This year's ILMC (International Live Music Conference), the annual confab for international promoters, agent and venue owners, kicked off with a positive outlook despite the global recession.

The event, which took place March 13-15 at the Royal Garden Hotel, London, saw the number of delegates increase by 50 to 1,000 compared with 2008, organizers said.

The occasion was also used to disclose figures indicating that the U.K. live music industry has for the first time surpassed the country's recorded-music sector in revenue terms.

Using figures based on the live-performance tariffs collected by U.K. collecting society PRS for Music, live music generated £1.28 billion ($1.79 billion) compared with £1.24 billion ($1.74 billion) yielded by the recorded business.

"It showed that recorded music's share of consumers' disposable income was going down, while the share for live music was going up," said Will Page, PRS' in-house economist and a speaker on the panel called 'The Recession Session.'

Page noted that Michael Jackson, who is booked for 50 nights at the London O2 Arena, boasted one of the fastest selling tours in history. Recent shows by former boy band Take That, hit female group Girls Aloud, and veterans Cliff Richard and the Shadows had also sold out.

These big hitters indicated that 2010 ticket sales in the U.K. might even surpass 2009 sales figures, he estimated.

But the panel, chaired by Stuart Galbraith, CEO of promoter Kilimanjaro Live, admitted the industry still needed to be cautious despite the upbeat numbers.

"The recession seems to be deep-seated and longer compared to the one in the late 1980s. It means we're going to see an impact on our business," Galbraith asserted.

Neil Warnock, of U.K. booking agency the Agency Group, said business in the major music markets like the U.K., France and Germany continued to thrive. "But countries like Russia, China and parts of south-east Asia, are real recessive territories," he said.

The success stories are coming at a price, as major acts commanded even higher fees while smaller acts lost out, warned Phil Bowdery, president of touring at Live Nation International Music.

"The bigger acts seem to be getting stronger and are selling tickets. But the acts that used to mid-level are the ones suffering now," he declared.

Australian promoter Michael Chugg, CEO of Chugg Entertainment, said the industry had to take currency fluctuations into account. "Our [Australian] dollar has crashed," he said. "Acts that pulled crowds of 4,000-5,000 when it was [U.S.] $0.90 to one Australian dollar will not be able to do as well now that the Australian dollar brings in only 64 [U.S.] cents."

Such financial uncertainty is prompting artists to be more imaginative and less dependent on traditional deals with labels and promoters, concluded the session called 'The Managers' Office: a New Order.'

Music Managers Forum CEO Jon Webster, the panel's chairman, invited Dougie Souness, of Scottish management firm No Half Measures, to explain how his pop act Hue and Cry are adapting to the new era.

Souness said he and the group have formed a company that has acquired and manages Hue and Cry's rights. "People asked us how we could be the manager, the agent, the label, the merchandiser [for Hue and Cry]," he said. "It was a radical way of doing business, but we're already in profit and split everything equally."

Also on that panel was Brian Message, of ATC Management, which co-manages Radiohead, dance act Faithless, and singer Kate Nash. Message co-founded the new Featured Artists' Coalition, which aims to lobby for stronger protection of artists' rights.

Message, who was recently invited to review and revitalize the MMF's current structure, told the ILMC audience: "We're experiencing an artists' revolution around the world. Artists need to make more decisions about what affects them, including in what's going on in secondary ticketing and peer-to-peer file sharing. If someone is making a profit [from their work], then we want a share of that."

Alison Wenham, CEO of independent labels trade body AIM, chaired a session called 'Babylon's Burning,' which examined why labels might have to collaborate more often with the live sector in these sluggish economic times.

The panel's participants represented a business increasingly full of flexible business models.

They included representatives from indies label group Beggars Banquet, which operates a live-music unit; Sound Advice, a live-events production company that also manages artist (rockabilly singer Imelda May); the U.K. office of Creative Artists Agency, which not only books concerts for talent, but is also brokering sponsorship deals; and leading music-stores group HMV, which has become the U.K.'s second biggest venue owner following a recent deal with the MAMA Group.

As music sales continue to decline, labels could learn how these operators are enhancing their direct relationships with consumers, Wenham observed: "Labels can't get this consumer relationship right; they have tried various B2C [business-to-consumer] ventures such as Pressplay and MusicNet; but they still haven't cracked it."