Various music industry veterans visited Southampton Solent University’s Music Industries Conference Day on 27th February 2013, as part of the annual Solent SMILEfest. I was there to get in the guests’ way with a microphone, and was lucky enough to interview Andy Copping (vice president of Live Nation UK, head booker for Download Festival and the UK tour promoter for Beyonce and Jay-Z), after his conference talk.
A very special thanks to the very kind Ines Punessen and her audio recorder, after I was given one with flat batteries by the not so kind equipment team. Without her input, this interview could not have happened.
Also, one more special thanks to the very tolerant Andy Copping who put up with the equipment hubbub. A kind comment amidst the stress, however tongue-in-cheek it was, made me a bit jollier too.
Me: “This will be my sixth Download this year.”
Andy: “Wow, I love you already!”
The interview took place at Southampton Solent University on 27th February 2013 on behalf of SMILEcast 2013/Radio Sonar.
Inevitably, at request of the man in your role during SMILEfest, I’ve been asked to ask you this. How did you end up coming to Southampton Solent University today?
How? By train! Sorry. Flippant. There is somebody connected to the university – Johnny Hopkins. Many, many years ago, Johnny was looking after an act called Gallon Drunk, who were signed to Creation Records. I was working at Rock City at the time, and Johnny came up as the PR person for Creation Records who were looking after Gallon Drunk. They were supporting somebody, and I can’t remember who. He was trying to get something down and nobody was giving him any attention. I just said “what do you need?” and I took care of him. We became friends, or contacts if you like, and of course the next band he started working with was Oasis. So when they exploded, I got in contact with Johnny. I promoted a couple of their shows, and I went to see them right at their very early days and Johnny and I have remained friends ever since. I might not see him for 18 months, but our paths will cross because we’re in the industry somewhere and he just asked me if I would come and do this, and I though “why not?”. I hope that the students got something out of it.
(Visage frontman) Steve Strange is visiting today, and an interesting costume is inevitable, so I was a little disappointed that you didn’t bring your hat today for the sake of comparison.
Yeah, I only wear the hat at the festival. I can’t wear it every day or I would get murdered. So I just save that for my festival weekends.
It does get a lot of attention, doesn’t it?
It does! The reason I wear it is that when people are looking for me, mostly bands and tour managers, and someone asks ‘where’s Andy Copping?’, they go ‘he’s the guy wearing the cowboy hat’. It has goods and bads to it because people can always spot me, and sometimes you don’t want to get spotted. That’s easy though… just take it off!
You mentioned Beyonce earlier (during his talk), and how her tickets went on sale and sold out in 12 minutes I believe.
Yes. They did.
Just to explain what your role is, what would have happened were there not an Andy Copping figure in the proceedings?
The role of the promoter is to make sure that the launch is ready, the announcement’s right, the tickets are ready to go, the venues are booked and everything else. If there isn’t a promoter in place, the show isn’t gonna happen. But that’s only because we’re the mechanics of it, if you like. An artist isn’t just going to turn up one day and play. You need the right build-up, the right marketing, the right promotion, the right announcement and the right launch, which is effectively what I do as a job, and what other promoters do too. If I’m not involved, or somebody similar isn’t involved, then the shows won’t happen.
Who has been the most difficult act to book over the years?
I know it’s kind of a cop-out answer, but they’re all difficult in their own ways. A lot of bands just take an age for them to make up their minds, for any number of reasons. They want to make sure that they have other shows based around Europe around the same time, so that they’re coming for a decent tour period. They don’t want to confirm anything until they know what they’re doing in the week before and the week afterwards. Interestingly enough, when I booked AC/DC in 2010, which is the biggest rock band in the world, no question, it was actually really easy. They said ‘yes’ having made the decision in a matter of days. Sometimes I’m waiting months to get answers from acts. It’s kind of weird that the biggest act in the world can say ‘yes’ very, very quickly, whereas a lot of the other acts take so long. It’s hard to pinpoint one in particular because they’re all hard in their own way.
People talk about Rammstein a lot. I’ve been talking to them for years, and the only reason they haven’t played Download before is that the timing hasn’t worked for them. They’ve just not been in the UK at the time that we wanted them to play Download. There’s never been an issue with production. You’ve only got to look at some of the acts we’ve had in the past, like AC/DC, Aerosmith or Iron Maiden and even some of the productions that we’ve had on the second stage. It’s just the timing didn’t work for them. I’m glad we managed to secure them this year, because they have been, certainly ever the last two or three years, the band the most people want to see at Download. I’m really, really chuffed that they finally managed to make it work for us.
And they’ve been teasing everyone with retirement too. Do you believe them?
I think they would be mad to retire now. They haven’t even broken America yet. That’s the weird thing. It’s taken a while for them to break here. They’ve been massive in Europe for… ten years. No, more than ten years. Fifteen years. They’ve now broken the UK and they haven’t even scratched the surface of America. I think they would be crazy to retire right now. They may, because they’re a bunch of fruitcakes. They do what they want to do on their own terms, but I would be really surprised if they did retire.
Something else that you mentioned during the conference was the ‘360 deal’ (record deals that also take cuts from live box office intake, now more common since the plummet of record sales). It’s a very common consensus, at least that I’ve heard, that live music is the last remaining source of big money in the music industry. Do you think that’s true?
Absolutely. 100 per cent. More and more bands are touring now. Bands that have toured for years are touring even more. Artists that would tour once every five years, or every two years, are touring almost annually, because it’s a huge source of income. They’ve seen a drop off of income from, as you say, record sales, and they’ve seen how lucrative it can be going out on the road. And enjoyable too. Why would you not want to go out and play in front of thousands and thousands of adoring fans, who are hanging on your every word, loving everything that you’re doing, paying to see you play, and then buying the T-shirt. You’d be touring everyday of your life if you could. All bands are realizing now that the live market is so buoyant. Before, they would release a record and they would tour to support the record. Now they’re bringing out records to support the tour. Thankfully, I’m in the live market, so that’s great news! Sometimes, the downside to that is that they tour too often and they come back a little too soon, but I think for the most part, it’s good that the touring industry is so strong.
Bands are obviously concerned about the reviews that they receive. How important is it to you, what ratings events get from publications like Kerrang!, covering Download every year?
We all form our own opinions on everything, but let’s be honest, we are steered by what we read. If there is a regular publication that you read, or a blog, or a website where they’ve rated a certain record, a tour, a DVD or a song, and they slate it, you could be out later that week talking to someone who says “I heard so-and-so’s got a new album out” and say “I heard it’s crap”. You’ve not even heard the album, but you’ve been influenced by what the review is. If somebody’s getting bad reviews across the board, then that’s gonna tell us something. If the general populus is affected by that, why would I book somebody or why would I buy something that’s got really, really bad reviews? We should be impartial, but we’re not. We’re influenced. You read that magazine because you trust it, or that blog, or that website, and it says it’s diabolical, you’re influenced by that. In the same way that somebody’s raving about something, you’re gonna go, “I’ll listen to that’. We’ve all gone out and bought an album, or gone to a show on the recommendation of somebody and gone “I didn’t get it, I didn’t like it”. Or, “they told me it was rubbish, and now it’s my favourite album of all time”. But for the most part, you have to take into account what reviews are out there, and what people are saying. If people are saying it stinks, it’s normally because it stinks.