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View from the top: The venue owner (Graham Walters)

Jon Chapple 31 August 2015
Graham Walters, Academy Music Group, Live Nation Entertainment, PSNLive 2015

A proper restoration man. We forgot to ask what colour he likes his drapes

Who are you?
Graham Walters, chief operating officer for the Academy Music Group and Live Nation Entertainment.

What’s been your biggest success?
With so many venues (14 in the AMG portfolio), it’s difficult to pinpoint just one as we have so many events, but for Academy Music Group, continuing to expand our business over the last 15 years and the opportunities that come with that, make every day interesting.

All our venues are unique and many iconic, such as the world famous O2 Academy Brixton and O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, steeped in history, and O2 Apollo Manchester and O2 Academy Leeds, renowned for their cultural influence in the respective cities.

AMG venues range from traditional theatre and cinema-style from Scotland down to the South coast, with warehouse buildings to club formats, so the live experience offered across the estate is both varied and original.

What’s the biggest challenge coming up?
Maintaining old buildings with grand histories is always a challenge, and can often come with as many complications as they do charm, but that really is part of the joy.

From a technical point of view, revisiting established venues, we opened sites in Birmingham and Bristol at the start of the year 2000, so keeping up with progression and investment in lighting, sound and video technology.

We’ve invested in scalable capacities and configurations, such as draping options for short hall formats, as well as an on-going investment plan to upgrade facilities, both front of house and back stage. New LED screen technology features at our venues in Leeds, Leicester and Newcastle to name but three, as well as front of house facilities at O2 ABC Glasgow with our partners at O2, who we are also looking at front of house Wi-Fi solutions to enhance the customer experience across the estate, so keeping ahead is part of those challenges.

What’s a big ‘issue’ that never seems to go away?
Within our industry as a whole, there are always hot topics, for example: pricing of tickets to ticket resale in difficult economic markets; the pound vs the euro; many say lack of headline artists for bigger venues and festivals. There’s always something.

According to a recent UK Music report, gig attendance is up 23 per cent since 2011. Are you feeling the benefit? What’s your experience of the booming live market?
Business has been good particularly over the last couple of years and we have opened up well for 2015. We’re looking at a strong autumn, post-festival season, and this year alone Academy Music Group venues will host some 3,000 events, with up to three million customers through the doors. Live Nation venues are also performing well which host around 1,000 events a year across the four LN venues including gigs, comedy, theatre, sport, conference and exhibitions.

It’s obviously not something that’s filtered down to the smaller, independent ‘toilet circuit’ venues, with what seems like clubs and live venues closing every week. Does that have a knock-on effect on you guys?
It’s always sad to hear when small venues are closing, as we have several ourselves with O2 Academy2 rooms across the UK. It does highlight how difficult it is to have a sustainable live music business, that level (small rooms/pub circuit) is so important to the development or artists and the wider live scene. Before those acts get to play Academy Music group venues, it’s where they learn their trade, likewise where many promoters come from, cutting their teeth.

What’s your view on the closing of The Arches in Glasgow?
It’s never good to hear of venues closing, The Arches is a much loved and established venue, home of many great club nights and gigs. It certainly complemented our two venues in Glasgow (O2 ABC and O2 Academy) very well and we worked very closely with them.

How the live music scene has changed since you started out – for better and for worse?
With any industry there are extreme highs and lows, it’s a constantly evolving machine. With advancements in technology to marketing tactics, ticketing, trends in talent, it changes all the time, but at the end of the day there is nothing quite like the feeling of watching your favourite artists. When they walk out on stage, there really is nothing quite like it.

www.academy-music-group.co.uk

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