Richard Cohen, founder of music agency LoveLive, says his business can open up a new source of funds for artists and labels in The Telegraph today.
A George Orwell quote printed on the record sleeve of an album by songwriter Martin Carr summarises the default public stance of many musicians when it comes to associating themselves with corporations: “Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.”
For years, Carr, who led 1990s band The Boo Radleys, stubbornly refused countless approaches from the likes of breakfast cereal manufacturers to let his hit – the uncharacteristically commercial sounding Wake Up Boo! – be used on an advert.
Richard Cohen, boss of Shoreditch-based music agency LoveLive, is pleased to say that the current generation of bands and artists are far less reticent about allowing their tunes to be put in incongruous settings alongside the likes of Ford and Hewlett Packard. And with good reason, he argues: he believes he’s got a business model which is opening up a new source of funds for artists and labels.
“The music industry has never been healthier,” Cohen says. “There have never been so many people consuming or creating music or even spending so much money on it. Yes, the major record label model is challenged because technology and time has moved on. But live has never grown so rapidly. It’s a great time to start an innovative music business.”
While Cohen believes LoveLive is certainly that, he admits the concept it’s built on is “shamelessly” adopted from his former business, FTSE 250 digital sports rights firm Perform Group. The company, where Cohen led a small entertainment division, has contracts to exploit rights from more than 200 competitions around the world.
It makes money from its rights to leagues and events – which can be sold and sponsored; a series of websites, such as Goal.com, where it sells advertising; and by managing the online activities of third parties, such as Chelsea FC. As the business has developed, it’s built its own subscription platforms to sell to fans.
Cohen watched the company grow and had the nagging feeling the model would be perfect for the music industry, where declining physical sales and an inability to control online formats has been undermining traditional record labels for years.
“I thought a football league was not dissimilar to a major record label. Each is an umbrella organisation,” Cohen says. “The clubs are like bands and artists, and the ecommerce requirements are similar – it’s tickets to live events, merchandise and a fan base. There were too many similarities to ignore. I started doing to music what Perform had done in sport.”
In other words, control the rights, help create the content and either own or influence the distribution channels. Since this would be almost impossible to achieve with more than a century of recorded music, the company focused on live performances. Cohen, who developed the idea at Perform and spun it out in 2008, has since negotiated a series of remarkable deals with labels which either allow LoveLive to license live performance rights for artists or even own them outright. It then produces TV and online shows and channels which can be sponsored or sold to broadcasters and music fans.
The East London-based business remains small – Cohen is cagey about turnover, but says it’s in seven figures. Controlling the rights is what sets the business apart, the 43-year old says. “Production companies work on horrendously thin margins and have no rights. We didn’t want to be a gun for hire.”
When the company filmed the album launch of Florence + The Machine last year, for example, fans paid £3.99 to watch the concert online and choose their own camera angle, chat with other viewers and download a concert programme. It then sold a TV version of the concert to Channel 4. Companies such as Ford, meanwhile, have paid LoveLive to produce sponsored channels – distributed on YouTube and on music websites, some of which LoveLive owns – of interviews with, and live performances of, the likes of Ed Sheeran and Bombay Bicycle Club.
Since LoveLive controls the purse strings, it can insist that artists are paid a fee in addition to whatever their deal with a label might be. “It makes it easier for us to book artists than anyone else,” says Cohen. “We started off with a simple ethos: a credible and ethical music business revolving around content where everyone got paid – artists, labels and us.”
But aren’t musicians sensitive about performing their songs while plonked in front of a Ford Transit van, for example? “Less is more; no one wants to see massive brand stickers everywhere,” he says. “I think if it’s selected well and delivered with the right sensibility, you can get even the most cynical of artist to appreciate the brands.”
What about Carr? He remained true to his word until 2009, when his first child was born. “It’s easy to exist in principled penury when you’re only really responsible for yourself but all that changed,” he says. Since then Wake Up Boo! has been used a number of times by various companies.
If Cohen’s model really does point a way forward, there will be no shortage of bands willing to put their name next to a corporation’s if it means they can supplement an often modest income.
“Artists have always had to get their souls dirty in order to pay the rent,” Carr says. “If you can avoid the job centre for another year, you’d be a fool not to.”