Denmark drops all Covid-19 restrictions for live music
Denmark’s live industry is on the road to recovery after the government yesterday (1 September) dropped all remaining Covid-19 restrictions.
The requirements that have now lapsed include Corona pass requirements for indoor cultural and sporting events with more than 500 standing spectators, and for outdoor cultural and sporting events with more than 2,000 seated spectators. Social distancing has also been scrapped.
Corona passes will be required to gain entry to nightclubs until 10 September, after which point the government will no longer categorise Covid-19 as a “socially critical disease” or legally impose any Covid-19 restrictions.
“It is gratifying that restrictions are a thing of the past for the country’s concert organisers,” says Esben Marcher of Dansk Live – Denmark’s live music association.
“Now that corona is no longer considered a socially critical disease, we are facing a time of great reconstruction work. The organisers must find a foothold after almost two years of complete or partial closure and this is where our focus will be in the coming time.”
“The organisers must find a foothold after almost two years of complete or partial closure”
Minister for culture, Ane Halsboe Jørgensen, adds: “I am simply so happy that the cultural and sports life today can more or less say goodbye to the corona. For a long time, great demands have been made on culture to keep track of the pandemic.
“It has been necessary, but I am very pleased that we can now seriously begin a new chapter with a hopefully really good autumn for our cultural life.”
Denmark is the EU’s third-most vaccinated country, according to Our World in Data, with 71% of the population having received two shots.
The country was one of Europe’s first to impose a partial lockdown in March 2020 and one of the earliest to begin reopening, launching its Corona pass on 21 April this year.
Since that date, Dnanish restaurants, bars, cinemas, gyms, sports stadiums and hairdressing salons have been open for anyone who can prove that they are fully vaccinated, have a negative test result less than 72 hours old or contracted Covid within the past two to 12 weeks.
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Spain rolls out €3 million subsidy for venue operators
The Catalan government yesterday (26 August) announced a new subsidy of €3 million for venue operators in the region.
The fund will help operators mitigate the financial impact of the Covid-19 restrictions implemented during the first half of 2021.
This is the second subsidy of its kind and is almost double the initial €1,800,000 aid for venue operators.
In the new round of funding, the maximum limit of aid that operators can receive is increased to €350,000.
In order to be eligible, venue operators must prove a minimum expenditure of €4,000, as well as programming that includes at least 24 paid concerts between 14 March 2019 and 14 March 2020.
This is the second subsidy of its kind and is almost double the initial €1,800,000 aid for venue operators
Grants will vary depending on the capacity of the venue:
- Rooms with a capacity of up to 400 people: 70% of the declared expense.
- Rooms with a capacity between 401 and 1,500 people: 75% of the declared expense.
- Rooms with a capacity of more than 1,500 people: 80% of the declared expense.
The Catalan government has also announced an €800,000 subsidy for the programming of live music events.
The funding, which applies to festivals, concert series and venue operators, can be used for all projects developed from 1 June 2020 that have ended between 1 October 2020 and 30 September 2021.
Festivals and concert series must have included a minimum of four concerts in Catalonia in order to be eligible. Venue operators must have hosted a minimum of 20 concerts with paid admission in order to apply. Applicants may receive up to €45,000.
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Disabled fans eager to return to live events
A new ‘audience snapshot’ by music and event industry charity Attitude is Everything indicates that a majority of Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people want to return to live events – as long as accessible safety precautions are in place.
The poll of 289 individuals with a history of attending live events found that respondents went to more than 5,000 indoor and more than 1,200 outdoor live events in 2019 – from gigs and festivals to football matches and book launches.
Following the UK’s relaxation of restrictions on 19 July, 50% of respondents say they would feel comfortable attending an indoor live event and 73% said they would feel comfortable attending an outdoor live event, as long as they are confident that as many accessible measures as possible have been put in place to increase safety.
Almost three-quarters (74%) have additional access requirements in order to attend live events, such as companion tickets, accessible seating, step-free access and accessible toilets.
The results underscore the need for event organisers to ensure that access and Covid-safety measures are at the forefront of reopening plans.
Just over two-thirds (67%) of respondents considered themselves to be at heightened risk if they were to contract Covid-19, with 46% having shielded in 2020, and 27% feeling it necessary to return to shielding now rules have been lifted.
“More than ever before, it’s time to recognise that the disabled community are part of the life-blood of culture in the UK”
Furthermore, 42% didn’t see how a live venue could be a safe environment for them at the time they completed the survey (19 July– 1 August), with 24% feeling that they won’t be able to get to an indoor live event until next year at the earliest.
Eighty-three per cent said they would attend a venue or event that requires the NHS Covid Pass to gain entry, with 67% stating they would actively choose a venue that requires an NHS Covid Pass to gain entry over one that doesn’t.
Almost all (96%) of all respondents said it is important that venues and events engage with disabled people who don’t feel safe to return just yet, with 78% thinking venues and events should maintain online streaming as an option.
“In 2019, disabled people were big consumers of live events. In fact, in the years before the pandemic, the economic spend from disabled people attending live music grew from £3.4 million in 2013 to £9.3 million in 2019, so there was always going to be a huge demand from the disabled community to return to live events,” says Suzanne Bull MBE, founder of Attitude is Everything.
“Understandably, disabled people have real and deep-seated fears about how safe live events will be after the pandemic. I urge the live events sector to address concerns and make demonstratable efforts to welcome those with access requirements back to their venues and events, and for artists to become actively involved in this welcome.
“Over the past 18 months, disabled people have been loyal in donating to venues and campaigns to support musicians, and bought music, art and books to help creatives to sustain themselves. So more than ever before, it’s time to recognise that the disabled community are part of the life-blood of culture in the UK.”
Following the survey, Attitude is Everything calls on event organisers to check their post-19 July Covid-safety information and practices against its list of reopening measures supported by respondents.
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South Africa’s largest indoor venue closes
The 20,000-capacity Ticketpro Dome, South Africa’s largest indoor venue, is closing to events and will become a giant used car dealership after owner Sasol Pension Fund sold the building to WeBuyCars.
RX Venue Management, which operated the Johannesburg venue for 20 years, said the venue was unable to operate during the country’s Covid-19 lockdowns, adding that its permanent loss will hit the live industry at a critical time.
Carol Weaving, MD of RX Africa, said: “This is extremely disappointing and heartbreaking for our industry. The Ticketpro Dome has been home to many international concerts and events in South Africa, and this will undoubtedly leave a huge void.
“The constant changes and severity of the Covid-19 restrictions have wreaked havoc amongst our stakeholders and across the supply chain. This has meant we were unable to change the outcome of Sasol Pension Fund’s decision to sell the venue due to a force majeure. We want to thank all our customers, suppliers, and partners for their support over the past 20 years.”
“This is extremely disappointing and heartbreaking for our industry.”
Artists that performed at the Dome include Katy Perry, Pink, Lauren Hill, Lionel Richie, Celine Dion, Pharrell Williams, and Michael Bublé.
In a statement on Facebook, leading South African promoter Big Concerts said: “We are saddened by the news that the Dome will be closing their doors. Since 1998, we have promoted 186 shows at the Dome. To all our friends at the Ticketpro Dome, it’s been a pleasure working with you all, we will miss you terribly!”
The WeBuyCars showroom is expected to have room for 1,500 vehicles, making it one of the largest car showrooms in the world. Handover is expected on 7 September.
Paris test results: Concerts don’t pose extra Covid risk
The findings from a recent test concert in France show that attending a concert is not associated with an increased risk of transmission when certain hygiene and testing protocols are followed.
The clinical trial, organised by French live music association Prodiss and Paris hospital AP-HP under the banner ‘Ambition Live Again’, took place on 29 May at the Accor Arena (20,300-cap.) in Paris with DJ Etienne de Crécy and the band Indochine.
The trial compared the risk of contamination between two randomised groups: an experimental group of 4,451 people who attended the concert and a control group of 2,227 people who did not attend the concert.
In the first stage, 6,968 people took a rapid antigen test within three days of the concert. Of those, 290 people had ‘non-inclusion criteria’ – one of whom had a positive rapid antigen test – and were not allowed to participate in the experiment.
On the day of the concert, all participants had to present proof of their negative test at the entrance, either downloaded on the TousAntiCovid-Carnet app – which was trialled for the first time at a public cultural event – or in paper format.
Throughout the event, participants’ compliance with wearing masks was assessed by an artificial intelligence tool
The health protocols at the event included the continuous wearing of surgical masks by all participants, reinforcement of hand sanitisation, and optimised ventilation of the room. The bars/restaurants and the smoking areas were closed. Bottles of water were distributed at will.
Throughout the event, participants’ compliance with wearing masks was assessed by an artificial intelligence tool from images captured in real-time by cameras placed in the room thanks to a scientific collaboration with Datakalab.
During the four hours that attendees were present in the AccorArena, the overall compliance with wearing a mask was evaluated at 91%.
Seven days after the event, all participants were required to take a PCR test. The number of participants with a positive PCR test was eight among the 3,917 participants in the experimental group, compared to three among the 1,947 participants in the control group.
Among those eight participants in the experimental group, five were already positive on the day of the concert, excluding the possibility of contamination during the show. Some participants did not return their saliva samples or did not come to the concert.
Prodiss says that its primary aim now is to dissuade the government from a “stop and go” approach
In conclusion, the study showed a similar infection rate in people attending the indoor, standing concert while wearing a mask (0.20%) compared to the people not attending (0.15%). (The incidence rate observed in the study corresponds to the estimated incidence rate in France in the two weeks preceding the event.)
AP-HP is now submitting the analysed data from the study for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, while Prodiss has requested a meeting with the government to discuss next steps.
The association says that its primary aim now is to dissuade the government from a “stop and go” approach and avoid the live industry shutting down when the incidence rate goes up.
The Paris results follow similar positive data out of studies in multiple other European countries, all of which showed that live events do not pose a risk to public health while Covid-19 is still a threat.
Organisers of AJ Tracey Manchester gig fined £10,000
The organisers of a surprise AJ Tracey gig have been fined £10,000 after huge crowds gathered in a park in Manchester to see the rapper perform.
In a video posted on Twitter afterwards, the British rapper said that he hadn’t expected so many people to turn up to Platt Fields in south Manchester yesterday (18 April) afternoon.
I’ll be back when it’s safe to do so, sorry guys 🙏🏽♥️ pic.twitter.com/XpLcEyXt7J
— aj (@ajtracey) April 18, 2021
Photos and video footage show hundreds of people standing around basketball courts inside the park, with police appearing to monitor the situation.
Greater Manchester police have now confirmed a £10,000 fixed penalty notice has been issued to the organiser for breaching coronavirus legislation, the Manchester Evening News reported.
AJ Tracey in the building – showing love to Manchester! 🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾
Big up ✅✅ 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾
The British rapper was reportedly in Birmingham beforehand and had planned to visit Bristol afterwards but has now cancelled the mini tour.
“Big love Manny [Manchester] and Brum [Birmingham], thank you for coming out. […] It’s not going to be safe for me to come to Bristol. I didn’t expect that many people to turn up in Manny and genuinely, yeah man, this is not okay for me to go ahead. I’m gonna head home to London,” AJ Tracey said in the video.
It is not known whether AJ Tracey performed in Birmingham, but he was spotted signing CDs of his new album Flu Game at record shop HMV.
— hmv Vault (@hmvVault) April 18, 2021
Six60 to play world’s largest concert since Covid
New Zealand band Six60 are set to play the world’s largest concert since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic to 50,000 people next month.
The band will be the first act to play New Zealand’s largest stadium, Eden Park (50,000-capacity) in Auckland, on 24 April as part of their Six60 Saturdays tour.
In February this year, it was announced that the famous sporting stadium could host up to six concerts a year, following a five-day hearing in November in which residents’ concerns about potential noise and disruption were addressed.
Six60 were an active voice in the campaign to bring concerts to Eden Park and frontman Matiu Walters said in a statement: “It’s no secret that Six60 have wanted to play Eden Park for some time now. We always felt that it was important a kiwi band should play the first show at our national stadium.
“We always felt that it was important a kiwi band should play the first show at our national stadium”
“Because of the hard work that New Zealand has done as a community we’re in the privileged position to be able to perform to an audience of this size. It’s a great reward, we’re stoked that it’s become a reality and it’s a real honour to bring our show to the garden of Eden. We can’t wait.”
The Eden Park concert will be the seventh date of Six60 Saturdays, which is the only stadium tour in the world to go ahead during the pandemic so far.
In January, the band delivered the biggest headline show in New Zealand since the pandemic began to an estimated 20,000 people at Waitangi Sports Grounds in Paihia.
The tour has also made stops in Hastings, New Plymouth, Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton.
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.
Sportpaleis plans non-stop 24-hour livestream concert
Antwerp Sportpaleis is organising a 24-hour non-stop livestream concert to mark exactly one year since concert halls closed due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
More than 100 Belgian artists, across all genres, will perform original and cover songs in the empty 18,400-seat arena to show that they are ‘ready to storm stages again’.
Miguel Wiels is part of talent and production agency Les Flamands and one of the artists who will perform on the night: “After a year, the jitters can no longer be kept. Everyone in the industry wants to make music, well, we’re going to do that with my band.
“We have a setlist of more than 400 songs available”
“It’s heartwarming how many artists have voluntarily agreed to play with us. We have a setlist of more than 400 songs available. It’s going to be a long marathon and we probably won’t have enough of it after 24 hours. On the contrary: it is an advance when we will also be able to stand in front of a live audience. That moment is getting closer, we have every confidence in it. This stunt is a good dress rehearsal for that.”
Prime minister Jan Jambon, says: “We have had the most disastrous year in the history of our culture and events sector. I am very happy to contribute to 24 Hours Live. Because that’s what we have to do: let the music go on, no matter how difficult the circumstances. I hope that we will soon be able to resume our normal life.”
Sportpaleis recently raised €50,000 for Belgium’s live music industry through its Lights for Live fundraising initiative.
Roqu CEO details health passport innovation
In summer 2020, Ireland-based Roqu Group launched Health Passport Worldwide (HPW), a secure platform that combines mobile technologies with official Covid-19 tests and vaccinations.
The technology has been engineered specifically to ‘help curtail the spread of Covid-19’ and is enabling the safe reopening of events, travel and sports in nine countries worldwide.
Now, Robert Quirke, president and CEO at Roqu, tells IQ how HPW is now working alongside leading international events producers, live music organisations and ticketing companies to create solutions that will reopen events this summer.
IQ: Who is able to use HPW?
RQ: The app is free to be used by the public and also by official healthcare providers. The system is multilingual. Depending on the model of the smartphone, font sizes can be increased and text-to-speech can be enabled. The overall technology platform is being used by event producers, the travel industry, pharmacies and many more. The dependents feature means that people with disabilities can make full use of the tech if they wish.
In which countries has HPW established a presence?
The technology is actively being used in the UK, Ireland, Portugal, South Africa, Canada, Bulgaria, Kenya, Nigeria and Ibiza.
Where has it been trialled so far?
Extensive system trials have already been performed in Ireland, the UK and South Africa at healthcare centres, pharmacies, nursing homes for staff vaccinations, schools (staff), offices and more. In December of last year, the system was successfully used at the trial live music event in Cape Town called Recharge2020, working alongside Ticketmaster, the city and local production companies.
“The system was successfully used at the trial live music event in Cape Town called Recharge2020, working alongside Ticketmaster”
Has HPW received the stamp of approval from any governments?
The organisation focuses on successful industry adoption across various sectors. Our approach is to not wait, but rather to immediately support industries that urgently need solutions. The technology is being closely observed by many governments with a view to supporting their vaccines deployment initiatives.
The digital passport market is becoming increasingly saturated. How does your product stand out?
This is not a concept, it is a living breathing solution, and has been since last summer. There is currently no other health passport solution that has achieved the level of support and adoption compared to HPW. Our solution is already being used by some of the world’s leading organisations. Every minute, someone somewhere in the world receives their Covid-19 test result safely via our technology.
How does the app keep users’ data secure and private?
The founders of the technology have put user privacy as a priority because unlike some other mobile technologies, the HPW app does not track people’s location, does not use Bluetooth, does not use GPS and does not monitor people’s usage of the system. Data is not shared with any third parties. This function does not even exist within the technology.
“The technology also integrates with public health systems, festivals, airports, test centres, event ticketing platforms”
Does the app work in harmony with existing healthcare and tech systems?
Yes, the system can integrate where necessary with labs, hospitals and existing public health platforms. A special function is included to support various doses of vaccinations. You can also book a test directly within the app, making everything as easy as possible for the user.
The technology also integrates with public health systems, festivals, airports, test centres, event ticketing platforms and more.
For what purposes do you see HPW being used?
Enabling efficiencies at testing and vaccination centres, international travel, major sporting and music events with very large crowds. This platform will absolutely not be used for everyday life, such as going out for dinner or to the pub!
How could HPW facilitate the return of live music?
The technology enables event producers to scan high volumes of people in a very short period of time, the same as scanning your event ticket at entry. The system gives guests and producers the reassurance that people entering the venue are at a very low or zero risk of transmitting Covid-19. The HPW team has extensive experience in testing and can support events not just with the technology, but also with the end-to-end efficient and safe process.
“The solution to safely test 65,000 people within eight hours is already being deployed into Europe”
Can HPW integrate with event ticketing platforms?
Yes, for example, an anonymous code could be shared. But the system will not share medical information or personal details.
Festivals admit tens of thousands of people over a relatively short amount of time. Is HPW capable of processing a high volume of testing onsite?
Yes, the solution to safely test 65,000 people within eight hours is already being deployed into Europe.
Will venues and festivals have to implement any kind of hardware in order to use HPW?