The Open Forum: The big round up
Chair: Phil Bowdery, Live Nation (UK)
Ruth Barlow, Beggars Group (UK)
Ian McAndrew, Wildlife Entertainment (UK)
John Meglen, AEG Presents Concerts West (US)
Steve Strange, X-ray Touring (UK)
Neil Warnock, United Talent Agency (UK)
Having been welcomed to ILMC 30 by Gordongo the Destroyer, the alien lifeform with the inexplicable Scottish accent, as is tradition, Live Nation’s executive president of touring, Phil Bowdery, opened 2018’s Open Forum session with a look at the previous year’s vital statistics, highlighting the remarkable growth of the industry in 2017.
Per Pollstar‘s end-of-year rankings, the top 100 tours grossed close to US$6bn – a near-16% year-on-year increase – while tickets sold grew 10.4% to a record high of 66.79 million. Bowdery also spotlighted the business’s increasing internationalisation, with a greater number of non-US venues cracking the top 20, as well as the continuing health of the international festival market. “I’m not sure what it all means, but hopefully it’s good news!” he said.
Turning to terrorism, and specifically the atrocities committed at Manchester Arena and Route 91 Harvest, John Meglen of Concerts West/AEG Presents described the attacks as “devastating,” saying: “You hate to see things like that come into our business.”
Meglen, UTA’s Neil Warnock and X-ray Touring’s Steve Strange all said the need for increased security has had a financial impact on their business, with Meglen saying insurance premiums have increased and Strange speaking of artists increasingly demanding sweeps of arenas before they play shows. However, said Meglen, “the important thing is that we want people coming to see our shows to feel safe.
“It’s costing us a lot more money, but I don’t give a damn about that.”
Onto #MeToo, and while the music business hasn’t yet had its own “Weinstein moment,” Ruth Barlow, head of live at Beggars Group, said it’s clear there’s still much work to be done on ensuring the industry is more diverse. “There’s an imbalance,” she commented. “Women are half the music listeners, half the ticket buyers, half the bar take – and as an industry we need to be more reflective of our audiences.”
“To me, diversity means respect,” added Meglan. “Our company is run by women, and to me, the important thing is the respect I have for these people – you respect smart people, and you give them an opportunity.” Ian McAndrew of Wildlife Entertainment said that while his roster is “mostly male,” he sees that changing as “we [the industry] give more opportunities to female talent.”
“AS AN INDUSTRY WE NEED TO BE MORE REFLECTIVE OF OUR AUDIENCES”
As the panel’s recorded music biz representative, Barlow then spoke on the growth of streaming and its impact on the wider music business. While music streaming has had a “seismic effect,” she said, the format is “still in its infancy, and we don’t know how it’s going to play out in the long-term.
“We’re swimming in our billions of dollars – well, Beggars aren’t, but Universal are! – but at the moment no one knows whether [that growth] is going to continue.”
Discussion soon turned to the ‘booking war’ between AEG’s The O2 and Staples Center, and MSG’s Madison Square Garden and the Forum – block booking is “totally fucked” and hurts artists, said Meglen, although he added that “we didn’t start it” – and the industry’s arguable reliance on heritage acts, with Meglen noting: “So much of our revenue is still driven by legacy artists. I don’t know if there’s a cliff coming up – but I hope not.”
Looking to the year ahead, Bowdery concluded by asking panellists about their wishes for the next 12 months. Strange spoke of his hopes that “we can keep this live industry thriving” and “everything on an upward ebb,” while Meglen said he’s looking forward to seeing the next generation of promoters come through: “I’ve got one career goal: for it to end!”
Warnock hopes to keep developing his artists, as does McAndrew, who said breaking new talent is “the only thing that quantifies success for me.” Barlow, meanwhile, wants to continue to push for greater equality – as well as “finding some really great new artists.”
The panellists then exited stage left – everyone but Neil Warnock, that is, who was told by Bowdery to stay put. It soon emerged that Warnock, who is celebrating his 50th year in the business, was about to be on the receiving end of anniversary wishes ILMC-style, as promoter Paul Loasby and his wife Christa came out to pay tribute to the visibly moved Agency Group founder.
Also wishing Warnock many happy returns were Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze and Europe’s Joey Tempest, who each recorded a video message.