Fair Pay for Every Play: Episode 5, Richard Zijlma — Looking to the Past to Secure the Future of Live Events

In this week’s episode of Fair Pay for Every Play, host Kristian Luoma is joined by Richard Ziljma and together they look back at the last 30 years of the live music industry and predict what it may look like post global pandemic.

Over the last three decades, Richard has played a pivotal role in developing some of the largest and most acclaimed music events in Europe. Among them is Amsterdam Dance Event; having joined at its inception in 1996 he became the Director and saw the conference festival welcome over 400,000 guests from around the world each year to celebrate electronic music.

“When you’re young, your dream is to get close to the artist. When I was able to finally attend concerts, it really touched me — the whole moment and feeling of being there and seeing your favourite artist. I still love it so much. When you go to festivals and to clubs; though not as late in the evening anymore for me, it’s important and a great way to connect with people. Events are very special.”

More recently, Richard joined the team at Utopia Music as Event Director. Over the next year, he will be responsible for curating and organising events that encourage audiences to join the Fair Pay for Every Play campaign whilst enjoying music from around the world.

Here’s the notes:

00:00 — Welcome to Fair Pay for Every Play and introduction to guest, Richard Ziljma

01:29 — Richard explains how he became interested in live events and his favourite memories to date

04:25 — Starting work within the music industry, from intern to Director

08:46 — The difference between paying performer fees, and royalties for writers

10:50 — Potential problems when submitting setlists to collection societies

14:00 — Predictions for the live sector post-pandemic

16:20 — Coming out of the pandemic and achieving fair pay for every play

The currency of embracing change

Richard references that the pivotal point of his career in the music industry was at a time where music was transitioning onto digital platforms as opposed to analogue. This marks the birth of electronic dance music as the genre we know and love.

Having lived through and embraced this change, Richard is a pioneering figure in the community and continues to celebrate the culture.

“25 years later, Amsterdam Dance Event has become a really important dance event in the community. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort building the event to the place it is nowadays. It’s so interesting and I was really lucky to be in the moment during the evolution of transitioning from an analogue period to a digital period. To be part of the up-and-coming industry and genre was really inspiring. I’m blessed to have been part of the journey.”

The same could be said for today’s digital enhancements and what they allow creators, industry professionals and fans to do with their music.

Performance fees for performers, and public performance royalties for creators

Richard started his career as an intern in a music venue and recalls one of the first shows that he worked on being with the Ramones. His responsibilities included ensuring bands were loaded in on time, that they knew about curfew and crucially that their manager received the cash that they expected — without this, bands often would refuse to perform.

One of the most common misconceptions in the music industry is that music creators have a lot of money, however this only applies to a small percentage at the very top. Performers are often the public facing image due to their celebrity and this is associated with wealth.

“I always believe that the provision for the artist is crucial, they are the creators, and we should support them. A lot of people see artists flying in private jets and assume a lot of money is around but it’s also important for smaller artists to have a good royalty system and allow them to make a living out of creating music.

“Performers are not always the creators. It’s very important to address those who are sitting in a studio and making these great songs and that they get a fair share.”

Performers are often paid a fee; historically, this would be a wad of cash backstage, whilst the people who create the music are often relying on income from their public performance royalties. These creators are rarely visible to the public.

“Often there are more people behind a song than you might think. I was at an award’s show in the Netherlands a few years ago and one particular track was rewarded and about 20 people stepped onto the stage to receive the award. That many people were writing on the track. You can only imagine behind every song that you hear as a fan, that you embrace and love the music, behind the artist are a lot of other people working and it is important that they get rewarded as well.”

Richard explains that he has engaged in conversation with festival promoters regarding how they submit their setlists to royalty collection societies whilst paying their licence fees. In response, many admit that this is not a priority to them in the grand scheme of organising an event.

To ensure the public performance royalties are being paid to the right people, it is crucial that we fingerprint the music performed in venues and at festivals as this will also ensure a healthy ecosystem in the industry. Previously, this would have presented a wealth of administrative challenges as digital systems were not in place to allow efficient processing. However, today Richard stresses the importance of digital submissions of setlists.

Long live live events!

Richard is certain that live music events have the potential to return stronger than ever before. After over a year of lockdown limbo due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he is sure that audiences are eager to return to hear the music that artists have been working on during our unusual year of 2020.

He recalls a story of how as a teenager he quit his weekend job as a sailing instructor and hitchhiked from Amsterdam to Berlin to see a concert and explains that he believes music lovers will always have the same passion instilled in them to return to live events when it is safe to do so.

In addition, he references the new generation that are working their way into and up the ranks in the music industry. These people are likely to be more aware of challenges within the industry and have shown resilience already in responding to a pandemic that has made us rely more heavily on innovative tech.

“I think we have learned from the whole situation (Covid-19 pandemic) and it gives our industry new possible business opportunities… I would tell people, buy the tickets already so it promotes some extra cash flow to run the upcoming period and make sure that we as fans and musical lovers, can go back to those great festivals!”

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