Dave Batty’s introduction to live music came with a hefty side order of spandex, glitter and hairspray.
“My first ever concert was Poison, Sydney Entertainment Centre, 1989,” he smiles. “I went with my friend and his mum and loved it. She didn't like it. Too much swearing.”
From there Batty cycled through a who’s who of visiting arena behemoths – Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe – before falling under the spell of a very different concert experience: the no-nonsense, no-frills thrill of alternative giants the Rollins Band and Fugazi.
“Those other shows were all full of the bells and whistles, and then you get these bands coming out with just white lights and sheer power, volume and energy,” he recalls. “It's a totally different feeling. I guess that's probably where the journey started.”
"You get these bands coming out with just white lights and sheer power, volume and energy..."
Attending the first Big Day Out in Sydney in 1992 – headline acts: Nirvana, The Violent Femmes – sealed the deal: “That opened me up to the idea that I might work with music.”
Fast forward several decades and Batty is one of Australia’s most respected managers, having guided artists such as C.W. Stoneking and The Jezabels to national and international success. As Director of Custom-Made Artist Representation he also steers the careers of Melbourne alternative group Slowly Slowly, Victorian punkers CIVIC and Queensland country artist Bud Rokesky.
Here, Batty considers the importance of mailing lists and owning your data, future trends in the touring industry, the best ways of encouraging presales, and more…
How involved are you when it comes to marketing your artists’ tours?
Very involved, generally.
For some artists I will get in and physically build Facebook ads and work out the audience and the targets and do that to the best of my somewhat limited ability.
Other times, when it's an independently promoted or organised tour where we're not working with another promoter, we'll pick up a digital marketing agency that will run all that for us and feed back on daily or every-other-day reports. So, we'll work on that together.
And then other times it's with a promoter [and] it'll be, ‘These are the kinds of things we're going to do, here's what our budget is, are we good with that?’ And they kind of run off and implement it themselves.
They still feed back reports as to what is working and what’s not, and what changes they may need. So I’m across it all, but actual hands-on time can vary.
"The mailing list is maybe the most valuable thing you can have..."
What marketing channels have really worked for you over the past 12 months?
Generally speaking, with the artists that I work with – and this has always been the case since I started – the mailing list is maybe the most valuable thing you can have.
We find that the response is very positive there, as far as how many people open the newsletter and click on a link within it, which is all trackable.
I think the mailing list has become more valuable lately because it's just harder to get through the noise on digital and social media sites.
The mailing list and your own website is kind of all you have as an artist, as your own property. Everything else is like rented property.
If Facebook decided to shut tomorrow, everyone would be screwed. [Laughs] And a lot of people would find it very difficult to figure out how to reach an audience, because we've given everything over to these [outlets], and other traditional outlets have gone by the wayside as a result of that.
Anything that we can retain and own and control is better.
Do you find that different marketing channels resonate better in certain territories than others?
No. I think for the most part, a lot of territories are very similar. Because you can create audiences.
I think the only difference is when you're touring somewhere like China where the social media activity is restricted, or they don't have such easy access to Facebook, Instagram, that sort of stuff, you've probably got to figure out the domestic platforms.
And that's where I would be relying on the local partners to drive that, because I don't have that information or access to the platforms to launch advertising campaigns.
But I think for the most part, it's much the same at a base level. [And also] it’s not only the artist database, but what's the venue got? Or the promoter has an email database, they have their site, their own social following. In a lot of ways [it’s about] trying to reach beyond the artist’s own social media reach.
But it often will come down to at least a large portion of the marketing for a show will go towards digital.
Beyond making the music, how much impetus is on the artist to help sell tickets to their shows?
A lot. It's generally assumed or considered that the best way to get the message out about a show or a tour or a release is via your socials. Obviously you’ve got the importance of the mailing list, and that remains valid, [but] I think with socials, you have to promote on there.
The only thing we're seeing now is if you're not paying, boosting the post, you're reaching such a small percentage of your followers as an organic post. But it's still getting to some people, and then you're relying on word of mouth.
Do you think boosting the posts is worth the money?
If you've got something significant or you're really reaching for something, like launching a tour or trying to get it up and strong out of the gates, then I think you've got to go in and put a budget behind that.
"If you've got something significant or you're really reaching for something, like launching a tour or trying to get it up and strong out of the gates, then I think you've got to go in and put a budget behind that."
You mentioned it’s important to promote a tour on the artist’s social media account, but what about the individual themselves? Is there a responsibility on the individuals to be really active on socials, to be making TikTok videos that in some ways promote the show, to do Instagram Livestreams, to actually engage with their fans?
It's not natural to a lot of artists, and it doesn't necessarily suit a lot. Some don't like doing the face-to-video: “Hey, I'm whoever, and I'm excited to be coming to Brisbane.”
But marketers will tell you that those kinds of videos will travel better through the algorithm. Videos work better than a static image.
So, have that conversation, that you don't have to do it, but these are the limitations if you don't. And you have to be okay with that. You don't want to try and make anyone do anything they’re not comfortable with, because it will come across that way.
"Being clear with people that they're not going to get an Instagram Live chat for your event, or you're not going to get TikTok activity, I think is important. And everyone can adapt and work around that."
Same with TikTok. The artists I work with don't really do TikTok. They're on it, and there's varying amounts of content on there, but it's just one of those things where they've come up through Facebook, and then adapted with Instagram. And now they're like, I'm maxed. [Laughs] Like, that's enough.
And there's a point where they're sitting there going, what else am I going to say here? Like, how many times can I post about the same show or the same song?
So [it’s about] finding the middle ground on what they might like to do. And some of it will be, I just want to post and move on. And you've just got to communicate that with everybody else involved in the show that this is the limit of what you'll get.
Being clear with people that they're not going to get an Instagram Live chat for your event, or you're not going to get TikTok activity, I think is important. And everyone can adapt and work around that. We can't really rely much on native content. So, we'll have to go back to marketing and paid campaigns.
Which affects your bottom line…
It does. But there's ways around things, too. Like an artist that I work with doesn't like doing the videos. So, we animate the art for the shows. It's still a moving image that gets loaded up as the ad, and it performs better, because it's moving. So we found a workaround.
How important is presale to you?
Very important, probably more than it was.
If you're aiming high, like if you're going for bigger shows than you've done in the past, or you're trying to reach a bit further, going out strong and moving as many tickets as early as possible is the way to do that.
That said, there is a trend at the moment where tickets are selling generally quite late. So, you probably need to assume that there are a good amount of sales left in the last couple of weeks as well, if you haven't sold them all. So I would say, open strong with a bang, move as many as you can, and then let it go and revive it closer to [the tour] if there are tickets left. Because you will sell a good chunk.
What are some of the ways you've been trying to encourage brisk presales?
I think it's about the show itself – stacking the bill, making an event of it.
You [might] incorporate some early bird incentives – maybe the ticket can be a bit cheaper, maybe you go into a competition to win a merch pack, could be a meet and greet with the band. And also, giving early access to the email list or subscribers or if you've got a fan club, Facebook groups, anything like that.
And then, who are you working with, what's the reach of the database of not only the artist, but the promoter? And how's it going to be used? How are we going to get everybody excited about the show that might be six months away?
So I think it's just bringing everything together to try and make as much of an impact at announce as you can, and then just monitoring that over the remaining time, and then building it again as you get closer to the show.
"There is a risk of going out so big and hard at the start and spending such a proportion of your budget, that you've got to find it again at the end..."
You mentioned the trend for people to buy tickets late at the moment. Is there anything you can do or have done to try and nullify that?
No, apart from just bringing everything forward and going out with a bang. And there's a risk in that, because you spend a fair chunk of whatever budget you might have at the front.
So, there is a risk of going out so big and hard at the start and spending such a proportion of your budget, that you've got to find it again at the end, if it hasn't worked as you’d have hoped. But I think all you can do is try to encourage early sales through whatever means you have.
Once the show is over, or the tour is over, do you tend to communicate with those who bought tickets and opted in to receive communications?
Yeah, I think sending a little note at the end is good. I mean, if you've had a great tour, and people have come out and supported you, I think acknowledging that, just a note of thanks. And it could just be that. But I think it goes a long way.
And you used your mailing list to correct an issue with merch turning up to some Slowly Slowly gigs?
It hadn't shown up, I think there were freight issues or something had gone missing. So using the customer opt ins from ticket holders, we were able to send an email just to the people that had been at those shows, and offer them an opportunity to buy the merch that we didn't have at the show. Super easy to do and facilitate. And people came back and responded really well.
"I think artists are probably going to be a little more selective about what they do live because of the costs of touring."
Where do you see the national and international touring market going in the next 12 to 24 months?
I think artists are probably going to be a little more selective about what they do live because of the costs of touring. In years gone by, particularly for Australian artists, it was nothing to think we're gonna go to England or America and we're going to lose 20 or 30 grand.
Now it's like, well, 20 or 30 grand has suddenly become 40 or 50, or more. And it's just not so easy to recoup that.
I'm not just saying Australians going elsewhere, I'm saying that for any artist trying to leave their own little pocket and tour, even from east to west coast of the US, I think it's going to be difficult.
I think everyone is just going to have to probably reconsider how they do it. Not necessarily if they do it, but how they do it.