of my business and for the health of my clients.”

Plotting routes to recovery
Presuming there will be enough trucks and suppliers available when markets and borders start to reopen, the plans that industry professionals have been adjusting for the past 12 months follow similar theoretical paths.

“For European touring to resume, major markets, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Spain and Italy, will need to reopen with no quarantines and with venue capacities that make financial sense,” says UTA’s Kirby Yoh. “Australia and New Zealand have to be at a point where fans can travel between countries, with limited or no up-front quarantine costs. This is a similar case with Asia, with particular reference to the importance of Japan.”

Kornett believes we should be focusing more on the strides being made in medical technology to speed up the return of live events. “I don’t think we’re talking about rapid testing enough, as we’re all a bit obsessed with vaccination,” he says. “There are tests out there now that only take three minutes, so logistically, we could ask event attendees either for vaccination proof or give them a quick test to get a reasonable amount of people through the doors within two to three hours. That could save good-sized outdoor events in the summer, as well as moving indoors to arena events in the fall.”

“We need to look after each other, because things are really tough”

Stones manager Joyce Smyth is cautiously open to the idea of fans being asked for proof of vaccination, but notes, “It all depends on the jurisdiction of the country you are playing in and the rules in that particular territory. And I also wonder who pays for all of this, because I can see the venues wanting to pass the admin cost on to the promoters, who will want to pass it to the artists, and that then is passed on to the fans, so it becomes a tricky proposition. But if it’s what is required to open up, then we’re going to have to do it.”

Leighton-Pope is a fan of health screening. “I like the idea of the vaccine passport and the idea of the whole world having one, which might force anyone who had not had the vaccine to join the club. I’m hoping that by the summer, maybe 75% of the UK population will have had the vaccine, and then we need a plan – a vaccine passport could be part of that – but more to the point, we need a plan that the government will support.”

The matter of government support is a major issue for Yourope’s festival organisers, who are frustrated by the lack of communication from their respective policy makers. “Everybody has worked very hard to come up with concepts that might work, but we’re not getting any feedback from governments,” reports Huber. “We hear nothing about under what circumstances it might be possible to be back under full capacity, or even when we will be allowed to do business again in any format.”

He continues, “Our business is very flexible. We saw that last summer with people finding ways to go back into business, and not just for themselves – it’s for the artist, for our employees, and we need to keep the sponsors aboard otherwise they will leave to different sectors. So it’s a multilayered thing that we need to go back to business. But we’re just not getting the communication about which circumstances will allow this.”

Personnel issues
One serious area of concern is the prospects of the business successfully reopening if there is a shortage of skilled professionals available to help artists get back out on the road.

“What’s really important now is to ensure that the industry is ready to ramp up as soon as we get the go-ahead, so supporting crew and freelancers has never been more important,” says Reid. “Crew Nation has raised over [US]$15m, helping 15,000 live music crew members across 48 countries globally, and we hope to help even more until we can come back in full. And we’ll also be advocating for prep and planning, so shows can be teed up to play as soon as it’s safe – given the longer lead times required to tour we need to be adjusting along the way so we don’t have crew spending extra months on the sideline once society begins to reopen.”

“Talking to people and realising that not killing yourself with work every day was actually beneficial was a revelation”

It’s a problem recognised by everyone. KB Event’s McPherson tells IQ, “[Covid] has been brutal on the freelance workforce, but we’ve been working with stage managers and production managers to try to find them van jobs or labouring jobs or just anything to try to help them out. We need to look after each other, because things are really tough.”

Reid adds, “The whole industry has been working hard to support the ecosystem that we rely on, but it’s undoubtedly been tough all round for people who work in live events. People are eager to get back to work and we’re confident we’ll be able to staff up appropriately as things ramp up.”

Smyth reveals that the Stones have been playing their part, by “aligning with organisations and groups who are trying to help crew survive this – and not just our crew, as that’s the easier part and we can look after our own. But there is a whole industry out there and we are in danger of losing this expertise unless something is done. So we’re involved in campaigns that raise awareness – governments could definitely provide a little more help than they already are.”

UTA’s Kirby Yoh believes that Covid has laid bare some of the weaknesses in the live sector. “The live music industry’s previous system was more fragile than we had realised and did not provide enough support for vendors, crews, venues, artists and more,” she states. “It is important that we strengthen our infrastructure to include more provisions for these parties. Also, Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of artist representation when dealing with the industry’s governing bodies.”

Meanwhile, Kornett says DEAG has been working with its partners throughout the pandemic in an effort to keep them solvent. “When you work on big events for multiple years, you end up being vertically integrated with some of your suppliers, so we went out with some of them and applied to run testing centres and vaccination centres – it’s building the set, thinking about ingress and egress – so it’s what we’re used to. That obviously isn’t going to save anyone’s bacon, but it’s at least something toward paying the bills.”

And for her part, Heap observes, “The end of live music has given artists the time to look at all their revenue streams closely, so that’s why people are beginning to speak out about the rates they get from streaming, for instance, and that campaign for fairer treatment is gaining support now.”

While Heap has been working diligently for a number of years on her own Creative Passport scheme, helping music makers to access, update and manage their own data, she is quick to add, “I’m very grateful to the people who are going into Parliament to speak about all of these things on our behalf. I’m doing my own little bit from my corner through the creative passport, trying to help ease of flow between different services and trying to make sure you have all the required verifications, but there’s only so much we can do.”

“In many ways it’s been a beautiful time and I’ve felt very supported and creatively free. It just hasn’t brought in any money”

Lessons
With everyone looking forward to the long-awaited return of live music, whenever that may be, the professionals that IQ spoke to were universally upbeat about how people have pulled together to weather the storm of the past year.

Live Nation president Reid says one of the key lessons he has learned over the past year is to “never take anything for granted.” He applauds Live Nation staff for their hard work throughout the crisis, and admits to being pleasantly surprised by the patience of fans. “Our teams are innovative and have pivoted to adapt to the unimaginable challenges that the last year has thrown at us,” says Reid. “The fans are loyal to their artists and our festivals – 83% of fans are holding on to their tickets for rescheduled shows, and 63% for festivals, which is incredible.”

Accepting the success that livestreaming has had during the past year, AEG’s Leighton-Pope nonetheless counters, “Professionally, I did not get into the music industry to spend my time on Zoom, or to watch concerts on my computer. I love the live interaction and that’s why I like being in this business – and we’re finding out that is really hard to replicate.

“The live streams that I’ve seen are like good TV shows, but I have not had a hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck moment watching anything on my computer like I do at a gig, bar, club, stadium or festival.” When it comes to Covid’s lessons, he adds, “I’ve learned that we can work from home very capably: the idea of being in an office for five days a week now sounds antiquated.”

Stones manager Smyth also tips her hat to the fans, and voices hopes that after more than a year without events, the scalpers and touts will be confined to history. “The whole secondary market is terribly pernicious,” she says. “I can see the scale of it because I follow our ticket refunds. Lots of wonderful fans have held on to their tickets for our postponed shows in the States, even though I’m sure lots of them are suffering and have maybe lost their jobs. It’s apparent, however, that much of the returned inventory is from brokers – it’s not the fans who have managed to buy blocks of tickets. So what is going on there? We’ve talked about it endlessly and I hope this lockdown situation is an opportunity for somebody clever to clean this up a bit.”

UTA’s Kirby Yoh says that fan loyalty coupled with the growing desire for live entertainment should negate the need to slash ticket prices when on-sales restart. “We would need to re-evaluate ticket pricing once touring resumes, based on local economies,” she says. “At this point, we don’t think a widespread drop in ticket prices would be necessary for fans to return to live shows, as there will be a real appetite for people to see shows again.”

But she is determined to make sure that strides made in recent years regarding equality are not swept under the carpet. “Much work still needs to be done to increase diversity and equality within the industry,” she stresses. “I encourage everyone to get involved in Diversify the Stage, Noelle Scaggs’ initiative focused on improving hiring practices and bringing more underrepresented individuals into the live music and touring sectors of the business.”

“I feel that, more than ever, we are all working in the same business and there’s a lot of dialogue and positive exchange, so hopefully we will come out of this stronger”

Heap says, “I think we are at a turning point. But sometimes you have to hit rock bottom first. I don’t know if we’re at rock bottom, but we must be pretty close.” And she adds, “In many ways it’s been a beautiful time and I’ve felt very supported and creatively free. It just hasn’t brought in any money. So now I’m making music as a hobby, but I’m also doing big commercial projects for money and that’s totally fine.”

McPherson says the cross-industry collaboration has been remarkable during the past year. “[The pandemic] has driven a lot more cooperation between the different disciplines in how we find a way through this and I’m hopeful that once we come out the other side of this, there will be a lot more cooperation, working together to ultimately deliver what our clients need,” he says.

Huber concurs, “I feel that, more than ever, we are all working in the same business and there’s a lot of dialogue and positive exchange, so hopefully we will come out of this stronger in the long run.” And he hopes that governments, sooner rather than later, will realise that engaging with the live entertainment industry could facilitate a swifter end to Covid restrictions. “One of the key jobs of a promoter is to plan events that keep everyone safe, but the governments are not using our expertise and instead they are relying on bureaucrats. If we could at least get a seat at the table with them, we could help come up with solutions.”

Kornett is doubtful, musing, “The EU looks at someone organising a concert in the same way as somebody who is restoring a castle – he has to bring materials and special instruments to work on an 11th century castle. So whatever they do for our industry, they will have to do for everyone else, too.” But he is quietly confident that the medical community will come up with answers to accelerate live music’s resurrection. “I’m convinced there will be further progress in medical treatment and vaccinations, and that might help us find our way back to a more normal way of life, hopefully even sooner than we expect.”

Indeed, when touring does become a reality again, there is a very real danger that every band in the world will want to be out performing at the same time. Such problems don’t phase manager Smyth, though, as she and her organisation prepare for the Rolling Stones’ 60th anniversary year in 2022.

“Right now, it seems like it would be a wonderful problem to have,” she concludes.“Oh dear, four acts want to have the Albert Hall on the same night. Well, somehow we have to make it work… matinees!”

 


Read this feature in its original format in the digital edition of IQ 97:


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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The decade in live: 2015

The start of a new year and, perhaps more significantly, a new decade is fast approaching – and while many may be thinking ahead to New Year’s Eve plans and well-meaning 2020 resolutions, IQ is casting its mind back to the most pivotal industry moments of the last ten years.

Following on from a strong year in 2014, the live music industry in 2015 continued to go from strength to strength, with fans once again showing willingness to spend money on concert tickets.

After the success of their first all-stadia tour, British boyband One Direction embarked on another mammoth concert tour, which came in at number two on the year-end charts, despite the departure of band member Zayn Malik two months in. The tour was the beginning of the end for the band, which went on indefinite hiatus the following year.

2015 was a busy year in the live business, notably seeing the birth of Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff’s Oak View Group. It was also the year that the Robert Sillerman’s rebirthed SFX Entertainment began to run into some serious trouble…

 


2015 in numbers

The top 100 worldwide tours grossed more than US$4.7 billion in 2015, up 14% from the year before but falling short of 2013’s $5bn. Ticket sales were also up, increasing by 16% to 59.7m, again lower than the 2013 total of 63.3m. The average ticket price in 2015 was down $3.30 to $78.80.

Taylor Swift was the top touring artist of the year, grossing $250.4m with her The 1989 world tour. The singer generated nearly $200m in North America alone, smashing the previous record of $162m set by the Rolling Stones in 2005.

One Direction also had a successful year with the On the Road Again tour, coming in behind Swift with year-end gross at $210.2m and selling 2.4m tickets, the most of any artist that year. AC/DC made $180m in ticket sales on their biggest tour to date, with U2’s Innocence + Experience grossing $152.2m and Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highway tour totalling $127m.

 


2015 in brief

January
Live Nation takes control of Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza promoter C3 Presents, paying a reported $125m for a 51% stake.

Austrian concert organiser Arcadia agrees a new partnership with four German companies – Four Artists, Chimperator Live, KKT and FKP Scorpio – to found Arcadia Live, a new
concert agency.

Live Nation agrees a joint venture with Thailand-based entertainment firm BEC-Tero. The new company, Live Nation BEC-Tero, will promote concerts by Western, J-Pop and K-Pop artists in the region, a pursuit in which BEC-Tero’s concerts division is already a market leader locally.

February
The Agency Group acquires UK-based electronic music agency Futureboogie, whose roster includes the likes of Bonobo, Crazy P and Nightmares on Wax.

The state of Washington passes a bill to outlaw ticket bots in an attempt to clamp down on the computer software that often prevents humans from buying seats online for concerts and sporting events. The move brings the number of states that have banned bots to 13.

March
A group of artists including Chris Martin, Calvin Harris, Madonna, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Jay Z, Kanye West, Daft Punk, Alicia Keys, Jack White and Nicki Minaj launch a new streaming service called Tidal, which is described as the first artist-owned platform for music and video.

The O2 arena in London announces that it has sold its 15 millionth ticket. The building, which opened in June 2007, has consistently been the most popular live music venue in the world, with research conducted by Media Insight Consulting claiming that 30% of the UK population has attended The O2 complex at least once.

The decade in live: 2015

One Direction perform on the On the Road Again tour without Malik (© vagueonthehow/Flickr (CC BY 2.0))

April
ILMC launches the International Festival Forum, which aims to help strengthen the relationship between event organisers and agents. The London-based event is set to feature partner agencies such as Coda, The Agency Group, Primary Talent and X-ray Touring who will showcase festival-ready acts to promoters from around the world.

Australian media company Nine Entertainment sells its live events companies Nine Live and Ticketek to Asian private equity firm Affinity Equity Partners for AUD$640m ($480m).

May
Sydney-based Soapbox Artists, which grew out of the Australian wing of Ministry of Sound, announces its merger with the Melbourne-based 360 Agency. The combined EDM agencies will be a significant player in the dance market, representing a large roster of DJ and producer talent.

Live Nation acquires a controlling stake in American festival Bonnaroo. Under the terms of the deal, current promoters Superfly and AC Entertainment will continue to programme and run the event.

June
AEG agrees an extended deal with America’s International Speedway Corporation (ISC), allowing the company’s AEG Live division to look at organising concerts at racetracks around the country. ISC owns 13 raceways, including such iconic arenas as Daytona and Watkins Glen.

The Foo Fighters cancel a number of shows after frontman Dave Grohl breaks his leg during a concert in Sweden. Despite a nasty fracture, however, Grohl makes headlines around the world by returning to complete the Gothenburg show, receiving medical attention on stage.

The decade in live: 2015

The main stage at Bonnaroo (© Shawn Mariani/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5))

July
German promoter Deutsche Entertainment AG and its UK offshoots Kilimanjaro Live and Raymond Gubbay Ltd, have set-up a company to sell tickets for their British shows. MyTicket.co.uk will expand the MyTicket concept that has already been running in Germany for six months.

The Windish Agency and Paradigm Talent Agency agree a partnership deal to form one of the world’s biggest independent agency operations, bringing The Windish Agency together with Paradigm partner agencies AM Only and Coda Music Agency, as well as Paradigm itself.

August
Live Nation Entertainment forms Live Nation Concerts Germany with German concert promoter Marek Lieberberg to promote concerts and festivals in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

William Morris agent Sol Parker jumps ship to Coda Agency, taking Take That, The Prodigy and Rita Ora with him.

United Talent Agency completes its acquisition of The Agency Group.

Live Nation acquires venue and festival operator MAMA & Company, returning a number of former Live Nation assets to its portfolio.

The decade in live: 2015

Marek Lieberberg (© Sven Mandel/Wikimedia Deutschland (CC BY-SA 4.0)) 

September
Australian promoter Andrew McManus is arrested at Melbourne Airport on charges of money laundering and the importation of 300 kilograms of cocaine. McManus is one of five people arrested in Australia and the United States as part of an FBI investigation.

Disgruntled investors hit SFX with a lawsuit claiming they were deceived with false and misleading statements over the company’s privatisation plans.

Ebay-owned secondary ticketing platform StubHub launches in Germany.

October
Pandora completes a $450m takeover of specialist ticketing agency Ticketfly.

Several preliminary bids are reportedly submitted for EDM promoter SFX in addition to that from CEO Robert Sillerman, who bid to buy back the company for $3.25 per share.

November
SFX promotes former IQ new boss Sebastian Solano to CEO of ID&T North America.

Ex-AEG chief Tim Leiweke forms live entertainment investment firm Oak View Group with Irving Azoff.

December
Ex-Done Events chief Thomas Ovesen is named CEO of new Dubai-based live music company 117 Live.

Live Nation UK vice-president Steve Homer and senior vice-president Toby Leighton-Pope leave the company.

The decade in live: 2015

B.B. King, 1925-2015 (cropped) (© Tom.Beetz/Flickr (CC BY 2.0))

 


Who we lost

Mike Porcaro, bassist for Toto; blues legend B.B. King; John Gammon, Pollstar’s UK/Europe correspondent; veteran promoter and ILMC member, Paul King; Stage Entertainment’s project manager Sjoerd Unger; Live Nation venue chief David Vickers; U2 tour manager Dennis Sheehan.

 


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Homer’s Odyssey: The Steve Homer story so far

Spend more than a minute or two in the company of Steve Homer, the affable, talkative co-CEO of AEG Presents in the UK, and one thing becomes clear: the man loves live music. Thirty years after he promoted his first show, Homer’s enthusiasm for the live experience is as infectious as ever.

“He’s a music fan,” says other co-CEO Toby Leighton-Pope, Homer’s partner in crime for the best part of 20 years. “If he doesn’t have a show on, he’ll find one to go and see. We’ll go away to LA on a business trip for a week, and after two days of lunches and dinners he’ll take off and go and see a band – he’s left many a business meal or important meeting to go see a show.”

“My dad, he’s 80 now, and I remember him saying to me a few years ago, ‘You’re never going to get a proper job, are you?’” adds Homer. “And I said, ‘correct.’ He just sees it as my hobby, my passion – and it is.”

Perhaps it’s that love for the art form that’s been the key to Homer’s success over the past three decades. Or maybe it’s his well-deserved reputation as a “perfect gentleman,” in the words of agent Tobbe Lorentz, or his willingness to turn his hand to everything from the Darkness to Tinie Tempah, building lifelong relationships along the way.

Either way, like Odysseus – the hero of the poem by his 8th-century-BC namesake – Homer’s story is an epic one (albeit with more Dolly Parton and fewer shipwrecks). And it begins in a market town in the Black Country, sometime in the early 1960s…

“He’s a music fan. If he doesn’t have a show on, he’ll find one to go and see”

Big on campus
Born in Stourbridge in the West Midlands, Homer caught the live music bug at his first show: The Clash at Wolverhampton Civic Hall on 16 December 1978, just a few weeks after his 15th birthday. His first brush with the industry, meanwhile, came five years later, when he went to Leicester University to study physics with astronomy (later, sensibly, transferring to a combined studies degree).

Homer, like many of his peers, served on Leicester’s entertainment committee, and after graduating in 1986 went to work at Staffordshire’s Keele University, which was recruiting for a professional (ie non-student) entertainments manager. But it was at another university that he cut his promoting teeth.

“The University of Sheffield wanted someone to come in and shape their commercial services department,” he explains. “There were three venues there, as opposed to one at Keele. The idea was to make Sheffield one of the biggest-earning university campuses in the country.”

And Homer delivered. By the early ’90s Sheffield’s entertainment business was making well over £1 million (€1.1m) profit annually, while Homer and team were running more than 60 shows a year.

By the early ’90s Sheffield’s entertainment business was making well over £1m profit annually

The old school
As a university ents manager in the early 90s, Homer was in good company: other now-household names in similar roles at the time included Middlesex Polytechnic’s Geoff Ellis (DF Concerts); the University of Warwick’s Chris York and Manchester’s Rob Ballantine (both SJM); Newcastle University’s Daryl Robinson (AMG/Mama); and the University of London’s Paul Hutton (Metropolis/Crosstown Concerts).

It was also his first contact with many bookers he works with to this day, as X-ray agent Adam Saunders recalls: “Steve and I first worked together when he was at Keele University, and then following that at Sheffield. We built a great working relationship through those early years, and we carried on working closely together through his years at the Mean Fiddler, too.

“We both had some incredibly pivotal years with the Darkness and the huge success through the Permission to Land album touring campaign. Steve had by that point moved to SFX (as Live Nation then was) and a second run on that tour featured multiple nights in all the UK arenas. We even included a tour warm-up show in the ‘intimate’ Brixton Academy. Great times…”

As a university ents manager in the early 90s, Homer was in good company

London calling
Homer remained at Sheffield until 1998, by which time he’d “run [his] course” at the university amid an unwelcome evolution in his responsibilities.

“Sheffield was a great place for gigs, but I’d moved further and further in that time from booking shows to the running of the commercial services side: helping to make the bars turn over more money, working with security services, and so on, Homer says. “But my main desire was that I wanted to work on live music.”

Homer joined the Mean Fiddler Music Group, Vince Power’s venue and festival empire, that year, after having turned down a job at one of the company’s venues two years prior. “I’d previously spoken to Vince Power about a job that came up at the Clapham Grand [south London],” he continues. “But I had real security within Sheffield, and people like Paul Hutton and Simon Moran advised me against it because at that time it was so off the beaten track.

“But I left it on good terms with Vince, and I phoned him up in mid-98 to say I wanted to move to London and asked if there was anything at Mean Fiddler. I came down and he offered me the job of running Mean Fiddler’s touring department.”

“I remember my dad saying to me a few years ago, ‘You’re never going to get a proper job, are you?’ And I said, ‘correct’”

After an “okay but not great” start promoting around 30 shows that autumn, including long-time Power clients Dr John and Republica, Homer fast put his own stamp on Mean Fiddler, famously promoting early shows by Eminem and Queens of the Stone Age while imbuing its touring division with the focus on talent development that had characterised his career to date.

He also began to book acts for Mean Fiddler’s Homeland and Reading Festivals, working closely with current Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn, as well as artists including Kylie Minogue, Carl Cox and Moloko for the Renaissance club in Ibiza.

At Mean Fiddler, Homer says, he learnt for the first time “that it really matters which company you work for. […] Some agencies loved Mean Fiddler but many others didn’t. It was the first time in my career that I’d been seen as part of that corporate umbrella.”

Other high-profile Mean Fiddler-era signings included pop-punk band Bowling for Soup – who Homer saw at South by Southwest and brought over for Reading and the new Leeds Festival – and All Seeing I, the Sheffield supergroup featuring Jarvis Cocker and Phil Oakey who scored a hit in 1999 with ‘Walk Like a Panther’.

Homer’s tenure at Mean Fiddler lasted just two years, and he admits that he didn’t leave the company on “great terms” with Power, who had been “very supportive” of his career to that point and perhaps felt cheated when his rising star was lured away.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 86, or subscribe to the magazine here.


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AEG, Eden Project form Eden Sessions joint venture

Educational charity the Eden Project and global live event company AEG Presents today (16 September) announced a new partnership, which will see the pair jointly run the Eden Sessions concert series.

The two organisations have formed a new company, Eden Sessions Ltd, and will work together to produce the next concert series in summer 2020.

Eden’s Rita Broe, who has run the Eden Sessions for the last eight years, will lead the new company. John Empson, who was instrumental in founding the Sessions and has booked every act since, will continue to lead on the booking for the concerts.

The Eden Project, which has a visitor destination in Cornwall, UK, houses the largest rainforest in captivity under multiple large biomes. The site has attracted over 21 million visitors since opening in 2001.

The Project has hosted the Eden Sessions since 2002, with performances from Pulp, Muse, Oasis, Elton John, Blondie, Bjork, Lionel Richie, Paul Weller, Mumford and Sons, Blink 182, The xx, Van Morrison and Queens of the Stone Age.

By joining forces, AEG Presents and Eden hope to build on the Eden Sessions legacy and brand.

“In 18 years, the Sessions have established an excellent reputation in the industry and with concert-goers,” says Gordon Seabright, chief executive of the Eden Project.

“People use the word iconic a lot but the Eden Sessions fully deserves that description”

“Our exciting new venture with AEG Presents teams Eden with the global leader in live music. It will give us more national and international reach and help us spread Eden’s mission even further.

“Eden boasts a unique amphitheatre surrounded by beautiful gardens and spectacular Biomes,” continues Seabright, saying the team is “proud” there there exists “no venue like it anywhere in the world.”

“We know that many artists cite shows they have played here as being among their best ever.”

AEG Presents co-chief executives Steve Homer and Toby Leighton-Pope comment: “People use the word iconic a lot but the Eden Sessions fully deserves that description. They are innovative and the roll call of artists who have performed at Eden speaks for itself.

“They stand for quality as do we and we’re both dedicated to giving music fans a brilliant gig experience every time. This partnership is a big moment for us and we’re sure it will deliver great things.”

Among this year’s Eden Sessions headliners were Kylie Minogue, Stereophonics and Nile Rodgers & Chic.

AEG Presents runs outdoor events including the British Summer Time Hyde Park concerts and East London festival All Points East. The company has promoted tours for artists including Justin Bieber, Khalid, Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran.

 


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AEG Presents names new SVP, international

AEG Presents has promoted Simon Jones to the newly created role of senior vice-president of music, international.

In the newly created, London-based role, Jones will head up AEG Presents UK’s global concert operations, working with AEG offices in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East to promote a range of artists from club gigs to stadium shows. He reports directly to Steve Homer and Toby Leighton-Pope, AEG Presents London’s joint CEOs.

The creation of the position comes after AEG Presents’ launch in France in January this year, following the company’s acquisition of a stake in leading festival Rock en Seine in 2017.

In 2017, AEG promoted more than 800 live events in the UK, including British Summer Time Hyde Park festival and the recently launched All Points East in Victoria Park, London.

“I’m certain we can keep upping the ante both in the UK and around the world”

“I’ve enjoyed building the international touring arm of our UK office in recent years – it’s a major passion of mine and I’m excited to continue and expand on this even further, with some incredible shows and tours to announce soon,” says Jones, who joined AEG as an intern, working at the then-new O2 Arena. Since then, he has risen through the ranks to become a promoter and senior executive.

“What we have achieved since AEG Presents launched in the UK has been phenomenal and I’m certain we can keep upping the ante both here and around the world. The artists that work with us are always at the core of our thinking when planning tours and shows, and that is reflected in the calibre of artists and their teams that we work with.”

Jones’s current tours include Shawn Mendes’s European tour, the Ed Sheeran South Africa stadium tour, Asian tours for Khalid and Calum Scott, Rodriguez across Australia and New Zealand and UK tours for Anne-Marie, Jess Glynne, Tom Odell and the Vamps.

Recent successes include Ed Sheeran in Asia and the Middle East in 2017–18, as well as Sheeran’s three sell-out stadium shows in Glasgow this year, Justin Bieber’s 2016–17 UK tour, Craig David’s 2017 arena tour and the annual Brits Week series of shows.

 


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Awards all round for Arcade Fire SSE Arena shows

Arcade Fire have been presented with award frames by the SSE Arena, Wembley, after last week’s sold-out three-date run at the London venue.

The Canadian act played three nights in the round at the 12,500-cap. arena on 11, 12 and 13 April, for which they were gifted plaques by SSE Arena Wembley vice-president/GM John Drury and bookings manager James Harrison.

Over the course of the three-night run, part of their Infinite Content tour, the band were also joined by special guests on stage for surprise performances: Chrissie Hynde on the first night, Jarvis Cocker on night two and Florence Welch and Boy George on night three. Boy George’s band, Culture Club, will play a headline show at the AEG-operated arena on 14 November.

Also receiving awards were the band’s managers, Izvor Zivkovic and Dounia Mikou, agent Emma Banks (CAA) and promoter Toby Leighton-Pope (AEG Presents).

 


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Senior execs depart Live Nation UK

Managerial shake-ups at Live Nation UK continue, with two of the company’s senior promoters making their departure.

Details about the exits are sketchy, but it is understood that vice-president Steve Homer and senior vice-president Toby Leighton-Pope severed ties with Live Nation in early December. They follow former COO John Probyn after he left the company for pastures new in September.

Homer and Leighton-Pope are among the best known promoters in the UK and were both heavily involved in the Wireless Festival, which made its debut in Birmingham last year, twinned with the longstanding London event. However, the Birmingham festival did not have a second year.

Live Nation declined to comment.