Survey highlights Brexit’s impact on music sector
A new report by the Independent Society of Musicians (ISM) has laid bare the impact of Brexit on UK musicians and the music sector.
The Paying the price study, which is the first of its kind following the UK’s departure from the EU, is based on data gathered from more than 400 musicians and music industry workers who have worked in Europe since January 2021.
Restrictions that UK musicians who wish to tour in Europe now face includes visas and work permits, cabotage restrictions, ATA Carnets and CITES regulations.
Almost half (47.4%) of the respondents said that they had less work in the EU since the start of 2021 than they did before Brexit, with over a quarter (27.8%) saying that they had no EU work at all.
Over a third (39%) of people had had to turn down work, while 40% had had work cancelled in the same period. The most frequently cited expense was for visas and work permits (23%), followed by carnets (18%) and travel costs (14%).
“UK music is a great success story and we are rightly proud of it,” says ISM chief executive Deborah Annetts. “The chancellor has correctly identified the creative industries as a potential growth market. However, as Paying the price shows, the government has been asleep on the job. It could have tackled many of the issues facing the music sector by itself and made Brexit work. It chose not to.”
“This report provides a pathway to make Brexit work for music”
The report makes a series of recommendations to the government in response to the findings, including to:
- Negotiate a bespoke Visa Waiver Agreement (VWA) with the EU that allows UK artists and their support staff to work in any part of the EU for up to 90 days in a period of 180 days
- Negotiate bilateral agreements for work permits with individual EU Member States which do not currently offer cultural exemptions for work of up to 90 days
- Unilaterally reduce the cost of the ATA Carnet for cultural goods and work towards a cultural exemption for musical instruments and equipment
- Negotiate a cabotage exemption for the creative industries with the EU
- Make Eurostar St Pancras a CITES designated Point of Entry or Exit, digitise Musical Instrument Certificate applications and keep them free
- Streamline merchandise paperwork applications and provide clear guidance for musicians
- Raise the issue of the 90 in 180-day limit with the EU and seek a reciprocal arrangement similar to the UK’s Creative Worker (Temporary Work) visa
The study shares the findings of ISM’s sixth Brexit survey of the music sector since 2016. Survey participants were specifically asked to exclude any experiences that may have been affected by Covid-19 from January 2021 to April 2023.
“This report provides a pathway to make Brexit work for music, and most of the recommendations would not require renegotiating the TCA,” adds Annetts. “Brexit should never have meant that musicians cannot share their talent freely with our closest neighbours. This damages our country, our soft power and our precious creative talent pipeline.
“Music is worth £5.8 billion to the UK economy and the wider creative industries are worth £116 billion. We call on the government to take action and make Brexit work for the wellbeing of musicians and our economy.”
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Travel and accommodation
The rush back to business in 2022 highlighted the need for touring productions to have specialist travel experts on the team, as the scramble to find hotel accommodation and travel solutions became an ever more crucial aspect of life on the road.
Fast-forward 12 months and that situation shows no sign of abating, with many businesses predicting that 2023 will be another record-breaking year as countless acts and their crews pack their cases to fulfil international tour obligations.
“2022 was incredibly busy with both new business and business that had been postponed during the pandemic,” says The Tour Company’s managing director Tina Waters who has more than forty years’ experience booking travel and accommodation for artists on tour.
“On the touring travel front, many hotels, airlines, airports, etc, struggled to provide pre-pandemic levels of service, and although things have improved a lot, some of those issues are still present in 2023.”
In Germany, Dominik Aurich, managing director of IBERO Tour Service – a travel partner of Lufthansa – notes, “The amount of business is comparable to 2022, but [the difference in 2023 is that] our clients had much more time to prepare themselves, [so] business is not as last-minute as it was last year.”
“Lots of bands are now hitting the road without tour insurance, which is really risky”
York, UK-based Travel4Tours is run by husband-and-wife duo Ade and Claire Robinson who disclose that while a lot of work during the pandemic involved trying to get clients refunds on flights, etc, that unpaid labour strengthened certain relationships.
“It generated a lot of loyalty with our buyers because sometimes it took a few months to get the money back,” says Claire Robinson. “When the refunds dropped in our clients’ accounts, I think they were appreciative of the effort that we’d been putting in to get the money back for them.”
Indeed, she reveals that Travel4Tours has never been so hectic. “Last year was our second busiest year since we formed, and this year is on track to be even busier,” she says, citing a client pool that includes DJs, orchestras, and numerous heritage acts.
“We look after bands that we used to follow when we were in our 20s and younger. We also have quite a lot of American and Canadian clients – probably about 90% of our clients come from outside the UK.”
As with many sectors, the travel agency landscape endured an enforced period of transition in the wake of the pandemic. With airline fleets grounded for months on end and entire hotel chains shuttered, Covid decimated the travel industry globally.
Coming out of that dire situation, many specialists decided to launch their own operations resulting in a crowded marketplace but one where the companies IQ spoke to for this report agree that there is more than enough business for everyone.
“Industrial action worldwide is causing disruption and cancellations, which can put the whole itinerary for a tour out of sync”
That scenario is primarily because so many bands are desperate to be back out on the road, piling on the pressure on a profession that is still not back to full speed in terms of personnel.
The Tour Company’s Waters notes that the sector has not been immune to the dilemma of retaining, hiring, and training new staff. “Fortunately, we have a great core team of knowledgeable travel agents,” she says, “but if anybody reading this knows of anybody with good experience in that area, then please point them our way!”
That drive to recruit is one that’s being felt around the world. IBERO’s Aurich lists his company’s main challenges for 2023 as being, “Staffing; increasing hotel rates and air fares; strict contract policies from hotels; communication with hotels; and diversification of booking channels and content for air and hotel.”
One specialist unfazed by staffing issues is Manchester, England-based Hannah Mursal who has been working solo for the past six years through her Murs Entertainment Travel operation, which counts everyone from DJs, indie bands, and oldschool R&B acts to corporate clients and NBA basketball superstars among its clients.
“Cost is the biggest challenge,” states Mursal. “Whereas last year it was trying to get buses and trying to get the tour dates into a decent routing, this year it’s all about cost. Again, buses are sold out, so people are having to try different ways of logistically moving from place to place.”
Alison Rodgers of London-based Detonate Travel highlights another potential obstacle. “Industrial action worldwide is causing disruption and cancellations, which can put the whole itinerary for a tour out of sync and in turn means we are sourcing last-minute alternatives,” she says.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of clients that contact us sooner rather than later with their touring plans”
Robinson, meanwhile, says the post-Covid landscape has eliminated some services that tour parties had become accustomed to. For instance, hotels that before allowed buses to use their electricity for power, etc, have withdrawn such offers.
“Or they’ll charge a silly fee – I’ve been quoted €400 a day just to connect to power,” reveals Robinson. “Also, multiuse dayrooms are becoming scarce because hotels are more wary of the costs in terms of laundry, people using the shower, charging devices, and things like that.”
She adds, “The price rises are a shock to the system for a lot of tours, but at the end of the day, hotels need to pay more for staff, they’ve got heating bills, the price of food has shot up… so there has been a shift. The £60-80 entry level of rooms is now £70-90, while the top end has gone even higher. It’s taking clients a bit of time to come around to the reality.”
While loyalty is a key component for travel specialists, Mursal tells IQ that more and more clients are now shopping around in an effort to minimise costs.
“There are three or four different people who can book travel for artists,” she explains. “On Australian tours, for example, it’s mostly the promoter who books all the travel and hotels, while we might just book the international flights. Then you’ve got the management: if management has a travel agent, they’ll go with them. Then there’s the record label, who might book the travel when it’s a promotion tour. And then, obviously, you’ve got the tour manager. So, there are at least four different avenues for travel to actually be booked.”
Mursal continues, “I’ve got clients who represent five artists: four of them they’ll book with me, but the other one has a tour manager who likes to use their own travel agent. That works both ways, though, as I’ve recently taken on an act who had to book with me even though she’s got her own travel agent, just because her management want to book with me. So, it’s swings and roundabouts.”
“The price rises are a shock to the system for a lot of tours, but at the end of the day, hotels need to pay more for staff, they’ve got heating bills, the price of food has shot up… so there has been a shift”
Loyalty cuts both ways, according to Robinson, “Low-cost airlines are what they are, so we add a fee on to those that we book, but we’re quite upfront if a client comes to us with a really tight budget, and they need to keep travel as cheap as possible – we’ll advise them to book it direct,” she says.
And Detonate’s Rodgers observes, “Tour managers have a lot of work to do, and booking travel online can be very time consuming. We can take this job away from them, leaving them to do what they do best. We have access to the best fares and hotel rates at the touch of a button. We can take the headache out of navigating airlines’ rules and regulations and are responsive rather than reactive to any given situation.
“With our industry knowledge and expertise in itinerary planning, any tour manager can be sure that we offer the best option for the required routing whilst being aware of any budget constraints. When flights are delayed or cancelled, we have direct access to scheduled and low-cost flights so we can provide alternative travel options much faster and more effectively than someone on their mobile or laptop.”
Tightening the belt
With prices of hotel rooms spiralling upward and flight expenses going in the same direction amidst a situation where every line item on a budget is increasing in cost, our travel agent confidantes disclose that clients are scrutinising their travel requirements like never before as they battle to keep touring financially viable.
“Travel is the first thing to get cut when budgets become tight,” states Mursal. Robinson agrees, reporting, “More people
are sharing rooms. Another change is that instead of booking the high-end hotels in the middle of town, whose rates have all gone up, people might be happy now to go out of town to get the cheaper hotels.
“We recently worked on a big tour around Europe – a party of 18 people – and we split them across three hotels to meet the overall budget. We had A, B, and C parties, which isn’t ideal because it can create a bit of a hierarchy, but it meant that the A party got the sweet five-stars, while the C party were in the Hampton-type places. It took a bit of creativity to get the variables, cost-wise.”
“Travel is the first thing to get cut when budgets become tight”
Mursal opines that while people are aware that the cost of living has ballooned, that reality hasn’t fully been acknowledged by those planning international tours. “A lot of people haven’t changed their budgets even though inflation has gone up,” she says. “They might still want the four- or five-star hotels that were £150 per night, but those prices don’t exist anymore. But rather than downgrade or increase their budgets, they’re stripping back in terms of people or having people share twin rooms.
“I’ve noticed that lots of US artists are hiring locally – backing singers, trumpet players, and the likes if it’s a UK gig, which obviously cuts down the cost of the international flights. On my smaller tours, which were typically 15 people, they’ve been completely stripped back to maybe a DJ and the artist and then a core crew. So, they’re now maybe down to eight people. Also,
we’re seeing people jumping on and off tour, so where you don’t need a creative director for the whole tour, they’ll maybe be present for the first three gigs and that’s it.”
That’s not the case everywhere. At The Tour Company, Waters says, “We can understand why people would consider slimming down on their travelling parties due to the rise in overall touring costs, however, we haven’t experienced that as yet, with the majority of our tours seemingly being fully staffed.”
That scenario is recognised by IBERO’s Aurich who doesn’t believe the rising costs have changed too many attitudes toward travel considerations. “It’s like before Covid,” he notes, “the clients that were well structured before are running like
normal and start planning early, so large productions are usually earlier than smaller ones.”
As artist management and their tour managers come to terms with spiralling travel and accommodation expenses, many are making that side of the tour budget a priority by engaging with their travel agents earlier than they would have three years ago.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of clients that contact us sooner rather than later with their touring plans, and we are presently working on tours for 2024 and beyond,” says Glasgow-based Waters. “That said, we have also had some clients come in really close to their touring period as well. Either way, we just get on with it, but somewhat obviously, the more time we are given, the better it is from an availability and consequently budgetary point of view.”
“We are seeing a trend of clients booking air tickets with a degree of flexibility”
That advice is echoed by every travel company, and Robinson suggests that this is where the expertise of the agent comes into play. “Some people come to us almost too early – you don’t necessarily get the best rates when you’re super early because most hotels start their rates at a high price, just to see if they can get away with it.”
While recommending booking early for places that are hosting major festivals – “Primavera or something like that, for example, where you know the hotels in the city are going to be busy,” Robinson says in terms of a sweet spot in the timing of hotel bookings, specialist knowledge is again crucial, as different locations have certain quirks.
“A Saturday night in Dublin is going to sell out every week, so that’s never going to come down in price,” she says. “You only learn about each city and each hotel through experience, so that’s where a good travel agent will prove invaluable.” Despite the fact that early booking can result in savings, Mursal says many of her clients are still leaving things to the eleventh hour.
“It can be very short notice,” she says. “For instance, I got given a DJ tour on a Friday that was leaving for India three days later. And that’s not unusual, as I’ve had others that have contacted me with just two days’ notice. That’s fine when it’s a DJ and maybe one or two others in the touring party, but it can get complicated if there are multiple people involved.”
Sharing her observations, Detonate Travel’s Rodgers says, “The larger groups are sourcing accommodation earlier but are demanding more flexible cancellation policies. In 2022, a lot of flights sold out very quickly leaving artists with little or no choice and very high airfares. Therefore, this year, many are booking in advance, especially for the summer. We are seeing a trend of clients booking air tickets with a degree of flexibility.”
Robinson adds, “We’re already booking tours beyond August and September, which we wouldn’t probably have done on past tours. There also appear to be a lot more festivals, suddenly. I don’t know the stats but certainly there are festivals popping up all over the place that we’ve never covered before, and that’s going to generate shortages in terms of buses and hotel rooms.”
“The impacts of both the pandemic and Brexit are still ongoing”
And the financial burden is leading to worrying scenarios, too, as Mursal reports, “Lots of bands are now hitting the road without tour insurance, which is really risky.”
Identifying the most special agents
As travel is one of the cornerstone components to touring, the importance of aligning with experienced booking experts has become paramount.
Specialists fiercely guard their client lists, but some research on websites can often hint at who certain companies work for, when artists are kind enough to offer testimonials about the service they receive.
Highlighting the benefits for touring acts to find experienced travel experts, Aurich lists a number of positives: “It saves time and money; professional travel agents have access to various booking channels and content for air and hotel; centralised
accounting; and statistics and reporting.”
Waters notes that it’s not just about finding rooms. “The impacts of both the pandemic and Brexit are still ongoing, so we are constantly dealing with changes in regulations and restrictions. There is also the need to adapt to the growing interest in more sustainable travel,” she says.
“There are several benefits for using a travel specialist or a team of them, as we have in the office,” continues Waters. “We are dealing with hotels, airlines, and other travel suppliers every day and know which ones work for artists or their crew. Not only that but we have direct access to rates and deals not available anywhere else.”
“Anyone with Skyscanner and Trivago thinks they’re a travel agent…but we have quite a different business model”
Tour-party needs are evolving, says Rodgers. “We are noticing that clients are turning to us to book more intricate components of the tour, as not only is it a more efficient process, but it is also a lot easier to reconcile a tour when all the components are booked in the same place, rather than having to collect invoices and receipts from various different companies and websites.”
Robinson is pragmatic. “Let’s face it, anyone with Skyscanner and Trivago thinks they’re a travel agent, and there’s a presumption that travel agents cost money,” she says. “But we have quite a different business model: we take commission from the hotel, so we don’t charge the client a fee, whereas some of our competitors might charge a fee for the booking service.
Also, we provide the tour accountants with a full-priced itinerary for the tour, so they know exactly what all the costs are accommodation-wise.” Waters concludes, “We can understand the temptation to use online travel apps and booking platforms, but we’ve seen this to be a false economy where those doing the work could make far better use of their time dealing with the plethora of other tasks on their list – and when it comes to making changes with such things, good luck with that!
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Un-Convention & MaMA reveal collaboration project
Manchester’s music industry conference, Un-Convention and Parisian festival MaMA have today announced a new partnership which will see them collaborating on panel content around post-Brexit touring, as well as showcasing emerging UK talent.
The two events, which both take place in October, will see music professionals from the UK and Europe participate in discussions around the challenges that artists, booking agents and festivals face as they navigate the post-Brexit live sector, and will seek to establish practical next steps to make progress on the issues highlighted.
Debates on the topic will be held consecutively at MaMA (11-13 October), and Un-Convention (20-21 October), and will mirror one another with contributors including Musicians’ Union’s head of international, Dave Webster, speaking in both Paris and Manchester.
The announcement comes in the wake of renewed calls by the UK music industry for more to be done to support British musicians seeking to tour in the EU. Artists including Elton John, alongside the head of the Music Managers Forum, Annabella Coldrick highlighted in the Sunday Times this weekend the scale of the challenge, with the number of UK artists touring Europe this summer down by one third compared to the number touring in 2019.
It’s no great surprise that there has been a significant decline in the number of UK artists that are able to get out to Europe to play
As well as working together on debate topic content, the two organisations are also collaborating to present UK artists as part of the MaMA showcase programme. Supported by the Greater Manchester Music Commission emerging artists, Phoebe Green and Soup!, will be joining the line-up for the Paris gathering, which last year claimed attendance of over 6,500 music industry professionals from 45 countries.
Speaking about the partnership, Jeff Thompson, co-founder of Un-Convention said, “Sadly, it’s no great surprise that there has been a significant decline in the number of UK artists that are able to get out to Europe to play. We work with a lot of emerging and mid-level artists and as the live industry has started to pick up again it really is coming into sharp focus the impact that post-Brexit regulations are having, increasing the cost, and indeed risk for artists looking to get a foothold in EU markets.
“With European audiences being so significant for many artists, and indeed the UK being an important destination for many European performers, we are really keen to look at practical steps we can work on to improve the situation. Hence, we hope that working with organisations such as MaMA and the Musicians’ Union and keeping the debate firmly on the agenda on both sides of the Channel, is a step in the right direction.”
Through this project, working with Un-Convention, we are looking to strengthen cultural links between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.
Director of MaMA, Fernando Ladeiro-Marques added, “Post-Brexit we all face a real challenge, and now more than ever we need to make it clear to our British friends that this separation cannot call into question decades of shared history and collaboration. Through this project, working with Un-Convention, we are looking to strengthen cultural links between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.
“By showcasing British artists in our concerts, welcoming guest speakers to our debates and conferences, and opening our doors to numerous professionals from the UK music industry, we aim to make MaMA a bridge on which culture, business and people meet without apprehension.”
The partnership announcement with MaMA forms part of Un-Convention’s 15th anniversary celebrations which culminate with their annual music industry conference. Key organisations from across the UK music industry including the Music Managers Forum, Music Venue Trust, Musicians’ Union, Featured Artists Coalition, LIVE and the Association of Independent Festivals have already confirmed their participation in the event, and will be joined by a host of speakers from the likes of EMI North, Sony Music, Press On Vinyl and many more.
Un-Convention Manchester is taking place from 20-21 October at Band on the Wall and the Methodist Central Hall in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
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MMF CEO warns touring costs will price out artists
Annabella Coldrick, CEO of the UK’s Music Managers Forum (MMF), warns that the cost of touring will see some artists priced out of their careers, resulting in a “lost generation” of talent.
According to the CEO, the membership is dealing with a “perfect storm” of Brexit, Covid and inflation, making touring unaffordable for some acts.
“I want to be really positive because we’re so pleased that live music is back but when costs have gone up 30-40% – and you can’t put tickets up at the same level because people are working out how to pay their heating bill – that’s tough,” says Coldrick.
“Some artists can absorb the current costs of touring but most can’t. I think we’re going to have to look at how we tour and what reductions we can bring in.”
One band that has spoken up about the overwhelming cost of touring is Belfast-based band New Pagans, who earlier this year opened up about the “massive debt” they racked up on a European tour with Skunk Anansie.
“I think we’re going to have to look at how we tour and what reductions we can bring in”
“Brexit and Covid have truly done a number on small bands. To break even on a tour, or even come home with a little profit was always the goal… to come home from a tour having accumulated massive debt is now the reality for many small and independent bands in 2022,” reads a tweet from the band.
“Fuel costs, tolls, venues taking 25% of merch, buying a carnet to get through customs: just a few things conspiring against you.”
Coldrick raises concerns that the hike in prices will result in a talent drain of British artists.
“I think in five or six years’ time, you’ll see a load of artists who lost momentum because of Covid and not being able to make ends meet,” she says. “And when you look at festival bills in half a decade, they’ll be much fewer British artists on them – partly because they’ve not been able to build the audiences from touring.”
And for the acts that do continue to tour, there’ll be some tough decisions to make – both financially and creatively.
“I think in five or six years’ time, you’ll see a load of artists who lost momentum because of Covid”
“I think production will be severely stripped back for those who do go ahead with touring,” she continues. “I’ve already heard about bigger bands that would usually take three trucks and are now just taking one. We will definitely see different types of shows now.”
With no silver bullet for the cost of touring, the MMF CEO anticipates a tough few years for gigging acts but says there are some things that can ease the pressure.
A 5% rate of VAT on ticket sales is high on the CEO’s wishlist, along with acts being able to take home 100% of the proceeds from the merchandise sold at concerts.
“So many managers have spent a lot of time trying to find ways around venues taking a commission of merchandise,” she explains. “I’ve heard stories about artists hiring ice cream vans and putting them outside of the venue to sell merch, or taking over cafes. We don’t want to do that – it’s a lot more time and effort.
“We’re hoping the venues will realise that being able to make it possible for artists to tour at the moment is a key thing. I think we need to realise we’re all in it together and try and find a way to make that level of touring work or shows will get pulled and that’s not good for anyone in the industry.”
Freight expectations: Inside the sector’s busiest year
It’s an oft-used phrase in 2022 that the live music business is packing three years’ worth of activity into one year, as postponed festivals and tours from the pandemic period concertina alongside new tours and events around the planet. But, while there will undoubtedly be certain artists and outings that become casualties of the resulting vastly oversaturated marketplace, on paper, at least, the windfall for the likes of contractors and suppliers should help make up for some of the darker, revenue-free days that Covid inflicted.
In the freight and transport sector, the order books are full. Indeed, backlogs of requests remain seemingly permanently on reserve for those acts still scrambling to find solutions to get back out in front of their fans, while standard industry practices such as double drivers are all but non-existent for the foreseeable future such is the dearth of trained and skilled people.
“To be totally honest with you, everyone is working as hard as they ever have – but always with a smile on their faces, and no one is complaining,” reports Rock-it Global managing director Chris Palmer. “Because we had nearly two years without any kind of significant touring, everyone is just so hungry to get back to what we know and love best… 2022 is shaping up to be the busiest year I’ve known in over 20 years in the industry.”
“Everyone is working as hard as they ever have”
KB Event CEO Stuart McPherson comments, “We have everything from the biggest stadium tour on the road out right now (Ed Sheeran’s Mathematics) through arena tours such as Little Mix, Craig David, Stereophonics, etc, down to theatres with the likes of George Benson, Gregory Porter and many, many others. We are running from Malta to Finland with acts like Bring Me the Horizon, and we’re doing just about every festival on the circuit with various acts and production trucks over the summer.
“The volumes we are experiencing with re-scheduled tours and shows, coupled with new tours, festivals and events, are like nothing we have experienced in 30 years,” he continues. “This has been exacerbated by the challenges placed on the trucking industry by the TCA [Brexit deal]. The temporary dual registration easement agreed in March, with a planned permanent arrangement in the autumn, means that KB are able to service the European tours we are booked on.
“But the big challenge facing our sector is that there are now only five companies in the whole of the EU – KB being one of them – that are established and able to take advantage of the dual registration agreement to service tours throughout the UK and EU. This sees a huge demand for these services with a much-reduced resource pool to support the industry requirements.”
“The volumes [of events] we are experiencing are like nothing we have experienced in 30 years”
All too aware of the importance the sector has on delivering live music to the masses, Lisa Ryan, group CCO for EFM Global, comments, “Logistics is a hot topic at a much higher level than previously, due to the many ongoing challenges facing the industry, culminating in the perfect storm for everyone involved in touring.”
Detailing the various aspects contributing to that perfect storm, Ryan listed the main issues: ongoing global supply chain disruption (including port congestion and unreliable schedules), reduced space capacity on board flights and vessels, high fuel prices and unprecedented rate levels for international air and sea freight in particular.
Extremely high demand for ATA Carnets, short supply of trucks and drivers (particularly traditional music tour truckers) and shortage of “spare” aircraft available to the private charter market and resourcing, including staff.
“My advice is to plan to be late and over budget – in other words, don’t underestimate the budget or the length of time it may take to get from A to B to C on tour,” says Ryan. “Plan ahead, allow contingency, and keep last-minute changes to a minimum, where possible.”
“2022 is proving our busiest year to date after 40 years in operation”
It is sound advice that finds a sympathetic ear with Transam Trucking chief Mark Guterres. “2022 is proving our busiest year to date after 40 years in operation,” attests Guterres, who explains that his business experienced tremendous upheaval even before Covid reared its head, thanks to Brexit.
“Over three years ago we moved a large part of our European operations from the UK to [the Republic of Ireland] and the Netherlands, long before Brexit, so therefore our European operations have been running smoothly for some time now.” He adds, “Our biggest problems continue to be caused by the lack of preparation and planning by the UK authorities.”
Indeed, Guterres himself is now based in Auckland, New Zealand. “Here, I’m nearly a day ahead of the USA and therefore I can bridge the gap between our European offices and operating centres and our US-based customers,” he explains of his antipodean relocation.
New Kids on the Block
Of course, the coronavirus crisis radically changed the world as we know it, and in live entertainment, many companies folded, skilled people left the business entirely, while others used the moment as an opportunity to launch new enterprises to shake up and disrupt the marketplace.
In the freight game, one of the significant players to emerge from the pandemic is Freight Minds – a collection of vastly experienced individuals who initially set up a logistics company called SFW Logistics before morphing into the latest incarnation.
Based at London’s Heathrow Airport, Freight Minds got off the ground in August 2021 when industry veterans Alan Durrant, Geoff Knight, Matt Wright and Chris Jenkins began offering services including air passenger and cargo charter; warehousing and logistics; couriers; ATA Carnets; and Brexit-related customs clearance services both into and out of the UK via road.
“These companies are rapidly trying to recruit staff to plug the gap, but the pandemic hasn’t helped”
Addressing the current situation in freight, Wright tells IQ, “[Pre-Covid] we could reasonably rely on published ocean line schedules with the occasional hiccup. Now it seems to be the opposite: permanent hiccups with the occasional vessel running on time.
“There’s been a massive staff reduction in the supply chain since March 2020, and the way these companies communicate has now changed. The vast majority is now expected to be done via email, which isn’t always the easiest way to discuss matters. These companies are rapidly trying to recruit staff to plug the gap, but the pandemic hasn’t helped and Brexit has compounded that further.”
He adds, “Only operating as a new business, the work has hit us like a tidal wave, which has been amazing for Freight Minds, but it’s come with its challenges as we only have so many hours in the day to service our customers.”
One inescapable horror that is affecting companies across the transport and freight sector is Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has prompted fuel prices to soar and contributed to rising inflation. But there are other costs to contend with as well.
Noting the ever-increasing price of diesel and other fuels, KB Event’s McPherson tells IQ, “Tours and shows are booking so late at the moment that we are quoting pretty much at fuel rates as they sit. However, our drivers’ wages have increased by 46% since August 2021, and for anything we are quoting on that’s more than a few weeks away, we are having to put in contractual clauses to say that we will review the fuel costs prior to start up.”
While those staff wage rises are inevitably passed on to clients, McPherson is at pains to highlight that ongoing fuel cost reviews should lead to lower quotes at some point. “We are being very clear with clients on what fuel rate we are quoting at, and we’re being absolutely transparent that if fuel costs reduce when we are live, we will reduce our charges,” promises McPherson. “It is unreasonable to expect clients to cover fuel increases but not to offer a reduction when costs reduce.”
“Logistics costs, whether via air, road, rail or sea, have been soaring for months and are showing little sign of slowing down”
Elsewhere, Ryan notes that freight forwarding costs have also taken an unprecedented leap, meaning that fees for moving equipment from city to city, country to country and continent to continent have soared, post-pandemic. “Logistics costs, whether via air, road, rail or sea, have been soaring for months and are showing little sign of slowing down in the immediate
future,” states Ryan.
“Factors driving these price increases are ongoing global supply chain disruption, port congestion, reduced capacity in tandem with increased demand, staff shortages, high fuel prices and now rising inflation levels in many locations. Plus, the ever-present impact of Covid-19.”
While Ryan is reluctant to specify general ballpark figures, “as it varies dramatically on different routes,” she tells IQ that costs have at least doubled and significantly more in many cases. “I can tell you as an example that from the Far East to the UK, the sea freight rates around the time of the Tokyo Olympics had increased to more than five-times pre-pandemic levels,” she adds.
In tandem with many businesses forced to curtail normal operations during the pandemic, Rock-it Global’s senior management team used the downtime as wisely as possible in an effort to ensure the company was ready to hit the road running when the green light was finally given.
“We had the foresight to hire a good number of people at the back end of 2021 as we could foresee what was going to happen with the explosion of work,” says Palmer. “For me, it is incredibly important to protect the team we have, so we always want to have enough people to cope with the demand. I have an incredible team, from operations to business development to warehouse and transport – and they all manage their own parts of the business – and my job is to make sure that they all have the tools they need to make it all work.”
As the transport business involves a continuous programme of hefty investment, its protagonists, although unprepared for Covid, were nevertheless quick to adapt to the conditions imposed by governments around the world. Guterres notes that his company rolled out an extensive expansion project prior to the pandemic that is only now beginning to pay off.
“Shame on Great Britain as most of our trucks are now EU registered”
“Apart from our UK operations centre, we have Transam Trucking International Ltd based in Cork, Ireland; and Transam Trucking B.V. based near Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands,” he says, adding, “Shame on Great Britain as most of our trucks are now EU registered.”
KB’s McPherson reveals, “We have spent in excess of £3m [€3.5m] on additional trucks and trailers in the last three months to expand our fleet, but this resource has just been swallowed up, and we find ourselves, on a daily basis, having to turn tours and shows away, at the moment.
“KB are also actively employing management and administration staff and staff to bolster our front-line teams, and we are expanding our director team. We are on a very aggressive employment drive to broaden and train our driving team. But finding the quality of people we are looking for is proving a real challenge.”
Improving Working Conditions
The ability to recruit – and retain – staff has become a multifaceted task. The pandemic saw thousands of employees who were furloughed or made redundant find employment elsewhere, and rather than that work being viewed as a temporary solution, many people are opting to remain in new occupations that often involve more sociable hours and better working conditions.
That situation has upped the ante for HR and recruitment experts, while one key issue that Rock-it’s Palmer is keen to tackle is in improving welfare conditions for personnel. “Mental health is a very important subject for me as I have struggled a lot in the past, and I never felt I got the support I needed, so that is one thing I was very keen to change,” Palmer tells IQ.
“With this incredible tsunami of work comes challenges of keeping everyone in a good place mentally. A large part of that is making sure that we have enough people at the pumps so that we can all take a break when we need to,” he explains. “We continue to hire new starters and train them – and, importantly, we have retained all of the key staff that we supported through the pandemic so that we are now ready to deal with these challenges with a smile on our faces and a spring in our step.”
“The market itself just has to learn to circumnavigate the current challenges”
But it’s not all gloomy news on the recruitment front. EFM’s Ryan states, “From our perspective, we have been fortunate to have re-employed the key staff that we lost over the past few years, along with employing a number of excellent calibre new staff around the world. We took the time to invest in systems and training, which is now paying dividends, and we are currently opening three new overseas offices in Europe and the Middle East in response to demand from clients.”
Freight Minds is also expanding. “The next two years represent a huge opportunity for Freight Minds to show its wealth of in-house experience, which at the moment is up to around 150 years as we’ve just had Andy Lovell join us,” says Wright.
He adds, “The market itself just has to learn to circumnavigate the current challenges and continually learn to adapt to the new post-pandemic world and the challenges that Brexit has thrown our collective way. What was normal in 2019 is no longer normal.”
Pre-pandemic there was an accelerating drive by artists and others to improve sustainability across touring and live music, while diversity and equality were no longer being seen as buzz words but more essential elements of a 21st-century industry.
In the rush to get back on the road some of those concerns may not be as prevalent, but as the recovery transforms – hopefully – into a business-as-usual situation, they will undoubtedly start creeping back up the order in terms of priorities, meaning the transport sector needs to keep working on potential solutions to present to clients.
Looking ahead, Palmer predicts that once the crazy circumstances of the coming year subside, the core values that were coming to the fore pre-pandemic will once again become significant, industry-wide.
“I am certainly still being asked regularly by clients both old and new about our carbon offset programme that we have”
“A lot of our blue-chip-type clients are now asking us about our [environmental, social, and governance] policies as part of the vetting process before we even get to the quoting stage,” reveals Palmer. “I am certainly still being asked regularly by clients both old and new about our carbon offset programme that we have in place, so it’s clearly still a concern within the industry.
“I believe that after this initial rush of madness, we will get back to the points that matter for long-term sustainability in our business – looking after our planet and looking after our people.”
At Freight Minds, Wright notes that sustainability remains on the agenda, “But with the ever constant changing world of logistics due to carriers cancelling flights or ocean lines adjusting schedules, there is an element of constantly putting out fires just to try and get the equipment to the next show on time. With that being said, it’s still a very important subject and one that we can’t ignore,” says Wright.
For his part, McPherson is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of his company’s activities. “As KB was the first trucking company in the UK to get accreditation to BS8555 (Environmental Standard) back in 2007, it has been very high on our agenda for a long time,” he says.
“KB started pushing the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as fuel, and looking at more sustainable routings”
“In 2019, KB took the fight to the market and started pushing the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as fuel, and looking at more sustainable routings. One of our big corporate clients [was] the first to really buy into this with a 50+ artic show for Google in Barcelona. Sadly, very shortly after this event, the pandemic hit and the industry ground to a halt.
“During the pandemic, we continued to work on and develop our sustainability strategy and engage with the industry leaders to inform and advise. This included giving formal presentations to the TPG on sustainability in trucking. This has certainly been carried into live with some of our clients, with acts like Bring Me The Horizon and Enter Shikari buying into full HVO (non-palm-oil source) fuelled touring. The quest continues…”
Targeting Vertical Markets
Despite the current boom times, the experience of the pandemic has taught those working in live music’s transport and freight sector that the ability to be nimble and identify other business opportunities is a crucial skill to ensure corporate survival.
Indeed, Palmer reveals his company is looking at other areas to fulfil the company’s ambitions for future growth. “At Rock-it we are very realistic,” he says. “We have traditionally had maybe [about] 75% of the live music touring market, and we know that there are some truly excellent other freight companies out there. So we are looking for growth in other sectors where we can use our learned skills in other verticals such as TV and film, sports broadcast, e-sports, theatre and art, amongst other things.
“During the pandemic we pivoted in various directions – as did many of our compadres in transport and freight – and we have seen that there is a huge market for skilled freight forwarders in the ‘time-sensitive’ market in the aforementioned verticals. We are growing all the time, but we are also focused on the next ten, 15, 20 years, and we are not looking to capitalise on what is happening right now to make a quick buck – we are planning for the future so that we have a strong and skilled team and a varied client base.”
A Rosy Future
Having endured two catastrophic years, transport and freight operators are understandably happy to finally be back problem-solving the live music industry’s logistics nightmare.
“We have been inundated with truck and Carnet requests with the European Festival season in full swing, and we are handling one of the logistically biggest music tours this year, for Rammstein,” reports Ryan.
She muses, “The business had doubled year on year in 2019, and after the obvious downturn across the entire industry, we are now ahead of where we left off pre-Covid, thanks in part to the other areas in which we operate that came back to life considerably earlier than music and theatre touring – TV and film, exhibitions, hotels, aerospace and automotive, for instance.
McPherson warns that while 2022 might feel like a gold rush, expansion in the sector will involve some patient planning
“Now we are laser-focused on maintaining our high service levels for the customers, continuing our innovative ways of operating and investing in our people and their well-being.”
Wright comments, “The next two or three years will certainly be a challenge for all of us at Freight Minds but given our collective experience from years of doing what we do, we will be able to guide our existing and prospective clients through the new world that we all cohabitate.”
Rock-it’s Palmer is in a similarly optimistic state of mind. “In terms of our operations, we’re in a good place to be able to cope with the rush, and we are working in tandem with all sectors of our industry from booking agents to promoters to make sure that shows can go ahead despite the financial and operational challenges that we’re facing.”
However, McPherson warns that while 2022 might feel like a gold rush, expansion in the sector will involve some patient planning, and he believes that there could be another wave of mergers and acquisitions as the sector evolves in the post-pandemic period. “There is certainly the opportunity for strong organic growth at the moment, but we believe that the current demand is not representative of the medium- to long-term picture,” he tells IQ.
He concludes, “KB plans to continue to grow organically at a sustainable pace over the coming 24 months, but in reality, this is somewhat hampered by the availability of new equipment: truck and trailer lead times won’t see new kit that is ordered now on the road much before summer to autumn of 2023. To that end, we are seriously considering what options are available for acquisitional growth or strategic partnership.”
Visa-free touring in Greece secured for UK artists
UK artists and their crews will no longer need visas to tour in Greece, it has been confirmed.
The announcement, which comes into effect on Monday (13 June), was made yesterday by the Greek deputy minister of foreign affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis.
It follows extensive efforts from the Greek government and figures from across the UK and Greek music industry, including LIVE members James Wright of UTA, Craig Stanley of Marshall Arts and Paul Fenn of The Entertainment Agents’ Association.
With artists travelling to Greece previously having to apply for and receive a Schengen visa, the move represents a considerable boost for the UK’s live music sector post-Brexit.
“This is a huge victory for both artists and fans”
“This is a huge victory for both artists and fans, representing a further step towards the frictionless touring ecosystem needed by the live music sector,” says LIVE CEO Jon Collins. “The prohibitive costs and bureaucracy posed by visa regimes threaten the export and growth of budding talent from across the UK, and while issues such as cabotage and carnets remain, we will continue to work on behalf of the sector to resolve these alongside our international counterparts.”
Fenn adds: “We’re pleased to see that the diligent work of the LIVE Touring Group team coupled with the promoters in Greece quickly identified the problem that arose and managed to effectively target the lobbying in Athens to achieve a quick resolution.”
LIVE warns that despite the welcome move, which is subject to review at the end of the year, touring artists still face restrictions on touring: a three-stop limit to UK touring vehicles before they have to return to home, and an expensive goods passport (a “carnet”), including a bond for instruments and equipment.
Last year, LIVE and the Association for British Orchestras (ABO), alongside their Spanish counterparts Asociación Promotores Musicales and key industry players such as Live Nation Spain, also successfully worked to waive visas for UK artists touring in Spain.
LIVE CEO Jon Collins sets out key priorities
Collins was appointed following a 25-year career running representative organisations in the hospitality industry. His most recent role was as chairman of the Institute of Licensing and the National Licensing Forum. He has also held roles including lead author for the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) Night Time Commission for London and as a senior adviser to UK Hospitality, where Collins focused specifically on late night and music licensing issues.
According to Collins, there is “no shortage” of issues facing the sector but in this first instalment of a two-part interview, he focuses on four of the most pressing matters.
VAT reduction, government engagement, post-Brexit touring and the cost of living crisis are top of the CEO’s agenda and, here, he sets out his plan of action to tackle each item.
“I think a cultural VAT rate of 5% on ticket sales would send a great signal about the government’s attitude to culture and live music within the UK, recognising its role as a driver of tourism, both domestic and international. It would actually boost the government’s Levelling Up agenda too because live music sits right across the country.
“Plus, it would be an economic generator that would make more venues viable and gigs more affordable. It’s going to put more money back in to allow us to keep more money in the industry, which allows us to pay artists better, pay students better, pay bar staff better. And we know that thriving live music venues act as a hub for culture-led regeneration in an area, all sorts of neighbourhoods up and down the country where they’re either defined by an existing music venue or they can be transformed when a venue moves in.
“There are cultural rates in a couple of dozen other countries, which are probably somewhere between 5 and 10%, so we think there’s established precedent elsewhere to say this is a good idea. We need to do another piece of economic research to show that if they cut VAT, the cost will be offset via reduced tax revenue. If you keep venues open and they put on more gigs, you’re getting 5% of a bigger cake than you would have had from the current 20% VAT rate.
“Then there are the other multiplier factors that would benefit the economy but we don’t have those numbers to hand yet, so we need to build that case. If we can get if we can win the arguments with the Treasury, then we might be close to getting the political decision-makers to press the button on it. I would love to think we’re close on this one but my guess would be that it’s a two-year campaign.”
“I think a cultural VAT rate of 5% would send a great signal about the government’s attitude to culture and live music”
Cost of living crisis
“It’s not in any industry’s gift to put more money into the consumer’s pocket, so the first thing we can do add pressure on the government to say they need to take steps to support households so that they do have disposable income and can visit their local gig venues. That money will then go back into the local economy and is a good investment to make. And then you can look at what the government could do to give operators and promoters and festival organisers more leeway to make cheaper tickets available. That brings you back to VAT and also business rates, which is such an outmoded, old fashioned system that just doesn’t work anymore and certainly doesn’t address the balance between the clicks and bricks economies.
“In New York, if a theatre doesn’t have an event on, they don’t pay rates on the auditorium. They only pay rates on the office space that is actually being used or maybe the kiosk on the curbside here. We don’t have that flexibility. So we think now would be a really a sensible idea – if there’s nothing going on in the theatre or a good venue or an arena then give them a break. Otherwise, you end up just constantly trying to make the space being used, which can mean you don’t have the time to actually do any refurbishments in the venue.”
“I want to have half a dozen figures that I can use to say, ‘This is why it’s in your interest to support live music'”
“With LIVE’s multi-year funding and its expanding member base, we’ve definitely sent a message to government that it should take this sector seriously. The thing with policymakers is they change every five minutes. I think the average lifespan of a minister in a role is about 18 months. So you send the message, but you have to keep sending it and refining it and amplifying it.
“Greg [Parmley, former LIVE CEO] worked with Chris [Carey, LIVE chief economist] to produce a robust report very quickly that said this industry has a £4.5 billion GVA and employs 210,000 people. They are take-me-seriously numbers at a time when most people felt our industry wasn’t being taken seriously. If we’re very honest, we probably still feel we’re not taken seriously enough and so that’s another challenge for me is to make sure that government is unable to underestimate us. We will be taking every opportunity we can to put those numbers forward, talk about the industry, how many people we employ, the regeneration that happens, the tourism etc. So we’re talking with multiple partners at the moment to try and pull all of these facts and figures together. I want to have about half a dozen figures that I can use to say, ‘This is why you have to support this sector – this is why it’s in your interest to support live music’.”
“A cultural exemption would just remove all of these [post-Brexit touring] issues”
“The LIVE touring group, brilliantly chaired by Craig Stanley, has done a tremendous job of trying to negotiate through government and then the EU for those post-Brexit touring challenges. But there is more to do because there’s not a stable framework.
“We’ve got the dual registration, which works for the larger specialist hauliers for this summer. We think we’re going to get a statutory instrument, probably when parliament comes back after the summer, around September, that will formalise that. Then there has also been progress on splitter vans, ferries and the Eurotunnel.
“But we know none of this solves the issue for a swathe of hauliers in the squeezed middle as we’re viewing them now. There is no obvious solution [for the squeezed middle]. There may be ways that they could find to step into that dual licensing regime, but that’s not cheap and not straightforward. The dual registration also doesn’t help own-account operators, which is the vast majority of British orchestras because of the particular needs of the classical music sector. So we continue to put the pressure on there.
“One of the things that LIVE was able to achieve just before I joined was to get a seat on the domestic advisory group of the trade and cooperation agreement between the UK and the EU. It’s basically the group that advises the UK government as it looks to shape its relationship with the EU going forward. We want to talk about the bigger ask of cultural exemption for artists and the technic technical teams and kit. I think it’d be almost impossible to get that before 2024 which is when the trade and cooperation agreement is next to be negotiated. So, we’ve probably got a couple of years of trying to make wins in a piece-by-piece way, while having that overarching target of the cultural exemption because that would just remove all of these issues.”
Hans Zimmer Live: Claiming victory over adversity
When Hans Zimmer Live made its debut in Hamburg on 11 March, the wave of emotion across an audience who had been starved of live entertainment for the best part of two years was palpable. And those scenes were reflected by everyone involved in the spectacular production.
“The tour was originally scheduled for Spring 2020, so when we had our first show in Hamburg, somebody from our social media team found out that we had announced that show 858 days ago,” reports Christoph Scholz from Semmel Concerts, which is co-producing the tour with RCI Global.
“There were definitely people in that audience who had sat on their tickets for more than two years, so the sense of relief and enjoyment was immense.”With an office in Hamburg, Semmel Concerts promoted that opening night. “It was very emotional,” says Scholz. “There was enormous tension on stage and backstage. But the audience, the crew, and the artists were simply very happy to be together again, and the atmosphere was special.”
A world apart
At press time, Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine was still raging, and thoughts of that senseless conflict are never far from the Hans Zimmer Live touring party, some of whom were forced to flee their country following the Russian invasion.
“Our originally scheduled orchestra is the Odessa Opera Orchestra from Ukraine,” reveals Scholz. “Within the first 72 hours of the conflict, ten musicians and their families were able to make it out to safety. But that was only about half of the orchestra and the others were unable to leave Ukraine. As a result, we’ve renamed it Odessa Opera Orchestra & Friends because we cast musicians from elsewhere in Europe.
“We were following the IQ newsletter every day, monitoring everywhere that was closing the doors”
“On the opening night, Hans introduced the band first after his first song, and there were standing ovations. It was a very touching moment. But we’ve had lots of standing ovations, since. The support has been just phenomenal.”
Getting the tour out of the starting blocks has been a monumental task, especially with so many false starts to contend with. “At Semmel, we were already hosting arena shows for domestic acts in Germany last year – between the end of August to mid-November we had 430,000 people attend our shows,” reports Scholz.
“So, when we met Hans Zimmer for a production meeting in early September last year, we were confident we were all set to kick-start the tour and go full steam ahead.” But in November, everything ground to a halt. “Suddenly, Germany restricted events again; the Netherlands never really reopened; Belgium shut down… we were following the IQ newsletter every day, monitoring everywhere that was closing the doors,” says Scholz.
Point of no return
With Zimmer being one of Hollywood’s most in-demand creators, his diary is continually jam-full. But along with Semmel and RCI Global, he was determined to make the tour happen as early in 2022 as possible. “We gambled a little bit,” admits Scholz. “In early January, when all of Europe was really closed, we had a large production meeting with Hans, and everybody agreed that we should just pencil in the dates and go for it.”
“We lost a lot of freelancers [during the pandemic] because they had to move on and find other jobs”
Initially, the tour was set for a mid-February debut, but with many governments still reluctant to allow venues to reopen, those dates were delayed and simply moved to the latter part of the routing. Still, being one of the first tours out on the road means the supply chain issues that event organisers around the world are having sleepless nights about, were not such a problem for those involved in Hans Zimmer Live. But it doesn’t mean they were non-existent.
Sebastian “Deichkind” Bülowius of back-line suppliers Captured Live is providing all the backline gear, as well as four backline techs on the road. He tells IQ, “We lost a lot of freelancers [during the pandemic] because they had to move on and find other jobs. I would say about 10-15% have decided to stay in the [new] job rather than returning. That means we’re expecting 85-90% of people to return as freelancers, which is positive, but a 10-15% loss of staff is still significant.”
Highlighting the spiralling cost of even the simplest materials, Bülowius says, “We had to get a couple of cases built for equipment. But ordering wood is getting more and more expensive, so that makes it really challenging.” Prices are also high on the agenda for Oliver Rosenwald, who as senior project manager at Semmel booked the entire European tour for Hans Zimmer Live and is currently in charge of operations on the road.
“We’re facing big problems to get our crews together, and it seems many riggers have just gone missing,” Rosenwald reports. “With Genesis and some other productions out on the road at the same time as us – even though there are not many tours out there at the moment – trucks and buses are already getting rare, so it could be very tough when more productions hit the road.”
“We’re facing big problems to get our crews together, and it seems many riggers have just gone missing”
On that transport side, Leo Steffen of Germany-based Trucking Service says they are overjoyed at getting back to touring. “The drivers are extremely happy, even if there is still a bit of uncertainty about the next few months as far as Covid restrictions are concerned,” he says.
“But they are glad to be travelling, not only with their Trucking Service colleagues and familiar crews again, but also to be out around the continent meeting new faces and facing new challenges that have developed over the long touring break.”
Those sentiments are shared by Hannes Hauser of personnel transport providers Beat The Street. “Everybody that came back to take over their buses again has been very excited, as they were sick of just sitting at home or of the alternative jobs some of them did. I only hear very good feedback from the drivers to finally be on the road again, doing what they like the most.”
However, if ever a reminder of the pandemic is needed, even as the first shows were entertaining sold-out arenas in Hamburg, Stuttgart, Dublin and London, in Italy restrictions were still limiting audiences to 60% capacity, while many other territories remain on a knife-edge and could be subject to restrictions being reimposed at any time, should Covid infection rates spike.
The spectre of Brexit also looms large. Border control issues have generated more paperwork, but one disappointing aspect experienced by the touring party was the number of Ukrainian musicians prevented from travelling to the UK.
“It was a very big challenge to get the Odessa orchestra and their families over the border to safety”
“It was a very big challenge to get the Odessa orchestra and their families over the border to safety, and we’ve rented houses and apartments for the families of our Ukraine musicians,” says Rosenwald. “Everywhere in Europe has been great, as they did not require any visas or work permits for our Ukrainian citizens. But that wasn’t the case with the UK, and we had to leave six or seven of our musicians at a hotel in Germany because they could not get their visas in time.”
Another supplier working hand in hand with the producers has been Satis & Fy – a longstanding partner for Semmel, according to project manager Lui Helmig. He explains that for the current tour, “All technical trades are controlled 360° from our house: lighting, sound, rigging and stage and scenic construction come directly from us for the Hans Zimmer tour, and for video technology we work with Video Bär.”
Helmig adds, “We put the crew together with the production management of Semmel Entertainment… when 15 [trucks] left our location in Werne for the start of the tour, it was a very emotional moment for all of us after two years of pandemic, because it’s finally really starting again.”
As good as it gets
With the tour effectively mothballed for two years, one of the producers’ biggest achievements was keeping the original production team and suppliers on board.
“With Hans, people are very loyal so we managed to keep everyone – suppliers, venues, promoters – who were originally working on the 2020 tour,” says Scholz. “Certainly there were changes within the crews, but every company stayed on board, even though we’ve all been extremely nervous. To be honest, we couldn’t fully guarantee that the tour would happen, but we’ve been welcomed with open arms because we’re the first large-scale arena show that many of venues have had for a long time.”
As the first post-Covid production to visit a number of arenas, the task of devising the tour’s hygiene concept fell to Rosenwald, who quickly realised that placing the tour party into a ‘bubble’ was not the solution. “The bubble is an illusion,” he states. “You cannot prevent people going for breakfasts in hotels, or going to bars and restaurants, so all you can do is take as many precautions as possible.”
“To be honest, we couldn’t fully guarantee that the tour would happen, but we’ve been welcomed with open arms”
Thankfully, Rosenwald was able to prove his hygiene concept with Semmel during a ten-city tour of France in autumn last year. “Basically, you cannot be part of the tour unless you are three-times vaccinated,” he explains. “FFP2 masks are worn by everyone in the tour party, and we’re also testing everyone regularly for the virus.
“Meanwhile, we’ve asked local promoters to test their own staff and wear masks when they deal with the touring party, and we have a hygiene manager on the road with us who makes sure that local crew are also tested.”
Despite the odd case, here and there, the plan has worked well. “It’s nerve-wracking,” says Scholz. “It was a lot of work for Oliver, but everybody was very flexible. It’s clear to everybody – each venue owner, each artist, each crew member, each supplier – that we work in uncertain times and that we all need to live with the unknown now. Covid can strike at any time – in the first week of production rehearsals in Berlin, for instance, we had three or four cases including two of our crew chiefs who were locked for almost ten days in their hotel rooms. But, just as Her Majesty the Queen did recently, they were able to do ‘light work’ while we conducted rehearsals and all that.
“It’s good that things are calming down because a couple of months ago one Covid case would lead to mass panic in production output – Broadway and West End shows would shut down, or film shoots would be postponed. But that seems to be changing.”
“We did The World of Hans Zimmer tour with five or six trucks… this tour has a total of 13 trucks”
While the current tour has had numerous challenges to overcome, what many in the business may not realise is that the scale of the production is enormous compared to previous Hans Zimmer outings.
“We did The World of Hans Zimmer tour, which was a smaller production with five or six trucks compared to this tour, which has a total of 13 trucks,” reveals Trucking Service’s Steffen. “Logistically, Hans Zimmer Live is more of a challenge in almost every way. Not only is there more equipment and personnel on the road, but the tour in general is a lot longer and covers more countries. This was also the first time we’ve been in the UK, post-Brexit, with a production this size, which made careful planning and customs preparation even more important than usual.”
One newbie to the world of Hans Zimmer is lighting designer John Featherstone, who nevertheless has been a friend of the composer since before the pandemic. “We have a lot of friends in common, but I first met Hans when he was doing a bespoke private show,” he explains. “He is always looking for new and exciting ways to deliver his music and vision to the audience, so it was inspiring to work with him on the concept for this tour.”
While other film-score-based shows simply match images from the movies to the music, that was not going to work with Hans Zimmer Live, which with a stage full of virtuoso musicians was always going to be more of a live concert than a scripted set.
“This was also the first time we’ve been in the UK, post-Brexit, with a production this size”
“The way Hans composes and the way in which the musicians interpret their roles means it was never going to be as iterative as other shows,” continues Featherstone. “You have to lean into the movies, for sure, but it was interesting to hear the way Hans approaches projects in collaboration with the film’s director, and then devise the lighting design in a similar way.”
The result is amazing. With about 20 virtuoso musicians on stage, there are astounding solo performances constantly throughout the show, while the impressive video screens above the stage and projections behind the 20-something-piece orchestra complement Zimmer’s compositions, which touch on blockbusters such as Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dune, The Last Samurai, The Lion King, The Dark Knight and others.
“Dark Knight is bombastic and tortured, whereas Last Samurai is far softer and melancholic, and Lion King is obviously completely different. But the lighting and images allow the musicians to do their own thing without having to stick to a script or in time with certain scenes on a video,” adds Featherstone, who also had to design a system that could be tailored to work everywhere from the low, 12-metre height confines of Stuttgart, through to the soaring expanses of The O2 Arena.
A league of their own
The show itself is extraordinary. Like a latter-day Prince, Zimmer surrounds himself with the crème de la crème of musicians and artists, while the tour is Zimmer’s first to involve dancers and even an aerial artist to wow the audience.
Zimmer and his business partner, Steven Kofsky were originally persuaded to take his music to the fans by legendary impresario Harvey Goldsmith, who promoted their first shows in October 2014 at Hammersmith Apollo in the UK. Now, while Semmel and RCI have taken over as producers, Goldsmith remains involved co-promoting the shows with Kilimanjaro Live at The O2 Arena and the AO Arena Manchester.
“Unfortunately, because of Covid, we had to postpone not once but twice”
“Unfortunately, because of Covid, we had to postpone not once but twice, so the fact that most people still had their tickets was a minor miracle,” states Goldsmith. “But they are a unique audience: very wide ranging but people who love the movies. The audience in London just went nuts.
“It is a big show, but then all of his shows are big, as he likes the spectacle of it,” he adds. “When you look at the quality of the musicians, that’s what makes it very unique – every one of them playing on that show is a star.”
Co-promoter Stuart Galbraith from Kilimanjaro Live says, “The Hans Zimmer Live shows in the UK were some of the strongest we have seen come through the pandemic. The fans were absolutely dedicated – 95% of them hung on to their tickets through the postponements and the tour, unlike many others, continued to sell strongly. But is it any wonder when Hans continues seems to release an award-winning soundtrack every month?!”
In Ireland, MCD’s Noel McHale who promoted the show at Dublin’s 3Arena, agrees. “It’s great to see crowds coming through the doors, all excited and buzzing to be going out to gigs again,” he says. “The Hans Zimmer Live show sold out two years ago and 99% held on to their tickets – people were really looking forward to this one.” And the fans were not disappointeded. “The show is genuinely spectacular – there were standing ovations: it was a sonic and visual feast,” says McHale.
But he isn’t surprised. “I go back a long way with Oliver and Christoph from Semmel Concerts, and I’ve promoted Hans Zimmer with them many times. They know how to put a great production team together and always find ways to improve on previous productions. Hans always finds the best musicians for his shows – stunning virtuoso players, every one of them.”
“The show is genuinely spectacular – there were standing ovations: it was a sonic and visual feast”
Another contributor keen to applaud the producers is Bülowius at Captured Live. “They’ve done a really good job: everything they did in advance to make sure that all these shows were going to happen the way they are – that was a lot of work. We’re showing everybody that it is possible, again, to just do it: to tour all over Europe,” he says.
That’s music to the ears of Rosenwald. “Hans Zimmer Live is a much bigger show and it’s been more challenging for everyone,” he notes. “People have fallen out of their routines because they haven’t done the stuff they were doing in the last few years, at least not in the in the way they’d done it before.” However, he notes that morale is high. “The entire feedback that I’ve had from the production side has been really good,” he tells IQ.
And that’s one of the reasons people are so happy to buy into Rosenwald’s hygiene concept. “As local promoters, we have a duty of care to Hans, his band, orchestra and crew to look after them when they come visit and keep them safe and healthy so they can continue to tour,” says McHale. “With over 250 people in the backstage area, everyone bought into our safety plans – everyone from the local crew to riggers to caterers and all production and venue staff wore masks all day, kept a safe distance, and continually used the sanitisers.”
A Monster in Paris
At IQ’s press time, the tour had loaded out of its three triumphant back-to-back shows at the Accor Arena in Paris and was on its way back to Germany for a date in Munich. Rosenwald comments, “I’m very proud that we managed to sell-out two nights at The O2 Arena in London, at the Hallenstadion Zürich, and at the Ziggo Dome in the Netherlands, but I’m even happier that we’ve sold out three nights at the Accor Hotels Arena in Paris!”
Friendly Fire promoter Rense van Kessel sold out the Ziggo Dome dates. He tells IQ, “We got so used to rescheduling things in the past two years that we all have become kind of experts on it. But we have been working so closely with the venue, ticketing company, our own staff, etc, on so many [events], that we worked out a very good functioning script [to communicate with ticket holders] which makes it all very smooth.”
“We got so used to rescheduling things in the past two years that we all have become kind of experts on it”
Unfortunately, a positive Covid test ruled van Kessel out from seeing the show himself. However, he reports that everyone involved with the Amsterdam dates was buzzing with excitement. “It is a great show of power from the Zimmer and Semmel teams that they managed to pull off a tour of this magnitude, production, number of people on the road, etc, in such challenging times,” he says. “Many would have pulled the plug, but they did everything they could to stay positive and do everything to get it on the road. And they succeeded. That is very impressive.”
By the end of the tour, the production will have played 30 dates to more than 300,000 fans across 15 nations, giving Hans Zimmer the undoubted title of biggest international tour since the pandemic closed venues more than two years ago.
Plans for the next part of Zimmer’s live career are still unconfirmed, but Los Angeles-based CAA agent Chris Dalston has been tasked with securing future dates. “The idea is to get the US tour, East Coast, on sale after the European tour finishes in June,” Dalston tells IQ, explaining that major cities like Miami, Tampa, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington DC, Montreal, Toronto, Atlantic City, Boston and New York are in the reckoning.
He reveals that further legs of the tour are being considered for Australia and Asia “at the end of ‘22 or early ‘23,” while a West Coast jaunt for North America could also be scheduled around that. Beyond then, promoters, producers and fans alike are already waiting in anticipation of what one of the greatest composers of our time will do next. “Hans has changed the entire genre of film music,” says Scholz. “It’s not the typical orchestra sitting in front of a screen and playing music to a film and the classic conductor. It’s a rock band, presenting the biggest film scores on Earth in a rock-pop show.”
The last word, however, goes to the maestro himself. “I try to write music in the studio that can live without the film, because I owe it to the director,” says Zimmer. Talking of the current tour, he states, “I don’t show a single frame of film because I am arrogant enough to believe that the music can stand on its own two feet.”
And noting that he shares the stage with musicians who are political refugees from South Africa and Venezuela, as well as the Ukrainian orchestral members, Zimmer concludes, “This orchestra is precious. It’s important that we get to go across the world with these people because it will remind you of all the times that art and artists are there to bring peace to this world.”
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.”
Backstreet opens German hub to beat Brexit ‘chaos’
Music merchandise specialist Backstreet International has opened a new European hub in Germany in a bid to alleviate the significant trade issues created by Brexit.
The London-headquartered company, founded in 1989 by industry veteran Andy Allen, offers a full range of services including tour merchandising production, design, e-commerce, warehousing, fulfilment, social media marketing and print on demand for clients including Idris Elba, Black Honey, Underworld, Placebo, Franz Ferdinand, The Damned, Jessie Ware, Joe Strummer Foundation, War Child, Andrea Bocelli, The Kinks, Public Service Broadcasting, Siouxsie & The Banshees and DJ Shadow.
Its new German operation, which is based in Berlin, will provide artists touring in Europe with local production giving a faster turnaround, no VAT restrictions, no customs challenges, lower shipping rates, faster delivery times, lower carbon emissions and chart registration in multiple EU countries.
“The trade issues surrounding Brexit have caused chaos to artists touring in mainland Europe and our mission is to help alleviate those problems”
“Our new office in Berlin reflects what we have built in the UK and US over the last three decades and is a continuation of the options we provide our clients from a sustainable range of products wherever they are in the world,” says Allen. “The trade issues surrounding Brexit have caused chaos to artists touring in mainland Europe and our mission is to help alleviate those problems while providing that badge of honour that a fan can wear to demonstrate a strong connection with artists who have real meaning for them.
“The clients we work with now have an experienced team on the ground in Germany who they can deal with directly and it’s an exciting new phase for our company.”
Yesterday, IQ reported that over 100 European summer tours put at risk by the post-Brexit trade deal will be able to go ahead, thanks to extensive lobbying from LIVE and others.
Under cabotage restrictions now in force across the whole of Europe following the UK’s exit from the EU, trucks carrying tour equipment over 3.5 tonnes are limited to just three stops before they have to leave the EU and return to the UK.
However, the British Department for Transport (DfT) has now agreed to bring in a short-term, temporary license that would allow the ‘big five’ haulage companies to operate their vehicles under both GB and EU operating licenses according to where their vehicles are needed for a particular tour.