One Year On: Industry leaders on the Covid anniversary
Even before ILMC in 2020, a number of countries were beginning to shut down when it came to mass gatherings such as concerts and live entertainment, while for many ILMC 32 attendees, the artist showcases that week in London were the last live performances that they witnessed.
Talk about the coronavirus, back then, swung between the hope that it was just a new form of flu, to fear that we might have to postpone a month or two of upcoming dates. Certainly, nobody was predicting the loss of a full calendar year of events and the redundancies of countless thousands of industry professionals around the world.
Indeed, as the year progressed and restrictions imposed by governments on everyday activities even drilled down to how often you can leave your home, the optimists among us still believed that, maybe, festivals in August and September might happen, allowing indoor venues to reopen in October.
Fast-forward to February 2021, and despite vaccine programmes inoculating millions of people every day, there’s a growing consensus that there might not be any kind of outdoor season in the northern hemisphere until next year, while a few hopeful souls are holding out for indoor shows by November or December, albeit featuring domestic talent rather than international superstars.
“Everybody underestimated the impact of Covid,” admits Christof Huber, general secretary of European festivals organisation, Yourope. “I remember being at the Swiss Music Awards in February last year, on the day when all the big events were banned in Switzerland. But our attitude was that in two weeks we would be back.
“The strange thing is, we could see what was happening elsewhere, but nobody was talking about it. Now though, we’re all working desperately hard and trying everything possible to make things happen. But the general consensus seems to be that Q4 is when we might be able to return.”
The gradual dawning of the reality of Covid-19 has been a harsh lesson for an industry that thrives on optimism and creativity.
“Governments are not using our expertise and instead they are relying on bureaucrats. If we could at least get a seat at the table with them, we could help come up with solutions”
“After the UK government announce on 22 February, we now have a ‘nothing before’ date, which has really helped us,” notes Toby Leighton-Pope, co-CEO of AEG Presents in the UK. “For so long we were operating in the dark not being able to plan for the future. Now we know officially there will be nothing before 22 June and although I’m not 100% confident we will be fully open directly after this, it does give us a decent roadmap to work to.
“I’m not a big fan of socially distanced gigs. Artists rely so much on the vibe for the crowd and seeing so many empty seats from the stage cannot be fun for them. It also doesn’t work financially for the artist, venue or promoter. In a doomsday scenario, if we never get back to full capacities, then I guess we have to deal with it, but for now, I’m not a fan.”
John Reid, Live Nation’s president of concerts in Europe, comments, “The reopening timeline will differ from region to region. The vaccine roll-out is encouraging and will underpin confidence. As that continues to scale we will be able to get back to regular capacities, and we’re still hopeful some events are able to return sometime in the summer.
“We are working with governments, scientists and local authorities to make sure that, as soon as it’s possible to do so, we’ll be there and ready to go. Don’t forget, there are markets in Asia Pacific that are already opening – it was great to see Rhythm & Vines festival taking place in New Zealand over the new year.”
Those regional idiosyncrasies are also highlighted by UTA co-head of music, Sam Kirby Yoh. “The need for industry support varies from country to country,” she says. “Smaller European countries like Norway or Iceland have prominent music scenes, deeply ingrained into their cultures, and their local fundraising efforts have been quite successful. Additionally, if a country’s recovery from Covid-19 is going successfully enough for domestic artists to be able to perform, we anticipate that it will open itself up to artists from nearby countries shortly thereafter.”
Detlef Kornett, Deutsche Entertainment AG’s CMO and head of international business affairs, is more blunt about the year ahead for the live entertainment sector. “I foresee that come March or April, government in the UK, but less so across Europe, will have run out of their reserves and will put on the brake for live music industry grants and support. Whereas continental Europe continues to support the event industry in various degrees, but all the way until the end of 2021 – that type of support is currently not foreseeable in the UK. So I’m afraid that, for us in the UK, the hardest days are yet to come, unless the government-backed insurance plan and flexible furlough schemes fall into place.”
Kornett is brutally honest about the current state of the business. “US artists are shying away and are not committing to anything before, possibly, the end of the year, but most likely 2022,” he says. “The local authorities have already said that no matter what happens they do not want a festival in July. That leaves the big question about what can be done in August, because it won’t work that events are banned until 31 July but then on 1 August you can have 50,000 people in a stadium. It will be gradual, with social distancing and test events, and depending on those results, we may be encouraged to do more. But that gets you to September or October, and it’s hard to see a full O2 [London] on the first of October as well, in the current circumstances.”
“What’s really important now, is to ensure that the industry is ready to ramp up as soon as we get the go-ahead”
Investing time in the future
One consistent observation from many involved in the live music supply chain is that never have they worked so hard but for zero financial gain. Agents and promoters have spent the past year endlessly postponing shows, securing new dates for the tour and making sure everything is in place for the tour to happen, only to have to do the exact same thing weeks and months later. It’s a similar tale for other professions in music.
“There’s a big pastoral role in my job and it’s all about keeping everybody – not just the band members, but everybody in our wider family – motivated and keeping morale up,” says Joyce Smyth, manager of the Rolling Stones. “I’m very fortunate because the Stones have such a terrific work ethic, and right from the outset, Mick’s first question was ‘What can you give me to do? We need some projects!’
“So there has been new music released. The single ‘Living in a Ghost Town ’was rather apt for our times. Goats Head Soup came out as a nice re-release, and it’s quite tricky organising that because the guys are all in different places: they’re not in one same jurisdiction, so it can be a challenge to keep everything cohesive. At the end of the day we had to be innovative and not dwell on what we can’t do and what we feel we’ve lost, but just concentrate on what we can get on with? As Keith would say: we’ve just got to hunker down and get through this.”
It’s a similar story for solo artist Imogen Heap, who tells IQ that uncertainty over Brexit and then the coronavirus forced her to shelve some international tour plans, leaving a blank hole in her usually packed schedule. “But what has come out of that are many new initiatives – lots of projects that would not have come about had I had the usual team of eight people around me, but who have had to go on furlough when there have been no revenues coming in,” says Heap. “It felt like it did ten years ago, without the team and back on my own. But I’ve enjoyed a greater closeness and a reawakening of the relationship with my fans, which is really, really positive and oddly, in a roundabout way, mentally helped to pull me through this period.”
Indeed, with the Stones taking the time to create some new music, Heap reports that she also has been rekindling her love for songwriting. “One of the fans on our weekly call suggested I try meditating,” she explains. “The effect I get from meditation in a ten-minute breathing space, is the same as I’d get when I was improvising with a piano as a child – it creates a calm and a space for everything. The combination of that and speaking with the fans every Thursday brought me out of a really quite awful depression.”
With her fans viewing her improvisation sessions, they noted down their favourite moments and entered them into a spreadsheet for Heap, suggesting which ones they want me her to make music out of. “For seven or eight years I haven’t written a song unless there has been a project associated with it – mainly for financial reasons – but this time there was no reason and it’s just because the fans liked it and I liked it,” she says. “And it feels so good to just be a musician again with no agenda – it feels like I’m 15 again. I’m just writing music because I want to.”
“The fans are loyal to their artists and our festivals – 83% of fans are holding on to their tickets for rescheduled shows, and 63% for festivals, which is incredible”
That element of rediscovery is something that AEG’s Leighton-Pope can draw parallels with. “Personally, I’ve found that everything is not as urgent as we once thought it was,” he says. “That allows us to spend a bit more time to think about things and give more attention to the planning process.
“Taking some time off also has its benefits. Talking to people and realising that not killing yourself with work every day was actually beneficial was a revelation. So, being able to work from home and to spend more time with family and friends helps in all aspects of your life, including work.”
That time off has, perhaps, allowed people to put their work/life balance under the microscope, helping to retain some of the positivity that otherwise might have evaporated after such a lengthy lay-off.
“Of course, everybody is frustrated, but I have not heard any negative vibes in the sense of just giving up,” states Yourope’s Huber. “Everybody is just concentrating on trying to arrange whatever is possible in their own country.”
However, highlighting the fact that no two countries are dealing with the pandemic in the same way, Huber says, “There are a lot of umbrella programmes in the Netherlands and Germany and Austria and Switzerland, for example, but we also hear from people in other countries who have absolutely nothing – zero governmental support – and you can only imagine how frustrating that is. But the people in those situations are the true survivors who try to solve things differently, because maybe they were used to similar situations in previous years. And no matter how difficult it is, even those people are saying that they are going to come back.”
That’s music to the ears of Leighton-Pope, who believes the industry’s work ethic throughout the past year will pay dividends when normality finally returns. “The thing is, if you’re late to the party, then you will miss out – you have to have tours pencilled and venues held and put in all that hard work, even though the dates keep shifting,” he says. “If you’re not ready to go on the day the green light is given, then you’re definitely going to be scrambling to catch up with everyone else who has put in that hard graft.”
Kornett agrees. “For a company that cannot host any events, we’ve all been flat-out busy because you’re chasing the events that you need to postpone or cancel; you’re chasing government grants or subsidies; you’re chasing banks and everyone else for financing; you’re re-projecting the re-project of the re-projected business; and when you’re done with all that, you start from the beginning again…”
“I’m afraid that, for us, the hardest days are yet to come”
For those businesses operating in Europe and the UK, the past few years have been dominated by what the potential fallout from Britain leaving the European Union might be. With that date now passed, what has become apparent is that international touring didn’t even make it on to a list of priorities for policy makers, leaving the industry floundering to find solutions before venues are allowed to reopen.
Issues over work permits and visas have recently received a lot of publicity, thanks to the support of some high-profile artists – notably Elton John – but there are other significant hurdles that the industry at large will have to overcome to allow the successful resumption of international tours.
“With Covid falling as it has, although it has been an absolutely appalling time for everybody, it’s been a really sour blessing, because in an otherwise normal year, the industry would have come apart at the seams,” states Stuart McPherson, managing director of trucking firm KB Event, which has had to find £500,000 (€579,000) to open a new EU-based depot in Dublin.
“I’ve been living this for three years now to try to come up with solutions and options for solutions, because until 23 or 24 December 2020, we were not 100% certain, from our part of the industry, about where we were going. So we had to have different strategies laid out in terms of which button we were going to press in case of whichever scenario we found ourselves in.”
As things stand, McPherson explains that UK trucking companies can no longer legally tour in Europe as a result of Brexit, hence his newly opened European headquarters. “Our choices were threefold: either we do what we’ve done and move into the EU, or we become a domestic-only trucking company and cut our cloth accordingly;, or we shut down and go home. So it was a no brainer – we need our UK company and our EU company.”
Underlining the lack of support the sector has had from government, McPherson adds, “If we had been live and had tours out in January and February, the way we normally have, then we would have been in a world of pain.”
That situation is acknowledged by DEAG’s Kornett, who observes that under current Brexit rules, “Effectively, as a tour, you are better off hiring European trucking companies and equipment, touring Europe, and then going through the border exercise only once when you enter the UK. But what will that mean for all the stage and production companies in the UK? So many businesses will be forced to open European subsidiaries.”
“I’m very fortunate because the Stones have such a terrific work ethic, and right from the outset, Mick’s first question was ‘What can you give me to do?’
For his part, Live Nation’s Reid says, “Partners on all sides are invested in finding the optimal process, and lobbying groups across the UK and Europe are working hard on how to make travel work for touring acts. One up-side of the pause in live is that we have time to plan so that when restrictions are lifted across the markets the industry can still retain its strong position internationally.”
Rather than bemoaning the situation, McPherson is hopeful that his trucking peers will also invest in EU depots. “I know that a couple of our competitors are moving in to Holland, which is great news,” he states. “For the health of the industry, we need as many of the suppliers to be able to service the clients they currently service – if there are not enough suppliers to service everyone, it’s going to be a big problem.”
But the price to remain in the market is steep, as it’s not just the case of having a postal address in the EU. “Legally, we have to replicate the company,” McPherson informs IQ. “To get an operator’s licence for our trucks, you have to have physical parking space for the number of trucks that you want on that licence. So if I want a licence for 50 trucks, I have to have a depot with enough land to park those 50 trucks on it. We also have to have an office to store all the records, and we require a transport manager based in that EU state.”
And the expense does not stop there. All of KB Event’s drivers will now have to pass their Certificate of Professional Competence qualifications in Ireland to allow them to continue to drive in the EU. “Another kicker is that my insurance company cannot insure my trucks in the EU, so I also have to replicate my insurance in Ireland alongside my insurance in the UK: my insurance is £300,000 so I have to replicate that so we can use both fleets. It’s a horrific place to be, but it’s the right thing to do for the health of my business and for the health of my clients.”
Plotting routes to recovery
Presuming there will be enough trucks and suppliers available when markets and borders start to reopen, the plans that industry professionals have been adjusting for the past 12 months follow similar theoretical paths.
“For European touring to resume, major markets, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Spain and Italy, will need to reopen with no quarantines and with venue capacities that make financial sense,” says UTA’s Kirby Yoh. “Australia and New Zealand have to be at a point where fans can travel between countries, with limited or no up-front quarantine costs. This is a similar case with Asia, with particular reference to the importance of Japan.”
Kornett believes we should be focusing more on the strides being made in medical technology to speed up the return of live events. “I don’t think we’re talking about rapid testing enough, as we’re all a bit obsessed with vaccination,” he says. “There are tests out there now that only take three minutes, so logistically, we could ask event attendees either for vaccination proof or give them a quick test to get a reasonable amount of people through the doors within two to three hours. That could save good-sized outdoor events in the summer, as well as moving indoors to arena events in the fall.”
“We need to look after each other, because things are really tough”
Stones manager Joyce Smyth is cautiously open to the idea of fans being asked for proof of vaccination, but notes, “It all depends on the jurisdiction of the country you are playing in and the rules in that particular territory. And I also wonder who pays for all of this, because I can see the venues wanting to pass the admin cost on to the promoters, who will want to pass it to the artists, and that then is passed on to the fans, so it becomes a tricky proposition. But if it’s what is required to open up, then we’re going to have to do it.”
Leighton-Pope is a fan of health screening. “I like the idea of the vaccine passport and the idea of the whole world having one, which might force anyone who had not had the vaccine to join the club. I’m hoping that by the summer, maybe 75% of the UK population will have had the vaccine, and then we need a plan – a vaccine passport could be part of that – but more to the point, we need a plan that the government will support.”
The matter of government support is a major issue for Yourope’s festival organisers, who are frustrated by the lack of communication from their respective policy makers. “Everybody has worked very hard to come up with concepts that might work, but we’re not getting any feedback from governments,” reports Huber. “We hear nothing about under what circumstances it might be possible to be back under full capacity, or even when we will be allowed to do business again in any format.”
He continues, “Our business is very flexible. We saw that last summer with people finding ways to go back into business, and not just for themselves – it’s for the artist, for our employees, and we need to keep the sponsors aboard otherwise they will leave to different sectors. So it’s a multilayered thing that we need to go back to business. But we’re just not getting the communication about which circumstances will allow this.”
One serious area of concern is the prospects of the business successfully reopening if there is a shortage of skilled professionals available to help artists get back out on the road.
“What’s really important now is to ensure that the industry is ready to ramp up as soon as we get the go-ahead, so supporting crew and freelancers has never been more important,” says Reid. “Crew Nation has raised over [US]$15m, helping 15,000 live music crew members across 48 countries globally, and we hope to help even more until we can come back in full. And we’ll also be advocating for prep and planning, so shows can be teed up to play as soon as it’s safe – given the longer lead times required to tour we need to be adjusting along the way so we don’t have crew spending extra months on the sideline once society begins to reopen.”
“Talking to people and realising that not killing yourself with work every day was actually beneficial was a revelation”
It’s a problem recognised by everyone. KB Event’s McPherson tells IQ, “[Covid] has been brutal on the freelance workforce, but we’ve been working with stage managers and production managers to try to find them van jobs or labouring jobs or just anything to try to help them out. We need to look after each other, because things are really tough.”
Reid adds, “The whole industry has been working hard to support the ecosystem that we rely on, but it’s undoubtedly been tough all round for people who work in live events. People are eager to get back to work and we’re confident we’ll be able to staff up appropriately as things ramp up.”
Smyth reveals that the Stones have been playing their part, by “aligning with organisations and groups who are trying to help crew survive this – and not just our crew, as that’s the easier part and we can look after our own. But there is a whole industry out there and we are in danger of losing this expertise unless something is done. So we’re involved in campaigns that raise awareness – governments could definitely provide a little more help than they already are.”
UTA’s Kirby Yoh believes that Covid has laid bare some of the weaknesses in the live sector. “The live music industry’s previous system was more fragile than we had realised and did not provide enough support for vendors, crews, venues, artists and more,” she states. “It is important that we strengthen our infrastructure to include more provisions for these parties. Also, Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of artist representation when dealing with the industry’s governing bodies.”
Meanwhile, Kornett says DEAG has been working with its partners throughout the pandemic in an effort to keep them solvent. “When you work on big events for multiple years, you end up being vertically integrated with some of your suppliers, so we went out with some of them and applied to run testing centres and vaccination centres – it’s building the set, thinking about ingress and egress – so it’s what we’re used to. That obviously isn’t going to save anyone’s bacon, but it’s at least something toward paying the bills.”
And for her part, Heap observes, “The end of live music has given artists the time to look at all their revenue streams closely, so that’s why people are beginning to speak out about the rates they get from streaming, for instance, and that campaign for fairer treatment is gaining support now.”
While Heap has been working diligently for a number of years on her own Creative Passport scheme, helping music makers to access, update and manage their own data, she is quick to add, “I’m very grateful to the people who are going into Parliament to speak about all of these things on our behalf. I’m doing my own little bit from my corner through the creative passport, trying to help ease of flow between different services and trying to make sure you have all the required verifications, but there’s only so much we can do.”
“In many ways it’s been a beautiful time and I’ve felt very supported and creatively free. It just hasn’t brought in any money”
With everyone looking forward to the long-awaited return of live music, whenever that may be, the professionals that IQ spoke to were universally upbeat about how people have pulled together to weather the storm of the past year.
Live Nation president Reid says one of the key lessons he has learned over the past year is to “never take anything for granted.” He applauds Live Nation staff for their hard work throughout the crisis, and admits to being pleasantly surprised by the patience of fans. “Our teams are innovative and have pivoted to adapt to the unimaginable challenges that the last year has thrown at us,” says Reid. “The fans are loyal to their artists and our festivals – 83% of fans are holding on to their tickets for rescheduled shows, and 63% for festivals, which is incredible.”
Accepting the success that livestreaming has had during the past year, AEG’s Leighton-Pope nonetheless counters, “Professionally, I did not get into the music industry to spend my time on Zoom, or to watch concerts on my computer. I love the live interaction and that’s why I like being in this business – and we’re finding out that is really hard to replicate.
“The live streams that I’ve seen are like good TV shows, but I have not had a hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck moment watching anything on my computer like I do at a gig, bar, club, stadium or festival.” When it comes to Covid’s lessons, he adds, “I’ve learned that we can work from home very capably: the idea of being in an office for five days a week now sounds antiquated.”
Stones manager Smyth also tips her hat to the fans, and voices hopes that after more than a year without events, the scalpers and touts will be confined to history. “The whole secondary market is terribly pernicious,” she says. “I can see the scale of it because I follow our ticket refunds. Lots of wonderful fans have held on to their tickets for our postponed shows in the States, even though I’m sure lots of them are suffering and have maybe lost their jobs. It’s apparent, however, that much of the returned inventory is from brokers – it’s not the fans who have managed to buy blocks of tickets. So what is going on there? We’ve talked about it endlessly and I hope this lockdown situation is an opportunity for somebody clever to clean this up a bit.”
UTA’s Kirby Yoh says that fan loyalty coupled with the growing desire for live entertainment should negate the need to slash ticket prices when on-sales restart. “We would need to re-evaluate ticket pricing once touring resumes, based on local economies,” she says. “At this point, we don’t think a widespread drop in ticket prices would be necessary for fans to return to live shows, as there will be a real appetite for people to see shows again.”
But she is determined to make sure that strides made in recent years regarding equality are not swept under the carpet. “Much work still needs to be done to increase diversity and equality within the industry,” she stresses. “I encourage everyone to get involved in Diversify the Stage, Noelle Scaggs’ initiative focused on improving hiring practices and bringing more underrepresented individuals into the live music and touring sectors of the business.”
“I feel that, more than ever, we are all working in the same business and there’s a lot of dialogue and positive exchange, so hopefully we will come out of this stronger”
Heap says, “I think we are at a turning point. But sometimes you have to hit rock bottom first. I don’t know if we’re at rock bottom, but we must be pretty close.” And she adds, “In many ways it’s been a beautiful time and I’ve felt very supported and creatively free. It just hasn’t brought in any money. So now I’m making music as a hobby, but I’m also doing big commercial projects for money and that’s totally fine.”
McPherson says the cross-industry collaboration has been remarkable during the past year. “[The pandemic] has driven a lot more cooperation between the different disciplines in how we find a way through this and I’m hopeful that once we come out the other side of this, there will be a lot more cooperation, working together to ultimately deliver what our clients need,” he says.
Huber concurs, “I feel that, more than ever, we are all working in the same business and there’s a lot of dialogue and positive exchange, so hopefully we will come out of this stronger in the long run.” And he hopes that governments, sooner rather than later, will realise that engaging with the live entertainment industry could facilitate a swifter end to Covid restrictions. “One of the key jobs of a promoter is to plan events that keep everyone safe, but the governments are not using our expertise and instead they are relying on bureaucrats. If we could at least get a seat at the table with them, we could help come up with solutions.”
Kornett is doubtful, musing, “The EU looks at someone organising a concert in the same way as somebody who is restoring a castle – he has to bring materials and special instruments to work on an 11th century castle. So whatever they do for our industry, they will have to do for everyone else, too.” But he is quietly confident that the medical community will come up with answers to accelerate live music’s resurrection. “I’m convinced there will be further progress in medical treatment and vaccinations, and that might help us find our way back to a more normal way of life, hopefully even sooner than we expect.”
Indeed, when touring does become a reality again, there is a very real danger that every band in the world will want to be out performing at the same time. Such problems don’t phase manager Smyth, though, as she and her organisation prepare for the Rolling Stones’ 60th anniversary year in 2022.
“Right now, it seems like it would be a wonderful problem to have,” she concludes.“Oh dear, four acts want to have the Albert Hall on the same night. Well, somehow we have to make it work… matinees!”
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The NZ Normal: What live is like on the other side
When IQ catches up with Stuart Clumpas, he is at the wedding of Live Nation New Zealand chief Mark Kneebone, and the following morning is flying his plane to Queenstown for an outdoor gig. “How very New Zealand-of-the-moment is that?” he comments, adding how fortunate he feels to be in a place that has dealt so well with the pandemic.
“What New Zealand has been able to do, by a combination of fortuitous positioning on the planet, a little bit of taking a punt and getting it right, and just a very cooperative element throughout society, is to stop Covid in its tracks, and then put up strict-but-fair barriers to prevent the virus getting into the country,” says Clumpas.
However, while going to a gig remains all but a dream for billions of people around the world, the reality in the Land of the Long White Cloud is that live music professionals are suffering from some of the same issues as their peers in nations where concerts remain banned.
“We’re in a bubble that nobody can leave or get into”
Indeed, never has the term Kiwi been more appropriate, as the national icon is a flightless bird, very much symbolising the current dilemma. “I feel like I’m the living embodiment of The Truman Show,” confesses Clumpas. “We’re in a bubble that nobody can leave or get into.”
Former Live Nation chairman Clumpas, who still consults for the company but otherwise runs Auckland’s 12,000-capacity Spark Arena and sister venue The Tuning Fork (cap. 375), contends that New Zealand’s ‘new normal’ comes with caveats. “It’s normal to all extents and purposes, but there is an uncomfortable feeling or an unease behind it; everybody knows that it ain’t the norm, even though you go about life being normal… it’s hard to explain.
“In terms of business, though, we’re able to have shows without restrictions, as there is no community Covid here.” (At press time, the New Zealand government announced that a 56-year-old woman who had completed the compulsory two-week quarantine had subsequently returned a positive test. She was ordered to self isolate at home.)
“Covid-19 [has] had a massive impact on the number of events we’ve been able to deliver”
While anyone remotely interested in live entertainment might be looking enviously at the freedoms the people of New Zealand are enjoying, for those working in the territory the reality is a lot more fragile. Clumpas, for instance, reports that Spark Arena’s business is 85% down, while others disclose similar struggles.
“Covid-19 [has] had a massive impact on the number of events we’ve been able to deliver. Since lockdown we have hosted 61 performance events in our venues; for the same date range in the previous year we hosted more than 130 events,” reports Gus Sharp, event sales and planning manager for WellingtonNZ, which through its Venues Wellington division operates six buildings: Michael Fowler Centre (capacity 2,500 seated); TSB Arena (cap 6,000); Shed 6 (1,400); The Opera House (1,388 seated); the Wellington Town Hall, (2,200 mixed); and the St James Theatre (1,700 seated).
Sharp continues, “The largest single night event we delivered was a drum and bass rave at the TSB Arena which, on the night, had a capacity of 4,000.”
Detailing Live Nation New Zealand’s post-Covid journey, managing director Mark Kneebone, recalls, “We started off with smaller shows like the Together Again series which were among the first socially distanced shows in the world, which we kicked off at the Tuning Fork, Auckland in late May 2020.
“The largest single night event we delivered was a drum and bass rave at the TSB Arena which had a capacity of 4,000”
“Initially, the capacity for the events were 100 people, including all staff. These events were all seated, with fans in pods, and with lots of health and safety precautions such as temperature checks, socially distanced seating, table service, staff wearing PPE and contact tracing.
“As the situation in the country became under control and restrictions were lifted, shows could happen at full scale again and we were back on the road as quickly as we could be.”
Kneebone continues, “The biggest headline show we did in 2020 was Benee, with the tour covering eight shows ranging from theatre to arena level in four cities across NZ, and included two sold-out shows at Spark Arena.”
On the festival front, Live Nation benefitted from the demand for entertainment outdoors at its 29-31 December Rhythm & Vines festival, which with an all-Kiwi line up, selling more than 25,000 tickets and attracting 83,000 attendees across the four days.
“We also had to create our own gigs, which is something that others elsewhere might want to look at”
Away from music, WellingtonNZ also hosted the world premiere of Digital Nights – Van Gogh Alive, an out-door digital projection exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh. “It had more than 44,000 people through the gates,” says Sharp. “This was a fantastic outcome considering that for part of the eight-week season, crowds were unavoidably limited to no more than 100 people a session.”
Creativity has also been a challenge at Spark Arena, where Clumpas flags up a successful beer festival. “We also had to create our own gigs, which is something that others elsewhere might want to look at,” he says, citing the world’s biggest ever pub gig, which was organised in partnership with promoter Eccles Entertainment.
“This harks back to the 80s when the likes of INXS and Midnight Oil would play to 2,000 people in these huge pubs – nobody would pay to get in but they’d all come in and drink like hell,” explains Clumpas.
“It was Brent Eccles’ idea, where he put on all these Kiwi bands who were big in the 80s. It was fabulous – we had 3,000 people and because we didn’t have an international Spark Arena in Auckland has introduced Covid tests at the venue’s entrances touring production manager to deal with, we ran the room and we were able to do a whole bunch of shit that never in a month of Sun- days we would have been allowed to do – and people absolutely loved it.
“Such ingenuity is needed because New Zealand’s limited talent pool has already been used – to great effect”
“For example, there’s a famous takeaway hamburger caravan called The White Lady in central Auckland where people go in the early hours on their way home after a big night. We brought The White Lady into the venue and put it at the back of the room.
“And above the stage, Brent had this video screen on a loop, saying ‘No shorts or stubbies or jandals allowed in this bar, mate. Get too drunk and you’re fucking getting chucked out.’ The bands love it, and every punter who came up to me thought it was hilarious and begged us to do it again.”
Eccles, too, was thrilled at the success of the format. “We’ll definitely do it again,” he tells IQ. “In fact, I have plans to take the idea to Australia, when it’s possible.”
Delighting at the details of the event, Eccles says, “All the bars were on the floor of the arena, like a pub, and we had signage up for legendary 80s places like The Globe, the Windsor Castle and the Gluepot, which don’t exist any more. Such ingenuity is needed because New Zealand’s limited talent pool has already been used – to great effect – but venues throughout the country are struggling to fill their many vacant diary dates.
“Our local acts are boosted by getting to work with that state-of-the-art production gear”
Boosting the domestic scene
There are, of course, silver linings. Clumpas points to the amazing production support that has flourished thanks to all of the international tours that have visited New Zealand in the last decade.
“Our local acts have worked incredibly hard to deliver some great shows, and they are boosted by getting to work with that state-of-the-art production gear so they can look and sound as good in an arena as any of the international acts,” he says.
“We’ve certainly seen some homegrown success stories come out of 2020,” agrees Sharp. “The 4,000-capacity rave mentioned earlier was a purely domestic line-up: that’s something that probably wouldn’t have happened before Covid reared its ugly head.
“We’ve also had homegrown superstars such as Benee doing three sold-out nights in a row in one of our GA venues. The demand for homegrown talent is a fantastic thing to see and may well be ushering in a golden era for New Zealand performers and audiences.”
“We may well be ushering in a golden era for New Zealand performers and audiences”
Live Nation’s Kneebone observes, “Demand has been really strong as we came out of lockdown which has been great to see. We of course wanted to give extra thought and messaging around health and safety precautions. There will never be a one-sized fits all approach for marketing, so we continue to partner closely with artist teams to determine the right strategy. We’ve found things work smoothest when fans have all the details upfront so their expectations are aligned from the onset.”
Kneebone also tips his hat to the way in which home-grown talent has stepped up to entertain their fellow citizens. “Domestic acts have the spotlight to themselves at the moment and are headlining all the festivals around the country,” he notes. “Fans have been incredibly supportive of that, too, which means the industry can keep the wheels turning while enjoying all the best that Kiwi talent has to offer.”
Although he is the New Zealand representative of Australian giant Frontier Touring, Eccles has had no acts from that agreement to promote during the last few months. However, Eccles Entertainment was established in 2000 and has been built on a roster of Kiwi talent that has helped its founders retain all their employees throughout the pandemic. Indeed, with local act Six60 in the midst of a stadium tour that has sold 120,000 tickets, the company has the biggest tour of the NZ summer.
“Six60 are capable of selling out Western Springs, which is 50,000 capacity and a hallowed ground, as its had gigs by the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Bob Marley – all the massive acts – so they are huge in New Zealand,” he says.
Looking ahead, Eccles is having to pull on all his experience to come up with new and unique ways to maintain interest for his roster of domestic talent.
“There are a lot of challenges to deal with and it’s going to be an exciting year for New Zealand artists”
“I don’t want to give away any secrets, but I’ve been asking the acts if there is somewhere they’ve always wanted to play, or some other act they’d love to work with,” he reveals. “You’ve got to offer something unique, especially after it starts to get cold here in April. But I’m really excited, as there are a lot of challenges to deal with and it’s going to be an exciting year for New Zealand artists.”
The ability to rely on domestic talent has given the industry a lifeline, although it appears to be a limited one. Recalling the shows at Spark Arena with Benee, Clumpas notes that fans were generally being a little more conscious of each other’s personal space.
“Perceptively you can see people standing a little bit further away in the queue and not in each other’s face. And instead of rushing the door, there was a calmness as they gave each other a bit more space.” Indeed, such considerate audience behaviour prompted Clumpas to allow the audience to choose how they wanted to experience the concerts. “We had what we call free-flow, where nothing is allocated, and that allows people to stand for a bit, then go grab a seat. So it’s up to them if they want to go and sit at the front or the back. And it worked really well.”
The arena’s sparse booking calendar also allowed some imaginative formatting for Benee’s visit. Judging that she would sell about 10,000 tickets, the decision was made to spread that across two nights. “It was Benee’s first tour and rather than do 10k on one night, when she’d never even played to half that, her management, who are smart boys, decided to do two shows at 5.5k as that wasn’t so daunting for the artist,” says Clumpas. “We took the view that we could do anything – even a whole number of nights at 2,000-cap, because we weren’t doing anything else.”
“We only have four or five bands that can sell-out half an arena, so we’ve kind of run out of talent”
Around the world, one of the key issues that the live entertainment business is having to face when it returns is a lack of personnel to kickstart operations.
Thousands of industry professionals have been made redundant throughout the pandemic, while others have simply moved into new areas of employment so that they can pay the bills, creating a significant headache for event organisers whenever the green light for mass gatherings is given. And despite a busy outdoor season currently underway, it seems colleagues in New Zealand are already facing identical problems.
Detailing the precarious nature of the NZ recovery, Clumpas explains: “Unlike in the UK, we have a very thin local market and that goes back to the fact that the business here used to be run out of Australia, bringing in loads of bands from overseas but never developing a local market.
“At arena level, we only have four or five bands that can sell-out half an arena, and the biggest comedian here can maybe sell 3,000 tickets, so we’ve kind of run out of talent: business is down by about 85% and we’ve had to lay people off because we don’t have enough things to put on at the arena.”
“We took an approach of leniency with contracts and generally acknowledged the completely unprecedented situation”
Sharp comments, “We have not escaped unscathed – even the relatively short disruption has had a huge influence on the industry and we are still feeling the effects.”
But, as with countless businesses around the planet, WellingtonNZ and its affiliates have been collaborating with others to try to mitigate the pain. “As a public organisation, our focus is on helping our partners through,” pledges Sharp. “We took an approach of leniency with contracts and generally acknowledged the completely unprecedented situation. This proved to be the right way to deal with the situation as it generated goodwill and strengthened relationships, both of which will bear fruit as the impacts of Covid on the sector start to recede.”
A team of five million
The willingness of the population to cooperate is key to New Zealand’s fight to keep the virus out, according to Scotland-born Clumpas, who emigrated to Auckland in 2002. “One of the first things that struck me about living in New Zealand is that there is a really strong community feel among its citizens, no matter who they are, rich or poor. And with Covid, everyone realised we are all in this together,” says Clumpas.
Highlighting that communal attitude, Clumpas refers to the Grab & Go facilities at Spark Arena, which relies on audience honesty to help themselves to food and drink and then pay before entering the auditorium. “It lets people move more quickly at the intervals and, of course, Kiwis pay – they would not dream of taking stuff and not paying. It’s remarkable but it sums up society here.
“Overall we are seeing similar ticket-buying patterns to pre-Covid times”
“Our prime minister, Jacinda [Ardern], referred to it as ‘a team of five million.’ It’s a genuine thing where people understand this is for the good of your fellow man, so they play the game. I find that hugely different to the US or the UK, where people might ignore the government because they don’t like their politics or whatever.”
Demand & supply
While industry leaders in Asia, Europe and the Americas speculate that the pent up demand of live music fans will propel the business back toward profit when the pandemic restrictions are lifted, it’s interesting to gauge how the Kiwis have handled their restart.
WellingtonNZ’s Sharp contends that marketing is still crucial to selling tickets, although “in the immediate post-lockdown period we did see huge enthusiasm for a return to live events and tickets flew out the door,” he admits. “The second lockdown definitely shook confidence, but overall we are seeing similar ticket-buying patterns to pre-Covid times.”
Eccles is revelling in those promoting challenges, citing his big- gest pub gig strategy as an example where he captured the imagination of ticket buyers. “We had a unique way of marketing the pub gig using The Sound radio station,” says Eccles. “We went on air with 100 tickets priced at $29.90 to announce the event, then as each band was announced we went to $39.90 for the next 100 tickets, then $49.90, right up to $79.90 when we revealed the headliner, and that kept people’s interest all the way through.
“Exemptions aren’t granted lightly, but they do show [that] the government understands the importance of live events”
“It was great fun and allowed people to remember the old days, as well as seeing the bands they used to see in those pubs back in the 80s.”
Underlining the local appetite to find entertainment, Sharp adds, “Overall attendance has been similar to what we’d expect in any other year. It shows that New Zealand crowds have confidence that they can safely enjoy events, which they continued to voraciously attend.”
New Zealand’s strict border controls make it tricky for anyone who is not a citizen of the country to visit. It’s not impossible for overseas acts to perform shows, but it’s not simple, either.
Sharp says international acts can secure a border exemption place on the grounds of their importance to the local events industry. “These exemptions aren’t granted lightly, but they do show [that] the government understands the importance of live events to both the cultural and economic wellbeing of the country.”
WellingtonNZ has benefitted from a number of acts who have taken the time to process through the quarantine procedures
But outlining some of the hurdles, Clumpas explains, “For anyone to get into the country now, you first have to book a space in the quarantine hotel, three months in advance. When your flight arrives, you go straight from the airport in a bus to the hotel, which is fenced off. The army run the thing and you are there for two weeks in managed self-isolation. If you leave without permission, you face three months in jail.”
WellingtonNZ has benefitted from a number of acts who have taken the time to process through the quarantine procedures. “We had Belgian drum and bass DJ Alix Perez play in November, and UK DJ Sub Focus on 7 January, both playing to sold-out crowds,” says Sharp. Elsewhere, the Wellington-based organisation has focused on securing alternative format events that can run for multiple weeks, such as Grande Experiences’ Van Gogh Alive concept.
“The exhibition was staged twice in New Zealand. The first was Digital Nights – Van Gogh Alive, which was the first time it had been held outdoors. It proved so popular that it returned for a run of indoor exhibitions at venues throughout the country,” says Sharp.
And with Spark Arena remaining dark for much of the time, Clumpas is currently exploring the idea of hosting dance events. “Perhaps by getting overseas DJs to go to their local club to set-up a video link so they can play to Auckland – they see us, we see them. I don’t think you can do that with a band because they need the interaction, but it might work with a DJ set,” he muses.
“Part of the issue is working out how we can scale up [crew] while making sure we retain that watertight border”
To attract others to physically visit, Spark Arena’s management is even looking at getting into the hotel business. “We have an idea to set-up luxury accommodation that we can run in conjunction with the army and security firms, and we pay for it,” says Clumpas. “So maybe we set up 20 suites where we can bring in an artist and they can rehearse there and stuff but keep isolated. It means that anyone who is prepared to come in and maybe do ten dates in 3,000-seater theatres, will be able to do that. I like to think we can get there.”
But looking at bigger international tours making their way to NZ is not on the cards, even though the likes of Six60 are visiting stadia. “We don’t have the likes of 140 crew places for people going into managed isolation, because we don’t have enough nurses and health professionals to manage the facilities,” Clumpas clarifies. “New Zealand is only five million people and you run out of people fairly quickly here. So part of the issue is working out how we can scale up while making sure we retain that watertight border.”
As the only significant market to properly reopen after a national lockdown, New Zealand has the eyes of the world on it, as live entertainment peers examine its successes and failures to try to piece together their own strategies for relaunch.
Sharp applauds everyone that WellingtonNZ has worked with over the past few months for being flexible enough to reorganise their operations, name-checking the likes of Live Nation, Frontier and TEG; homegrown promoters Eccles Entertainment, Liberty Stage, Breaking Beats and Plus One; and resident outfits such as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Royal New Zealand Ballet.
“Everyone, through to our smaller promoters and community organisations, has been deeply affected by the pandemic”
“Everyone, through to our smaller promoters and community organisations, has been deeply affected by the pandemic and shown their resiliency and adaptability in rolling with the punches,” he observes.
Our NZ professionals, meanwhile, warn others around the world not to bank too heavily on a surge of interest when markets come out of lockdown. “There’s no pent-up demand with people think- ing I must see loads of gigs,” says Clumpas. “But that might be different in the US or the UK or Europe, because we were not locked up for that long compared to elsewhere.”
Eccles agrees. “In our experience, the market didn’t come back as hard as people thought it would – it eased back in,” he tells IQ. “Demographics-wise, if the show is aimed at kids, or even teens into the late-20s, then they don’t seem to care. But the older age groups are definitely more wary.”
Sharing some of the negative lessons Eccles Entertainment has learned, he continues, “Looking back at 2020, when we came out of lockdown, we experienced quite a bit of attrition, which was hard to take. So, for a show where we’d originally sold 4,000 tickets, maybe only 2,000 actually turned up on the night for the rescheduled gig. It was quite demoralising.”
“We’ve seen some strange behaviour where pre-sales were soft but the general sale was strong”
But there have also been some pleasant surprises. “We’ve seen some strange behaviour where pre-sales were soft but the general sale was strong. That’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect and I’d never come across any pattern like that before. It’s very odd and I can’t explain why it happened.”
Sharp comments, “The NZ market is recovering well – we’ve seen a strong appetite for live events, which has largely been a result of the competent handling of the crisis by the New Zealand government.
“Having coped so well (so far, at least), it may be easier for us to see things in a more positive light. But there really isn’t much use looking at it any other way.”
It’s a precarious situation though, and Eccles is all too aware that the business is constantly on the precipice. “One thing is for sure, if we have another lockdown in New Zealand, then all the confidence in the market will go,” he states. Clumpas concurs, but he believes a better touring industry may emerge in the long run.
“What it might do, going forward, is that audiences might be more demanding in their expectations. So, bluntly, the venues that take care of the fans and who have got their shit together will do fine or probably better. But it could flag-up some of the venues that have been slack, as people will be more discerning and make choices on how safe they feel, according to the customer service they’ve experienced in the past.
“We will get out of this, but will the business be the same? I’m not so sure,” laments Clumpas. “But I’m hopeful that we will no longer see tours with 247 people on them, where artists might tour with a core of maybe 30 or 40, with advance teams of ten who go to a territory early and get local people to do a lot of the work. It would mean a shift but not necessarily fewer jobs: just less people touring, complemented by more people in each territory, which would mean much less of a carbon footprint, as well as giving places like New Zealand a real chance to grow.”
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Canadian venues and festivals to adopt Safe Travels stamp
Festivals, venues and other live music organisations will be able to display the Safe Travels stamp, a mark that their events meet certain safety and hygiene standards, as part of a new partnership between the Canadian Live Music Association (CLMA) and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO).
The Safe Travels symbol, an initiative of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), was originally designed for the tourism sector in order to help travellers recognise businesses which have adopted the standardised health and hygiene protocols set out under the programme. The protocols for convention centres, meetings and events, as well as for attractions and for hospitality operators, can be found on the WTTC website.
TIAO is administering the Safe Travels programme on behalf on the entire country. A current list of approved Canadian Safe Travels applicants can be viewed here.
“The Safe Travels programme will help us all to feel safe when we re-engage with the live experiences we miss so much”
“We know that millions of Canadians are excited to return to live music just as safe as it is to do so. That’s why our members continue to invest heavily in the protection of fans, artists and crew, leveraging best practices from at home and around the world,” says Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the CLMA.
“With thanks to TIAO’s leadership, the Safe Travels Stamp programme will help us all to feel safe when we re-engage with the music and live experiences we miss so much.”
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
Health experts draw up Germany reopening plan
Twenty scientists, health experts and doctors in Germany have created a set of guidelines to enable the gradual return of audiences to cultural and sporting events.
In a paper released on Monday, titled Schrittweise Rückkehr von Zuschauern und Gästen: Ein integrierter Ansatz für Kultur und Sport (Gradual return of spectators and guests: An integrated return to culture and sport), specialists in infectious diseases, virology, ventilation, health economics, sports medicine, culture and law present various models for both and indoor and outdoor events to allow them to reopen safely. Each is based on a basic concept but can be expanded to gradually increase the number of guests per event.
This basic concept, described as stage one in a ‘three-stage plan’ (Drei-Stufen-Plan), is based on an indoor capacity of 25–30% (up to 40% if outdoors), with mandatory face masks and and no food or beverage sales indoors (outside, there should be no F&B sales above 1,000 visitors). There should also be social distancing, achieved by leaving many seats empty.
These rules are the same for attendees, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated against Covid-19.
Beyond the basic model, there are a number of ‘special individual concepts’ depending on the venue or event, with varying hygiene, ventilation and occupancy requirements.
At 100% capacity – the so-called ‘maximum model’ – the guidelines require, among other provisions, digital contact tracing for all attendees, along with mandatory coronavirus tests before entry.
“We need a perspective that gives us hope and incentive”
The concept is supported by a score of major German venues, including Mercedes-Benz Arena/Verti Music Hall in Berlin, Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Olympiapark Munich and Quarterback Immobilien Arena in Leipzig, as well as a number of other music and sports organisations, including the the governing bodies of German football, basketball, handball and volleyball.
“This initiative cannot be rated highly enough,” said Klaus Lederer, Berlin’s senator for culture, speaking after the launch of the paper. “We need a perspective that gives us hope and incentive so that we can get away from the appeals to persevere without any prospect of improvement.”
“As soon as it is possible to reopen” venues, “culture, sport and events must be included” in that, he added. (Some experts warn Germany is currently in the midst of a “third wave” of the coronavirus as new mutations spread.)
The head of the German Cultural Council (Deutscher Kulturrat), Olaf Zimmermann, says the authors of the plan have provided “a comprehensive concept which could enable spectators and guests to participate in cultural and sporting events under strict hygiene and infection-protection measures”.
“With their concept, the scientists, experts and cultural and sports institutions are, for the first time, presenting a cross-industry, data-based approach […] to the discussion about appropriate ways out of lockdown,” Zimmerman comments. “We want to reopen, and we want to protect the people who visit or work in our facilities from the virus. Both can work – as the concept presented today shows.”
“The scientists, experts and cultural and sports institutions are, for the first time, presenting a cross-industry, data-based approach”
The Event Management Forum, the umbrella organisation founded last year by live music group BDKV and four other events associations, also welcomes the plan – which is similar to the Manifest Restart (Restart Manifesto) it presented earlier this month – but points out that recent studies in Leipzig and Dortmund show that venues can go up to 100% capacity safely, far beyond the 25–30% on which the basic concept is based.
“From the point of view of the Event Management Forum, the concept is not yet suitable for actually enabling a ‘restart’ of event operations,” the forum says in a statement. “[I]t contains a basic model that should enable venues of all sizes to operate with 25 to 30% capacity, while outdoors with up to 40% capacity, while observing basic requirements such as social distancing, hygiene rules and personalised ticketing.”
Whereas, “in the Dortmund aerosol study,” it adds, “a capacity of 100% was considered harmless, provided that the audience in the hall wear masks.”
As for the ‘maximum model’ proposed in the plan, the Event Management Forum points out that venues could safely go to 100% capacity if attendees are tested for the virus before entry, making the other restrictions redundant. “The implementation of suitable tests can enable the utilisation of 100% [of a venue] without further measures if this ensures that only negative, non-infectious visitors are admitted to the respective venue,” the organisation adds.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
ILMC 33: One week to go
There is just one week to go until the global concert industry comes together again for the International Live Music Conference (ILMC), which returns as virtual event from 3 to 5 March 2021.
Hundreds of leading figures from across the global live music business are contributing to ILMC’s digital debut, as well as this year’s ILMC Production Meeting and Green Events and Innovations Conference (GEI), which take place on 2 March. The ILMC conference schedule now features the largest line-up of guest speakers at any live music conference ever, with more than 250 speakers in attendance.
Over 1,000 delegates will attend ILMC 33, including executives including Irving Azoff (Azoff Music), Klaus-Peter Schulenberg (CTS Eventim), industry commentator Bob Lefsetz, Emma Banks (CAA), Tim Leiweke (Oak View Group), Jason Danter (Lady Gaga/Madonna), Lucy Dickins (WME), Pandora founder Tim Westergren, Sam Kirby Yoh (UTA) and Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett.
The 33rd edition of the top global platform for concert and festival professionals features 60+ meetings, workshops and keynotes across three days, alongside 50 showcases from new artists, presented by top booking agencies and export offices. Within the ILMC schedule, new event brand PULSE is a day of discussion around the intersection of technology and live music, and the Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM) focuses on non-music content.
“This is a crucial moment to bring the global live music business together”
The Arthur Awards, the live music industry’s Oscar equivalents, will stream live from the stage of the Royal Albert Hall as the iconic venue celebrates its 150th anniversary.
Companies supporting ILMC 33 include Live Nation, Ticketmaster, CTS Eventim, ASM Global, Showsec, Tysers, Hearby & Semmel Concerts.
ILMC head Greg Parmley says: “This edition of ILMC will mark one year since the live music business began to shut due to Covid-19, and it takes place just as markets around the world are pushing forward with plans to reopen.
“This is a crucial moment to bring the global live music business together to define its restart.”
The full schedule and details of all sessions and speakers are available at 33.ilmc.com. If you haven’t already, there is still time to secure your ILMC 33 pass at the discounted spring rate of £139/£159 until 18.00 GMT this Friday (26 February).
Covid-sniffing dogs ‘detect virus 94% of the time’
Coronavirus detection dogs of the type being deployed in sports and entertainment venues could detect the presence of Covid-19 in people with 94% accuracy, even if they are asymptomatic, a German study has found.
Filou, a three-year-old Belgian shepherd, and Joe Cocker, an ingeniously named cocker spaniel, were trained by researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover to sniff out an odour that emanates from the cells of people infected with the virus.
First used to detect infection in passengers in a trial at Dubai airport, sniffer dogs have also been deployed in airports in Helsinki and Santiago, Chile, as well as more recently by the Miami Heat basketball team in Florida.
Holger Volk, head of the clinic which trained the dogs, said the pair could accurately detect Covid-19 94% of the time in more than 1,000 samples.
“So dogs can really sniff out people with infections and without infections, as well as asymptomatic and symptomatic Covid patients,” says Volk, reports Deutsche Welle.
Stephan Weil, premier of the state of Lower Saxony, welcomed the results of the study and said the next step should be test events in the real world. “We now need tests in selected events,” says Weil.
“Dogs can really sniff out … asymptomatic and symptomatic Covid patients”
Miami Heat’s executive vice-president for business strategy, Matthew Jafarian, says the team, based at the 21,000-capacity AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, ran a smaller trial with the dogs before making the decision to welcome fans back to the arena.
“We looked at traditional diagnostic tests, like rapid antigen and PCR tests. And we thought through operationally how we could administer that to hundreds and thousands of people coming into the building,” he says.
Heat fans who are not comfortable being screened by dogs have the option to take a more traditional testing option, which could take up to 45 minutes, Jafarian adds.
In the UK, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is undertaking a similar study to investigate whether dogs can be trained reliably detect the “unique odours” associated with Covid-19 infection.
Countdown begins to ILMC 33: Virtually Live
There’s just a month to go until the industry comes together once more for the 33rd International Live Music Conference (ILMC), streaming live from London to thousands of workplaces, home offices and sofas worldwide.
ILMC 33: Virtually Live will be the largest and most international edition of the conference to date, with the online-only format allowing for a greater number of panels, meetings, keynotes, networking opportunities and after-hours events than ever before.
Debuting in 2021 are two new conferences-within-a-conference, exhibition showcase The Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM) and the tech-focused PULSE, while returning favourites include the ILMC Production Meeting (IPM), the Green Events and Innovations Conference (GEI) and the industry’s Oscars equivalent, the Arthur Awards, which will stream live from London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall on 4 March.
Also streaming live will be a series of showcases presented by the planet’s premier booking agencies, with other evening entertainment including the ever-popular quiz of the year and poker tourney, which – while taking place somewhere deep in hyperspace – is raising funds for the Stagehand Covid-19 crew relief fund back in the real world.
Conference highlights include sessions tackling the biggest topics of the day, from the festival season and the changing agency sector to reopening venues, the evolving world of A&R, mental health and the insurance market, as well as can’t-miss keynote interviews with Irving Azoff and Klaus-Peter Schulenberg and a special live edition of the Bob Lefsetz Podcast.
For the first time, this year’s conference is open to both existing members and ILMC newbies
Guest speakers include powerhouse agents (Lucy Dickins, Tom Windish, Emma Banks, Sam Kirby Yoh), festival bosses (Fruzsina Szép, Mathieu Jaton, Jim King), recording artists (Matt Heafy, Frank Turner), leading promoters (Phil Bowdery, Steve Homer, Stephan Thanscheidt), venue execs (Tim Leiweke, Stuart Clumpas) and more, with all ILMC delegates also invited to join the conversation on the cutting-edge virtual conference platform.
So with this year’s conference, for the first time in ILMC history, open to both existing members and ILMC newbies, there’s no excuse for not logging on to live music’s greatest gathering in March.
For more information on ILMC 33, which takes from 3 to 5 March 2021, visit the ILMC website. Full three-day tickets, as well as passes for IPM and GEI (on 2 March), are available at a discounted winter rate of £119/£139 until 6pm GMT on 19 February.
Read the full conference guide in the digital edition of IQ 96 now:
Portuguese festivals eye ‘Covid-free bubbles’
Portugal’s music festivals are looking into the possibility of restricting entry to ‘bubbles’ of vaccinated fans as a way of enabling their events to go ahead safely this summer.
A proposal to create infection-free “safe bubbles”, comprising fans “who are already vaccinated against Covid-19 [and carrying] their vaccination records”, was presented to the Portuguese government by the Association of Promoters, Shows, Festivals and Events (APEFE) in a meeting with the minister of culture, Graça Fonseca, on 15 January.
The meeting, also attended by the Association of Portuguese Music Festivals (Aporfest) and the new Association of Show Agents and Producers (AEAPP), also led to creation of of an industry-government working group that aims to find a solution to restarting live entertainment in Portugal in 2021.
Speaking to the Lusa news agency, Aporfest president Ricardo Bramão explained that while the meeting yielded no “guarantees” from government that there could be festivals this summer, “a door was opened” for festivals to present “specific solutions” as to how they could go ahead.
The ‘bubble’ solution, as being explored by APEFE, takes inspiration from hospitals, where a negative Covid-19 test or proof of vaccination is required for certain procedures, says the association’s head, NOS Alive festival director Álvaro Covões.
Speaking to Blitz, Covões explains: “What we are trying to study is the possibility of creating bubbles for events, as is done today in hospitals. To be operated on, you have to be tested, and you may only enter the hospital after you have been tested.”
“What we are trying to study is the possibility of creating bubbles for events”
“Travel is also a bubble,” he adds. “Theoretically, to get on a plane people must all be tested and be negative [for Covid-19].”
The APEFE solution is similar to the yet-to-be-implemented ‘Full Capacity Plan’ introduced last summer by Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn, which would only permit entry to those who test negative for the coronavirus.
The festival bubbles, however, should be even more rigorously enforced in hospitals, where staff are not tested every day, continues Covões.
The NOS Alive boss adds that similar conversations are currently taking place in other countries, including neighbouring Spain. “Barcelona, for example, is very focused on this, both the municipality and the autonomous government [of Catalonia],” he adds, “because they have Sónar and Primavera Sound and they absolutely want to be working at that time, because otherwise they lose another economic year.”
The next meeting – between APEFE, Aporfest, AEAPP and APSTE (Portuguese Association of Technical Services for Events) on one side, and Fonseca, the State Secretariat for Tourism and the State Secretariat for Health on the other – is scheduled for this Wednesday (3 February).
Study: Singing in some languages riskier than others
Researchers in Japan have found it is easier to spread coronavirus particles when singing in certain European languages than in Japanese.
By comparing performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Verdi’s La traviata with a popular Japanese children’s song, scientists at Riken, the Kyoto Institute of Technology, Kobe University and the Toyohashi University of Technology discovered that singing in consonant-heavy German and Italian produced twice as many as per minute (1,302 and 1,166, respectively) as Japanese (580).
The study, commissioned by the Japan Association of Classical Music Presenters, recruited eight professional singers, four male and four female, take turns performing short solos without a mask in a “laboratory-clean room”, and follows an experiment by the Japanese Choral Association which pitted Beethoven’s Ninth against a Japanese graduation song with similar results.
Speaking to CBS News, Toru Niwa, director of the Association of Classical Music Presenters, and Masakazu Umeda, his counterpart at the Choral Association, say the studies reflect how Japanese is spoken, with soft, gently-voiced consonants in comparison to the European languages’ harder sounds.
Japanese has soft, gently-voiced consonants in comparison to the European languages’ harder sounds
The Choral Association additionally found that singing in nonsense syllables composed entirely of the Japanese vowels, “ah, ee, oo, eh, oh”, yielded almost no aerosol emissions at all.
Niwa adds, however, that while there have been coronavirus outbreaks at several amateur choirs, professional groups have yet to record a single community transmission event, regardless of the language being sung. “Classical music is basically the western canon,” he says. “If we stopped singing in French, Italian and German, we wouldn’t be able to perform anymore.”
The science on whether singing increases the risk of coronavirus infection, and the effect of singing volume on transmission, is unclear, with at least one study backed by the UK government finding last year that singing is no riskier than talking. However, with many major live music markets closed – and the majority of those that are open still mandating social distancing – it matters little to most artists and concert professionals.
Vertical Theatre: Tourable socially distanced venue launches
The Vertical Theatre Group, a new company backed by leading production and theatre professionals, has unveiled the Vertical Theatre, a tourable, freestanding 2,400-capacity entertainment venue with built-in social distancing.
The modular Vertical Theatre is designed to be future-proof, say its creators, with the capability to separate audiences into Covid-secure household bubbles while restrictions are in place, but no requirement for social distancing when Covid-19 is a thing of the past.
The UK-based company’s founders are production director (and inaugural IQ Gaffer) Jake Berry; theatre producer Katy Lipson; Stufish Entertainment Architects’ Ric Lipson and Paul Preston; events and documentary producer Holly Gilliam; and Digital Theatre founder Robert Delamere. The six say in a joint statement that they are “very excited to be able to bring this innovative new venue offering to the live entertainment world at this pivotal moment for the future of the arts”.
Vertical Theatre Group’s ambition is to have multiple venues around the world, saying the Vertical Theatre is suitable for tours, festivals, comedy, theatre and circus, as well as televised events, with its inbuilt streaming functionality.
“We were excited to see what a new type of cross-arts collaboration could produce”
Inside the Vertical Theatre, eventgoers are seated on balconies which accomodate groups of 4–12 people (ie social bubbles), all with a good view of the stage. Optional open sides, meanwhile, allow for natural airflow, while a roof protects the audience.
Capacity is between 1,200 and 2,400 people, depending on social-distancing rules.
Vertical Theatre Group, which is is already in conversation with potential partners, says it is “optimistic” the project will be ready to launch in 2021.
Stufish partner Ric Lipson comments: “Creativity defines all the artists and partners we work with. At Stufish, we were excited to see what a new type of cross-arts collaboration could produce, as we build a new vision for the future of live entertainment: the Vertical Theatre.”