Live Music Landscape


TMV’s London correspondent Laura G Thorne attended last week’s Live Music Landscape conference and reports back on the industry’s recent hills and valleys.

Music 4.5 2Pears London UK2Pears (facilitators of peer2peer networking and collaboration specialising in creative and startup companies) presented the latest in their ongoing series of Music 4.5 events last week in London to discuss the Live Music Landscape. With speakers including Mama Group’s Promotions Director Jon McIldowie (prior to this week’s announcement of HMV’s continued deteriorating fortunes), MusicGlue’s Tom Hopewell and Seatwave’s Joe Cohen along with artists including Gaynor O’Flynn, there was a lively debate over issues relating to the live music industry, including promotional strategy, revenue models and secondary ticketing.

However it must be noted that representatives from Live Nation and AEG were conspicuously absent from the panel (though one Live Nation staffer, who remained silent, was outed in the audience later in the afternoon).  So to have a discussion of an industry sector without the participation of the dominant players within it is by definition going to be less revelatory than one might desire.

Live has been looked to as the saviour of the music business ever since physical sales took a nosedive, but in the UK last year live music revenues declined 6.8% after a decade of growth. Whether that is an anomaly based upon an inadequate supply of headlining stadium acts – as the PRS’ Will Page has suggested – or a defining trend is still an open question.

Jon McIldowie (known colloquially as John Mac) provided a concise overview of the business from his vantage point, stating that they work on the basis that “80% of tickets are sold through two channels – one is the artist channel and other is the venue’s channel. The other 20% we as a promoter can really have an impact on, and for my money, that is social media first and second, radio.”

Testifying to the growing strength of social media channels such as Twitter, he said that they now have the ability to reach 300-400K potential ticket buyers through tweets, which represents a significantly greater opportunity than a TV spot buy (which would reach around 120K prospects by comparison).

The role of the agent has increased in importance according to McIldowie, saying that the chain of command has changed from artist-manager-record label followed by agent, whereas now the hierarchy is very much artist-manager-live agent and then everybody else.

Mac also noted that artist fees are increasing year-over-year, particularly for festivals – a fact that was repeated again throughout the day as an issue, particularly when an artist has the ability to negotiate for over 100% of the gross (and the promoter’s profit exists within a 5-10% margin). This is only possible in a world where processing fees imposed by sellers represent an essential income stream bankrolling other costs. Indeed, Seatwave’s Cohen asserted that they “had talked to a bunch of folks in the industry a couple years ago about providing a primary ticketing solution that had no booking fees at all, that would reduce the price to zero on booking fees, and no one wanted it because there was no money to split”.

A panel with Jon Mansfield (Co-Founder/Partner,Music Connex), Laura Kidd (Artist, SheMakesWar), Rynda Laurel (Digital Marketing, Smashing Pumpkins) and the aforementioned Gaynor O’Flynn (Artist/Performer/Filmmaker, Being Human) discussed how artists can earn more money from playing live by using digital promotion. As anyone who has worked in this business knows however, the strategy depends on one’s position in the food chain, and is very much a “Tale of Two Cities” (or as Rynda Laurel put it, “whether you shop at your local farmer’s market or at Tesco”).  For artists such as Kidd, YouTube and Spotify represent “advertising I don’t have to pay for”, and Laurel affirmed that it is “one of the best times for artists but some of them don’t want to do the work – only a handful are really motivated”.  If you are an act on the level of a Smashing Pumpkins (likewise Nine Inch Nails, Marillion and Mumford and Sons) you can indeed leverage your existing notoriety by booking your own shows (or releasing your own recordings); yes, you don’t have the record company behind you providing the financing, but if you are a proven commodity you can forego that security in return for a bigger share of the profits. Even so, Mansfield commented that many artists of stature still prefer the traditional artist/label arrangement, rather than going it on their own.

Speaking of revenue, the path takes many forms – Laurel was surprised to discover that a band she spoke with recently who were support on a major tour did not have an email list, explaining that “we are just on tour to sell t-shirts”.

Lest one think it was all unicorns and rainbows however, in terms of revenues Gaynor spoke to the need for a “fairer level of distribution,” which prompted McIldowie to agree that Google, YouTube, Spotify and other digital services should “be a concern for every artist” as they are “generating huge value for their companies” but that revenues are not distributed to the rights holders in equal share.

Paul Sampson of experiential marketing company Eskimo Live in his presentation “Brands + Live Music = Money? Only if done right…” stated that The Holy Grail consists of “experience, engagement and access”.  He advised promoters and marketers to “offer the audience an experience they are grateful for” and used as examples recent promotions with brands including UGG and Superdrug to introduce retail stores, gardens, cocktails, makeovers, DJ’s, hammocks and other amenities into the concert environment because “just sticking your logo on something…no longer works”.

Digital Marketing Consultant Joshua Greene, who has handled social media strategy for Mama Group’s Lovebox and Wilderness Festivals provided a whistlestop tour of essential Facebook campaign elements while emphasising the importance of connecting social media activity to sales and revenue.  Amongst his specific objectives are to:

  • improve fan acquisition;
  • develop brand advocacy;
  • build content partners/relationships with artists within social media;
  • understand consumers;
  • develop consistent content, messaging and engagement

Greene was also a big fan of Facebook advertising, saying that in one campaign he’d invested £600 in Facebook ads which resulted in the acquisition of 6000 fans (and cost per acquisition can go as low as .36p per).  Another savvy tactic was to anoint “digital brand ambassadors” who, in return for a festival pass, would advocate for an event amongst their own friends and social media channels.

10Tribes’ StJohn ‘Saint’ Smith gave an overview of their mobile app, which allows “artists, fans, promoters and venues to share knowledge about what they like and what’s on offer”.  Features for promoters include the ability to enter event details and print out Gigsheets, as well as tracking attendance and other metrics, while fans are able to discover local events and receive special premiums. Artists can reward supporters with exclusive content as well as monitoring their activity and location.

Secondary ticketing is massively under fire these days, but in between all the hand-wringing about how fans are being ripped off and how bad it all is is the fact that the practice is condoned and authorised by some artists and their representatives, who also profit from it handsomely. Both Seatwave’s Joe Cohen and MusicGlue’s Tom Hopewell were challenged by Gaynor O’Flynn to justify their very existence, saying their only purpose was to offer “a Paypal button…I don’t really get what you are doing”.  Whether that offers sufficient value or not depends on whether you require this service, and in fairness, services such as MusicGlue offer a variety of marketing tools that allow artists to collect and manage their own fan data and help promote their concerts. Ticket resellers allow fans of a certain income level the opportunity to attend shows they wouldn’t otherwise if they are willing to pay a premium, but how far can one go with this model before it becomes counterproductive to the business on the whole?

These weighty issues and others will continue to be the subject of debate, particularly during recession when there is less to go round (or as the saying goes, “the beatings will continue until the morale improves”). Meanwhile, Live Nation continues its dominance of the industry, having acquired media tracking and reporting company Big Champagne this week. For them, the best of times are by no means over.


Though born in Ealing, Laura only recently returned to London after establishing her music industry bona fides in San Francisco, California, where she rubbed elbows with the top players in jazz as Marketing Director for boutique concert promoter Stanford Jazz Workshop. Her background also includes marketing, PR & production duties for several independent labels such as Primarily A Cappella and Tinder Records, and she was producer for award-winning sound design and commercial music house Ripe Sound (with credits including SFX work for Electronic Arts and Disney and ad campaigns for international brands T-Mobile and Capital One). Laura is a former bassist/singer/songwriter who (still) lives to rock and likes it loud. She has a degree qualification in English to help her write and talk nice.

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