Maria Eagle has been named the UK’s shadow culture secretary following the sacking two days ago of previous office-holder Michael Dugher. Eagle, MP for Garston and Halewood, in Liverpool, was previously the Labour party’s shadow defence secretary. While not specifically naming live music as an area of concern, she criticised…
Former Spotify and PRS for Music chief economist Will Page has delved deeper into his forecast for the resurgence of the UK’s live sector in a new Q&A with IQ.
Page, the author of Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles of Pivoting Through Disruption, presented his groundbreaking research last month, based on his analysis of consumer spend on live and recorded music since 2019.
He noted that in 2019, British gig-goers spent GBP £1.7 billion on concert tickets – a fifth more than the £1.4 billion that consumers spent on recorded music in the same 12 months. But in the pandemic-hit 2020, live takings collapsed 90% in the UK to just £200 million, whereas spending on recorded music accelerated by 6% to breach the £1.5bn watermark.
However, as lockdown eased in 2021, UK recorded music reached close to £1.7 billion, whereas live spend staged a partial recovery to £700m.
And in an upbeat conclusion, Page suggested the sector’s recovery was on track to be “more like a slingshot than a rebound”.
“Wallets are set to be squeezed further this year and next,” he said. “That said… the imperative is for all of us – policymakers, professionals and performers – to come together to unlock the ‘coiled spring’ demand for music on British stages up and down the country.
“Now the dust has settled, let’s remind ourselves that music is the alchemy in the room that brings us together. And with the pandemic finally behind us, those rooms will surely be packed to capacity. If the collective ‘we’ get this right, it’ll be more like a slingshot than a rebound.”
With that in mind, IQ sat down with Page to expand further on his findings…
“Everyone needs to be reminded of the intimacy of the live music experience”
Given the UK is in the midst of a cost of living crisis, what impact do you expect that to have on the bounceback of the live business?
“There’s psychology at play with the current crisis; the fact that prices are still accelerating matters as we can’t see light at the end of the tunnel. If/when they stop accelerating, the psychology will change and change fast. I’m quietly confident that inflation will return to something we’d call normal soon, but remember we haven’t had a normal (real interest rates above the rate of inflation) for over a decade!”
There has also been a lingering reticence to return to live shows from a certain segment of the audience, how does that factor into your projections?
“This could be genuine, lingering, doubts about the pandemic, but it’s more likely inertia. To combat that, I think the industry needs to optimise for reach over revenue, get more people to attend at least one event, as opposed to a few people to attend many. Everyone needs to be reminded of the intimacy of the live music experience – once experienced, they’ll never go back (to their sofas, Pringles and Netflix, that is!).”
“Live music faces costs just like all parts of the entertainment economy, but may benefit from the tough times as well”
Are there any other factors you are concerned about that could impact the resurgence?
“Yes, I think there’s displacement effects to consider. There’s an old expression that goes ‘Domino’s Pizza wins in a recession as people dine out less’. I think that can be applied to live music – in that consumers might push back on European short breaks which might set them back £400 in flights and hotel and invest that money in domestic live shows, which with a meal, travel and child care could be a £200 bill. Live music faces costs just like all parts of the entertainment economy, but may benefit from the tough times as well.”
You noted in your analysis that, since the London Olympics, all the growth in UK live music was contained within stadiums and festivals – increasing their share from 23% in 2012 to 40% in 2019. Why do you think that was and do you expect that trend to continue?
“Andrew Bud, a statistical inspiration to me and also the founder of iProov, taught me an inconvenient truth of the long tail in 2008: when you offer more choices, people want more hits. We’re clearly seeing that play out here. Also, there are simple economies of scale effects to consider, as big means bigger margins. Finally, when you play festivals you’re often told not to tour theatres – that tips the scales even more.”
“When I look at the global success of Dua Lipa, that makes me so proud of a UK music export success, but also concerned as I can’t really think of any British act to emulate her since”
When you predicted the comeback will “be more like a slingshot than a rebound”, what sort of timescale did you have in mind?
“Let the data do the talking. I was so grateful to the PRS for Music team for enabling me to work with their data from 2019-20-21 as we can learn about the recovery, let’s wait to see what the data tells us at the end of 2022. Since publishing my work in Music Business Worldwide and Financial Times, many companies have shared data to suggest that this year will be the slingshot and set new box office records. It sure feels like 2022 is well on its way to being a slingshot.”
Are there any closing thoughts you would like to add?
“Going back to the long tail, we need to think about the smaller venues as a seed bed for future growth. I worked on a piece for The Economist in 2015 looking at the average age of festival headliners. To be clear, I don’t want to sound ageist. I respect the sentimentality that makes live music so special. I love thinking about how many of those fans who went to see Coldplay weren’t born when Yellow was released! But… I do think that the live industry doesn’t have a long list of headliners in their 20s like we did when Radiohead did Glastonbury in the mid-to-late ’90s. I have no time for ‘bs’ scaremongering but that, I feel, is a legitimate concern. When I look at the global success of Dua Lipa, that makes me so proud of a UK music export success, but also concerned as I can’t really think of any British act to emulate her since. To go back to our statistical analogy, this lopsided success of live music reminds us we need the long tail to feed the head.”
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