With the live entertainment industry riding a wave of success, the 10th annual Billboard Touring Conference & Awards was short on controversy but long on optimism and the currency of ideas, as the event sold out in advance for the first time in its history.
Held Nov. 13-14 in New York, that optimism echoed through the meeting rooms, hallways and lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, as attendees packed sessions and sat at tables and in the bar working up the sorts of deals that may end up being part of the discussion as the conference enters its second decade. Here are five big takeaways from the event.
BUSINESS IS GOOD, AND GETTING BETTER
“It’s a great time to be in the live business,” Live Nation Entertainment CEO Michael Rapino said from the stage on the “New Rules” “power player” panel. Live Nation, the world’s largest promoter, is coming off a record quarter in revenue, and attendance and ticket sales for the touring industry are up across the board year over year. AEG Live, second only to Live Nation, is associated with several winners at the Billboard Touring Awards, including top tour and top draw winner Bon Jovi, top package victor Taylor Swift and top arena the O2 in London. And panelist after panelist talked about boom times, whether in broad strokes or for specific artists from all genres in varying positions on the career arc.
Yet, most believe business will continue to grow, especially as the industry continues to link music fans directly with ticket-buying opportunities through streaming services like YouTube and Spotify. “When you start getting a few hundred million people clicking on music, and tour information is next to it, you’re going to start growing better and more directly,” William Morris Endeavor worldwide head of music Marc Geiger said during the conference’s closing session.
As former AEG CEO Tim Lieweke, now CEO at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, said, “I don’t think the live business has ever been better, healthier, more robust than it is today.”
THE LIVE BUSINESS IS DEVELOPING — AND SUSTAINING — CAREERS
Despite cynics who have long expressed concerns about the next generation of superstars, Rapino cited “an incredible surge of new talent filling big venues” and a full pipeline of “great artists across all genres [and] a global audience finding out about the music.”
Vans Warped tour founder/producer Kevin Lyman has made his living finding out who these new acts are, and recommended a tool that he said proved invaluable for making booking decisions for the next Warped tour: Survey Monkey. A survey asking Warped fans who they wanted to see received 100,000 responses, with Pierce the Veil coming out on top.
As the Warped tour has proved, success is relative. While growing a band from clubs to the arena level has always been the industry’s holy grail, Bowery Presents partner Jim Glancy pointed out that there are other metrics for success in the live business. “Our goal isn’t to get every artist to headline an arena, but to work with them as far as they go,” he said on the opening artist development panel. “If they can get to the Bowery Ballroom from the Mercury Lounge [in New York], that’s a success.”
Live Nation promoter Omar Al-Joulani, instrumental in Imagine Dragons’ breakout year, noted that the traditional model of a band touring for a few months timed to an album release has become more flexible to accommodate the act’s growth. “The start of the cycle is the same,” Al-Joulani said, “but it can go longer if you have songs that are reacting. In some cases there are bands who can tour for three years off one album.” That Imagine Dragons have been able to move from support to headlining arenas on one cycle is testament to the potential of today’s artist development strategies.
NEW MEDIA IS FINALLY MOVING THE NEEDLE
Lack of awareness has long been the bane of the touring industry, but 2013 may well go down as a milestone year in changing that due to more targeted and efficient marketing strategies spawned by new media. Still, the industry is on the cusp of monetizing the potential of mobile, social, email, retargeting and push marketing platforms. When asked on a panel addressing these issues how fan data can maximize profitability, Facebook client partner of global marketing solutions Ashley Bradbury said, “Anything you’re doing on Facebook, on the Web, on mobile is all feeding into this profile of who you are as a user. All of this data — Eventful, Spotify — all of these have plugs, and it feeds into your data, which makes targeting that much more exact.”
But there is far more potential to unlock from digital than just creating awareness and selling tickets, Rapino said. “As an industry, YouTube and digital content have a huge upside to creation and virally reaching fans, and there’s a multibillion-dollar business of advertising attached to that. If we can figure out how [to] monetize that great content around YouTube we’re all creating and recapture that $4 billion from the secondary market, it’s going to skyrocket the level of growth.”
PARTNERSHIPS, PARTNERSHIPS, PARTNERSHIPS
Whether it’s brand/band partnerships like Nokia/Green Day, Delta/Michael Bublé and Citi/The Rolling Stones, or cohesive efforts among label, agent, management and promoter, partnerships were a prevailing theme. In the case of corporate America connecting with bands and fans, “we want to know that they feel confident that [the brands] represent their music, their art,” Cornerstone’s Jon Cohen said on the “Brand on the Run” panel. “Most importantly, we want to know that we’re going to give back to their fans,” as was the case with Citi’s rewards program for Stones VIP concert-goers, part of the reason the MAC Presents-brokered deal won the Concert Marketing & Promotion Award at the Billboard Touring Awards.
Partnerships like that of Katy Perry and Citi increased ticket and album sales, according to Creative Artists Agency contemporary music head Mitch Rose. “In this day and age, anytime we’re talking with multinational brands, it can get your story out to a wider audience in different ways, and it’s always going to pay off in the end in music and ticket sales,” he said.
CAA managing partner Rob Light later pointed out that his agency has 11 full-time people “doing nothing but tour sponsorships,” and Red Light Management founder Coran Capshaw added that “the economics of sponsorship is very meaningful [to tours]. It’s tough out there in some cases for the profitability of a tour, the emerging artist and building them. We’re really into looking wherever we can help to supplement on the marketing and financial side.”
And while there was much talk about how managers and agencies are assuming many of the functions once relegated to labels, most agreed that labels are still needed to break developing artists. “I wouldn’t minimize the labels’ roles,” said World Audience principal Larry Jacobson, whose firm manages Avenged Sevenfold. “You need strong partnerships from promoters and merchandise companies, too.”
“At the end of the day,” Mick Management’s Michael McDonald added, “no act has ever broken worldwide without a [major] label.”
THERE ARE CHALLENGES
The secondary ticketing market remains a thorn in the side of the primary market. “We can all get very rich if this room figures out how to take the $4 billion in the secondary market and put it back in our pockets,” Rapino said.
But, on the primary side, the industry still has pricing and marketing hurdles. “The problem is that we tend to try to put everything in one bucket and make it look the same,” Light said. “The smartest thing we can do now is really look at each artist and say, ‘What is the audience we’re trying to attract, and how are we trying to lock them down?’ So much of this is about ‘Are we creating value?'”