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IPM 15: Production heads on perfect storm of Covid and Brexit

The IPM programme concluded with what organisers referred to as the mega panel – a session that revolved around the current industry conditions, summed up by the strapline Covid & Brexit: The Perfect Storm.

Split into two parts, the mega panel involved multiple guest speakers from around the world, with Bonnie May from Global Infusion Group chairing part one and applauding those businesses who managed to get through the survival period by adapting their operations to negotiate two years of severely impacted activities.

Indeed, with the war in Ukraine adding to that ‘perfect storm’ analogy, hiking costs even higher and exacerbating the supply chain crisis, May turned to a plethora of experts to tell their stories over the past two years, as well as citing their early experiences of the industry recovery.

Singapore-based Paul Sergeant (ASM Global) underlined the fact that a lot of debt had been incurred during the Covid pandemic and that would continue to impact the live entertainment sector over the coming months and years. He advocated the pandemic’s effect on improving communications from top to bottom in his company as a massive tool in motivating employees.

Sergeant also talked up the Venue Management school in Australia that has been running for about 30 years and awards people diplomas when they graduate. He said that numerous sectors across the live entertainment business in Australia had bought into that programme and market its benefits to their various audiences.

“I’m still now educating people who have only started getting back out in the road”

José Faisca from Altice Arena in Portugal highlighted the importance of everyone in the live entertainment ecosphere that make the industry work – and the fact that those at the bottom of the food chain need more help and support than those who are at the top, if they are going to remain part of the business, rather than taking their skills elsewhere.

“We are better together,” he stated, adding that treating the freelancers and suppliers as part of his company’s extended family – eating together, inviting everyone to team meetings, and investing in training – encourages an atmosphere where everybody is happy to work for the health of the company. “We sometimes invite the families of our suppliers, the riggers, etc, to events so that they can see what their loved ones do and the results they help produce,” he revealed.

Asthie Wendra, a show director and stage manager from Indonesia said her team was almost back to full strength post-pandemic, despite the fact that many found work elsewhere, suggesting that lot of people want to return to the live entertainment environment in her country. Wendra also highlighted the importance of education and training in the workforce. “They need to get something other than money, but education and helping them return to the industry and see that they can have a career there helps us to do that,” she said.

Lisa Ryan (EFM Global) said Covid was a blessing for the Brexit factor, as the industry probably would not have coped had there been the normal level of events through the red tape nightmare, carnets and other new regulations thrown up by the aftermath of the UK leaving the European Union. “I’m still now educating people who have only started getting back out in the road,” she said, hinting at the carnage that could await the business when the busy summer season kicks in. She adds, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this [situation].”

Ryan and May agreed that improving the conditions for employees was a crucial part of keeping people motivated and retaining their skills in the industry, with both citing pay rises, better holiday terms, facilitating people to work from home on flexible hours, and even allowing staff to relocate abroad to fulfil life ambitions. However, they acknowledged the difficulty of recruiting new people to the industry, as well as attracting people back who may have found work elsewhere that offer them a more settled life-work balance.

“I don’t think the artists have realised yet that the costs have gone up and the profits will be less”

Part two of the mega panel was chaired by eps holding chief Okan Tombulca who explained that he has been on a number of conference sessions during the past year to specifically address the supply chain issues that are beginning to hit the international industry, both in terms of personnel and equipment. He voiced his personal opinion that the business is continually in a perfect storm, in terms of spiralling costs and pressure.

Andrew Zweck (Sensible Events) suggested it’s too early to know if artists have changed their views because of the various limitations that are hitting the business post-Covid. “I don’t think the artists have realised yet that the costs have gone up and the profits will be less. It’s unfolding now as we speak and that problem is not fully understood by the artists.” He added that the fact there are no double drivers this year is having an impact on tour plans, including at least one stadium show he had to cancel because they could not get a stage for that date.

“Artists are going to have less and I’m not sure they know that yet,” Zweck added, noting that he did not know who was going to tell them.

Production manager Phay Mac Mahon reported that the production side of the industry has lost about 30% of its workforce. “It’s the vendors’ time – they don’t need to reply to you because they are so busy trying to fulfil the contracts that they have,” said Mac Mahon. “With larger artists it’s planned further ahead, but for the younger artists it’s tough because their production manager might not be able to get the answers and therefore they may not be able to get the suppliers.”

Julia Frank from Wizard Promotions in Germany revealed that she started calling around a year ago for a certain tour for summer 2022. “I’m now just six weeks from that tour starting and I’m still ten riggers short,” she said.

“I’m now just six weeks from that tour starting and I’m still ten riggers short”

Anna Golden of UK promoters Kilimanjaro Live revealed that the company’s focus was on UK touring artists and outdoor shows. “We’ve been in constant communications with our suppliers so that at least they know these shows will definitely happen,” she said. “One of the festivals that Kili owns has actually bought its own stage because we have a five-year plan and that was financially more viable.”

Tombulca pondered whether that might be a new concept for promoters to own the infrastructure. Mac Mahon countered that the artist ego and ambitions for bigger and bigger shows might work against that. “Artist ego is the vendor’s best friend,” said Mac Mahon.

Zweck noted that the likes of the Royal Albert Hall has its own in-house lights and PA that it encourages bands to use, which also helps with sustainability. And he told IPM that in Australia, agreements are in place that equipment will stay in specific cities this year for artists to share, rather than shipping that kit on long journies for days at a time between venues. And on a similar theme, Tombulca says Live Nation has set up 28 stadia across America with exactly the same stages and kit for the summer.

Delegate Bryan Grant from Britannia Row noted that there is not enough equipment in the world to supply all the tours that are going out this year, revealing he had tried to fly in kit from South Africa for some of his events, only to be told it had already gone on rent in Germany.

Tombulca also touched on the impact of the war in Ukraine. Frank said the cost of fuel was the obvious impact, but she had not seen any difference in ticket sales in Germany. However, Zweck said it was another doubt to plant in the mind of the ticket seller for festivals and tours in the latter part of this year, going into 2023.

We’re in for a tough year, but humans are resilient and we will find a way”

Lisa Ryan from EFM Global noted that many of the Antinov aircraft that might be used for bigger tours are grounded in Russia and the Ukraine, while the biggest of all was recently destroyed in the conflict.

And speaking from the point of view in the Baltics, Renatas Nacajus from ISEG in Lithuania reported that ticket sales dropped immediately when the Ukraine war started, as confidence disappeared from the market.

Golden concluded that this summer is just about surviving and getting through 2022 as best as possible. Frank agreed. “It’s like going back to the 90s – it’s not going to be pretty, but it will do,” she stated.

Zweck commented, “We’re in for a tough year, but humans are resilient and we will find a way. Market forces will have a correction in terms of giving more money to the people at the lower end. But overall I’m pessimistic and I think when we look back in two years, we’ll struggle to see what we learned from Covid and we’ll be back to the greed of the big promoters and that will become rampant again.”


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IPM 15: Pros discuss experience gap, power of energy

IPM’s first panel of its 15th edition (A Seat At The Table, Veterans & Rookies) saw chair Lina Ugrinovska (Banana & Salt) aiming to bridge the gap between the generations, with the help of vastly experienced production gurus Liz Madden (NoNonsense Group) and Bryan Grant (Britannia Row), and younger experts Freya Lawson (WellHung PA/£T – Tour Tech Training) and Cathal Flaherty (Gleneagle INEC Arena).

The panellists agreed that communication is key to helping newcomers progress in their careers, as is finding a mentor – and acting as a mentor to others.

Madden noted that after two years off in the industry, the experience gap in the industry seems to have widened again and the wealth of knowledge that needs to be passed on before people retire is even more crucial.

Madden and Lawson flagged up their part in the Production Futures touring roadshow around the UK that attempts to lure people into the sector, highlighting the need for recruitment both for those who undertake higher education and those that choose not to. Grant revealed his company had initiated its own apprenticeship schemes, as government-run courses were not fit for purpose.

Lawson stated that her university experience had landed her a role at the London Olympics, which led to her career, noting that the experience of further education can play a vital role for many people opening doors into the business.

Madden noted that after two years off in the industry, the experience gap in the industry seems to have widened again

Flaherty agreed, reflecting that his college experience led to a job in radio, but the experience of working in the sector after that led to his current role at the arena.

Various delegates from around Europe provided their insight into attracting newcomers into the industry, with the general consensus being that skills were down to individuals and their work ethic, rather than the route of formal education.

The conversation then switched to the issue of crews being overworked with Grant confessing that the practices of yesteryear were nothing to boast about, while Lawson stressed that if people were walking away from jobs because they were too tired either mentally or physically, then those people should be listened to. But with monetary matters front and centre, both delegates and panellists agreed that something has to change for the long-term sustainability of the live events sector.

Ugrinovska concluded that the message needs to be communicated down the generations, but also to other sectors – agents, promoters, artist managers and the artists themselves, if any positive change is going to be achieved.

The Power of Energy
The hot topic of the cost of electricity dominated The Power of Energy panel which examined the changing face of the sector and the drive toward greener solutions, with chair Duchess Iredale from EPI Ltd moderating proceedings.

Bilabel added that addressing power needs at festivals has to be examined

Pete Wills of Power Logistics noted that there are many companies now developing and producing green products, but that there are still anomalies, citing an example of machinery that had to come from France with two people to operate it, while the fuel had to come from Aberdeen, making the technology an expensive proposition.

Padraic Boran of Irish promoters MCD Productions noted that putting in permanent power on a festival or even a stadium site was cost-prohibitive because generators are currently a better solution when they are only needed for, say, 100 hours per year. However, he stated that the inefficiency of running generators with a large power outage for an event that needs a fraction of that power is something that needs to be examined.

ES Global’s Amy Casterton said looking at a whole event, including trucking needs and how the audience travels there, has to be part of the overall carbon footprint calculation. She noted that her company’s staging is reused all the time, but the goal is to reduce the carbon footprint across all activities so that clients can also benefit from that greener policy.

Jacob Bilabel of Thema1 outlined his organisation’s aims to improve sustainability and stated that he no longer believes it was a choice to be green or not, as legislation and regulations are demanding changes. While he recognised that it was expensive to develop and innovate, he warned that it would be even more expensive not to.

Bilabel added that addressing power needs at festivals has to be examined, as the likes of hydrogen cells might not be able to provide the energy needs for an entire event unless all the aspects of the electricity load requirements are studied with a view toward sustainability.


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Production titans line up for IPM’s 15th anniversary

Phay Mac Mahon, Bonnie May, Okan Tombulca, Padraic Boran and Lina Ugrinovska are among the production titans slated for the 15th-anniversary edition of the ILMC Production Meeting (IPM).

Taking place the day before ILMC (International Live Music Conference), IPM will return to an in-person format in 2022 with its biggest and best programme yet.

This year’s edition will feature a series of key production group and trade association partnerships, as well as a second programming tranche by the Event Safety & Security Summit (E3S).

“We are very excited to see our international delegates making time in their busy schedule to come back together in person,” says IPM & E3S producer Sytske Kamstra. “It’s an important day for everyone, filled with very relevant and urgent topics, a wealth of expertise on the panels and in the rooms. We can’t wait.”

IPM’s speaker line-up is led by Phay Mac Mahon, one of the go-to production managers in the international touring business and the recipient of IQ Magazine’s 2022 Gaffer Award.

“It’s an important day for everyone, filled with relevant and urgent topics, a wealth of expertise on the panels and in the rooms”

Since launching his career in the 70s, Phay has worked with household names including Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats, Def Leppard, The Pretenders, Adam Ant, Paul Young, Moody Blues, Whitesnake, Aerosmith and many more. He was also a sought-after lighting designer until the 1990s, working with the likes of Shakira, West Life, Meat Loaf, Janet Jackson, Ricky Martin and Nicki Minaj.

Also joining IPM is Bonnie May, CEO of Global Infusion Group, which delivers world-class events and brand logistic support to lavish private events, royal weddings, governmental summits, international automotive roadshows, world expos and major sporting events worldwide, including the Olympics since 2012.

She’ll be speaking with veteran show director and stage manager Asthie Wendra, about the industry’s response to the perfect storm created by Covid and Brexit in part one of this year’s Mega Panel.

Okan Tombulca is CEO of eps holding gmbh – a globally respected event infrastructure powerhouse, which now operates in 10 subsidiaries across Europe, Australia, and North and South America.

Tombulca will be joined by Phay Mac Mahon to continue the discussion around Covid and Brexit in part two of the Perfect Storm Mega Panel.

IPM’s speaker line-up is led by Phay Mac Mahon, one of the go-to production managers in the international touring business

Lina Ugrinovska is founder and CEO of Banana & Salt and one of the best-known booking agents in the Balkans. Considered among the new generation of highly influential people in the industry, she’ll be joined by NoNonsense Group director Liz Madden and Britannia Row Productions director Bryan Grant for a panel exploring the relationship between the live industry’s old guard and its young, up and coming executive talent.

MCD Productions’ Padraic Boran is well-known in the event industry, with over 30 years’ experience as a project manager, site co-ordinator and event controller for major entertainment, sporting and public events in both Ireland and abroad.

He’ll be hosting a panel on The Power Of Energy, which will consider what energy will look like in the future and how it will affect events. It will look at renewable power and immediate problems around availability, practicality and expense.

Meanwhile, E3S sessions will run throughout the day, including a Crowd Management Tabletop created and delivered by the Yourope Event Safety Group (YES) & Mind Over Matter Consultancy (MOM), a ‘Crowd Communication and Behaviours’ panel, and a discussion around ‘Rethinking Risk And Building Resilience in Event Operations’ – both in association with EAA, UKCMA and the Global Crowd Management Alliance.

This year’s E3S programme will bring together leaders in the sector from all over the world such as Žalgirio Arena event manager Mantas Vedrickas, select security & stewarding at UKCMA & GCMA Anne Marie Chebib and head of arena experience at The SSE Arena, Belfast, Claire Cosgrave.

Also joining is chief inspector & specialist tactical firearms commander at MOM, Pete Dalton at head of production festivals at Gadget abc Entertainment Group AG Andy Mestka and venue manager at Forest National, Coralie Berael.

More information can be found at https://ipm.live/.


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