The following MBW op/ed comes from columnist Eamonn Forde (pictured inset). Forde, a long-time music industry journalist, is the author of The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig. His new book, Leaving The Building: The Lucrative Afterlife of Music Estates, is out now, via Omnibus Press.
As we gingerly navigate our way into the “new ‘new normal’” in all walks of life, there is plenty of talk about The Great Re-Set and why we should use this hiatus in our lives to make things better when they return.
Family and friends will be appreciated that bit more. The rush-hour commute could become the exception rather than the rule. Five days a week in the office will become three (or, for some, a total anachronism).
Hopefully by now the “return to live” for you has been more than some febrile false imagining and that – safely of course (and if you want to, of course) – you have been to a venue or a festival and had that pleasure jolt to the brain and to the heart that only a great concert can deliver.
Live music has been bruised the hardest during recurring lockdowns, but the tentative first steps back are being taken. Venues, artists, crew, suppliers and the rest suffered enormously during the pandemic and so we should go to more shows than ever to help propel this part of the business to new heights.
But before we get back to how things were before March 2020, there are ways that concerts could be improved for everyone. This moment affords us the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit The Great Re-Set button for live music.
To achieve this, I would like to put forward some ideas and new rules for consideration:
1) No guestlist tickets for at least a year
Unless you have to be at the concert to work (e.g. you are the PR, you are reviewing it, you are A&R-ing at it, you literally work on the production etc.), you are morally obliged to not call up or email someone you know and ask for a +1 just so you can stand at a back and try to look aloof.
“You are morally obliged to not call up or email someone you know and ask for a +1 just so you can stand at a back and try to look aloof.”
No one in the touring world has made any money for 18 months. Imagine being unemployed for a year and a half and you’ve had to live off cold beans. Now you finally have some money to go to the nice supermarket. Now imagine 30 people you don’t know and 30 of their friends show up and expect you to cook them dinner.
If you want to go to the show for pleasure reasons, pay for a ticket. If you don’t want to pay for a ticket, sit at home. You’ve certainly had plenty of practice recently.
2) Anyone talking during the performance is immediately ejected and banned from every concert venue and festival for six months
My first gig “back” was seeing Squid play a matinee show in the blazing sunshine in the back yard of the Silver Building in East London in early June.
Everyone sat at picnic benches and excitedly talked about how weird it was to be going to a concert again and how desperately they had missed it.
“Now, more than ever, is the time to shut up and listen to who’s on stage.”
Plonked at the end of our table were two men who loudly proclaimed they had been “waiting for ages” to finally see Squid and then, as soon as Squid came on, proceeded to talk about what they watched on TV during the pandemic. For the entire set.
You’ve had a whole year of Zoom and Teams and FaceTime and Skype to speak to all your friends. You have had the chance to say pretty much everything you need to say them. Now, more than ever, is the time to shut up and listen to who’s on stage.
3) Anyone taking photos or videos during the show will have their phone smashed with a lump hammer in front of their eyes
Since March last year, your only experience of live music was through a screen – watching livestreams on your phone, your laptop or your smart TV. This, more than anything, was a cruel reminder of what we were missing.
We were physically and emotionally distanced from the performance that was happening on stage. That human connection of being part of that moment at that time in that space was the missing element. The crackle in the room when watching live music cannot be replicated online. This became quickly and horribly clear.
“The crackle in the room when watching live music cannot be replicated online. This became quickly and horribly clear.”
Why would you willingly choose to go into a room with hundreds or thousands of other people and pull down that touchscreen partition between you and the stage?
Watch the gig through your eyes. (Or your glasses, if you need glasses.) (Not Google Glass glasses.) (Or those ghastly Snapchat ones.)
4) Buy as much merchandise as you can afford or carry when at grassroots venues
As long as it is all ethically sourced and environmentally sound, of course. The cruel reality for many small acts is that they are, at best, living hand to mouth. That was true before the pandemic and it is even truer now.
If they have a bad night at the merchandise table it could mean they have “reduced to clear” sandwiches for dinner again and that they might not have enough money for petrol to take them to the next show.
Buying something from their merch table can be seen as an important downpayment on the band’s future.
5) The end of hidden booking and/or processing fees
Everything so far has been aimed at the audience, but the live music business needs to get its own house in order here. We have missed you, but we haven’t missed everything about you.
You want people to come back to see live music and to keep coming back? Great. Then don’t treat them with disdain. Find ways to encourage them.
One of the best ways you can do that is to not, when they get to the online checkout, add on £3.50 in booking fees for each £35 ticket. Just list the tickets at £38.50 each at the start.
“there is no justification at all for charging people to print their tickets at home. The brass neck of it. Are you also going to bill them for ‘use of gravity’ inside the venue?”
It’s just rubbing their nose in it when they get to the checkout and have to frantically spring for more money as the timer at the top of the screen counts down the last few seconds before they are kicked back to the start of the booking process.
And, sorry, there is no justification at all for charging people to print their tickets at home. The brass neck of it. Are you also going to bill them for “use of gravity” inside the venue? A surcharge of £5 for a plastic glass otherwise they have to drink their pint out of their cupped hands?
What about extra money to access a clean toilet rather than risking your life in an effluent-filled sinkhole? Sorry, I forgot – many venues have never offered that upsell option.
Some companies like Dice have upfront and transparent pricing. This should be the rule for everyone, not the exception.
If you respect and like your customers, chances are they will respect and like you.
6) Loyalty cards for regular concertgoers
You want people to come back to your venue to see more live music? Then really nurture them.
An all-venues loyalty card (or app) gets scanned every time they go to a show and they earn points that can be used to give them rewards. Maybe for every 100 shows, they get access to a better viewing position that has comfy sofas and complimentary tea and coffee.
Think of it like Green Shield Stamps. There’s a snappy contemporary reference for the millennials.
7) No U2 shows until at least 2035
They definitely don’t need the money and we really shouldn’t be encouraging them.Music Business Worldwide