Live biz urged to embrace digital opportunities
A raft of top execs have urged the live business to embrace the opportunities of the digital world, amid the pandemic-accelerated convergence of tech, streaming, gaming and music.
Covering a range of hot topics from ticketed live-streaming to in-game concerts, the forward-thinking ILMC 34 panel Convergence & new frontiers explored the place of live performance in a post Covid-19 universe.
Moderated by freelance journalist Mark Sutherland, the session brought together the live and recorded music strands of the biz with speakers Jackie Wilgar of Live Nation, WME’s Levi Jackson, Tiago Correia of Warner Music UK and Jane Kinnaird of Meta.
“In our mind, even before the last couple of years, that opportunity for digital to really extend live – and its definition – has always been there”
“From the time we started Live Nation, the question we posed was, ‘What is the definition of live?'” said Wilgar, LN’s EVP marketing & consumer technology – international. “And can the digital world, in fact, allow us to expand that definition – whether that’s reaching people in markets and places they’ve not been able to attend a physical live show, or whether it’s taking the physical live show and just extending it beyond its current physical presence?
“So in our mind, even before the reality of what’s happened in the last couple of years, that opportunity for digital to really extend live – and its definition – has always been there.”
Creative strategist Kinnaird elaborated on the “huge” potential for combining the physical world with the metaverse.
“For me, it’s how you can augment a live experience for the people that are there,” she said. “The thing that I really want to explore is how you can enjoy something with someone else – it might be that one of you is at the live event but the other is at the augmented metaverse version.”
“We’re always about providing more avenues for fans to connect”
Correia, of Warner’s global digital business development team, discussed the rise of in-game concerts such as those seen on Fortnite and Roblox over the past couple of years (the label made an “eight-figure” investment in Roblox in 2021).
“There’s an entrenched audience in those games,” said Correia. “We don’t know if that audience is a fan of Tones & I in the case of Fortnite, for example, or a fan of Aya Nakamura. So there’s naturally a big opportunity to say, ‘Let’s try and capture those that aren’t and try to engage those that already are.’
“We’re always about providing more avenues for the fans to connect. And part of that is giving avenues for the artists to express themselves in new ways. Of course, it came in at a critical time where no one was able to do physical. It is not substitutional in any way. But, for a brief period of time, some people who couldn’t go to live, went to these virtual concerts in the hope that they could have some semblance of what those experiences are. I’m glad we were able to provide that service to them as well, because we were very happy with the results.”
He added: “There is still a bit of taboo and shame around games, because maybe we played them when we were young and we’re no longer that person. I think that that’s going to change. It’s not just a generational thing, look at the capabilities that you can do in games that you can’t do otherwise, I think people will understand that it’s quite a very important part of the entertainment industry as a whole and, as a music industry, that’s why we’ve done a lot in gaming. We need to be very, very aware of what’s happening and we need to be driving part of those conversations.”
“You’d be crazy not to look at gaming as an opportunity for distribution or inclusion”
“You’d be crazy not to look at gaming as an opportunity for distribution or inclusion,” agreed Wilgar. “Now, if the artists you’re working with are more relevant to a 65-year-old-plus crowd, maybe that’s not your right platform. But if you’re looking for distribution and reach, the reality is gaming is up there with sport. It is the fastest growing lifestyle reality of anything that exists worldwide right now. And it’s not just 12 to 16-year-olds playing games – the age demographic tends to be 24 through early 40s, or 40 through early 50s, in terms of the biggest growth areas for gamers.”
On the subject of live-streams, meanwhile, WME’s Jackson suggested that licensing hurdles had stunted the growth of the market and deterred some acts from embracing the format.
“Despite two years of live-streams through lockdown, people’s understanding of ownership and how we get the right licences in the right territories has been such a challenge… And it just puts people off,” he added. “If we could figure out a way to encourage everyone to participate and help each other there, it will probably encourage a bit of creativity to do it. Because at the minute, it does feel somewhat clunky. It’s enough for any artist that wants to look at this space to say, ‘I’m okay for now.'”
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Germany’s Funke Media and Neuland Concerts merge
Hamburg-based promoters and former competitors Funke Media and Neuland Concerts are joining forces, with immediate effect.
The companies will now merge under the name of Neuland Concerts, which makes the new entity ‘one of the largest owner-managed concert agencies in Germany’.
Neuland Concerts was founded by Christian Gerlach in 2008 as a division of Warner Music, and has organised tours by the likes of Bruno Mars, Jason Derulo, Twenty One Pilots, Robin Schulz, Kaleo and Russ throughout their careers.
Gerlach and his team separated from the Warner Music Group in 2017, around the time Neuland began strengthening its relationship with Funke Media.
“Funke Media has been a competitor for us, and we have had to respectfully acknowledge the high quality on a regular basis”
Funke Media, founded in 1959 by Hans-Werner Funke, has attracted a range of international artists including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees.
Gerlach and Funke’s son Pascale will now jointly lead the business and the team of Neuland Concerts as equal partners.
The new Neuland Concerts team is complemented by Günther Maienschein, who previously worked as an authorised signatory and technical manager at Funke Media.
Gerlach says: “So far, Funke Media has been a competitor for us, and we have had to respectfully acknowledge the high quality on a regular basis. Despite the competitive relationship, there was always great appreciation and, for a few years now, a growing relationship of trust.
“The establishment of a new agency and the subsequent leap into independence from Warner Music impressed me”
“It is remarkable how Pascal Funke has continued to develop the family business founded by his father Hans-Werner Funke since joining in 1997. As Neuland Concerts, we can expand our business especially in the area of local events in and around Hamburg through the merger and offer even more, but above all more diverse events right here on our doorstep.”
Funke adds: “In the last few years I got to know Christian Gerlach as a reliable and at the same time very passionate organiser who always looked outside the box. He knows the needs of his artists across all genre boundaries.
“The establishment of a new agency and the subsequent leap into independence from Warner Music impressed me, since this step there have always been points of contact. We used 2020 and looked around for new alliances. Our aim was to bundle opportunities and competencies while remaining true to our own values. The two companies succeeded through the merger.”
Roblox valued at $30bn ahead of direct listing
Online videogaming platform Roblox, which recently held its first in-world concert, has raised US$520 million in a new funding round which values the company at $30 billion.
The series-H round sees investment companies Altimeter Capital and Dragoneer Investment Group buy into Roblox at a price of $45 per share. The California-based company announced its intention to go public in November, and said yesterday (6 December) it will proceed with a novel Spotify-style direct listing on the stock market in the near future.
Other investors participating in the funding round are the Investment Group of Santa Barbara and, more interestingly, Warner Music Group, whose artist Ava Max participated in a Roblox album launch event in October.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Altimeter, Dragoneer and the other new investors,” comments David Baszucki, CEO and co-founder of Roblox. “We look forward to working with all of them as we continue our mission to build a human co-experience platform that enables shared experience, from play to work and learning, among billions of users.”
“Roblox has built a unique and imaginative virtual experience with a growing, loyal community”
Brad Gerstner, CEO of Altimeter, says: “While once viewed as a gaming platform, Roblox has emerged as a definitive global community connecting millions of people through communication, entertainment and commerce. And, as the world moves toward a hybrid future – where online and offline community and learning co-exist – we are proud to back a values-driven business that takes seriously its obligation to build an inclusive, creative and positive community.”
“Roblox has built a unique and imaginative virtual experience with a growing, loyal community, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to support the company at this stage of its development,” adds Marc Stad, founder and managing partner of Dragoneer. “We look forward to partnering with the Roblox team as they continue to execute on a compelling growth strategy and capitalise on the substantial opportunities ahead.”
Speaking to IQ shortly after Lil Nas X played Roblox’s first virtual show, the company’s head of music, Jon Vlassopulos, predicted a future where fans will no longer need to “pick real world or virtual [concerts] once lockdowns are over – they can have both.” Read the full, in-depth interview, which also touches on lessons learned from the Lil Nas X show, as well as the future of music and entertainment more broadly, here.
WMG announces $100m social justice fund, IPO price
Following Black Out Tuesday yesterday, Warner Music Group (WMG) has announced a US$100 million fund to support charitable causes “related to the music industry, social justice and campaigns against violence and racism”.
The fund – jointly financed by WMG and the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the charitable foundation run by WMG vice-chairman Sir Leonard Blavatnik, whose Access Industries is the group’s majority owner – will support individuals and “organisations strengthening education, and promoting equality, opportunity, diversity and inclusion” in the music industry, according to WMG.
Along with the other two major labels, Universal Music and Sony Music, and all major live music industry companies, Warner Music was supporter of #TheShowMustBePaused initiative, which saw the music business come to a halt for on 2 June in solidarity with those protesting for racial justice.
Steve Cooper, CEO of Warner Music Group, says: “This fund will support the extraordinary, dedicated organisations that are on the front lines of the fight against racism and injustice, and that help those in need across the music industry.
“This fund will support the extraordinary, dedicated organisations that are on the front lines of the fight against racism and injustice”
“Our advisory panel, which will draw from a diverse cross-section of people from our team and the wider community, will help us be very thoughtful and accountable in how we make an impact. We’re determined to contribute, on a sustained long-term basis, to the effort to bring about real change.”
Today (3 June) also sees WMG’s return to the stock market after nine years, with a previously announced flotation (IPO) on New York’s Nasdaq set to raise nearly $2 billion from the sale of 77m shares for $25 apiece. Blavatnik purchased WMG for $3.3bn in 2011.
In addition to its labels and publishing arm, WMG has multiple live music interests, including concert discovery platform Songkick, Finnish promoter Warner Music Live and management company Umbrella Artists Productions, which it owns with German promoter FKP Scorpio.
ILMC speaker spotlight: Jeremy Paterson, IF Media
The International Live Music Conference (ILMC) is now less than a month away and, as more and more chairs and panellists are announced, IQ catches up with some key speakers to hear what they hope to get out of this year’s conference.
Following on from the previous Speakers Spotlight with Semmel Concerts’ Christian Scholz, Jeremy Paterson, managing director of IF Media Consultancy, shares his thoughts on what this year’s ILMC will bring.
Paterson is chairing the Brand Partnerships: Owning the Label panel, appearing alongside panellists Francesca Blackburn (WME), Gary Cohen (ATC Live), Will Dowdy (AEG), Debbie Ward (Paradigm) and Bob Workman (Warner Music) to discuss the changing nature of artist/brand partnerships and the rise of all-encompassing personality-based deals.
IQ: What do you foresee as the main talking points for the panel?
JP: The panel will focus on two main themes. Firstly, how the brand partnerships landscape has changed and how this has opened more opportunities for more artists and, secondly, how this change has affected or opened up the route to market for brands.
How do you think the relationship between artists and brands has changed in recent years?
Three key points…
The two worlds of brand and artists still remain very different, but the explosion of ways of expressing an artist have opened up many more tactical and strategic opportunities for artists and brand to work together. The nature of activity is changing too – everyone is expecting more from every deal.
“Music” partnerships are declining proportionally to “personality” partnerships
The market is polarising – at the top end, the campaigns and their deals are getting bigger and more complex and, at the bottom end, single-channel partnerships have exploded without defining an artist.
The way brand money is spent continues to evolve, partnership is on the rise – especially with artists showing more willing to embrace the relationships. Traditional sponsorship is under pressure because naming and tagging has become white noise in a world of colour. This has led to an explosion of creativity as everyone seeks to create bespoke content which delivers a win, win for all – artists, fans and brand alike.
“Music” partnerships are declining proportionally to “personality” partnerships. It’s a difficult one for artists, especially credible ones, to reconcile themselves with. Is a partnership that doesn’t feature audio still a music/brand partnership or do we need to find a new word for partnerships that don’t have music at their core?
Brand platforms give artists exposure that an artist working solo could never achieve
Do you see any downsides to the growing number of artists taking on non music-related brand partnerships?
Not when the motivations are correct. Brand platforms give artists exposure that an artist working solo could never achieve. The downside comes when the motivations aren’t openly shared or aligned. Usually if you’re doing it for the money everyone should run a mile…
The changes to the sector has led to a flood of people representing artists. This presents a challenge where they all need to up their game by going way beyond the old school broker mentality and deliver on creativity and impact for all involved.
What are you particularly looking forward to at ILMC this year?
It’s all about the people isn’t it. So hanging out with some of the most inspirational minds in the music industry has to be the highlight for me.
ILMC’s Brand Partnerships panel is taking place at 2 p.m. on Thursday 5 March.
Warner Music Group files for IPO
Label giant Warner Music Group (WMG), which owns a number of live assets in addition to its recorded music interests, has announced plans for an initial public offering (IPO).
The number of shares of common stock to be offered and the price of the offering have not yet been disclosed.
The announcement signals WMG’s return to the stock market, where it traded until 2011, before being bought by British billionaire Len Blavatnik through his company Access Industries for US$3.3 billion.
The news comes after the recent valuation of rival Universal Music Group at over US$30 billion, following Chinese entertainment giant Tencent’s acquisition of a 10% stake in the company.
The announcement signals WMG’s return to the stock market, where it traded until 2011
The Warner Music Group includes the records labels Warner, Atlantic, Elektra and Parlophone, publishing and global music distribution arms and is home to artists including Ed Sheeran, Cardi B, Dua Lipa and Bruno Mars.
WMG’s live music interests include concert discovery platform Songkick, Finnish promoter Warner Music Live and management company Umbrella Artists Productions, which it owns with promoter FKP Scorpio.
Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs are managing the flotation.
WMG’s filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commissions (SEC) can be read here.
Songkick appoints new managing directors
Aaron Randall and Bill Ashton have been appointed joint managing directors of concert discovery platform Songkick.
Randall was formerly Songkick’s chief technology officer, while Ashton moves into the role from parent company Warner Music Group, where he was senior vice-president of artist services. Outgoing CEO Mark McIntyre will remain with Songkick in an advisory capacity while also working on other Warner projects.
London-based Songkick has seen strong growth since coming under Warner Music ownership, with 2019 seeing record uplift in audience, traffic and revenue figures, according to the record label group. The platform is now used by 15 million fans worldwide to discover concerts and track their favourite artists.
Warner acquired Songkick’s live music discovery business in mid-2017, while the Songkick ticketing platform was wound up after being absorbed into Live Nation following the settling of their long-running lawsuit.
“Together, they’re the perfect choice to take the lead”
In a joint statement, Randall and Ashton – who will report to Emmy Lovell, EVP of WEA Europe – say: “This is a hugely exciting time for Songkick. We’ve got ambitious expansion plans and we’re delighted to lead the team as we set about implementing them.
“Building connections between fans and artists is what really excites us and that ethos is at the heart of Songkick’s business. We want to keep developing our technology and products so we can super-serve and further grow our community of passionate, engaged users.”
“Bill was instrumental in helping bring Songkick into Warner Music and aligning its strategy with ours, while Aaron has developed its unbeatable tech that makes it such a user friendly experience,” adds Lovell.
“Together, they’re the perfect choice to take the lead as we seek to further accelerate Songkick’s growth.”
Blavatnik, IMG’s Shustorovich drawn into Trump Russia probe
Two prominent entertainment business figures have been drawn into the ongoing investigation into alleged Russian interference in last year’s US presidential election.
Sir Len Blavatnik, whose Access Industries holding company owns Warner Music Group, and Alexander Shustorovich, the chief executive of performing arts agency IMG Artists, are reportedly under scrutiny from investigators led by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing a probe into the Trump presidential campaign’s alleged links with the Russian government.
According to the Dallas Morning News, political contributions by Sir Len – a Ukrainian-born American/British businessman who had previously donated to both parties – took a “hard right turn” in 2015–16, when he gave more than US$6m to Republican party political action committees (PACs).
Of that $6m, the paper says, the majority, $3.5m went to a PAC associated with Kentucky Republican senator and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, with smaller amounts donated to PACs backing senator Marco Rubio ($1.5m), Wisconsin governor Scott Walker ($1.1m) and Trump’s Inaugural Committee ($1m).
Len Blavatnik and Alexander Shustorovich are reportedly under scrutiny from investigators led by special counsel Robert Mueller
Shustorovich, a Russian-American business magnate with business interests in TV, radio and other media, similarly gave $1m to the Inaugural Committee, which was accepted by the Trump team – despite the rejection of a previous attempt to donate to the Republicans, in 2000, because of concerns over his ties to the Russian government.
Two other men, Andrew Intrater and Kukes – neither of which have any history of political donations – are also reportedly of interest to investigators. Both have been employees of Sir Len: Intrater is chief executive of Columbus Nova, a division of Renova, an investment company co-founded by Blavatnik and his business partner Viktor Vekselberg in 1990, while Kukes worked for Blavatnik and Vekselberg’s TNK from 1998 to 2003.
In addition to owning Warner Music, Access Industries is an investor in Spotify, Deezer and Songkick, the latter of which Warner partially acquired in July. Blavatnik was knighted in 2017 for his philanthropy.
Democratic representative Adam Schiff told ABC News he believes the contributions to be legal, as all donors are US citizens, “unless the contributions were directed by a foreigner”. He added, however, that they “could still be of interest to investigators examining allegations of Russian influence on the 2016 campaign. Obviously, if there were those that had associations with the Kremlin that were contributing, that would be of keen concern.”
Year of VR continues with new WMG concert venture
Visual effects (VFX) studio Digital Domain has entered into a strategic partnership with Warner Music Taiwan that will see the two companies co-produce a series of virtual reality (VR) concerts.
It is the third such partnership announced this year, following tie-ups between Universal Music and iHeartMedia and Live Nation and NextVR, and comes as VR technology becomes increasingly popular among the international music industry’s major players. VR headsets were also handed out at AEG Live’s Coachella festival in April.
The first project from the new Digital Domain–Warner Music alliance will be a pre-recorded VR highlight video from a Beijing show by Chinese pop singer Ronghao Li, from his An Ideal world tour.
“We look forward to combining our technologies and developing quality original content to tap the Greater China VR market and explore the vast potential in the global music market”
Daniel Seah, CEO of California-headquartered, Hong Kong-listed Digital Domain, comments: “With Warner Music’s abundant music and celebrities [sic] resources globally and, in particular, the Greater China region [China and Taiwan], we look forward to bringing premium music content through the combination of our technologies and developing quality original content to tap the Greater China VR market and explore the vast potential in the global music market.”
Warner Music Greater China CEO Sam Chen adds: “This project marks the first milestone in the alliance between Digital Domain and Warner Music. We look forward to integrating the world’s leading visual effects and VR technologies from Digital Domain into our high-quality music content and rich portfolio of artists, bringing an elevated audiovisual experience.”
In issue 64 of IQ Magazine, industry figures, including representatives from Exit Festival, Tomorrowland and Sziget, gave Richard Smirke their predictions on how VR technology will shape the live music sector in coming years.