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Saving The Golden Goose: Improving The Live Experience

23rd September 2010 @ 6:30 pm - 9:00 pm

Venue: The Basement, PRS for Music, Copyright House

INTRO: In the first of our Year Zero series of think tanks, MusicTank asks how we can improve the general public’s experience of live music, and in so doing protect an increasingly vital income stream?

Over the past decade the well-documented collapse of the recordings business has been at least partially offset by the growth of the live industry.  Whereas tours were once viewed as expensive promotional jaunts that rarely broke even, hitting the road has now become the main source of income for many leading artists.  Indeed “live will solve our problems” has become a well worn catchphrase at many a music industry boondoggle, but in the rush to make money from our golden goose, are we about to turn her into foie gras?

Conclusions from this session will be fed into the Live UK Summit’s 7th October Mass Movement panel.

TOPIC: At present the UK boasts the most successful live market in the world, with six of the world’s top ten earning venues.  With combined tickets sales of £2.9million for the first half of 2010, at first glance it would appear that everything is rosy, look closer though and you’ll soon start to notice things aren’t all they seem.

With digital music revenues still failing to make up the decrease in physical, concerts and related merchandise have made up some of this shortfall.  As a result we’ve seen several major changes to the way the industry works – from 360 degree deals, to the likes of Live Nation signing acts like Madonna in place of a traditional label deal.

Whilst the grassroots live business has, on the whole, continued to offer good value for money, at the top end, where the big money is made, we’ve witnessed a modern day gold rush, as companies look to live to fill the holes in their balance sheets.

With more and more people looking to get in on the action and with artists’ growing dependence on touring revenue, booking fees have risen, ticket prices have followed and just as night follows day, the past twelve months has seen a surge in the number of tours, concerts and festivals underperform or even be cancelled.

Whilst the world limps out of the worst recession in recent history ticket prices for major tours have continued to rise.  No wonder then that more and more people are baulking at paying these inflated prices, especially when many ticket buyers who have begrudgingly paid exorbitant prices have seen those same tickets drastically reduced in price as the event date gets closer.  Canny ticket buyers have begun to realise that where tickets are concerned only fools rush in, which in turn has reinforced the impression of an embattled industry.

Meanwhile after years of growth the festival market faces oversaturation, at one point in 2009 it seemed like anyone with access to a plot of land larger than an allotment was hosting a festival.  The result has been an increasing number of festivals going under, from newcomers jumping on the bandwagon right through to established events such as The Big Chill.

Despite these warning signs promoters continue to complain of rising artists fees, and PRS for music are undertaking a review their slice of the pie, with the smart money suggesting their review will conclude they deserve more.

All this before even considering the age-old issue of often exorbitant booking fees, credit card charges and ticket delivery fees, all seemingly set to scalp Joe Public for every last remaining penny.  If that weren’t enough a recent study from the Office of Fair Trade reveals that one in 12 festival tickets sold are fakes, with the average loss to each fan being £80.

The end result, ever higher ticket prices, even more underperforming shows, a continually disappointed public, and the slow death of the live business.

But who’s to blame?  The artists and their agents?  With live promotion one of the few reasonably secure artist income streams, it’s natural for their agents to push for more and more.  Talk to any promoter though and within minutes they’ll be complaining about the increasing and sometimes unrealistic demands of booking agents.

Should the promoters share some of the approbrium?  After all it seems that whilst the going was good they’ve been more than happy to pay whatever is demanded and just offload the cost onto the public.

At the next MusicTank we’ll ask what can be done to give the public a better experience.  In one encouraging sign, promoting and ticketing powerhouse Live Nation/Ticketmaster recently announced they are working towards offering cheaper tickets.  However the public need more protection from the glut of scam sites that regularly spring up promising tickets to see their favourite artists, just to rip them off.

We’ll hear from artist managers, booking agents and promoters, those working at the coal face of the live industry.  We’ll learn how healthy the business looks from their perspective, what the future holds for them and importantly how they believe we can continue to benefit from live without us ending up with a very deceased goose on our hands.


Let’s not beat around the bush.  Faced with enormous challenges over the last decade the music business has often been slow to adapt, slow to evolve and slow to innovate.  Unfortunately the rest of the world has been adapting, evolving and innovating at an unprecedented rate, leaving the recordings sector in particular struggling in its wake.

That’s done and dusted, old news, spilt milk.  There’s a brave new world out there and if we just continue to play catch up we will always end up with situations where the new technology continues to have a (negative) disruptive effect upon our business.

Yes album sales are down, but we can’t keep on blaming everything on ‘piracy’ as that just gives the lie to the idea that if we can somehow eliminate filesharing (which might never happen), we will once again be in the pink.  We need to take stock of where technology has taken us and where it’s likely to go and develop ideas, push concepts and seize the initiative.

This season’s think tank series ‘Year Zero’ – has been put together with exactly that in mind.  While not every event will be technology-based, the focus will be on encouraging innovation across the board and consider how developing technologies impact the business to our advantage.

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