opinion

Digital Discourse: Understanding modern marketing campaigns

Deviate Digital CEO Sammy Andrews guides you through the ever-changing tech world...  It’s fair to say I’ve been working in digital for a while. I was reminded just how long recently while clearing out an old cupboard and I found ...

Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd’s monthly deep dive into live music’s biggest issues... Exactly 377 days after I last set foot in London I finally made it back to the capital, to the place where I was born and still call a sort of home. It was a shocking experience. I think if you have been in any major city across the last year, as this crisis unfolded, you might have become acclimatised to the closures. The boarded-up shops, the abandoned pubs, bars and restaurants, the dark and empty spaces where once flagship stores lit up whole areas. To see a major city like London again for the first time – without the sad opportunity to gradually drift towards accepting what has happened, day in day out – was truly stunning. Walking through central London on a Saturday, as a first-time visitor after a year, you are struck not just by the emptiness of the streets that were once teeming with crowds, but also by the way that entire streets have been laid to waste by this crisis. The current roadmap allowed for non-essential retail to reopen on April 12. How much of it is left to benefit from that is an unanswered question. And you have to question: why? Why would anyone choose to visit the half-empty streets of London and look through the windows of the desolate flagship stores at Oxford Circus? For some years now, a number of us within the music industry have been pursuing the idea of the ‘Music City’. It would be a future-facing version of a city which is driven by culture, one that recognises that music is an inherent driver of what makes that city, and the people who live there, function. The concept of a Music City grew from a recognition that High Street retail was already struggling, that we need to rethink our cities and reimagine their purpose. We need to question whose city is this and what is it for?  A Music City can be a grand idea: a healthier and happier place to live, with creativity and culture enhancing everyday life for everyone. Or it can be a small one; if you want to support jobs for people driving late-night taxis, make sure you have events everyone is trying to get home from. The Music City is an ecosystem, placing cultural activity and engagement right at the very heart of the decision-making of key stakeholders, underpinning approaches to licensing, planning, employment, transport, economics, investment and, most importantly, regeneration. We need to question whose city is this and what is it for? Mark Davyd A great deal has happened in the crisis, and there is a long way to go before we can honestly say it’s over, but what is now clear is that the gradual decline of our city centres, which many of us have been trying to discuss with governments for years, has been rapidly accelerated by one year of lockdown. Linchpin stores are gone. Massive new retail outlets are being built in the centre of London to house companies who have fled online and have no reason to return. London, like most major cities around the world, is seeing High Street retail evaporate into the digital space, away from expensive ground rents and business rates. We are going to need a new, imaginative, forward-thinking approach to its city centre if we want the people that make a vibrant city to return. London is going to need a major rethink and a new regeneration plan. That plan needs to look at the Music City model and recognise the opportunity to use music and culture to inspire that regeneration. The UK government has announced an additional £300 million pot to help finance the return of culture post-Covid. This sounds like a grand investment but is woefully inadequate for the task ahead; it is less than a third of the money currently being invested in creating a single set of retail spaces at the heart of the city. We have treated culture as an afterthought for too long. We now need to place it front and centre of how we restore life to our capital. London has fallen. For it to rise again, we need to fill our streets with culture. We need every part of London to find its musical and cultural voice and bring people back to the capital. Once our streets are teeming with cultural opportunity, with must-see events, rising stars and iconic names, with the buzz and vitality that made London one of the world’s greatest cities, then we will see the people return and then we can begin rebuilding other parts of the city economy. I wrote this column about London because it’s a city I know and love. Wherever you are reading this, whether it is Manchester or Bristol, New York, Toronto, Berlin or Barcelona, you can take the word London and replace it with your own place. JFK famously said that within every crisis there is an opportunity. After the fallout from this crisis, we have a chance and, more importantly, the need to rebuild our cities to be better places to live. Let’s start with music, and let’s start with London.

Lickd's Alex Brims on the next phase of the livestream boom

Can being at home ever be a substitute for an actual live music experience? Lickd’s chief technology officer Alex Brims looks at the potential for immersive virtual experiences to complement the return of the live sector… Like most music fans, 2020 wasn’t my favourite year. Watching every gig that I had tickets for get rescheduled again and again until finally landing in 2022, or just giving up and getting cancelled forever, it was a very disappointing time. Much worse than this was knowing that these musicians that have been one of my main sources of joy and inspiration were unable to get out and perform, unable to bring tables of merchandise to eager fans, unable to get paid. Even as we optimistically look forward to a future of life returning to normal, we still have another year of no physical Glastonbury, no concerts in Hyde Park, and ongoing uncertainty. Until the safety of live events can be assured, we’ll have to keep on making do with getting our live music fix at home on a screen.  The sheer necessity of livestreaming had an immediate and pronounced effect in early and mid-2020, with the views of music streams on Twitch quadrupling in a few weeks, Google searches for “concert” being replaced with “virtual concert”, and start-ups offering livestream capabilities springing up all over the place.  There’s no denying that livestreams have taken off in a big way: from Dua Lipa’s huge Studio 2054 with an audience estimated to be around five million, to the series of in-game concerts held inside the phenomenally popular game Fortnite, right down to Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Kitchen Disco sessions, we’ve had plenty of live-ish experiences from which to choose. But the experience is of course very different to an actual in-person concert or festival. Could being at home ever be a substitute for the actual live music experience?  So far, the majority of livestreams have simply been a case of watching a video from home, happy in the knowledge that you’re watching a performance happening live in real time. Social media and chat windows can give us an approximation of a shared experience, but it’s no substitute for the feeling of being in a crowd. There’s no movement involved, no possibility of wandering past a stage and hearing something incredible that’s completely new and unexpected, and no sing-a-longs (at least not in my house). There are many signs that this is changing, and the innovations now being released into the wild have the potential to dramatically change the way that we think about live performances. Livestreams must become a memorable experience for the audience in order to thrive Alex Brims Tobacco Dock recently launched a virtual offering of the large-scale club night, where the users are in control of videogame-style avatars and can make them dance, move around the dancefloor, or from room-to-room. Similar to Fortnite, but with the difference that it’s all taking place in a real venue, with the performers integrated into the CGI room. Coupled with the virtual reality systems from MelodyVR and Tidal’s collaboration with Oculus, there’s huge potential for these immersive experiences to grow with new innovations and give us fresh and exciting ways to participate in an event. Livestreams must become a memorable experience for the audience in order to thrive, and there’s still plenty of room here for new ideas and different ways of offering interaction.  There is of course the thorny issue of the artist getting paid for their livestreaming efforts. Superstars with dedicated fanbases will have no problem getting their fans to buy tickets for their livestream events (BTS made an incredible $20m from a single livestream), and while few acts will be able to achieve this, there are plenty of opportunities to earn well from a livestream. From exclusive (or bundled) merchandise and upsold VIP experiences, to subscription models for access to multiple shows and sponsorships.  At the start of this year Live Nation acquired a majority stake in ticketed livestream platform Veeps and promises to “facilitate enhanced engagement” and offer “intimate VIP experiences”. It’s an angle that American singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge has had great success with, streaming 5 days a week from a newly-built studio in her garage. With about 1,000 subscribers paying $50 per month for access, this has not only given her the ability to connect further with her fanbase, but for the fans to build a community around her livestreams.  The pandemic and the resulting shutdowns caught us all off guard; neither the music nor tech industries were prepared for this sudden, total, shift in focus. It’s been a dark time for many, but the light at the end of the tunnel is growing ever brighter and we have new possibilities presenting themselves. Let’s make it work.

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Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

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