Catastrophe Awaits New Concert Cancelations
COVID latest divide is between artists, promoters and communities.
The rash of concert cancelations recently—Stevie Nicks, Limp Bizkit, Fallout Boy, Counting Crows, etc.—are concerning, though hardly surprising. Since states threw open their economies in June, the sense of get-it-while-the-getting’s-good hung heavy in the air. Not just because we’d all been locked inside for over a year, but because there was no guarantee that the window wouldn’t slam shut again.
But you really couldn’t script something as implausible as Lollapalooza launching the U.S. festival season at the end of July, then Jazz Fest aborting 10 days later (despite not taking place until October). That’s not to say other events won’t open their gates in the meanwhile. Bonnaroo, scheduled for early September, could be the next bellwether. But promoters and artists have been given cover to cancel should the public health risks outweigh the reward.
The struggle is that even evaluating those risks has proven fraught. A recent exploration of the issue by Water & Music found minimally actionable insights between county-level pandemic data from the CDC and admittedly vague touring info from Bandsintown. Stuck between the rock of ever-changing COVID reality and the hard place of proprietary industry intel, it seems unlikely that any data-driven best practices are forthcoming.
The one consensus that is forming looks to be vaccination requirements for staff. Both Live Nation and Oak View Group announced company-wide mandates for those wishing to work their events. Both promoters also trumpeted COVID safety protocols to be enacted where applicable (although mask mandate bans in multiple states will no doubt hamper these good-faith efforts).
Nature hates a void, and artists have rushed in to fill the gap, either by making the hard choice to cancel (although these calls are made less difficult when COVID actually penetrates their ranks) or by making proactive demands of promoters to implement stricter safety precautions. Live Nation, in particular, has pledged to work with artists who can now require proof of vaccination or negative test for their audiences.
However, it seems less-than-ideal to abdicate the responsibility for those decisions to artists and their teams, who seem the least well-equipped to make these calls. Venues and promoters have people on the ground in each city who—while not public health experts—at least have a better sense of what’s happening in their communities.
Of course, buck-passing (or as others call it, personal choice) seems to be the one consistent national strategy for managing COVID. The Federal government has largely left things to the states, whose own public health officials have more or less decided to let businesses dictate their own best practices—a strategy that at least seems to be muting response from the tinfoil hat contingent who are convinced that any centralized response to the global pandemic is akin to encroaching fascism. But little wonder that the events industry is passing this particular hot potato to performers. At least artists seem able to communicate valid concerns to fans without triggering a deluge of conspiracy theories.
What’s perhaps most concerning about this current state is that as responsibility gets diluted, so does any potential for financial relief for those who will ultimately take the hit as events fail to materialize. It took over a year to get funds to shuttered small venues, and there’s no reason to believe that any politician will feel compelled to sign off on more dollars when the absence of revenue is on a concert-by-concert basis. Same with any chance of extended jobless claims for the crews and staff, who by nature of their freelance status had an extra difficult time getting support even during the pandemic’s peak. You thought they were SOL before? Hold my beer.
This is the part of the essay where we find a silver lining to all of this. Well, some data suggest that many buying tickets this summer are new concertgoers, which could convert into long-term growth. This could shorten the time it takes the industry to dig itself out of the COVID-sized hole it’s fallen into. Fans have proven to be patient when it comes to holding their tickets for indefinitely postponed shows. One hopes this holds true for tickets purchased in 2021.
One must also hope that if the industry experiences another major stall (seeming more likely by the day), that enough revenue has been brought in to float the boat until the next reopening. Might we suggest converting some of those unspent service charges into Bitcoin in the meanwhile?
Maybe another pause will put some wind back in the sails of live streams, although the public generally tapped out on those even before the vaccine hit the streets. Maybe Delta will fizzle out the way it did in the UK (although that required extending lockdowns, which no one is gonna go for in the US of A). Maybe the consequence of canceled concerts will convince more young people to get vaccinated in a way that the death of their elders couldn’t muster.
Maybe the infrastructure bill will at least give out-of-work roadies some bridges to build.
Hang in there, everyone.
The artist's onus policy is already running into resistance.
Salient statements from this week’s news.
Remember a decade ago when recorded music was dead and live music was the future?
Takeaway: Combined, across recorded music and publishing, the three majors generated $10.91 billion in the first six months of 2021. That was up by over $2.3 billion on what Universal, Sony, and Warner jointly reported in revenues for the equivalent period of 2020.
42% of females age 16-19 report playing an instrument or sing, compared to only 28% of men.
Takeaway: This gender split is highly relevant to an industry that women have historically struggled to make it in.
Finally, something that’ll cheer everybody up.
Takeaway: De La Soul’s use of uncleared samples from Hall & Oates, the Turtles and others in those early days of rap on 3 Feet High and Rising and follow-up De La Soul is Dead also sparked years of legal issues.