Pay-per-view, livestreamed, concerts are generating revenue at a time when the live music industry has been all but financially paralysed. Artist manager Brian Message, who recently co-founded ticketed online concerts specialist Driift, discusses how this new industry sector is evolving.
With the global live music industry ground to a halt, tech-savvy innovators have demonstrated that serious money can still be made from live shows even if the venues are empty.
The bar was set high in June by K-Pop superstars BTS, whose pay-per-view ‘BANG BANG CON The Live’ online event generated $20m in ticket sales. The audience for the live streamed show peaked at 756,600 people spread across 107 countries.
The following month, more than 1 million dance music fans paid to watch virtual festival Tomorrowland Around the World, a digital version of the 60,000-capacity Belgian EDM festival. Tickets for the live streamed event were priced €12.50 (£11.22) per day or €20 (£18.20) for weekend access.
Operating at a somewhat smaller scale but nonetheless a pioneer in the UK market is ATC Management, which after organising a series of streamed shows by acts including Nick Cave, Laura Marling, Lianne La Havas and Dermot Kennedy launched Driift in early August. With founder investors the Beggars Group, Driift is focused solely on producing and promoting ticketed streamed concerts.
Since its launch, Driift has worked on shows by acts including Biffy Clyro, while forthcoming concerts include Sleaford Mods at The 100 Club on September 12th. Driift co-founder Brian Message says the pipeline of content is looking “pretty full”.
An experienced industry veteran, Message is a partner in Courtyard Management, Radiohead’s management business, as well as being co-founder of ATC. Among his artist clients are Johnny Marr, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and PJ Harvey.
Message says that it was two livestreamed shows by Laura Marling at the Union Chapel in London that really got the ball rolling. On June 6 the singer-songwriter took to the stage of the Islington venue to perform for a UK/EU geo-blocked online audience. Later that evening she returned to play a set for fans in the US.
The 900-capacity Union Chapel was populated solely by a skeletal production crew, who were clad in masks, and were operating under strict social distancing guidelines. The shows, which were filmed in Ultra HD and streamed via YouTube, proved a critical and commercial success, with around 6,500 people paying the equivalent of £12 a ticket.
“It was a bit disconcerting walking into the Union Chapel that first morning, seeing the entire production crew social distancing and with masks on. Everyone was trying to work out how to make it work but I think production crews and artist management are all getting more used to it now – it is becoming a norm,” says Message.
ATC’s subsequent shows by Dermot Kennedy at the Natural History Museum and Nick Cave at Alexandra Palace sold around 30,000 and 35,000 tickets, respectively, with tickets for the latter show priced £16.
Message says Nick Cave’s ‘Idiot Prayer’ show at the North London venue, which found him performing alone at a piano in the vast Victorian venue, was not only hugely symbolic but a key factor in the decision to launch Driift.
“The contrast of Nick alone at the piano in the middle of that 10,000-capacity venue captured where we were as a society and where we are at as an industry,” he says.
The Nick Cave show was ATC’s most successful and a decisive step toward the launch of Driift. “The shows had worked so well we felt it was appropriate to launch a company, not least because we were getting so much demand,” says Message.
The business has already streamed shows to dedicated markets oversees but is now expanding its offering outside the UK, with shows being set up in North America. A natural step, with both Beggars and ATC having US bases.
Message’s partner at ATC, Ric Salmon co-founded the venture and while the management company has a vast array of its own artist clients to work with, Driift is not restricting itself to in-house acts.
Driift oversees ticketing, production, licensing, rights management and digital marketing for the shows, working alongside partners including production company Pulse Films, online streaming specialist Jackshoot, streaming platforms YouTube and Vimeo, and Ticketmaster and Dice for ticketing.
When it comes to ticket sales, an interesting pattern emerged that is helping the planning and budgeting of events.
“The turnaround it is pretty quick, you know you are going to sell 30% to 40% of your tickets within 48 to 72 hours of making the on-sale announcement, and you know you will do the same numbers in last couple of days before the show. That means that as little as 48 hours after the on-sale you know where to pitch the production budget costs, depending on what you want the creative to be and what profits you want to try and make,” says Message.
The majority of Driift’s shows so far have been streamed but Biffy Clyro and Nick Cave’s were pre-recorded. For Cave the option of pre-recording the performance and being able to make the end result more “film like” was the deciding factor.
Message says there has been no clear difference in the level of demand for the shows, whether pre-recorded or streamed live: “There seems to be a uniformity of excitement among fans who want to be able to see their favourite artists at this time. Clearly an important part of the equation is scarcity, this is the chance for fans to see artists perform at a time when there are no real live shows.”
In an effort to generate more revenue and expand the options for viewers Driift is working on added functionality including album and merchandise bundles, as well as enabling video chat rooms for fans during performances.
Says Message, “There is a whole bunch of creatives we want to get out of the gate and introduce the functionality, there is demand coming from all around – from fans and artists. What is made available depends on each individual project and whether it is appropriate or not, but we have shows coming up that will have extra functionality such as virtual meet and greets, and VIP packages.
“We are at the forefront of this type of show and there are lots of different ideas we are working on.”
While the artist manager is hugely enthusiastic about the streamed-show format, and is convinced it has legs, he is less certain that streamed live shows performed in front of an audience would work so well for the online participants.
He says, “There is a whole industry at the moment on a coil waiting to leap back into traditional live shows but we believe there is a big role to play with these kind of creatives that can sit alongside live shows and create an alternative.
“I am not so keen on hybrids where there is a live and PPV audience because one thing that is nice about having no audience in the venue with this type of product is the democratisation of the audience, everyone is in the same boat, wherever you are in the world you are watching a production – you are not a second-class citizen compared to the people in the venue itself.
“That is something we feel might come out of it but it is a Wild West at the moment, who knows how this will shape up when real shows come back.”
Photography by Joel Ryan