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Meeting of minds

Features
February 14, 2018
Open Forum Session - ILMC 28
What started as a one-off business meeting three decades ago, with only 40 invitations issued, has evolved into the biggest gathering of international promoters and agents in the world – an event at which issues are debated, tales exchanged and deals concluded, by people who often only get to meet each other once a year, at the ILMC.   Christopher Barrett reports

 

This year’s International Live Music Conference (ILMC) will see more than 1,000 live music professionals from over 60 countries descend on the UK’s Royal Garden Hotel in London, for three days of meetings, panels, workshops and events relating to the global concert and festival business.

The event’s conception can be traced back to a windy street corner in New York in 1988, where three live music businessmen found themselves in deep conversation.

The trio were attending the now-defunct New Music Seminar, and as the conversation progressed, London-based international agent Martin Hopewell was struck by the fact that the two leading European promoters he was with, Herman Scheuremans from Belgium and Rune Lem from Norway, had never met.

“We realised that the vast majority of the major European promoters had not met each other and I thought that was absurd,” says Hopewell.

Lem, who is now MD of Live Nation Norway, recalls, “We felt it was very important to bring the business together at the highest level. The New York conference was boring, too urban and too American for us.”

So, in 1989 Hopewell trawled his address book and invited 40 people to the first International Live Music Conference at London’s Mayfair Hotel.

By bringing agents and promoters together, Hopewell hoped the ILMC would help attendees forge a more united and professional approach to doing business with each other.

“At the time the industry was regarded as a loose collection of individual cowboys, often one-man operations, working without any rules or set practices,” he says. “It seemed wrong that a business that was capable of producing such amazing live shows should be regarded that way.”

Leading players turned up to the inaugural event.

“We had a long line of individuals quietly queuing up outside the building, none of them knew each other, so none of them were talking,” says Hopewell.

“When they came together in the conference room there was an astonishing reaction, the atmosphere was warm and open, people were talking enthusiastically. It was magic.”

Thomas Johansson, now head of Live Nation Sweden and chairman of Live Nation international, remembers a moment at the first ILMC when he knew the event was on the road to becoming a truly global event.

“Martin was talking and all of a sudden the room fell silent, I looked around and saw [US promoter] Bill Graham had walked in,” he says. “Bill was a legend, famous for his work at Fillmore West and with acts including Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.

“His arrival was very significant for ILMC, we were confident it was going to go global and become the most important live music industry meeting in the world.”

Live Nation Entertainment’s UK-based president of international touring Phil Bowdery also attended that first event, and has not missed an ILMC since.

“There had been nothing like it before, it was very much needed,” says Bowdery. “It was great to have everyone in one place – you could get an opinion and do business without using the fax machine. One year I remember Barry Marshall putting a Tina Turner tour together between sessions.”

Another attendee at the first event was New York-based Entourage Talent Associates president Wayne Forte, who had flown in from Hong Kong to be there.

“I do remember the Italian and German promoters, each at opposite ends of a rather small room, shouting obscenities at their fellow countrymen,” he says. “Other than that, there was a lot of interesting and good intentioned conversation.”

Carl Leighton-Pope, MD of The Leighton-Pope Organisation in the UK remembers Forte being the subject of European frustration during a heated debate at that event.

“Wayne was a happening agent in New York, so we decided to vent our anger on him that North American agencies were bypassing European agencies and booking acts directly into Europe,” says Pope. “We weren’t allowed to do that in the US.”

One of the more outspoken attendees, Leighton-Pope soon became an integral part of the event, hosting a two-hour Friday afternoon session.

Despite the occasional raised voice, the single room event, which had a partition separating drinks and sausages on sticks from the meeting area, proved a major hit.

“It was Martin Hopewell’s obvious passion and immense hard work that made it a success,” says Australian promoter Garry Van Egmond, who was also at ILMC 1.

Hopewell insists that his initial vision was for it to be a one-off meeting.

“At the end, I went up on stage to thank people and Rune [Lem] said, ‘so what are we doing next year?’. It really hadn’t occurred to me to continue, but from then on we were obliged to,” says Hopewell.

 

Getting serious

Needing a larger, more flexible space, Hopewell staged ILMC 2 at the Portman Intercontinental hotel and his vision was to have one room with everyone discussing the same issues.

“If we caught people outside the room not taking part we would pick them up by the scruff of the neck and push them in, aided by several burly promoters from around the world,” remembers Hopewell.

As delegate numbers grew it became necessary to run simultaneous panels and breakout sessions with topics covering everything from tax to deal structuring.

In order to maintain a degree of quality control, the attendance was limited to 250 delegates at the first five invitation-only ILMCs.

In the early days it was primarily attended by Europeans, but it soon grew into a truly international affair and now attracts executives from more than 60 countries, including Australia, Chile, Brazil, India, Japan, Lebanon, South Africa and the US.

As the delegate numbers grew it became necessary to find new venues to accommodate them. From the Portman, the event moved to the Regent Hotel, then the Intercontinental at Hyde Park Corner, the Landmark and finally Kensington’s Royal Garden Hotel, which has been its home since 1999.

“The problem with the other venues was that we didn’t have exclusive use of them, while at the Royal Garden we have sole use and the team there are great — they are as much part of ILMC as the ILMC team itself,” Hopewell says.

With Hopewell needing some serious assistance in managing the event, the late Alia Dann was taken on board to produce the ILMC in 2000. Hopewell says she was instrumental in both managing and growing the conference. She produced ILMC until 2014, and consulted on the event in 2015.

 

Shaping the business

Since the ILMC’s inception, delegate numbers have grown six-fold. The number of panels, meetings, workshops and events have also snowballed, with the event now organised by a small army of 60 staff, led by conference producer Lou Percival and ILMC managing director Greg Parmley.

Understandably, registration fees have also increased somewhat from the modest £100 (then about $150) charged at the first three conferences. The 10th addition cost £275 (then $445) to attend, five years later it was £355 (then $565) for new delegates, and this year it costs up to £515 ($700) to attend.

Parmley began working on the ILMC’s content in 2006. That same year he became editor of the conference’s sister business IQ magazine, which had been launched by Chris Prosser in 2003 after he left Audience, where he had been head of marketing & advertising for three years.

“We’d worked with ILMC for years, so it was good to go there with a fresh perspective and show what growth was possible with the event,” says Prosser. “And it was good to see the industry respond well to the changes we made in those early days.

“I am proud of all the people I have brought in over the years, as trying to grow a business without the right help is a recipe for disaster.”

Parmley, who also spent more than 18 months in editorial at Audience, says Prosser has played a key role in the ILMC’s commercial success ever since.

Hopewell handed over the ILMC reins to Parmley at the 2014 event and since then Parmley has overseen an array of changes, including moving it from the weekend to midweek.

“Martin did a sensational job, he gave a lot of his time, emotion and passion to making ILMC a great success,” says Leighton-Pope.

 

Amateur dramatics

A far cry from today’s well-oiled machine, the first ILMC was cobbled together at the last minute, says Hopewell.

“When we started it was so amateur. The staff of the agency I was co-running, World Service, literally put it together on the night before with people sitting around a table eating pizza and typing up names on little tags,” he says.

Now with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in the UK, Paul Franklin is a platinum delegate having attended every year since day one. On the first two occasions, he was actually working on ILMC while an assistant at World Service.

“It was exciting, no one knew what to expect,” he says. “It was small and intimate but worked very well.”

As the event evolved and expanded, Hopewell and his team began to hone their organisation skills and develop the event’s content, both in terms of serious discussion and more playful aspects.

“During the first few years we kept the same level of incompetence going,” says Hopewell. “It was an important gathering, some of these big issues were being discussed for the first time, but it was also great fun.”

He recalls one particular panel session, co-chaired by Australia’s Michael Chugg and Italy’s Claudio Trotta, that descended into a debacle when technical issues derailed Hopewell’s creative ambitions.

The theme of the panel was a look into the future of the live music industry, with the stage adorned with a crystal ball hooked up to a dry ice machine.

“The idea was that when Chuggy began talking about the future and gazing into the crystal ball, dry ice would trickle out around his feet,” says Hopewell.

“However, a member of the production crew pressed the big red button too early, so during a serious conversation, a mushroom cloud of smoke went up on stage and Claudio and Chuggy disappeared. All you could hear was Chuggy’s voice saying, “Christ Claudio, I think your arse is on fire’.”

Always guaranteed to raise a smile is the Breakfast Meeting, an interview session that for the past 15 years has been held on the final conference day and hosted by former Dire Straits and Brian Ferry manager and raconteur Ed Bicknell.

Over the years Bicknell has cross-examined many industry figures, including Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis, U2 manager Paul McGuiness and CAA’s Emma Banks. This year it is the turn of Q Prime co-founder Peter Mensch, manager of acts such as Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Bicknell says that among the many highlights was a hilarious conversation with artiste manager Doc McGhee and a memorable encounter with Eavis.

“It was a hoot,” he says. “Michael is the only person who stood throughout the session. He virtually ignored me, which is hard to do, and informed the audience how to get Government subsidy to build a barn.”

 

The Arthurs

For more than two decades the ILMC has staged what was originally meant to be a spoof awards event, The Arthurs, and not to be taken too seriously.

“Martin and I started the Arthur Awards in the hotel bar in the mid 1990s,” says Leighton-Pope. “Later it became a gala dinner. I presented the awards and berated everyone that got one, it was always a funny evening, with me wearing ridiculous costumes.”

Among accolades up for grabs this year are the Second Least Offensive Agent and First Venue to Come Into Your Head awards. The evening climaxes with The Bottle Award, which honours an executive’s outstanding contribution to the live music industry.

Previous recipients of The Bottle Award include International Talent Booking co-founder Barry Dickins, who has only missed two ILMCs since the inaugural event, and he believes it has played an important role in the development of the industry.

“It is an excellent event, there is fun to be had but also serious business done and issues discussed —  a lot of good comes out of it,” he says. “Agents like me are usually at war with each other, but when we sit down together at the ILMC there is a real sense of camaraderie.”

Chugg Entertainment founder Michael Chugg says he has only missed a couple since first attending decades ago, and is in no doubt that beyond the high jinks, ILMC has made a serious and positive impact on the live music business.

“A lot of great ideas and fresh ways of doing business have spread worldwide because of the ILMC,” he says. “Anyone who comes has a voice.”

“Every year I usually confirm a tour or two, and certainly expand my list of like-minded people.”

 

Meeting demand

Since 2014, Parmley has set about enhancing the ILMC and ensuring there is diversity not only in terms of the subject matters explored during panels session but also among the people attending.

“We are very mindful when programming the agenda who we ask to chair sessions and who the panelists are, so that there is a range of opinion, sexes and ethnicity,” he says.

In order to reflect the nature of the ever evolving live industry, and to ensure there are subjects of interest to all delegate, Parmley has shortened the length of the panels, increased the number of sessions and introduced educational workshops.

“We have introduced sessions that explore topics outside the core business, so that people can gain an insight into new areas and apply the knowledge gained to their business,” he says.

Among the many subjects discussed this year will be virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain and crypto currency.

“For many, the primary purpose of ILMC is to meet and do business, so it is a networking forum above and beyond everything else,” says Parmley. “With that in mind, we have revamped and carved-out more meeting space.”

Among the new networking areas is the pub opposite the Royal Garden Hotel, which is now exclusively open to delegates throughout the event.

With so many aspects of the vast international live music industry under the microscope at ILMC, it became clear that certain sectors warranted dedicated meetings. As a result Parmley has overseen the launch of offshoot gatherings including the ILMC Association Summit – a meeting of key live music industry associations.

Other ILMC side-events include the annual Event Safety & Security Summit (E3S), a one-day meeting bringing together leading international venues, touring professionals and security experts.

In 2015, ILMC’s management team was behind the launch of the International Festival Forum (IFF). Held every autumn, the event is primarily attended by agents and festival organisers.

Back at the grand gathering that is ILMC, as delegates wend their ways back to all corners of the planet, many will have made valuable new contacts, shared experiences with like-minded people and probably done a bit of unexpected business.

Many delegates, especially those from thousands of miles away, find it reassuring to know they are not alone and that promoters and agents worldwide face many of the same challenges and enjoy similar successes.

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