Learning & growing: 12 key lessons from the corona crisis
The latest issue of IQ Magazine features a bumper coronavirus special report that delves into the lessons learnt from the crisis, various governments’ responses to the pandemic, and predictions for the shape of the industry’s post-Covid-19 recovery.
Here, we look at the key business takeaways from the global concert business shutdown, with a little help from Paradigm’s Alex Hardee, Echo Location’s Obi Asika, Yourope’s Christof Huber and more…
1. Entrepreneurialism and creativity remain at the heart of the industry
While much of the debate in the live music sector in recent years has centred around independent versus corporate approaches, when the shit hit the fan the spirit of entrepreneurialism has shone through.
Artists around the world have been streaming live shows and content to maintain their relationship with fans, while companies big and small are thinking outside the box and going above and beyond to help out employees, crew and others in the business, financially and though other support packages.
“We adapt fast and we can deal with the curveballs,” comments Live Nation Belgium’s Herman Schueremans. “We are resilient and artists and fans will always find a way to connect.”
2. Technology makes mass home-working a possibility
The use of Zoom, Houseparty, Skype, FaceTime and other video conferencing platforms has helped millions of employees around the world to effectively communicate with colleagues, peers and clients in a way that many would have thought impossible a few months ago.
“Anyone who said home-working doesn’t work was wrong,” says Live Nation chairman of international music, Thomas Johansson.
3. The appetite for risk needs revision
The very nature of the live music industry had historically relied on a cash-flow wing and a prayer, with everyone in the chain relying to some extent on future earnings to pay for their latest projects. The sudden cessation of the business has put this situation into sharp relief, as thousands of event postponements and cancellations have highlighted that the global business could collapse if refunds were mandated internationally.
“You have to have reserves,” states Obi Asika of London-based agency Echo Location. “A lot of this business focuses on the future, prospecting and possibilities. We make bookings really far in advance and now this has shown that anything can happen.”
“This crisis has shown that anything can happen”
4. Every day brings new challenges
It seems that as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues, uncertainty will be the new norm. Agents, promoters, artist managers, venue operators and everybody in the production supply chain are working incredibly hard to make sure things are ready for business to resume, but with no concrete dates to work toward, the planning process is never-ending.
“We make plans and strategise and then overnight something happens and the next day we have to start all over again,” says Paradigm’s Alex Hardee. “When I’m doing my P&Ls at the moment, they are all Ls.”
5. Government intervention is crucial
The live music business has a long and proud tradition of policing itself and trying hard to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to issues like health and safety and self-regulation. However, it has become apparent in the coronavirus environment that businesses involved in the live entertainment sector need the co-operation of government and local authorities to survive.
At the time of writing, summer festivals in some countries are still waiting to announce 2020 cancellations because they have not been told by government that they cannot hold this year’s events, meaning that promoters could be liable to pay artist fees if they take that sensible decision themselves.
“There’s a fear among promoters when it comes to announcing festival cancellations, because nobody wants to lose the momentum when difficult decisions need to be taken,” says Christof Huber of European festival association Yourope.
6. One rotten apple can spoil the barrel
The domino effect of a cancelled show has never been more apparent than during the economic shutdown. Artists often rely on the revenues from certain key festival or headline dates to pay for visits to less lucrative markets, and the cancellation of one or more of those key dates can put the whole tour – and, therefore, other festival shows – in jeopardy.
With the pandemic amplifying this situation more than ever before, festival organisers who perhaps previously viewed each other as rivals have been working closely on key announcements and strategies.
“We make plans and strategise and then overnight something happens, and the next day we have to start all over again”
7. Honesty is the best policy
With millions of people suddenly and unexpectedly facing redundancy, business owners and senior management around the world have never been under greater scrutiny. However, early and continued communication has proved invaluable during the halt to commerce and, by and large, people who have been included in the hard conversations have accepted that everyone is in the same boat because of this global crisis.
“If you are transparent, honest and upfront with people, then when you have to make difficult decisions the reaction of people can pleasantly surprise you,” reports Paradigm’s Hardee.
8. There goes my hero, he’s ordinary
People that society has taken for granted are stepping up and putting the health of themselves and their families at risk to make sure the rest of the world’s suffering is minimised. Health workers, carers, supermarket employees, teachers, sanitation staff, pharmacists, truck and delivery drivers and many more ‘ordinary’ people are the true heroes of the hour.
9. Insurers need to take a long hard look at themselves
There’s no need to mention any names, but for reference have a look at Hellfest’s website about the small-print cowardice that has been manipulated to shirk responsibility. To quote our French comrades: “Fuck you!”
10. Coronavirus is kryptonite to the super-touts
As much as the legitimate live music industry is reeling from cancellations, postponements and having to deal with refunds and other unexpected costs, the situation for the secondary ticketing business is even more dire, as many super-touts have to deal with inventory they can no longer shift.
Having agreed a highly controversial $4 billion deal that would see it merge with Viagogo, in late March, StubHub announced it was furloughing two thirds of its staff, and company policy on refunds would change, whereby purchasers of tickets to cancelled events in North America would now be offered vouchers, rather than refunds. Cue class-action lawsuits.
With StubHub now reportedly struggling hard and Viagogo saddled with debt, the future for the world’s biggest secondary ticketing platforms looks precarious to say the least. “In the context of the unprecedented crisis being played out in all our lives, this could well be one the most poorly timed acquisitions in recent corporate history,” says Adam Webb, campaign manager for FanFair Alliance.
2021 could prove to be live music’s most important year ever
11. Trade associations and industry collectives are proving their worth
In days gone by – and they are not that long ago – the live music industry was a cutthroat, highly competitive battlefield where often ludicrous deals would price others out of the game, all in the name of market share.
Coronavirus has levelled the playing field somewhat, and it’s heartening to witness just how quickly previously warring factions have come around the table to collaborate and agree sensible paths forward to try to minimise the impact on staff, suppliers and, of course, the artists. Hats off to the many trade associations and organisations who are lobbying parliaments, government ministers and local authorities on behalf of the business – you have never been so important to the livelihoods of so many people.
“[The corona crisis has] certainly made me realise the huge importance of associations and representative bodies,” says Kilimanjaro Live boss Stuart Galbraith. “Government don’t want to talk to individual commercial organisations, but they will talk to the Concert Promoters Association, AIF, UK Music, etc., and there’s been huge co-operation between [the associations] as well. Because it affects everybody.”
12. It’s only rock’n’roll… but I like it
As lucky as we are to have careers in such a great industry, at the end of the day it’s only rock’n’roll. Yes, it’s important for culture and for people’s happiness and wellbeing, but people we know are dying – relatives, friends and neighbours – and the battle to minimise that death toll far outweighs any gig, tour or event (or shareholder expectations, for that matter).
However, the hundreds of musicians and artists who are livestreaming to entertain millions of fans confined to their homes shows that the power of music is as strong as ever. Once we emerge from this dark period, people will be clamouring to get out, socialise and see their favourite acts.
Twenty-twenty is undoubtedly going to take its toll, but for those able to remain in the business, 2021 could prove to be live music’s most important year ever.
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Tales from Covid: Thomas Johansson, Live Nation
Ahead of the next issue of the magazine – which features concert business leaders offering their predictions for the industry’s post-coronavirus recovery – IQ is running a series of Q&As online looking at how our panel of experts are weathering the current crisis, as well as their forecasts for the months ahead.
Following the inaugural Tales from Covid with Australian veteran Michael Chugg, Live Nation’s chairman of international music and the Nordics, Thomas Johansson, chats working from home, Crew Nation and why live music will be a “tonic” after months in lockdown…
IQ: What professional lessons have you taken away from the Covid-19 outbreak?
TJ: My key takeaway has been to witness the outstanding dedication and hard work of our staff and promoters, who have responded to this unprecedented situation with flexibility and aplomb.
Live Nation in particular has stepped up with Crew Nation, a global fund to support the live infrastructure and the essential parts of our business who are experiencing a tough time at the moment. It makes me very proud to be a part of Live Nation when we all pull together in times of need.
Also, anyone who said home working doesn’t work was wrong!
“Live music is a major tonic and the whole world needs that”
When do you think the recovery might start, and what shape will it take?
It looks likely that the recovery will follow the pattern of the spread of the virus, with Asia opening up first, and Europe next, hopefully over the summer. Of course, we are planning for the other outcomes, too.
I’ve every faith in our business. It’s resilient and adaptable. I’m pretty sure that demand for live music will be stronger than ever when we get there.
What challenges do you think the industry will face in getting back up to speed?
We’ll need to bear disposable income in mind, of course, but we also need to remember that live music is a major tonic and the whole world needs that.
I have immense faith in our fans.
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Swedish government honours LN’s Thomas Johansson
The Swedish government has awarded Thomas Johansson, Live Nation’s chairman of international music and the Nordics, the Music Export Prize.
The prize is awarded to leading figures in the industry who have excelled over the course of their careers, making a long-standing contribution to Swedish music and promoting the country’s music industry worldwide.
The Swedish government created the Music Export Prize in 1997 to recognise contributions made to exports by music industry figures.
Previous recipients of the award include ABBA in 2013, Max Martin in 2014 and Roxette in 2011.
The prize is awarded to leading figures in the industry who have made a long-standing contribution to Swedish music
Johansson has been an important part of the Swedish music industry for years. He founded live entertainment company EMA Telstar in 1969, bringing international acts to Sweden and managing ABBA’s touring, as well as that of many other Swedish acts. EMA Telstar joined Live Nation over ten years ago.
As chairman of Live Nation Sweden, Johansson has delivered concerts, tours and events to over one million Swedes a year.
Johansson has worked with acts including Roxette, The Cardigans, Peter Jöback and Zara Larsson, in addition to his global tours with ABBA.
Rock in the USSR: SAV Entertainment at 30
Russia, to quote American writer Ralph Peters, has “long been a land of contradictions layered upon contradictions.” Straddling East and West, democracy and absolutism, collectivism and capitalism, the world’s largest country has always been a nation of stark contrasts – and never more so than in 1987.
Thirty years ago, as the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) celebrated the 70th anniversary of the October revolution, Russian society stood at a crossroads. A year earlier, general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev had used the 27th congress of the CPSU to introduce a range of reforms, including glasnost (openness), perestroika (restructuring) and demokratizatsiya (democratisation), paving the way for reduced state censorship, a degree of political liberalisation, and, ultimately, the fall of the Soviet Union and an independent Russia’s transition to a market economy.
Not, then, the kind of stable political environment in which most people would think to start a new company – especially one engaged in the inherently risky business of promoting live music – but then Nadia Solovieva, co-founder and CEO of Moscow-based SAV Entertainment, isn’t most people.
Solovieva, for four decades the matriarch of the Russian live music industry, tells IQ that SAV was initially conceived as a vehicle for promoting Russian artists in the West, capitalising on the USSR’s appeal to capitalist audiences amid the glasnost-era thaw in East–West relations. “The initial idea for SAV was the opposite of what it eventually became,” she explains. “Russia was hip at the time! But we gradually realised there wasn’t much of a business there, and started bringing foreign artists to Russia instead.”
Solovieva cut her promotion teeth at Gosconcert, the Soviet state concert monopoly, where she worked in the late 1970s and early 80s as a tour manager and translator. The first Western artist she worked with at Gosconcert was Elton John, who toured Russia with Harvey Goldsmith in 1979. Solovieva has promoted Sir Elton on numerous occasions since (he played the 7,500-cap. Crocus City Hall in Moscow with SAV on 14 December), but the British singer’s famous first visit to Russia – which set the stage for a lasting friendship between Solovieva and Goldsmith – was actually something of an accident, as the latter recalls.
“Elton went onstage [at Wembley] in 1977 and announced he was never going to tour again,” explains Goldsmith. “Later, we had lunch and he said, ‘I’ve got a new album coming out and I’ve promised to do a show in Paris for the record company – but I’m not touring.’
“Before then, there were no businesses except those owned by the state – even the word ‘business’ was new!”
“Over lunch, he kept saying, ‘I’m not touring, I’m not going to all those places I normally go,’ and that he wanted to play new places: Russia, Israel, Egypt… In the end, ‘not touring’ ended up being 18 months on the road!”
The genesis of SAV – originally Seabeko Alla Venture, after the company’s initial partners, Canadian investment firm Seabeco Group and singer Alla Pugacheva – came in 1987 when Gorbachev legalised private enterprise. Unlike their counterparts in Europe and North America, Russia’s fledgling promoters had little experience of the international live music industry – and, crucially, even less experience running a business, with private enterprise having been illegal since Stalin’s abolition of the New Economic Policy in 1928.
“We were, all of us together, learning how things worked,” Solovieva explains. “Before then, there were no businesses except those owned by the state – even the word ‘business’ was new, for God’s sake!
“Of course, now everything is here: the hotels, the transfers, the infrastructure… The only thing the promoter has to have is the ability to be music-orientated – and have money, of course. But when we started out, we had to learn everything from scratch.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 75:
Live Nation Sweden appoints new joint MDs
Live Nation Sweden has announced the promotion of its head promoter, Anna Sjölund, and director of marketing and Nordic partnerships, Therése Liljedahl, as joint managing directors.
Both Sjölund and Liljedahl, who commence their new positions immediately, will retain elements of their previous roles: Sjölund remains head promoter, overseeing Live Nation Sweden’s agency, touring and festivals, while Liljedahl will retain responsibility for commercial partnerships in the Nordics while also managing Live Nation Sweden’s marketing, partnership, finance, administration and HR functions.
John Reid, president of concerts for Live Nation Europe, says: “The combined and complementary skill set that Anna and Therése will bring to their roles as managing directors is unparallelled. Together they will continue to grow the business that Thomas [Johansson] and Carl [Pernow] have built and take Live Nation Sweden into the future.”
Carl Pernow, now Live Nation’s president of Nordics, adds: “I am pleased to hand over the leadership of Live Nation Sweden to two exemplary leaders within their respective areas. I look forward to further developing the Nordic business with Anna, Therése and our Nordic colleagues.”
“I am pleased to hand over leadership to two exemplary leaders within their respective areas”
The appointments follow a bumper 2017 for LN Sweden, with concert successes including Guns N’ Roses, Coldplay, Metallica, Depeche Mode and the Rolling Stones. The Stockholm-based company also owns and operates festivals Summerburst, Way Out West (through subsidiary Luger) and Sweden Rock, which it bought last November.
Sjölund comments: “I have spent the majority of my career at Live Nation and had the opportunity to grow together with the business. I am excited to be able to continue my journey in this new role and look forward to what is ahead.”
“I’m honoured to have been given this opportunity,” adds Liljedahl. “I look forward to taking the next step at Live Nation Sweden together with Anna and my fantastic colleagues.”
IQTV: Thomas Johansson, Live Nation
IQ today launches IQTV, a YouTube video series featuring revealing interviews and insights from some of the biggest players in the international live music business.
In the first episode, as part of a series of interviews commemorating Live Nation’s 10th year in the business, the company’s chairman of international music and the Nordics, Thomas Johansson, opens up about his career to date, his fantasy headliners, the biggest changes in the industry and the “mind-boggling” experience of booking Abba into 70,000-capacity venues at the tender age of 24…