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Pandemic lessons learned by live: #6-10

In the second part of a special IQ feature, live music business leaders identify a further five key lessons that the pandemic has taught us

By Gordon Masson on 14 Feb 2022

R3wire and Varski play to a "joyous" crowd at Jeddah World Fest

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been the biggest challenge that the live entertainment industry has ever had to deal with. Thankfully, thousands of businesses around the world have survived two years of unprecedented hardship, proving that the ability of this sector to come up with creative solutions has been underscored. But just what are the main lessons we should be taking from the Covid experience? IQ talked to a number of business leaders to identify the 10 key lessons that the pandemic has taught us (read part one here). Here, we present the final five…

6. Global consensus is vital for international touring

Michael Hosking, founder of Singapore-based Midas Promotions, notes that there is very little in the way of joined-up thinking, internationally, which has created significant obstacles for touring acts and productions.

“The world remains polarised on this and so many other significant issues – zero grey areas in which to compromise and an understanding that no two cities, states, or countries will ever share the same opinion on anything these days,” Hosking tells IQ. “So just because an artist can perform to full-capacity venues with quarantine in some markets doesn’t mean the neighbouring market will be the same […] A worldwide consensus needs to be reached before we can go headlong into worldwide touring or there will be even more financial casualties along the way.”

7. Sustainability needs to be at the heart of everything

Alongside equality and mental health, environmental protection has become one of the key issues that the industry is
pledging as a priority, going forward.

“When we exploit the natural environment, it shuts us down,” states Claire O’Neill, organiser of the Green Events & Innovations conference. “Our wellbeing is the most valuable thing we have. When we have space to rest, we have the capacity to care for others and our environment, and to achieve great things.”

8. There is strength in numbers

CAA’s Banks applauds industry leaders for the way in which they put rivalries aside to join forces during the pandemic.

“This has been a time where we, the live music industry, have worked together really well,” she says. “Joint campaigning across every sector has achieved results – be that the reduction of VAT, the formation of the Culture
Recovery Fund [in the UK], or moving forward, some of the Brexit issues that we have all worked on, a joint approach has reaped rewards that would never have been achieved individually.”

Olivier Toth, president of the European Arenas Association (EAA), says, “We have recognised the importance of coming together and speaking and acting as one voice. Arenas lie at the centre of a very complex ecosystem made up of a very wide variety of dedicated and talented professionals, who, at the start of the pandemic, lacked a common voice. Never has the phrase ‘strength in numbers’ been so significant.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have come together to raise awareness of the situation of everyone involved in our industry, to reach out to policymakers and health authorities, and to provide them with relevant real-time data from live test events and surveys to help shape solutions.”

He continues, “We have also come together with our local communities to provide vaccination and testing centres, as well as auxiliary hospitals and food banks. Working together as an industry and working even more closely with our communities makes us better and stronger and is something we should carry on doing to help our short term recovery and build strength for the future.”

Jim King, CEO of European festivals for AEG Presents, comments, “Investing in and having strong industry representation is a key lesson for me. When compared to other industries, our pre-pandemic industry coordination was not seen as a priority by many and so we struggled to be heard when the crisis hit. This undoubtedly increased the impact of the pandemic, as it created an environment where the UK government and their advisors had a lack of understanding of many of the key mechanics of our industry and thus how to react.”

Live Nation’s Bowdery agrees. “The LIVE trade body [in the UK] was born out of the need for one voice to represent the live sector, and the successes that the industry has had with government would never have happened if we’d all just been getting on with our own jobs and not thinking of the whole,” he says.

King adds, “A positive lesson to take away and that I hope connects, is when faced with the ‘go/no go’ opportunity for festivals in summer 2021, UK agencies and UK promoters worked collaboratively and with great speed, demonstrating that taking a simple and fair pathway delivers great results for everyone.”

9. Enforced lockdowns create extra ‘thinking time’

ASM Global president and CEO Ron Bension explains, “At ASM, we quickly pivoted; and rather than focus on managing through the pandemic and a closed industry, we immediately went about looking at what we want to look like when we come out of the pandemic, with a focus on content, marketing and technology that will provide added value and meet the needs of our clients and community once things return to normal.”

Embracing technology and innovation gave birth to companies such as livestreaming operation Driift, whose CEO, Ric Salmon, comments, “Aside from realising that I should have spent less time travelling or commuting and more time with my wife and kids, long before the pandemic kicked in (what were we all thinking?!), professionally it’s driven home how important innovation is, and how fragile our world and the very fabric of our industry is.”

10. Nothing can replace live entertainment

EAA president Toth believes the pent-up demand for concerts, shows and festivals proves that the live experience is unique and cannot be replicated by other forms of entertainment.

“Although digital technology has helped us through some very difficult times since the onset of the pandemic, and although we continue to embrace digital to enhance all parts of the live event customer journey, I think we have fully acknowledged that virtual can never take the place of the real thing,” he says.

“There is no replacing the raw emotion felt by attending live events and the buzz you get from hearing your favourite track played live or seeing your team score goals. The same applies to the artist or player experience, where nothing replaces the applause and the cheering.”

But ASM’s Bension warns, “[We need to] excel at quickly understanding a rapidly and ever-changing fan live entertainment landscape. For the foreseeable future, it’s more complex until we fully emerge from the pandemic. However, if we’re sensitive to the needs of our guests, who deeply desire the community of the live experience, that key pillar of the industry will remain firm.”

And UTA’s global head of touring, Neil Warnock, suggests that everyone in the business, “finds the positive for our managers and our artists.” Adding, “It’s easy to be negative in these trying times but positivity [for] everyone is badly
needed and helps to give confidence.”

Koravos concludes, “Putting on shows in a pandemic is a thankless task. We are now amid the third round of devastation for the live entertainment industry, with waves of shows being cancelled every single day. With the protection of insurance still not an option, this wave has been made worse by the lack of government support and the lack of alternative dates to postpone to. This is partly due to rapidly rising rates of infection, but much of this is also caused by collapsing consumer confidence in the face of dire warnings from our government and media.”


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