The UK live music industry conference – Live UK Summit 2012 – was held at the Radisson Blu Portman Square in London last week. Three representatives from Live Music Exchange – Adam Behr, Matt Brennan, and Emma Webster – attended the event. Here follows their combined ‘Ten Things Learned from the Live UK Summit 2012’:-
1. Representatives from Live Music Exchange first attended the Live UK Summit in 2008, at a time when the industry appeared to be booming (according to PRS for Music, consumer spending on live music reached £1.54 billion in 2009, up from £1.39 billion in 2008). The format of this year’s conference had changed, however, so that the conference ran over a day and a half, as opposed to a full two-day conference in 2008; 2012’s conference also included the Live Music Business Awards, now in its third year. One positive trend appeared to be the greater numbers of women at the event, both as delegates and panellists.
2. The umbrella group, UK Music, were perhaps surprisingly absent at the conference – an omission commented on by a number of delegates.* One remarked that since Feargal Sharkey had left abruptly in November 2011, the organisation is ‘falling to bits’ and that it ‘needs to regroup’. A number of delegates commented that the live music industries ‘need to speak with one voice’ particularly when dealing with government. One promoter, Jef Hanlon, remarked during the ‘Music Chamber’ session that he was very hopeful that UK Music could act in this capacity; others seemed less optimistic. It should be noted that it is only since May 2011 that UK Music – which was launched in September 2008 – now has representation from the UK’s live music industries, in the form of the UK Live Music Group (members include the Concert Promoters Association and the Association of Independent Festivals, among others).
3. Following on from the previous point, there is clearly still some distance to go in terms of the live music sector’s effectiveness in lobbying. Notwithstanding the recent Live Music Act – itself the result of a very protracted campaign – recent activities have relied heavily on interested parliamentarians lobbying within their own party. Politicians from across the floor noted that part of the problem seems to be a tendency to begin the lobbying process at a high level without sufficient attention paid to local MPs who will bring the matter up with ministers. Labour MP Sharon Hodgson compared the live music sector’s activities to the lobby for Special Educational Needs, whose ground level approach, she suggested, helped to make their presence felt. Conservative Mike Weatherly also noted that people getting involved at constituency level might help to push music to gain more traction and Liberal Democrat Lord Tim Clement-Jones spoke of the advantage of smaller promoters and artists – individuals – getting their voices heard in the political lobbying process.
4. A further disparity in how academics, industry, and MPs perceived the effectiveness of lobbying was illustrated when Lord Clement-Jones suggested that the music industry had been ineffective in lobbying for copyright term extension in sound recordings and also in shaping the Digital Economy Act (DEA). He felt that internet corporations like Google and Facebook successfully framed the debate in terms of citizen rights for internet freedom – whereby the notion of ‘citizen rights’ was used as a mask to hide the vested interests of Google and Facebook – versus profit-hungry recording companies who wanted to hold onto antiquated models of copyright revenue These comments stood in stark opposition to our perception that record labels had in fact been very successful at lobbying for term extension and the DEA.
5. Our research into promoters in the UK has produced a number of typologies – see Brennan and Webster’s three basic models of promotion, for instance. It was interesting to note that the Live Music Business Awards typologises geographically, and therefore in terms of scale – categories for promoter of the year were ‘national’, ‘regional’, and ‘indie promoter of the year (local impact)’.
6. Nottingham-based venue managers and promoters, DHP, won the National Promoter of the Year award at the Live Music Business Awards 2012. The company own a number of venues in Nottingham – including Rock City – and one in Bristol (Thekla); they also hold the book for Oxford’s Jericho Tavern. When asked, Promotions Director Anton Lockwood explained that it had only been in the last couple of years that the company has expanded nationally and now promotes around 1,200 gigs a year in England, enough to compete (successfully) with the likes of SJM and Live Nation Entertainment.
7. The Leadmill in Sheffield – infamous for rather aggressively booting out gig-goers at 10pm to make way for the lucrative disco from 10pm till 2am – has been forced to change its model. In the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ panel, General Manager Rupert Dell stated that the ‘boom years’ were between 2000 and 2008 but now the venue had had to rethink its gig/disco policy. He explained that now the gigs were allowed to run on till 11pm or 11.30pm and that the gig-goers were allowed to stay in the venue for the disco without further charge; the thinking being that those who were coming for the disco would be able to enter a room that already had people in it to make it seem busier and more enticing. (As someone who was often a victim of the Leadmill’s ‘boom years’ policy, this is a very welcome move!). Another point made by Rupert Dell is that in the seventeen or so years that he has worked at the Leadmill, he had always been somewhat sniffy about tribute acts, but that this has now changed; indeed, the general consensus of the panel was that venues should ‘take what you can so long as it makes you money’, and that ‘you’re closed unless you’re open’. The representative from DHP venues admitted that ‘our venues survive through selling Jaegermeister to students’ and that such events were venues’ ‘cash cows’.
8. The full disruptive effect of digital technology on live music has yet to be felt, but is coming. The most optimistic sessions seemed to be those surrounding technology. Patrick Walker – Head of YouTube Music for Europe, the Middle East and Africa – noted that there have been a lot of technical changes behind what the user sees that have vastly improved the reliability of streaming to the point where it is close to being as reliable as TV but on a global scale. This will have significant effects on the business models for streamed concerts, taking them into the realm of television and radio where they have to balance the advantages of paid content against sponsored content, as radio and TV currently have to do. At the moment acts, promoters and agents are using the communicative nature of the internet to minimise risk. Songkick’s new service ‘Detour’, for instance, allows acts to get ‘pledges’ (money up front) from fans so that they can book tours around where they can be certain of demand. But as streaming technology improves, it seems plausible that the disruptive effect on the delivery of live music could be approaching the MP3 moment whereby domestic technology and the digital infrastructure allow for a much bigger shift in consumption patterns. Two related issues surrounding this are that changes for consumers are most likely to revolve around mobile devices. The majority of panellists were sure that the growth in the use of mobiles as the first port of call for much consumer computing pointed to the future for music marketing. Adam Perry, CEO of BandApp, illustrated this point by noting that, after their keys, a mobile device was the second thing that most people ensured they left their home with as well as pointing towards the massive growth in Google searches on mobile (a 30% increase on last year). The second is that the privacy issues that have started to dog the social media sector may make incursions into music. Pitches around technology all pointed towards the size of the databases that were held, including information from mobile phone companies, the NHS and Standard Life (for example, from customer loyalty schemes or employee benefit schemes). Obviously these are transparent insofar as they’re written into the small print of agreements for end users but consumers will increasingly have to bear in mind the amount of information they’re sharing when they buy a concert ticket.
9.We learned from the sustainability / green issues panel that one in six tents (and equipment) are left at UK festivals every year (a conservative estimate); whether punters leave their tents relates to the demography of the festival in question and to the weather, however. Initiatives such as Love Your Tent are going some way to address this problem; of import to festival promoters are that landfill costs continue to rise, therefore dealing with waste becomes a vital factor in their profit margins. Also related to camping, the ‘Fields of Gold?’ panel highlighted how camping at festivals is a fairly UK-specific phenomenon, pointing out that festivals in the States or Japan have very little overnight camping, often because the local authorities would not allow camping fields to operate in the same, somewhat haphazard manner.
10. John Giddings of the Isle of Wight Festival stated that there were 850,000 applications for Glastonbury Festival 2013 for 150,000 tickets. He pointed out that Glastonbury has not announced any headliners and noted what a rarity this is among the festival industry; however, he also highlighted 80s-themed Rewind Festival as another event which sells out with no advertising and no headliners, putting this down to the demographic of those who attend.