‘We won’t make enough money to be there’: the live music sector is still very uncertain Music

The government’s roadmap suggests a return to live music is on the horizon but, thanks to a huge mix of concerts, ongoing global Covid diseases, and unclear conditions for reopening, musicians, musicians keepers, promoters, and club owners say it is far from certain.

On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon announced that indoor and outdoor events could return to Scotland from May 17, subject to capacity constraints. In England, concerts are expected to return from the same date, with limited capacity, and nightclubs will reopen by 21 June. Anton Lockwood, director of DHP’s leading live music promoter, said: “That’s great, but we’re really waiting to see what the opening conditions will be. The concern is that we will get a number with something that doesn’t work. ”

For Lockwood, “inoperable” includes a rumored late-flow test for an audience (“it costs a lot of money, and where do we do it? On the street?”) And reduced capabilities for concerts, or social distance. “If I’m bidding for a show at Nottingham’s Rock City, it’s based on selling 1,900 tickets. If I can only sell 400, that won’t add up. We wouldn’t do anything like enough money to be there. ”

The same applies to some of the largest establishments in the UK. James Harrison of ASM Global, who manages the AO Arena (formerly Manchester Arena), insists that, with significantly reduced capacity, “we need to hold 400% more events to bring us closer to wherever our business needs to be. ”

Emma Bownes is vice president of venue programming at AEG Europe, and manages the booking diary at the O2 Arena, the UK’s second largest entry center after the AO Arena. She says that with social distance implemented, the capacity of the O2 drops from 17,500 to 4,700. “It’s not impossible. You can’t afford a US artist to come in for that. “

Country2Country Festival at the O2 Arena. Photo: Luke Dyson

Moreover, for establishments of this size, this is not just about the UK being open for business. “If you look at our website as a fan, and you have a ticket for a gig in October, you might be thinking: I can definitely go for that,” Bownes says. saying. “But it seems like that artist is playing fields all over the USA in the summer, and then going all over Europe. If some of these dates become unavoidable, the trip loses money and they reschedule. The edges are so small. ”

It is difficult for the artist and the venue to plan a major tour. The Bownes team has hosted more than 80 field shows at least twice, as locking rules are constantly changing. This spread of changing dates is causing an impact: the O2 already has as many registrations for 2022 as it would make half way through a typical year. “We’ve never been so busy, and our place has never been so empty,” says Bownes.

This concert collection makes it difficult for venues to tailor the requirements of artists and audiences, for example in matching new dates with the same days of the week. “People with weekend tickets may be coming in from out of town, and we don’t want to do it so they can’t come,” she explained. But it is also causing great concern to artists themselves.

Public Service Broadcasting performing at the Royal Albert Hall in 2019.
Public Service Broadcasting at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in 2019. Photo: James Watkins / BBC

J Willgoose of electronic music group UK Public Broadcasting says they won their tour at the end of 2021 over a year ago, and even then they noticed an unusual level of competition. “The whole industry is competing for the same limited resources: venues, dates, crowd, team. ”

Rou Reynolds, the frontman of the rock band Enter Shikari, which reached No. 2 in last year’s chart, agrees. “It’s hard enough at the best of times, tying dates together that way is great. But now we have asked all artists – or perhaps needs, as a financial or psychological requirement – to perform as soon as possible. ”

At a local level, the problems of reopening are more complex. Nick Stewart, from Edinburgh’s small club, Sneaky Pete’s, says that “non-professional musicians have even more to negotiate with day-to-day jobs. They may not be able to book a trip for the third, fourth, fifth time. “

This is just true for Sarra Wild, a DIY promoter and DJ in Glasgow. “The first half of the epidemic was just: how do I pay rent? I can’t schedule an event and move or postpone it, even once. “Her OH141 travel club night hosts innovative artists on the fringes, and is designed to be as accessible as possible:“ It’s the biggest expense I’ve ever incurred on the door £ 12. It’s never been a money-making venture. ”At Sneaky Pete’s club nights, busy club nights help pay for gigs, which are often missed. Stuart explains, the whole point at this stage is to lead “talent development” – Lewis Capaldi played his first gigs there.

There are a number of crucial things for getting musicians back on stage according to the roadmap. The UK live music industry, which UK Music is worth £ 1.1bn in 2018, needs “a complete government-backed insurance and indemnity scheme,” says Harrison at ASM Global. This would help thousands of volunteers return to the industry and provide reassurance to promoters, venues and musicians. “A band like us will be looking at an advance investment of between £ 25,000 and £ 50,000 in terms of investments, equipment, maintenance forecasts, team recruitment,” said Willgoose. “If you don’t have insurance, that’s not a good recommendation.”

In Scotland, the Grassroots Music Venues Sustainability Fund has prevented venues from going out of business due to recurring costs, but there are calls for such vital support and the furlough scheme to continue a long way off. after centers, technically, open. As Rou Reynolds sums up: “I can deal [more cancellations]. On the industry and so many employees on the other hand, I’m not so sure. ”