Purely About Booking Agents And Festival Bookers

When Greg Parmley, who took over ILMC from founder Martin Hopewell two years ago, starts another live music conference, the industry takes it seriously. 

The International Festival Forum (IFF) premiered this year on Sept. 31 and Oct. 1 in  in the heart of London, catering exclusively to agents and bookers.

The end of festival season marks the beginning of the next, which is why another music conference made perfect sense to Parmley. “The reason for doing IFF in London at this time of the year is that you have this situation where a lot of the international festivals will come to the UK and start conversations about the following year’s festival season,” Parmley said. “You’ve got all this activity happening in London as it is, so why not focus it around one event and have a great networking platform where people can meet more people than they would normally?”

 The numbers proved Parmley right. More than 400 delegates from all over Europe found their way to Camden to take part. It was sold out almost two months in advance. While the mornings consisted of panels and workshops with networking breaks in between, the afternoons belonged to the agents who supported the premiere. X-Ray Touring, United Talent Agency, Primary Talent International, Leighton-Pope Organisation, ATC Live, Coda Agency, Pitch & Smith and ITB all showcased their priority acts for the upcoming season.

Before or after the gigs, each agency would gather all of its members on stage and answer questions from a crowd of live music professionals. This new Q&A format was the idea of Jeff Craft at X-Ray Touring, according to Parmley. “It was during one of the really early meetings that we had with X-Ray about becoming involved in IFF,” Parmley said. “He thought there was a need for a new format so we tried it. It’s a way for festivals to put faces to names within the agencies and for the agencies to be talking about who they are and what they’re up to.”

UTA’s Geoff Meall, who took the stage with his colleagues after the agency’s showcase, said that “more questions being asked would have been useful,” but that the format “seemed to have been received well by the audience.”

He also appreciated the opportunity to see the other agents at their respective Q&A, which “ensured a big turnout of agents from each company.” Adds Parmley: “It’s about the individuals. And I think there is a shift towards agencies being a lot more open and communicative with promoters and with festivals. Some of the London agencies have a very open-door policy.”

The morning panels tackled topics such as the trend of agents and festivals bypassing local promoters to maximize profits. Has loyalty become a lost word? Is it time to rewrite the rules? Those were questions posed by FKP Scorpio managing director Stephan Thanscheidt to a panel consisting of Codruta Vulcu (ARTmania Festival), Meall, Stefan Juhlin (Pitch & Smith) and Sebastien Vuignier (Takk Productions).

Greg Parmley gets a high five from Bluesfest's Peter Noble

On the second day Kim Bloem (Mojo Concerts), Gareth Cooper (Broadwick Live), Markus Gottschlich (Miami Beach Jazz Festival), Dany Hassenstein (Paléo Festival Nyon) and Rich Moffat (GTM Festivals) tried to come up with a formula of success for future events when the age of headliner-driven festivals will be coming to an end. The workshops were a lively back-and-forth between speakers and audience.

Music Ally’s social media wiz, Nikoo Sadr, impressed the early risers on Thursday morning when she took charge of the “Facebook for Festivals” workshop. The original plan had been to interview Facebook’s Niall Fagan but he canceled on short notice. Sadr whipped up a presentation out of old slides and explained to a small crowd of festival promoters how to make the most of Facebook promotion and advertising.

The day before, Serge Grimaux (Intellitix), Karim Fanous (Music Ally) and James Cobb (Crowd Connected) talked about the fascinating possibilities of data for the live industry. They arrived at the conclusion that the live industry hasn’t yet realized the potential of data analysis. “Festival organizers still base most decisions like ticket pricing on empirical experience. It’s alchemy. Data could turn it into science,” said Grimaux. IFF’s highlight was an interview led by IQ Magazine’s Allan McGowan with John Giddings, the founder of Solo agency who saved the Isle Of Wight festival because he had a soft spot for it ever since witnessing Jimi Hendrix’s set in 1970.

Giddings made it clear that he would not launch another festival “in a million light-years.” He explained: “It is too risky a business. The more successful you are, the more humble you should be.”

Giddings talked about his journey through the live business, working his way up through M.A.M. Agency, then ITB, which he had founded with Rod MacSween, and finally going Solo. He admitted that in his early days “it was like pretending to be a promoter but not knowing what we were doing.”

Well, that has certainly changed. The artists claiming the three top grossing tours ever are still on Giddings’ roster: the Rolling Stones, U2 and Madonna. Dealing with artists of that magnitude, he realized that what had started as a mindless journey (that often involved a lot of drugs) had turned into an actual business. “You can’t bullshit your way through anymore,” was how he put it. For Giddings, after almost 40 years in the game the most satisfying thing still is “when you hear a tour manager tell someone else how well he was looked after or how good it was at your event.”

At one point Giddings joked: “Why do you hold a conference in a lap dance club?” referring to the workshop room in Camden’s Proud venue, which is entirely covered in smooth red velvet. We forwarded that question to the man in charge of IFF.

Parmley burst out laughing: “I didn’t hear that. That’s awesome. IFF is about the grassroots industry. It’s about new bands and new relationships with younger bookers and less experienced agents.

“It was really dictated around finding a venue that we could have two live spaces in. And we had to accommodate the delegates, have a networking bar etc.”

The networking took place in the stables, which are exactly that: former horse stables. At IFF they served as lounges shut off from the general buzz. Dividing the program into two parts, with talks in the morning and music in the afternoon, worked well.

Keynote at IFF in London

Thomas Roscheck, Marketing & PR Supervisor of Luxemburg’s renowned Rockhal venue, enjoyed the fact that the program wasn’t too packed, which led to a very relaxed atmosphere that could be felt throughout the venue.

Meall, too, “preferred it to the usual extremely time bandit way of hundreds of promoters visiting the office between September through December. I enjoyed it immensely – seemed a lot less formal than ILMC.” Thanscheidt called the first edition a “thorough success” that brought “together the agents and festival promoters of Europe in wonderful Camden with a good mix of panels and shows.”

Concludes Parmley: “We thought that we could get to 250 delegates. As it stands it’s well over 400. That obviously tells us that there’s a demand for an event like this, that people want to have this platform. So I think we’ll definitely be back next year.” – Gideon Gottfried