TEEM: Highlights from the conference’s ILMC debut
The Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM), the world’s only conference dedicated entirely to touring exhibitions and the experience economy, has joined forces with ILMC for 2021. The first TEEM (formerly the Touring Exhibitions Meeting) as part of ILMC took place today (4 March) with some of the world’s leading touring exhibition professionals, including expo producers, promoters, venue bookers and suppliers.
Tickets for ILMC 33 – which include all panels, including TEEM sessions, available to watch back until 5 April 2021 – are still available. Click here for more information.
TEEM concluded with The TEEM x ILMC Flea Market, which gave delegates representing touring exhibitions and producers just three minutes to present their shows to the promoters and venues in the room.
Chaired by Christoph Scholz of Semmel Concerts’ SC Exhibitions and Debbie Donohue of Imagine Exhibitions, the Flea Market featured presentations from Corrado Canonici of World Touring Exhibitions; Amy Bornkamp of IMG Events; Glenn Blackman of Global Touring & Promotion; Teo’s Manon Delaury; Pierre Morand of GAAP Bookings; Zuppar’s Nick Zuppar; Charles Reed of Blooloop; Alex Susanna of Expona; Giorgio Castagnera of Herelab; Semmel Concerts’ Anna Lenhof; and Jole Martinenghi of Contemporanea Progetti.
Exhibitions and attractions presented included King Tut, Pompeii, Travelling Bricks (Lego), Kid Koala, the Walt Disney 100th anniversary exhibition and the Monster, an inflatable playground for adults.
Dress rehearsal for the most fucking @ILMC ever via @streamyardapp ! Our Experience Economy Panels are up on Thu 4 March. Book now at: https://t.co/Qtuo8jiyua cc: @Pollstar @IQ_Mag @billboard @MusikWoche pic.twitter.com/lowJRQgLj5
— Christoph Scholz (@ChristophScho) February 25, 2021
Teem’s second panel of the day, Taking Exhibitions Further, led by Abigail Bysshe, Franklin Institute (US) and Christoph Scholz, Semmel Concerts (DE), explored the post-Covid future of the experience economy.
Serge Grimaux, Fórum Karlín (CZ), said he believes the exhibition world will experience a post-Covid boom: “I think we have an incredible opportunity with a clean slate in front of us. We have a lot of people who have been very hungry for entertainment, live entertainment and edutainment.
“I think that the technology that is now available, and becomes more available every month, can provide an environment that will be incredible for everybody and at the same time, affordable. Because as soon as we get out of this Covid war and the economy will start, affordability will be important, and exhibitions will definitely be a very sought after product.”
While Lāth Carlson, The Museum of the Future (AE), believes that the future of exhibitions lies in immersive experiences: “Our core is in immersive experiences and we’re sticking with that. I think the real power of museums is the experience that you can have physically in the space and socially in the space as well. So that is an absolute core part of what we’re offering our museum.”
“I think the real power of museums is the experience that you can have physically in the space and socially in the space as well”
While Paola Cappitelli, 24 ORE Cultura, pointed out that tech should play an important role in making exhibitions appealing to the younger generations: “We have a new generation [to cater to] so we know that we have to provide them with technology, experiences and multimedia in museums but also have other people who are older coming to the museum so we have to to find a way to appeal to all demographics.”
Arnold van de Water, Factorr (NL), added that it’s important for curators and designers to find new ways of telling the same stories.
“The thing we always keep in mind is storyline. Though technology is more accessible, telling a good story again is still the basis. We see so many dinosaur exhibitions, so many Van Gogh exhibitions and so many of the same topics so curation and content is really the thing we should be focussing on,” he said.
The Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM) kicked off with What’s Next in the World for Experience Exhibitions?, led by Christoph Scholz, Semmel Concerts (DE) and Charles Read, Blooloop (UK).
The panel’s central focus was how to enhance the user experience of exhibitions – from design, production and cross-culture standpoints.
Speaking from a designer’s perspective, Tobias Kunz, Studio TK (DE), said: “The perfect exhibition is the right balance of information, emotion and attraction. It has to be a multi-sensorial experience with different layers: the classic museum layer with great objects; a walkable stage where you can bring objects to life and make them talk; an interactive layer with headphone stations for lively presentations; a media layer; and a very important sound and music layer.”
Manon Delaury, Teo (FR), added: “Immersion is becoming super important. When I talk about immersion I mean some sort of environment that really surrounds people, as well as providing a sensory reality. We see more and more experiences that integrate smell, sound, touch and really surrounding people so they can have a proper immersive experience.
“Another key trend, which will emerge is transformative experiences that are truly social. The idea is that once you’ve been through the experience you feel a little bit different. You’ve learned and you’ve grown.”
“The perfect exhibition is the right balance of information, emotion and attraction”
Winston Fisher and Michael Beneville – the pair behind Area15, an immersive art, event and entertainment complex just off the Las Vegas Strip – says the key to their success with the project was putting together the perfect team.
“Execution is critical to success. The ability to understand how a dream can actually become a reality is so important. It’s not just creativity that brings things to life, it’s a team that has all skill sets. It was important for us to get best-in-class experts and build a team that actually had breadth and depth that could take something radical and different and make it a reality,” they said.
Bart Dohmen, TDAC int. BV (NL), elaborated on that point, adding that the perfect team also needs to be resolute on the identity of an exhibition.
“You can say that your exhibition is something but you need to embed it into your development by having a clear team statement which tells everyone what the identity is. Once you have that, have the guts to make a decision to throw something away if it doesn’t fit the statement. Don’t do anything that could hurt your identity. That sounds very easy but it’s a very delicate and difficult process,” Dohmen said.
“The ability to understand how a dream can actually become a reality is so important”
Coming from a live music point of view, Marc Saunders, the O2 (UK), said that while the venue is best known for its music programming, the exhibition areas add a lot of value to a customer’s experience.
“When people think of the O2, they think instantly of the arena and the events and artists that we host. But the fact is that the O2 has become so much more since it was purchased by AEG from the original Millennium Dome, and reopened in 2007.
“The exhibition space is currently being used for Mamma Mia: The Party but in the past has had various exhibitions, including the British Music Experience, an Elvis exhibition, and the Star Wars Identities exhibition,” he testifies.
Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, department of culture and tourism, Abu Dhabi (UAE), agreed, adding that his market was looking at enhancing the live music fan’s broader experience.
“It’s easy today to bring an event or a touring concert to any destination but it’s very hard to create an experience that encompasses the full journey from end to end. Today, in Abu Dhabi, we are trying to build that unique experience by blending [the capital’s] landscapes with a rich calendar of events around the city and verticals that go from shopping to entertainment to music to culinary,” he said.
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Schulenberg predicts long haul to recovery
Klaus-Peter Schulenberg believes it will take the industry until late 2023 or 2024 to get back to the same levels of business that it enjoyed pre-Covid.
The founder and leader of CTS Eventim – Europe’s largest live entertainment group and second only globally to Live Nation – made the statement during his ILMC keynote interview with conference managing director Greg Parmley.
Schulenberg was responding to a question about consumer confidence in a post-pandemic world and revealed that his company’s research indicated that 80% of people would buy a ticket three months after the end of the pandemic. But that meant 20% of people that were surveyed would not be willing to buy a concert ticket. He observed that of the company’s record-breaking sales in 2019, 39% of ticket buyers across Europe were below the age of 34; 22% were aged 35-44; and the remaining 39% were aged 44 and older.
“Reopening is not recovery”
That problem prompted his assertion that artists and agents needed to understand that they should be more modest in their demands as the industry starts to recover. Indeed, he suggested that promoters should try to persuade the artists to share in the risk of a show. “The guarantee should go down,” he said, while acknowledging that such conversations did not always find a sympathetic ear.
“Reopening is not recovery,” he told ILMC delegates. “We are now looking at reopening, but recovery would mean that fans would come back at levels of 2019 and recovery would mean that people could attend a concert care-free.
“It will take until late 2023 or 2024 to get back to the levels of 2019,” he predicted, before revealing that show costs could rise by as much as 15-20% in the short term because of the effect of the pandemic and the fact that local costs will be much higher than they used to be.
“It will take until late 2023 or 2024 to get back to the levels of 2019”
“Look at the stagehands, look at the security, service companies for light and sound and maybe even the venues will try to make up their losses which they incurred in 2020 and probably 2021 as well,” he explained.
Elsewhere, Schulenberg said the adoption of 5G technology was something his company had been working on, as they could radically change the way shows work – citing fan to fan communication and fan to artist communication within a show as possibilities. “We want to stay as a technological leader, so we have been working on new tech and new features and I am pretty optimistic in this respect,” he commented.
He also opened the doors to collaborating with rivals Live Nation and others when it comes to improving the industry’s lobbying efforts with politicians and policymakers.
“I never take competition personally”
“I never take competition personally,” he said. “We are all in the same boat and I am a fan of good partnerships – that’s how we made our business and we welcome everybody to partner with us. It’s to all of our advantage.”
But he concluded that the industry needs to understand that having a strong voice requires expenditure, although he suggested that many companies are not ready to put their money where there mouths are. “We need professional associations and we have to know that professional associations are expensive – they cost money – and the industry must be willing to invest, but I think that’s a problem,” he observed.
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UK live industry cautiously welcomes 2021 budget
The UK’s live music industry has welcomed many of the provisions contained in the 2021 government budget, presented this afternoon by chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak, but expressed its disappointment at the continued lack of a European-style insurance scheme for festival organisers.
Among the measures unveiled by Sunak in the Commons today (3 March) are an £300 million for the Culture Recovery Fund (CRF), ‘restart grants’ for hospitality/leisure businesses, the extension of the coronavirus job retention scheme (furlough) and self-employed income support (SEISS) schemes, and business rate relief.
The budget also confirmed an extension of the 5% rate of VAT on ticket sales – a key campaign focus for pan-industry group LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) and the whole UK concert industry – for a further six months, with an interim rate of 12.5% until April 2022.
Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals, says: “We warmly welcome the extension to the reduced VAT rate on tickets, which will really help festivals during the 2021 sales cycle. For many AIF members, this is the first period in which they are selling tickets since the outset of the pandemic. We do, however, reiterate the recommendation of the DCMS select committee for VAT on ticket sales to remain at a reduced rate for three years so that the UK festival sector can fully recover.
“The Culture Recovery Fund has been a lifeline for many of our members so it’s greatly encouraging to see a further £300m invested into this, though we would appreciate some further detail on this additional round and the time period it will cover.
“Independent festival organisers would much rather mobilise their staff to plan a full and successful festival season this summer”
“We also welcome the extension to the government’s furlough scheme and continued support for the self-employed. However, independent festival organisers would much rather mobilise their staff to plan a full and successful festival season this summer. As we have repeatedly stressed, the only way they can do this is with a government-backed insurance scheme that covers Covid-19-related cancellation. The chancellor today confirmed the extension of the government backed restart scheme for film and TV productions – a similar safety net needs to be put in place before the end of March to avoid mass cancellations throughout the UK’s festival market.”
Lucy Noble, chair of the National Arenas Association, comments: “For the live music industry, today’s budget, and specifically the extension of furlough to September, is enormously welcome. The whole sector has been grateful for a 21 June ‘not before’ date for operating at full capacity, and the extension of the 5% VAT rate on tickets is something we had been hoping to see.
“Uncertainty remains, and the lack of insurance for Covid-related cancellation is a huge concern – what the entire live sector wants is to be allowed to trade safely out of this situation and once more welcome people to come together for extraordinary shared experiences.”
“Music Venue Trust welcomes the extensions to furlough, SEISS and the VAT cut on ticket sales,” says MVT CEO Mark Davyd. These measures are supportive of the next steps in the campaign to reopen every venue safely. On business rates, we note that the Chancellor has provided a 100% cut for the initial three-month period in which venues will not be trading. This period does not resolve the long running debate on business rates, and we look forward to a full discussion of this outdated and anachronistic taxation in the business rates review in Autumn 2021.
“The chancellor announced additional funding to be distributed by Arts Council England [ACE], but the purpose of this funding is unclear; we hope to work with ACE and DCMS to ensure it is effectively distributed, and includes sensible and structured capital investment that enables our music venues to become more Covid-secure.”
“The needs of those in mixed employment, and those individuals operating as limited companies, were not met”
Annabella Coldrick, chief executive of Music Managers Forum, says: “The MMF welcomes the extension of eligibility for support to the self-employed. This is a really important measure that should have an impact on our community and their clients, many of whom faced real hardship during the pandemic, although unfortunately directors of limited companies are still excluded. We also welcome the £300m Cultural Recovery Fund for reopening, although it was disappointing not to hear any developments on government-backed insurance for live music events which is urgently needed to get us back up and running in July.
For a full longer-term music recovery, to a place where artists can perform to full capacity crowds and tour internationally, we will need this kind of targeted and continued support reaching into 2022.”
“We welcome the continuation of support for employers and self-employed workers, as well as the addition of those newly self employed sole traders; this is tempered by the disappointment that the needs of those in mixed employment and those individuals operating as limited companies were not met,” adds Dave Keighley, chair of the Production Services Association.
“Support for companies is also broadly welcomed, although doubt over whether business rate relief applies to our members that support hospitality and leisure remains. Any discounts given to venues should be clearly extended to those companies that work in those venues, recognising that live events are an ecosystem that needs complete support. Although the extension of the 5% VAT rate helps, it needs to be extended to assist our sector’s recovery.
“The extension to the Culture Recovery Fund is encouraging, we hope that the current and subsequent rounds will support event more of our member companies that support cultural activity.”
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AEG Presents partners with Japan’s Avex Entertainment
AEG has joined forces with Avex Entertainment, a Tokyo-based music and entertainment company, to launch AEGX, a joint venture that aims to create new opportunities in both the Japanese and global live music markets.
AEGX will give Avex artists access to AEG Presents’ venues, festivals and global touring partnerships, while also allowing AEG to utilise Avex’s platform to reach Japanese audiences with its promoted acts. Founded as a dance music label in 1988, Avex’s business now includes recording, artist management, merchandise, anime, concerts, events and more.
“This is really a perfect example of synergies being scaled for the benefit of global artist development, which is at the core of what we do,” says Jay Marciano, chairman and CEO of AEG Presents.
“Partnering with Avex to launch AEGX gives both Avex and AEG Presents a path to create real opportunities for musicians who increasingly see the world as a borderless global community. I can’t wait to see what we all do together.”
“We are thrilled to take this stride forward together and look forward to the future”
The initial focus for the new venture will be on the co-promotion of AEG artists, and the development of music festivals and venues, in Japan, as well as the promotion of global tours for Asian artists, including both Avex- and non-Avex-signed acts.
The companies have previously collaborated on tours such as Ed Sheeran and Celine Dion, while AEG-owned ticket seller AXS is, with Avex and Yahoo Japan, a partner in ticketing service Passrevo/Yahoo! Tickets.
“We are very excited to announce the launch of AEGX with AEG Presents,” says Katsumi Kuroiwa, president and CEO of Avex. “Our companies both share the same goal with this new partnership: AEGX will serve music fans around the world by contributing to the global development of western artists, while also expanding the reach of Japanese artists beyond its borders.
“The Covid-19 pandemic reminds us of the positive power and limitless potential of music and entertainment. We are thrilled to take this stride forward together and look forward to the future.”
Green Events and Innovations 2021: Highlights
The 13th edition of the conference for sustainability in the live events took place online today, welcoming industry leaders, professionals, visionaries, governments and all individuals and organisations who are working to bring environmental and social sustainability to the live events, sports and creative sectors.
The Green Events & Innovations Conference (GEI) was presented by A Greener Festival (AGF) in partnership with ILMC. Passes for ILMC, which begins tomorrow, are still available here.
A Greener Tour Round III brought together key stakeholders from inside and outside of the live music industry to discuss what we can do collectively to create the regenerative tour of the future, post-pandemic.
Tom Schroeder, Paradigm Talent Agency (UK), suggested that the live entertainment business could use its unique power to reach and inspire the masses to further the cause.
“We also have this extra string to our bow. We can do huge events to highlight the message of what’s going to happen to the planet and what we need to do and that’s also going to change and reach areas that aren’t just about the show itself.
“Nothing to do with Live Aid was directly producing food in Africa but what it did is it made the Western world understand third world poverty – for 20,30,40 years it had a huge impact. And we know that musicians are incredibly good at communicating causes to massively engaged audiences.”
Nuno Bettencourt, guitarist for Extreme (US), agreed, saying that the industry should be empowering its artists to speak about sustainability, as they have the power to influence others.
“You’ve got to make sustainability as aspirational as we’ve made a rock and roll lifestyle”
“We need the agents and managers and experts to give artists a utility belt and superhero cape by showing them how to do it and make them excited about the cause. Fans want to be inspired, they don’t want to hear you blame the politicians.”
Mark Stevenson, Reluctant Futurist, MOD & ClientEarth, added: “Artists are very good at taking ideas and concepts and philosophies and ways of looking at the world and making them hugely, hugely popular. So why not apply that to sustainability as well? You’ve got to make sustainability and regenerative ways of thinking as aspirational as we’ve made a rock and roll lifestyle. I want to second what Nuno said about showing that the solutions are out there and I think you need to give people agency.”
Anna Golden, AEG Presents (UK), says that for live music fans to get behind sustainability, systems need to be in place at venues so “it can become second nature and when people go to a gig they feel like they are doing good”.
However, Golden emphasised that any progress is still a step in the right direction: “It’s not that we have to get this perfect the first time around and yeah we do need to get some sort of charter and some sort of objectives and achievable roles in place, but actually if we’re having a slow start because resourcing and finances are tight, all we have to do is be better than yesterday.”
“All we have to do is be better than yesterday”
GEI and IPM join forces to discuss the viability of sustainable production during It’s Not Easy Being Green.
Carlot Scott, Tait/Sipa (UK), kicked off the panel on an optimistic note, saying she could see the industry returning to touring with ‘a greener way of thinking’ after the pandemic.
“During the hiatus, many of us, and individual organisations and groups have started to pull together and started to become a cohesive force started to really analyse where we were going wrong as an industry and how we can be better.”
“One of the things that we really discovered was that people were already on board already with the idea of sustainability, they just didn’t know what to do and they wanted some guidelines and a way to start their journey,” she said.
Ric Lipson, Stufish (UK), says that, as set designers, they’re often ‘berated’ for designing something that’s too big and that uses too many trucks but that’s not the biggest issue in their pursuit to be more sustainable.
“I don’t think necessarily the scale of the production is the problem, but it’s the speed at which the scale of the production has developed and the choices that have to be made to enable that to happen whether that’s going down the road of using something that’s been used for 20 years because we know it works but it might be too heavy, versus we talked about that material because it’s coming from some part of the world that you know we’d have to fly it here or whatever else.”
“We need to go to the promoters and say: look, if you want us to come in with a set design that fits a good budget and doesn’t end up [being used for other artists too], we need to understand the routing schedule of the tour. And maybe the conversation with the artist has to happen much earlier, not necessarily when they’ve got an idea of what the design is but what they want the concept of the show to be.”
“People were already on board already with the idea of sustainability, they just didn’t know what to do”
Panellists on the We Are Not Socially Distanced session had one resounding message for viewers: privilege comes with responsibility.
Michael Fritz, Viva Con Agua (SA), said: “I think it’s all about how much access you have, either to education, human rights, money, technologies or resources. Those are privileges and if you have a privilege you have big responsibility.”
Ash Perrin, The Flying Seagull Project (UK), added: “I’m never gonna use the word ‘underprivileged’ again because it suggests that privilege is the normal state and underprivileged is a rare state of people who have failed but actually privileged is the rare and abnormal.”
Yaw Owusu, BrukOut Entertainment/PRS Foundation (UK), agreed: “If you’re in a place where putting food on the table or surviving day to day is not your concern then you’ve got more space to wonder about the causes.”
LIVE on #GEI13, experts share insight and experience using voices and platforms' power to create the pathways to make direct and meaningful positive impacts beyond the stage and field. pic.twitter.com/lqQneQMtoK
— A Greener Festival (@agreenerfest) March 2, 2021
“I’m never gonna use the word ‘underprivileged’ again because it suggests that privilege is the normal state”
Post-Pollution Politics, Industry & Culture featured dialogue between the live events sector, green activists and Niclas Svenningsen of the United Nations’ global climate action team as to how events can contribute to ensuring targets for emissions reductions and sustainability are met.
Svenningsen spoke of the importance of getting back to business “in a smarter and better way”, while Green Music Initiative’s Jacob Bilabel said change is inevitable – it’s how that change happens that we have a choice in. “We are locked in structures that are not good and not right, and they’re not even making us happy any more,” he said. “Do we want to have that transformation happen by disaster or by design?”
Dismissing the concept of a pollution tax as “absurd”, Dave Ojay of Kenya’s Naam Festival said: “How can I give you a licence to destroy nature simply because you can pay? Rather than a pollution tax, let’s force the polluter to set up a recycling or regeneration plan to keep [their business] green.”
Green energy entrepreneur Dale Vince, who stayed on after his keynote, said the events sector has “so much more power in this than you think. The choices you make can help steer the world in a different direction.”
“Do we want the transformation to happen by disaster or by design?”
Dale Vince’s keynote with AGF’s Claire O’Neill (as well as Vince himself) is a hit with Alison Hussey of concierge company Rockstar Services:
The Elephant in the Road session posed the question: What with audience, artist/athlete and crew transport, and tech, behaviour and lifestyle, can we really keep the show on the road within ecosystem boundaries?
Matt Cheshire, The Needs Group, UK said: “With regards to the ground elements, we need to look at setting up electric charging points at festivals or hotels, looking at ground logistics from airports from accommodation to festival sites, and looking at solar panels and things like that.”
However, in terms of reducing travel for touring artists going from festival to festival, Cheshire points out “radius clauses in some of the contracts are still quite substantial”.
Adam Hatton, Global Motion, UK, said: “I think the real key here is that if we look for technology to replace the technology we have now so we can carry on living the lifestyle, we live now I think we’re dreaming. What this really boils down to is lifestyle changes we need to work out what we want to spend our carbon on and focus on that and make changes in our lives in order to accommodate that.
“The only real way of making this sustainable, I think, is by reducing the amount of kit we take around the world. For example, why are we moving stages around the world? It should be already there already waiting for us.”
Claire Haigh, (Greener Transport Solutions, UK) and Aruna Sivakuma (Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College London, UK) also appeared on the panel to discuss government commitments to reducing emissions.
“An extraordinary legacy”: Michael Gudinski passes aged 68
Frontier Touring founder Michael Gudinski, for five decades one of the best-known and most-loved figures in the concert business down under, has passed away. He was 68.
The sudden passing of Gudinski – who died in his sleep at his home in Melbourne last night (1 March) – sent a shockwave through the industry in Australia and beyond, with colleagues, artists, business rivals and parliamentarians sending their condolences and appreciation for a man Jimmy Barnes describes as “the heart of Australian music”.
Born Vale Michael Solomon Gudinski to Russian-Jewish parents in 1952, Gudinski founded record label and music publisher Mushroom Group at the age of 20 in 1972. Mushroom went on to become Australia’s largest homegrown entertainment company, adding booking agency, merchandise, film/TV production and concert promotion services.
Frontier Touring, founded in 1979, remains Australia’s largest tour promoter, having worked with artists including Ed Sheeran, Kylie Minogue, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Paul McCartney and Foo Fighters. It merged with AEG Presents in 2019.
In addition to touring some of the world’s leading artists and releasing, via the Mushroom Group labels, some of Australia’s favourite albums, Gudinski – a long-time ILMC member and frequent contributor to IQ – recently won praise for his assistance to the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a statement, Mushroom Group says, “with the music industry severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Michael conceptualised and developed Music from the Home Front, The Sound and the State of Music, platforms designed to showcase and support contemporary Australian music in an incredibly difficult time. It speaks to the man he was that of his countless illustrious career achievements these projects, that supported the industry he loved, were ones he was particularly proud of.
“I’ve toured the world for the last 50 years and never met a better promoter”
Frontier is also part of the pan-industry Live Entertainment Industry Forum, which has worked with government to get Australia back to live music safely.
Frontier Touring co-founder Michael Chugg, whose on-and-off business relationship with Gudinski culminated in his rejoining Mushroom Group in 2019, describes the passing of his friend as “shattering”.
“I spoke to him at 9 o’clock last night – we were giving each other a hard time over making sure the [Chugg music artist] Sheppard album got to number one this week,” he tells Sydney radio station 2GB. “It’s just so shocking; I got the call early this morning. […] I first met him when he was a 16-year-old sitting at a desk at an agency in Melbourne, and we were friends, buddies and opponents ever since.
“It’s just one of the worst days of my life.”
Barnes, who performed at Music from the Home Front, is among the artists to pay tribute to Gudinski’s achievements. “He was there for everyone that needed him,” he says. “The music business turned, grew and moved forward in Australia because of Michael. He was a force of nature, a giant of a man. His boundless enthusiasm breathed life into our music scene.”
“My friend Michael Gudinski was first, last and always a music man,” wrote another, Bruce Springsteen, on social media. “I’ve toured the world for the last 50 years and never met a better promoter.
“The music business turned, grew and moved forward in Australia because of Michael”
“Michael always spoke with a deep rumbling voice, and the words would spill out so fast that half the time I needed an interpreter. But I could hear him clear as a bell when he would say, ‘Bruce, I’ve got you covered’. And he always did. He was loud, always in motion, intentionally (and unintentionally) hilarious and deeply soulful.
“He will be remembered by artists, including this one, from all over the world every time they step foot on Australian soil. My deepest condolences to his wife and partner Sue, and to the whole Gudinski family, of which he was so proud.”
Gudinski, added Minogue, was “one of a kind and forever family to me. My heart is broken and I can’t believe he’s gone. Irreplaceable and unforgettable, I’ll always love you, ‘the Big G’.”
Rival promoters also sent their condolences: TEG extended its “deepest sympathies to the Gudinski family at this very difficult time, as well as to everyone at Mushroom and Frontier Touring”. “Michael was a larger-than-life character whose legacy in Australian music is undeniable,” the Sydney-based company adds.
Live Nation Australia said Gudinski leaves an “extraordinary legacy” in live music:
Vale Michael Solomon Gudinski AM, 1952-2021 – he cast a giant shadow and leaves an extraordinary legacy. pic.twitter.com/aD5tKEp66i
— Live Nation AUS & NZ (@LiveNationOzNz) March 2, 2021
“When he started in show business in his teens, Australian music was a cottage industry. He was instrumental in turning it into a powerhouse”
“I’m not sure we ever agreed on anything, except maybe Ed Sheeran,” tweeted actor and musician Russell Crowe. “It still didn’t stop us from being mates for 30 years. I’m going to miss him deeply.”
Gudinski is survived by his wife Sue, his son Matt and Matt’s partner Cara, and his daughter Kate, her husband Andrew and their children, Nina-Rose and Lulu, as well as the extended “Mushroom family”.
“You simply cannot tell the story of Australian music without Michael Gudinski squarely in the centre of it,” says Tony Burke MP, Australia’s shadow minister for the arts. “For nearly 50 years, he was a passionate and relentless advocate for the local music industry and the artists that make it great.
“When he started in show business in his teens, Australian music was a cottage industry. He was instrumental in turning it into a powerhouse, earning him the title ‘the father of the Australian music industry’.
“From Mushroom Records to Frontier Touring, he was a brilliant, pioneering businessman – but he never lost his passion for the music itself.”
Prepare for lift-off: IQ 97 marks the launch of ILMC 33
IQ 97, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite monthly magazine, is available to read online now.
In March’s edition, IQ Magazine editor, Gordon Masson, assembles industry heavyweights including Sam Kirby Yoh (co-head of music, UTA), Toby Leighton-Pope (co-CEO of AEG Presents in the UK) and John Reid (Live Nation’s president of concerts in Europe) for an industry health check, 12 months into pandemic restrictions.
Elsewhere, with the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) set to launch this Wednesday, readers and delegates can prepare for liftoff by previewing some of the products and services developers will be presenting (see ILMC Tech Spotlight), and earmarking the ones-to-watch at this year’s agency talent showcases (see Showcasing Talent).
Also in this issue, IQ hands the megaphone to Sybil Bell (Independent Venue Week), Mark Bennett (MBA Live) and Tone Østerdal (Norway’s Live Music Association) for comment pieces on what live is like from where they’re standing.
IQ hands the megaphone to Sybil Bell (IVW), Mark Bennett (MBA Live) and Tone Østerdal (Norway’s Live Association)
IQ’s top newshound Jon Chapple sniffs out what livestreaming pioneers are doing to prepare for post-Covid life (see Streaming’s Bright Future), while the Arena Resilience Alliance reveals its comprehensive manifesto for the safe return of live events.
And Rob Challice (Paradigm), John Giddings (Solo, Isle of Wight), Harvey Goldsmith and other industry pros reveal the most surprising person they met at a gig or added to a guest list in Your Shout.
All that is in addition to all the regular content you’ve come to expect from your monthly IQ Magazine, including news analysis and new agency signings, the majority of which will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.
Whet your appetite with the preview below, but if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe now and receive IQ 97 in full.
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!”
Read this feature in its original format in the digital edition of IQ 97:
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
UK stars weigh in on ‘final countdown’ for insurance
UK superstars have joined the chorus of industry experts and trade associations calling on the UK government to commit to underwriting cancellation costs of events such as music festivals and tours, to enable the restart of the live entertainment sector from this summer.
Jools Holland, Depeche Mode, Johnny Marr, Sir Cliff Richard, Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Amy McDonald, The Chemical Brothers, Frank Turner and Judas Priest are among those who have weighed in on the ongoing petition for a government-backed insurance scheme, similar to those launched in Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Belgium.
The industry’s call-to-action comes days before chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to unveil the Budget. Alongside a government-backed insurance pot, the industry is also urging the chancellor to grant extensions on the 5% VAT rate on ticket sales; employment support; and business rates relief for shuttered venues.
The industry deems event cancellation insurance the ‘last remaining barrier’ to planning events this summer after British prime minister Boris Johnson announced a ‘cautious’ reopening roadmap that could allow festivals to take place after 21 June, but says the window of opportunity for this summer ‘will slam shut very shortly’.
“With the cut-off point for many organisers at the end of the month, this really is the final countdown for many businesses”
Paul Reed, AIF CEO, says: “The prime minister has set out a roadmap and a ‘no earlier than’ date for festivals, and audiences have responded, demonstrating a huge appetite to be back in the fields this summer. But we need government interventions on insurance and VAT before the end of this month when festivals will need to decide whether they can commit to serious amounts of upfront capital.
“Now that we have a ‘no earlier than’ date, insurance is the last remaining barrier to planning. We know that government is aware of the insurance issue and AIF has provided evidence and data to support the case. Having injected huge consumer confidence, government should intervene at this stage and ensure that our culture-defining independent festivals can mobilise and plan for this summer. With the cut-off point for many organisers at the end of the month, this really is the final countdown for many businesses.”
AIF, whose members include Boomtown Fair, Shambala, Boardmasters, End of the Road and Bluedot, recently conducted a member survey in which 92.5% of respondents confirmed they cannot stage events without insurance and described insurance measures as ‘vital’ not optional.
“The window of opportunity for this summer will slam shut very shortly. The government needs to act now”
Tim Thornhill, director of Tysers Entertainment and Sport Division, is working closely with the live entertainment insurance industry and live music industry umbrella organisation Live, to urge the government to work with industry to find a solution.
Thornhill comments: “The government has successfully created a scheme that has enabled the film and television industries to get back to work. Now they need to do the same for the live events industry. But the window of opportunity for this summer will slam shut very shortly. The government needs to act now.
“The live events industry is a massive employer and a significant generator of economic activity. Music alone employs over 200,000 people, with music tourism contributing £4.7bn to the UK economy*. The new YouGov survey shows that demand is there – they will buy tickets and spend on accommodation, food and drink. The government can unlock this boost to the economy at no cost to themselves, just a commitment to help underwrite the cost of cancellations should they occur.”
“This cover will allow our business to function as soon as it is safe for us to do so”
Jools Holland comments: “The solution to this problem could be simple – and what’s more, it doesn’t involve the government paying out money now. Maybe not even in the future, unless Covid strikes again. All we need from the government is the commitment to help if necessary.”
Roger Daltrey CBE comments: “The music business and arts have been enormously affected by the Covid-19 virus, with the ongoing health issues plus the problems thrown up by the government’s essential decision to close our places of work. The government however needs to understand how our industry functions. Promoters, especially those with festivals, bands and any touring acts have enormous outlays before commencing a tour, so insurance for these costs is paramount.
“Insurance companies will no longer cover these costs for Covid-19, which will render much of our business unviable as no promoter can risk setting up an event or tour without this cover. All we ask of our government is to put in place an insurance policy that, in the event of this situation happening again, will cover these costs. As it may be 100 years to the next pandemic it is extremely unlikely that this will involve the government paying out any money, but this cover will allow our business to function as soon as it is safe for us to do so.”
“We have seen the impact on the many people who help make the live shows happen”
The Chemical Brothers comments: “Like many other people we have had to put a lot of work on hold in the last year, and we have seen the impact on the many people who help make the live shows happen. Thousands of jobs have already been lost across the UK live music industry, with many more at risk. The UK government has already provided a financially backed scheme for the film industry, which has allowed production to resume. All we ask is that the same approach be taken to help those in the live events industry, which needs the support too and provides so much to the UK economically as well as culturally.”
Sir Cliff Richard comments: “The live events industry has suffered hugely as a result of the pandemic and has been shut down for nearly a year. Venues, performers and crew have all been badly affected. People’s jobs and income have vanished almost overnight. OUR BUSINESS BRINGS INSPIRATION AND HAPPINESS INTO PEOPLE’S LIVES. WE CAN MAKE THEM SMILE WHEN THEY ARE SAD AND WE CAN HELP THEM SING WHEN THEY HAVE NOTHING TO SING ABOUT! We need the government to help us plan for when it is safe to resume OUR business.”
“The industry is facing near catastrophe without adequate government support”
Amy MacDonald comments: “When people attend a gig they buy a ticket, turn up and enjoy the show. What they don’t always understand is the months of preparation that went on behind the scenes to get to that particular point. Thousands of emails and phone calls, meetings, site visits and not to mention huge amounts of money spent to just get to a point where the tickets are on sale. Another important aspect of preparing for a show is the need to ensure the event but it’s now impossible to get any insurance to cover these shows.
“As we have seen from the recent cancellation of Glastonbury, the live industry cannot even plan to start up again because it is too much of a risk without any insurance. The live industry has been put on hold for nearly a year and with no date for a return and no chance to even plan a return, the industry is facing near catastrophe without adequate government support. Nobody wants to live in a world without live music.”
“Can the PM tell us why he won’t help an industry that contributes billions to the UK economy each year?”
Robert Plant comments: “We all desperately want the UK live industry back on its feet again, so we can enjoy our favourite bands or sports event. Yet without insurance to cover these events, these things can’t happen. So please, can the PM tell us why he won’t help an industry that contributes billions to the UK economy each year?
“We’re not asking for any money, just a commitment to help if Covid ever strikes again. We don’t want a hand-out, we just need a hand up.. to help us get back on the stage. I’ve spent 55 years performing in halls, clubs, theatres and concerts halls across the UK. Now we’re in unchartered waters, soon there will be nowhere left to play. So I’m lending my voice to this campaign in the hope that the government will see sense and lend support before many of our beloved music venues disappear forever.”
Harvey Goldsmith CBE, promoter, comments: “As promoters and producers of live concerts we cannot produce tours without insurance against Covid. We are the risk takers and often have to pay considerable sums upfront to be able to create the tour. If the government at any time decide it is unsafe to continue, or commence a tour, we must be able to take insurance to protect us, as any normal business would expect. If no insurance is available our business will collapse.”
“The single most powerful measure the government could take is to underwrite any losses from Covid-19 cancellations”
Philip McIntyre, promoter, comments: “I would like to support your campaign to have the government underwrite any losses suffered from Covid 19 cancellations whilst the pandemic is still prevalent. My company is in the top five of all live entertainment groups in the UK we are obviously keen to start operating again but we worry about uninsured risk. Now we have a plan to come out of lockdown the single most powerful measure the government could take is to underwrite any losses from Covid-19 cancellations after June this year.
“This would give the risk takers so much confidence they the live arts would return to normal by December this year. If there are claims they would more than likely be on a regional basis and not onerous and the business generated in town and city centres would more than cover them in my estimation the government would be in profit 12 months ahead of a no action situation.”
Frank Turner comments: “It cannot be exaggerated, the devastation caused in my industry by the pandemic. We’re doing what we can to hang on and plan for a better future. An insurance plan will help us survive and come back quicker, and it doesn’t involve the government paying out any extra money now (or possibly ever). It would make an enormous difference.”
“Every effort is made to reduce the costs of a cancelled concert including trying to reschedule a date”
Johnny Marr comments: “The solution to getting music back up safely is easy and it doesn’t involve the government committing money now. All we need from the government is the commitment to help if necessary with an insurance scheme backed by them, and that will get our crews and suppliers back working. The government would only have to pay out in the worst case.”
Barrie Marshall MBE, promoter, comments: “The tremendous work of the NHS and the vaccination programme means that live events can start soon, this gives us hope that we can begin to share those magical moments and wonderful concerts once again. However, we need the government to help us by providing financial backing in the form of an insurance fund. This is needed to cover the costs of an event if it must be cancelled as a result of a Covid outbreak. Every effort is made to reduce the costs of a cancelled concert including trying to reschedule a date in the future but there are some circumstances where this is not possible.”
“We help to get our industry back on track and to help restart live events in a safe, effective way once it’s possible to do so”
John Giddings, promoter, comments: “Our industry has been hit immeasurably over the past year and we need to get it back up and running again. The government has got to help!”
Judas Priest comments: “The world has been more or less brought to its knees because of Covid-19 in this past year. It has affected so many people and businesses in all walks of life in so many ways. Our industry, the entertainment industry (which is a multi-billion dollar business), is suffering massively. It isn’t just affecting us – a band who want to get back out on the road, performing to our fans around the world – but it is affecting mainly our crew (and all the other crews), the venues and their staff, cleaners, security, caterers, local crew, bus drivers, truck drivers, lighting and video personnel, stage set designers and stage set builders. The list is endless.
“We need help, for the venues to be able to put on shows and the artists to be able to perform we all need to get tour insurance that will cover Covid-19 so shows can go ahead. Now we have the vaccine things should be on the way up but we need your help urgently, please!”
Depeche Mode comments: “With the live music industry in the UK shut down for over a year, our crew, our fans, venues, and everyone else who makes shows possible has been badly affected. Jobs and income have vanished almost overnight, and fans and artists alike have been left wondering when live shows will be possible again. We need the government to help us get our industry back on track and to help restart live events in a safe, effective way once it’s possible to do so.”
Government-backed insurance funds will be explored at ILMC during Insurance: The Big Update, while lessons that can be learned from 2020’s lost festival summer will be discussed during Festival Forum: Reboot & Reset.
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.”