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Dutch live sector report reveals corona impact

A new report on the Dutch live music sector has laid bare the dramatic impact of the Covid crisis on concerts and festivals.

The Netherlands’ touring scene enjoyed a record year in 2019, attracting 2.7 million visitors to events, but that figure plummeted to 328,000 in 2020 – with 94% of that year’s shows pre-dating the spring lockdown – according to the new Monitor Festivals & Concerts study published by Respons and the Association of Event Makers (VVEM).

In addition, the number of festivals fell from more than 1,100 in 2019 to a record low of 155 in 2020, before rebounding slightly to 343 in 2021.

“Festivals and concerts are the big corona losers”

“Festivals and concerts are the big corona losers,” says VVEM spokesperson Willem Westermann. “The figures for 2020 and 2021 are dramatic after the records of previous years.

“We hope that 2022 will be the year of recovery. We have seen that the sector has a lot of creativity, but you just have to experience concerts and festivals live.”

The best-attended concert series of 2020 was Holland sings Hazes, with 49,000 visitors. In 2019, the series reached fifth place in the ranking with 68,000 visitors.

In 2021, Dutch party act the Snollebollekes led the list, playing to 100,000 fans over four nights at the Gelredome in Arnhem. The report also notes that the 2021 Amsterdam Dance Event attracted 350,000 visitors across five days.

The Dutch government finally lifted all remaining Covid restrictions on live events in March this year after tireless lobbying from the sector.


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New Zealand removes indoor capacity limits

Indoor concerts in New Zealand can now go ahead without capacity restrictions after the country’s traffic light system switched to ‘orange’.

The system, which came into effect last December, assigns a colour (green, orange or red) based on vaccination rates and the spread of Covid-19 in the community, as well as a set of corresponding restrictions. It was previously set at ‘red’, meaning venues using vaccine certificates were limited to 200 people with 1m social distancing.

However, a “sustained reduction” in Covid infections has prompted the move to orange, which means venues face no limits on gatherings at events, retail and hospitality.

“Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a sustained reduction in cases and hospitalisations despite the relaxation of settings”

“Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a sustained reduction in cases and hospitalisations despite the relaxation of settings, so we’re confident a move to orange can lock in those gains while helping the country return to a greater degree of normality,” says Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.

“Under orange there are no indoor capacity limits and the seated and separated rule for hospitality venues lifts, so bars, cafes and restaurants are able to fill up again.”

Last month, prime minister Jacinda Arden announced the removal of vaccine pass requirements, most vaccine mandates, QR code scanning and outdoor gathering limits, while doubling the limit for indoor gatherings from 100 to 200 people.

However, festival organisers and promoters argued the rollback of restrictions was “meaningless” at that point in the events calendar.

Live Nation-owned Rhythm and Vines was cancelled for the first time in its 19-year-history and will now celebrate its 20th anniversary at the end of the year instead. Elsewhere, Auckland’s Outerfields festival, which has twice been beset by Covid delays, is now scheduled for 3 December and Lorde’s Solar Power tour has shifted to February/March 2023.


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England to scrap all remaining Covid restrictions

The English live music industry has welcomed the government’s plans to lift all remaining coronavirus restrictions.

Prime minister Boris Johnson today (21 February) announced the ‘Living with Covid-19’ plan which will put an end to self-isolation and free testing.

From Thursday (25 February), the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive Covid test will be removed in England.

Meanwhile, free Covid testing – which has reportedly cost £15.7 billion – will end for the general public in England from 1 April.

The PM says restrictions can be lifted now because the levels of immunity are high and deaths are low.

“This is not back to business as usual for festivals and it is not a case of ‘job done’ for ministers”

The live music industry has hailed the end of Covid-19 restrictions as a “huge relief” but warns that ongoing support from the government is needed.

Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), says: “While we welcome legal restrictions around Covid-19 coming to an end and the prospect of a full capacity festival season, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt by the independent festival sector and the need for government action remains. With festival organisers facing crippling cost increases of up to 30% across operations and infrastructure, this is not back to business as usual for festivals and it is not a case of ‘job done’ for ministers.

“AIF reiterates its call for ongoing support from government in the form of continued VAT relief on festival tickets to maintain the current reduced 12.5% rate on tickets beyond the end of March; and to also explore some form of government-backed loan scheme for suppliers to alleviate some of these pressures and encourage investment in the festival supply chain.”

Greg Parmley, CEO, LIVE says: “The end of Covid-19 restrictions represents a huge, welcome relief to the live music sector, which lost billions in revenue throughout the pandemic. But with spiralling costs and thousands of companies struggling with pandemic debt, it’s crucial that government does not abandon and set the sector adrift, just as it starts to tread water again.

“We are calling for a reverse to the planned hike in VAT rates and the imminent end to business rates relief in order to avoid further business closures and job losses within our sector.”

“The extension of VAT & Business rates relief remains a key ask”

Michael Kill, CEO of NTIA, says: “The withdrawal of the remaining covid restrictions is welcomed by the industry, and will further support business recovery and go some way to regaining customer confidence.

“Our responsibility to keep customers and staff safe remains our focus, maintaining baseline mitigations as we have done since the 19th July 2021.

“Experts have suggested that recovery to pre covid trading levels will take several years, but we cannot lose sight of the short term role that the government must continue to play in supporting the sector, beginning with the chancellor’s budget in March.

“The extension of VAT & Business rates relief remains a key ask, allowing businesses the financial headroom to survive, on this long road to recovery.

“Given the commitment and support, over the last two years, that the sector has given to the government’s public health strategy, it is only right that they recognise and support the hardest-hit industries through the final phase of this crisis.”

Greg Marshall, general manager of Association for Electronic Music (AFEM), says: “AFEM welcomes the end of all legal Covid-19 regulations and the move to guidance announced in the UK today. However, the fragility of the chain of businesses and individuals which make up the electronic music club and events ecosystem needs to be recognised. Ongoing support measures will be required to ensure the recovery of this sector, in parallel with industry action to build consumer confidence and ensure a return of audience numbers to all event types in the long term”.

England follows in the footsteps of DenmarkSweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland – all of which have recently announced plans to lift all remaining restrictions.


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DEAG CEO bullish as German ‘Freedom Day’ confirmed

DEAG CEO Peter Schwenkow is predicting a record 2022 after the German government unveiled its roadmap back to full capacity live events.

With most coronavirus rules already or about to be lifted in the UK, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, Germany has now confirmed a gradual, three-step approach to reopening, culminating in a long-awaited “Freedom Day” on 20 March, amid falling infection numbers.

Beginning with the removal of restrictions on private indoor meetings for the vaccinated, capacity limits on major outdoor events will be raised from 10,000 to 25,000 (or 75% capacity) on 4 March, with clubs also allowed to reopen from that date. Most other Covid curbs will then be axed from 20 March, although basic protective measures such as mask-wearing will remain.

Berlin-based DEAG reported a 126% increase in sales in its most recent financial report, and Schwenkow tells IQ he is confident of the touring market is on an upward trajectory, while acknowledging the ongoing issues it faces with regards to rescheduled shows, re-staffing and the supply chain.

“We are very much convinced we will see a record year”

“We are very much convinced we will see a record year, just by delivering the 5,000-plus shows we have on sale,” he says. “Probably not with the full profit margins due to lack of personnel and by accepting higher costs at ticket prices from 2020 and 2021, but still strong.”

Over in Austria, where measures will be lifted on 5 March, Goodlive Artists Austria’s Silvio Huber warns there are still major obstacles on the live sector’s road to recovery.

“We are glad that restrictions will be lifted soon. It’s about time after two years of uncertainty, worries and nearly no shows,” he tells IQ. “On the other hand, we will face lots of challenges and 2022 will be a tough ride for sure. The market is packed with shows, there is an immense lack of experienced local crews and we will see a significant rise in production costs, rentals and more.

“Additionally we shouldn’t forget that we are not used to a pre-pandemic workload yet! I guess this will be the hardest challenge for our industry this year. I’m really looking forward though as I’m convinced we will overcome all these difficulties.”

“The sale of tickets for regularly planned events will only start slowly and the market will only recover after several months”

Switzerland will also lift almost all pandemic restrictions from midnight on 18 February. Swiss trade body Alliance of Organizer Associations has welcomed the planned easing, but pointed out that it will be months before public confidence is restored and ticket sales return to pre-pandemic levels.

“On the one hand, the existing measures and the cautious behaviour of the public led to the cancellation or postponement of almost all major events planned until the second quarter of 2022,” it said in a statement. “In the same period, almost all events with international artists had to be postponed or cancelled. This presents the industry with the problem of a production backlog and the resulting oversaturation of the market. It can therefore be assumed that the sale of tickets for regularly planned events will only start slowly and the market will only recover after several months.

“On the other hand, the event industry is subject to numerous international dependencies, which – despite easing in Switzerland – continues to pose planning uncertainties for the industry.

“These special circumstances and difficulties in the event industry must be taken into account by ensuring support and compensation measures for as long as there are restrictions and also for an after-effect period of at least 12 months. The latter is also urgently indicated because the lead time for planning large events is several months to one and a half years.”


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Organisers of cancelled Oz fest lament $5m loss

Organisers of Australia’s HomeBrewed festival say the event’s cancellation has resulted in a negative economic impact of AUS$5 million (€3.2m).

Promoted by the team behind the city’s established Beer & BBQ Festival (BBF), artists due to perform at the festival included Bad//Dreems, Teenage Joans, Luke Million, Peter Combe and Horror My Friend.

HomeBrewed, which attracted 10,000 punters to its inaugural edition last year, was set for Adelaide Showground from 21-23 January, but has now been axed due to Covid restrictions – including rules banning “vertical consumption” (drinking while standing) dancing – in South Australia will remain in place until at least 27 January.

“The BBF team have been working hard on this event for several months and have been excited to present a Covid-safe festival by following the guidelines that were set to come into place on 28 December in line with the government of South Australia’s 90% vaccinated re-opening plan,” says event director Gareth Lewis in a social media post.

“This plan has obviously been quashed and instead has been replaced with heavy restrictions for South Australian events indefinitely, at least until 27 January, which includes a ban on ‘vertical consumption’ and dancing, amongst other things – even at fully-vaccinated events.”

The constantly changing goalposts and inconsistency of any real financial support, coupled with total lack of empathy or respect, has led to the destruction of businesses and livelihoods

Lewis notes that South Australia is the only state or territory in Australia whose restrictions would not allow the event to safely proceed.

“We simply can’t run HomeBrewed in a seated format, and a postponement into a time where we would be competing with the beasts that are Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Fringe and WOMADelaide is simply not viable,” he adds.

Breaking down the losses, organisers told The Music that local businesses have missed out on $1,6m in revenue streams and put the overall economic impact lost at upwards of $5m.

“Our industry desperately wants to get back to work in a safe format but the constantly changing goalposts and inconsistency of any real financial support coupled with total lack of empathy or respect has led to the destruction of businesses and livelihoods, the degradation of mental health to the point of costing lives and will now take years if not decades to recover,” adds Lewis.

“We call on the government to engage with the events and hospitality industries, end the state of emergency, develop a proper events insurance scheme as other states have, give us a clear roadmap and stick to it so we can plan for the future.”


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Italian music bodies demand immediate intervention

Italian event bodies have written an open letter to the government requesting a series of measures to ensure the live sector’s survival.

Assomusica, Arci and KeepOn LIVE, who previously united for ‘The Last Concert?’ campaign, have responded after the authorities banned concerts until 31 January and extended the country’s state of emergency to 31 March 2022.

Nightclubs will also remain closed until the end of this month, and the consumption of food and drink at concert halls and other indoor locations is also banned until the end of March, amid the spread of the omicron variant. The use of FFP2 masks is also compulsory on public transport, in theatres, concert halls and cinemas and for sporting events until at least 31 March.

The groups’ letter says the ban “should be reviewed and lifted as soon as possible, with a view to restoring more acceptable conditions” to the industry. It also calls for compensation for artists and behind-the-scenes staff in the event of sudden closures and an extension of the redundancy fund, along with social safety nets and other assistance.

It is paradoxical that a sector… of fundamental importance in the socio-cultural and economic life of the country, continues to be discriminated against

“Live music shows require time and planning,” it says, adding that the current situation has returned Italian event organisers to the “complete darkness in which they have sailed for almost two years”.

“It is paradoxical that a sector… of fundamental importance in the socio-cultural and economic life of the country, continues to be discriminated against compared to the rest of the entertainment funded by the FUS [Unified Fund for the Performing Arts],” it continues.

Arci, Assomusica and KeepOn LIVE conclude by asking for “immediate intervention” from the government “to try to keep alive what little is left of one of the categories most penalised by the entire pandemic”.


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New coronavirus curbs sweep Europe

Coronavirus curbs are being reintroduced around Europe as governments bid to combat the spread of the omicron variant.

Portugal has announced it will close bars and nightclubs from 26 December and limit outdoor gatherings to 10 people, while Germany is to close nightclubs from 28 December. Football matches will be played behind closed doors from that date, with private gatherings restricted to 10 people.

In Catalonia, concert halls and clubs have been closed, while Sweden is introducing new Covid measures from tomorrow (23 December), when vaccination certificates will be required for public gatherings and indoor events of more than 500 people. Participants must have a designated seat and 1m social distancing will be imposed. Groups must be limited to eight people.

The Swedish government has allocated SEK120 million (€11.7m) to the cultural sector, with the details to be finalised in the January budget.

It is absolutely crucial that in a difficult time we create security and support our cultural life

Elsewhere, Denmark has agreed to reopen a number of compensation schemes, including funds for smaller venues and artists.

“It is absolutely crucial that in a difficult time we create security and support our cultural and sports life,” said culture minister Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen.

“Among other things, we ensure assistance to cultural institutions that may cancel or postpone a production due to the restrictions. This will ensure better coverage for cancelled events.”

The reopened compensation schemes came into effect from 19 December and are welcomed by Dansk Live.

“Under the circumstances, it’s a good deal,” says Esben Marcher, the trade body’s head of secretariat. “We feel that they have really listened to us and we really appreciate that.”

The BBC is reporting that Northern Ireland nightclubs, which were the last in the UK to reopen on 31 October, will have to close once more from 27 December.

Yesterday, in Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced new restrictions from 26 December, including the cancellation of large-scale events such as Hogmanay celebrations.

Indoor gatherings will be limited to 100 people standing and 200 seated, while outdoor events will be restricted to 500-capacity, with 1m physical distancing at all events.

Sturgeon also announced that support for businesses affected by Covid-19 will be increased by a further £275 million.

Wales also announced that spectators would be banned from all indoor, outdoor, professional and community sports events in the country from Boxing Day. There has not yet been any announcement about the closure of indoor or outdoor music venues, although economy minister Vaughan Gething said new restrictions will need to be introduced.

However, the contents of a new £1 billion financial package announced by the UK government disappointed live music groups. The additional measures included a £30 million top-up to the Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) and grants of up to £6,000 per premise.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has not ruled out introducing new post-Christmas measures.


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We for India benefit show raises $5m for Covid relief

We for India, a livestreamed fundraising event featuring performances from Ed Sheeran, Nile Rodgers, Annie Lennox and AR Rahman, raised more than US$5 million for the India Covid Response Fund, organisers have announced.

Held on Sunday 15 August 2021, India’s 75th independence day, the show featured more than 100 musicians, actors, film directors, TV stars and other celebrities and was broadcast to a global audience on Facebook. Other participants included Steven Spielberg, Mick Jagger and Indian film stars Ajay Devgan, Hrithik Roshan, Nagarjuna and Arjun Kapoor.

Shibasish Sarkar, group CEO of Reliance Entertainment, which organised We for India in association with GiveIndia, Facebook and the UN platform The World We Want, says: “The honest and sincere effort of our team and our partners is the reason behind the great success of this event. I would like to extend my gratitude to all the talent, artists, philanthropists and everyone who supported this fundraiser. It is our humble contribution to our nation’s ongoing battle against the invisible enemy.”

“I would like to extend my gratitude to all the talent, artists, philanthropists and everyone who supported this fundraiser”

The money, around 370m rupees, was raised from a combination of corporate partners, philanthropic foundations and individual donors, reports IANS. It follows a similar event, I for India, which raised $7m in May 2020.

Atul Satija, CEO of GiveIndia, comments: “We are grateful for all the support we have received from each and everyone who donated and came together to make We For India such an impactful journey. Thank you for making it a success and contributing to our India Covid Response Fund. We all know that the pandemic and the suffering it has caused is far from over. We for India is a great, timely initiative to remind us of the need to continue to provide humanitarian aid and strengthen our health infrastructure.”

“The great success of this initiative is the result of the collective efforts of so many people, and truly epitomises the power of communities,” Manish Chopra, director and head of partnerships for Facebook India, adds. “As Facebook, we are proud to have supported the voice of leading artists from all over the world and partnered Give India and Reliance Entertainment in this laudable effort towards Covid relief.”


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Festival Safe releases Covid-19 festival guide

UK festival safety initiative Festival Safe has released a new guide that aims to make fans aware of how Covid-19 will affect the festival experience, as well as steps to take to keep each other safe.

The Festival Safe site, launched by festival organisers in 2018, offers festivalgoers a one-stop shop for information on every aspect of going to festivals, from what to expect before you go to camping, crime, drugs, alcohol and sexual and mental health.

The new Covid-19 section on Festivalsafe.com provides information on expectations around social distancing, mask wearing and vaccinations, what to do if you develop Covid-19 symptoms at a festival, setting up and using the NHS (National Health Service) Covid Pass for events and more.

Festival Safe founder Jon Drape (Engine No 4) says: “With festivals getting going again, event organisers want to make sure that we are supporting our customers to understand what will be expected of them in the post-Covid-19 season, as well as letting them know what we are doing to help keep them safe.

“Event organisers want to make sure that we are supporting our customers to understand what will be expected of them”

“There is so much new information for people to take in, we have collated this in one place and in simple terms so everyone knows what to expect.

“We are also very aware that there will be thousands of young partygoers attending events for the first time this summer, and we hope the wider site will be really useful for them in understanding what to expect and getting prepared before they go.

“After a year of no partying, we also want to remind people that tolerance levels to alcohol and other drugs may be greatly reduced. There is lots of practical information on the site about how to reduce harm and stay safe.”

In addition to fans, Festival Safe is available to all organisations invested in promoting wellbeing and safety at their events, says the organisation. Event organisers can request access to Festival Safe’s assets through the partners area on the website.


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Learning from the pandemic: The importance of clean air

After a crippling year for the music sector, hope is on the horizon as the world tarts to reopen and people look forward to seeing live music return to the stage. However, the industry still faces several obstacles to tackle as it navigates reopening. Many venues are still unable to operate at full capacity, and it is understandable that people may be hesitant to attend live music events, especially amongst crowds in poor or unventilated indoor venues.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the importance of indoor air quality, with the British Medical Journal recently sharing findings of how SARS-CoV-2 particles behave indoors. The team of scientists examined how SARS-CoV-2 particles can behave like a cloud of exhaled smoke, being most concentrated at ‘short range’ distance (<1m). However, particles dispersed over longer distances (>2m) can linger in the air for hours, posing risks to those exposed even after the original source has left. The risk of indoor particle transmission is highest in indoor environments lacking proper ventilation and is a huge reason for indoor venues and workplaces having to stay closed for the time that they have. The Building Engineering Services Association and scientists around the world are calling for improvements to building ventilation and to have the current regulations completely rewritten to bolster safety standards.

Despite a renewed focus on indoor air quality and ventilation after the pandemic, there is still not enough being done to actively clean indoor air and encourage patrons to return to indoor events venues. There is a key opportunity for event organisers and venue managers across the music sector to future-proof venues, using innovative technologies such as air quality monitoring and management systems to monitor and control the air, removing pollutants in real time. As clean air technology experts, we understand that the safety and wellbeing of your staff and clients is of the utmost importance. Technologies using HEPA filtering with advanced DFS technology that permanently removes ultra-fine particles from any space, and instant monitoring and reporting, make a huge difference to the safety of indoor air, killing pollutants and providing managers with accurate data and controls – these solutions far exceed the European Guidelines EN 1822.

Ensuring the solutions that you choose are chemical- and ozone-free is crucial; we should not be creating a healthier space by adding new problems to the environment with technology such as plasma, bi-polar and ozone generation. These systems while killing bacteria, add further pollution sources into the space with microorganisms. Seeing solutions implemented by venues will give newfound confidence to people wanting to return to events spaces, as well as peace of mind for event managers wanting to ensure the safety of customers. This is of particular importance to the music industry, where spaces are often not just indoors, but without any access to outdoor ventilation.

Technology designed to clean up indoor air … will help live music bounce back in the safest way possible

Crucially, the responsibility should not just be on event organisers and venue managers to implement such solutions. The music industry will surely welcome recovery funding along with guidance around testing and capacity for holding events. However, guidance and funding must also be provided around solutions to indoor air quality, ensuring venues do not have to close again and that they are well-prepared for future waves of Covid-19 or other seasonal viruses. With awareness around indoor air quality and how to manage it so low, it is essential that businesses are provided with proper statutory guidance and advice.

Indoor air quality management also goes further than responding to the pandemic. The long-term health impacts of polluted air are widely noted but rarely acted upon, with people living and working in dirty air far more likely to suffer from issues such as asthma and COPD. What’s more, working in clean air is shown to have a positive effect on worker productivity and happiness. Harvard University has carried out studies on the impact of improved indoor air quality in workspaces, finding that high-performing, green-certified buildings resulted in far greater productivity and health outcomes for employees. In 2015, research found that improving the ventilation of buildings improved the performance of workers by 8%, equivalent to a USD $6,500 increase in employee productivity each year. As well as positive impacts on productivity, the Harvard Business Review last year cited studies that showed significant decreases in employee output as both indoor temperature and rates of outdoor air delivered inside increase. All in all, analysis of sick leave data found that 57% of all time off for illness was due to poor ventilation.

This is why indoor air quality solutions could also bring long-term benefits to those working in the live music industry. The case for investing in innovation grows even stronger when it comes to considering those working and performing in smaller spaces such as sound and lighting booths and recording studios where air quality and circulation is poor. When it comes to live events, those such as organisers, managers, technicians, bar staff and musicians themselves who spend much of their working days in indoor spaces would no doubt be helped by the monitoring and filtering of dirty indoor air. Innovation can drastically change the future of air quality in live music, and even now at OKTOair we have the capabilities to disinfect the air in spaces, chemical and ozone free, ranging from 500 square feet to one million square feet, offering concertgoers ultimate protection and peace of mind.

There are a number of reasons for the live music industry to turn its eye to innovative technology designed to clean up indoor air. Not least will it help live music bounce back in the safest way possible, giving confidence to consumers and venues alike, it will also help ensure that those integral to the backbone of culture can work in safe, clean spaces designed for the future.

Philip Dowds is managing director of OKTO Technologies.