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Summit report 2017

Matt Bates, Paul Crockford, Andrew Zweck and
Neil Warnock during the Masters of the Universe panel

THE IMPACT of the far-reaching influence of Live Nation Entertainment (LNE), the best solution for beating ticket touts and how former agent and Dire Straits manager “bluffed” his way to getting the band, were among the highlights of the LIVE UK Summit.

Held at the Radisson Blu Portman Hotel in London’s West End, the 11th edition of the annual conference and networking event, took place on 12 October with more than 300 delegates in attendance.

The Masters of the Universe panel brought together some of the world’s top agents, United Talent Agency’s Neil Warnock, Sensible Event’s Andrew Zweck and Primary Talent International’s Matt Bates, to share their experiences and observations – moderated by Paul Siimon and Mark Knopfler Manager Paul Crockford.

“I know a major promoter in Europe who lost four acts in a year [to LNE],” said Zweck, who represents Roger Waters, Mark Knopfler and booked Depeche Mode’s tour for 25 years. 

“He had done every show they had ever done in that territory but because Live Nation opened competitive offers he didn't even get a phone call. He just found the tour on sale with Live Nation. He said, 'I'm losing business and the only way I can compete is to join another big consolidated global team’.”

He added that there was also a growing trend of emerging acts getting “big pay days” of $20-30 million advances for long-term touring commitment.

The trio also touched upon the changes in international markets, with China and India opening up. 

“Five years ago I didn’t do anything there, now I have 10 bands there every year,” said Bates, whose roster includes The 1975, Alt-J and The Libertines.

Long-time agent for David |Gilmour, Deep Purple, Dolly Parton and Alice Cooper, Warnock noted, “It’s not the record labels dictating the tour around the album anymore and the world is a bigger place to play in now. 

“We are booking our artistes right the way through South America, Mexico and into Cuba and then right the other way through Eastern Europe, through Russia.” 

Stopping touting

Presented in association with anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance What Price Ethics? brought together Ignition Management’s Alec Mckinlay, Music Glue’s Mark Meharry, and MPs Sharon Hodgson and Nigel Adams to discuss ways to prevent artistes and fans being ripped-off by ticket touts and facilitating websites. 

Mckinlay, whose acts include Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Catfish and the Bottlemen, explained how he had worked with promoters, agents and venues to personalise tickets to deter the Big 4 resale platforms – eBay-owned Stubhub, Viagogo and Ticketmaster’s Get Me In and Seatwave – from listing them. 

“You have to be consistent in doing it and repeatedly remind customers about bringing ID to a venue, as this is new behaviour,” Mckinlay said. 

“You also need to communicate with secondary sites and make it clear you will not tolerate this activity [louting] and will enforce a ban. The first time we did it with Noel, they [Big Four] didn’t think we would see it through and there were 10-100 people being turned away each night.”

Although the approach can be brutal Mckinlay explained the aim was not to punish fans, but the ticket agencies.

“They don’t want fans on their doorstep the next day complaining,” he said.

Co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse Hodgson revealed that Facebook group Victim of Viagogo, which was set up by Claire Turnham – also present – following an alleged ‘glitch’ in the resale sites system that led to overcharging (see LIVE UK issue 206), had recouped £173,000 in refunds.

“There’s still 1,460 people waiting to join the group and get help, so that could be another £100,000 to be recovered,” said Hodgson. 

She also disclosed that the result of the Competition and Markets Authority’s investigation into the Big 4 and whether they were complying with the Consumer Rights Act was due to be announced before Christmas. 

Festival innovation 

The dominance of LNE was also broached during Fields of Dreams, with DHP Family’s Anton Lockwood, Paul Reed of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) and Goc O’Callaghan of 2000 Trees and Arc Tangent Festivals debating problems surrounding exclusivity deals.

“I had booked an act and another bigger festival agreed a deal with them so they dropped out,” said O’Callaghan. “It damages our brand and there was nothing we could do about it. We are fighting a big corporate company to get the bands we need.”

Reed told delegates exclusivity deals can falsely inflate the value of artistes, with Lockwood, whose company runs events including multi-venue Dot to Dot and Nottingham’s Splendour (cap. 25,000), explaining this could mean having to spend an extra £20,000 on a headliner - money which could result in increased ticket prices or a reduced bill.

“Making offers stupidly early is the only way to circumnavigate exclusivity,” Lockwood said.

However, the panel felt the squeeze on the market helped generate more innovation and creativity among independent festivals, and they also felt Glastonbury (cap. 140,000) festival’s fallow year in 2018 would have little impact on the sector.

Legendary tales

In one of the most popular sessions The Live Story: Ed Bicknell saw the manager of artistes including Mark Knopfler and Bryan Ferry share stories from his career, among them how he became Dire Straits agent and then manager.

“I needed an opening act for a Talking Heads tour in 1978 and had £50 to spend,” said Bicknell.

“I saw Dire Straits playing at [London club] Dingwalls and Mark had a red Stratocaster like Hank Marvin, and I said I’d like to manage them purely on that.”

When the band visited him at the NEMs agency, Bicknell created an elaborate “bluff” to make himself appear more successful – placing gold and platinum album discs by the Beatles and Deep Purple strategically around his office. 

“I also told the receptionist to keep ringing me,” explained Bicknell. “Each time I’d say ‘tell them I want £10,000’ and put the phone down. I got the band and it changed my life.”

Bicknell was also brought in by US agency William Morris to launch its London office in 2007, although the corporate environment wasn’t for him. 

“I knew after two weeks I’d made a mistake, but I lasted two years,” he said. 

The Winning Ticket with Skiddle’s Ben Sebborn, Nick Blackburn of Eventim UK and Paul Newman from AXS, featured Blackburn revealing there is still a demand for souvenir tickets and Sebborn extolling the virtues of data.

“It’s about getting the message out to people where they are spending their time, through notifications,” he said. “People expect the information to come to them now and you need to know data about a customer.” 

In The Risk Factor, Robomagic Live’s Rob Hallett, joined by The Gig Cartel’s Rupert Dell and Alex Murray from One Inch Badge, spoke about how he started as a promoter in Brighton, approaching pubs and asking to put on gigs.

“You need to be an entrepreneur and be inventive,” said Hallett. “I think that is still a great way to get into promoting. The saddest thing about promoting though is you live and die on the night.”

From the bottom up

Focusing on the grassroots sector, Stairways to Heaven featured The Boileroom’s Duncan Smith, Juicebox’s Live’s Luke Hinton, Rickey Bates of Joiners Live and Liza Buddy from Chaos & Bedlam.

“I book what I like, as its very important to care about what your booking,” said Smith, on the topic of bringing acts to the venue.

The panel agreed that there needed to be more loyalty from promoters and agents when it came to supporting grassroots venues.

“We invest in bands first by putting them on and then when they start making money they are taken away from us,” said Bates.

Hinton adds, “We don’t want to hold bands back, but it’s good for them to come back and do underplays and put something into grassroots for us.” 

Further sessions included Money For Nothing?, exploring funding and grants for emerging acts, and Crossing Streams, discussing opportunities from live show streaming and direct-to-fan applications, both of which were presented in association with the Music Manager’s Forum.

The Live Music Business Awards, which followed the Summit at the same venue saw Neil Warnock pick up the Outstanding Contribution award.

Warnock who received video tributes from artistes such as David Gilmour, Alice Copper, Dolly Parton and Status Quo’s Francis Rossi, was presented with the honour by the CEO of music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins, Julie Whelan. He is chairman of the charity’s fundraising committee.

"I'm still loving what I do,” said Warnock, who celebrates more than 50 years in the business. “Every day I’m building my clients careers, working with them, seeing that they're happy and developing what they want to do with their lives as they go forward.”