Business Ethics: Why do we alien-ate each other?
Chair: Alex Bruford, ATC Live (UK)
The timely subject of ethics and best practice in the live industry provoked an unsurprisingly lively discussion when the question of profit versus fairness was debated.
Alex Bruford from ATC Live kicked off the panel by reading out the dictionary definition of ethics (“distinguishing between right and wrong human actions”) and asking if people in the business even cared about doing the right thing.
The general consensus from all four speakers – was that, while many grey and murky areas still remain, the industry is gradually moving towards a more ethical footing – although more work still needs to be done.
“The music business can be and has been a real important and fertile ground for being progressive and trying new ideas,” enthused Tudhope. “It’s been intriguing to see what is happening, just in the last year, in the music industry, which is that people are looking forwards and realising that more ethical behaviour not only feels good, but is also good for business.”
“As far as I’m concerned, when it comes down to ethics it’s a question of whether you want to be able to sleep well at night. I’m one of those people who, over the years, has probably made less, but slept better,” elaborated Harris, noting that music business remains, at heart, a “relationship business.”
“There’s a whole load of under-the-table stuff going on in the industry,” he told delegates. “But at the end of the day, if you’re keeping a dirty little secret and the person you’re working with finds out, then [that’s] going to kill the relationship. In terms of long-term sustainability, you want to be able to look people in the eye.”
It was a view shared by his fellow panellists who went on to question whether booking fee rebates and hidden kick-backs should be cut out of the business. The contentious issue of high ticket prices and headline acts increasingly demanding between 70–80% of a festival’s programming budget, leaving little for smaller artists, was also raised with Harris asking “now they have reached the top of the tree, is it right to pull the drawbridge up behind them?”
“NOW THEY HAVE REACHED THE TOP OF THE TREE, IS IT RIGHT TO PULL THE DRAWBRIDGE UP BEHIND THEM?”
Galperin suggested that deals needed to be structured better to help promoters who risk 100% of the losses in return for 20% of the profits. “Mathematically, that doesn’t really work,” he said, between quoting the theories of philosophers Aristotle and Immanuel Kant.
Angus agreed, saying that everybody in the business had a duty to recognise that it “doesn’t make sense to squeeze the last drop out of promoters, because you’re going to need them next week or next month.” The aim for everyone, she said, should be “building long-term careers, rather than a flash in the pan,” and that ethics and business “were not mutually exclusive.”
Examples of ethical behaviour cited by the panel included an artist giving up 50% of their festival headlining fee when the event ran into trouble and threatened to bankrupt the promoter. Tudhope spoke about Mumford & Sons 2011’s Railroad Revival Tour, where the profits were split evenly between all three bands on the bill, despite the fact that around two thirds of the audience were there to see Mumford.
“The winds of change are blowing,” surmised the manager, praising the Internet for bringing more transparency and, in turn, more ethical practices to the recorded music industry. Nevertheless, the live side of the business remains “at least ten years behind,” he said.
“We’re still pretty old fashioned. The Internet revolution has come to us and, unfortunately, the version of it that we’re living in right now is the Napster-piracy version where companies like Viagogo and StubHub, who have no part in our business whatsoever, are acting like parasites and taking money away from our fans in an appalling way,” lamented Tudhope, saying that anybody in the business working with those companies “needs to take a long, hard look at themselves.”
Nevertheless, Harris saw hope for the future with the greedy boom-and-bust years of the 1980s and 1990s giving way to a more ethical generation that “has had to reimagine the business.”
“That’s a cause for optimism,” he said, adding, “It feels more like the 60s than it does the 80s, which is a good thing.”