Assomusica: ‘It is urgent to resume live concerts’
Italian live music trade body Assomusica is urging the country’s prime minister to provide a roadmap for the sector’s reopening to ensure the summer season can go ahead.
Earlier this month, PM Mario Draghi set out his intention to announce a timeline for the easing of Covid measures, with government ministers declaring Italy was about to enter a “new phase” of the pandemic.
“In the coming weeks we will continue on this path of reopening,” said Draghi. “Based on the scientific evidence, and continuing to follow the trend of the epidemiological curve, we will announce a calendar for overcoming the current restrictions.”
A growing number of European countries have already signalled the end of Covid-19 restrictions. However, apart from the lifting of the outdoor mask mandate, few changes have been confirmed in Italy up to this point. And while welcoming Draghi’s stated ambition, Assomusica president Vincenzo Spera has reiterated the urgency of the situation.
“In numerous hearings in parliament… we have asked [on behalf of] the entire supply chain for a clear roadmap to ensure the full operation of the summer season of contemporary popular music concerts,” says Assomusica president Vincenzo Spera. “We also asked for a meeting with [health minister Roberto] Speranza to touch on this issue and reiterate that in light of the reopening of almost all the activities, we cannot continue to remain closed as we have done up to now in compliance with the restrictions and the public.
“Indeed, we have developed safety protocols for the public and have been able to demonstrate that there have been no cases or outbreaks of Covid 19 in the few shows that have become possible in these two year. Now, it is urgent to resume live concerts.”
“If we do not have certain dates and clear rules very soon to face the spring and summer season, the live sector risks collapse”
Italy’s state of emergency is currently set to expire on 31 March. It is not yet known whether the government plans to extend it, but the Italian green pass system is not expected to be scaled back anytime soon, with some experts maintaining that it must stay in place over summer “at least”.
The consumption of food and drink at concert halls and other indoor locations is banned until the end of March, which currently renders concerts “economically unstable”, according to trade associations. A raft of Italian trade bodies launched a campaign last month to draw attention to the ongoing shutdown. Arci, Assomusica, Bauli in Piazza, KeepON LIVE and MMF Italy have united to launch the campaign under the banner #Nessunconcerto (no concert).
“The operators in the sector are really tired and we would all like to go back to doing our job – in the squares, in the stadiums, in the sports halls – and bring the audience back to relive the emotions that only live music can offer to restart our sector,” adds Spera. “The situation of discrimination in the live sector is becoming unsustainable. If we do not have certain dates and clear rules very soon to face the spring and summer season, the live sector risks collapse.”
Meanwhile, Justin Bieber is the latest superstar act to be announced for Italy’s month-long Lucca Summer Festival, staged next to the historic Lucca City Walls. Bieber’s appearance is scheduled for 31 July. The 2022 line-up already features Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, Liam Gallagher + Kasabian, Robert Plant + Alison Krauss and John Legend with Celine Dion confirmed for 2023.
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Italian industry rebukes gov over €222bn recovery
Italy’s live industry has admonished the government for failing to recognise ‘the cultural, economical and social importance’ of live music in its new recovery plan.
The ‘National Recovery and Resilience Plan’ (PNRR), totaling €222 billion, was presented to parliament on Monday (26 April) by president Mario Draghi.
Of the €222 bn, €6.7 bn has been allocated to culture with the aim to “increase the level of attractiveness of the country’s cultural and tourist system through the modernization of both tangible and intangible infrastructures”.
However, in the spending plan for culture, music venues (or theatres, as Italy prefers to call them) are only referenced once as part of a €300m bid to “promote eco-efficiency and the reduce energy consumption” in cultural venues.
Roberto De Luca, president of Live Nation Italy, told IQ: “I am very pleased about this PNRR but unfortunately, I do not find a single line regarding live music industry. This a terrible mistake as live music is a fundamental part of our culture, as well as an industry that has a huge economic impact on every territory where live music is happening.
“I do not find a single line regarding live music industry. This a terrible mistake as live music is a fundamental part of our culture”
“Live music has both direct and indirect effects. As an example, let’s look at what the FirenzeRocks festival means for Firenze. In 2019, it generated an economic impact of more than €40m as our audience spent between €300–500 per person on hotels, museums, restaurants and so on. Not just in Italy, summer live shows are happening in historic squares, castles, Roman and Greek amphitheaters, so I truly believe that is a driver for our own culture.”
Claudio Trotta, founder of Barley Arts and Slow Music, expressed similar disappointment to IQ: “I don’t see at all in this plan the recognition of the cultural, economical and social importance of live popular music and its industry. I don’t see any investment at all in new venues for music nor attention to professional training for the future generation.
“According to this plan, culture is important only if connected to the benefits that it creates for tourism and not for the citizens and the people. Culture is important by itself, not just when it’s used to draw tourism.
“On another note, I would love to see in this full plan a real and accurate attention to the biodynamic balance and not only some generic references to a digital, ecological and green transition.”
Vincenzo Spera, president of Italy’s live music association Assomusica, tells IQ he is particularly concerned about how the measures will affect the next generation.
“According to this plan, culture is important only if connected to the benefits that it creates for tourism”
“We currently do not know if and how the €6bn envisaged by the PNRR will be allocated to the live music sector. We are therefore very worried, especially because we believe that this could be a fundamental opportunity for socio-cultural aggregation at the European level.
“Obviously this does not concern, or should not only concern Italy, but all European countries, considering that music is the tool for the greatest socialisation and aggregation among young people. It is no coincidence that there is a measure called Next Generation. By continuing in this way, however, there is a risk that future generations will not derive any benefit from the envisaged measures but rather pay the price.
“We think that there is no better opportunity than this to realize some fundamental points which, especially following the pandemic, become particularly urgent: the first point [in the spending plan] concerns technological innovation, of which we are carriers and experimenters; the second point refers, instead, to the eco-sustainability of the live entertainment system and its ability to always attract new audiences to the territories, to discover new realities and to generate ‘green economy’, helping to enhance sites that are important from the point of view historical-architectural.
“The third point concerns the possibility of finally creating premises, structures and spaces of the future, conceived as they should be today, multifunctional, interactive and synergistic between the various genres of entertainment. The time has also come to create a physical and not just a virtual platform that can allow various European cultures to circulate in different countries.”
“The government propaganda is telling everyone that Italy is slowly getting back to a sort of normality but we still have restrictions”
Fabrizio Pompeo, Radar Concerti, tells IQ: “Yes, the headline of the news is great but going deeper into it, there is no such great news for the music business as nothing is coming directly to our industry. The €6bn is going to feed a very wide range of activities and not going to the music industry.
“The government propaganda is telling everyone that Italy is slowly getting back to a sort of normality but we still have restrictions which are making impossible arranging a concert. Not only the distancing procedures but we still have a curfew on from 10 pm to 5 am.”
As of Monday (26 April), eleven of the twenty Italian regions have been permitted to reopen music venues for capped and socially distanced concerts.
The eleven regions – including Lazio, Veneto, Piedmont, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna – have been dubbed ‘yellow’ under the country’s colour-coded system of coronavirus restrictions and are now allowed to partially reopen.
Venues in the yellow zone can now reopen at 50% capacity, with no more than 500 people inside and 1,000 people outside – all of whom must observe one-metre social distancing. The 10 pm–5 am curfew is still in place.
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Italian live business defends vouchers
Italian live music industry professionals have hit back at comments made by Sir Paul McCartney criticising the decision to offer fans vouchers, instead of cash refunds, for cancelled shows.
Representatives from industry association Assomusica and promoter D’Alessandro e Galli spoke out following a statement on McCartney’s official Facebook page in Italy. The post declared it was “outrageous” that fans were “not getting their money back” for shows he had been scheduled to play at the 23,000 square-metre Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples on 10 June and at the 45,000-capacity Mura Storiche in Lucca on 13 June.
In accordance with government regulations, ticketholders for McCartney’s Italian concerts were reimbursed with credit to spend on future shows, rather than receiving their money back. Vouchers have been championed by industry associations around the world as a way to alleviate the pressures on cash-strapped promoters facing unprecedented volumes of refund requests.
“We strongly disagree with what the Italian government are doing,” wrote McCartney. “In every other country we were going to visit this summer the fans have all been offered full refunds. This is a real insult to the fans.”
In response to the comments, D’Alessandro e Galli, the promoter for the former Beatle’s Italian shows, issued a statement acknowledging the “displeasure” McCartney may feel at “the inconvenience that his fans will have to sustain by not receiving a direct refund”.
“The voucher is the instrument that guarantees the balance between the disappointment of the fan and the vital need to support the industry”
The promoter adds that vouchers are an “extraordinary” form of reimbursement that McCartney’s team was “perfectly aware of before the cancellation” and that aims to help the Italian live industry through a crisis that could deal it, as well as the 400,000 professionals working within it, a “fatal blow”.
“We believe that the government has identified the voucher as the instrument that guarantees the correct balance between the legitimate disappointment of the fan and the vital need to support the entire entertainment industry.”
Speaking to Italian publication Rockol, Vincenzo Spera, president of Italian promoters’ association Assomusica – which has spoken out in favour of the voucher scheme – iterated that McCartney’s team were aware of the reimbursement situation and had the chance to “devise and adopt solutions that seemed most suitable”, if they so wished.
Spera also points out that the voucher scheme extends to the whole tourism and cultural sector in Italy, with similar programmes also adopted in other European countries including Germany.
In countries where voucher laws are not in place, ticketing platforms including Eventbrite, StubHub and SeatGeek are currently facing legal action for the alleged non-payment of refunds for cancelled or postponed events.
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Playing Politics: Are governments offering enough support for live?
Millions of people have taken to tuning in to daily governmental updates, where politicians and advisers perform the grim task of revealing the increase in the death toll, as well as the rates of new infection. That horrific routine is allowing journalists to compare Nation A to Nation B to Nation C etc, and for many, isolated at home, to engage in the morbid game of envying those in New Zealand, Germany, South Korea, or wherever the reported head count is statistically low.
However, to date, little has been said in the public domain about the response of the live entertainment industry, internationally, and its voluntarily shut down, which, in many places, had to come ahead of government guidance. Indeed, in speaking to numerous festival organisers, IQ has heard that many had been forced to play a waiting game with politicians to hear whether their events in, for instance, June or July, would be allowed to proceed.
“Without government intervention, force majeure clauses do not work,” says Christof Huber of European festivals association, Yourope, who cancelled his festivals OpenAir St.Gallen, SummerDays and Seaside after the Swiss government finally announced that events over 1,000 people would be outlawed until 31 August, following weeks of deliberation. Yourope has been “actively lobbying governments to make decisions about large-scale gatherings in a more timely manner”, says Huber.
In beginning to tentatively embark on reopening plans, governments in countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Norway and Finland have given some sort of insight into when events may be allowed to resume – or at least clarification as to how long bans can be expected to last.
Still, without cross-border co-operation, the situation remains precarious for those who depend on the live music sector for their livelihoods.
In the venues sector, Lucy Noble, who chairs the UK’s National Arenas Association, says, “We found the early stages of the crisis difficult, as government advice wasn’t clear enough. That delay was problematic because it created stress and confusion for artists, audiences and staff.”
“In Switzerland and Germany the trust in the government and politicians has had a really big revival”
The various loan schemes launched in each market have worked to varying effect (Switzerland’s five-year interest free loan of up to €400,000 paid in a matter of hours stands among the best), while employee furlough or protection schemes have further propped up companies, without which many would have collapsed.
Stuart Galbraith, of Kilimanjaro Live, recalls, “Although it was fairly chaotic to start with, the line of communication that we, as a sector, have had into government has been very good. UK Music [acting CEO] Tom Kiehl has done a great job and so have people like Julian Bird at [Society of London Theatre]. In that first week of chaos, we had four calls with either cabinet ministers or secretaries of state. They listened and have taken action. They’ve helped us with the loans, business rates relief, the furlough scheme.”
Vincenzo Spera, president of Assomusica, is lobbying Europe to adopt such concessions, having already secured them in Italy, where it’s estimated that, by the end of this month, 4,200 events will have been missed, depriving live music operators of €63million, while the deeper economic impact for Italy is estimated at €130m.
“We ask the European Commission, MPs and the Culture Committee to [introduce] vouchers to replace the tickets purchased,” says Spera. “[This] allows the spectator not to give up their concert, and companies not to go to default.”
Voucher schemes of some form are also in place in Germany, Belgium, Poland and Brazil, with promoters including Live Nation offering a voucher option to fans who have tickets for postponed shows.
While those working in the UK and other countries have been able to rely on their authorities for financial bailouts, notable live music strongholds like the United States have offered very little, resulting in previously unimaginable unemployment statistics.
Yourope’s Huber observes, “It’s difficult to compare, but in Switzerland and Germany the trust in the government and politicians has had a really big revival, because in the initial phases they communicated honestly about the situation. However, as time passes, left wing versus right wing politics seems to be creeping back.”
“We are making hard decisions and the more clarity we get from government, the more informed we can be when looking at logistics”
Down under, Michael Chugg laments a horrendous start to 2020. “To cop corona on top of the bushfire season, I think everyone is coping well,” he tells IQ. “The federal government, which had already been offering tax breaks, freezes on loans payments, and no evictions by landlords, came up with their ‘jobkeeper payment’ scheme, which covers the equivalent of 50% of all Australian salaries for the next six months, taking an incredible amount of pressure off everyone.”
Live Nation’s Herman Schueremans – himself a former politician – reports, “The Belgian parliament agreed to provide €1 billion to tackle the consequences of coronavirus, and we will work with them to ensure this money reaches those who need it most in our market.” He adds, “It’s never been more clear that we are in a global business. We all know we have to work together.”
Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery, who leads the UK’s Concert Promoters Association, reveals he is now asking for an exit plan from lockdown. The UK government, which is yet to announce how it plans to ease lockdown restrictions, is expected to release the first details of its plans in a press conference on Sunday (10 May).
“They must have modelling for a resumption to whatever our new normal will look like,” he notes. “The sooner they share this, the better. We are making hard decisions and the more clarity we get from government, the more informed we can be when looking at logistics.”
The gap between the ending of employment protection schemes, loan availability and other protection measures, and the business being back up to speed with healthy cashflow, is arguably the largest challenge on the horizon. And close, strong relationships with government will be key to keeping that gap as narrow as possible.
Associations and lobbyists need to prove their worth, just as governments will need to continue to prop up live entertainment for at least a few months yet.
Coronavirus puts Italy’s live scene on lockdown
Coronavirus, which has been affecting the live entertainment industry in China and other Asian countries for the past few months, is now taking its toll on the Italian business, with all public events in the north of the country cancelled until Sunday 1 March.
Over 400 cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have now been recorded in Italy, with towns in the country’s north placed in quarantine. Cases have also been reported in France, Germany, the UK, Austria, Croatia, Greece, Norway, Switzerland, Georgia and North Macedonia.
The cancellations of concerts in the affected regions, which include the cities of Milan, Venice, Bologna, Trieste and Turin, have cost the live industry an estimated €10.5 million. According to Vincenzo Spera, president of Italian trade association Assomusica, wider losses to the sector’s supply chain could reach as much as €20m.
Affected events include Venice carnival and concerts by Brit Award-winner Mabel, US rock band Algiers, UK rockers Procol HarumItalian and electronic act Tycho, as well as Italian artists Francesca Michielin, Nuclear Tactical Penguins, Negrita, Brunori Sas and Angelo Branduardi, among others.
The men’s and women’s Six Nations rugby ties between Italy and Ireland, set to be played in Dublin on 7 and 8 March, have also been postponed.
“The risk, in particular, is that many of the companies and promoters active in the local and regional territories will suffer a rapid collapse,” says Spera, noting how important the concert industry is to other sectors, such as tourism and hospitality.
“We represent one of the sectors most affected by this emergency and we find that there are still no measures in place that seem to take into account our reality.”
“The risk, in particular, is that many of the companies and promoters active in the local and regional territories will suffer a rapid collapse”
Artist manager Katia Giampaolo, who is also co-director of Bologna’s 2,000-capacity Estragon Club and organiser of the Botanique festival, tells IQ that over 7,400 musical and theatrical events have been postponed or cancelled in the past few days.
“This is without even knowing what will happen from 1 March,” says Giampaolo. “The real extent of the damage is innumerable, considering that no legislation supports independent activities and we have an entire industry that has no guarantee in these types of circumstances – hopefully the government does view this as a crisis for the entire music market.
“We are obviously aware that this is an extraordinary emergency,” adds Giampaolo, “so, despite the extreme difficulty, we are in solidarity with the government and with the prudent measures it is taking, to which we are adhering fully.”
A spokesperson for Live Nation Italy states that the authorities have given no information “regarding the shows scheduled after 1 March”, adding that although “the situation is getting better”, no long-term forecasts are possible.
Live Nation Italy is promoting upcoming shows in Milan by King Nun, Cage the Elephant, OneRepublic, Louis Tomlinson, Kelis, Rex Orange County and Avril Lavigne.
Photo: Harald Krichel/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (cropped)
Assomusica present award to MEP Silvia Costa
Assomusica, the Italian association of concert producers and organisers, has presented Silvia Costa, member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture, with an award to commemorate her “commitment, passion and dedication to music”. The award, a microphone encased in a glass bottle, represents the organisation’s will to voice the demands of the music industry.
Costa is a backer of the Creative Europe Programme. Last month, the programme published its new Agenda for Culture for 2021-2027, a look at what the creative industries will look like in a post-Brexit EU. Whilst largely in support of this, Assomusica hope that by commemorating Costa’s continued championing of the music industry within the EU, it will encourage her to take their proposed improvements on the agenda to parliament.
“We need a European music programme, with a budget proportionate to the economic, social and cultural contribution that this social and cultural form of art offers to the community.”
Assomusica chairman, Vincenzo Spera, who presented Costa with the award, has highlighted the improvements that need to be made to the European music sector and the parliament’s support of it. They include the improvement of scouting activities and an establishment of an observatory for gathering music sector-related data and the necessity for the sector to have access to financial resources to promote and produce the internationalisation of music.
He says: “The whole industry is calling on all EU institutions to support and strengthen the idea of dedicating specific programming to the music sector.
“We need a European music programme, with a budget proportionate to the economic, social and cultural contribution that this social and cultural form of art offers to the community. Only through strong support from the European Community, we will be able to promote creativity and innovation, safeguard and expand the diversity of European music.”
Italian promoter David Zard passes
David Zard, a pioneering concert promoter who was the first to bring some of the biggest names in rock music to Italy, has died aged 75.
Born in Tripoli, Zard (pictured) emigrated to Italy in 1967, fleeing persecution of Libya’s Jewish minority after the Six-Day War, and over the next five decades established himself as one of the country’s leading promoters, organising stadium tours by Cat Stevens, Elton John, Tina Turner, Lou Reed, Frank Zappa, the Rolling Stones, Genesis, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Michael Jackson and more.
He was also a record producer, a longtime ILMC member and a booking agent, to Italian singer-songwriter Gianna Nannini, among others. In recent years Zard and his company, Saludo Italia, focused on stage shows, most recently producing the 2013 musical Romeo e Giulietta – Ama e cambia il mondo (Romeo and Juliet – Love and Change the World).
Vincenzo Spera, president of Italian promoters’ association Assomusica says he was left “speechless” by news of Zard’s passing on 27 January (also Holocaust memorial day). “Your voice, your teachings and your passion will never abandon us,” says Spera. “You will be greatly missed.”
“David Zard has done much for Italian music – much more than one imagines”
Writing for la Repubblica, Italian music journalist Erneso Assante describes Zard as a “visionary” who foresaw a modern concert industry worthy of the term “industry. But he was also a huge fan of music: he knew artists, genres, trends… nothing escaped his radar.”
He was, continues Assante, “gruff and sympathetic, affectionate and sharp, difficult and soft, an eagle and dove. A wonderful heap of contradictions, from which emerged his personality, his strong beliefs, his love for music. Yes, David Zard has done much for Italian music – much more than one imagines. And it will, rightly, be remembered for it.”
Barley Arts founder Claudio Trotta says Zard was a “visionary, proud, brave man” with “charisma, a personality and a unique character”. Trotta also praises his work in fighting against ticket resale, saying Zard was “one of my colleagues who spoke against the phenomenon of secondary ticketing, highlighting the abuse by some well-known multinationals”, and his recognition of the “undisputed talent” of Italian singer Angelo Branduardi, whose success opened the door other for Italian artists in Europe.
Ruth Dureghello, president of the Jewish Community of Rome, praises Zard’s contribution to the “history of music and entertainment in Italy. He brought prestige to the Jewish community, who now mourn their loss.”
Zard is survived by his wife, Patrizia Tomasich, and their son, Clemente, who now leads Warner Music Italy’s live operation, Vivo Concerti.