London on crutches – thoughts on the (in)accessibility of festivals – Emma Webster

Back at the beginning of October I tore my calf muscle playing badminton – I have been on crutches ever since, although my leg is getting stronger daily. Whilst at no point wishing to suggest that I could understand what it is like to be chronically disabled, it has given me a small insight into mobility issues at festival about which I was previously less cognisant.

The EFG London Jazz Festival (LFJ) is predominantly venue-based – some of the fringe Streets events take place in the open air, but most, if not all, of the LJF events are indoors and most are seated. One of the things audience members have told me is that they like the variety of the Festival, in that it spans some of the largest venues in London to some of the smallest. While the larger, Arts Council-funded venues have to have an equality action plan, smaller venues do not generally have to abide by such rules and hence accessibility, or the lack thereof, may be an issue. Continue reading London on crutches – thoughts on the (in)accessibility of festivals – Emma Webster

Ten Things Learned at Venues Day 2014 – Emma Webster

Venues Days on 9th December 2014 was the first of its kind in the UK, gathering together around 120 independent music venue representatives from England, Scotland, and Wales, and around 300 delegates in total to London’s Southbank Centre. It is apparent that small venues are struggling for a variety of reasons, and, as the author of this article points out, ‘It’s time to have a real, honest conversation about how bad things are right now’. However, the organiser of the event – Music Venue Trust’s Mark Davyd – told us that the day was not meant to be a wake, and in general there was a very positive collaborative feeling to the day, albeit tempered by the many stories of venues struggling against noise abatement orders and licensing reviews. As ever, Live Music Exchange was there to observe, so here follow the ten things we learned over the course of the day.

  1. A show of hands in the room indicated that there was general consensus that there should be some sort of national union for (small) venues – an association of independent venues, if you like, perhaps along the lines of the Association of Independent Music (AIM) or the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF). As one speaker pointed out, ‘Everyone else in this sector has an organisation that stands up for it – where’s ours?’ It was suggested that such a body could assist with sourcing reliable lawyers, planning consultants, and insurers; could organise mediation sessions between venues and enforcement officers; and would provide a useful network for venues around the country, particularly for venues in trouble. While one delegate asked for a show of hands to vote to see whether Music Venue Trust (MVT) should be the body to take on setting up such an association, it was felt that people hadn’t yet had time to consider the options. As Mark Davyd pointed out, MVT needs to be asked – ‘you collectively need to give permission to someone to set up the group’ – but also that MVT might not be the right body. It does need somebody to take the idea forward, however, and to build on the momentum of Venues Day, so watch this space. Matt Booth from Sidmouth’s Drill Hall highlighted the Live-DMA European venue network as both a model and as a pre-existing network to which UK venues could perhaps become members. Live-DMA was established in May 2012 to represent small and medium sized popular music venues and festivals; it started in France and has spread from Scandinavia to Spain. Live DMA is now an umbrella association made up of ten national networks of venues and festivals, and now represents 1,300 venues and festivals in Europe. Other interesting ideas from the day as to how to assist the small venue sector can be found in this article.
  2. The most surprising (and perhaps welcome) part of the day came when Mike Weatherley, Tory MP for Hove and Portslade (until he steps down at next year’s general election) and founder of the Rock The House competition, told the 300 or so delegates that the government might be interested both in tax breaks (akin to those given in 2014 for theatre production) and in directly subsidising live music venues. For the Musicians’ Union, Horace Trubridge suggested that the private sector (record labels, publishers and festival promoters) should invest in grassroots venues. Trubridge also suggested that venues take a cue from orchestras and carry out more outreach work; to this end, he encouraged venues to establish links with schools to get children into the venues to learn about sound and lighting at an early age. (The idea is also politically motivated: Trubridge feels that children’s parents might be more amenable to music venues if their children are enthusiastic users of them.) Ben Lane from the Arts Council encouraged venue owners to get in contact to see how Arts Council England can help them. While it was unclear what form this might take, Lane was keen for venues to contact him to start a conversation about what kind of financial help might be available. While he admitted that the Arts Council was ‘not the answer to all your prayers’, he said that ACE can help venues to take risks. (A show of hands indicated that the majority of venues in the room had not applied for Arts Council funding before – another delegate pointed out that small venues are necessarily entrepreneurial and may be nervous about funding because it can mean lots of forms, reports and paperwork.)
  3. One delegate asked for live music venues to be recognised as cultural centres rather than as simply businesses. A show of hands revealed that pretty much all of the venues represented in the room subsidise their live music offering with club nights and, as one delegate pointed out, the danger here is that councils will overlook the cultural aspect of venues in favour of their commercial nature if they are perceived as nightclubs.
  4. Another issue under discussion was whether we need an Agent of Change principle – this places the onus on the party who has disrupted the status quo (by moving in next door, for example, or putting on live music); the idea was first mooted in Australia as the ‘right of first occupant’. A useful model as to how the Agent of Change principle could work in practice is contained within the City of Sydney’s Live Music and Live Performance Action Plan, which contains a whole raft of recommendations as to how local authorities can support live music. For example, other recommendations include: designated live music and performance areas such as Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley; education and induction programmes for council staff about cultural policies and support for live music; mediation processes for residents, businesses and venues; and the commissioning of data on the sector, similar to the state of Victoria’s live music census (also see Martin Cloonan’s article for a comparative analysis of popular music policy in Scotland and Australia).
  5. One panel at Venues Day was dedicated to talking about noise. According to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, officials apparently received 10,500 complaints against pubs and clubs in 2012/13, 25% of which were actionable and 253 of which led to noise abatement orders. At Venues Day 2014, Lisa Lavia of the Noise Abatement Society raised some delegates’ hackles when she described noise as ‘a hygiene issue’ but later explained that she meant that it could be solved in a similar way to a health & safety issue. (Although as acoustic consultant Andrew Jarvis pointed out, ‘there’s no such thing as sound proof’ as sound will always pass through walls.) Dom Frazer of Guildford’s Boileroom was also keen to point out the subjectivity of noise and questioned how council enforcement officers are being trained as to what is acceptable. Another delegate posited that back street pubs should be busy and therefore noisy (‘quiet community pubs are closed community pubs’) and that noise in the street should be accepted rather than trying to be squashed.
  6. Another of the factors behind venues’ decline is that tour support for touring artists has hugely decreased over the past decade and hence tours are not subsidised by record labels in the same way, but no new investment has come into the sector (apart from via national promoters such as Live Nation, more of which later). Another factor is that while 15-20 UK date tours used to be common, 6-8 date tours are now more common. Agents are now often asked to schedule tours across the whole of Europe in just three weeks, meaning that many venues lose out. When asked why artists couldn’t play two shows if there’s an audience for it, or play five weeks if demand is there, The Agency’s Geoff Meall explained that artists should ‘leave business on the table’, i.e. leave demand in the market and sell venues out rather than playing to emptier rooms.
  7. Musician Jehnny Beth of Savages noted that musicians she has spoken to outside the UK have been telling fellow musicians not to tour the UK as ‘it’s so bad’. In a panel about what makes good venues great, she went on to list such qualities from a musician’s point of view, citing London’s now defunct Luminaire as an example of a really great venue: good customer service; promoters arriving on time and knowing what’s happening; a good PA; clean microphones and cables; help with loading in and out; a sound engineer present before and during the gig; a safe place to store backline; a secure backstage area which is warm, has mirrors, and a place to sit down, away from the soundcheck; sympathetic positioning of branding/sponsorship within the venue – she doesn’t want to play in front of a huge Red Bull sign, for example; signs asking the audience to respect the music and for bar staff to be quiet as well, particularly for quiet acoustic music; and treating all artists the same way – support artists as well as headliners. Her final point was that if you treat artists well, artists will put on a better show.
  8. The elephant in the room across the entire day was that nobody mentioned the influence of national promoters and venue operators such as Live Nation or the Academy Music Group’s network of O2-branded academy venues. Either there has been no impact (unlikely) or perhaps because nobody wants to rock the boat and upset booking agents or other industry figures. The lack of discussion about national promoters and venue operators is in marked contrast to the AIF’s Festival Congress in Cardiff in October 2014 at which James Scarlett of AIF member festival 2000Trees vented his spleen about the tactics of festival promoters such as Live Nation and Festival Republic, in particular around exclusivity deals.
  9. One delegate brought up the issue of sexism within the sector, explaining that as a female musician she gets treated very different to her male counterparts, particularly by sound engineers. In general, a quick analysis of the gender balance at Venues Day 2014 from the delegate list showed that approx. 35% of the listed delegates were female, which is gratifyingly high compared to other similar events (25% at the Live UK Summit in 2008, for example), especially combined with strong female representation at the event both on stage and behind-the-scenes.
  10. The day ended with a scenic two-hour boat trip up to Chelsea and down to Tower Bridge, helped along by a free bar, which was all subsidised by agencies including Coda, X-Ray and ITB. However, as one delegate who refused to get on the boat said to me, ‘But if only all that money could have gone into helping struggling venues …’.

The majority of people in the room raised their hands when asked whether they wanted a Venues Day 2015 so Live Music Exchange will be there next year, hopefully to welcome in the new Association of Independent Venues.

Live Music 101 #3 – Why Concert Promoters Matter – Matt Brennan and Emma Webster

In the third of our series on the theories that underpin our research into live music, Matt Brennan and Emma Webster attempt to define the promoter and how they operate, in an extract from ‘Why Concert Promoters Matter’, originally published in Scottish Music Review in 2011.  The authors analyse existing accounts of live music promoters and offer their own analysis of what a promoter is and does, concluding that promoters may use one or more of three basic models of promotion within rock and pop: ‘independent’, ‘artist-affiliated’, and ‘venue’.

Our first task is to clarify what we mean by a concert promoter.[i]  Dave Laing writes that: ‘the term ‘promoter’ is widely used in the music industry to describe the person or company responsible for the physical organisation and presentation of a concert or festival’, which can be taken as the minimum requirement for what a promoter does (2003, p. 561). Keith Negus fleshes out this definition by describing some of the tasks a promoter may be responsible for, including ‘hiring venues, arranging stages, sorting out public address systems and lighting, employing caterers and security personnel, advertising the show and coordinating the sale of tickets’ (1992, p. 130). The promoter in both of these definitions is the person organising the technicalities of the show, and all that that entails, a view echoed in various music industry guides and industry organisation (National Music Council, 2002) and government reports (Competition Commission, 2007). It is also the promoter who has responsibility ‘for ensuring the safety of both the public and the artist during the course of the gig and for conforming with licensing regulations’ (Music Managers Forum, 2003, p. 23). Added to this, it is promoters who (theoretically, at least) bear the brunt of the financial, social and personal risk of promoting a show; they are the people hiring the acts and the venue for an event in a gamble that may or may not pay off. ‘Promoters take nearly all of the financial risk in organising a tour or concert, usually guaranteeing artists a minimum income from events. Their role includes costing events and tours, and booking venues’(Competition Commission, 2007, p. 13).

From these accounts it is clear that a promoter’s role is simple to define but complicated to describe. A live event happens because someone—a promoter—brings together performer and audience in a given space at a given time, and generally does so in a commercial transaction (musicians are paid to perform, audiences pay to hear them) that the promoter organises and plans to profit from. But the number of things that must happen for an event to take place can be extremely varied (and expensive) and it is this institutional complex to which ‘the live music industry’ refers. The live music industry is the professionalised network that exists to stage a certain level of live music events. It includes professional agents, promoters, tour managers, sound engineers, crew, ticketing companies, transportation companies and so forth. This industry may have little or no bearing on a sizeable proportion of do-it-yourself or amateur live music events that routinely occur in the UK but neither are these events completely irrelevant to the way in which the live music industry works. Even as we become familiar with the money-making strategies of new global promotional companies like Live Nation, the small-scale enterprise of idealistic (and/or decidedly shady) entrepreneurs at a local level remains equally significant for an understanding of the live music sector as a whole.

To return to the clarification of terms, agents are obviously a key profession in the live music industry, and the roles of promoter and agent would seem to be easy to distinguish. Thus Paul Charles of the Asgard Agency suggests that the role of promoter is to promote and produce the show (Charles, 2004), leaving the choice of artist, venue, and ticket price in the hands of the agent, who acts as a ‘valve’ between the promoter and the artist or their manager (Music Managers Forum, 2003, p. 221). This view is echoed by the Competition Commission which argues that an agent’s role includes planning concerts and tours, agreeing the venues where the artist will perform and then appointing a promoter to produce the shows (Competition Commission 2007, p. 13). Whilst such accounts assume that the division of responsibilities between promoter and agent is straightforward, the reality of the situation is much more complex. A promoter may also be an agent (and, indeed, a manager or a performer) and in practice roles within the music industries are continually shifting. For example, managers now routinely book their acts and even put out their records, while record companies are moving into the merchandise market and the record retailer, HMV, has moved into promotion and venue ownership.

The emergence of Live Nation as the largest promotional company in the world has challenged the common-sense definition of a concert promoter even further. Live Nation – a spin-off from US-based media giant Clear Channel created in 2005 – claimed to produce over 22,000 concerts for 1,600 artists in 33 countries in 2008 (Live Nation, 2008b), and is responsible for tours, festivals and other events, using both its own venues and others’ if required. The company also made headlines when, under the direction of former chairman Michael Cohl, it pursued multiple rights or ‘360-deals’ with major artists, acquiring rights to touring, merchandising, sponsorship, ticketing, and broadcast and digital media rights through direct deals with Madonna, U2, Shakira, Jay-Z and Nickelback.[ii] Although Live Nation has now since ceased pursuing such deals (Cohl, who was the driving force behind the 360-deals, left the company in June 2008), its current strategy is developing a one-stop distribution system for the consumption of live events and any related products and services. This distribution system could include tickets, merchandise, albums, or any artist-related product yet to be designed, and is built on the development of a long-term relationship between customer and brand, aided by databases containing millions of customers’ contact details and history of concert attendances (Reynolds, 2007, pp. 393-401). As evidence of its attempts to consolidate its vision of a one-stop distribution system for live entertainment, Live Nation’s most significant announcement in 2009 was a proposed merger with global ticketing leader Ticketmaster, a merger that was finally accepted by the Competition Commission in 2010.

With the rapidly shifting changes in music consumption affecting the traditional roles and responsibilities of the music industries, how does one now define the role of a concert promoter? Are promoters corporate entities? Gig organisers? Rights holders? The image of the promoter as individual entrepreneur does seem to be increasingly misleading, at least for medium sized and large events. These days the ‘promoters’ of such events are likely to be just the ‘rep’ for a promotional company, rather than the person who actually organised the show. As one agent puts it:

The truth is that the promoter is now rarely more than a figurehead. There are teams of people doing everything. In the good old days, the promoters would do the divvy up at the end of the night directly with the manager. Nowadays, the promoter’s accountant will do a 90-minute settlement (usually during the course of the artist’s performance) with the artist’s tour accountant. The promoter will still make sure he does a bit of back-slapping PR with the act, the manager or the agent to ensure he protects his position for the future (Charles, 2004, p. 140).

Comparing previous attempts to define the role of the promoter, it becomes clear that the term is used in a myriad of contexts and can describe a huge range of different functions. ‘Promoter’ is a word freely ascribed to individuals, small partnerships and companies, or vast multi-national corporate entities. One could potentially use a framework to simplify the network of intermediaries that bring together the artist and audience to create a live music event, such as the following (see Example 1):

However, such separate roles are frequently performed by the same person: artists can promote their own gig; an agent may hire a venue and put on a concert of the artists they represent; or, in the case of Live Nation, a company may own a venue, organise the publicity for a concert and have an exclusive rights agreement with the performing artist. Further, given the multitude of live music events that happen each year in the UK, many of which are outside the professionalised live music industry, distinctions between ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ blur, even within the event itself. For example, a promoter may use an agent to book a headline band but book a friend’s band as support without going through an agent (or paying a fee). Defining the role of the promoter in a way that can be applied across our range of case studies is not a simple task.

In an effort to explain the complicated nature of the rock/pop concert promoter, and given that promoters are described in a variety of ways and have a wide range of functions, our own approach begins with the premise that the role of the promoter is by its nature flexible and operates within a matrix of factors constituting the structural, the personal and the external. Structurally the matrix might include the following: the promoter’s level of responsibility and geographical remit (a promoter may operate locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally); the organisational scale and structure of their promotional operation; the conventions associated with particular music genres, and so on. The personal level of the matrix, which overlaps and interacts with the structural level, might include: whether the promoter is motivated by commercial or cultural interests; whether the promoter is ‘professional’, ‘semi-professional’, or ‘amateur’; the promoter’s own musical tastes, and so on. Finally, within the external level of the matrix, the role of the promoter will depend on how the other actors who may have a stake in the live music event are involved in the event itself, including the artist, the audience, the technical crew, publicists, record label, venue, agent and artist’s management. It is also possible that the promoter, in addition to fulfilling the role of ‘promoter’ (however it is defined), has additional roles as any one of the actors listed above. In this way, another common characteristic of the promoter—as with many occupations within the music industries—is a position integrated with another part of the business of music (or ‘wearing several hats at once’).

Despite the complexity of the promoter’s role, we think it is possible to categorise three basic models of promotion within rock and pop:

i) the independent model whereby the promoter acts as a facilitator whose income comes via door receipts. The amount of income is based on the share of profits or guaranteed fee that the promoter has arranged to pay the artist, depending on the contractual agreement, and the promoter hires the venue and the artist for the event.

ii) the artist-affiliated model whereby the promoter is linked to the artist in some way (or in some cases, is the artist), and therefore collects income from door receipts and performance-associated fees, whether directly or indirectly. The promoter will usually hire the venue for the event.

iii) the venue model whereby the venue acts as promoter or is provided as an empty shell for external promoters, either hiring the artist for their own event or leasing the venue to another promoter/promotion company. Even in the latter case income will be made from bar takings and catering.

Concert promoters may favour one type of promotional model over another but they are certainly not restricted to it, and in practice will adjust their role from one event to another depending on the particularities of any given concert.

[i]  The research project in which we were engaged investigated all forms of concert promotion. For the remainder of this blog post, though, we focus on promotion in the pop/rock world.

[ii]     Nickelback’s deal is for approximately 10 years (3 cycles) and the rights acquired include touring, tour sponsorship, tour merchandise, tour VIP/travel packages, secondary ticketing, recorded music, clothing, licensing and other retail merchandise, non-tour sponsorship and endorsements, DVD and broadcast rights, fan club, website and literary rights. Live Nation anticipated Nickelback’s financial performance over the term of the deal as earning $700 million in revenue, $60 million in operating income, with a margin of 9% and an internal rate of return (IRR) of 32%. Note that this deal does not include potentially lucrative publishing rights (Live Nation, 2008a).