Investigative Journalism

How the live event staged a comeback

Saxon wanted to resuscitate sales in their home market, it was not a record company they turned to but legendary tour promoter Harvey Goldsmith.
Under the LiveAid promoter’s guidance, and even before his work with the band appeared on a UK reality TV show called Get Your Act Together With Harvey Goldsmith, Saxon’s fortunes began to revive.
Meanwhile, literary agent Tony Cowell (Simon Cowell’s brother) also turned to the live circuit to test the format of his reality TV series Bestseller! – this time a literary festival in the sleepy English town of Falmouth. The packed audience loved it and the project, which will feature unpublished authors pitching their novels to judges with the power to land them a book deal, launches next week.
With music and book retail sales struggling worldwide, artists are increasingly approaching audiences directly – either through traditional live concerts or by tapping today’s favourite spectator sport: reality TV.
That the two forums have often intertwined – particularly in the case of pop music talent contests – illustrates the extent to which the reality TV phenomenon has offered viewers the perception of a shared experience as if they were all watching together in a concert venue.
“From the smallest club to the largest arena, the [live music] business is more vibrant than ever,” Mr Goldsmith says. His confidence is well founded: in the UK, audiences for music events at arenas rose 11 per cent last year to 5.8m, according to the National Arena Association.
Mean Fiddler, which runs a raft of venues and music festivals, including Glastonbury, has increased ticket sales by more than 10 per cent annually since 2003, says Melvin Benn, chief executive: “The increase hasn’t been exclusive to the outdoor festival market, smaller venues are doing well too.”
The vigour of the live market has turned the music industry on its head, says Mr Goldsmith. “Up until the iPod age, record companies maintained the business, releasing material by performers, and the live tour was about promoting the record, which would make the money,” he says. “Now it is the complete reverse and the live side of the business has become stronger and totally dominates the global music market.”
The audience circuit works for performers in two ways: it helps them reach new markets, and by selling directly, they escape the huge margins demandedby retailers, and sales at venues provide a sustainable income.
“We buy CDs from our label at cost and then sell them for twice that on tour,” says Seth Gordon, lead singer with the US band The Mockers, which has just completed a sell-out tour of Spain. “We sold hundreds of CDs on this last tour . . . to make the same amount through record stores, we would have to sell double or triple the amount.”

HOW TO SELL IT LIKE SARAH JESSICA

“The proposed jacket had an artist’s illustration of a penguin on it and they were getting really heated about whether the penguin had the right expression on its face,” he recalls. As tempers frayed, Scott Pack was asked his opinion. “I told them that it was a rubbish cover whatever the penguin’s expression.” The cover was dropped.

Blood, money and motives

an Rankin is under no illusions about motives: crime pays. At last year’s Cheltenham Festival he said: ‘Most of us [crime writers] are selling much more than any more “literary” author could hope for, so they can be as snooty as they like.’ Andrew Taylor whose crime novels have received critical plaudits, agrees: ‘At the end of the day, if you want to make a living as a writer, you stand a better chance if you’re writing crime fiction than if you are writing literary fiction.’

Cultural diversity

Publishing is, to coin a phrase, hideously white. That is the
harsh conclusion of the first industry-wide survey into cultural
diversity. It is also the opinion of the vast majority of
respondents to the decibel survey. “A sea of white faces prevails, with occasional Asian ones and rare Black ones,” writes one.

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