This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Paul Reed, general manager, the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF).
Elite, large-scale UK music festivals donít sweat much competing for audiences with the multitude of grassroots festivals across Britain, but many of these scaled-down festivals--hardly as well connected--now enjoy a vital edge in drawing crowds.
Music festivals and concerts have been the fastest growing area of leisure spending in the UK over the five years to 2015, according to market researchers Mintel. It is estimated that 40% of Britons went to at least one event, spending a collective £2.1 billion.
Founded in 2008, the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), the London-based trade association represents 62 UK festival organizers. It operates as an autonomous division of the Association of Independent Music (AIM) with its own board and governance structure.
The AIF is the collective voice of the UK independent festival sector, representing and lobbying on its behalf the British government on issues facing the industry. As well, its members have access to business affairs and legal support, financial advice, seminars, events, and training opportunities.
The AIF also operates a Friends of AIF scheme, connecting trusted suppliers and companies directly to festival organizers in everything from production to marketing, technology, and merchandise.
AIFís general manager Paul Reed oversees the day-to-day operations of the AIF alongside with shaping its strategic development and growth, including drilling down on campaigns, communications, partnership, and membership opportunities.
Prior to joining AIF, Reed worked as an independent promoter alongside running artist liaison and stage managing at the Evolution Festival, and the Secret Garden Party. Previously, he held executive positions with the music development agency Generator, as well as with the classical music center The Conservatoire, and the festival event management company, The Event Umbrella.
You have now been at the AIF for four years.
Thatís right. Itís been an interesting challenge. When I came in, I was the first full-time general manager. It had been run on a part-time basis up to that point. What I found was we had grown from 12 festivals sitting around a table talking shop. It had grown and developed with differently sized festivals, city-based festivals, but the structure hadnít really developed with it. A lot of these festivals were on what they were calling the board. I remember asking in an interview, ďHow do you make any decisions? You have decision-making processes or do you not just go around in circles?Ē I introduced a strategy board. There were a lot of things to sort out in terms of governance, and how to run the association. You have to get those things in order before you can be truly impactful in your aims, and your work. There are only two of us here. Iím the general manager, and I am supported by a membership and support coordinator (Renae Brown) and we have to be careful to what we commit to. We have to represent the interest of our members.
How many festival members belong to the AIF?
We have 62 at the moment. Itís grown quite rapidly. We were founded in 2008, just under 10 years. We started with a handful of promoters around a table talking shop about shed issues, approaches to crime, and security. It has developed a lot in that time. Toward the end of 2014, we had 40 members. In the last couple of years, as a (growth) percentage, it is quite a jump. We are very pleased that we have brought in some key festivals on board. Boomtown Fair (near Winchester) is a key independent festival that has come onboard recently.
A significant number of UK festivals donít belong.
Yeah, absolutely. Thatís ongoing work. Thereís always a target list. There are active conversations. People pay a fee for the service, and we have a very high retention rate, but it is just a fact that one of the difficulties of running a trade association is that with all of the festivals (in the UK) that our members will benefit from the collective work anyway.
How are you funded? Membership fees or do you receive government support?
We donít at all, actually. We are funded effectively through three streams of revenue. It is primarily through membership fees which are annual, and are based on capacity (of the individual festival). They are tiered according to the size of the festival. On the basis of that, the smaller festivals pay less. It is also capped for the larger festivals. So festivals pay between £500 and £5,000. It is only the very largest festivals that pay £5,000. We also have a friends scheme (Friends of AIF) in which we connect companies and interested individuals to our membership where appropriate. We screen that closely because we donít want to bombard our members with things that arenít relevant to them. We will circulate (supplier information) to the membership. We will make sure that nobody has had a bad experience with that (recommended) company. We will do our own research, and due diligence because what we really want that to be is the database of suppliers that we recommend our members work with. The third revenue source is our events. We run a festival congress that takes place annually in Cardiff in Wales. Itís going into its fourth year. It happens at the end of the season. Late October this year. That has sold out three consecutive years, 400 delegates. Thatís very much the right level. It is very much aimed at the independent (festival) community. We have a large congregation of our members because 85% of them attend. We also run training events throughout the year. They will be heavily subsidized from members, but also open to non-members.
Brits are seemingly mad for music festivals with outdoor camping. One of the wettest countries in the world with rainfall throughout the summer, ďCímon stand in a field of muck with rain.Ē
I grew up going to festivals 20 years ago. There were the major events with Glastonbury and Leeds. We did some analysis recently, and we asked how many of our members existed in 1988. Seven of them. Itís quite crazy, isnít it how we have that growth in under 30 years? It has completely blown up.
But itís no longer as viable to simply put a band and a stage in a field and expect an audience to arrive.
No. The rise of city-based festivals is really interesting because there are a lot of advantages to the promoters. They can still brand it as a festival. They can market it as a festival. They can put a lot of good emerging talent in there. A lot of those festivals are really good incubators of new artists. Itís discovery, isnít it? And I think that is something that is unique to festivals. You might have bought the ticket for a particular band (at a festival), but you stumble into things. Itís music discovery, really, and I think that is very suited to how people consume recorded music now though parlance, and curation as opposed to having full album experiences. Itís a whole generation experiencing music. I guess for city-based festivals, itís less of a financial risk to do a series of venue hires, as opposed to having to construct an incredible amount of infrastructure. There are many advantages. Obviously, the margins are still tight on those events. (Sheffield's) Tramlines is a really interesting one because it started out in venues, and it grew and is now at an outdoor site. Liverpool Sound has that model as well.
[The Tramlines festival started out as a free event in 2009; spread across 17 local venues, with acts including the xx and Reverend and the Makers. This year, it boasts three purpose-built outdoor venues, where the likes of Primal Scream, the Libertines, and Kano will play to 20,000 people. Sound City in Liverpool has been attracting 3,500 conference delegates, and a festival audience of some 40,000 people to Liverpool in recent years.]
Festivals like Tramlines and Sound City have a sizable impact on the local economy of their cities.
Yes, certainly along the supply chain. We have our annual audience survey in which we analyze that data over several years in terms of spend. Absolutely, thereís an impact. Like with local businesses where it is helping farmers diversify their income or whether itís with hotels and accommodations, and taxis. All of that supply chain. Itís very powerful to have that information to go to the government and pound and bang the drum for the (festival) sector. Not only do we do festivals, but we put this into the UK economy as an estimated audience spend. We put some figures out in 2015 as part of a campaign called Festival Fever which was a positive news campaign, showing that our members which, as you said is a relatively small proportion of the festivals out there, contributed an estimated £1 billion over a four-year period.
According to the AIF definition, what precisely is an independent festival? The ethos or size of the festival? Isle of Wight would have been classified as an independent festival when run by respected UK live music entrepreneur John Giddings, but with Live Nation now having a controlling stake, it isnít any longer an independent festival?
Well, no. We have a very clear definition based on market share. We set the bar quite high. The definition is based on who canít join, rather than who can. It makes sense with what I would call mid-level operators here, like Kilimanjaro Live, and DHP (DHP Family). Mid-sized ambitious companies are doing a lot of exciting stuff that would go to the independents. Our definition (of an independent) is that they have no more than 5% of the turnover of the global music industry. The last time that we looked at Live Nation, it had just under 25%. So we are setting the bar so that those large independents, such as the Isle of Wight with John Giddings before this takeover occurred, was an independent. It is a definition that has worked for us because itís categorically (explicit).
If you have anything, of course, the word independent refers to ethos; but, if you have anything (a definition solely) based on that, it starts to look like a private membersí club. We are a professional trade association. We have to have a very clear-cut definition. So we take those figures upon people having to declare shareholders and declare their market share. We then cross-check that. We hold it up against the figures that UK Music generate in their report each year of the turnover of the live industry, which seems to be the most reliable information out there. That is what has worked for us. I think that if you are calling yourself an independent than it must be based on market share.
[The Isle of Wight deal further expands Live Nation's festival portfolio, which already spans more than 85 events across the globe, including the Reading and Leeds festivals in the U.K. After 15 years as an independent, the 2017 Isle of Wight that took place June 8-11th was the first under its new majority share owner, Live Nation.
In the March 2017 Isle of Wight announcement by Live Nation, John Giddings said: ďThe partnership with Live Nation will give us the ability to access the companyís scale and talent pool, bringing more acts and a better experience to the UK.Ē]
Research by UK Music in 2016 claimed that more than one in ten festivals will fold amid ever-increasing security and infrastructure costs and tough competition for ticket sales
Yes. It (promoting festivals) is incredibly risky, isnít it? And with those kinds of margins as well. Live Nation, while we are on the subject, the company, as you are aware of, manage over 500 artists worldwide. They are the largest global and UK promoter. They own two of the largest secondary ticketing companies (Get Me In, and Seatwave) in the UK, and they own 17 out of the largest UK festivals over 5,000 capacity. Not to mention their venue portfolio. In terms of the power that they have, and what they can offer to artists, you can understand that is compelling. I think that where it becomes damaging is when you get entities likes these major companies getting into bidding wars over talent. It forcibly inflates the value of talent. We do work with Live Nation on certain projects across the industry, working on resisting increased police charging, or looking at business rates for festivals and events. Wherever there is a bigger threat, we do join up, and we do have a constructive strategic relationship.
[According to a recent SEC filing, Live Nation subsidiaries are now managing more than 500 artists. Live Nation companies now employ over 140 artist managers worldwide with stakes in the United States including Roc Nation Management, 24 Artist Management, Blueprint Artist Management, Spalding Entertainment, LMG Management, Mick Artists Management, Three Six Zero Group, Vector Management, Career Artist Management and Philymack Management.]
A 2014 AIF report noted that 54% of festival audiences in the UK attend a festival for its character, and only 7.7% go to a festival for the headliners. The traditional thinking has been headliners, headliners, headliners. But, thatís not always true.
No. Thereís a change in the model as well. I think the major headliners are a problem. Thereís increasingly a limited pool of legacy artists that are in a position to headline those events. Whereas for most of our members, it is about finding the right headliner for their level. People are very much buying into the overall experience. Thatís what we see. Itís a trend that is repeated year after year. It is over 50% (of the audiences). It is a majority of people saying that they buy a ticket because of the overall atmosphere.
At the same time, there are a lot of similarities of lineups at UK festivals. Audiences might be wary, ďHow many times do I need to see this act?Ē Thatís a valid complaint.
It is, absolutely. It can feel like a rotating door in terms of the major festivals. Some bands can take a year off from doing that one (festival), and then come back, and there are line-ups. Perhaps, itís a generational thing. Fewer people, perhaps, want to stand in the field with a pint of cider and watch their favorite band. There is still an appetite for that but, I think, that younger people, in particular, want to come for other reasons.
You go to Secret Garden Party or Boomtown and itís about building your own wall, isnít it? That unpredictability of having that experience, and having all kind of arts experiences that run across it. That said, there are still spaces for very strong festivals that are completely focused on the music, like End of the Road festival (hosted at the Larmer Tree Gardens, on the border of North Dorset and Wiltshire). It has found its nichť. Itís 15,000 capacity for people who like that sort of music. They will go back year on year. Itís a lovely site, but thereís very little else around it. Itís sort of you are there, here are the stages, and this is the music. People definitely buy a ticket for something like that based on awareness.
I wouldnít say that the music festival is not in danger of dying out, but itís a growing trend of more; the word experiential is so overused, and Iím loath to use it.
In the UK, there are an enormous amount of annual festivals. As you pointed out, the number is exploding, but there have been closures and high-profile cancellations After 15 years, Secret Garden Party has announced that 2017 will be its final outing. The Cornbury Music Festival is also bowing out in July. Are there too many festivals?
Well, yes, and things quite frequently get to a certain point. The marketplace is crowded as you alluded to. I would say that it did feel that a few years ago that it certainly had reached a point that there were too many festivals in the UK. Yet, what I have seen is that the market, like most markets, tends to correct itself. There are consolidation issues in the market, as I said with Live Nation being on somewhat of a rampage, but there has also been the entry of a number of independent festivals.
It is estimated that there are almost 1,000 festivals in the UK. We represent everything from a very small, family friendly festival like Starry Skies (set on the Barton Hill Farm in the Monnow Valley on the Welsh Borders) which is 800-capacity right up to the Boomtown Fair Festival which is 60,000 capacity. Not to sound too downiest about it, but if somebody really doesnít have an original idea or original formatóthey are just putting bands in a field or they havenít exclusive talent or they arenít building an experience or they donít have a unique siteóitís not going to stick around very long. Customers will vote with their feet. They have so many options now; whether that is small scale experiences or the major festivals. I feel quite optimistic about the future. It does feel that there are still some stones to be unturned. I think that something like the launch of Bluedot Festival...
Bluedot--set against a backdrop of the iconic Lovell Telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory near Macclesfield, Cheshire--along with the Deer Shed Festival in North Yorkshire blend music with science, and technology.
Yes. Thatís a new USP (unique selling point), Bluedot, and that really works with the site. I think that itís the second largest telescope in the world against this incredible backdrop. Youíve got this complimentary musical line-up and all of the science activities. It just feels inclusive, and there are a lot of interesting talks, and things to engage with around the site. So yes, that was a strong entry to the market.
Parallels have been made between the UK independent festival marketplace, and the craft brewing industry there. Independent festival organizers, like craft beer operators, can be more focused, and more innovative than the major players.
The craft beer analogy is an interesting one. We had someone from the craft beer industry (a rep from Crate Brewery in London) give a talk at our conference a couple of years ago. The most interesting thing that he said, when he was drawing analogies between the two industriesóand there are quite a few comparisons you can draw without stretching it too muchówas, ďListen, the major breweries always had the capacity, and the resources to experiment to do craft (beer). They could have sent a couple of people off into a corner or a basement and said, ďSee what you can come up with. But itís like with festivals. If the format isnít seemingly broken, why change? You are selling tickets. Youíve got your headliners. You arenít interested if somebody does something else to change the model.Ē
Iíd argue that in this country that Secret Garden Party did a lot to lead the way on that (changing the model). Obviously, a lot of festivals are inspired by Glastonbury and the multi-art approach, but with the Secret Garden Party, the music was kind of a secondary thing. They created a festival very much inspired by Burning Man. They all went out there (to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada), and they tried to translate some of those principals back here in the UK which, believe it or not when that event started (in 2004), hadnít been done. It is standard now that festivals have themes, and unpredictable things, and theatrical things that happen. It really wasnít at the time. So they kicked down a lot of doors. They stuck to their guns on sponsorship and everything. I do think that the independents are in a stronger position to innovate and to take risks. It isnít necessarily all about the talent.
It can be about trying to minimize risk, as well. I realize that the Samphire Festival in Exmoor National Park successfully crowd funding is the exception.
Quite unusual, actually. We also have a member called LeeFest. Very small event (in Kent) that literally started in the promoterís back garden (in 2006) when he (Lee Denny) was a teenager and his parents were away. They said donít have a party so he had a festival instead. A couple hundred people, and a stage in the back garden. Heís grown that event, and he is now 10,000 capacity. He successfully did crowd funding one year to move the site.
His parents wanted him out of their backyard.
Yeah. ďWhat on earth have you done with our garden?Ē
Look at the gladioli.
Completely trampled. What he found was that there is a flip side to crowd funding because all of a sudden you have a lot of stakeholders in the event, and thereís a lot of expectation around it (the festival) from people who put money into it. I donít know about crowd funding as a business model. You look at the Samphire Festival. I see that they have done it again this year and you think isnít it really another form of ticket sales? People are buying access. They might be buying some things around that. Obviously, itís been effective for them in terms of marketing. I spoke to them, and they said that they actually underestimated what they needed. They hit their target and then thought, ďOh shit. We need to double that. Weíd better sell some more tickets.Ē That is a new event, and thereís a lot of energy around it, but it is the exception, rather than the rule, as you no doubt have gathered, for operators. I donít think that there are many dependent on that sort of model. I find, in general, that there isnít a great deal of (arts) help in the UK. We run events around it. There are a few little friends here and there, like arts councils donations, and there are grants that some festival organizers can tap into, but I think that if you are dependent on those things that itís not sustainable for a long-term model.
The basic business model for many UK festivals right now, facing both rising artist and infrastructure fees, are living with tightened margins, low levels of sponsorship, and greater dependence on ancillary income which is difficult to develop. Thatís a tough business model.
It is, absolutely, and in some cases, the ancillary income will prop up or de-risk the undertaking. In terms of our members, it can take multiple years to even break even. Five, six or seven years in some cases. Four years is probably about the average for an independent. If you talk to people in other businesses or other sectors, that seems crazy. Obviously, it is a very different business model for concerts. Thereís great expenditures relating to building a small town in a field that is a festival specific infrastructure. Even a 20,000 capacity festival, it can spend over £700,000 just on festival specific expenditures.
Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, said in 2014 he had seen headline talent fees increase by 400% over a decade. It is being argued that the growing power of major promoters in the UK will stimulate the booking exclusivity of artists as well as influence the touring commitments of artists. How can an independent go up against Live Nation or AEG Live to book an act it might seek?
Yes, and this is the perpetual issue, really. In terms of exclusivity deals, we understand that it goes on. We canít be too much people in glass houses about it because our members do exercise that right with each other as well. So our collective response to it, to a degree, is that itís understandable.
Still some radius clauses in artist contracts can be unreasonable, such as restricting appearances six months before or after a show in the area.
Oh yeah. It (the radius clause) is going down to a lower and lower (artist) level as well. Of course, you have always had that at a headline level, and you have always had radius deals. You donít want somebody playing a show less than 60 miles down the road or whatever. Thatís just common sense in the booking process. But if you are getting down to artist fees at £1,000, and they (the promoter) have exclusivity, itís damaging to the artist, I feel. It is simply a power play, really.
The UK collection society PRS for Music does not differentiate between concerts and festivals. It currently charges 3% under tariff LP for both. A review (The PRS for Music Review of Popular Music Concerts Tariff) was launched in 2015. You warned against the ďcatastrophic effectĒ that a rise to the live tariff would have on grassroots events, and you called instead for a separate festival tariff that will take into account the unique nature of staging music festivals
Yes. We have made this case abundantly clear to PRS. Thereís an urgent need, an arguable need, for a festival tariff. Nothing has been announced yet. We are in the very late stages of negotiations.
Such a model already exists in Ireland with the ďmulti-venueĒ Tariff MS. After all, several AIF festival members donít run a lot of music. They run, perhaps, only 12% music. Do you think you are being listened to by PRS?
Yeah. Iím confident of a positive outcome at this stage. The devil is in the details and the drafting at this point, but we have an agreement in principal, and we are going to see a reduction and a separate tariff for festivals. Obviously, that hasnít been announced yet, but having said that, I am confident that will happen. That they have listened to our arguments.
[Hostility to the PRS tariff is not a recent development. The Concert Promoters Assn. was founded in 1986 to oppose a proposed tripling of the live tariff from 2% to 6% by PRS. The Copyright Tribunal then set the rate at 3%.]
At the same time, how will PRS be able to differentiate between smaller, grassroots festivals and the bigger festivals attracting over 40,000 people.
Itís difficult because the conversations that weíve had with PRS include should there be a separate tariff for small grassroots festivals, but how on earth do you define that, really? Itís now a question of size beyond ethos. Ethos is all very well, but itís a bit of a wooly isnít it when it comes to the application of talent?
(Laughing) Iíd argue that 175,000 revelers descending on a 1,200-acre field in Somerset for the Glastonbury Festival is indeed a small, grassroots festival. You can bet that its founder Michael Eavis does too.
Absolutely. (laughing) We could say that we (AIF festivals) are grassroots because we support emerging talent, but so do the Live Nation festivals, and Glastonbury. Thereís not a lot of distinction in that regard. The only model that is going to work is two different tariffs for the festivals. One for concerts, and one for festivals. They (PRS for Music) have to acknowledge it is quite absurd that they have never really reviewed how they are doing things. The growth of the festivals market, the fact that PRS and its members have benefited hugely from the growth of the live industry. They recently published their figures, and what we have generated from LP (live performance) now is nearly £40 million. In 1988, it was around £1 million. They put their figures out there, and there was quite a substantial growth in live (income) really as it should be.
[PRS for Music has reported a record-breaking 2016 performance with overall royalty income rising year-on-year to £621.5 million]
At the same time, PRS for Music members have lost significant revenue on the recorded music side.
Absolutely, but I suppose that our argument to performing rights organizations would be, ďYou canít punish us for declining revenue elsewhere because recorded music is very much in a transitory stage...Ē
If music doesnít have any value to your members, then they donít have to use the music. You use it, you have to pay for it.
Yeah, and we would never dispute that. Absolutely. Itís important. So much as artists are paid very well paid by festivals...
You canít argue that. At least in the UK, there is something that we call a festival fee...
Hold on, you are talking, of course, about the booking code of conduct developed a few years ago that sets out a fair rate of pay for short-term contracts for artists.
It is just a guide in principal. We work with the musicianís union on that. We donít want to impose contacts and be incredibly stringent. Here are some guidelines and these are the expectations from both sides. Hopefully, it just reflects largely on what is already going on, but you canít be compulsive about that. Perhaps, some members, and some people just starting out with festivals do need a bit of guidance. I wouldnít deny that artists are the lifeblood of the business. Without them, there is no business and that includes my business. They are already making a substantial amount from live. I would say that it is a bit of a misconception that all of the money and the power has shifted to the live industry. Perhaps, at the top end, but as we have already seen at a more grassroots level the margins are incredibly tight, really.
While revenue from streaming lags behind past revenues from recorded music, revenue from all PRS tariffs, and fair booking fees have become even more important to artists.
Yes. And you can understand that live is so integral to an artistís career now, isnít it? The agent is involved at a much earlier stage. The agentís job is to maximize what they can get for their artist. We completely get that. The nature of it being a one-off show I can understand that it would attract more (of a fee) than being part of a touring circuit. It is a slightly different model, and those artists obviously add a lot of value to the festival.
UK festivals have for years had significant levels of security, right?
In the immediate aftermath of the May 22nd Manchester Arena bombing, UK venue and festival operators began reviewing their security procedures. Was increased security on the table a year ago?
Yeah, yeah. Because of everything that you could assume could happen in the aftermath of the Bataclan attacks in Paris. You can understand that audiences attending festivals will have concerns. All you can do is strike a reassuring tone really, and say, ďOur events are expertly organized with very good security, and there is a dialogue with law enforcement, and there is a lot of information sharing. I think that it would be helpful for promoters to point out some of those measures to the public, actually. The fact we have specific training. I attended a training event that dealt with the exact scenario that happened in Manchester. People in an arena.
[The May 22nd bombing of the Manchester Arena was the second terrorist attack on a major music venue in a European city in less than two years. On Nov. 13, 2015, terrorists stormed Le Bataclan Theater in Paris during an Eagles of Death Metal concert, killing 89 people in an attack that also involved multiple locations around the city.]
After the Le Bataclan Theater attack, many UK venues introduced metal detectors and other measures. But the Manchester explosion occurred in an atrium that housed a box office outside the gate, and thus the metal detectors would have been ineffective.
It is indiscriminate, isnít it? I think some of the media reporting about it was a bit unhelpful as well. You saw a few things where they interviewed people saying, ďI didnít have my bag searched going into the arena.Ē Well, it wouldnít have mattered because it was outside the arena in a public area. If they had searched every bag going in...unfortunately, it (the bombing) took place in a public area between an arena and a train station. Any public space with any public gathering can, potentially, be a soft target. Obviously, that was a horrific incident.
In recent years in the UK, there has been a vast increase in intelligence and dialogue sharing between local police and festivals.
Yeah. With our festivals, there are a lot of things that are obvious. Security measures are constant being reviewed. Thatís always a tough priority, isnít it. Audience safety is...
You can never fully safeguard any live music event. And while promoters want a security presence, they donít want one overshadowing their event. The bottom line is that we live in an open society.
Yes. Absolutely. My initial feeling from talking to people I donít know anyone who hasnít gone to a gig because of it (the Manchester bombing). There is a little bit of a defiance here to live your life and go about your business, really, because what else can you do, really? There have been attacks on the Tube. In Britain, we had issues with the I.R.A. for years and in public spaces as well. You canít become complacent about these things, but you have to balance vigilance with respect. A lot of these plots are followed by the security services before reaching fruition, thankfully. This one in Manchester got through, unfortunately.
The UK, being closer to the worldís hot spots, and with free market movement within the European Union, is more of a target.
Thatís certainly a factor, isnít it? I think that all you can do is introduce additional measures to review. We have to re-assure the public that we are open for business, and we say that concerts and festivals are safe, enjoyable environments. Just a few weekends ago, we had three major events: The FA Cup Final; a large concert by the Cortinas in Manchester; and the Radio 1 Big Weekend in Hull. There was increased police presence in place at all of those events. I think that the public confidence is gradually being restored. You canít diminish it (concerns) because there have been losses of life. Of course, kids are attending pop concerts. The parents....how could it not have some kind of effect on how you look at that? If we need to invest in additional security we will, and that is part of our duty as license holders.
Where are you from?
New Durham City a few miles out of Newcastle, but I moved to Newcastle for university, and spent 10 years there.
You started out in music being a DJ and promoting events with local bands MaxÔmo Park, and the Futureheads?
Yes, thatís correct. At the same time, I was studying. I just wanted to break into the industry and get as close to it as I possibly could. So I DJed. I started off a lot of club nights, and I worked at a record shop job. I started doing my own shows primarily with regional bands, but with some touring bands as well. They were very small shows from 100 people up toóI think that the largest show that I did was with MaxÔmo Park with 2,000 capacity at the Academy. It was good to get to that level as an independent promoter. It was a good way of learning the business as well.
Promoting at that stage is a good way of burning through money
Those bands were very popular. Those ones would bankroll the more developmental ones that you do where you lose or break even.
You worked for three years at Generator and edited its industry newsletter, The Gen.
Generator was a music development agency funded to do various projects in the region. They had various live music programs to develop promoters regionally, and build connections between promoters, and they would also run showcases for artists across the region. The work was increasingly national in scope. I kind of learned the live side of things being there for three years. I was doing stuff alongside that. I was still promoting my own shows. I ran a very small record label as well called Longest Mile Records. With one of my friends who played in the Futureheads--I used to promote a lot of their shows--we started this label. We put out a few 7-inch (releases). The Shout Out Louds from Sweden. We did some good things. It was fun.
[Among the Longest Mile Records releases were by Catweasels, the Paper Cranes, and This Ainít Vegas.]
You donít do the label anymore.
No. I was always a bit more connected to live, and that was where my knowledge was, really.
Then you went to the dark side, working at the classical music center The Conservatoire in London.
Yeah, you could call it that, certainly (laughing). That was a bit of a detour, really but I had moved to London, and I needed a job. Itís how these things go. I was head of operations there. I ran the building, and the various projects we did, and events as well. I was managing a team of 7, and you learn a lot of useful management skills doing that. It is one of those things that at the time you are thinking, ďThis is not where I want to be.Ē You donít realize that you are accumulating a lot of useful stuff that will come in handy down the road. All careers are like that, really. I could write it down on paper now, and it kind of makes sense, but at the time, it really doesnít feel like that. You are just concerned about the next step. I eventually got back to working (in live music). I was still always working at festivals while I was doing that. I was doing things on site at Secret Garden Party, and the Evolution Festival. Stage managing, doing artist liaison, doing whatever was going on. I was still connected to festivals, but there was a point where I felt that I needed to get to doing this.
The recent arrival of ex-Labour MP Michael Dugher as the new chief executive of UK Music is seen as a positive step forward. UK Music, of course, provides a united voice for all of the music stakeholders in Britain.
Yes. Itís a very effective channel as well. I sit on the Live UK Group which effectively represents live industry. We have direct conversations with the government. We meet with DCMS (the Department for Culture, Media & Sport). We brief ministers, and MPs who are interested in participating in the APPGs (All Party Parliamentary Groups). We do all of that independently. UK Music is the umbrella body. It is in a powerful position to directly speak to the political community and to distil issues--things like business rights, and festival and event concerns. Issues that we brought to UK Music, weíve gotten debates triggered in the Commons and had debates in the Lords. It helps to exert pressure on those things. It is very useful.
It is also very useful to sit around the table with the CPA (Concert Promoters Assn.), the Agents Association, PSA (Production Services Assn.), and MVT (Music Venues Trust)--all the acronyms--and just take the temperature, really of where everybody is at. Try to map out some future connection points and collaborations because I think that we are siloed in our own festival world sometimes. UK Music is a great way of plugging into the wider audience.
Michael Dugherís background as a former shadow culture secretary for the Labour Party will no doubt be useful. Heís both savvy politically, and well-connected.
Oh, absolutely. His relationships across the community are incredibly strong. He seems to be a very strategic thinker, as well. Itís no small task (heading UK Music). It can be like herding cats representing festivals so to represent the interest of varied music bodies that often have their own agendas will be very interesting.
And dealing with their expectations of government.
Absolutely and you have every sector trying to kick down governmentís door. Everybody wants a reduction on their side. Everybody wants a change of legislation. It will be interesting to see how Michael takes that on, but I do think heís well placed for the for the role. It will be interesting to see what comes next.
[Former Labour MP Michael Dugher brings a lifelong passion for music and the arts to the role as chief executive of UK Music. During his tenure as shadow culture, media and sport secretary, he campaigned for the rights of small venues, and backed the ďagent of changeĒ principle, which requires developers who build near already established music venues to pay for soundproofing and other measures.]
If Brexit is eventually implemented, is it likely to have an impact on touring musicians?
Yes. There are concerns on the impact on touring musicians.
Leading up to negotiations, there is a lot of uncertainty.
Exactly. Itís been triggered, the countdown is on, but what it will do for the industry is unclear. What is interesting this season is that our members are experiencing an uplift in sales from the rest of Europe. Itís not all gloom and doom but there are concerns around if it if becomes more complicated to work across borders. Is Germany going to be a less stable framework? Thereís the currency situation. It (Brexit) raises more questions than answers, really.
With cultural issues, nobody wants a closed market. Germany can do without British beef, but not British artists. And vice versa.
Absolutely. I think that it cuts both ways. There are probably opportunities in there as well as threats. But itís happening. The process may be full of uncertainty to some extent, but I think that we have to get to a point of pragmatic acceptance of it; whether you agree with it or not, itís about how are we going to work through these issues, really. The festival market, to my mind, is definitely developed as a Europe-wide market with Europe-wide audiences. I donít see that changing. But whether we have restrictions placed on touring musicians we will have to see. I do think that it is important that our industry is involved in forming our governmentís approach.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book ďMusic From Far And Wide.Ē
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.
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