The New and Treacherous Landscape of the Live Music Industry

Will Live Nation and AEG attempt to produce concerts and festivals ahead of safety benchmarks in ‘open states’ in a desperate attempt to save their empires? 

By King Lars

Photos by Chad Wadsworth, Julian Bajsel, and Roger Ho

It’s safe to say that the sudden rupturing of the concert industry came as a shock to many. Seemingly in a moment, a slate of scheduled concerts and festivals had no option but to cancel or postpone. You don’t have to look much further than the first-ever cancellation of South By Southwest to realize the severity of the current situation. The annual music, film and tech event that has become the economic driver of Austin, TX to the tune of 355.9 million dollars.

What was expected to be a bigger year than ever for the live music industry ultimately became a year of lost revenue to the tune of one billion dollars. That is ONE BILLION thus far and it gets worse everyday.  COVID-19 shook the live music industry to the core, and now everyone is left wondering where the dust is going to settle. 

Industry behemoths Live Nation and AEG made the decision to stop presenting concerts for the foreseeable future. Some health experts have made statements claiming that concerts may not make a return until the Fall of 2021. (Edit: This article previously claimed concerts will not return until 2121. That was a typo. That said, democracy will not return until 2121. )

Certainly, the disruption of this billion-dollar industry isn’t without consequence. Experts have calculated that the industry as a whole could be losing as much as $12 billion due to canceled and postponed events. For Live Nation, every day without a concert past April 1st is $30.3 million in lost revenue, according to earnings from the second quarter of 2019. 

Cirque du Soleil and Feld Entertainment cut 90 percent of their workforce in the wake of the COVID-19 quarantine, and the global talent agency Paradigm furloughed over 200 workers. It would seem that, with the uncertainty of the industry as it stands, there’s no room for new employees in the concert business. Gregg Perloff, CEO of the Berkeley based indie promoter Another Planet Entertainment, told Billboard that “there is no opportunity for work… so people who lost their jobs aren’t going to be able to find work elsewhere.” Sacred cow agents are being left on the curb in a more unstable and less certain industry in an attempt to cut costs 

While these giants will be able to maintain their composure and continue operating, others in the business are being left with the bill, unable to recoup the costs. 

The writing is on the wall. The new industry that reforms post-COVID will be very different; more pragmatic with tighter budgets, leaving smaller indie promoters buckling without the necessary resources to brave the storm. 

While bigger festivals like Coachella have been moved to the fall of 2020, smaller names like Float Fest and Governors Ball have had to cancel entirely due to new financial constraints, venue restrictions, and liquidity concerns.

It seems that the trend of power consolidating into fewer and fewer hands has been fast-tracked, taking away much needed resources from those at the bottom rungs without the capital to adapt and survive. 

The system has already been rigged for a long time. Live Nation and AEG, who take in nearly three-quarters of all live music ticket revenue each year, are able to get better deals than their independent competition. In fact, Live Nation just had its best year ever, with a 7% increase in revenue in 2019 with the promoter earning $11.5 billion. It also owns Ticketmaster, which is sitting nicely on hundreds of millions of dollars in future ticket sales for shows slated to be rescheduled. 

These massive promoters have the credit and capital to keep up, and smaller promoters just don’t have the same luxury. This means that a postponed or canceled show hits these smaller promoters much harder. Now, out of increased fear of cancelation, these same indie promoters are being made to pay more upfront due to a more uncertain industry, coming at a time where promoters have fewer resources than ever. Unlike Live Nation, smaller promoters probably won’t be able to carry the weight. 

Photo by Julian Bajsel

Just like any other local establishment, local venues have buildings that need money to stay open. In a statement to Billboard, co-founder and managing partner of media and marketing firm Marauder Rev. Moose said that “most indie promoters operate brick-and-mortar venues and having to totally shut down will have a devastating effect on their staff and partners.” 

Anyone familiar with their city’s local scene knows that the livelihood of a venue is never certain, and many will be unable to keep the doors open in the aftermath of a nationwide quarantine and the resulting loss of income. 

With less capital and resources at the lower level, it seems that the reformed music industry will be more consolidated than ever, providing less opportunity for local promoters and up-and-coming talent. As the purse-strings become tight, the industry giants will continue on relatively unscathed. As the industry becomes more consolidated into fewer hands, those at the local level will be left with the bill. According to a statement from Danny Hayes, CEO of Danny Wimmer Presents, to Billboard, “the industry, and the agency business, are healthier if there are more than just two promoters.” 

Indie promoters are trying to take these companies to task, but without real results. According to Matthew Smith, GMC of the UC Theatre in Berkeley, “we’re pushing back against agents’ demands for all money in advance and asking them to let us pay them night of show… only to have the ticketing company we’re contracted tell us we can’t have it until five days after we need it.” 

In the end, will the concert industry be seen as essential, or will it just be relegated as an unnecessary incarnation of high-end nightlife? 

And importantly, will Live Nation and AEG attempt to produce concerts and festivals ahead of safety benchmarks in ‘open states’ in a desperate attempt to save their empires? The scientific community is rife with rumors of a deadly, second outbreak and a premature reopening of the concert industry by these giants could be the perfect catalyst. 

To be continued.

An Overview of the Future of the Electronic Music Scene

Photos by Chad Wadsworth, Julian Bajsel, and Roger Ho

by Felix Morrison

Day for Night 2017

Nowadays the electronic music scene, as pretty much any other event based scene, is facing one of the most difficult times in its existence. Deemed as non-essential, arts that require a gathering to exist have suffered dramatically, leaving many artists from visual and musical disciplines out of work.

This has been the first time a worldwide event has affected the whole scene at the same time. The idea of contagion with SARS, MERS and other diseases never stopped partygoers from attending events all around the world. At the present moment we are experiencing widespread lockdowns, travel bans and social restrictions forcing every single event in the world to seriously consider its future.

All this news comes as part of the health measures to control the outbreak of Covid19. There was never any doubt that public gatherings were not safe and they had to be stopped for a while, but after more information became available, the reality of a prolonged lockdown started to sink in.

Naturally large events at this time would be a bad idea. Even worse would be outdoor festivals that gather attendees from around the world, which multiply the possibilities of infection exponentially.

In the first week of March most club owners, festival organizers, DJs, producers and VJs were left in a state of shock as news of event postponements and cancellations flooded their inboxes. What they thought would maybe blow over in one month, suddenly affected everyone’s summer plans and beyond. 

For example in Europe many big events such as Fusion and Boom have already announced they will be moving their events to 2021. This will surely be the first of many, as everyone involved will see their plans to go on tour absolutely destroyed.

This definitely forced artists to reconsider how to keep moving forward, as well as pushing many to the brink of extinction. For the first time many artists realized the fragility of their condition as most of the income they receive comes from live gigs. The electronic music scene has many layers and degrees of participants, but a big majority is constituted by independent labels, organizers and artists that are now faced with the task of adapting to a new reality that unfortunately puts music as one of the last priorities for society.

I stream therefore I exist

Given that having public gatherings is literally illegal at the moment, many clubs, artists and labels have resorted to live streams as a way to keep sharing and promoting their music. This has turned social media into a myriad of options from dull looking streams with bad connections, to full on professional looking productions that would rival any broadcast or TV program.

There is a wide array of options to choose from depending on the goal of the stream. Some artists prefer to do their live shows through Facebook or Instagram looking to maximize their viewers, while others use platforms like Twitch or Youtube that offer more chances of monetization. 

There have been very interesting experiments such as the one in Clubhouse Global where participants of the stream can join a public Zoom video call and see each other dancing and interacting while at the same following the broadcast on Twitch.

There’s an interesting age gap where some artists might be reluctant and shy to go into streaming, but their younger audience already sees the experience as something quite natural that brings artists closer to their fans and provides a more intimate sense of communication as fans chat directly with their favorite musicians.

It is definitely a moment where innovation and new technologies will play out in social media fields. It will also be a pivotal time where the scales of what is popular will be tipped as the playing field has been leveled. Any independent artist or unknown label can rise in popularity if they work hard on their content and bring in new followers online. This could lead to streaming becoming almost a necessity in the future for many artist and labels to continue their promotion and, philosophically speaking, extend their existence. 

It very unclear how many artists will survive without being able to play in public for the rest of the year. Many labels that were struggling to make a living are now forced to reconsider if it will be possible to continue working in the same way once the world returns to some form of normalcy.

Festivals that are planned yearly are able to postpone their events, but clubs that need to function weekly might not be able to survive this period without receiving help from the government. This kind of support will vary greatly from country to country and hopefully this will help some weather the storm, while others inevitably will be forced to shut down.

Last Thoughts

Aphex Twin live review: A blistering return at Day For Night festival

There are powerful psychological factors when artists decide to share their music online. They can’t perform in public and the only way to keep reaching that same artistic plane of expression is through digital means. We could say in a way that we are seeing the digitalization of parties and artists, as surviving in such an environment offers the only plausible way to continue existing. It has an earthly aspect that is connected to maintaining visibility, promotion and boosting revenue possibilities, but it has also a deep unconscious root in the fact that everyone is sharing their music online to simply keep being.

This is perhaps one of the greatest times to be an electronic music lover as you can finally enjoy your favorite artists from the comfort of your home, many times absolutely for free, instead of having to pay a ticket and be stuck in a packed club.

A few days ago legendary producer Aphex Twin raised the bar by broadcasting a live stream performance. The show included mind-blowing visuals that viewers could interact with, and this is just one small example of the endless possibilities this medium has brought to the table.

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