Lazy Agents And Moaning Roadies

No sooner had the festival season ended than London’s autumn conference season began, with Live UK’s “The Summit” being the first of three this month.

The number of delegates was marginally up on the 250 or so it pulled last year, which was the first time the magazine staged the event.

Spanish promoter Neo Sala, head of Doctor Music and one of a handful of visitors from mainland Europe, described it as being “very much like ILMC in its early days.”

It’s about a quarter of the size of ILMC but the panels are better attended, largely because The Summit never holds more than two at the same time.

Sometimes the best-attended ILMC panel is the big one that happens in the foyer of the Royal Gardens Hotel and lasts all three days.

This year The Summit’s success was partially because the panels – particularly on the second day – all developed the same underlying theme, based on the premise that every dollar created by the live music business has at least a dozen people wanting to grab a piece of it.

Regardless of whether it was planned that way, it kept cropping up and it soon became obvious that the problem could be caused by the rising number of snouts in the trough.

The conference could also be said to have been about lazy agents and moaning roadies, but both sectors fought their corners well and were convincing when justifying the importance of the roles they play.

Both have safe seats at the trough, but – during the Going Global session – a delegate suggested that agents are lazy about exploring new territories for new acts.

Agency Group chief Neil Warnock and Paul Boswell – who worked for Warnock for more than a decade and now heads Free Trade Agency – bristled at the idea.

The other three panelists looked bemused, probably because agents are paid a fixed percentage of the revenues they produce and are often the first to take a financial risk with an act.

Warnock and Boswell had their own ways of explaining this and made their points clear. It was a rare instance where two agents saw eye-to-eye – well, at least for about five minutes.

When they’d justified their position in the food chain, Boswell went on to say that an agent can’t really work more than a couple of fledgling acts at any one time. Later in the day, Jeff Craft from X-Ray Touring said there are too many fledgling acts. He also gave his take on Charles Darwin’s theories about natural selection.

Warnock was put into an amusing situation when another delegate asked how he felt about U.S. conglomerates such as Live Nation, AEG, Creative Artists Agency and William Morris Agency setting up shop in Europe.

The delegate asking the question might not have been aware that Warnock opened The Agency Group’s first U.S. office in New York more than 15 years ago, which is long before any of the U.S. companies took root in European soil. The company has had an office in Toronto for 12 years and another in Los Angeles for seven.

As for the U.S. conglomerates, Live Nation chief Michael Rapino and his European team would have been pleased to hear Simon Watson of Sidewinder Management, which looks after a rejuvenated Human League, say the company has had a friendlier face since the break from Clear Channel.

Further along the food chain, the production industry was putting forward its claim for a larger slice of the pie. Dick Tee of Dick Tee Enteetainment, one of the U.K.’s best-known production managers, said clients are trying to drive harder bargains while soaring diesel prices are applying pressure from the other side.

He gave an example about a job he did this summer on a budget of £1 million and how the client has now asked him to produce the same in 2009 for £50,000 less.

“The trouble is that producing the same next year will probably cost £50,000 more, so effectively the budget has been cut by £100,000,” he explained.

The case for wanting a bigger budget, apart from rising fuel prices, is that acts are asking for more elaborate productions.
Roly Oliver from Britannia Row and Des Fallon from XL Video also reckon the supply and equipment side needs to hold its ground and let artists know they need to pay up or scale down.

The panel, which was chaired by Andy Lenthall from the Production Services Association and included Phil Addyman from Star Events and lighting designer Rob Sinclair, was unique for a technical panel in that the audience understood everything being discussed – probably because the subject matter mostly involved money rather than the technical aspects of production.

John Giddings from Solo, which produces Isle Of Wight Festival, and Stuart Galbraith from Kilimanjaro Live agreed that the major outdoors have taken money away from the indoor touring circuits. Galbraith is known for developing Download Festival while he was with LN and is now building his own festival portfolio in cahoots with AEG.

The panel was called Fields Of Gold and dealt with the health of the U.K.’s outdoor market, which is so crowded that it looks to be fuller than capacity.

Chris Greenwood from The Big Chill said there were 4,500 festivals in the U.K. in 2008 – nearly 90 a week if the season lasted the whole year. He said that number doesn’t look sustainable.

The consensus was that major events like Glastonbury, Isle Of Wight, Reading, Leeds, V and T In The Park will continue to prosper along with boutique events such as Latitude, but the crunch will come for mid-size and small events.

About two dozen small festivals folded in the U.K. in 2008, a situation that has resulted in only the most spectacular collapses being reported. Small outdoor events come and go without ever having a sentence written about their arrival or demise.

As live work has become an act’s best business area, they also want to maximise the income from it. The situation makes Jeff Craft from X-Ray Touring think the whole live music business is due for a shakedown.

He said artists are taking an increased interest in their live business affairs. What was once an item on a tour budget that was settled by a record company is now getting closer scrutiny as acts want to know what function people are performing and whether they’re worth what they’re being paid.

In other words, the whole food chain needs to look at what it does, how well it does it and how much it takes out of the pot.
Craft said acts are starting to want to know exactly where every penny of the ticket price goes and how much more of it can be re-directed to their pockets. They want a bigger part of every live music dollar and are looking at every conceivable way of getting it.

He warned the business that everyone will need to justify their positions. Those getting more than their contribution deserves will be pushed aside, which alone will be “a good thing” for the whole industry.

Craft said he negotiates a deal on a ticket price that doesn’t actually exist because most are sold for more than face value, which suggests his first target could be the secondary ticket market. Touts have soared up the food chain but very few acts have tapped into how to make a dollar out of it.

Ticket touts looked to be high on Craft’s list of species that should be facing extinction.

He also said the outdoor market is suffering because there are too many festivals and the whole business is suffering because there are far too many artists.

He questioned why any act with only a couple of records and a bit of press behind it needs to be given a noon slot on a festival, when most of the crowd are still in their tents and apparently still comatose from the previous night.

His point came as a stark warning that the days are numbered for the greedy and mediocre, predicting that many of them will be weeded out in the coming months. Darwin couldn’t have put it better.

Craft also believes upping the ticket price even further will be a repetition of the greed the recording industry went through in the ’80s and ’90s, when people began questioning whether the product was worth the price. CD sales dropped alarmingly.

So the Oct. 9-10 conference was a down-to-earth appraisal of the current state of the U.K. live music business. Having seen off the rival Music Week bash that debuted and died in 2007, the event appears to be in a good position to build on the positive reports that will follow from this year’s gathering.

The next conference on the October list is Musexpo Oct. 27-29, which has run in the U.S. for three years and will make its U.K. debut at London’s Cumberland Hotel.

It bills itself as “the United Nations of Music & Media” and has announced an impressive list of heavyweight speakers.

The lineup includes Aussie promoter Michael Chugg, Sony U.K. chief Ged Doherty, BBC Radio One head of music George Ergatoudis, Stuart Galbraith, U.K. promoter Harvey Goldsmith CBE, German promoter Ossy Hoppe and Sire Records Group chairman Seymour Stein.

Musexpo also has evening showcase gigs at London’s Borderline and The Metro, which have been produced in cooperation with Brighton’s The Great Escape Festival.