Live and lucrative: gigs are just the ticket

Beyonce wows fans at the 12,000-seat SSE Hydro. Picture: Rob Hoffman
Beyonce wows fans at the 12,000-seat SSE Hydro. Picture: Rob Hoffman
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IN TERMS of being hip, a business breakfast meeting is about as rock’n’roll as a night tucked up in front of the telly.

So while the venue is wholly appropriate, today’s talk on music tourism and the “nighttime economy” starts at the rather disconcerting hour of 8am. Any sense of discord in the meeting room above Glasgow’s SSE Hydro arena only begins to dissipate as Geoff Ellis presses home the case for the industry’s coming of age.

Geoff Ellis says small venues are the lifeblood of the music business. Picture: Greg Macvean

Geoff Ellis says small venues are the lifeblood of the music business. Picture: Greg Macvean

“It is not just a bit of noise and inconvenience for those who don’t like music,” insists the head of DF Concerts, the company behind T in the Park, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and countless gigs in other venues across Scotland. “There is some grown-up stuff in there as well.”

His companion on the podium, John Langford, is tuned in to that message. Now 18 months into his job as director of live entertainment at the SECC, he notes that the Hydro is on course to generate an economic impact of £131 million when it reaches its first birthday on 30 September – “more than the cost of its construction”.

“But most of what Glasgow can do lies in the secondary economy,” Langford adds.

Live music performances such as Kings of Leon at the SECC and The Killers at Bellahouston Park, both earlier this year, have become increasingly important as downloading and streaming have slashed the cost of buying music. At the same time, prices for concert tickets have soared, to the extent that even promoters are uncertain about where or when they might top out.

It’s a significant shift for the industry in the UK, which is the second largest producer of music in the world and one of only three countries that can claim to be a net exporter.

“But the live music scene is something that has not always been quantified in terms of value,” says Ellis.

That has been rectified to some extent by the publication in October 2013 of Wish You Were Here, an analysis carried out by Oxford Economics on behalf of lobbying group UK Music. Based on figures from 2012, it estimates that music tourism generated by those who travel substantial distances to attend live performances amounts to £2.2 billion in direct and indirect spending.

Some £1.3bn of that is direct spending by the 6.5 million music tourists travelling through the UK each year. This helps support about 24,000 full-time jobs.

The distance that must be travelled to be a “music tourist” varies from one region to another. In London it is 33 miles, but in Scotland it is 47 miles, a measure that generates a total of 537,000 music tourists annually north of the Border.

Ellis is quick to point out that this analysis misses out large swathes of the live music scene, because it only takes into account ticketed events at venues with a capacity of 1,500 or more. This excludes Glasgow haunts such as King Tut’s, The Garage, Nice N Sleazy and Blackfriars, all of which are popular and regular hosts of smaller gigs.

These venues are high up Langford’s list of concerns. Its seems rather counter-intuitive given that his baby, the 12,000-seat Hydro, served 1.5 million ticketed customers this past year. However, it’s all part of the bigger picture.

“The real focus for me is not on the big venues like the Hydro, and it is not, with all due respect, T in the Park or Glastonbury,” says Langford, who along with Ellis was speaking last week at Glasgow Talks Music, an event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. “The focus should be on small local venues.”

He notes that 12 of the top 20 acts touring globally are aged 60-plus, and wonders where the next generation of headline bands are coming from: “We at the Hydro are the skin at the end of the sausage – what is at the other end feeding into that sausage?”

He is campaigning for a more joined-up approach in developing the industry across the city, including the promotion of designated “music zones” around areas such as Sauchiehall Street. Other factors highlighted in his nine-point plan include training, co-ordinated marketing, the regulation of secondary ticketing, transport, accessibility and an easing of the bureaucracy that regulates live events.

“It is about having conversations – grown-up conversations – about these issues,” Langford says. “When you see our contribution to the economy, I think that earns us a seat at the table.”

Ellis is also pushing for support for emerging talent from all available sources.

“Where is the creativity coming from? We have to nurture it,” he says.

“You don’t want small events going out of business, and you don’t want small venues going out of business. That is the lifeblood for the Hydro, and for providing headline acts for events like T in the Park.”

Job losses in the public sector have created an inconsistency in how councils approach the licensing and regulation of live events, Ellis says. While there may be a willingness at the top to ease such burdens, much of this fails to translate down to less experienced staff at the coal face. “John is obviously in a grown-up venue here with the Hydro, and we can be treated as the naughty school boys at times,” he says. “But we are professionals – this is what we do for a living, and it generates big economic benefits.”

The Facts:

• The Hydro hosts about 140 events per year.

• At 1.5 million, the number of tickets sold by The Hydro topped the total number of live music tickets sold last year throughout the rest of Scotland.

• T in the Park hosts 85,000 people each day during the duration of the festival.

• It generates £3.7m in economic benefits across Tayside.

• Overseas visitors make up just 6 per cent of UK music tourists, but account for 20 per cent of spending.

• Festival tourists spend a total of £685 million a year, accounting for 54 per cent of all music tourist spending.

• Concert tourists spend £581m per year.