Who Cares About LN-TM?

The International Live Music Conference (March 12-14) barely set sail before Carl Leighton-Pope asked the Talking Shop session who really cared about the LN-TM merger and who it would affect.

There were no raised hands, not even from the few people in the room who work at CTS Eventim’s London office. This raised a question over why the UK’s Competition Commission has been pushed into spending so much time and money on it.

What was expected to be one of the weekend’s major talking points had been shrugged off in a couple of minutes.

The uncertain economic climate, another potentially big talking point, doesn’t look to have affected ILMC. It sold out its 1,000 capacity in advance, although the number of delegates who registered too late to be included in the conference directory suggested the take-up may have been a little slower than in previous years.

The conference was themed around a sea cruise and – with two of the major topics covered in minutes – it was questionable whether the captain could have just turned the boat around and taken everyone back to port.

Only Leighton-Pope knows how much of his two-hour stint he’d allocated to massive mergers and shrinking economies, but he wasn’t fazed and his butterfly mind was soon landing on alternative topics.

He dabbled with the idea of dynamic ticketing but passed over it, seemingly sensing that his outspoken support of Viagogo may not play out well with those in the audience who fiercely oppose even the slightest mention of any secondary site.

Would dynamic ticketing work at ILMC? If the economy does start to bite, perhaps the full-access ticket including all the sessions could be put on sale first. Then, if there was still space for more delegates, some half-price tickets could be put on sale. But they wouldn’t get you any further than the bar and the lunchtime catering.

This year’s conference had an impressive lineup of panels and panelists, but historically the ILMC daytime sessions have usually been more memorable – and more exciting – when they’ve ended up a step short of being a slanging match.

Perhaps it needs a devil – or at least one of his advocates – a US corporate set on European expansion or UK ticket companies that buy in bulk and resell at huge profits, contending that they provide a reliable and trustworthy service for the benefit of music fans.

It’s a fair point that debate shouldn’t descend to bar-room brawl, but it’s possible to learn a lot about both sides in an argument when they’re screaming their heads off at each other.

This year it would have needed CTS Eventim head Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, LN chief Michael Rapino and a Ticketmaster rep on the same panel. It would have been difficult. At the moment it would probably be difficult to get the German and the American companies in the same building.

Even then it may have turned out to be a damp squib. Live Nation UK president Paul Latham, who deals closely with the CC on an almost daily basis, should tell the monopoly authority another reason for not opposing his company’s merger with TM is that, apparently, nobody cares about it.

The ILMC discovered this during Leighton-Pope’s opening session. It also found out that radio stations in Belarus have to dedicate 75 percent of their airtime to national acts. Leighton-Pope seemed more bothered about the people of Belarus.

As the agenda didn’t have anything that had the potential to turn into a bare-knuckle fight, being in the right place at the right time – when four panels are going on simultaneously – was probably a matter of luck.

Belgian economics minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told Melvin Benn’s The Politics Of Live session what his country may do to legislate against ticket touts. It turned out being one of the most informative panels of the weekend.

The following day’s Booking Ring seemed to lose its bearings and drift into a sort of Bermuda Triangle, only to emerge in another time zone nearly 20 years in the past.

The session got around to agency contracts. It’s been there before, when agents once decided they could better protect themselves by signing their artists. The idea is based on the premise that getting engaged to your fiancé will prevent him or her from being chatted up by anyone else. It may still work if all the agencies stick to it. It will stop working when one of them breaks ranks and gets a much sought after act by working without a contract.

Leighton-Pope, possibly wishing the topic had come up in his Talking Shop session, pointed out that there are only a handful of major agencies in London. He said it should now be easier to get them all to agree on contracts.

He said it’s even more important for the major agencies now because they’re responsible for providing so much of an artist’s income. An agent is a service provider but some people in the room believe the industry may not be far from the point where they’ll need to invest in acts, helping to plug the hole left by the lack of record company tour support.

Leighton-Pope also reckoned acts would probably be so impressed with the rosters and offices of the large agencies that they’d sign the deal in the lift.

In his own session he said he was an optimist, and that Pollstar had often suggested he’s too optimistic, but it still takes a massive leap of faith to believe UK agents – even two of them – are going to be able to agree on a standard industry contract and stick to it. They’d be too busy worrying about the wording of the key man clause.

One of the sessions that didn’t invite any sort of cynicism was Ed Bicknell’s Sunday morning interview because the subject was Michael Eavis, dairy farmer, Glastonbury Festival founder and one of the most endearing people in the global music industry.

He’s not always the easiest person to interview; a great conversationalist but occasionally difficult to pin down to a Q&A format.

Nevermind pinning him down, Bicknell’s first problem was getting him to sit down. Eavis preferred to stand at the front of the stage and address the audience.

The former Dire Straits manager and William Morris UK chief is a good interviewer and draws the right stuff out of people, but this year he demonstrated another skill by just letting Eavis get on with it.

That’s exactly what happened, as Bicknell’s tactic – if he had any choice – meant everyone learned more about Glastonbury as well as dairy farming.

“Are you a farmer?” was Eavis’ first response to all questions on how he combines his two roles or anything relating to Worthy Farm and 600 cows and heifers.

As always, he came over as a thoroughly nice bloke and the audience thoroughly enjoyed listening to him. Nobody asked him what he thought about the LN-TM merger.