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Execs talk talent exodus, sales and no-shows

The live music industry’s staffing shortage, returning customer confidence and no-shows at concerts were high on the agenda in IQ’s latest Recovery Sessions event.

Chaired by the European Arenas Association Olivier Toth, the webinar explored the recovery of the arena market with the help of a heavyweight line-up of executives, including Coralie Berael (Forest National Arena), Tony Goldring (WME), Steve Homer, (AEG Presents), Hans Dhondt (Rock Werchter) and Paul Twomey (Bio Security Systems).

A key issue of debate was the loss of seasoned backstage workers to other industries during the pandemic.

“All venues and festivals are going to come together at some point and try to find their usual people, but a lot of them have left that pool,” said Berael. “We’re going to have to replace people and they’ll need training. They don’t have the necessary experience.

“The loss of talent is quite a concern. I’m not only worried about the quantity of staff, but especially the quality of staff and we are having to start a lot more upfront in finding the right people. Usually, even a week before, you can make a miracle and find the right people, but now you might need to start a lot earlier… It’s a real risk to business continuity and it’s one of the challenges that we’re facing at the moment.”

Homer suggested the issue had been exacerbated in the UK by Brexit.

“We had some issue trying to secure catering companies because they were struggling with staffing,” he said. “We’ve got a double whammy here with Brexit having an influence on people leaving the UK as well.

“There was a severe level of burnout, because we went from literally nothing in venues to almost 80/90%. People had been working for supermarkets or courier services, and then all of a sudden they’re thrown back into working full time in venues, operating as security, or stewarding, or local crew. So it’s been a tough baptism, shall we say, to come back.

“Luckily, the people that are in the industry are determined to make it successful, so a lot of people have gone the extra yard, or the extra mile in a lot of cases, to make sure that events have been happening.”

We’re quite confident for the next few months, but it will take time

Berael reported that, after a slow summer, ticket sales for shows were on the rise, with younger people especially keen to return to live events.

“Since there are a few mass events happening, we can see that the trust is growing again,” she said. “We see that in the curve of the ticket sales. It’s like people were waiting to see whether it went well, and whether there were long queues, etc. So we’re quite confident for the next few months, but it will take time.”

She added: “We communicated probably 500% more with our audience than we used to, just to make sure, in the first instance, that they knew the show was going to happen, to reassure them in a way.

“All the emails about how [the entry system was going to work] came afterwards… explaining to them and educating them about how it was going to work, so that they could already imagine the journey.”

As revealed by IQ last month, promoters have reported the rate of no-shows by ticket-holders at concerts has been far higher than usual.

“At the start of September, we were experiencing quite high levels of no shows – anything between 25% and 35% in some markets,” said Homer. “It does seem to have settled down a bit better this month. The no-show rate is dropping to between 10% and 15%.

“I’ve often equated this whole experience to the feeling of if you go to an outdoor swimming pool. There’s always someone that will go in first, and when that person surfaces, everyone on the side goes, ‘what was it like?’ And I think there’s an element of that that comes along with shows as well.

“It’s all about confidence, and I think the longer we go on without any further restrictions imposed or anything like that, the more comfortable people will be going to shows, going into those indoor environments, with mass audiences.”

With shows that have been announced more recently, you would expect the no-show numbers to be a lot less

Goldring shared an alternative theory for the high no-show level.

“I think we have different situations,” he said. “With a tour that went on sale in 2019 and has been rescheduled a number of times, some people just kind of forget about it, or maybe they’ve lost interest. So I think you’re going to have that scenario.

“With shows that have been announced more recently, you would expect the no-show numbers to be a lot less.”

He continued: “The thing that’s really put a smile on my face is that artists have just loved performing again. They’ve been stuck at home like all of us and, suddenly, they’ve had that interaction with the audience that they haven’t had for so long, and they’ve loved it. So that’s very positive for all of us.”

The Recovery Sessions, supported by ASM Global and Goodtill, is a series of fortnightly webinars designed to keep the live music industry updated about the international roadmap to reopening. All Recovery Sessions events are free to access for IQ subscribers.

To subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month, click here.

 


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Leading execs to discuss arenas in Recovery Sessions

The line-up has been finalised for the next must-see Recovery Sessions event, which takes place tomorrow (21 October) at 16.00 BST and is free to watch.

Joining chair Olivier Toth (chair of EAA) are Coralie Berael (Forest National Arena), Tony Goldring (William Morris Endeavour), Steve Homer, (AEG Presents) and Paul Twomey (Bio Security Systems), who will be exploring the recovery of the arena market.

Recovery Sessions: Arenas Working Together will look at how these principal touring grounds are working collectively to reignite the live music sector – from new developments in mitigation measures and strategies, to new and more collaborative actions across the venue space.

Beyond Covid-19, with sustainability now a must-tackle issue, and the ongoing race to provide the perfect customer experience, these industry heads will discuss what lies ahead for the arena sector.

The Recovery Sessions, supported by ASM Global and Goodtill, is a series of fortnightly webinars designed to keep the live music industry updated about the international roadmap to reopening. All Recovery Sessions events are free to access for IQ subscribers.

With sustainability now a must-tackle issue, these industry heads will discuss what lies ahead for the arena sector

The first Recovery Sessions event took place on 13 May, hosting high-level discussions on the issues around vaccine passports, the takeaways from this year’s major pilot events, and the road to recovery from the points of view of industry leaders.

The second edition took place on 17 June, hosting topical debates and discussions on the issues around insurancethe top mitigation measures and the importance of political relationships will be in a post-Covid world.

And the third took place on 22 July, quizzing HR heads about the various challenges they face as key markets reopen for business, as well as the opportunities to ‘build back better’ by spreading the recruitment net as wide as possible to help the industry become more diverse, equal and equitable.

To watch the Recovery Sessions: Arenas Working Together panel live on Thursday (21 October), simply head to the dedicated Recovery Sessions page on the website or IQ‘s Facebook page for 16.00 BST/17.00 CEST.

As with the first three events, the session will be available to watch back on demand for IQ subscribers.

To subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month, click here.

 


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IPM 13: If I Could Turn Back Time: Stage production, design and decor

The second panel of the ILMC Production Meeting (IPM) began with Coralie Berael, venue manager of Belgium’s Forest National, reflecting on the changing nature of stage production. As both venues and production get bigger, Berael posed the question: Where do we go from here?

From the design side, Mark Ager, managing director of the UK arm of Tait, explained that the main challenge is taking creative content and making it into a reality for touring, adding that it all works best when there is coordination between the artistic, technical and logistical processes.

Production manager Wob Roberts stressed the importance of having final designs as early as possible, to makes the rehearsal period “an efficient machine” and bring down costs.

“The best circumstance is to have a clear idea what a show looks like before going on sale, but that’s idealistic,” said James Walker of the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), explaining that a venue’s role in the chain is not always as valued as it could be. “We need better links with production managers,” said Walker.

Roberts gave the example of a Genesis tour which went on sale before the design came in, leaving insufficient room for the stage. “We had to be really creative to fit into the capacity that had been sold,” said Roberts. “I learned to talk to management as much as possible to avoid similar situations in future.”

Does the audience really require all this production, if tours can sell out before the design has even been done, asked Berael. Roberts explained that the audience has certain levels of expectation for some stadium artists like U2 and Rolling Stones, but not so much for others. However, “the ego can kick in” on the artists’ side, with acts wanting as big a show as their counterparts, “and that’s when the problems start”.

Walker said it would be hard to draw audiences in for a second time without spectacular sets, while Ager stressed the importance of fan engagement, which is challenging in a stadium without big production. “Scale can sometimes outperform the the actors,” said Ager. “The more people you put in front of an artist, the more money they make, so our challenge is how to engage the maximum number of people.”

“You’re actually touring a prototype – and that can go wrong,”

IPM day host Meagan Walker, general manager of Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena asked when is enough, enough? “The bigger we [venues] get, the bigger the show and production gets,” she said.

The panellists also broached the difficulties of loading into certain venues, with local councils imposing restrictions and buying up land around arenas in many city centres. “We need to work together and communicate very early on to avoid the stresses on the day itself,” said Berael.

Is there anything at the design level that can be changed to ease logistics? “We are always trying to minimise building time and think about loading,” said Ager. “But the artist is always going to want to push it further, and I’m not sure how to stop this.”

Ager stated it’s important to remember they venues are often a “tryout” for the shows themselves, but this is changing with many using places like Production Park to test production out.

“You’re actually touring a prototype – and that can go wrong,” reiterated Roberts, saying that it is key for venues to come and look at the production beforehand to pinpoint potential problems and discuss solutions with the production manager.

The issue of liability was also raised, with Roberts stating that it is difficult to get house riggers to sign off on the work they have done. Walker explained that there is a large amount of liability with venues anyway, so there is a degree of nervousness to accept more.

The panel ended with a talk on sustainability. Roberts said that, although he is “unsure whether you can call what we do sustainable”, the entertainment industry is a “great testing ground” for green initiatives.


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