A perceived lack of new festival headliners was a major bone of contention for promoters and agents at the International Live Music Conference (ILMC).
More than 1,000 delegates attended the 27th edition of the gathering, held at Kensington’s Royal Garden Hotel in London last week.
Speaking during The Open Forum: The directors’ report, the Isle of Wight Festival’s John Giddings said: “The problem is we’re not creating any new headliners. People keep asking who are the headliners in 20 years’ time and I have absolutely, utterly no idea.
“There’s nobody developing groups like a U2 or a Simple Minds anymore, or a record company who’ll invest in them for four to five albums. It’s like, you get a chance with one or two [albums] and if it doesn’t work then it’s all over – the cycle is much quicker.”
AEG Live’s US-based president of global touring John Meglen added: “We’re still making the lion’s share of our money right now on the heritage acts. We need more Bruno Mars’s, Katy Perrys, Pinks and Mumford and Sons and on and on. Our biggest headliners today were our biggest headliners 20 years ago.”
WME’s Russell Warby, agent for acts including Foo Fighters, The Strokes and Jack White, said: “I don’t think there’s a lack of talent – there’s tonnes of talent. You’re not a headliner until you become a headliner.”
A similar debate broke out during The Joined Up Industry: Artist development matters. CAA’s Emma Banks, whose roster includes Red Hot Chili Peppers, Arcade Fire, Kylie Minogue and Lorde, suggested festival bosses prioritise new talent at the top of their bill.
“I do think that it is behooven upon all of us to make more festival headliners,” she said. “It’s so simple to make a festival headliner: you have a festival and you put a band on as the headliner. The public are presented a reality and unless it is so ludicrous that it is beyond comprehension, they take it on board. It shouldn’t be the acts that are an easy option.
“I believe we have shorter moments now and we need to look at how big an act is right now. It doesn’t matter that they’ve had one album or two albums or 100 albums, the public want what they want and they want it now. They don’t want to wait, so don’t miss your moment.”
She added: “I honestly believe the people out there want to see something new. They would rather see an act that plays for an hour than one that plays for 2.5 hours just because they’ve got 27 albums worth of material to bore you senseless with.”
Robomagic’s Rob Hallett countered: “There are a limited number of festivals that sell out regardless, but there’s hundreds of festivals out there that can’t sell out unless they’ve got a headliner. Stuart [Galbraith of Kilimanjaro Live] has had to rest Sonisphere this year for example, because he couldn’t find a headliner to sell it.
“Glastonbury could put a man screwing a chicken on as headliner and it wouldn’t affect the ticket sales, it sells out before they even announce [the line-up], but there are a load of festivals out there that do need established headliners.”
Corporatisation: The Masters of the Universe examined the effects of corporatisation on the music industry.
“I think some of the big corporations enable others to succeed,” said AEG Europe president and CEO Tom Miserendino. “If you look back at the London market in the days before The O2 existed there were maybe 150 shows [a year]. Today that market is a lot bigger, I think, as a result of the investment of AEG and Live Nation. I think we’ve helped enhance the market.
“The model of how an artist makes money has changed. It used to be it was primarily from recorded music, maybe 70% of their income was from recorded music and the balance was from touring,” continued Miserendino. “That whole model has flipped. It’s almost exactly the opposite today because it used to be that an artist would tour to support a record release so they could sell records. Now it’s just the opposite; they release an album so they can tour.”
ITB’s Barry Dickins, agent for Bob Dylan and Neil Young, said: “The one great thing we should all be happy about in the live entertainment business is that you can’t download live.”
Live Nation’s global touring president Arthur Fogel defended high concert ticket prices during ILMC’s traditional Sunday morning The Breakfast Meeting interview. “This goes back to the hippy-dippy phase of our business and the truth is, for me, the top events have been under-priced for years and everything else is overpriced,” he said.
“If you can tell me a Madonna ticket isn’t worth $350 I will tell you you’re fucking nuts. If you tell me a band you’ve never heard of is worth more than $10, absolutely not. You can’t put it all in the same box. A Super Bowl is more expensive than a regular football game; a World Cup Final is more expensive than a regular league game.
“It doesn’t make sense: the top end: under-priced, everything else overpriced – I think that’s the fundamental problem with our pricing model. Go and look at the secondary market. I’ve got $350 tickets to Madonna – thousands of them – that are now on StubHub going for upwards of $500-600. So you tell me, what’s the right price level?”
Fogel named David Bowie as the act he would most like to work with again, adding: “Let’s hope he comes back… but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”