With digital now firmly driving the music industry, the second day of the conference at this year’s Reeperbahn Festival saw a lot of chatter about the industry’s resolutely-analogue elements: human beings. From gender equality in terms even the least humane person can understand, to where bots meet humans, and how smaller, people-centric businesses can survive in the face of big-money land-grabs.
Music can play a major part in reducing gender inequality
In the suitably futuristic “Future Dome,” Reeperbahn showcased an impressive programme of panels on sustainability and equality. And with steady persistence, each speaker made it clear in front of an industry that has often dragged its feet: gender equality is not just the right thing to do – it’s where the music industry can make easy business wins.
Dagmar Schumacher, Director of the Brussels office of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, put it bluntly and simply: gender equality is not simply morally right – music business income will increase if gender parity is reached. “There is a lot of data that shows double-figure growth in income in other global industries when a 50-50 gender balance is achieved. We need more research and data to show that this is the same in the music industry.”
“The music industry has huge power and can use it to initiate change. The music industry can play a huge role in pushing gender equality by, for instance, pushing gender balance narrative in songs.”
Susan Hollman, Deputy head of the European Commission’s Directorate General of Education and Culture, was excited that “Programmes like Keychange Initiative – bottom up programmes – can be used as tools to make change.”
Christina Schaefers, Head of Arts Programme at Reeperbahn, helped pioneer the Keychange initiative, which aims to achieve a 50/50 gender split across music festival line-ups, conferences, and commissions by 2022, and launched its second phase at the festival.
“The whole music business will improve if women are more involved – talent is 50-50. When we first started Keychange, we had to set ourselves goals at Reeperbahn to show the change to others. It has moved quickly, and now events have signed up to the Initiative all over Europe and further abroad.”
Unpacking The EU’s Secondary Ticketing Regulation
The recent EU Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation, which has a provision to curb the use of bots when buying tickets, as welcomed across the board, albeit in a panel not featuring any of the main, Viagogo-sized players in the ticket re-selling market.
Katie O’Leary of FEAT (the Face-Value European Alliance for Ticketing) explained that the EU ticketing law is just the start of beating the bots: “The new EU law, essentially, bans bots from buying and re-selling tickets and is paired with a legal recital which says that individual member states of the EU can go further to protect buyers, including controlling ticket pricing, and points towards stronger controls in the future.”
Sebastian Ott, lawyer, specialising in copyright, press and entertainment law, highlighted the scale of the problem, and split the German buying population into eyebrow-raising thirds: “One third is bots, one third is people buying intentionally to resell and then only a third who want to simply go to the show.”
Johannes Ulbricht, lawyer for copyright and media law and advisor to the German Concert and Event Industry body, explained that resellers use very complicated methods – multiple fake credit cards and burner phones – and that banning bots is not enough: “you can hire students to do manual work like a bot.”
Katie O’Leary said that her work with FACT has been broadly welcomed. “We didn’t experience pushback over banning bots – [lawmakers] could see that we were there for the fans. StubHub and ViaGogo also say they’re there for the fans, but the actual victims – and there’s a lot of them – are the fans.”
Looking forward, Katie pointed the way for a simpler, fairer system of dynamic pricing, centred around clear communication as opposed to a free-for-all: “There’s no deception with Dynamic Pricing – as with buying train and airline ticketing – it’s clear and the price is regulated.
“To implement this new EU law, in terms of preventative measures, it’s important that event organisers start to offer a face-value or fan-to-fan exchange system, to state that tickets are for consumers only, and to clearly state the exact places you should buy tickets.”
“It’s really important that fans trust what we’re doing again when we sell tickets.”
Agents Agenda: The New Food Chain
The international concert industry is starting to welcome new money from global capital markets via private equity injections and IPOs.
Volker Bosse, Co-Head of Equity Research at Baader Bank Aktiengesellschaft, explained that booking agencies are becoming tempting to investors because of cold hard cash, not any mis-placed emotional pull around music: “Financial investors are purely focused on return on capital and profitability and in a time of near-zero-percent inflation, they are looking at industries with room for profit and consolidation.
“The market is very fragmented and could be consolidated, and is also under-managed and so could be made to make more money for investors – and then a lot of money could be made by selling a business like that later on.”
Jake Leighton-Pope, Manager of 10,000 Steps underlined the hard-nosed thinking behind these potentially industry-transforming investments: “These investors are looking at how this business works in relation to other businesses. People are going out to shows more, and spending more money, so it’s a business that is appealing.”
Steven Thomassen, Managing Director of boutique Belgian agency Toutpartout, was not worried that big money pouring into big agencies would gobble up his business: “Indie agents aren’t under threat because a lot of bands prefer the personal, passionate approach.”
Volker agreed, with a warning: “There is always a niche available [to work successfully within], but to be a boutique agency in the niche you must provide a strong USP.”
Keeping Up With Digital Music Consumption
Meanwhile, don’t lose sight of the simple stuff – human beings – in an increasingly digital era – and make sure you work to bridge the gap between tech and human.
Talk to anyone who deals with data from catalogue music, and they’ll tell you that it’s of a, let’s say, mixed standard. GIGO [Garbage In, Garbage Out] is real – and as we shoot into an automated future of collection, deduction and payment, we need to focus on the weak link – the humans.
Lina Heyman, Head of Rightsholders Relations at STIM, described how they have taken steps to work offline, having spent the last two decades focussing on online developments.
“We’re now under competition with each other as societies and that’s a win for writers out there but in hindsight it was a great thing as it made us do direct and work on offline licensing – restaurants, live, etc.
Digital has powered the shift in how songwriters and artists work – but that means putting more focus into how to connect with an atomised, offline, group of songwriters: “We’re seeing an ever-increasing trend of unpublished writers becoming affiliated with STIM.”
“Making sure our artists register their works as fast and correctly as possible is so important. So while online and tech is the headline topic, we’re working hard on the offline: so we have built special spaces in the real world. Artists can come to our office to register, ask questions and make sure all their data is complete.”