The government’s roadmap suggests that a return to live music is on the horizon but, thanks to a combination of a huge backlog of concerts, continued global Covid infections, and unclear conditions for reopening, musicians, bookers, promoters and club owners say yes. far from being true.
On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon announced that indoor and outdoor events could return in Scotland starting May 17, subject to capacity restrictions. In England, performances are scheduled to return from the same date, with limited seating, and nightclubs will reopen no earlier than June 21. Anton Lockwood, director of the main live music promoter DHP, says: “That is very good, but we are waiting to know what the opening conditions will be. The concern is that they overwhelm us with something that is not viable. “
For Lockwood, “impracticable” includes the supposed lateral flow tests for audiences (“it costs a lot of money, and where would we do it? On the street?”) And reduced, or socially distanced, capacities for concerts. “If I bid for a show at Nottingham’s Rock City, it is based on 1,900 ticket sales. If I can only sell 400, it doesn’t add up. We wouldn’t be earning anything like enough money to exist. “
The same applies to some of the largest venues in the UK. James Harrison of ASM Global, who runs the AO Arena (formerly Manchester Arena), confirms that with significantly reduced capacity, “we would need to host 400% more events to get closer to where our business needs to be.”
Emma Bownes is Vice President of Venue Scheduling at AEG Europe and manages the booking journal at the O2 Arena, the second largest indoor venue in the UK after the AO Arena. She says that with social distancing in place, the O2’s capacity drops from 17,500 to 4,700. “It is not viable. You can’t pay an American artist to come for that. “
Also, for venues of this size, it’s not just about the UK being open to the public. “If you’re looking at our website as a fan, and you have a ticket to a concert in October, you’d probably think: I can surely go to that,” says Bownes. “But that artist will probably play stadiums across the United States in the summer and then tour Europe. If some of those dates become unviable, then the tour loses money and they will be rescheduled. The margins are so small. “
Rescheduling a big tour is difficult for both the artist and the venue. Bownes’ team has rebooked more than 80 arena shows at least twice as lockdown rules continue to change. This cascade of date changes is causing a domino effect: O2 already has as many reserves by 2022 as it would have in the middle of a normal year. “We’ve never been so busy and our place has never been so empty,” says Bownes.
This backlog of concerts makes it difficult for venues to juggle the requirements of artists and audiences, for example by matching new dates to the same days of the week. “People with weekend tickets may come from out of town and we don’t want to so they can’t come,” he explains. But it is also causing great concern to the artists themselves.
J Willgoose of the UK electronic music group Public Service Broadcasting says they booked their late 2021 tour more than a year ago, and even then they noticed an unusual level of competition. “The entire industry is competing for the same limited resources: venues, dates, crowds, equipment.”
Rou Reynolds, frontman of the rock band Enter Shikari, who reached No. 2 on the album chart last year, agrees. “It is difficult enough in the best of cases, to chain the dates well on that route. But now we have all the artists who want, or perhaps need, out of financial or psychological necessity, to present programs as soon as possible. “
At the grassroots level, reopening problems are even more complex. Nick Stewart of the small but influential Edinburgh club Sneaky Pete’s says non-professional musicians with day jobs have “even more to negotiate. They may not be able to reschedule a tour for the third, fourth or fifth time. “
This is precisely the case for Sarra Wild, a DIY promoter and DJ in Glasgow. “The first half of the pandemic was simply: how am I going to pay the rent? I can’t afford to host an event and move or cancel it, not even once. “Their OH141 roving club night welcomes outcast and innovative artists, and is designed to be as accessible as possible:” The most I would charge at the door is £ 12. It has never been a money-making adventure. ” At Sneaky Pete’s, busy club nights help pay for concerts, which often come at a loss. As Stewart explains, the goal at this level is to lead “talent development”: Lewis Capaldi gave his first gigs there.
Several factors are essential for musicians to get back on stage according to the roadmap. The UK live music industry, valued by UK Music at £ 1.1 billion in 2018, needs a “comprehensive government-backed insurance and indemnity plan,” says ASM Global’s Harrison. This would help thousands of freelancers return to the industry and reassure promoters, venues, and musicians alike. “A band like us sees an initial investment of £ 25,000 to £ 50,000 in terms of deposits, equipment, rehearsal booking, staffing,” says Willgoose. “If you are not insured, that is not a good proposition.”
In Scotland, Stabilization Fund for Grassroots Music Venues has prevented venues from closing due to ongoing overhead, but there are calls for essential support like this and the licensing plan to continue long after venues can technically open. As Rou Reynolds sums up: “I will be able to deal with [more cancellations]. The industry and many of its employees, on the other hand, I’m not so sure. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism