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STAR meeting: A year without live music

After a year absent of live music events it is no wonder that ticketing companies, venues and other industry organisations are “cautiously optimistic” about the UK’s Roadmap to Recovery.

Following a devastating period for the industry due to COVID-19, the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) hosted a virtual panel discussion this week focusing on live music. The speakers looked back at the year’s greatest challenges, as well as highlighting what has been possible to achieve throughout the pandemic period.

James Broderick, head of ticket sales at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, and a member of the STAR Council, hosted the event and engaged the four panellists in a variety of topics, including the lessons they have learned and their outlook on reopening in 2021.

While all the panellists agreed it has been an incredibly tough year for everyone involved in the industry and beyond, it was a widely shared notion that the live sector has come together in a way previously unheard of.

Despite remaining fierce competitors, Anton Lockwood (pictured left), director of live at DHP Family, one of the UK’s leading companies in the entertainment sector, has called for the industry to continue working together even as it begins to look like business as usual.

Hope for live events in 2021 has ramped up due to the government’s Roadmap to Recovery, which could see all restrictions lifted in England by June 21. As tickets begin flying out, Paul Newman, director of ticketing at AXS UK, a major ticketing technology company, explains that there still remains a huge amount of uncertainty, adding that companies need to be flexible.

He said: “It’s been great that we have the Roadmap dates, but there is still quite a lot of uncertainty on how we are going to deliver those shows. It’s fantastic that we are back to selling tickets and long may that continue. We’ve proven that we can be very agile and we’ve got to keep that about us moving forward.”

Lockwood added that while it’s great to have the reopening plans in place, there remains a lot of unanswered questions for live events.

He said: “Not knowing the conditions for reopening is what makes it hard for live events to plan. We’re now at a point where we can plan for things, but there remains a lot of questions.

“Will international acts be able to perform with the restrictions in place? For a tour to be viable it has got to go all across Europe, which seems almost impossible at the moment with all the COVID-19 and Brexit restrictions currently in place.”

Meanwhile, Julie Carson (pictured right), head of ticketing at Scottish Event Campus, one of the UK’s largest integrated spaces, purpose-built for exhibitions, conferences and live entertainment, has found it challenging to squeeze an entire year of events into the 2021-22 calendar, which was already very busy.

She said: “It has been pretty tough not having an event in an entire year. But it has been great that not an awful lot of shows have been cancelled and the majority of people are holding onto their tickets. The money has been retained in the industry.”

For Kilimanjaro Live, one of the largest event promoters in the UK, the Roadmap hasn’t changed how it will work this summer. It had two shows scheduled, with the June and July dates regarded as being too soon to go ahead with them.

However, Nora D’Ambrosio, head of ticketing at Kili, did say it has meant “we can put new tours on sale for the end of year or next year and customers seem eager to return to shows”.

D’Ambrosio also said that during the past year, which has flipped the industry upside down and inside out, she has learned a lot about terms and conditions, refunds and how ticket agents and venues work. “I think it will make the way I work better and make our working relationships better in the future,” she added.

Most panellists agreed that despite the devastation and significant losses, one positive to come out of the pandemic was an acceleration towards digital ticketing.

Carson said the SEC introduced digital ticketing in 2020 and noted that technology has pushed forward this year, while Lockwood and DHP also saw an advancement in digital and contactless ticketing.