The year is 2000, and Achal Dhillon is enjoying Californian pop-punkers blink-182 at Reading Festival when he spots the various VIPs, media and industry hangers-on watching from the side of the stage. As he stands there in the field, surrounded by sweaty punters, one eye on the bottles of urine being anonymously launched like grenades from one section of the crowd to another, he thinks to himself, “How do I get there?”
When, 14 years later, Dhillon had risen through the industry ranks to the point where he too could enjoy that privileged vantage point, he realized it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
“All I got to see was the back of somebody's head because you're parked in this sort of pop-in kind of viewing platform, with everyone jockeying [for position]. I'm like, ‘Well, this is a bloody waste of 14 years, isn't it?’” he chuckles.
Thankfully, Dhillon has more to show for his hard work than a view of someone’s head. Having worked in A&R/management positions at Universal Music, Quest Management and Turn First Artists/First Access Entertainment early on in his career, in 2011 he began the music blog Killing Moon in his parents’ loft.
Eventually Killing Moon morphed into a leading artist development platform, encompassing a record label, artist management and live promotions business, before turning into The Music Federation.
Dhillon is also a consultant festival booker for Festival Republic, an international consultant for LA-based management company Velvet Hammer, and has worked with artists such as Ellie Goulding, Bring Me The Horizon, Rita Ora, Paul McCartney and IDLES, to name a few.
All of which makes him perfectly positioned to highlight five key insights into the music and touring industry in 2023…
Is Livestreaming Running Out Of Steam?
Not by a long way. But there’s work to be done.
Dhillon: “I don't think the potential has been realized, especially in revenue terms, that a livestreaming market could actually present. We've built pipes around this in the distribution sense. We've got distributors set up to deliver this content.
“Now I'm not crapping on the hard ticket, there is always a space for that.
“But as we've seen, promoters encounter limitations based on capacity when their event is too popular. We’re now seeing an evolution of venue construction taking place – a good example is Gold Diggers in Los Angeles where over the lockdown period, due to necessity, but also due to having the time to do it, [they] refurbed the venue, [stuck] cameras in every possible vantage point in a performance space. Livestream that – that is streaming income just waiting to be realized for the rights holder. And another source of revenue for an artist in a cantankerous live market.
“I think the necessary conditions are there, I think the opportunity is there."
“I think the necessary conditions are there, I think the opportunity is there. We have venue restrictions, we have COVID [and] trying to reduce transmission rates, we have costs of living, we have a streaming economy, and therefore there seems to be a pot of gold at the end of this magic rainbow that seems to be forming.
“What we need to do is start diminishing the costs of creating these live assets in the first place. How can we generate the assets, all at a relatively low cost? We haven't quite developed the returns on livestreaming, or indeed educated the producers of these assets to even think about this as an income stream, so I think we're a couple of years away from realizing it.”
Not All Social Media Channels Are Created Equal
Some are more effective for marketing live events
Dhillon: “I’ll [talk about this] in the capacity of a promoter. And I'll take the example of utilizing club show promotions. Up until last year, we were promoting around 150 shows per year under The Music Federation.
“The mainstay of these were club shows, so we're talking 100-200 capacity shows, some of them free entry, some of them hard ticketed.
“If it's hard ticketed, then it's going to go through the band's own social media – Instagram seems to be the one that seems to get the most traction. If not, depending on the demographic, TikTok.
“Facebook seems to come in at last position. I would say YouTube is useful only in so far as you have an audio-visual asset to deploy. And if that's promotionally taking flight, then that will probably have relevance.
“We have fairly bulky and robust mailing lists [through] which to deploy tickets, and dare I say we've developed a fan base, so people would just turn up because they knew the show was going to be good. So word of mouth does seem to be effective for us.”
There’s Another Channel Younger Artists Are Utilizing
And it’s called WhatsApp Business
Dhillon: “Simply put, on your social media you can whack a phone number. And there seems to be an expansiveness to that platform where you can have larger groups, or more defined groups, that you can deploy different messaging and different content to.
“The great appeal for the fan, and hence the drive towards it or the want to be on it, is that it's created that direct nexus between artist and fan. In this context it's a controllable close-ended group that the band can control, and they can deploy assets in a very conversational sense to the fans. And the fans feel that the bands are their chums, they can reply to individual messages.
“It doesn’t cannibalize the email database. But it does remove the need to have to reply to each individual message – you can kind of get the flavor of what people actually want [from the comments], you can give them access to presales tickets, you can make them feel part of the team, you can make them feel part of the club.
“So I guess what we're cultivating is a direct-to-consumer fan club, where there is greater proximity enjoyed between fan and artists. That's what we've broadly seen so far.”
The Quality of the Lineup Matters
At the end of the day, people want to see good artists
Dhillon: “Booking the right acts, creating the right level of discovery, putting something on stage that people want to see – it all traces back to knowing your audience, really getting engaged.
“One of my best friends, John Mac, who books a number of different festivals for Festival Republic over here, including Reading and Leeds Festival, he really took me under his wing many years ago.
“He [told me], ‘Your job as a promoter is always to look at the audience, look outwardly into the crowd, they will tell you everything you need to know about how well your shows are going and what you should do next in terms of residual actions with that act. Should you put another show on sale? Should you wait for a little bit? Listen to the audience, and they'll see you right.’ That's the lesson he gave me and it was a very good one to learn.”
"Your job as a promoter is always to look at the audience, look outwardly into the crowd, they will tell you everything you need to know..."
Some Data Can Be Trusted When Booking Shows
But some can’t
Dhillon: “Putting my festival booker's consultant hat on, I've always found streaming numbers do not denote the highest form of fandom, not by any stretch of the imagination.
“Getting the stream is a click away. It's a very at arm's length representation as to what the popularity of an act actually is. So therefore, the geographical relevance in my mind starts to diminish.
“So I don't pay a lot of attention to that. I think the greatest signifiers as to whether you are a die-hard fan of a particular act is how much currency you're willing to exchange and the reduction of arm's length. That's basically going to be T-shirts and tickets for me, so merch and live are two main metrics I will use personally to base a decision on.”