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Shuttered but not silent: Venues play a role in US election

Music venues across the US have been shuttered for many months due to a lack of government support but while the stages have remained silent during the pandemic, operators have not.

In the run-up to the 3 November presidential election, the live sector has played a significant part in the campaigns.

Ahead of Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s final debate at Belmont University last week, a number of venues in Nashville teamed up with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to display political concert-style posters for the visit.

According to Vanity Fair, Exit/In, the End, the 5 Spot, Rudy’s Jazz Room, and Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge were among the venues that erected posters which read ‘Trump Lied 220K+ Died,’ in reference to the impact of coronavirus on citizens and the economy, and called the president the ‘super-spreader in chief’.

Chris Cobb, the owner and operator of historic rock club Exit/In, told Vanity Fair: “For the last eight months I’ve spent more time in politics than I did in music because of the failure of the government. It’s not something I want to continue doing.”

Adrienne Watson, the director of the DNC’s war room who led the project, said: “The music scene has always been passionate and resolute in the face of crisis—not just as artists, but as public servants,” she said in an email. “Live performance events and venues have been one of the industries hardest hit by Trump’s failure to control the virus.”

Elsewhere, Michigan venue the Blind Pig and its owner Joe Malcoun were caught in the political crossfire after appearing in a TV ad for the Biden campaign.

The ad includes photos and footage of concerts at the Blind Pig, which has hosted shows from Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Iggy Pop, John Lennon and more, as well as empty barstools to show that the venue cannot operate during the pandemic.

“For the last eight months I’ve spent more time in politics than I did in music because of the failure of the government”

In the video, Malcoun says, “This is the reality of Trump’s Covid response. We don’t know how much longer we can survive not having any revenue.”

According to The New York Times, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign said that the ad – which made its debut on 18 October during an NFL game – was removed because Malcoun and his family were “doxxed, harassed, and threatened after the Trump campaign has sought to smear [the venue owner]”.

According to The Times, the backlash is apparently due to the origins of Joe Malcoun’s wealth.

Elsewhere, a number of US venues have been doubling as polling stations including  Madison Square Garden in New York, the Los Angeles Forum, State Farm Arena in Atlanta and Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas.

Concert giant Live Nation also joined the cause, transforming over 100 of its venues into stations including the Wiltern (1,850-cap.) and Hollywood Palladium (3,800-cap.) in Los Angeles, Emo’s (1,700-cap.) in Austin, Texas, and the Buckhead Theatre (1,800-cap.) in Atlanta.

Grassroots music venues have largely been sidelined during the presidential campaign with president Donald Trump announcing he was postponing negotiations on a new stimulus package which would’ve thrown the live sector a much-needed lifeline.

The ‘Heroes Act’ stimulus package includes the Save Our Stages Act, a US$10 billion grant programme designed to provide financial support for live venue operators, promoters, producers and talent representatives in the US.

The Democratic-controlled House passed the act on Thursday (1 October) but Trump says he won’t return to the negotiating table until after 3 November’s presidential election.

Following the news, former WME-chief Marc Geiger has announced a $75 million ‘war chest’ to bail out US venues that are struggling during the pandemic and help them to reopen.


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TMW’s world

Promoting TMW 2020 was by far the most challenging experience that our team has had in our 12 years of festival history. It is fair to say that organising events with huge financial risk, at times like this, can be done only by putting your organisation under a pressure it has never been under before.

Going ahead with an event is a tough decision for any company leader to make. He or she will need to analyse and decide whether it’s reasonable or sustainable to do so, and ensure that the event not only lands on its feet but bounces back afterwards. If the experience gained can then help to promote workable measures for the music industry, it was a necessary investment.

Greatest challenges

During the summer season, not a single case of Covid was registered at professionally organised events

What we discovered

Letting our governments base their decisions on venue capacity numbers alone will bankrupt the sector

Future considerations
The events and culture sector across Europe and the rest of the world should join forces to achieve the following:

TMW 2021 will take place 6–9 May. Passes via:


Helen Sildna is founder of Tallinn Music Week.

UK Music reports progress with diversity in industry

Representation of Black, Asian and ethnic minorities and women has increased at almost every level in the industry since 2016, according to a new report by UK Music.

The trade body revealed the findings of its 2020 Workforce Diversity Survey in its UK Music Diversity Report, as well as a ten-point plan to tackle racism and boost diversity in Britain’s music industry.

The survey’s most notable findings include an increase in minority ethic employees between 16-24, up from 25.9% in 2018 to a record 30.6%.

The number of people from minority ethnic professionals at entry-level has also risen from 23.2% in 2018 to new high of 34.6% in 2020, though representation is worse in senior positions at just 19.9% – one in five posts.

Elsewhere, the proportion of women has increased from 45.3% in 2016 to new high of 49.6% in 2020. However, the number of women in the 45–64 age group has dropped from 38.7% in 2018 to 35% in 2020.

“Against a backdrop of global change the diversity taskforce has been carefully listening, challenging and working behind the scenes to help shape a transformational and game-changing ten-point plan,” says UK Music diversity taskforce chair Ammo Talwar MBE.

“If our music industry is to tell the story of modern-day Britain, then it needs to look like modern-day Britain too”

“This plan is data driven and evidence based with metrics and lived experience. It’s the accumulation of nine months’ work across the whole music industry to support yet hold the industry to account. No tokenistic statements, no short-term wins but a truly collaborative long term plan that reboots the sector and ensures diversity is front and centre of all major decisions.”

UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin says: “As an industry, we are united in our determination to lead the way on improving diversity and inclusion in our sector and across society. This report consists of a frank and candid analysis of the current situation our industry faces, and a bold and ambitious ten-point plan for how to achieve the positive change we all want to see. It’s relevant not just to the music industry, but to organisations everywhere.

“If our music industry is to tell the story of modern-day Britain, then it needs to look like modern-day Britain too. This ground-breaking report is an important step towards achieving that.”

The trade body’s ten-point plan to improve diversity makes a number of commitments including maintaining a database of people responsible for promoting diversity across UK Music; removing the word “urban” to describe music of black origin, using genre-specific terms like R&B or soul instead; and ending the use of the “offensive and outdated” term BAME in official communications.

UK Music has conducted a diversity study every two years since 2016, which collates data from across the music business including studios, management agencies, music publishers, major and independent record labels, music licensing companies and the live music sector.


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Colombian promoters experiment with drive-in shows

Drive-in shows are becoming increasingly popular in Colombia, where promoters have been experimenting with the outdoor format.

Cúcuta, a Colombian city at the Venezuelan border, held its first drive-in concert last weekend (24 October) with a format that could cater to a maximum of 480 people.

The site, outside of Unicentro Shopping Center, was split into 60 ‘boxes’ to accommodate a maximum of eight people and one car.

Each box was equipped with its own sanitisation station and an individual bathroom and a waiter was designated to each one, ensuring that no party mixed with another.

Patrons were required to have their temperature taken and to sanitise upon arrival.

The event was supported by the Cúcuta Mayor’s Office which is promoting the safe restart of events to maintain employment and income in the sector. The event is said to have created a total of 300 jobs, directly and indirectly.

Caravana will comprise a total of 20 shows, featuring performances from Santiago Cruz and Lospetitfellas

The Cúcuta event was based on the drive-in cinema model, which has also become popular in Colombia, with theatres popping up in Medellín, Cali and Villavicencio.

Elsewhere, Colombian promoters Ocesa Colombia, Páramo Presenta and Live Nation are part-way through their drive-in concert series, Caravana.

The series launched on 7 October and will run until 28 November, taking place in the car park of the Salitre Mágico theme park in the capital, Bogota.

The 17,800 square-metre site comprises three locations (two exclusively for cars and one for trucks and vans) and can accommodate 280 vehicles each with up to four people.

The series will comprise a total of 20 shows, featuring performances from Santiago Cruz, Vincente Garcia and Lospetitfellas.

The first drive-in shows in Latin America took place in Puerto Rico in July, courtesy of Move Concerts, closely followed by similar events in Mexico.


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Spanish promoters react to sweeping restrictions

Spain’s live music sector is reckoning with a whole host of new restrictions imposed by the Spanish government and its various communities.

Earlier this week, prime minister Pedro Sánchez and his cabinet declared a six-month state of emergency, set to remain in force until 9 May, with periodic reviews.

The decree will allow Spain’s regional governments to order an overnight curfew to run from 11 pm to 6 am, or to begin and finish an hour earlier or later.

Yesterday (29 October), Catalonia went one step further, ordering the suspension of cultural activities for 15 days, starting from today.

“After some months of lockdown, postponing or cancelling all shows, we had a slight restart with many restrictions and reduced capacities,” says Albert Salmerón of Producciones Animadas.

“And now with the current situation, we have to postpone again the new shows we were programming following all the health and safety rules of the new normality. This means that we will have to keep our companies without any income for a very long time. This is a terrible situation and it’s essential that the Spanish government makes a plan to save the live music industry providing enough budget to cover costs of this lockdown and of the cancellations of shows.

“The expectations were not good but now they are even worse”

Juan Antonio of rock and metal promoter Madness Live agrees, adding that the new measures present a “very hard situation”.

“The expectations were not good but now they are even worse. For Madness Live and so many other companies in the music industry in Spain, which only work with international artists, it’s almost impossible to do anything. Since 11 March we were not able to organise any concert and unless the situation changes drastically, we think it would take much longer,” says Antonio.

“In the end, I think the governments will have to allow us to work coexisting with the virus… How? I don’t know. Maybe when the vaccine is out there for the most vulnerable part of the population, with the fasts tests or a cure. But until then, many employments will be – are being – destroyed, many venues will close and many promoter/booking/management offices will close. Unfortunately, the light at the end of this long tunnel is still far for us.”

Robert Grima, president at Live Nation Spain, however, is determined to charge ahead, working around the restrictions.

“The curfew does not affect the current situation for shows with reduced capacities at seated clubs and theatres, and therefore we will keep working on shows at that level. I am optimistic as concerts and events have not been a point of transmission and we are working with health authorities for test shows to certificate and create protocols to get back to the business asap,” says Grima.

“Unfortunately, the light at the end of this long tunnel is still far for us”

Neo Sala, founder and CEO at Doctor Music, suggested the new restrictions may even have a “positive effect”.

“The current state of emergency is much softer than the one applied last spring as it does not allow the government to lock down the population at home. It does not make any difference as “real concerts” – those with full capacities and no social distancing were not allowed anyway, even without the state of emergency.

“In fact, in the long term, it could have a positive effect for the live music industry as the more contained the people have been, the more hunger there will be for live entertainment when the Covid crisis is over. Our team is going through this situation together and with good spirit, ready to rock as soon as we can,” Sala concludes.

Es Música, the national federation, estimated that the losses in the live music sector due to the pandemic could exceed €1.2m after a year. While The International Monetary Fund recently said that Spain will be one of the developed countries worst affected by the Covid-19 crisis.


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France and Germany announce second national lockdowns

Germany and France, two of Europe’s largest live music markets, have ordered sweeping restrictions in a bid to temper a second wave of coronavirus.

French president Emmanuel Macron has announced a second national lockdown, starting from tomorrow (30 October) until at least the end of November.

Under the new stringent measures, all non-essential business will close and residents will only be permitted to leave home for essential work or medical reasons.

Covid daily deaths in France are at the highest level since April with over 36,000 cases confirmed yesterday (28 October).

President Macron said the country risked being “overwhelmed by a second wave that no doubt will be harder than the first”.

Elsewhere, Germany is imposing a ‘soft’ national lockdown, with new measures coming into force from next Monday (2 November).

President Macron said the country risked being “overwhelmed by a second wave that no doubt will be harder than the first”

Restaurants, bars, leisure facilities and cultural institutes will be forced to close until the end of November, alongside the majority of businesses and workplaces, while public gatherings will be limited to two households or up to 10 people.

Schools, nurseries, hairdressers and shops, however, will stay open.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday morning that the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care had doubled in the last 10 days, and hospitals would be overwhelmed within weeks unless further steps were taken to curb the spread of the virus.

Merkel also said that contact tracing operations in many parts of the country had broken down, with authorities unable to locate the origin of 75% of infections.

German health officials said today that another 89 people had died in the past 24 hours, with a record 16,774 infections.


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Restart-19 results: “Events could take place in a pandemic”

Results from Restart-19, a scientific experiment that aimed to show how coronavirus travels at indoor events, have today been published.

The experiment saw scientists invite thousands of volunteers to take part in a concert at the Quarterback Immobilien Arena in Leipzig, Germany on 22 August with singer Tim Bendzko.

During the concert, airflow simulations were conducted in conjunction with an engineering company and scientific data was collected by each participant’s contact tracer.

The overview of the key results from the experiment shows that the total number of contacts lasting several minutes is relatively low during the event and can be considerably reduced through hygiene concepts, and that a higher number of contacts occur during admission to the venue and in the breaks.

The scientists also found that poor ventilation can significantly increase the number of people exposed to a risk of infection, but if hygiene concepts are adhered to, additional impacts on the pandemic as a whole are low to very low.

The research project, which is a partially publicly funded, was run by Dr Stefan Moritz of University Medicine Halle (Saale) at the University Hospital in Halle (Universitätsmedizin, UKH), who deemed the experiment “an absolute success”.

“The results are consistent with our hypothesis that the contacts that do occur at an event do not involve all participants,” says Dr Moritz. “Therefore, events could also take place under specific conditions during a pandemic. The most important finding for us was understanding how crucial it is to have good ventilation technology. This is key to lowering the risk of infection.”

“Together with this engineering company, we recreated the entire Quarterback Immobilien Arena as a computer model and divided it into small cubes. We then simulated how different ventilation scenarios affected the distribution of the aerosol particles,” Moritz explains.

“Contacts that occur at an event do not involve all participants, so events could take place under specific conditions during a pandemic”

“We developed a detailed epidemiological simulation model in order to investigate the effects of transmission on the spread of the epidemic throughout the population as a whole,” explains professor Rafael Mikolajczyk from the Institute of Medical Epidemiology, Biometrics and Informatics in the University of Halle’s Faculty of Medicine. “We drew on existing models of pandemic planning and adapted them accordingly.”

Based on their findings, the researchers have recommended that event venues provide adequate ventilation and a regular exchange of air and that an evaluation system for suitable ventilation technology is formed.

The scientists have also recommended that hygiene concepts remain for as long as the pandemic persists including compulsory use of face masks in the arena.

Results from the survey conducted after the experiment showed that 90% of the study participants are not put off by the idea of wearing a mask and are willing to continue to do so in order to be able to experience such events again.

Researchers have also suggested that the seating plan and thus the number of guests should be adjusted based on incidence and the venue should be accessed through several entrances to direct visitor flows. While, waiting areas should be moved outdoors and during the event, food should be eaten in the seating areas to prevent crowding and long periods of contact at snack bars, they add.

Minister of Science, professor Armin Willingmann, says: “The corona pandemic is currently intensifying throughout Germany. This reality makes what we learn from Restart-19 all the more valuable. The events industry, in particular, must be equipped with the knowledge and strategies it needs to be able to responsibly organise concerts, festivals and trade fairs despite corona.

“The researchers at University Medicine Halle have done real pioneering work here on behalf of the states of Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony – even though the road to a new normal is very long.”


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The New Bosses 2020: Bertie Gibbon, ATC Live

The New Bosses 2020 – the latest edition of IQ’s annual celebration of the brightest young talent in the live business today, as voted for by their peers – was published in IQ 93 this month, revealing the 12 promising promoters, bookers, agents, and A&R and production experts that make up this year’s list.

To get to know this year’s cream of the crop a little better, IQ conducted interviews with each one of 2020’s New Bosses, discovering their greatest inspirations and pinpointing the reasons for their success. Catch up on the previous New Bosses interview with Metropolis Music promoter Alexandra Ampofo here.

The next New Boss in the spotlight is Bertie Gibbon (29), who works in A&R at ATC Live in the UK. Manchester-born Gibbon got his start in the music business promoting shows at the University of Sheffield, where he first came into contact with agents and managers. After graduation, he moved to London, where he interned at a management company and label before joining ATC Live in 2013 as a scout and general assistant.

The same year, he founded a management company with Rough Trade’s Paul Jones, Gross Management, which became part of Rough Trade Management in 2018. Today, he continues to work in management while bringing artists to agents at ATC Live and managers at ATC Management. He is also developing a start-up label in Camden, London, called Ra-Ra Rok.


What are you working on right now?
We’ve been keeping our weekly A&R meetings going at ATC Live whilst the office has been out of action, so I’ve been listening to and sharing a lot of music with the agents and have had a bit more time to think about developing artists. Alex (Bruford) and I have been having some branding conversations too, having worked on the company website and branded materials up to this point.

Things have also kicked back into gear quite recently with my clients at Rough Trade management: Shame, who have just released their first new music for a couple of years and have a big year (Covid permitting!) lined up for 2021; Black Midi who are in the studio working on their next project; Sorry who are also in the studio following the release of their debut album on Domino back in March, and a new band from Manchester called The Goa Express who’ve just rounded off their debut single campaign with playlist support on 6 music.

What are some of the highlights of your career to date?
Generally being able to influence the musical direction at ATC Live and seeing the company grow from strength to strength has been super rewarding. On the management side, working on Shame’s debut album campaign was a big success for me and getting them out playing the shows they did. They really broke through the live side of their business and it was amazing to see that come together so well and see how many tickets they’ve been able to sell globally. Black Midi’s Mercury Prize nomination was nice to see, too!

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt working in live music?
That there is such a thing as playing too many shows! From my experience working with young bands there’s always a desire to do as much as possible and it can be difficult to say no to things when you’re on a hot streak but it’s super important that artists and band members have time to recuperate too (even if they don’t think so ahead of time!).

“There is such a thing as playing too many shows…it’s important that artists and band members have time to recuperate too”

What impact has Covid-19 had on your job?
There have been a few bits some colleagues and clients alike have experienced related to mental health which have presented some new challenges. Not being able to develop ideas in the office or dressing room on the road together has been tough at times, keeping people motivated and feeling part of the team has been something we’ve had to keep on top of week to week.

Do you have a mentor in the industry?
Alex Bruford at ATC Live, who hired me about eight years ago, has taught me almost everything I know about the live business (I originally applied to be his assistant – glad I didn’t end up doing it!).

Also Paul Jones from Rough Trade, who I’ve been working on the management side for about the same amount of time, and Dan Market at Sony, who gave me a leg-up into the industry in general and has consistently shared his unbound wisdom on A&R for over a decade now.

What does the live music industry do well, and what do you think we can do better?
Providing a wealth of opportunities for emerging acts – special mention to promoters in Europe who pay good fees and are willing take chances! I think there is more that could be done in the sector to promote diversity on both sides of the business. Obviously, events this year have leant to have some difficult but positive conversations about the way things have been in the past and what we can do in the future but it’s our responsibility to make sure they’re acted on and not forgotten.

“The current situation is really shining a light on how crucial live is to artists and businesses alike on all fronts”

It’s been great to see the support grow for women in the business in the past few years. I know ATC Live and other agencies have just committed to the Keychange gender equality pledge and I’m also lucky to work alongside some great ladies who have been particularly active in pushing that agenda forward but we can’t stop there. More needs to be done to promote black and minority ethnic artists and workers at the grassroots level if we’re going to get close to their representation being proportional in music and culture in general.

What advice would you give to someone who’s new to the business?
Remember you’re not dealing with products, you’re dealing with people! I know this sounds obvious but there are sectors of the music business that still don’t recognise this as they should and there are no doubt casualties as a result.

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing currently?
Figuring out how to compensate for the lost revenue from live in 2020 and now likely 2021, as well as how to develop and break a new act without the opportunity to play shows. The current situation is really shining a light on how crucial live is to artists and businesses alike on all fronts, while it’s nice to be pushed to be creative in coming up with potential solutions to these problems it’s by no means easy. Email me if you have the answer!

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
Hopefully working in a greener, more ethically driven music business with my current roster and still part of the team at ATC Live.


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Ticketmaster unveils SmartEvent technology

Ticketmaster is launching a suite of technology to help event organisers adapt to Covid-19 protocols and safely welcome fans back to events.

SmartEvent will equip operators with technology to reconfigure seating arrangements based on capacity restrictions and ticket demands; give fans specific arrival times and entryways to manage the flow of people into the venue; help manage lines and avoid congestion; and send push notifications to visitors with real-time information such as which entry gate has the shortest queue.

“We know that fans around the world are eager to return to live events and SmartEvent gives event organisers an array of solutions to help make that possible,” said Mark Yovich, president of Ticketmaster.

“SmartEvent brings together our advanced technology platform and industry-leading venue and seating insights, putting Ticketmaster in the unique position to facilitate paths back to live.”

“Fans are eager to return to live events and SmartEvent gives organisers an array of solutions to help make that possible”

SmartEvent will also provide organisers with a number of contactless solutions including contactless box office and contactless scanners to help with faster entry.

The Secure Ticket Transfer will allow each fan to have their own ticket, which will also help with faster entry, but organisers will still know every fan in the building, even if the ticket changed hands multiple times after the initial on sale on Ticketmaster or other ticketing platforms.

This will act as a track-and-trace solution for organisers, giving them the ability to provide information to local bodies.

The ticketing giant is also working with event organisers and venues as they consider how and when to integrate Covid-19 test results and diagnostics partners as a criteria for entry to live events.


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Montreux Jazz Festival to launch China edition

Renowned Swiss event Montreux Jazz Festival (MJF) is set to launch a new edition in China next year with a programme that’ll explore the theme of ‘when west meets east’.

The schedule will combine Chinese and Asian music as well as jazz, which has been enjoying a new lease of life in the country in recent years.

The new edition is due to take place between 5–8 October 2021 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, and will be the Swiss event’s third international partner alongside Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

“The Montreux Jazz Festival is a legendary event, revered by music lovers from all over the world. I played there for the first time in 1982 and today, 40 years later, I have the honour of being the musical director of the festival in China,” says Ted Lo, musical director of the MJF China.

“After Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro, we are pursuing our journey of mutual cultural and musical exchange in China”

“We are delighted to welcome Hangzhou and the passionate team of MJF China into the great MJF family,” added CEO of the MFJ Mathieu Jaton. “After Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro, we are pursuing our journey of mutual cultural and musical exchange, values which have always been dear to MJF.”

The original festival in Montreux, Switzerland was founded by Claude Nobs in 1967 and has played host to artists including Etta James, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Ms Lauren Hill, Aretha Franklin and David Bowie.

This year, in light of the pandemic, MJF held a 16-day virtual music festival showcasing iconic Montreux performances from festivals past to mark what would have been its 54th edition.

MJF is due to hold four editions of the renowned festival in 2021: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the end of spring; the flagship festival in Montreux, Switzerland (2–17 July); Tokyo, Japan in the autumn; and finally Hangzhou, China.

Read IQ‘s feature on how MJF has softened the impact of Covid-19 by diversifying into digital content and live programming for its partners here.


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