Euro festival bosses size up the ’22 season
European festival chiefs shared their optimism for the summer season, while warning of the challenges ahead on the opening day of ESNS (European Noorderslag).
For the second consecutive year, the European festival and conference in Groningen, Netherlands, has moved entirely online in response to the government’s latest Covid-19 measures.
A standout panel for day one focused on this year’s festival season, and featured Yourope’s Christof Huber, along with FKP Scorpio CEO Stephan Thanscheidt, Codruta Vulcu of Romania’s ARTmania and Paul Reed from the UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF).
Huber, who is booker and festival director of Switzerland’s OpenAir St Gallen, said the ’22 schedule was starting to look more promising following some difficult weeks.
“I don’t see any point why bigger events in the summer time – let’s say from May to September – shouldn’t take place,” he said. “Despite the fact that it was a quite a difficult situation over Christmas, etc, I think it’s promising. I think everybody’s quite confident that the summer will be there and also, that most of the governments react differently than they did a year before.”
“We’re facing enormous costs”
Huber said that ticket sales were “solid” but had slowed down over the past couple of months, amid the emergence of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
“Right now, it’s important to show the confidence that [the 2022 festival is] happening,” he added.
However, Thanscheidt pointed out the return would not be straightforward, with additional costs due to Covid and other factors, along with the damage the pandemic had caused to the supply chain.
“Not everybody who worked in our industry… is there anymore,” he said. “Also, prices have gone up drastically in all kinds of production parts. And we’re facing a lot of challenges because, as we postponed the festivals two times, the ticket prices were based on everything we calculated in the second half of 2019. Now, we’re facing enormous costs.”
FKP’s festival portfolio includes events such as Southside and Hurricane in Germany, but Thanscheidt said that raising ticket prices was not an option as most of the ticket-holders had been holding their tickets over since 2020.
“It will be a challenging year, but it will also be a creative year”
Reed said he was confident consumer confidence would come back as restrictions are eased (UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced today that England’s plan B measures would be lifted next week).
” I think there will be that appetite for experiences,” he said. “The whole planning cycle has been shifted by this: announcements have been earlier than ever and some festivals have artists rolled over from previous years. It makes it a bit more challenging for them to market a line-up that has already been announced and is out there. And I think competition is going to be fierce.
“To come back to supply chain, that all puts a lot of pressure on inventory and infrastructure, particularly on the smaller organisations that don’t have the bargaining power or the leverage with that. The supply chain was in disarray last year and I don’t think it will self correct for this year.
“There’s no clear solution, really: it’s loss of companies, it’s loss of skills and you throw issues around Brexit into the mix and you’re potentially facing a bit of a perfect storm. But I do think that the audience confidence will be there and we’ll have more activity than ever, but it is going to be challenging.”
Vulcu referenced concerns over market oversaturation, bringing up the situation in Romania last year.
“At this point, there are so many shows, huge shows, on sale for 2022… it will be impossible for the audience to have enough money to go to every show there is and I believe that many people will lose a lot of money,” she said. “Last summer you could only have smaller events in in Romania so you had practically every single Romanian band play every single city and venue. Bands that normally would have sold maybe 1,000 or 2,000 tickets sold only 300 to 400 because there were so many acts. It was a disaster, almost every single ticket paying event in Romania lost money.”
Due to the Covid shutdown of 2020 and ’21, Thanscheidt suggested two-and-a-half years of shows were having to be squeezed into the next eight months.
“It will be a challenging year,” he said. “But it will also be a creative year, and will also be a year where we all go back to work again. And so even if you face all these problems, I am very positive and very happy to finally start booking things again and running festivals and tours again. So I’m generally positive.”
ESNS runs until Saturday (22 January). Tickets are still available here.
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Yourope restructures, relocates to Germany
European festival association Yourope, which represents 108 festivals including Sziget and Primavera Sound, is restructuring and relocating.
Founded in 1988, the association has ties with London, Roskilde and St.Gallen but as of April 2021, the organisation is based in Bonn, Germany.
The move comes as Christof Huber, director of festivals at the Swiss Gadget ABC Entertainment Group who is also responsible for Yourope member festivals OpenAir St.Gallen and SummerDays, moves from general secretary to working chairman.
Huber will chair Yourope’s executive board and continue to ‘actively steer the association’s fortunes from the top’.
“The importance of our organisation became more obvious than ever last year, because especially in times when major events are impossible due to the pandemic, the need of the actors in this cultural field for exchange, international cooperation and speaking with a common voice grew once again,” says Huber.
“And despite these challenging times we succeeded in restructuring our organisation, expanding the network and securing even closer relationships with valued associates.”
“The importance of our organisation became more obvious than ever last year”
“I look forward to continuing to use my strength and experience for this purpose – together with our members and the new Yourope team.”
Assuming Huber’s former role as general secretary is Holger Jan Schmidt, who was previously anchorman and coordinator of Yourope’s sustainability-related working group Go Group (Green Operations Europe) and Take a Stand, the association’s social engagement initiative.
He will also run Yourope’s new office in Bonn, which will become part of the Bonn-based Compentence Network along with Schmidt’s Bonn Promotion Dept (BN*PD) and the IBIT (International Training Centre for Event Safety), which has been a key contributor to the steering committee of the Yes Group (Yourope Event Safety Group) for years.
“We have been a member of Yourope for almost twenty years – first with our festival, Rheinkultur, and for 10 years as an associated member with the Competence Network here in Bonn,” says Schmidt.
“I have identified with this institution from the beginning and travelled all over Europe with and for Yourope. To talk about festivals, to give festivals the opportunity to exchange, and above all to get to know and experience festivals and their philosophy.
“I couldn’t be prouder and happier to be trusted to take on this new role for Yourope and to continue to work on those issues that are close to my heart. And to do so from my hometown, which means a lot to me.”
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One Year On: Industry leaders on the Covid anniversary
Even before ILMC in 2020, a number of countries were beginning to shut down when it came to mass gatherings such as concerts and live entertainment, while for many ILMC 32 attendees, the artist showcases that week in London were the last live performances that they witnessed.
Talk about the coronavirus, back then, swung between the hope that it was just a new form of flu, to fear that we might have to postpone a month or two of upcoming dates. Certainly, nobody was predicting the loss of a full calendar year of events and the redundancies of countless thousands of industry professionals around the world.
Indeed, as the year progressed and restrictions imposed by governments on everyday activities even drilled down to how often you can leave your home, the optimists among us still believed that, maybe, festivals in August and September might happen, allowing indoor venues to reopen in October.
Fast-forward to February 2021, and despite vaccine programmes inoculating millions of people every day, there’s a growing consensus that there might not be any kind of outdoor season in the northern hemisphere until next year, while a few hopeful souls are holding out for indoor shows by November or December, albeit featuring domestic talent rather than international superstars.
“Everybody underestimated the impact of Covid,” admits Christof Huber, general secretary of European festivals organisation, Yourope. “I remember being at the Swiss Music Awards in February last year, on the day when all the big events were banned in Switzerland. But our attitude was that in two weeks we would be back.
“The strange thing is, we could see what was happening elsewhere, but nobody was talking about it. Now though, we’re all working desperately hard and trying everything possible to make things happen. But the general consensus seems to be that Q4 is when we might be able to return.”
The gradual dawning of the reality of Covid-19 has been a harsh lesson for an industry that thrives on optimism and creativity.
“Governments are not using our expertise and instead they are relying on bureaucrats. If we could at least get a seat at the table with them, we could help come up with solutions”
“After the UK government announce on 22 February, we now have a ‘nothing before’ date, which has really helped us,” notes Toby Leighton-Pope, co-CEO of AEG Presents in the UK. “For so long we were operating in the dark not being able to plan for the future. Now we know officially there will be nothing before 22 June and although I’m not 100% confident we will be fully open directly after this, it does give us a decent roadmap to work to.
“I’m not a big fan of socially distanced gigs. Artists rely so much on the vibe for the crowd and seeing so many empty seats from the stage cannot be fun for them. It also doesn’t work financially for the artist, venue or promoter. In a doomsday scenario, if we never get back to full capacities, then I guess we have to deal with it, but for now, I’m not a fan.”
John Reid, Live Nation’s president of concerts in Europe, comments, “The reopening timeline will differ from region to region. The vaccine roll-out is encouraging and will underpin confidence. As that continues to scale we will be able to get back to regular capacities, and we’re still hopeful some events are able to return sometime in the summer.
“We are working with governments, scientists and local authorities to make sure that, as soon as it’s possible to do so, we’ll be there and ready to go. Don’t forget, there are markets in Asia Pacific that are already opening – it was great to see Rhythm & Vines festival taking place in New Zealand over the new year.”
Those regional idiosyncrasies are also highlighted by UTA co-head of music, Sam Kirby Yoh. “The need for industry support varies from country to country,” she says. “Smaller European countries like Norway or Iceland have prominent music scenes, deeply ingrained into their cultures, and their local fundraising efforts have been quite successful. Additionally, if a country’s recovery from Covid-19 is going successfully enough for domestic artists to be able to perform, we anticipate that it will open itself up to artists from nearby countries shortly thereafter.”
Detlef Kornett, Deutsche Entertainment AG’s CMO and head of international business affairs, is more blunt about the year ahead for the live entertainment sector. “I foresee that come March or April, government in the UK, but less so across Europe, will have run out of their reserves and will put on the brake for live music industry grants and support. Whereas continental Europe continues to support the event industry in various degrees, but all the way until the end of 2021 – that type of support is currently not foreseeable in the UK. So I’m afraid that, for us in the UK, the hardest days are yet to come, unless the government-backed insurance plan and flexible furlough schemes fall into place.”
Kornett is brutally honest about the current state of the business. “US artists are shying away and are not committing to anything before, possibly, the end of the year, but most likely 2022,” he says. “The local authorities have already said that no matter what happens they do not want a festival in July. That leaves the big question about what can be done in August, because it won’t work that events are banned until 31 July but then on 1 August you can have 50,000 people in a stadium. It will be gradual, with social distancing and test events, and depending on those results, we may be encouraged to do more. But that gets you to September or October, and it’s hard to see a full O2 [London] on the first of October as well, in the current circumstances.”
“What’s really important now, is to ensure that the industry is ready to ramp up as soon as we get the go-ahead”
Investing time in the future
One consistent observation from many involved in the live music supply chain is that never have they worked so hard but for zero financial gain. Agents and promoters have spent the past year endlessly postponing shows, securing new dates for the tour and making sure everything is in place for the tour to happen, only to have to do the exact same thing weeks and months later. It’s a similar tale for other professions in music.
“There’s a big pastoral role in my job and it’s all about keeping everybody – not just the band members, but everybody in our wider family – motivated and keeping morale up,” says Joyce Smyth, manager of the Rolling Stones. “I’m very fortunate because the Stones have such a terrific work ethic, and right from the outset, Mick’s first question was ‘What can you give me to do? We need some projects!’
“So there has been new music released. The single ‘Living in a Ghost Town ’was rather apt for our times. Goats Head Soup came out as a nice re-release, and it’s quite tricky organising that because the guys are all in different places: they’re not in one same jurisdiction, so it can be a challenge to keep everything cohesive. At the end of the day we had to be innovative and not dwell on what we can’t do and what we feel we’ve lost, but just concentrate on what we can get on with? As Keith would say: we’ve just got to hunker down and get through this.”
It’s a similar story for solo artist Imogen Heap, who tells IQ that uncertainty over Brexit and then the coronavirus forced her to shelve some international tour plans, leaving a blank hole in her usually packed schedule. “But what has come out of that are many new initiatives – lots of projects that would not have come about had I had the usual team of eight people around me, but who have had to go on furlough when there have been no revenues coming in,” says Heap. “It felt like it did ten years ago, without the team and back on my own. But I’ve enjoyed a greater closeness and a reawakening of the relationship with my fans, which is really, really positive and oddly, in a roundabout way, mentally helped to pull me through this period.”
Indeed, with the Stones taking the time to create some new music, Heap reports that she also has been rekindling her love for songwriting. “One of the fans on our weekly call suggested I try meditating,” she explains. “The effect I get from meditation in a ten-minute breathing space, is the same as I’d get when I was improvising with a piano as a child – it creates a calm and a space for everything. The combination of that and speaking with the fans every Thursday brought me out of a really quite awful depression.”
With her fans viewing her improvisation sessions, they noted down their favourite moments and entered them into a spreadsheet for Heap, suggesting which ones they want me her to make music out of. “For seven or eight years I haven’t written a song unless there has been a project associated with it – mainly for financial reasons – but this time there was no reason and it’s just because the fans liked it and I liked it,” she says. “And it feels so good to just be a musician again with no agenda – it feels like I’m 15 again. I’m just writing music because I want to.”
“The fans are loyal to their artists and our festivals – 83% of fans are holding on to their tickets for rescheduled shows, and 63% for festivals, which is incredible”
That element of rediscovery is something that AEG’s Leighton-Pope can draw parallels with. “Personally, I’ve found that everything is not as urgent as we once thought it was,” he says. “That allows us to spend a bit more time to think about things and give more attention to the planning process.
“Taking some time off also has its benefits. Talking to people and realising that not killing yourself with work every day was actually beneficial was a revelation. So, being able to work from home and to spend more time with family and friends helps in all aspects of your life, including work.”
That time off has, perhaps, allowed people to put their work/life balance under the microscope, helping to retain some of the positivity that otherwise might have evaporated after such a lengthy lay-off.
“Of course, everybody is frustrated, but I have not heard any negative vibes in the sense of just giving up,” states Yourope’s Huber. “Everybody is just concentrating on trying to arrange whatever is possible in their own country.”
However, highlighting the fact that no two countries are dealing with the pandemic in the same way, Huber says, “There are a lot of umbrella programmes in the Netherlands and Germany and Austria and Switzerland, for example, but we also hear from people in other countries who have absolutely nothing – zero governmental support – and you can only imagine how frustrating that is. But the people in those situations are the true survivors who try to solve things differently, because maybe they were used to similar situations in previous years. And no matter how difficult it is, even those people are saying that they are going to come back.”
That’s music to the ears of Leighton-Pope, who believes the industry’s work ethic throughout the past year will pay dividends when normality finally returns. “The thing is, if you’re late to the party, then you will miss out – you have to have tours pencilled and venues held and put in all that hard work, even though the dates keep shifting,” he says. “If you’re not ready to go on the day the green light is given, then you’re definitely going to be scrambling to catch up with everyone else who has put in that hard graft.”
Kornett agrees. “For a company that cannot host any events, we’ve all been flat-out busy because you’re chasing the events that you need to postpone or cancel; you’re chasing government grants or subsidies; you’re chasing banks and everyone else for financing; you’re re-projecting the re-project of the re-projected business; and when you’re done with all that, you start from the beginning again…”
“I’m afraid that, for us, the hardest days are yet to come”
For those businesses operating in Europe and the UK, the past few years have been dominated by what the potential fallout from Britain leaving the European Union might be. With that date now passed, what has become apparent is that international touring didn’t even make it on to a list of priorities for policy makers, leaving the industry floundering to find solutions before venues are allowed to reopen.
Issues over work permits and visas have recently received a lot of publicity, thanks to the support of some high-profile artists – notably Elton John – but there are other significant hurdles that the industry at large will have to overcome to allow the successful resumption of international tours.
“With Covid falling as it has, although it has been an absolutely appalling time for everybody, it’s been a really sour blessing, because in an otherwise normal year, the industry would have come apart at the seams,” states Stuart McPherson, managing director of trucking firm KB Event, which has had to find £500,000 (€579,000) to open a new EU-based depot in Dublin.
“I’ve been living this for three years now to try to come up with solutions and options for solutions, because until 23 or 24 December 2020, we were not 100% certain, from our part of the industry, about where we were going. So we had to have different strategies laid out in terms of which button we were going to press in case of whichever scenario we found ourselves in.”
As things stand, McPherson explains that UK trucking companies can no longer legally tour in Europe as a result of Brexit, hence his newly opened European headquarters. “Our choices were threefold: either we do what we’ve done and move into the EU, or we become a domestic-only trucking company and cut our cloth accordingly;, or we shut down and go home. So it was a no brainer – we need our UK company and our EU company.”
Underlining the lack of support the sector has had from government, McPherson adds, “If we had been live and had tours out in January and February, the way we normally have, then we would have been in a world of pain.”
That situation is acknowledged by DEAG’s Kornett, who observes that under current Brexit rules, “Effectively, as a tour, you are better off hiring European trucking companies and equipment, touring Europe, and then going through the border exercise only once when you enter the UK. But what will that mean for all the stage and production companies in the UK? So many businesses will be forced to open European subsidiaries.”
“I’m very fortunate because the Stones have such a terrific work ethic, and right from the outset, Mick’s first question was ‘What can you give me to do?’
For his part, Live Nation’s Reid says, “Partners on all sides are invested in finding the optimal process, and lobbying groups across the UK and Europe are working hard on how to make travel work for touring acts. One up-side of the pause in live is that we have time to plan so that when restrictions are lifted across the markets the industry can still retain its strong position internationally.”
Rather than bemoaning the situation, McPherson is hopeful that his trucking peers will also invest in EU depots. “I know that a couple of our competitors are moving in to Holland, which is great news,” he states. “For the health of the industry, we need as many of the suppliers to be able to service the clients they currently service – if there are not enough suppliers to service everyone, it’s going to be a big problem.”
But the price to remain in the market is steep, as it’s not just the case of having a postal address in the EU. “Legally, we have to replicate the company,” McPherson informs IQ. “To get an operator’s licence for our trucks, you have to have physical parking space for the number of trucks that you want on that licence. So if I want a licence for 50 trucks, I have to have a depot with enough land to park those 50 trucks on it. We also have to have an office to store all the records, and we require a transport manager based in that EU state.”
And the expense does not stop there. All of KB Event’s drivers will now have to pass their Certificate of Professional Competence qualifications in Ireland to allow them to continue to drive in the EU. “Another kicker is that my insurance company cannot insure my trucks in the EU, so I also have to replicate my insurance in Ireland alongside my insurance in the UK: my insurance is £300,000 so I have to replicate that so we can use both fleets. It’s a horrific place to be, but it’s the right thing to do for the health of my business and for the health of my clients.”
Plotting routes to recovery
Presuming there will be enough trucks and suppliers available when markets and borders start to reopen, the plans that industry professionals have been adjusting for the past 12 months follow similar theoretical paths.
“For European touring to resume, major markets, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Spain and Italy, will need to reopen with no quarantines and with venue capacities that make financial sense,” says UTA’s Kirby Yoh. “Australia and New Zealand have to be at a point where fans can travel between countries, with limited or no up-front quarantine costs. This is a similar case with Asia, with particular reference to the importance of Japan.”
Kornett believes we should be focusing more on the strides being made in medical technology to speed up the return of live events. “I don’t think we’re talking about rapid testing enough, as we’re all a bit obsessed with vaccination,” he says. “There are tests out there now that only take three minutes, so logistically, we could ask event attendees either for vaccination proof or give them a quick test to get a reasonable amount of people through the doors within two to three hours. That could save good-sized outdoor events in the summer, as well as moving indoors to arena events in the fall.”
“We need to look after each other, because things are really tough”
Stones manager Joyce Smyth is cautiously open to the idea of fans being asked for proof of vaccination, but notes, “It all depends on the jurisdiction of the country you are playing in and the rules in that particular territory. And I also wonder who pays for all of this, because I can see the venues wanting to pass the admin cost on to the promoters, who will want to pass it to the artists, and that then is passed on to the fans, so it becomes a tricky proposition. But if it’s what is required to open up, then we’re going to have to do it.”
Leighton-Pope is a fan of health screening. “I like the idea of the vaccine passport and the idea of the whole world having one, which might force anyone who had not had the vaccine to join the club. I’m hoping that by the summer, maybe 75% of the UK population will have had the vaccine, and then we need a plan – a vaccine passport could be part of that – but more to the point, we need a plan that the government will support.”
The matter of government support is a major issue for Yourope’s festival organisers, who are frustrated by the lack of communication from their respective policy makers. “Everybody has worked very hard to come up with concepts that might work, but we’re not getting any feedback from governments,” reports Huber. “We hear nothing about under what circumstances it might be possible to be back under full capacity, or even when we will be allowed to do business again in any format.”
He continues, “Our business is very flexible. We saw that last summer with people finding ways to go back into business, and not just for themselves – it’s for the artist, for our employees, and we need to keep the sponsors aboard otherwise they will leave to different sectors. So it’s a multilayered thing that we need to go back to business. But we’re just not getting the communication about which circumstances will allow this.”
One serious area of concern is the prospects of the business successfully reopening if there is a shortage of skilled professionals available to help artists get back out on the road.
“What’s really important now is to ensure that the industry is ready to ramp up as soon as we get the go-ahead, so supporting crew and freelancers has never been more important,” says Reid. “Crew Nation has raised over [US]$15m, helping 15,000 live music crew members across 48 countries globally, and we hope to help even more until we can come back in full. And we’ll also be advocating for prep and planning, so shows can be teed up to play as soon as it’s safe – given the longer lead times required to tour we need to be adjusting along the way so we don’t have crew spending extra months on the sideline once society begins to reopen.”
“Talking to people and realising that not killing yourself with work every day was actually beneficial was a revelation”
It’s a problem recognised by everyone. KB Event’s McPherson tells IQ, “[Covid] has been brutal on the freelance workforce, but we’ve been working with stage managers and production managers to try to find them van jobs or labouring jobs or just anything to try to help them out. We need to look after each other, because things are really tough.”
Reid adds, “The whole industry has been working hard to support the ecosystem that we rely on, but it’s undoubtedly been tough all round for people who work in live events. People are eager to get back to work and we’re confident we’ll be able to staff up appropriately as things ramp up.”
Smyth reveals that the Stones have been playing their part, by “aligning with organisations and groups who are trying to help crew survive this – and not just our crew, as that’s the easier part and we can look after our own. But there is a whole industry out there and we are in danger of losing this expertise unless something is done. So we’re involved in campaigns that raise awareness – governments could definitely provide a little more help than they already are.”
UTA’s Kirby Yoh believes that Covid has laid bare some of the weaknesses in the live sector. “The live music industry’s previous system was more fragile than we had realised and did not provide enough support for vendors, crews, venues, artists and more,” she states. “It is important that we strengthen our infrastructure to include more provisions for these parties. Also, Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of artist representation when dealing with the industry’s governing bodies.”
Meanwhile, Kornett says DEAG has been working with its partners throughout the pandemic in an effort to keep them solvent. “When you work on big events for multiple years, you end up being vertically integrated with some of your suppliers, so we went out with some of them and applied to run testing centres and vaccination centres – it’s building the set, thinking about ingress and egress – so it’s what we’re used to. That obviously isn’t going to save anyone’s bacon, but it’s at least something toward paying the bills.”
And for her part, Heap observes, “The end of live music has given artists the time to look at all their revenue streams closely, so that’s why people are beginning to speak out about the rates they get from streaming, for instance, and that campaign for fairer treatment is gaining support now.”
While Heap has been working diligently for a number of years on her own Creative Passport scheme, helping music makers to access, update and manage their own data, she is quick to add, “I’m very grateful to the people who are going into Parliament to speak about all of these things on our behalf. I’m doing my own little bit from my corner through the creative passport, trying to help ease of flow between different services and trying to make sure you have all the required verifications, but there’s only so much we can do.”
“In many ways it’s been a beautiful time and I’ve felt very supported and creatively free. It just hasn’t brought in any money”
With everyone looking forward to the long-awaited return of live music, whenever that may be, the professionals that IQ spoke to were universally upbeat about how people have pulled together to weather the storm of the past year.
Live Nation president Reid says one of the key lessons he has learned over the past year is to “never take anything for granted.” He applauds Live Nation staff for their hard work throughout the crisis, and admits to being pleasantly surprised by the patience of fans. “Our teams are innovative and have pivoted to adapt to the unimaginable challenges that the last year has thrown at us,” says Reid. “The fans are loyal to their artists and our festivals – 83% of fans are holding on to their tickets for rescheduled shows, and 63% for festivals, which is incredible.”
Accepting the success that livestreaming has had during the past year, AEG’s Leighton-Pope nonetheless counters, “Professionally, I did not get into the music industry to spend my time on Zoom, or to watch concerts on my computer. I love the live interaction and that’s why I like being in this business – and we’re finding out that is really hard to replicate.
“The live streams that I’ve seen are like good TV shows, but I have not had a hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck moment watching anything on my computer like I do at a gig, bar, club, stadium or festival.” When it comes to Covid’s lessons, he adds, “I’ve learned that we can work from home very capably: the idea of being in an office for five days a week now sounds antiquated.”
Stones manager Smyth also tips her hat to the fans, and voices hopes that after more than a year without events, the scalpers and touts will be confined to history. “The whole secondary market is terribly pernicious,” she says. “I can see the scale of it because I follow our ticket refunds. Lots of wonderful fans have held on to their tickets for our postponed shows in the States, even though I’m sure lots of them are suffering and have maybe lost their jobs. It’s apparent, however, that much of the returned inventory is from brokers – it’s not the fans who have managed to buy blocks of tickets. So what is going on there? We’ve talked about it endlessly and I hope this lockdown situation is an opportunity for somebody clever to clean this up a bit.”
UTA’s Kirby Yoh says that fan loyalty coupled with the growing desire for live entertainment should negate the need to slash ticket prices when on-sales restart. “We would need to re-evaluate ticket pricing once touring resumes, based on local economies,” she says. “At this point, we don’t think a widespread drop in ticket prices would be necessary for fans to return to live shows, as there will be a real appetite for people to see shows again.”
But she is determined to make sure that strides made in recent years regarding equality are not swept under the carpet. “Much work still needs to be done to increase diversity and equality within the industry,” she stresses. “I encourage everyone to get involved in Diversify the Stage, Noelle Scaggs’ initiative focused on improving hiring practices and bringing more underrepresented individuals into the live music and touring sectors of the business.”
“I feel that, more than ever, we are all working in the same business and there’s a lot of dialogue and positive exchange, so hopefully we will come out of this stronger”
Heap says, “I think we are at a turning point. But sometimes you have to hit rock bottom first. I don’t know if we’re at rock bottom, but we must be pretty close.” And she adds, “In many ways it’s been a beautiful time and I’ve felt very supported and creatively free. It just hasn’t brought in any money. So now I’m making music as a hobby, but I’m also doing big commercial projects for money and that’s totally fine.”
McPherson says the cross-industry collaboration has been remarkable during the past year. “[The pandemic] has driven a lot more cooperation between the different disciplines in how we find a way through this and I’m hopeful that once we come out the other side of this, there will be a lot more cooperation, working together to ultimately deliver what our clients need,” he says.
Huber concurs, “I feel that, more than ever, we are all working in the same business and there’s a lot of dialogue and positive exchange, so hopefully we will come out of this stronger in the long run.” And he hopes that governments, sooner rather than later, will realise that engaging with the live entertainment industry could facilitate a swifter end to Covid restrictions. “One of the key jobs of a promoter is to plan events that keep everyone safe, but the governments are not using our expertise and instead they are relying on bureaucrats. If we could at least get a seat at the table with them, we could help come up with solutions.”
Kornett is doubtful, musing, “The EU looks at someone organising a concert in the same way as somebody who is restoring a castle – he has to bring materials and special instruments to work on an 11th century castle. So whatever they do for our industry, they will have to do for everyone else, too.” But he is quietly confident that the medical community will come up with answers to accelerate live music’s resurrection. “I’m convinced there will be further progress in medical treatment and vaccinations, and that might help us find our way back to a more normal way of life, hopefully even sooner than we expect.”
Indeed, when touring does become a reality again, there is a very real danger that every band in the world will want to be out performing at the same time. Such problems don’t phase manager Smyth, though, as she and her organisation prepare for the Rolling Stones’ 60th anniversary year in 2022.
“Right now, it seems like it would be a wonderful problem to have,” she concludes.“Oh dear, four acts want to have the Albert Hall on the same night. Well, somehow we have to make it work… matinees!”
Read this feature in its original format in the digital edition of IQ 97:
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
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Playing Politics: Are governments offering enough support for live?
Millions of people have taken to tuning in to daily governmental updates, where politicians and advisers perform the grim task of revealing the increase in the death toll, as well as the rates of new infection. That horrific routine is allowing journalists to compare Nation A to Nation B to Nation C etc, and for many, isolated at home, to engage in the morbid game of envying those in New Zealand, Germany, South Korea, or wherever the reported head count is statistically low.
However, to date, little has been said in the public domain about the response of the live entertainment industry, internationally, and its voluntarily shut down, which, in many places, had to come ahead of government guidance. Indeed, in speaking to numerous festival organisers, IQ has heard that many had been forced to play a waiting game with politicians to hear whether their events in, for instance, June or July, would be allowed to proceed.
“Without government intervention, force majeure clauses do not work,” says Christof Huber of European festivals association, Yourope, who cancelled his festivals OpenAir St.Gallen, SummerDays and Seaside after the Swiss government finally announced that events over 1,000 people would be outlawed until 31 August, following weeks of deliberation. Yourope has been “actively lobbying governments to make decisions about large-scale gatherings in a more timely manner”, says Huber.
In beginning to tentatively embark on reopening plans, governments in countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Norway and Finland have given some sort of insight into when events may be allowed to resume – or at least clarification as to how long bans can be expected to last.
Still, without cross-border co-operation, the situation remains precarious for those who depend on the live music sector for their livelihoods.
In the venues sector, Lucy Noble, who chairs the UK’s National Arenas Association, says, “We found the early stages of the crisis difficult, as government advice wasn’t clear enough. That delay was problematic because it created stress and confusion for artists, audiences and staff.”
“In Switzerland and Germany the trust in the government and politicians has had a really big revival”
The various loan schemes launched in each market have worked to varying effect (Switzerland’s five-year interest free loan of up to €400,000 paid in a matter of hours stands among the best), while employee furlough or protection schemes have further propped up companies, without which many would have collapsed.
Stuart Galbraith, of Kilimanjaro Live, recalls, “Although it was fairly chaotic to start with, the line of communication that we, as a sector, have had into government has been very good. UK Music [acting CEO] Tom Kiehl has done a great job and so have people like Julian Bird at [Society of London Theatre]. In that first week of chaos, we had four calls with either cabinet ministers or secretaries of state. They listened and have taken action. They’ve helped us with the loans, business rates relief, the furlough scheme.”
Vincenzo Spera, president of Assomusica, is lobbying Europe to adopt such concessions, having already secured them in Italy, where it’s estimated that, by the end of this month, 4,200 events will have been missed, depriving live music operators of €63million, while the deeper economic impact for Italy is estimated at €130m.
“We ask the European Commission, MPs and the Culture Committee to [introduce] vouchers to replace the tickets purchased,” says Spera. “[This] allows the spectator not to give up their concert, and companies not to go to default.”
Voucher schemes of some form are also in place in Germany, Belgium, Poland and Brazil, with promoters including Live Nation offering a voucher option to fans who have tickets for postponed shows.
While those working in the UK and other countries have been able to rely on their authorities for financial bailouts, notable live music strongholds like the United States have offered very little, resulting in previously unimaginable unemployment statistics.
Yourope’s Huber observes, “It’s difficult to compare, but in Switzerland and Germany the trust in the government and politicians has had a really big revival, because in the initial phases they communicated honestly about the situation. However, as time passes, left wing versus right wing politics seems to be creeping back.”
“We are making hard decisions and the more clarity we get from government, the more informed we can be when looking at logistics”
Down under, Michael Chugg laments a horrendous start to 2020. “To cop corona on top of the bushfire season, I think everyone is coping well,” he tells IQ. “The federal government, which had already been offering tax breaks, freezes on loans payments, and no evictions by landlords, came up with their ‘jobkeeper payment’ scheme, which covers the equivalent of 50% of all Australian salaries for the next six months, taking an incredible amount of pressure off everyone.”
Live Nation’s Herman Schueremans – himself a former politician – reports, “The Belgian parliament agreed to provide €1 billion to tackle the consequences of coronavirus, and we will work with them to ensure this money reaches those who need it most in our market.” He adds, “It’s never been more clear that we are in a global business. We all know we have to work together.”
Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery, who leads the UK’s Concert Promoters Association, reveals he is now asking for an exit plan from lockdown. The UK government, which is yet to announce how it plans to ease lockdown restrictions, is expected to release the first details of its plans in a press conference on Sunday (10 May).
“They must have modelling for a resumption to whatever our new normal will look like,” he notes. “The sooner they share this, the better. We are making hard decisions and the more clarity we get from government, the more informed we can be when looking at logistics.”
The gap between the ending of employment protection schemes, loan availability and other protection measures, and the business being back up to speed with healthy cashflow, is arguably the largest challenge on the horizon. And close, strong relationships with government will be key to keeping that gap as narrow as possible.
Associations and lobbyists need to prove their worth, just as governments will need to continue to prop up live entertainment for at least a few months yet.
Learning & growing: 12 key lessons from the corona crisis
The latest issue of IQ Magazine features a bumper coronavirus special report that delves into the lessons learnt from the crisis, various governments’ responses to the pandemic, and predictions for the shape of the industry’s post-Covid-19 recovery.
Here, we look at the key business takeaways from the global concert business shutdown, with a little help from Paradigm’s Alex Hardee, Echo Location’s Obi Asika, Yourope’s Christof Huber and more…
1. Entrepreneurialism and creativity remain at the heart of the industry
While much of the debate in the live music sector in recent years has centred around independent versus corporate approaches, when the shit hit the fan the spirit of entrepreneurialism has shone through.
Artists around the world have been streaming live shows and content to maintain their relationship with fans, while companies big and small are thinking outside the box and going above and beyond to help out employees, crew and others in the business, financially and though other support packages.
“We adapt fast and we can deal with the curveballs,” comments Live Nation Belgium’s Herman Schueremans. “We are resilient and artists and fans will always find a way to connect.”
2. Technology makes mass home-working a possibility
The use of Zoom, Houseparty, Skype, FaceTime and other video conferencing platforms has helped millions of employees around the world to effectively communicate with colleagues, peers and clients in a way that many would have thought impossible a few months ago.
“Anyone who said home-working doesn’t work was wrong,” says Live Nation chairman of international music, Thomas Johansson.
3. The appetite for risk needs revision
The very nature of the live music industry had historically relied on a cash-flow wing and a prayer, with everyone in the chain relying to some extent on future earnings to pay for their latest projects. The sudden cessation of the business has put this situation into sharp relief, as thousands of event postponements and cancellations have highlighted that the global business could collapse if refunds were mandated internationally.
“You have to have reserves,” states Obi Asika of London-based agency Echo Location. “A lot of this business focuses on the future, prospecting and possibilities. We make bookings really far in advance and now this has shown that anything can happen.”
“This crisis has shown that anything can happen”
4. Every day brings new challenges
It seems that as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues, uncertainty will be the new norm. Agents, promoters, artist managers, venue operators and everybody in the production supply chain are working incredibly hard to make sure things are ready for business to resume, but with no concrete dates to work toward, the planning process is never-ending.
“We make plans and strategise and then overnight something happens and the next day we have to start all over again,” says Paradigm’s Alex Hardee. “When I’m doing my P&Ls at the moment, they are all Ls.”
5. Government intervention is crucial
The live music business has a long and proud tradition of policing itself and trying hard to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to issues like health and safety and self-regulation. However, it has become apparent in the coronavirus environment that businesses involved in the live entertainment sector need the co-operation of government and local authorities to survive.
At the time of writing, summer festivals in some countries are still waiting to announce 2020 cancellations because they have not been told by government that they cannot hold this year’s events, meaning that promoters could be liable to pay artist fees if they take that sensible decision themselves.
“There’s a fear among promoters when it comes to announcing festival cancellations, because nobody wants to lose the momentum when difficult decisions need to be taken,” says Christof Huber of European festival association Yourope.
6. One rotten apple can spoil the barrel
The domino effect of a cancelled show has never been more apparent than during the economic shutdown. Artists often rely on the revenues from certain key festival or headline dates to pay for visits to less lucrative markets, and the cancellation of one or more of those key dates can put the whole tour – and, therefore, other festival shows – in jeopardy.
With the pandemic amplifying this situation more than ever before, festival organisers who perhaps previously viewed each other as rivals have been working closely on key announcements and strategies.
“We make plans and strategise and then overnight something happens, and the next day we have to start all over again”
7. Honesty is the best policy
With millions of people suddenly and unexpectedly facing redundancy, business owners and senior management around the world have never been under greater scrutiny. However, early and continued communication has proved invaluable during the halt to commerce and, by and large, people who have been included in the hard conversations have accepted that everyone is in the same boat because of this global crisis.
“If you are transparent, honest and upfront with people, then when you have to make difficult decisions the reaction of people can pleasantly surprise you,” reports Paradigm’s Hardee.
8. There goes my hero, he’s ordinary
People that society has taken for granted are stepping up and putting the health of themselves and their families at risk to make sure the rest of the world’s suffering is minimised. Health workers, carers, supermarket employees, teachers, sanitation staff, pharmacists, truck and delivery drivers and many more ‘ordinary’ people are the true heroes of the hour.
9. Insurers need to take a long hard look at themselves
There’s no need to mention any names, but for reference have a look at Hellfest’s website about the small-print cowardice that has been manipulated to shirk responsibility. To quote our French comrades: “Fuck you!”
10. Coronavirus is kryptonite to the super-touts
As much as the legitimate live music industry is reeling from cancellations, postponements and having to deal with refunds and other unexpected costs, the situation for the secondary ticketing business is even more dire, as many super-touts have to deal with inventory they can no longer shift.
Having agreed a highly controversial $4 billion deal that would see it merge with Viagogo, in late March, StubHub announced it was furloughing two thirds of its staff, and company policy on refunds would change, whereby purchasers of tickets to cancelled events in North America would now be offered vouchers, rather than refunds. Cue class-action lawsuits.
With StubHub now reportedly struggling hard and Viagogo saddled with debt, the future for the world’s biggest secondary ticketing platforms looks precarious to say the least. “In the context of the unprecedented crisis being played out in all our lives, this could well be one the most poorly timed acquisitions in recent corporate history,” says Adam Webb, campaign manager for FanFair Alliance.
2021 could prove to be live music’s most important year ever
11. Trade associations and industry collectives are proving their worth
In days gone by – and they are not that long ago – the live music industry was a cutthroat, highly competitive battlefield where often ludicrous deals would price others out of the game, all in the name of market share.
Coronavirus has levelled the playing field somewhat, and it’s heartening to witness just how quickly previously warring factions have come around the table to collaborate and agree sensible paths forward to try to minimise the impact on staff, suppliers and, of course, the artists. Hats off to the many trade associations and organisations who are lobbying parliaments, government ministers and local authorities on behalf of the business – you have never been so important to the livelihoods of so many people.
“[The corona crisis has] certainly made me realise the huge importance of associations and representative bodies,” says Kilimanjaro Live boss Stuart Galbraith. “Government don’t want to talk to individual commercial organisations, but they will talk to the Concert Promoters Association, AIF, UK Music, etc., and there’s been huge co-operation between [the associations] as well. Because it affects everybody.”
12. It’s only rock’n’roll… but I like it
As lucky as we are to have careers in such a great industry, at the end of the day it’s only rock’n’roll. Yes, it’s important for culture and for people’s happiness and wellbeing, but people we know are dying – relatives, friends and neighbours – and the battle to minimise that death toll far outweighs any gig, tour or event (or shareholder expectations, for that matter).
However, the hundreds of musicians and artists who are livestreaming to entertain millions of fans confined to their homes shows that the power of music is as strong as ever. Once we emerge from this dark period, people will be clamouring to get out, socialise and see their favourite acts.
Twenty-twenty is undoubtedly going to take its toll, but for those able to remain in the business, 2021 could prove to be live music’s most important year ever.
Swiss festival season gone as gov extends event ban
Following two weeks of deliberation, the Swiss government last night (29 April) declared that no events over 1,000 people will take place in the country until the end of August.
The government states it will reassess the situation “before the summer holidays”. The fate of events with fewer than 1,000 attendees will be decided on 27 May.
The decision follows criticism from festival organisers and the Swiss Music Promoters’ Association (SMPA) over the lack of clarity offered by the government to organisers of large-scale events. In the absence of an official declaration, the SMPA recently advised all members to postpone any large events due to take place before mid-July.
Switzerland now joins fellow European countries Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland to effectively ban the whole summer festival season. Large events are not permitted until mid-August in Hungary, the end of June in Austria, mid-July in France and the end of July in Luxembourg and Finland.
Although Swiss festival giants Paléo Festival Nyon and Montreux Jazz Festival had already called time on 2020, a number of significant events including OpenAir St Gallen, SummerDays and Seaside Festivals, Openair Frauenfeld and Zürich Openair were awaiting word from the authorities before cancelling.
“This summer, for the first time in the history of the festival since 1977, there will be no OpenAir St.Gallen,” reads a statement from organisers of the 30,000-capacity festival, which is part of the majority CTS Eventim-owned wepromote, along with SummerDays and Seaside festivals.
Openair St Gallen 2020 was set to feature Twenty One Pilots, the Lumineers, Alan Walker and Of Monsters and Men. “We promise you that we will now put all our passion for the OpenAir St.Gallen even more into the 2021 edition.”
“This summer, for the first time in the history of the festival since 1977, there will be no OpenAir St.Gallen”
The OpenAir St Gallen team urges fans to hold on to their tickets for 2021, saying that “by doing so, you are helping to secure the foundation of our festival, the work of our colleagues and our various teams who have been working on the festival for months and to get us through this very difficult time.”
SummerDays (12,000-cap.) is another to announce its cancellation in the wake of the government’s announcement. The festival falls inside the event ban limits by only a few days, scheduled for 28 to 29 August.
Organisers say they “fully support the actions of the government” and “had to expect this would happen”.
“Let’s make SummerDays 2021 a big highlight together and celebrate like never before.”
Seaside Festival (10,000-cap.), which had previously postponed to the end of August, also announced its support for the government, “albeit with a heavy heart”. Seaside Festival will return from 3 to 4 September 2021.
Other Swiss events to cancel following the government’s announcement include hip-hop festival Openair Frauenfeld (50,000), which had booked Kendrick Lamar, ASAP Rocky and DaBaby for 2020; pop festival Zürich Openair (20,000-cap.), which was to feature Martin Garrix, Lewis Capaldi and Rita Ora, among others; the 30,000-capacity Greenfield Festival (Disturbed, Bring Me The Horizon); and 33,000-capacity OpenAir Gampel (Macklemore, Limp Bizkit, Sum 41).
European festivals in limbo as crisis continues
As Britain’s large summer events continue to fall away (with Goldenvoice UK’s All Points East and Live Nation’s Lovebox and Parklife the latest to cancel due to coronavirus concerns), members of several European festival associations are taking a different approach – biding their time while urging governments to provide greater clarity about the months ahead.
“The cancellation of Glastonbury was a surprise to a lot of people [in continental Europe] and, media-wise, a big pressure on everybody,” says Christof Huber, festival director of Switzerland’s OpenAir St Gallen and Summer Days Festival, and general secretary of Yourope, the European Festival Association.
Last week, two of the association’s members, Roskilde Festival (Denmark) and Open’er Festival (Poland), spearheaded the #FestivalsStandUnited campaign, which saw some of Europe’s biggest music festivals state that they intend to go ahead with their events this summer, and that in doing so they will “be a crucial part of the survival of this industry”.
More than 60 festivals – including events taking place in early June – put their names to an open letter entitled ‘Festivals Stand United Across Europe’, which was also signed by Yourope.
Paul Reed, CEO of the UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), says it’s widely expected the lockdown in Britain will go on beyond the current three-week period, with many festivals assuming 12 weeks of no public gatherings – a period that extends well into June (without even taking into account a two-week build).
“It’s impossible to build a festival when all the workers are in lockdown”
Reed says the views of AIF’s 65-strong membership are as diverse as the festivals themselves: “We have some members with events in August contemplating what they should do, but on the other hand we have festivals in July thinking they’re going to go ahead,” he explains, noting that there are “myriad considerations” around deciding to cancel or postpone.
Also weighing up his options is Patrick de Groote, artistic director of Belgian world music festival Sfinks Mixed (23–26 July) and secretary of the Forum of Worldwide Music Festivals (FWMW), who tells IQ: “We’re hearing that all April festivals [in Belgium] will be cancelled; in May, some yes, some no… We’re still waiting to be told, and everybody is preparing so we can be ready when we have more information.”
De Groote says one Dutch FWMW member has already made the decision to cancel, after concluding it could not be ready in time for June. “It’s impossible to build a festival when all the workers are in lockdown,” he says.
According to Reed, there are advantages in being ordered to cancel by authorities, as opposed to organisers pulling the plug themselves, particularly around artist fees (although he adds, encouragingly, that “most festivals are already working positively with agents” on that front).
“A lot of things are on hold right now,” adds de Groote, “including artist contracts. It’s hard to sign something when you don’t know if you’re going to be able to honour the contract.”
“Festivals can’t just pull the plug without knowing the situation in three months”
An additional issue for world music festivals like Sfinks, he continues, is that different parts of the world are at different stages with regards to coronavirus. “At Sfinks, we always have a lot of African and South American bands, and their countries are much earlier in this pandemic than Europe and North America,” he explains. “This year, we’ve booked [Malian duo] Amadou and Mariam and [US act] the Blind Boys of Alabama – the Blind Boys should be OK, but where will Mali be in a few months’ time?”
Huber says Yourope’s members are “all [still] working on our festivals”, and need “a few more weeks to monitor the situation” before deciding whether to go ahead as planned.
“We need a certain clarity about the policy of our governments and about any restrictions,” he adds. “Festivals can’t just decide to pull the plug without knowing what the situation will be in three months.”
Whatever the outcome of summer 2020, Reed emphasises than both fans and festivals must remain positive about the future. “It’s difficult to think about the recovery when people are in survival mode, but’s important to remember we will come out of this,” he concludes. “And when we do, people will need live music more than ever.”
Angry punks and happy faces: industry pros talk breakthroughs
Hard work, knowing the right people and a slice of good luck can all play a part in getting a proper footing on the career ladder. IQ puts some more ILMC regulars in the spotlight and asks them to share their breakthrough moments…
John Giddings, Solo Agency
When I was about 14 years old, a mate at school persuaded me to learn to play bass guitar, with the promise that we would pull chicks. I had to borrow a bass because I could not afford to buy one and that’s why, to this day, I play bass guitar with a right-handed guitar, upside down, because I’m left handed.
We were at a gig and we were playing ‘The Nile Song’ from Pink Floyd’s More album and this punk came up to the stage and said, “If you don’t stop playing, now, then I’m going to fucking hit you!”
That was the end of my career as a musician, but I knew I wanted to be part of the live music thing, even if I was not capable of being onstage.
In those days, we just used to listen to LPs on our own in our bedroom, but I remember going to Isle of Wight Festival and walking over the top of the hill to see 600,000 other people who liked the same music as me – it was like going on a pilgrimage. And that was that – I was hooked.
Going to Isle of Wight Festival was like going on a pilgrimage – I was hooked
When I was around 15, I knew that I wanted to work in music and organise events. I even wrote business plans about my future virtual company. After my apprenticeship, I looked around for job options, but at that time there were very few in the Swiss market and I couldn’t find a way in. I never lost that focus, but I had to work in several other jobs, including as a bookkeeper in real estate in 1992. Hell!
Out of the blue, a former work colleague called me to tell me that she was working for OpenAir St. Gallen, as the assistant for the festival director but was going to leave. As I was so persistent in telling her about my vision, she suggested I put myself forward for the job interview. This was my chance!
I went to the interview and tried to convince them that there was only one person who would be perfect to do the job. They asked me for some time as they had other candidates, but due to a timeline in my other job, I needed a quick answer. They had me complete some tests and I convinced them that I would do everything to make my dream come true. And they finally offered me the job.
I remember as I drove home that I looked at other people and felt so lucky to have achieved my dream.
I started in 1993, was able to take over the event company a few years later and work with wepromote Switzerland on a national level for many festivals and concerts.
In addition, for the past 20 years, I have been part of the European festival family of Yourope where I’ve made so many close friends.
Thank you, Lisa and Andreas, for having given me this opportunity.
I remember as I drove home that I looked at other people and felt so lucky to have achieved my dream
Fruzsina Szép, Lollapalooza Berlin
Since childhood I had always been very passionate and enthusiastic about arts and music and creating and organising things. Watching the happy faces during a festival is “my fuel“ and has kept me going for so many years in the industry, despite the gigantic workload many of us deal with day to day.
In 2008, I was offered the position of programme and artistic director for Sziget Festival in Budapest. I was 30 and I thought ‘Oh my God!’ – this coat is really not my size. My size is S/M and that coat felt XXL.
But I listened to my inner voice. I knew that if I didn’t try, I would never know if I was capable. I can always fail, I told myself, but only after trying.
I’m so extremely happy that I was wise enough to listen to my inner voice, to have the support of my family, and to believe in myself.
If Elon Musk asked me to organise the first festival on Mars, I’d be up for the job
I’m so thankful for having gained such an enormous amount of experience in those seven years working at Sziget. Without which, I could have never taken the next huge challenge and worn the even bigger coat known as Lollapalooza Berlin.
Moving the Lolla festival site four years in a row allowed me to learn so much and overcome so many challenges. I must say that I’m very thankful for these experiences because now, if Elon Musk asked me to organise the first festival on Mars, I’d be up for the job.
I’m so grateful to have been able to work in such an amazing industry, to have colleagues from whom I can learn day by day, and to be part of an international festival family with like-minded humans that are rocking their own festivals every summer.
107,000 for wet but “euphoric” OpenAir 2017
A total of 107,000 people attended last weekend’s OpenAir St Gallen, with organisers praising the festival’s “euphoric and peaceful experience” in spite of the challenges posed by wet weather.
Festivalgoers took the muddy conditions in their stride – the hashtag #schlammgallen (#mudgallen) was trending through the weekend – with 20,000 people visiting the Swiss festival on Thursday 29 June and 29,000 each day on Friday, Saturday and Saturday.
It is the first year since 2011 OpenAir has failed to reach capacity, although Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten attributes the slight drop in attendance (there were reportedly about 1,000 tickets unsold) to rumours the festival was already sold out.
Festival promoter Christof Huber says he “takes off [his] hat to our incredible audience, who made the festival a real highlight despite the rain and cold temperatures”.
“Despite cold and rainy weather conditions, the event was an euphoric but peaceful experience”
New for 2017 was the Campfire stage – which, true to its name, hosted local artists including Silas Kutschmann, Emanuel Reiter and Turtur in a small (~150-cap.) campfire setting – an expanded Plaza area featuring “food, design and street culture” and several new other food and drink options.
For the second year running, the festival also partnered with Zurich-based nonprofit myclimate to minimise the environmental impact of its food offering. Other eco-friendly achievements included 91% of reusable cups being recycled and 89% of tents taken home, underlining what OpenAir calls its “[well] known efforts in sustainability”.
Headliners were Biffy Clyro, Bastille, Justice, alt-J and German punks Die Toten Hosen, with other performers including Lorde, Glass Animals, Cage the Elephant and Confidence Man.
OpenAir St Gallen will return on 28 June–1 July 2018.
Brexit: The view from backstage
The British public will tomorrow go to the polls to vote on the most important decision they’ve faced in a generation: whether to stay in the European Union (EU), the 28-member politico-economic bloc of which the UK has been a part since 1973, or go it alone for the first time in over 40 years.
After months of campaigning by the leave and remain campaigns, the referendum on Britain’s potential exit (‘Brexit’) from the EU is finally here – and while The Guardian frets about air quality and the BBC ponders the power of the Australasian vote, what we really want to know is this: which way should the live music business be voting?
Back in March, IQ quizzed tour managers, travel agents and transport companies for their opinions and predictions. Now, on the eve of the vote, it’s the agents’, promoters’ and industry associations’ turn…
“The EU is far from perfect right now, but is still the best thing that has happened to Europe in the last 70 years”
Unsurprisingly, Fabien Miclet, the coordinator of Liveurope, an EU-backed association of 13 European music venues, tells IQ he believes Brexit “would be a disaster politically, economically and symbolically” and spell the beginning of the end for the union.
While he acknowledges that the EU is “far from perfect right now”, stating that “the enlargements of 2004 and 2009 increased [its] democratic deficit [and] lack of visibility of the core missions”, Miclet says it’s “still the best thing that has happened to Europe in the last 70 years”. “And I don’t see small countries like France or even Germany competing against China or the US at a global level without the EU,” he adds.
As for Liveurope, its sole British member – the 700-capacity Village Underground (VU) in Shoreditch – would automatically be out of the club, says Miclet. “The EU would most probably retaliate [to Brexit] by excluding Britain from its funding programmes, and this would automatically mean that VU can’t be a member anymore. This would apply for all British organisations involved in European projects, be they scientific, academic, cultural, etc.”
“All in all our lives have been enriched by being part of the EU”
Coda agent and partner Rob Challice, whose roster includes Ben Folds, John Grant and Bon Iver, echoes Miclet’s sentiments about the relative weakness of a UK-less EU (and EU-less UK) in a “global marketplace where some of the biggest economies are now in the east”, but also makes an emotional case for a union he says has “enriched” the lives of everyone in Britain.
“I know I speak for most of my colleagues when I say that thanks to the EU there are greater touring opportunities for our artists due to free movement,” he says. “We also work and travel across Europe, we do business at mainland European events – Eurosonic [Noorderslag], Reeperbahn and a whole host of events – we have colleagues work in our office from other EU countries; we are more ‘European’ thanks to the EU.
“All in all our lives have been enriched by being part of the EU.”
“I don’t understand this euroscepticism because I think the EU brings mostly good things”
Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS)’s creative director, Peter Smidt, is also a remainer, although he says that his festival is “about Europe, and UK is in Europe whether within or without the EU”.
The ESNS-backed European Talent Exchange Programme (ETEP) is, however, funded by the European Commission (the EU’s executive body), so British participation in ETEP will be “more difficult”, says Smidt, if not outright impossible. British band Blossoms are currently the second most-booked ETEP act of 2016 so far.
Smidt tells IQ he “doesn’t understand this scepticism about [the EU] because I think it brings mostly good things” and says he believes it “makes sense for Europe to unite and work together on lots of possible issues – especially regarding circulation”.
“The danger for the EU is that if UK leaves I think other countries will follow suit: The Netherlands will also leave and say, ‘We want the same deal, too!'”
In contrast to the EU-funded Liveurope and ETEP, OpenAir St Gallen booker and Yourope general secretary Christof Huber says “nothing will change” at the European festival association (whose British members are Download and T in the Park) in the event of the UK leaving the EU, but has a word of caution for British voters contemplating a ‘Swiss model’ for the UK post-Brexit.
Switzerland, while not in the EU, is a member of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and is bound by a number of EU treaties. It is, unlike the UK, in the Schengen free-movement zone, and recently paid for – out of its own pocket – the world’s longest rail tunnel, the Gotthard base tunnel, which Huber says was a “huge commitment financially, and more important for other European countries than for Switzerland”.
He says his “big fear” for the UK is that the EU will have to take a hard line on negotiating with a newly independent Britain in order to stop other countries following its lead. “The danger for the EU is that if UK leaves I think other countries will follow suit,” says Huber. “[Otherwise] the Netherlands will leave and say, ‘We want the same deal, too!'”
“EU tax treaties, border-crossing arrangements, carnet agreements, air traffic agreements and labour laws all make touring in Europe much more viable for our artists”
ATC Live agent and partner Alex Bruford, whose roster includes The Lumineers, Half Moon Run, The Districts, Soak and Broncho, says “taking the UK out of the EU would be a huge step backwards” for the industry and the country as a whole.
“Our business is built on international relationships,” he says. “We have spent years fostering close relationships with our European partners, and work closely with them to ensure our artists can smoothly and successfully traverse the continent. Current EU tax treaties, border crossing arrangements, carnet agreements, air traffic agreements and labour laws all make touring in Europe much more viable for our artists.
“Add that to the inevitable economic downturn through the uncertainty caused and the lack of a singular European voice to speak on current international issues – ie secondary ticketing – and Brexit would be a very negative [thing] for the live music business.”
“I think for the overall health of the country we should stay in”
CAA agent Emma Banks (Arcade Fire, Florence + the Machine, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry) says that while “many of the reasons [for staying in] I’ve read from the music industry are spurious”, she’s also backing the remain campaign. “I think for the overall health of the country we should stay in,” she tells IQ.
Miclet was a panellist at last night’s British Music Debate: Does In or Out mean Win or Lose? debate at the London offices of law firm Lewis Silkin, which also strongly concluded that ‘in’ means ‘win’. Joining Miclet on a panel moderated by FastForward/Media Insight Consulting’s Chris Carey was the Featured Artists Coalition’s Paul Pacifico, Lewis Silkin’s Cliff Fluet and Everything Everything bassist Jeremy Pritchard.
Beginning by saying that he doesn’t know “a single musician that’s ‘out'”, Pritchard said he fears the rest of Europe becoming as difficult to tour for British artists as Switzerland is currently if the UK votes to leave. “We announce shows in Switzerland and think, ‘That probably won’t go ahead’,” he said, criticising the bureaucracy involved in obtaining the proper visas and carnets for touring bands.
Pacifico added that he talked recently with Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason – another remainer – who recalled a time before visaless travel in Europe. “Can you imagine Pink Floyd doing a carnet?” said Pacifico. “All those articulated trucks full of lasers and smoke machines, and having to document every drumstick, every piece of gaffer tape…”
“I don’t know a single musician that’s ‘out'”
Miclet said the reason why so many British artists tour Europe – and why so many smaller US acts don’t – is because they don’t need a Schengen visa to do so. (Pictured above: Remainers at the British Music Debate. FAC co-chair Sandie Shaw is on the far left; IQ editor Gordon Masson front row, third from left; Pritchard behind Masson and Paul Pacifico to his left; and IQ digital manager Ben Delger holding a sign, with Fluet to his right.)
While most of the industry is clearly in favour of the status quo – to add to the chorus of ‘remains’ above, the FAC’s membership is 85% in favour of staying, while Music Week’s poll of its readership put the figure even higher, at 91% – there is at least one notable music biz Brexiteer: veteran promoter Harvey Goldsmith CBE.
Speaking to IQ from his London office, Goldsmith calls the EU a “busted flush”, saying that Britain should “vote out, then sit down with the EU and completely renegotiate a deal in cooperation with the other key countries that makes sense”.
Far from being the visaless utopia described by Pacifico, Nick Mason and others, the EU is currently a halfway house that in fact lacks the harmonised regulations touted by its supporters, says Goldsmith. “I’ve just travelled round 13 countries and 32 cities on the road with Hans Zimmer,” he explains, “and, believe me, being in the EU doesn’t make any bloody difference. The tax issues are different in every country, the visas are different in every country, VAT’s different…”
“Supporting a huge layer of bureaucracy and unelected leaders who have only one role in life – to create a federal state of Europe – is never going to work, because none of the constituent parts want it”
“Travelling through borders from some of the far-flung countries of the EU has been an absolute nightmare,” Goldsmith continues, explaining that he and Zimmer were held up for “17 hours in total trying to get from Croatia to Geneva because the borders were shut” amid the continuing migrant crisis.
Supporting “a huge layer of bureaucracy and unelected leaders who have only one role in life – to create a federal state of Europe – is never going to work,” he adds, “because none of the constituent [countries] want it”.
“The only way to shake everybody up is to vote out – it will cause mayhem for a short period of time, other countries will panic – and then sit down with the relevant part of the EU and reshape what a European community of trading nations should look like,” Goldsmith concludes. “Because, currently, it’s a mess.”
With the most recent polls showing the leave campaign edging ahead, and the portion of undecided voters still high, no one can predict the outcome of tomorrow’s vote with any certainty. But from the live music camp, some doubters aside, the sentiment is strongly in favour of the UK staying in.