Industry Profile: Rob Challice
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Rob Challice, partner/agent, Coda Music Agency.
Rob Challice’s place in UK music history may already be assured.
Promoting punk and grunge shows early in his career, Challice was the co-promoter of Nirvana’s first London show at the School of Oriental and African Studies In 1989.
From 1982 to 1985, Challice ran All The Madmen, a mail order house, and record label. Next came stints with The Allied Agency--where he expanded into folk and rock bookings--and F.A.B. In 1999, he teamed up with Clive Underhill-Smith and formed The Concert Clinic.
Today, Challice is one of six partners of the London-based Coda Music Agency, which has a reputation for championing emerging talent, as well as for developing careers globally.
With close to 50 staff—including 20 agents—and its own office building in East London, Coda Music represents over 400 acts.
Among the acts on the roster are: Bon Iver, Beirut, Billy Bragg, Jeff Beck, Zucchero, the Civil Wars, Kings of Convenience, Warpaint, Example, Emeli Sandé, LMFAO, the xx, Jake Bugg, the Vaccines, Bastille, Ellie Goulding, Bombay Royale, and Misty Miller.
Coda Music Agency is the end result of a merger between two British booking agencies.
In 2001, Phil Banfield, who headed London-based Miracle Prestige International (MPI,) had been looking to replace some departing agents. Within two months, MPI announced a merger with Concert Clinic operated by Challice, and Clive-Underwood-Smith.
The combined entity, renamed the Coda Music Agency, launched with 6 agents, 7 support staff, and about 180 artists.
Today, Coda Music is an LLP (limited liability partnership company), with Challice, Banfield, Alex Hardee, Tom Schroeder, James Whitting, and Dave Hallybone as partners.
Challice is also director and booker of the Summer Sundae Weekender festival, an essential part of any Leicester music fan’s calendar--almost regardless of who the headliners may be. Past headliners have included Kate Nash, the Young Knives, Kasabian, and Amy Winehouse,
The festival, which has running for 12 years, is taking 2013 off.
Challice is also part of the programming team of the Larmer Tree Festival, a five-day music and arts festival held annually at the Larmer Tree Gardens near Tollard Royal on the Wiltshire-Dorset border. The festival has run for over two decades.
Coda is a merger of two booking firms?
When F.A.B. ran its course in 1999, I formed a company with Clive Underhill-Smith called Concert Clinic. We ran that company until 2001. Phil (Banfield) and Alex (Hardee) at MPI (Miracle Prestige International) invited us over for a conversation about merging the companies.
They had been working for Miles Copeland’s booking company.
Miles had a significant share hold in MPI. Therefore, he became a shareholder in Coda. Coda ran as an unlimited company for five years. Toward the end of that time, we bought Miles out, and a couple more of the agents became partners or took on management roles including Tom Schroeder, and James Whitting.
Coda’s business model is unique for a booking agency in that it has been a limited liability company since 2007.
I think that there is only one other business like that over here, and that is X-Ray (Touring). It’s is the model that a lot of law firms use. I have only had a boss for six months of my career. That was when I was at Allied Agency. The idea of having a boss, and not being in control of what I do, is unappealing; an anathema to me. I look around at the other partners here, and they are similar. They are mavericks. They are driven. They are individual. And, collectively, we run the company.
But you probably never dreamed you’d end up with a staff of 50 including 20 agents, 400 acts, and your own building in London.
Never. And it would be too much for one person to take on, and to be running it. Our secret weapon is Dave Hallybone, who is our financial controller and a partner. Big Dave is also the voice of reason. He has enabled us to do what we and grow like this.
It has grown to such a level that we knew at the end of last year that we had to take someone on as managing director. So a few weeks ago we appointed Claire Horseman. Claire comes from a background of working for companies like Sony, and Columbia. She’s run her own company. It’s a relief to now know that we can shape the direction of the company, and have somebody there full-time to enact that stuff.
[Marketer Claire Horseman spent a decade working for BMG Music/Columbia Records and affiliates Deconstruction Records, and Jive Records before setting up her own marketing consultancy, Strutt Music Marketing Management, in 2011.]
Claire coming aboard frees up Coda’s partners to work the roster.
Four of us have had to return to our desks and be busy agents with our clients.
Of course, Coda has weekly partnership meetings to go over the bigger issues.
It does. At 11 o’clock every Wednesday, we will be in that meeting room. We’ll thrash things out. Then we go out on an act with them. That might be direct from start (with a tour or a booking), assisting agents or making decisions on things that happen outside the office.
How do the partners interact?
We communicate all the time in a relatively ego-free environment. We've been together as a partnership for 6 years now, and we've collectively made a lot of decisions in that time. I think it (the company) works because we are very different characters; each bringing different skills, and experience to the table. We each know we could not have necessarily built such a company without the others.
For example, Dave has given us solid foundations to build the company on. Whereas Alex is quite fearless and incredibly sharp when it comes to working relationships.
How much freedom does a partner or agent have in handling tours and bookings?
We are very open with A&R at Coda; sharing tips and links to new music around the company. We encourage agents to put their hand up early if they are going to look at a new act, and we encourage them to ask for support if required when going after that act. We'll go through the list of potential new acts weekly in an agent's meeting, and everybody will throw in comments. Agents, generally, build their own rosters in the style of their liking. However, there's a fair amount of cross-pollination and collaboration going on.
Alex and Tom have been very particularly effective at getting the younger agents working on acts they are representing. It's a system that helps the agent to learn quickly and one that has been adopted more across the company.
Will a single person book a tour or do other agents get involved?
Generally, it's the responsible agent who leading the campaign books the tours, but they will always speak up if they need a hand from the others.
Coda’s diverse roster includes emerging acts like Broken Twin, Nelson Can, John Grant, the Ruen Brothers, Jay Brown, the Bombay Royale, Misty Miller; and better-known acts like Billy Bragg, Bon Iver, the Civil Wars, and the xx.
That’s a quite a musical mix.
It is. But the company is made up of music lovers. I know that is a real easy thing to say but we have agents and bookers and assistants here in their early 20s, and they are picking up on new music all of the time.
Meanwhile, Phil Banfield works with Zucchero, and Jeff Beck who are better known and in the mainstream.
Phil can remember a time before the ‘80s. He’s been around a bit longer (than the others). To Phil’s credit, he has let us grow around him. I know that Phil and Neil Warnock (chairman of The Agency Group) are good friends, but they are opposites.
You also work with Billy Bragg.
Yes, and he’s doing well. His new album (“Tooth & Nail,” his first new studio album in 5 years) is just out, and it’s #13 in the UK album chart.
Agencies are increasingly focusing on discovering new artists rather than just the labels being involved.
Yeah. We have the team of scouts now working in our office. It’s not unusual for the lawyer or the label to ring and ask, “Do you guys know of this act? Have you seen them?” And, we will report back, “Yeah. They are great. We caught them in South By (South by Southwest)” or that they supported one of our bands on the road. We do have a reputation for picking up early, and picking up on bands before they get signed. I think that an agent has to (do that) now.
As well, showcases events like Eurosonic have become more important.
Absolutely. Eurosonic is one of the best events (for that). It’s the best model for me of how those showcase events should work. It is at the right time of the year. It is put together really well. It’s curated. Bands are chosen not to just represent individual countries but to represent the best in music. There’s a whole pack of festivals (bookers) running around looking to book the best new acts for this year. Some of those through the ETEP (the European Talent Exchange Program) are incentivized to see and pick up the acts. It is just such a great model. It pains me to hear stories from some people of how it was at South by Southwest recently. Do you know what? You couldn’t get into the hottest shows? Do you know what? You can’t get into the hottest parties now.
[Introduced in 2003, the European Talent Exchange Program is an initiative of the Noorderslag Foundation funded with support from the European Commission to stimulate the circulation of European repertoire on festivals, radio and media in Europe. Each year, ETEP brings together European festivals, radio and other media to exchange a selection of artists. Since the start of the ETEP program a total of 1,646 shows by 605 European artists were presented at the 71 ETEP festivals.
Some people complain that South by Southwest has become too big.
You can’t discover bands there. It’s a shop window for some of my acts, and I have seen bands succeed a couple of weeks ago. But I didn’t go, and I probably wouldn’t go there to discover music now.
Coda has yet to open an office in America.
No. We haven’t. We looked at it briefly. I think that a partnership (in the U.S.) would assist us. I have a very American roster. Many of my clients are American. I know my way around there. I can talk to Americans, and Canadians. I understand how it is. We could have more of a profile there. We have had talks, and we are having talks. I wouldn’t bet against us having a meaningful relationship with an American company in the future.
Do your represent the American acts on your roster for Europe or for worldwide?
I’d say mainly Europe, but there are some other territories involved as well. I work with Warpaint for Asia. I work with Beirut for Europe, Asia and Australia. it’s usually a given that the American agency will get the Americas (i.e. Latin and South America); and that the European agency will get Europe. Then, it’s up to a discussion. If it’s a European act, generally we get Europe, Asia and Australia.
There are probably several American agencies you have synergy with, including The Windish Agency.
We do. I met Tom (Windish) when he was first at Billions. I have seen what he’s done from working with Boche (David “Boche” Viecelli, founder/president of The Billions Corporation) to running his own agency. It looks like an incredible journey. He loves the mechanics of the business, and doing what he’s doing. He’s very driven.
Are there other American agents you admire?
Boche and Adam at Billions. Boche has opinions. I mean, he’s punk rock. Frank Riley at High Road (Touring). Marty Diamond and Steve Ferguson at Paradigm Talent. Those guys know so much about English music that it’s unreal. Real good independent agents. We are very connected.
Asia has increasingly become an important region for the live touring business.
Some of those markets like Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Indonesia can be more lucrative markets than Japan, and even Australia. But, when it comes to the big ones, China and India, they are almost too big to imagine.
China has a non-class audience that has never heard of most Western bands.
Just think about the amount of work that a UK band has to do to establish itself in the U.S. and Canada. The amount of touring a UK band has to do to penetrate west coast, east coast and the middle and all that. You look at a market like China, and you go, “Where do I start?” Bands can play Hong Kong, and they can play to a local audience of expats (expatriates). “Okay, we've done our bit of China.” I often see proposals come through for Shanghai, and Beijing and quite often the bands won’t take them. But they will take the Taiwan show or shows in Hong Kong or Singapore. They are just more manageable.
Years ago a booking agent could book dates a few months in advance. Those days are long over.
I can’t remember those days. Where I learned that you had to have a longer lead time is when I started booking my acts into civic venues. You find out that you could only get one availability in 9 months time at the Royal Festival Hall. You have to learn. You do learn. The great thing about being that far ahead is that you always have time to react to opportunities.
How far in advance would you sit down with the management of Beirut for a major tour?
Nine months. That doesn’t matter if it’s a summer tour or if it is in January or February and you are talking about their tour in the Fall. It’s 9 months to a year. I like to think that any of my established acts, like Beirut, Bon Iver or Warpaint, that I have an idea of what they are doing in the next two years. I find it easier to strategize your career if you know where you want to be in two years. You can work backwards. You can release (an album) in a year’s time, but this is where we want to be in two year’s time. That can determine the plays you do, the markets you go to and so on.
For decades, touring plans were contingent on album releases. Is that always the case now?
For certain artists, that are establishing themselves, getting on those playlists is all important. If they are not on the playlists, it’s not going to happen; especially in this UK market. But, by and large, the acts that are on their second and third album can plot their careers. If they get the playlists, excellent. Bigger opportunities will open up. But you don’t have to be reliant on that label meeting that will tell you whether the single is going to hit or the label is putting the album back three months because they don’t quite “feel it” at the moment. By and large, you are going in there, and saying, “I’ve got a tour, and it’s about to go on sale. When are you dropping the album?”
Nor does a band always need the album to support a tour. That’s especially true with veteran big name acts,
Yeah. But I would say that in the situations where an act over tours without an album release, in hindsight, there’s a warning for you, “If only we had the album out. If we only had that bit of media.” They (touring and a release) go hand-in-hand. But the album is often a tool to promote the tour rather than the tour being to promote the album. That’s the truth of it now. I have Yo La Tengo touring at this moment. They have released one of their best albums (“Fade”) in recent years. We are doing the tour that we set up several months ago. The difference is that this album has connected in such a way that they are filling out rooms which they might have done 75% on three or four years ago. You can always deal with those successes.
According to recent estimates, the global touring industry has grown larger than the global recording industry.
Acts are sustaining their careers from live income and looking at it (touring) closer than ever before. It’s good because they aren’t making stupid production decisions that cost loads of money all of the time.
Bands are more cost conscious on the road?
Yeah. There used to be more fat in the days when a band could submit a tour budget, and get that tour support (from a label); get that deficit paid for. And the tour manager would have 4 or 5 crew.It might have been two more crew members than they required, and they carried lights on a medium level tour.
That kind of waste happens less now.
The fat has been cut off. The bands would get to the end of it (the tour), and go, “We don’t just want our per diems. We played 1,000 capacity venues, we want our money. We want money that we are going to survive on for the next four or five months as we go on with our lives.” That’s healthy to me.
Over the years, many venues in London weren’t paying new bands. Acts would get the door. Has that practice gone by the wayside?
It has receded over the years. It’s hard putting on live music in clubs in London. We were part owners of a venue called XOYO which was run as a club. We sold our investment, but in that time we were involved, we learned quite quickly that you had to manage the club in a certain way. The balance was club nights, Fridays and Saturdays, and having various incentives to make that club work.
Really, the bar was paying for everything.
The uncomfortable fact is that when you are putting on live music some punters are coming along, seeing one act, staying for 40 minutes, and having one beer, if that. That is not a model to running a venue. I sympathize with anyone running a venue--small to medium size--and making it work. The key thing seems to be to have a bar that people want to go to. Two of my favorite small venues in London are the Lexington and Steel, and the Slaughtered Lamb. Both have incredible bars.
For bookings, bands, managers and agents used to have the attitude “Get as much money as you can.” Today, there seems to the realization that something has to be left on the table for the promoter or they will go out of business.
I would say that a lot of the credit (for that) goes to agents who sometimes get a bad rep in this business. But we are the ones that sit between the two parties, and we can’t do what we do without either (the promoter and the band). You have to look after the promoter. They are, basically, providing a service where they are getting 15% of 20% of the net profit, but they are also taking a100% loss when something doesn’t fit. That’s a risky area.
A booking agent often has to tell a client, “This is not a realistic fee for this promoter.”
Yeah, you do. Sometimes, you have to weigh up whether you go and play. The act will sometimes say, “We won’t go, and play that market.” The label will say, “You have to. You need to.” The agent will say, “If you don’t play Helsinki then you will never get to play that festival in Finland.”
You have to have those conversations.
Some times, you have to tell the artist what they might achieve if they go there, and play for that (fee). Other times, the artist may not want to do that trek for that level of fee. I think that fewer artists are being forced to play territories that they probably shouldn’t have gone to. If it’s not happening for you in Germany, don’t go. Go to Spain or to Scandinavia. Do more work in place where it is happening. That is one thing that I have seen change in my time. There’s far more opportunities in more territories for a band once they reach a certain level.
Years ago, agents and managers tended to use the same template for international touring. Bands followed that template. It didn’t always work out well.
It also seems to be a very boring way to run your job as well.
Agents and managers felt they should only deal with the regional promoters that they trusted and work in the markets they felt knowledgeable about.
Well, I’ve got promoters in Turkey, Portugal, wherever. All of the secondary markets. I know that they are incredible markets to go play. Bon Iver’s favorite territory is Portugal. Kings of Convenience are succeeding in Turkey now. They haven’t been there properly for five or six years. Suddenly, it’s happening there for them. We don’t know why, but it’s happening now. Beirut, one of the biggest shows is 7,000 tickets outdoors in Istanbul. How come? Nothing is as it was.
How did you become an agent?
I was an agent before I knew I was an agent. I was hanging around musicians and playing in bands in my teenage years. I was the bass player. Not the greatest bass player, but one that would organizes the gigs, the tours and so on. The first gigs that I attended were in London.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Kent. Quite close to London. I was an apprentice toolmaker. I left school at 15. Two years as an apprentice in mechanical engineering. I worked in a factory in Kent. This was 1982 when the whole of industry was decimated. All of the factories closed down.
A tough period for British youth.
To me, that was a happy time. I was given a redundancy check, and I had the opportunity to take that and go and live in a squat in London. That I did. At the age of 17, I moved up to London, and got involved very much in the punk and grunge scene. That was all “do it yourself.” You booked your own gigs, and arranged your own tours.
The early ‘80s was an exciting musical time in London.
Yes. It was incredible. This was three or four years after punk broke. People who are now into their 50s will now reference punk, but I will reference what came in the early ‘80s as the important years in my life. This was when we started to learn how to put on events, and do your own things. So, you had the fanzines, the magazines, the clubs, the bands, and the indie labels setting up. It was such an industrious period really. We didn’t realize that we were creating something incredibly special.
It was a very defined scene of squat venues and venues that (bands like) Crass, Flux of Pink Indians, the Subhumans, and the Mob would play. We had our own squatted venues and various venues like that.
How did you come to co-promote Nirvana’s first show in London?.
I was promoting regular gigs at venues like Sir George Robey, and School of Oriental and African Studies.
Nirvana played the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1989.
That’s it. One of the guys in the Student Union, Simon Aldis, had the exactly the same taste in music as I. He didn’t want to put on world music at his venue. He wanted to put on bands like Mudhoney, Naked Raygun, Godflesh and bands like this to play the venue. So we set up a couple of shows. We were lucky enough to book the TAD/Nirvana bill. That was one of those historic gigs. It was their first time in London.
[On November 23 1989, Nirvana and TAD (among the first bands to be signed to Sub Pop Records, and possibly the first pioneer of what was to be later called grunge) played London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the same venue where Mudhoney had created such a stir the previous spring. After months of reading about Nirvana in the music press, a London audience was finally going to see Nirvana, and anticipation was high.
UK publicist Anton Brookes recalled that, “You could tell they were a special band. I suppose because of their attitude, everything. They just had something special.”]
What do you recall of Nirvana’s performance?
It was incredible. As promoters, our job was also stage security. Three or four of us. Anton, who did their PR, was at the lip of the stage and we were the only thing between the band and this sea of hands. And that was it. That is what you did. In those days, if you had a certain gig, and you had regular security onstage, you’d get ripped to pieces. But, if you looked like one of the fans, and you were doing your bit, and helping people onstage, it worked.
A small venue?
I’d say it was 800 to 1,000 (people). There might have been one or two shows that we put more than that in there.
Was the Nirvana show sold out?
Absolutely. There were sold-out shows there for TAD and the Nirvana bill, for Mudhoney, which wasn’t our promotion, Naked Raygun and, I think, Godflesh as well. Finally, we had a Fugazi show there. Our poster team made the mistake of sticking posters up on the garden gates of the university’s principal. He couldn’t understand why we had postered his front garden, and he pulled the show on us. That was the end of our shows there.
Why did you become an agent rather than a promoter?
At that time I was only doing a select number of shows. My day job, if you call it that, was running a mail order company (All The Madmen) selling vinyl, cassettes and fanzines. I sold all of the fanzines that came out around that time, Enigma, Kill Your Pet Puppy, Flipside, Maximum Rock and Roll etc. I can’t remember the names of them all. I used to sell them by mail order to the UK and internationally.
After a few years, I think it was ’87—really, I wasn’t making enough of a living from that and I was still doing my bits of promotion--a friend of mine, Pete Holden said, “Why don’t you join us at the Allied Agency?” Which was then in Tottenham Court Road. Andy Grover ran that company. It was him, Pete Holden and Martin Goldschmidt, one of the co-founders of Cooking Vinyl. Cooking Vinyl was working out of the same office building as my mail order company. So I started this job at Allied in the back end of ’87. I started booking Desmond Dekker, Four Brothers, Real Sounds of Africa and a lot of Celtic and folk acts, Oysterband, and Davy Spillane. And, I learned how to be an agent.
Meanwhile, you were moving from booking punk and grunge into folk and world beat.
Also at the same time I was doing my Naked Raygun tours, and my Beatnig tours. That was Michael Franti, of course. I still kept my oar in that world. I picked up Babes in Toyland. So I was continuing to be part of that punk and grunge scene.
Of course, you were now working extensively outside London.
Absolutely. It was throughout the UK and Europe. I was now booking tours in Europe. Also Babes in Toyland into Japan. So I was getting a taste of being an international agent. Within six months, myself and Martin Goldschmidt left Allied and we set our own office F.A.B. Martin was managing Michelle Shocked, and I was assisting him. I was almost a go-between between those two. Not the most pleasant job. We had a couple of other bands--Oysterband, and Kitchens of Distinction--and we were doing some management stuff together while I ran the beginnings of my agency.
The management was Michelle Shocked, and Kitchens of Distinction.
Not a great time for Michelle Shocked recently
I read that. It’s been a career of….It’s unbelievable. It’s career suicide. Maybe, she shouldn’t be onstage. Maybe, she will get the help that she needs.
Career self-destruct is immediate today due to the internet.
It’s an instant car crash. It’s like totaling your car on a motorway rather than denting your car on a back street.
[American singer/songwriter Michelle Shocked has responded to reports that she went on a homophobic rant at a recent gig, insisting she has been misunderstood. "My support for the LGBT community … has never wavered," she said in an open letter, claiming she was simply trying to speak up for "Christians with opinions I in no way share. I do not, nor have I ever, said or believed that God hates homosexuals (or anyone else). I said that some of His followers believe that."]
What’s the reason behind Summer Sundae Weekender taking a year off?
There are a number of reasons. One, we need to look at the model of this festival and see if it’s still working. We had a hard year last year. The economy of this country is ailing; especially in middle England, where Leicester is. It has become harder to get those headline acts we need; and it’s become harder to sell the tickets to break even.
The risk of the festival transferred to myself, and my company Concert Clinic 2 1/2 years ago.
We now have to take stock. Twelve years ago when we set up there was no Latitude Festival, Bestival and there wasn’t even a Green Man festival. All of these incredible events have sprung up in the past 10 or 11 years.
There’s something like 700 folk festivals, and 7,000 outdoor shows in the UK annually.
I believe it. As one Guardian reviewer said two or three years ago about Summer Sundae, “Do you remember that when this festival started that the idea of a festival was akin to a medieval battleground?” That’s what Reading or other festival were like. What people demand out of festivals now is so much different. It has meant that all of these small to medium-sized festivals have sprung up. That was great. People will have money in their pocket. But that has changed over the past two years.
Was it Richard Haswell—then the manager of De Montfort Hall in Leicester-- who brought you in to develop Summer Sundae Weekender in 2001?
Yeah. He had been running an outdoor event called One World and booking world music. As friends, he said, “Ive got this production set up, why don’t we doing something on the Sunday?” I seized on the idea. I thought, “Great.” We came up with a name, Summer Sundae. I put together the program and we were off. It started as a one-day festival, sharing the production with the other event. Then within three years it had become full camping and four stage events. That’s with Richard.
People throughout the UK associate Summer Sundae with Leicester, and the festival receives an immense amount of support from the region. Still the festival has had its struggles including Richard’s departure in 2009.
Richard continued in his role of running De Monfort Hall (until 2009), and I co-directed (as festival director). We were managing a relationship where he was working for the Council (Leicester City Council), and a Council venue, and I come from a commercial world. It (the relationship) had a lot of strength but any issues that would happen within that building or politically in Leicester would reverberate with the festival.
2010 was a critical year for the festival with Richard leaving after much publicized financial problems, and accusations of irregularities at De Montfort Hall.
We got through that year with all of that background. It was one of our most successful years partly due to the booking of Mumford & Sons and strong headliners the other nights like Seasick Steve. However, we knew at the end of that that we would have to change the management of the festival. That’s where we took on the risk (for the festival).
[In 2011, Richard Haswell was appointed program manager of Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and Events.]
What’s your role at the Larmer Tree Festival?
I get to talk to other agents in the business and book headliners for the festival. If you are (Larmer Tree Festival’s founder and co-director) James Shepard and you put together your small festival every year, you don’t necessarily have relationships with agents. That’s what I do. I assist them to book headline acts for the festival. It’s a job that I have done for Summer Sundae for some time. I understand what the agents are saying to me, and they are fine dealing with me. I am an agent. We agree on a price. We get it in. Larmer Tree has been running for 22 years. I grew up going to that festival. It was one of my first festival experiences. Going to that event showed me that festivals didn’t have to be necessarily Glastonbury in size to have that kind of vibe. I just love what they are doing there. If I can assist them in any way, I will.
In a move to keep festival tickets in the UK affordable, the Fair Ticketing Charter was created.
That Ticket Charter came out of a meeting with the Association of Independent Festivals, myself and Ben Turner, and Rob Da Bank. We are in a lucky position. We promote our own events, and the product--or the entertainment--is ours. So we should be able to control that. From that position we can say, “We think that this is right for the business.”
Where it gets hard is when the artist or the agent or their representatives lose control of the ticketing for their events. That might be through pressure from the venues or financial enticement from other parties. I think that secondary ticketing is touting. But it is a symptom, I think, of the situation that we have gotten into with ticketing. We, the promoters and the artists, now no longer really control the ticketing of our events.
[The Fair Ticketing Charter originated with the Association of Independent Festivals, a non-profit UK trade association that represents Britain’s independent music festivals. AIF operates as an autonomous division of the Association of Independent Music (AIM) with its own board and structure.
The Fair Ticketing Charter was created in a move to keep festival tickets at affordable prices. It has been adopted by those across the UK live industry wishing to take a stand against profiteering across the secondary ticketing market. The Charter sets out a position against secondary ticketing, and demands secondary ticket sellers cease selling tickets for signatory’s events.]
Within a free market system, shouldn’t a ticket holder be allowed to sell a ticket?
Sure. But can we give you just 10% on that ticket to sell that or do you think that you have the right to profit? And, if you are profiting are you going to assist on paying the deficit on a tour when a band tours? Are you going to put back anything into the industry from your profiting?
Generally, I think that the booking charges--and this is in the primary ticketing market--are high too much in themselves.
Secondary ticketing companies often work with promoters.
Let’s differentiate between a tout buying a ticket and then re-selling it for whatever he can get; and a situation where the event itself or the promoter has an arrangement with a secondary ticket company to put a certain amount of tickets on the market.
That is happening more and more.
That is happening. Generally, the clients that I work with, the promoters I work with, the managers I work with, do not want to be part of this. They would rather find a solution to it. They’d prefer that there was legislation so they didn’t have to find a solution to it. It is amazing when you see companies and people making initiatives to solve this problem how legitimate companies and people with vested interest will do their most to stop it.
How can promoters and bands control ticket scalping?
I use the example of Mumford & Sons, who are now playing their own festival Gentlemen of the Road in Lewes, Sussex. The ticketing company running that is Music Glue, which is set up for bands to sell tickets to their fans. Great. If they were just selling tickets, and touts are waiting to buy them, and sell them for whatever they want then there would be profiteering there. Music Glue has an arrangement (to stop that). If you bought a ticket for that event, and you can’t go and you need to sell it, fine. They will refund your ticket. They will then cancel that ticket, and sell it to the other party that wants to buy the ticket.
At a slightly higher price?
Yeah. I don’t care if there’s 10% fee on there. It’s an arrangement where “Okay, you had to sell your ticket. Fine. We can make that happen.” Therefore, each ticket goes to that named individual. You have to produce ID to get into the event. Fine. Why can’t that happen across the business? Because of vested interests. But I think more bands and more events will move to models like that. And you partly solve it (scalping) by the way you pay for the tickets. The ticket can be sold. There you are. If a ticket is assigned to an individual then all you are doing is transferring who it is assigned to. That’s possible. That has to be possible in this day and age.
The British Government recently issued a proposal to raise the Live Music Act audience threshold from 200 to 500 in on-licensed premises. Good news?
I think it’s great. As part of Association of Independent Festivals, I represent AIF at UK Live (UK Live Music Group), and UK Live is part of UK Music. I sit on the UK Live board.
That is something that UK Music achieved. I think that is excellent. That’s something that Jo Dipple and Feargal Sharkey and UK Live have accomplished. UK Music has that representative body now. I think it’s great. Achievements like that are incredible. I wish that there were more victories like that.
[In January, 2013, the British government issued a proposal to raise the Live Music Act audience threshold from 200 to 500 in on-licensed premises.
The proposal came in a response from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to its consultation on entertainment deregulation.
Among the conclusions is the decision to treat recorded music in the same way as live music in on-licensed premises between 08:00 to 23:00 PM with an audience limit of 500 people. Live and recorded music held on such premises would be exempt from licensing requirements for audiences up to 500 people. Regulation will remain in place for all activities that exceed the audience limits.]
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
The recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry, Larry will be honored at the 2013 Juno Gala Dinner & Awards on April 20th in Regina, Saskatchewan.