IPM 15: Production heads on perfect storm of Covid and Brexit
The IPM programme concluded with what organisers referred to as the mega panel – a session that revolved around the current industry conditions, summed up by the strapline Covid & Brexit: The Perfect Storm.
Split into two parts, the mega panel involved multiple guest speakers from around the world, with Bonnie May from Global Infusion Group chairing part one and applauding those businesses who managed to get through the survival period by adapting their operations to negotiate two years of severely impacted activities.
Indeed, with the war in Ukraine adding to that ‘perfect storm’ analogy, hiking costs even higher and exacerbating the supply chain crisis, May turned to a plethora of experts to tell their stories over the past two years, as well as citing their early experiences of the industry recovery.
Singapore-based Paul Sergeant (ASM Global) underlined the fact that a lot of debt had been incurred during the Covid pandemic and that would continue to impact the live entertainment sector over the coming months and years. He advocated the pandemic’s effect on improving communications from top to bottom in his company as a massive tool in motivating employees.
Sergeant also talked up the Venue Management school in Australia that has been running for about 30 years and awards people diplomas when they graduate. He said that numerous sectors across the live entertainment business in Australia had bought into that programme and market its benefits to their various audiences.
“I’m still now educating people who have only started getting back out in the road”
José Faisca from Altice Arena in Portugal highlighted the importance of everyone in the live entertainment ecosphere that make the industry work – and the fact that those at the bottom of the food chain need more help and support than those who are at the top, if they are going to remain part of the business, rather than taking their skills elsewhere.
“We are better together,” he stated, adding that treating the freelancers and suppliers as part of his company’s extended family – eating together, inviting everyone to team meetings, and investing in training – encourages an atmosphere where everybody is happy to work for the health of the company. “We sometimes invite the families of our suppliers, the riggers, etc, to events so that they can see what their loved ones do and the results they help produce,” he revealed.
Asthie Wendra, a show director and stage manager from Indonesia said her team was almost back to full strength post-pandemic, despite the fact that many found work elsewhere, suggesting that lot of people want to return to the live entertainment environment in her country. Wendra also highlighted the importance of education and training in the workforce. “They need to get something other than money, but education and helping them return to the industry and see that they can have a career there helps us to do that,” she said.
Lisa Ryan (EFM Global) said Covid was a blessing for the Brexit factor, as the industry probably would not have coped had there been the normal level of events through the red tape nightmare, carnets and other new regulations thrown up by the aftermath of the UK leaving the European Union. “I’m still now educating people who have only started getting back out in the road,” she said, hinting at the carnage that could await the business when the busy summer season kicks in. She adds, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this [situation].”
Ryan and May agreed that improving the conditions for employees was a crucial part of keeping people motivated and retaining their skills in the industry, with both citing pay rises, better holiday terms, facilitating people to work from home on flexible hours, and even allowing staff to relocate abroad to fulfil life ambitions. However, they acknowledged the difficulty of recruiting new people to the industry, as well as attracting people back who may have found work elsewhere that offer them a more settled life-work balance.
“I don’t think the artists have realised yet that the costs have gone up and the profits will be less”
Part two of the mega panel was chaired by eps holding chief Okan Tombulca who explained that he has been on a number of conference sessions during the past year to specifically address the supply chain issues that are beginning to hit the international industry, both in terms of personnel and equipment. He voiced his personal opinion that the business is continually in a perfect storm, in terms of spiralling costs and pressure.
Andrew Zweck (Sensible Events) suggested it’s too early to know if artists have changed their views because of the various limitations that are hitting the business post-Covid. “I don’t think the artists have realised yet that the costs have gone up and the profits will be less. It’s unfolding now as we speak and that problem is not fully understood by the artists.” He added that the fact there are no double drivers this year is having an impact on tour plans, including at least one stadium show he had to cancel because they could not get a stage for that date.
“Artists are going to have less and I’m not sure they know that yet,” Zweck added, noting that he did not know who was going to tell them.
Production manager Phay Mac Mahon reported that the production side of the industry has lost about 30% of its workforce. “It’s the vendors’ time – they don’t need to reply to you because they are so busy trying to fulfil the contracts that they have,” said Mac Mahon. “With larger artists it’s planned further ahead, but for the younger artists it’s tough because their production manager might not be able to get the answers and therefore they may not be able to get the suppliers.”
Julia Frank from Wizard Promotions in Germany revealed that she started calling around a year ago for a certain tour for summer 2022. “I’m now just six weeks from that tour starting and I’m still ten riggers short,” she said.
“I’m now just six weeks from that tour starting and I’m still ten riggers short”
Anna Golden of UK promoters Kilimanjaro Live revealed that the company’s focus was on UK touring artists and outdoor shows. “We’ve been in constant communications with our suppliers so that at least they know these shows will definitely happen,” she said. “One of the festivals that Kili owns has actually bought its own stage because we have a five-year plan and that was financially more viable.”
Tombulca pondered whether that might be a new concept for promoters to own the infrastructure. Mac Mahon countered that the artist ego and ambitions for bigger and bigger shows might work against that. “Artist ego is the vendor’s best friend,” said Mac Mahon.
Zweck noted that the likes of the Royal Albert Hall has its own in-house lights and PA that it encourages bands to use, which also helps with sustainability. And he told IPM that in Australia, agreements are in place that equipment will stay in specific cities this year for artists to share, rather than shipping that kit on long journies for days at a time between venues. And on a similar theme, Tombulca says Live Nation has set up 28 stadia across America with exactly the same stages and kit for the summer.
Delegate Bryan Grant from Britannia Row noted that there is not enough equipment in the world to supply all the tours that are going out this year, revealing he had tried to fly in kit from South Africa for some of his events, only to be told it had already gone on rent in Germany.
Tombulca also touched on the impact of the war in Ukraine. Frank said the cost of fuel was the obvious impact, but she had not seen any difference in ticket sales in Germany. However, Zweck said it was another doubt to plant in the mind of the ticket seller for festivals and tours in the latter part of this year, going into 2023.
We’re in for a tough year, but humans are resilient and we will find a way”
Lisa Ryan from EFM Global noted that many of the Antinov aircraft that might be used for bigger tours are grounded in Russia and the Ukraine, while the biggest of all was recently destroyed in the conflict.
And speaking from the point of view in the Baltics, Renatas Nacajus from ISEG in Lithuania reported that ticket sales dropped immediately when the Ukraine war started, as confidence disappeared from the market.
Golden concluded that this summer is just about surviving and getting through 2022 as best as possible. Frank agreed. “It’s like going back to the 90s – it’s not going to be pretty, but it will do,” she stated.
Zweck commented, “We’re in for a tough year, but humans are resilient and we will find a way. Market forces will have a correction in terms of giving more money to the people at the lower end. But overall I’m pessimistic and I think when we look back in two years, we’ll struggle to see what we learned from Covid and we’ll be back to the greed of the big promoters and that will become rampant again.”
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Sensible Events’ Andrew Zweck joins IPM 15 line-up
Sensible Events founder Andrew Zweck is the latest big name speaker lined up for the 15th-anniversary edition of the ILMC Production Meeting (IPM).
Taking place on 26 April, the day before ILMC (International Live Music Conference), IPM will return to an in-person format in 2022 with its biggest programme yet.
This year’s edition will feature a series of key production group and trade association partnerships, as well as a second programming tranche by the Event Safety & Security Summit (E3S).
Live Aid production veteran Zweck, who has served as agent and producer of worldwide tours for the likes of Roger Waters, Depeche Mode and Mark Knopfler, will be lending his wealth of experience the two-part Covid & Brexit: The Perfect Storm mega-panel, chaired by Bonnie May from Global Infusion Group and Okan Tombulca from eps.
“I’ve never forgotten that I started in the back of a truck,” says Zweck. “That has stood me in good stead.”
Zweck will be joined by fellow panellists ASM Global APAC’s Paul Sergeant, Jose Faisca of Lisbon’s Altice Arena, EFM Global Logistics director Lisa Ryan, Kilimanjaro Live head of major events Anna Golden, Wizard Promotions’ Julia Frank, show director/stage manager Asthie Wendra and production manager Phay Mac Mahon, recipient of IQ Magazine’s 2022 Gaffer Award.
“We will be talking and listening to each other and learning about subjects relevant to the production industry”
Alongside the previously announced A Seat at the Table, Veterans and Rookies, the second main morning panel, The Power of Energy, will look at not just what energy solutions are available but also what different parties use and how we can decide on and manage the best sustainable options at event sites, tours and in different-sized venues.
The session is chaired by long-term IPM attendee Duchess Iredale from EPI ltd in Ireland, who will be joined by Jacob Bilabel (Green Music Initiative/Aktionsnetzwerk Nachhaltigkeit, Germany); Padraic Boran (MCD Productions, Ireland); Amy Casterton (ES Global Ltd, UK); and Pete Wills (Power Logistics, UK).
In addition to the four main panels, three production notes will take place throughout the day: The PSA presents…, The Weather Maturity Curve, and Fight or Flight Case: A Mental Health Update, alongside IPM’s Carl A H Martin’s special lunchtime Q&A with Penny Mellor, in which the health & safety/welfare expert will discuss her lifetime of experience on the frontline at festivals.
“The IPM has been part of my life almost since its inception, so imagine how I felt the last couple of years having to sit at home, in front of a screen, talking to people’s heads and shoulders as we ran virtual bloody conferences,” says IPM advisory group chair Carl A H Martin.
“Imagine then how excited I am going to be to be part of a live event. On 26 April, I will be at the IPM along with new and old friends from all around the world – not just the UK, we are international. We will be talking and listening to each other and learning about subjects relevant to the production industry.”
The afternoon at IPM will focus entirely on crew and resource shortages
The afternoon at IPM will focus entirely on crew and resource shortages and how everyone is getting back on their feet after the last two years, in the aforementioned two-part mega panel Covid & Brexit: The Perfect Storm.
Given the huge amount of content, all the main panels will be recorded and made available for delegates to watch on-demand for a month after the event has concluded.
Meanwhile, E3S sessions will run throughout the day, including a Crowd Management Tabletop created and delivered by the Yourope Event Safety Group (YES) & Mind Over Matter Consultancy (MOM), a ‘Crowd Communication and Behaviours’ panel, and a discussion around ‘Rethinking Risk And Building Resilience in Event Operations’ – both in association with EAA, UKCMA and the Global Crowd Management Alliance.
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Rock in the USSR: SAV Entertainment at 30
Russia, to quote American writer Ralph Peters, has “long been a land of contradictions layered upon contradictions.” Straddling East and West, democracy and absolutism, collectivism and capitalism, the world’s largest country has always been a nation of stark contrasts – and never more so than in 1987.
Thirty years ago, as the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) celebrated the 70th anniversary of the October revolution, Russian society stood at a crossroads. A year earlier, general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev had used the 27th congress of the CPSU to introduce a range of reforms, including glasnost (openness), perestroika (restructuring) and demokratizatsiya (democratisation), paving the way for reduced state censorship, a degree of political liberalisation, and, ultimately, the fall of the Soviet Union and an independent Russia’s transition to a market economy.
Not, then, the kind of stable political environment in which most people would think to start a new company – especially one engaged in the inherently risky business of promoting live music – but then Nadia Solovieva, co-founder and CEO of Moscow-based SAV Entertainment, isn’t most people.
Solovieva, for four decades the matriarch of the Russian live music industry, tells IQ that SAV was initially conceived as a vehicle for promoting Russian artists in the West, capitalising on the USSR’s appeal to capitalist audiences amid the glasnost-era thaw in East–West relations. “The initial idea for SAV was the opposite of what it eventually became,” she explains. “Russia was hip at the time! But we gradually realised there wasn’t much of a business there, and started bringing foreign artists to Russia instead.”
Solovieva cut her promotion teeth at Gosconcert, the Soviet state concert monopoly, where she worked in the late 1970s and early 80s as a tour manager and translator. The first Western artist she worked with at Gosconcert was Elton John, who toured Russia with Harvey Goldsmith in 1979. Solovieva has promoted Sir Elton on numerous occasions since (he played the 7,500-cap. Crocus City Hall in Moscow with SAV on 14 December), but the British singer’s famous first visit to Russia – which set the stage for a lasting friendship between Solovieva and Goldsmith – was actually something of an accident, as the latter recalls.
“Elton went onstage [at Wembley] in 1977 and announced he was never going to tour again,” explains Goldsmith. “Later, we had lunch and he said, ‘I’ve got a new album coming out and I’ve promised to do a show in Paris for the record company – but I’m not touring.’
“Before then, there were no businesses except those owned by the state – even the word ‘business’ was new!”
“Over lunch, he kept saying, ‘I’m not touring, I’m not going to all those places I normally go,’ and that he wanted to play new places: Russia, Israel, Egypt… In the end, ‘not touring’ ended up being 18 months on the road!”
The genesis of SAV – originally Seabeko Alla Venture, after the company’s initial partners, Canadian investment firm Seabeco Group and singer Alla Pugacheva – came in 1987 when Gorbachev legalised private enterprise. Unlike their counterparts in Europe and North America, Russia’s fledgling promoters had little experience of the international live music industry – and, crucially, even less experience running a business, with private enterprise having been illegal since Stalin’s abolition of the New Economic Policy in 1928.
“We were, all of us together, learning how things worked,” Solovieva explains. “Before then, there were no businesses except those owned by the state – even the word ‘business’ was new, for God’s sake!
“Of course, now everything is here: the hotels, the transfers, the infrastructure… The only thing the promoter has to have is the ability to be music-orientated – and have money, of course. But when we started out, we had to learn everything from scratch.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 75: