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LIVE UK Summit: festival exclusivity, fighting touts, drug crime, branding integrity and the joys of global touring

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22 November 2018

Pushing back against Viagogo, the merits of performing in Africa and innovation in ticketing were among the many diverse issues debated at the 12th LIVE UK summit.

Held at the Radisson Blu Portman Hotel in London’s West End, the annual conference and networking event took place on 11 October, with more than 300 delegates in attendance.

One of the most popular panels of the day was Sanitising Secondary, which comprised key figures fighting to protect concert-goers and events from being exploited by ticket touts.

Presented by FanFair Alliance and moderated by its campaign manager Adam Webb, preventing ticket seekers being directed to Viagogo via Google was top of the agenda.

Masters of the Universe: Rob Hallet & Dan Silver

Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, a veteran campiagner against touting, told delegates, “Google seem to think their hands are tied through a lack of legislation, which I just don’t agree with. In fact, we have so much legislation now and it is so obvious they [Viagogo] are breaking the law.”

Victims of Viagogo founder Claire Turnham added, “People genuinely still, every day, feel misled coming on to the [Viagogo] website.”

However the feeling that the tide against industrial-scale touting is beginning to turn was expressed by Mark Alexander from face value fan-to-fan platform Twickets.

“There is a lot of awareness now and, with something like Ed Sheeran and Arctic Monkeys, the volumes [on Twickets] have gone up significantly in the last year,” he said.

Agent Jo Biddiscombe of X-ray Touring recounted measures put in place for for Pixies’ five-night stint at London’s Roundhouse (cap. 3,110).

Tickets went on sale, immediately after the shows were announced, at a flat fee of £50, with a clear message that tickets sold for more would be invalid.

Tickets vs Streams: Emma Greengrass, Ric Salmon, Fiona McGugan, Michael Baskerville & Glenn Miller

But Tom Sutton-Roberts, general manager at London’s Troxy (3,050), added, “When true music fans get messed around by the greed of companies like Viagogo and we can do very little about it, it is very frustrating.”

Just the ticket

The first event of the day was The Big Ticket, with representatives from ticketing firms weighing up the future of live music ticketing.

Moderator Dave Newton, co-founder of WeGotTickets and now an independent consultant, challenged the panel to set out what their companies are doing to ensure tickets fall into the right hands.

Ticketmaster vice-president of festivals and music Sarah Slater explained the detail of the website’s new fan-to-fan resale platform, following in the footsteps of See and Skiddle.

“The key thing is that if I [re-]sell a ticket on the website, the barcode is cancelled and a new barcode is issued,” she said, although she added that the secondary market would likely survive on Facebook or Gumtree, even if Viagogo closed down.

Nick Blackburn, chairman of Eventim, which operates its own resale platform Fansale, said it had been a positive move for his own company.

“It works simply, it’s good for the customer and the big thing about it is a ticket can be verified and tickets are resold at face value – it works very well” he said.

However, director of ticketing at The Ticket Factory Richard Howle raised doubts over big company’s setting up their own resale structures.

Supply and Demand: Guy Dunstan,Steve Forster, Tony Moore, Craig Johnston, James Chambers

“I think it is brave for See and Eventim to invest in their own [resale] platforms because I don’t know how you get the return out of it,” he said.

Marie Goldman, from Piktical, gave a presentation outlining her firm’s innovative, yet practical solution to tickets being sold by touts. The company offers a digital hub, where tickets can only be transferred or resold under controlled conditions, as well as an offline secure facial recognition check.

She added, “Your face is your ID – we can still take you through that check, even if your phone has run out of battery.”

Tales from afar

The Masters of the Universe panel, which, as someone pointed out before the event,  needs a change in the prevailing climate, saw veteran international agents Rob Hallett, Dan Silver and Steve Zapp relate career experiences.

Value Added Talent’s Silver, who has worked with the likes of Depeche Mode, Orbital, Sparks, The Human League and The Skids across his career, told the room about his first global tour with Prince Lincoln and the Royal Rasses in the 1970s.

“It was a reggae band and it was the first time I had ever booked a European tour,” he remembered. “I delivered a tour which was actually pretty decent.

“It was a baptism of fire, as I slowly learnt that they also needed a cook and a bag full of ganja. In fact, a hurricane stopped them turning up to the first show but they managed to do it anyway.”

Zapp, now with International Talent Booking, gripped the room as he reminisced the heady days of setting up his own agency.

“I didn’t know too much at the time and I lost a band at the start to another agent. So I joined Primary Talent International,” said Zapp. “For me, it’s a people business and I met most promoters at [conference] ILMC and developed relationships.

“Then later in my career, when I had some [meaningful] acts, it became very useful.” His current roster includes Biffy Clyro, Courteeners, Editors and The View.

Hallett, whose Robomagic Live was recently acquired by Live Nation Entertainment, works with artistes such as Sleaford Mods, Goldie and Duran Duran, the latter being an act he found and developed in the 1980s.

He highlighted working in Africa as one of the most enjoyable aspects of his time in the business.

“Thankfully it’s not just us Europeans saying ‘come and listen to the Rolling Stones because they are great’,” he said. “Walking around Lagos in Nigeria reminds me of walking around Kingston, Jamaica, when I was younger – there is music coming out of every orifice.

“The Afrobeats thing is exporting, we are their international market and it’s happening for them.”

Festival challenges

Attentions were already switching to next summer’s festival season during the Fields of Change panel, moderated by LIVEUK journalist Mike Gartside.

Sharon Hodgson

The Association of Independent Festivals membership and projects coordinator Phoebe Rodwell said, “You only have to look at our membership to see how many festivals there are – we’ve got city festivals, as well as experienced-based events like Boomtown. The sector is very healthy.

“Our audience research last year showed that 50 per cent of people go for experience, while only six per cent go just for the headliners.”

Slam Dunk Festival director Ben Ray explained that more exclusive deals within festivals are having a greater impact.

“It’s just got more and more each year – a lot of us don’t like it, but we can’t really complain too much, we understand and I do it myself,” he said.

“It’s the level of artistes which is the concern. You expect to apply to the headliners, but now the line is getting lower and lower.”

From The Fields director Ben Robinson agreed, saying, “The biggest problem with exclusivity is actually that it’s an easy was of selling tickets, if you are worried about next year. People are thinking, ‘what if we just pay double for next year’s headliners, who only play us?’.”

Meanwhile, Leicestershire Police’s Kevin Walker, gave a summary on his work around drugs at festivals.

Nick Blackburn

“If you look at the drugs themselves, it’s across all night-time culture, not just festivals and has been seen as a rite of passage among a certain age group,” he siad.

“They go in hidden in crisp packets, for example – people are being more and more innovative so we have to keep working hard on this matter.”

Among other topics covered during the event was the use of social media for promotion and artistes engaging with their fans, in the Social Skills discussion.

Other key topics for the day included touring abroad in the Music Managers Forum-presented Get Me Out Of Here panel, innovation in technology during Tech Talk and the courage of promoters getting behind emerging artistes in The Risk Takers.

The Summit was followd in the evening at the same venue by the Live Music Business Awards – see pages 36-37 and the accompanying winners supplement.

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