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Festival focus: Melvin Benn

Melvin Benn is often regarded as one of the founding fathers of the UK festival industry. Now, as managing director of Live Nation-owned Festival Republic, he is responsible for festivals including Latitude, Wireless, Download, and Ireland’s Electric Picnic. During Covid, he was central to securing the return of live music, through a concerted campaign of lobbying and planning, and by funding test events. In an extended excerpt from IQ‘s recently published European Festival Report, he opens up on the travails of the last three years and explains why festivals remain integral to cultural life…

What did it take for you and the team to get through the pandemic?
“In truth, Covid was one of the most stressful and traumatic periods of my life. Like many people, I had people close to me personally die because of Covid. And the numbers of people getting infected was so high. But what was particularly challenging for all of our industry is that the creative industries are made up of people that are doers. There wouldn’t be a Leeds festival if I hadn’t got off my arse to create it; there wouldn’t be a Latitude and so on. We’re all made up of people that just want to do things and create things and create excitement for the public to enjoy. So the frustration of not being able to do so was immense. So in June 2020, I came up with something called the Full Capacity Plan because it became apparent that transmission was airborne. This plan was based on people wearing masks, and people gathering together that had been tested and proven to be clear, so the rise of Covid would be not substantially greater than the rise in general society.

“I trotted off to every government department that you could imagine, with the industry behind me, and made a lot of effort to try and get us back working. Eventually, when it fitted government plans to get events back on the road, particularly because of the desire to hold Wimbledon and the European Football Championship, they started listening. Initially though, they didn’t accept the music industry as being a test environment – they wanted to put us in the same environment as football fans in a stadium. I felt that left us vulnerable – I could imagine the government’s scientists saying ‘this is great, we can open the football, but we should have done some research around music and we didn’t so music can’t open’. So I spent an intense three weeks hammering on government, for us to be allowed to do that, which resulted in the Sefton Park trial in Liverpool and the Download trial.

“One of the people that was most significant helping me at that time was Sir Nicholas Hytner. He’d been appointed to the government intelligence squad of people that would advise on getting it all back together. And he understood the need for it, and saw the government didn’t want to do one because they didn’t want to pay for it. It was more complicated than that, but it was only my insistence and willingness to pay for the events myself, through Festival Republic and Live Nation that really allowed it to go ahead. The frustration around that was immense.

“I felt a great responsibility in order to help the industry”

“There were lots of people involved in many aspects trying to get us on the back, such as the LIVE group. I felt a great responsibility in order to help the industry. What I found interesting was how much the visibility of the music industry – myself and others constantly being in the press, on the radio, TV, and so on, pushing to get us open – how much that gave encouragement to my team and the general industry. The amount of people that contacted me to say, ‘this is amazing, Melvin’. And even now, I bump into people that I haven’t seen since Covid, and they say ‘listening to you on the radio is one of the things that kept me going – it kept us believing that we would reopen’. There are a number of leaders in this industry and I think they all allowed the wider industry to feel an element of hope that we would get back.

“March 2020 through to May ’21 when we had the first test were probably the worst 16 months of my adult life because of the frustration of being someone that wants to do things been prevented from doing them. Especially when the plan that I’d created in 2020 was the plan that the government rolled out for the whole of the test programme for football and sport around.

“When I did the test events in Sefton Park and at Download in early June, I had a constant belief that I would have been able to do Glastonbury too. But the government didn’t have the appetite for that. And I’m not criticising them for that. What they were dealing with was much bigger than anything that we were dealing with. But what we were dealing with was pretty big in our lives.”

“Audiences are interested in ever-improving standards. And that can only be good for our industry”

So what did it mean to you when your events came back properly for the first time?
“It can’t be described anything other than absolute joy. You know, everybody associated with getting gates open feels joy every time we open a date, every time we open the doors of a venue – it’s because we live to create and invent. So there’s joy all the time, but the feeling when you realised that you could do it after the pandemic was immeasurable. But

“We had huge Covid protocols for the staff. You have to build a significant element of resilience for very large events in order to feel confident that it would happen. At Glastonbury last year, for instance, we had a whole work environment where people could continue working if they caught Covid and felt well enough to be able to continue. And it was pretty busy.”

What trends are you seeing?
“Audiences are interested in ever-improving standards. And that can only be good for our industry. The public forum of TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media can be hard to deal with it, because it’s quite a challenge because everyone can see someone complaining about an overflowing bin, for example. But what it also does, is it helps inform my team about what festival-goers are thinking. My social media teams start talking to the person who’s posted the picture of the bin, asking them where it is, and we can get it rectified in real time. So that direct interactivity between the festival producers and festival-goers, is quite new. The more that you interact with them, the more they’ll come back. They’ll say ‘I saw a problem. I reported a problem, they fixed it.’ I’m okay with that. That level of interaction also informs issues such as sustainability and diversity, which is very important.”

“In 1989 there were only two festivals in this country: Reading and Glastonbury. It’s how much people’s lives have changed. Festivals are a cultural gathering”

What challenges does the industry face?
“The obvious thing is the supply chain and the labour shortage. I would say in the main we overcame those issues because the industry is made up of people that do things. To give you an example, we produce the Electric Picnic in Ireland. It’s the biggest event in Ireland. It takes place in September, and in late May the people we had contracted to provide power told us they couldn’t do it. In any year that hadn’t been preceded by two years of difficulty of Covid that would have been a catastrophe, but after two years of Covid we were just like ‘OK, thanks for telling us’. That we were able to overcome it was with the help of people like Sunbelt. It’s a massive company that owns trackway and all that stuff but they never had a power division. But they said, ‘OK, we’ll create one.'”

What’s the importance of festivals to cultural life?
“Festivals have been around for hundreds of years. We’re bringing, light and enjoyment to people’s lives. People are able to gather among like-minded people at festivals. And that’s a great feeling – it’s a cultural uplift. They make you feel relaxed when society is constantly putting immense pressure on communities and individuals every day. The ability for doctors or nurses, or accountants or office workers to be able to come out and let themselves go gives them a release from the daily pressures that they live under.

“There were lots of people including my staff who would come to me in tears with the emotion of what they’d helped to get back on the road. You just have to look at forums or social media and you’ll see people talking about where they’re going to camp – and it can be almost a year before the next festival – some haven’t even bought their ticket yet. That’s how important it is.

“If you think that in 1989 there were only two festivals in this country: Reading and Glastonbury. It’s how much people’s lives have changed. Festivals are a cultural gathering.”

Benn is one of the confirmed speakers for the Festival Forum session at ILMC on Wednesday 1 March from 2pm. Read the European Festival Report in full below.

 

 


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German biz cannot survive without aid, says alliance

Germany’s live industry says it will not be able to cope with new challenges such as skyrocketing energy prices if the government does not provide further financial aid.

Jens Michow, president of the Federal Association of the Concert and Event Industry (BDKV), was invited to a government hearing, held on Wednesday (12 October), to discuss the consequences of the energy crisis on the cultural sector.

He told the committee for culture and media that the crisis is presenting the industry with another existential threat and that it has not been able to properly restart after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among other things, Michow called for the existing Neustart Kultur II (Restart Culture 2) fund to be continued at least until the end of 2023 and for the organisers to be relieved of the burden of absorbing increases in energy costs at the venues.

In addition, he urged the government to create a fund for cultural events that can be used if events are no longer economical due to excessively increased energy costs, and also to strengthen the energy self-sufficiency of venues.

“We demand that all remaining funds from 2022 remain unrestricted in the economic sector”

Michow also told the committee that it was a major problem for the industry that from 2023 there would no longer be any cover for event cancellations caused by the pandemic.

“[The €2.5 billion government-backed insurance pot] is expected to have remaining funds of €1.5–1.8 billion by the end of the year. We demand that all remaining funds from 2022 remain unrestricted in the economic sector for which they were originally made available,” he said.

Last month, IQ heard from a number of European arenas who also said that skyrocketing energy costs are emerging as the sector’s biggest challenge since the Covid-19 pandemic.

AEG-owned Barclays Arena (formerly the Barclaycard Arena) in Hamburg, Germany, was among the venues that reported a “huge” increase in energy costs.

 


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UK report reveals Covid’s impact on ticketing

The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) has published a report outlining the impact of Covid-19 on the UK’s ticketing industry.

Independent ticketing expert Will Quekett was commissioned to interview 39 stakeholders from across the ticketing and events industry between January to March 2022, including venues, event organisers and ticket agents, as well as the banking and finance sector.

According to the study, ticketing businesses reported an average drop in turnover of up to 85% in 2020 and 58% in 2021, while the sale of ticket protection products rocketed as customers sought to protect their risk. Ticket Protection companies reported a 300% increase in conversion at the peak of the pandemic, which has since stabilised at 200% of the pre-pandemic conversion rate.

“As the pandemic hit, overnight the ticketing industry went into crisis mode as it sought to support venues, event organisers and millions of ticket buyers,” says STAR CEO Jonathan Brown. “It was a truly remarkable effort that the whole industry should be proud of. However, there are always lessons to be learned as to how we can do things better and we hope that this report has been helpful in revealing the starting points for cross-industry discussions about improvements that can be made in the future.”

The report commended ticketing staff for their commitment through the pandemic, but found noted that employers have faced difficulties recruiting new staff when building back. Disputes through STAR – the self-regulatory body for live events ticketing in the UK – also rose from 2019 levels by 39% in 2020 and 73% in 2021.

“It is clear that there is room for improvement and clarity about how the ticketing and events industry operates”

The report includes recommendations for consideration by stakeholders across the live events industries, including greater consistency of ticketing policies, including the refunding of booking and transaction fees for cancelled events; and the development of improved customer service for ticket buyers through the introduction of technologies such as online self-service and chatbots to deal with FAQs.

It also calls for STAR to consider extending its Code of Practice to include standards of service and information for ticket protection, and to take on a more proactive role in relation to common industry practice.

“It was heartening to hear the praise for hard-working ticketing staff across the country,” says Quekett, the report’s author. “However, it is clear that there is room for improvement and clarity about how the ticketing and events industry operates to ensure that the public can continue to buy tickets with confidence.”

Interviewees were encouraged to be as open and honest as possible about their experiences, and were invited to give their views on what lessons could be learned for the future.

“STAR has always been at the forefront of cross-industry initiatives to improve consumer confidence in the ticketing industry,” adds STAR chair Andrew Sharp. “This report highlights how the customer-first approach adopted by our members helped them avoid many of the consumer issues and controversies that other sectors faced during the pandemic. STAR will use this report to lead the conversation within the live events industry to ensure that this work continues.”

 


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Lowlands director discusses road to recovery

A Campingflight to Lowlands Paradise director Eric van Eerdenburg has told IQ about the festival’s struggle to bounce back after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The annual Dutch festival, which is promoted by Live Nation-owned Mojo Concerts, returned last weekend (19–21 August) after two consecutive cancellations.

Arctic Monkeys, Bring Me The Horizon, Glass Animals and Arlo Parks were among the 250 musical artists that performed across eleven stages at the Walibi Holland site in Biddinghuizen, central Netherlands.

With a myriad of hurdles to clear after the Covid-19 pandemic, Eerdenburg says the thing he’s most proud of with Lowlands 2022 was “That we managed”.

“The vibe was great – both front and backstage. We had lots of new staff that performed great and more women on gators and with heavy tools. We also had more people of colour than ever in our workforce and audience.”

A shortage of both suppliers and staff – a challenge faced across the festival market this year – were both resolved in the end, the latter after Mojo launched a new platform featuring hundreds of festival jobs.

Though the comeback edition sold out, Eerdenburg says Lowland’s financial recovery from the scrapped 2020 and 2021 editions is “not good enough”, and that the margin on the 2022 edition was “way too low”.

The festival raised its ticket price by €35 to €255 (including fees) for 2022 weekend tickets and Eerdenburg says, reluctantly, the admission fee will have to go up again for 2023.

“I’m worried whether my young audiences can still afford to go to festivals,” he explains. “New fans are essential to artists and newcomer audiences are essential to festivals.”

But profits aside, Lowlands continued its legacy of innovation in 2022. This year saw the festival make a huge leap towards a greener festival, with Mojo and renewable energy producer Solarfields opening the world’s largest solar carport in the site’s car park.

Providing space for 15,000 cars, its 90,000 solar panels produce an annual capacity of 35 MWp of electricity, meaning around 10,000 households can be supplied with green energy – equivalent to the power consumption of roughly 100 Lowlands weekends.

This year, the power is going to the national grid but Eerdenburg expects Lowlands to start using it in 2024 after the infrastructure is up and running.

“It’s a big operational change for a festival of this size,” he says. “Regulations need to be tackled and infrastructure needs to be built.”

In the meantime, Eerdenburg and his team will turn their attention to the next edition, which will return to Biddinghuizen from 18-20 August next year.

 


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German industry frustrated by government silence

The German Event Management Forum has expressed its frustration over the lack of dialogue from the government over the pandemic-related challenges facing the live industry.

It was revealed earlier this month that the business could face fresh Covid restrictions this autumn and winter as health chiefs bid to prevent another seasonal spike in infections.

A proposed amendment to the Infection Protection Act would make masks mandatory on public transport and care facilities from 1 October to 7 April, while giving individual states the power to introduce additional regulations – potentially impacting the live music business and raising concerns among promoters.

“The associations considered it irresponsible for organisers to sell tickets again without knowing whether their events could actually go ahead as planned,” says the Forum.

“While there is no safety net at all for the B2B sector in the event of a necessary cancellation of events, the cultural organisers run the risk of not being allowed to grant admission to some of the ticket buyers. This would be expected even if only a mask requirement was prescribed.

“If this did not already exist at the time the ticket was purchased, the obligation to wear a mask would already entitle you to withdraw from the purchase contract.”

“The Forum points out that another aid programme for the events industry is inevitable if the present draft is not optimised accordingly”

The coalition – which includes the BDKV (Federal Association of the Concert and Event Industry) and venue association LiveKomm (LiveMusikKommission) – has complained it has still not been given a contact within the government to discuss the ongoing issues with, despite repeated requests.

In a letter to the Parliamentary State Secretary and SME Commissioner of the Federal Government, the association says its current priority is to talk through its concerns over the draft of the Infection Protection Act.

“From the point of view of the associations, the implementation of infection protection measures must follow clear and binding criteria. These were missing in the draft,” it states. “The Forum points out that another aid programme for the events industry is inevitable if the present draft is not optimised accordingly.

“On the present basis, the draft law is already leading to considerable uncertainty in all areas of the economy. This will again result in event cancellations in the area of ​​cultural events as well as in the area of ​​B2B events.”

Earlier this summer, live event organisers issued a preemptive warning to the government against potential further restrictions.

The Forum said it was “imperative” any future containment measures did not include capacity limits or social distancing requirements for concerts.

 


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MMF CEO warns touring costs will price out artists

Annabella Coldrick, CEO of the UK’s Music Managers Forum (MMF), warns that the cost of touring will see some artists priced out of their careers, resulting in a “lost generation” of talent.

According to the CEO, the membership is dealing with a “perfect storm” of Brexit, Covid and inflation, making touring unaffordable for some acts.

“I want to be really positive because we’re so pleased that live music is back but when costs have gone up 30-40% – and you can’t put tickets up at the same level because people are working out how to pay their heating bill – that’s tough,” says Coldrick.

“Some artists can absorb the current costs of touring but most can’t. I think we’re going to have to look at how we tour and what reductions we can bring in.”

One band that has spoken up about the overwhelming cost of touring is Belfast-based band New Pagans, who earlier this year opened up about the “massive debt” they racked up on a European tour with Skunk Anansie.

“I think we’re going to have to look at how we tour and what reductions we can bring in”

“Brexit and Covid have truly done a number on small bands. To break even on a tour, or even come home with a little profit was always the goal… to come home from a tour having accumulated massive debt is now the reality for many small and independent bands in 2022,” reads a tweet from the band.

“Fuel costs, tolls, venues taking 25% of merch, buying a carnet to get through customs: just a few things conspiring against you.”

Coldrick raises concerns that the hike in prices will result in a talent drain of British artists.

“I think in five or six years’ time, you’ll see a load of artists who lost momentum because of Covid and not being able to make ends meet,” she says. “And when you look at festival bills in half a decade, they’ll be much fewer British artists on them – partly because they’ve not been able to build the audiences from touring.”

And for the acts that do continue to tour, there’ll be some tough decisions to make – both financially and creatively.

“I think in five or six years’ time, you’ll see a load of artists who lost momentum because of Covid”

“I think production will be severely stripped back for those who do go ahead with touring,” she continues. “I’ve already heard about bigger bands that would usually take three trucks and are now just taking one. We will definitely see different types of shows now.”

With no silver bullet for the cost of touring, the MMF CEO anticipates a tough few years for gigging acts but says there are some things that can ease the pressure.

A 5% rate of VAT on ticket sales is high on the CEO’s wishlist, along with acts being able to take home 100% of the proceeds from the merchandise sold at concerts.

“So many managers have spent a lot of time trying to find ways around venues taking a commission of merchandise,” she explains. “I’ve heard stories about artists hiring ice cream vans and putting them outside of the venue to sell merch, or taking over cafes. We don’t want to do that – it’s a lot more time and effort.

“We’re hoping the venues will realise that being able to make it possible for artists to tour at the moment is a key thing. I think we need to realise we’re all in it together and try and find a way to make that level of touring work or shows will get pulled and that’s not good for anyone in the industry.”


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Freight expectations: Inside the sector’s busiest year

It’s an oft-used phrase in 2022 that the live music business is packing three years’ worth of activity into one year, as postponed festivals and tours from the pandemic period concertina alongside new tours and events around the planet. But, while there will undoubtedly be certain artists and outings that become casualties of the resulting vastly oversaturated marketplace, on paper, at least, the windfall for the likes of contractors and suppliers should help make up for some of the darker, revenue-free days that Covid inflicted.

In the freight and transport sector, the order books are full. Indeed, backlogs of requests remain seemingly permanently on reserve for those acts still scrambling to find solutions to get back out in front of their fans, while standard industry practices such as double drivers are all but non-existent for the foreseeable future such is the dearth of trained and skilled people.

“To be totally honest with you, everyone is working as hard as they ever have – but always with a smile on their faces, and no one is complaining,” reports Rock-it Global managing director Chris Palmer. “Because we had nearly two years without any kind of significant touring, everyone is just so hungry to get back to what we know and love best… 2022 is shaping up to be the busiest year I’ve known in over 20 years in the industry.”

“Everyone is working as hard as they ever have”

KB Event CEO Stuart McPherson comments, “We have everything from the biggest stadium tour on the road out right now (Ed Sheeran’s Mathematics) through arena tours such as Little Mix, Craig David, Stereophonics, etc, down to theatres with the likes of George Benson, Gregory Porter and many, many others. We are running from Malta to Finland with acts like Bring Me the Horizon, and we’re doing just about every festival on the circuit with various acts and production trucks over the summer.

“The volumes we are experiencing with re-scheduled tours and shows, coupled with new tours, festivals and events, are like nothing we have experienced in 30 years,” he continues. “This has been exacerbated by the challenges placed on the trucking industry by the TCA [Brexit deal]. The temporary dual registration easement agreed in March, with a planned permanent arrangement in the autumn, means that KB are able to service the European tours we are booked on.

“But the big challenge facing our sector is that there are now only five companies in the whole of the EU – KB being one of them – that are established and able to take advantage of the dual registration agreement to service tours throughout the UK and EU. This sees a huge demand for these services with a much-reduced resource pool to support the industry requirements.”

“The volumes [of events] we are experiencing are like nothing we have experienced in 30 years”

All too aware of the importance the sector has on delivering live music to the masses, Lisa Ryan, group CCO for EFM Global, comments, “Logistics is a hot topic at a much higher level than previously, due to the many ongoing challenges facing the industry, culminating in the perfect storm for everyone involved in touring.”

Detailing the various aspects contributing to that perfect storm, Ryan listed the main issues: ongoing global supply chain disruption (including port congestion and unreliable schedules), reduced space capacity on board flights and vessels, high fuel prices and unprecedented rate levels for international air and sea freight in particular.

Extremely high demand for ATA Carnets, short supply of trucks and drivers (particularly traditional music tour truckers) and shortage of “spare” aircraft available to the private charter market and resourcing, including staff.

“My advice is to plan to be late and over budget – in other words, don’t underestimate the budget or the length of time it may take to get from A to B to C on tour,” says Ryan. “Plan ahead, allow contingency, and keep last-minute changes to a minimum, where possible.”

“2022 is proving our busiest year to date after 40 years in operation”

It is sound advice that finds a sympathetic ear with Transam Trucking chief Mark Guterres. “2022 is proving our busiest year to date after 40 years in operation,” attests Guterres, who explains that his business experienced tremendous upheaval even before Covid reared its head, thanks to Brexit.

“Over three years ago we moved a large part of our European operations from the UK to [the Republic of Ireland] and the Netherlands, long before Brexit, so therefore our European operations have been running smoothly for some time now.” He adds, “Our biggest problems continue to be caused by the lack of preparation and planning by the UK authorities.”

Indeed, Guterres himself is now based in Auckland, New Zealand. “Here, I’m nearly a day ahead of the USA and therefore I can bridge the gap between our European offices and operating centres and our US-based customers,” he explains of his antipodean relocation.

New Kids on the Block
Of course, the coronavirus crisis radically changed the world as we know it, and in live entertainment, many companies folded, skilled people left the business entirely, while others used the moment as an opportunity to launch new enterprises to shake up and disrupt the marketplace.

In the freight game, one of the significant players to emerge from the pandemic is Freight Minds – a collection of vastly experienced individuals who initially set up a logistics company called SFW Logistics before morphing into the latest incarnation.

Based at London’s Heathrow Airport, Freight Minds got off the ground in August 2021 when industry veterans Alan Durrant, Geoff Knight, Matt Wright and Chris Jenkins began offering services including air passenger and cargo charter; warehousing and logistics; couriers; ATA Carnets; and Brexit-related customs clearance services both into and out of the UK via road.

“These companies are rapidly trying to recruit staff to plug the gap, but the pandemic hasn’t helped”

Addressing the current situation in freight, Wright tells IQ, “[Pre-Covid] we could reasonably rely on published ocean line schedules with the occasional hiccup. Now it seems to be the opposite: permanent hiccups with the occasional vessel running on time.

“There’s been a massive staff reduction in the supply chain since March 2020, and the way these companies communicate has now changed. The vast majority is now expected to be done via email, which isn’t always the easiest way to discuss matters. These companies are rapidly trying to recruit staff to plug the gap, but the pandemic hasn’t helped and Brexit has compounded that further.”

He adds, “Only operating as a new business, the work has hit us like a tidal wave, which has been amazing for Freight Minds, but it’s come with its challenges as we only have so many hours in the day to service our customers.”

Spiralling Costs
One inescapable horror that is affecting companies across the transport and freight sector is Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has prompted fuel prices to soar and contributed to rising inflation. But there are other costs to contend with as well.

Noting the ever-increasing price of diesel and other fuels, KB Event’s McPherson tells IQ, “Tours and shows are booking so late at the moment that we are quoting pretty much at fuel rates as they sit. However, our drivers’ wages have increased by 46% since August 2021, and for anything we are quoting on that’s more than a few weeks away, we are having to put in contractual clauses to say that we will review the fuel costs prior to start up.”

While those staff wage rises are inevitably passed on to clients, McPherson is at pains to highlight that ongoing fuel cost reviews should lead to lower quotes at some point. “We are being very clear with clients on what fuel rate we are quoting at, and we’re being absolutely transparent that if fuel costs reduce when we are live, we will reduce our charges,” promises McPherson. “It is unreasonable to expect clients to cover fuel increases but not to offer a reduction when costs reduce.”

“Logistics costs, whether via air, road, rail or sea, have been soaring for months and are showing little sign of slowing down”

Elsewhere, Ryan notes that freight forwarding costs have also taken an unprecedented leap, meaning that fees for moving equipment from city to city, country to country and continent to continent have soared, post-pandemic. “Logistics costs, whether via air, road, rail or sea, have been soaring for months and are showing little sign of slowing down in the immediate
future,” states Ryan.

“Factors driving these price increases are ongoing global supply chain disruption, port congestion, reduced capacity in tandem with increased demand, staff shortages, high fuel prices and now rising inflation levels in many locations. Plus, the ever-present impact of Covid-19.”

While Ryan is reluctant to specify general ballpark figures, “as it varies dramatically on different routes,” she tells IQ that costs have at least doubled and significantly more in many cases. “I can tell you as an example that from the Far East to the UK, the sea freight rates around the time of the Tokyo Olympics had increased to more than five-times pre-pandemic levels,” she adds.

Covid Recovery
In tandem with many businesses forced to curtail normal operations during the pandemic, Rock-it Global’s senior management team used the downtime as wisely as possible in an effort to ensure the company was ready to hit the road running when the green light was finally given.

“We had the foresight to hire a good number of people at the back end of 2021 as we could foresee what was going to happen with the explosion of work,” says Palmer. “For me, it is incredibly important to protect the team we have, so we always want to have enough people to cope with the demand. I have an incredible team, from operations to business development to warehouse and transport – and they all manage their own parts of the business – and my job is to make sure that they all have the tools they need to make it all work.”

As the transport business involves a continuous programme of hefty investment, its protagonists, although unprepared for Covid, were nevertheless quick to adapt to the conditions imposed by governments around the world. Guterres notes that his company rolled out an extensive expansion project prior to the pandemic that is only now beginning to pay off.

“Shame on Great Britain as most of our trucks are now EU registered”

“Apart from our UK operations centre, we have Transam Trucking International Ltd based in Cork, Ireland; and Transam Trucking B.V. based near Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands,” he says, adding, “Shame on Great Britain as most of our trucks are now EU registered.”

KB’s McPherson reveals, “We have spent in excess of £3m [€3.5m] on additional trucks and trailers in the last three months to expand our fleet, but this resource has just been swallowed up, and we find ourselves, on a daily basis, having to turn tours and shows away, at the moment.

“KB are also actively employing management and administration staff and staff to bolster our front-line teams, and we are expanding our director team. We are on a very aggressive employment drive to broaden and train our driving team. But finding the quality of people we are looking for is proving a real challenge.”

Improving Working Conditions
The ability to recruit – and retain – staff has become a multifaceted task. The pandemic saw thousands of employees who were furloughed or made redundant find employment elsewhere, and rather than that work being viewed as a temporary solution, many people are opting to remain in new occupations that often involve more sociable hours and better working conditions.

That situation has upped the ante for HR and recruitment experts, while one key issue that Rock-it’s Palmer is keen to tackle is in improving welfare conditions for personnel. “Mental health is a very important subject for me as I have struggled a lot in the past, and I never felt I got the support I needed, so that is one thing I was very keen to change,” Palmer tells IQ.

“With this incredible tsunami of work comes challenges of keeping everyone in a good place mentally. A large part of that is making sure that we have enough people at the pumps so that we can all take a break when we need to,” he explains. “We continue to hire new starters and train them – and, importantly, we have retained all of the key staff that we supported through the pandemic so that we are now ready to deal with these challenges with a smile on our faces and a spring in our step.”

“The market itself just has to learn to circumnavigate the current challenges”

But it’s not all gloomy news on the recruitment front. EFM’s Ryan states, “From our perspective, we have been fortunate to have re-employed the key staff that we lost over the past few years, along with employing a number of excellent calibre new staff around the world. We took the time to invest in systems and training, which is now paying dividends, and we are currently opening three new overseas offices in Europe and the Middle East in response to demand from clients.”

Freight Minds is also expanding. “The next two years represent a huge opportunity for Freight Minds to show its wealth of in-house experience, which at the moment is up to around 150 years as we’ve just had Andy Lovell join us,” says Wright.
He adds, “The market itself just has to learn to circumnavigate the current challenges and continually learn to adapt to the new post-pandemic world and the challenges that Brexit has thrown our collective way. What was normal in 2019 is no longer normal.”

ESG Considerations
Pre-pandemic there was an accelerating drive by artists and others to improve sustainability across touring and live music, while diversity and equality were no longer being seen as buzz words but more essential elements of a 21st-century industry.

In the rush to get back on the road some of those concerns may not be as prevalent, but as the recovery transforms – hopefully – into a business-as-usual situation, they will undoubtedly start creeping back up the order in terms of priorities, meaning the transport sector needs to keep working on potential solutions to present to clients.

Looking ahead, Palmer predicts that once the crazy circumstances of the coming year subside, the core values that were coming to the fore pre-pandemic will once again become significant, industry-wide.

“I am certainly still being asked regularly by clients both old and new about our carbon offset programme that we have”

“A lot of our blue-chip-type clients are now asking us about our [environmental, social, and governance] policies as part of the vetting process before we even get to the quoting stage,” reveals Palmer. “I am certainly still being asked regularly by clients both old and new about our carbon offset programme that we have in place, so it’s clearly still a concern within the industry.
“I believe that after this initial rush of madness, we will get back to the points that matter for long-term sustainability in our business – looking after our planet and looking after our people.”

At Freight Minds, Wright notes that sustainability remains on the agenda, “But with the ever constant changing world of logistics due to carriers cancelling flights or ocean lines adjusting schedules, there is an element of constantly putting out fires just to try and get the equipment to the next show on time. With that being said, it’s still a very important subject and one that we can’t ignore,” says Wright.

For his part, McPherson is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of his company’s activities. “As KB was the first trucking company in the UK to get accreditation to BS8555 (Environmental Standard) back in 2007, it has been very high on our agenda for a long time,” he says.

“KB started pushing the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as fuel, and looking at more sustainable routings”

“In 2019, KB took the fight to the market and started pushing the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as fuel, and looking at more sustainable routings. One of our big corporate clients [was] the first to really buy into this with a 50+ artic show for Google in Barcelona. Sadly, very shortly after this event, the pandemic hit and the industry ground to a halt.

“During the pandemic, we continued to work on and develop our sustainability strategy and engage with the industry leaders to inform and advise. This included giving formal presentations to the TPG on sustainability in trucking. This has certainly been carried into live with some of our clients, with acts like Bring Me The Horizon and Enter Shikari buying into full HVO (non-palm-oil source) fuelled touring. The quest continues…”

Targeting Vertical Markets
Despite the current boom times, the experience of the pandemic has taught those working in live music’s transport and freight sector that the ability to be nimble and identify other business opportunities is a crucial skill to ensure corporate survival.

Indeed, Palmer reveals his company is looking at other areas to fulfil the company’s ambitions for future growth. “At Rock-it we are very realistic,” he says. “We have traditionally had maybe [about] 75% of the live music touring market, and we know that there are some truly excellent other freight companies out there. So we are looking for growth in other sectors where we can use our learned skills in other verticals such as TV and film, sports broadcast, e-sports, theatre and art, amongst other things.

“During the pandemic we pivoted in various directions – as did many of our compadres in transport and freight – and we have seen that there is a huge market for skilled freight forwarders in the ‘time-sensitive’ market in the aforementioned verticals. We are growing all the time, but we are also focused on the next ten, 15, 20 years, and we are not looking to capitalise on what is happening right now to make a quick buck – we are planning for the future so that we have a strong and skilled team and a varied client base.”

A Rosy Future
Having endured two catastrophic years, transport and freight operators are understandably happy to finally be back problem-solving the live music industry’s logistics nightmare.

“We have been inundated with truck and Carnet requests with the European Festival season in full swing, and we are handling one of the logistically biggest music tours this year, for Rammstein,” reports Ryan.

She muses, “The business had doubled year on year in 2019, and after the obvious downturn across the entire industry, we are now ahead of where we left off pre-Covid, thanks in part to the other areas in which we operate that came back to life considerably earlier than music and theatre touring – TV and film, exhibitions, hotels, aerospace and automotive, for instance.

McPherson warns that while 2022 might feel like a gold rush, expansion in the sector will involve some patient planning

“Now we are laser-focused on maintaining our high service levels for the customers, continuing our innovative ways of operating and investing in our people and their well-being.”

Wright comments, “The next two or three years will certainly be a challenge for all of us at Freight Minds but given our collective experience from years of doing what we do, we will be able to guide our existing and prospective clients through the new world that we all cohabitate.”

Rock-it’s Palmer is in a similarly optimistic state of mind. “In terms of our operations, we’re in a good place to be able to cope with the rush, and we are working in tandem with all sectors of our industry from booking agents to promoters to make sure that shows can go ahead despite the financial and operational challenges that we’re facing.”

However, McPherson warns that while 2022 might feel like a gold rush, expansion in the sector will involve some patient planning, and he believes that there could be another wave of mergers and acquisitions as the sector evolves in the post-pandemic period. “There is certainly the opportunity for strong organic growth at the moment, but we believe that the current demand is not representative of the medium- to long-term picture,” he tells IQ.

He concludes, “KB plans to continue to grow organically at a sustainable pace over the coming 24 months, but in reality, this is somewhat hampered by the availability of new equipment: truck and trailer lead times won’t see new kit that is ordered now on the road much before summer to autumn of 2023. To that end, we are seriously considering what options are available for acquisitional growth or strategic partnership.”

 


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Germany could face fresh winter Covid restrictions

The German concert industry could face fresh Covid restrictions this autumn and winter as health chiefs bid to prevent another seasonal spike in infections.

A proposed amendment to the Infection Protection Act would make masks mandatory on public transport and care facilities from 1 October to 7 April, while giving individual states the power to introduce additional regulations – potentially impacting the live music business.

“If event organisers have to reduce capacities at short notice because state governments – even without clear pandemic definitions – determine a tightening [of restrictions], it is not possible to plan seriously,” says Christian Eichenberger, chair of events trade body Fwd, as per Pollstar.

“The consequence is maximum uncertainty”

“The consequence is maximum uncertainty among clients and guests of events. If the draft is not revised, extensive event cancellations from October onwards will be the inevitable consequence.”

A press release from the country’s ministry of health says: “Autumn and winter are associated with a seasonal surge in Covid-19 cases to be expected – and with an increased burden on the health system and other critical infrastructure. Therefore, modified connection rules are required.”

Under the proposals, IQ understands that capacity limits on concerts would only be deemed necessary in the worst cases, and exemptions would be given to those who receive the new Omicron-adapted Covid vaccine, which is expected to become available later this year.

“At the moment, it’s just a plan,” an industry source tells IQ. “We are fighting against any restrictions.”

“Music clubs can only survive without capacity restrictions, distance rules and the obligation to wear masks”

Earlier this summer, live event organisers in Germany issued a preemptive warning to the government against potential further restrictions.

The Event Management Forum said it is “imperative” any future containment measures did not include capacity limits or social distancing requirements for concerts.

“Music clubs can only survive without capacity restrictions, distance rules and the obligation to wear masks,” said LiveKomm chair Axel Ballreich. “We can come to terms with the need for PCR tests at the highest risk level – if the hospital and KRITIS burden make it absolutely necessary. However, the cost of the tests must be borne by the state. The social and societal aspects of the pandemic must not be neglected.”

Some live music promoters in Germany reported sluggish ticket sales in the aftermath of Covid restrictions being lifted, and BDKV president Jens Michow warned the overall economic situation remained precarious.

“Ticket sales for cultural events are extremely poor for many events,” he said. “The industry is therefore still in a very desolate situation, in which it only takes a small gust of wind to finally tip it over.”

 


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Psy concerts investigated over Covid claims

South Korean authorities are investigating claims that Psy’s water-spraying concerts could be contributing to the spread of Covid-19.

The Gangnam Style singer’s Summer Swag tour came under fire earlier this summer for allegedly wasting water during a nationwide drought.

First held in 2011, the popular shows involve audience members being drenched in water as they sing along to the music, but attracted criticism after it was revealed that each gig uses around 300 tons of water.

“We use the performance venue’s water supplies as well as sprinkler trucks,” Psy told talk show Radio Star.

“We have launched an investigation to see what kind of actions are taking place during the event that could be risk factors in transmitting the virus”

Now, with Korea in the midst of a Covid spike, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters says it has received reports from people claiming they have contracted coronavirus after attending the shows.

“We have launched an investigation to see what kind of actions are taking place during the event that could be risk factors in transmitting the virus,” a spokesperson tells Korea JoongAng Daily.

Music promoters are being urged not to spray water during events while the claims are looked into.

In response to the concerns, Psy’s label P Nation says it will hand waterproof masks to each concert-goer at his upcoming Korean tour dates in Yeosu (6 August), Daegu (13-14 August) and Busan (20 August).

 


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NIVA names first COO Cody Cowan

The US’s National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) has appointed Cody Cowan to the newly created position of chief operating officer.

As COO, Cowan will oversee the day-to-day operations of the grassroots music venues alliance, working closely with NIVA’s executive director, board members, department heads, staff, and committee chairs.

He will be tasked with identifying opportunities for growth while cultivating a workplace that is diverse, equitable and inclusive, according to a release. In addition, Cowan will work closely with the National Independent Venue Foundation.

“As NIVA continues its evolution from successfully ensuring the independent music, comedy, promoter and festival industry will survive, we’re now focused on how we thrive,” says Rev. Moose, executive director and co-founder of NIVA.

“We’re incredibly fortunate that Cody, a seasoned music industry veteran with a history of success working in the civic, hospitality, service, and live events industries, is joining NIVA in this newly created leadership position of COO. He’s a leader and vocal advocate for preserving the cultural identity of his hometown of Austin and we know he will bring this passion, commitment and energy to NIVA.”

“As NIVA continues its evolution, we’re now focused on how we thrive”

Cowan joins NIVA from Austin’s Red River Cultural District, where he held the position of executive director. He has been working in Austin’s music industry since 1997, including at two of the most iconic clubs in the city – Emos and Mohawk.

Cowan later co-founded the Red River Cultural District in 2016, as the nonprofit’s executive director with areas of focus including economic development, grassroots organising, live music policy, and innovation for the live music and cultural tourism economy.

“It’s truly an honour and a privilege to be invited to join NIVA’s hard-working, talented team and to also continue to be able to serve our independent music and comedy community’s mission in creating a thriving and sustainable ecosystem,” says Cowan.

“Music and comedy are not only the soundtrack for our day-to-day but also our inner lives – they comfort us in difficult times; energise us in diverse and incomparable ways; and help us to find deeper human connection and purpose in an ever complicated world. I’m grateful for this amazing opportunity to continue to serve our music and comedy community and look forward to what we may all build together at NIVA.”.

Formed at the onset of the Covid-19 shutdown, NIVA represents independent music and comedy venues, promoters and festivals across the country. NIVA created and led the #SaveOurStages campaign, resulting in landmark legislation establishing the US$16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators grant.

 


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