Tag Archives: Live Music

The Sorry (Economic) State of Performance

Of course it is like this. The Save Our Stages Act, S.4258, which allows the Small Business Administration “to make grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic on certain live venues”—and we’re talking real money, an initial grant up to $12-million that can be supplemented by one equal to 50% of the initial grant—has been passed. Months ago.

But according to recent reporting in Variety, there is one non-trivial snag: the venues haven’t gotten any money.

The problem? Oh, probably the website.

A representative of the Small Business Administration is quoted by Variety saying, “the SBA is committed to quickly and efficiently delivering this pandemic relief to help our theatres, music venues, and more get the help they need. While there continues to be some fine-tuning of technical components of the program, we expect SVOG Priority 1 (90% revenue loss) awards to tentatively begin next week, kicking off a 14-day priority period. We will then move on to begin processing Priority 2 awards.”

Possibly by the time you read this some of the $16 billion (yes, with a “b”) will be making its way to a venue near you.

But think about that for a minute: a given operation has experienced a 90% revenue loss? This isn’t a short, one-time event, like having a lemonade stand: one day it is hot and the sales are brisk; the next day there are torrential storms and the stand gets no customers; the following day it is back to sweltering and the thirsty return. That middle day there is a 100% loss. But the pandemic has lasted for more than a day. Obviously.

Certainly things are opening with a feeling of freshness, like throwing open the windows after a long winter of dealing with steam heat.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that for far too many small businesses—such as bars and clubs—the winter has been too long, and what seemed as though it would be at least a way to recover somewhat so far isn’t helping. One wonders whether it will be able to help at all for some of these venues or the life preserver will be thrown in the water after the third time the operation has gone down.

Continue reading The Sorry (Economic) State of Performance

TV, Movies & Concerts

With the exception of both (one always; one frequently) being staged in theaters, the movies and concerts have only slight crossover. Of course, one thing to be kept in mind that both are keenly entrenched in economics, as in “the film industry” and “the music business.” Pull at our emotions though the good ones do, it is still about making a return.

And there is undoubtedly going to be a return to something akin to what had been the case, though in the case of the film industry things may be somewhat different than will be the case vis-à-vis concerts.

After World War II, when life underwent a profound change, with people moving to new places that are now the familiar suburbs, a device that had been around since the late 30s but expensive and not particularly useful came onto its own: the television set. By 1948 there were multiple network broadcasts. Because the movie theaters tended to be in city downtowns and not in the suburbs, there was a decrease in the number of people who went to the movies. They could simply stay home and watch TV.

While television didn’t kill the film industry, as some had feared, there was at least a change in the nature of the execution of movies. There were new approaches to how movies were filmed and shown—as in things like Cinerama—and there were early “blockbusters,” like the Cecil B. DeMille movies that were “epic” in scope.

As time went on there was something of an entente between the two mediums.

In terms of technology, there were repeated efforts to make the movie “experience” more worth going to a building with screens, such as 3D and IMAX. But at the same time there was a huge growth in the number of consumers who were buying increasingly large and capable screens and sound systems that allow them to have something of a wide-screen filmic experience without having to pay $10 for popcorn. Channels like HBO and Showtime brought nearly new releases into homes.

Hollywood struck back with things like the Marvel-based films that are like those of DeMille: Seeing them on something that is measured in feet rather than inches is an experience onto itself.

But then there was COVID and suddenly Hollywood discovered that their outlets were shut down. People were sheltering at home with their massive TV screens. What could they do with their “product”? Disney+ had Hamilton in the can, so it came up with a plan to offer it exclusively on its channel, which led to a huge boost in subscriptions to the service. Then with Mulan it tried to do one better by adding an additional fee to watch it, a Disney+ subscription acting only as a means to get to the ticket window. Somehow they had to get as much ROI as the new prevailing conditions allowed.

Continue reading TV, Movies & Concerts

Everyone Into the Pool! (Except Songwriters)

According to the description of Cancun on TripAdvisor:

“The international capital of spring break

“‘Spring break forever’ could be Cancun’s motto. It’s all sun, sand, and good vibes. Here flip flops and board shorts count as “dressed,” and the club beats are thumping 24/7. Swim-up bars keep the cocktails coming to the twentysomething crowd. But families can find their own paradise at one of the many resorts with kids’ clubs and gigantic pools.”

So what do we have:

• Spring break. Which could include those ages 18 to 24, from high school seniors through undergraduates
• Twentysomething crowd that are partial to swim-up bars
• Families

Which makes me wonder about the potential crowd for “Playing in the Sand,” the three-day event that will feature Dead & Company.

Two points: (1) the name of the “destination concert experience” will be held in Cancun next January, a period when there isn’t a spring break; (2) the name of the event is a play on the title of a Grateful Dead tune that was released in 1971, making it 50 years old, which means that it was out 21 years before the oldest twentysomething was born.

Who’s coming?

The packages aren’t inexpensive. They start at $2,112.50 per person (yes, this includes a room at the Moon Palace Cancun Resort) and go up to $9,000. Starting prices.

Presumably, given that most people haven’t been vacationing much (except for thousands of springbreakers this year) due to COVID, by next January they’ll be ready for an event at a resort.

But one thing strikes me as a bit odd about this, and not that the Grateful Dead was a band that is more associated with grilled cheese sandwiches and drum circles than fine dining and a Jack Nicklaus golf course.

Continue reading Everyone Into the Pool! (Except Songwriters)

Four Things I Really Didn’t Write About

1.

I had thought about writing about the latest Morning Consult survey numbers regarding those who are thinking about concert going. It shows that 47% of those surveyed say it would be in more than six months and 26% that they don’t know or have no opinion. As you can see, that means it is a big “not good,” with 73% looking out at the future, or not looking much at all.

In addition to which, Morning Consult pollsters found that 22% of Republicans are ready to go to a concert right now, and just 11% of Democrats, so you might have to rethink your political orientation.

2.

Then I thought about some further bracing information that I read in Spiegel International with a German virologist, Christian Drosten. (No, I don’t know why I am reading Spiegel International, nor do I know why I read an interview with a German virologist whom I’ve never heard of, but I do know that there is something that I think is worth sharing, especially if you’re thinking about going to a concert in six months or more.)

Drosten said that he is “quite apprehensive” about what might happen in the spring and summer. Now while he was specifically talking about Germany, it isn’t too far a leap to apply some of this to the U.S. (which, I’m guessing, is where most of you who are reading this reside, and for those of you who are, say, in Germany, Schönen Tag):

“Once the elderly and maybe part of the risk groups have been vaccinated, there will be immense economic, social, political and perhaps also legal pressure to end the corona measures. And then, huge numbers of people will become infected within just a short amount of time, more than we can even imagine at the moment.”

Imagination is boundless. That’s clearly a big number.

Kicker #1: “It will, of course, be primarily younger people who are less likely than older people to have severe symptoms, but when a huge number of younger people get infected, then the intensive care units will fill up anyway and a lot of people will die. Just that it will be younger people.”

Youth may be wasted on the young, but COVID doesn’t care.

Kicker #2: When asked if he thought that as winter turns to spring and spring summer there would be a reduction in the number of cases (i.e., in about six months, when those people might be ready to attend concerts): “I am afraid that it will be more like in Spain, where case numbers climbed rapidly again after the lockdown was lifted, even though it was quite hot. In South Africa, too, where it is currently summer, case numbers are at a high level.”

Continue reading Four Things I Really Didn’t Write About

Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

“Since 2016 we’ve had the privilege of booking and promoting over 3500 shows across Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston,” it says on the homepage of Margin Walker Presents. The company claims to be the “largest independent promotion company in Texas.” Or at least it was.

“Even with strategic changes in the business, painful staff cuts, and taking loans and grants, sadly, we at Margin Walker Presents have not been immune, and it breaks our hearts to announce that this wild ride has come to an end, and we are closing the business. . . .”

Another victim of COVID-19.

And one can only presume that there were all of the musicians that the company had booked over the past few years who are now facing huge difficulties. No gigs to play. Or no gigs that pay. Pay enough to pay the rent and get groceries. Musicians who had once had side hustles are now having to put those undertakings front and center—assuming that that is still a possibility.

Anyone who has spent any time in Austin knows that the music scene there—even with the ever-encroaching gentrification caused by the corporations that want to take advantage of the “Weirdness” of Austin, not realizing that their very presence works to normalize it—is robust. Venues from Austin City Limits to small bars in residential neighbors with backyard patios with stages provide a wide array of music.
Although now that could be in the past tense.

For now.

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Although the focus here is on rock and roll, the same day that I read about the closing of Margin Walker Presents there was a striking story in the New York Times. It was about professional musicians, organized musicians. As the story by Julia Jacobs opens, “When the coronavirus outbreak brought performances across the United States to a screeching halt, many of the nation’s leading orchestras, dance companies and opera houses temporarily cut the pay of their workers, and some stopped paying them at all.”

These are brand names, like the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera and the Kennedy Center.

Not all of the people that are being impacted are musicians. There are stage hands, as well.
Jacobs’ story notes that the New York Philharmonic is cutting the base pay of musicians by 25% through mid-2023, with a rise afterward, but still leaving the people making less in 2024, when the contract expires, than they are now.

At the Boston Symphony a three-year contract has been signed that includes a pay reduction of an average 37% the first year, then increasing subsequently “but only recovering fully if the orchestra meets at leas one of the three financial benchmarks.”

And the odds of that?

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But there are the vaccines. There is hope that they will have a significant effect on people’s willingness to go out and resume life that looks something like it did before March.

Continue reading Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

Over There

Although it is easy to talk about the “music industry,” just what is it, or, more accurately, what are the elements that establish the whole?

I found an answer in a report prepared by UK Music, a trade organization that represents—yes, exactly what its name unambiguously states.

In its codification there are six primary sectors and then a various number of subsectors in each:

  1. Music Creators: musician, composer, songwriter, lyricist, vocalist, producer, engineer
  2. Live Music: music festival organizers, music promotors, music agents, production services, ticketing agents, convert venues and arenas
  3. Music Publishing: publishing rights holders, publishing companies
  4. Recorded Music: recorded rights holders, record labels, physical manufacturing and distribution, digital distribution, recording studios
  5. Music Representation: collective management organizations, music managers, music trade bodies, music accountants, music lawyers
  6. Music Retail: retail of musical instruments, manufacturer of musical instruments, digital music retail, physical music retail

Of the sectors, Music Creators has by far the greatest number of people employed (“full-time equivalency,” meaning this is what they do), with 142,000 of the industry’s total 197,168. In second, way, way, back is Live Music at 34,000; then Music Retail, 11,300; Recorded Music, 5400, Music Representatives, 3,100; and Music Publishing, 1,368.

The importance of the music industry is really significant to the UK economy. According to UK Music, it contributed £5.8-billion to the UK economy in 2019. To put that into some context, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the UK automotive trade association, the auto industry contributed £15.3-billion during the same period. The music industry employs 197,168. The auto industry 864,300.

But whereas people who work in the auto industry work for employers, according to UK Music, 72% of the people in the music industry are self-employed. When times are good, that is not bad. But when times are bad, that is not good.

And we all know which time we’re living in now.

While the UK government has established the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (yes, Scheme is part of its official name, not some sort of linguistic dodge) as part of its response to the COVID-19, UK Music estimates that only about a third of those working in entertainment and the arts qualify for it.

Continue reading Over There

Sporting Events, Concerts & Potential Disinterest

Unless you are a participant, for viewers/listeners/attendees of live events, music and sports are both forms of entertainment, which have many similarities from the point of view of the attendee. They are (and this is in the context of pre-C-19) held in large structures and there are plenty of people also in attendance. There is a multitude of things that you can buy, from overpriced beer (as you’re prohibited from bringing in your own beverages, this is not a price predicted by market forces but by the venue owner or event organizer) to hats, T-shirts and other paraphernalia. Sporting events tend to last longer than concerts (with the average football game taking 3 hours and 12 minutes, for example), unless Bruce Springsteen is involved.

One fairly notable difference is that sporting events start on time, largely because of TV contracts. (This also explains, in part, why the NFL game is as long as it is: the game consists of four 15-minute quarters; halftime is 12 minutes for a regular game, although for the Super Bowl it can run 30 minutes or so.) How many times have you been to a concert when it started within 30 minutes or so of the time on your ticket?

And speaking of tickets, it has been reported that Ticketmaster is considering a plan for concertgoers where by attendees would have to verify that they’ve either tested negative for C-19 within a period of 24 to 72 hours before the show or, whenever this happens, have been inoculated. All of this is smartphone based (e.g., you get a test; tell the lab to send the information to a third party like CLEAR; the third party provides the OK for attendance). A benefit for Ticketmaster is that because this also means that a given ticket is digital, there is no reselling outside of its approved method.

And speaking of selling, it is worth noting that according to Statista, the average price of a concert ticket in 2019 (the last year of normalcy) was $96.17. Not surprisingly, the cost of attendance has gone up over the past few year, but curiously, in 2014 the average price of a concert ticket was $82.07 and it fell to $78.30 in 2015; it rose to $81.27 in 2016 and has gone up ever since. As for the NFL, the average price of a ticket, again according to Statista, in 2019 was $102.35. It has done nothing but go up over the past several years (e.g., in 2014 the average price was $84.43 and it was $85.83 in 2015. No drop. All increase.).

If you’ll accept the argument that there are similarities between things like professional football games and concerts, then there is the very real potential that there will be a profound change vis-à-vis live events.

That is, according to a survey conducted by Morning Consult on live sports viewing habits (as in watching things on a screen) of all adults, Millennials and Gen Zers, the latter cohort is not nearly as keen as the Millennials. That is, whereas 50% of Millennials watch sports at least weekly, the figure is just 24% for Gen Z. And while only 20% of Millennials never watch sports, 39% of those in Gen Z never do.

Continue reading Sporting Events, Concerts & Potential Disinterest

At What Cost?

You’ve probably not heard of Marc Geiger, unless you’re into the business of the music business: He was, until recently, the head of the William Morris Endeavor Music Division, or more simply: he was an agent. Agent to the stars.

But you have heard of one of the things that Geiger was responsible for creating: Lollapalooza.

Create a phenomenon and make a lot of money.

Geiger has created a new company. He’s accumulated some $75-million in capital for it.

It is called “SaveLive.”

The “Live” is as in “live music.”

And while many of us might think that the way to do that would be to help fund the bands that are not out on stages right now because of the pandemic, finding a way to buy their music or swag or something, that’s why many of us are not clever business people.

Instead of the musicians, Geiger is looking to support the venues where the musicians would perform were it not that the number of venues that have had to keep their doors shut legally or economically is still high and those that are open have had to reduce the number of patrons allowed in, which is making their continued existence iffy at most.

As I’ve written about before, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) has worked with Congress on creating the Save Our Stages Act—sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representatives Peter Welch (D-VT) and Roger Williams (R-TX), which just goes to show that music, like viruses, knows no party affiliation—which is wrapped into the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROS Act), which, unfortunately, is stalled in the Senate.

As NIVA recently wrote about its members’ situation and the financial straits that are being caused by the pandemic and how they need more industry-specific help: “Unfortunately, previous Payroll Protection Plans do not work for this industry because we’re shut, so sadly we’ve been forced to furlough about 95% of our employees. While nearly 90% of America’s businesses are operating, as gathering places, we are not.”

The longer this goes on, the fewer venues will remain. After all, the people who own stages may not have to pay many of their employees, but they still have to pay property taxes, utilities, insurance and other things that aren’t going to go away even when the virus does.

So enter Geiger and SaveLive.

At its most simple, the plan is for it to buy at least 51% of venues. That way the previous owner will have income that can be used to do things like keeping the pipes from freezing this winter (yes, yes, there are venues where it doesn’t snow, but you get my drift).

Geiger told the New York Times, “I believe the artist economy is going to be very big when it comes back. Artists will want to tour to get their cash moving again, and people are going to love going out more than ever.”

And so the venues will be there to support those acts. Thanks to Geiger’s company.

This raises some questions.

Continue reading At What Cost?

Objects in the Mirror May Be Closer Than They Seem

The Road

While it might not seem to be, when bands go out on the road, touring, that’s business travel. They’re not out there because they want to sleep in a bus or collect loyalty points at a chain motel where the room smells like cigarette filters and feet. It’s their job the same way the proverbial traveling salesperson is racking up the miles on that rental Impala that has a mysterious noise coming from under the hood that increases slightly with every mile clocked on the odometer.

The musicians show up at the venues large or small, hoping they’ll make the nut that will continue to allow them to make it.

Although bands aren’t corporations per se (of course, I’m talking here about bands that are clawing along in buses, vans and beaters, not those who probably have empty office space in Delaware that is the address of their incorporation papers), they are businesses, in effect, that face the same sorts of logistical challenges on the road as the aforementioned salesperson.

Good news, such as it is, for those bands who are facing the consequences of COVID-19 is that as McKinsey points out in an examination of business travel trends of the moment, “For Corporate Travel, a Long Recovery Ahead” by Andrew Curley, Rachel Garber, Vik Krishnan and Jillian Tellez, “Looking first at the distance of business travel, regional and domestic trips will likely see a return before international travel does.” So odds are for the foreseeable future, competition with non-domestic brands bands will not be much of an issue. And for those who may have car sickness, better lay on a bigger supply of Dramamine because the McKinsey report continues, “Within domestic travel, trips that can happen in personal or rental vehicles may replace short regional flights until companies’ comfort with sending employees via airplanes increases.” While taking the Delta Connection may seem a bit extreme for many bands purely from a financial standpoint, there are those musicians who need to get to a gig that would be outside the realm of a drive—although that verb should have been in the past tense—needed—because it is still the case that most venues are closed and will continue to exist in that state for the next several months—or they’ll simply stop existing.

All of which means that this whole discussion of business travel is a moot point because if bands have no place to perform, it just may be that they’ll have to disband.

That is a consequence of C-19 that will silently echo for years after the vaccine has been injected into our systems.

Continue reading Objects in the Mirror May Be Closer Than They Seem

Random Notes

You’ve probably received emails from the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post encouraging you to subscribe in order to support the investigative journalism that the papers perform. Yes, while there’s lots of stuff that you can get for free online, paying people to do the work is not free, so if you want to get that information, you have to support it. (Ironically enough, you are getting this for free and I am getting nothing for it. Go figure.)

I recently received a subscription solicitation in my inbox with the subject line:

Support the journalists speaking truth to power

One of those papers or The New Republic or The Atlantic or National Review or Mother Jones?

No. Rolling Stone.

While I know that the solid work of Matt Taibbi appears in the pages of RS, here’s the question: If the objective is to support solid political reporting (assuming, of course, that speaking truth to power doesn’t mean the heads of record companies or Daniel Ek), is getting a subscription to Rolling Stone the right place to spend?

Well, there is that tote bag.

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In 1997 David Bowie created, working with Prudential Financial, “Bowie bonds.” When issued, they had a face value of $1,000 and were a long-term investment, as they had a maturity of 10 years.

The purpose of the bonds was to raise money so that Bowie could buy back the rights to the music on albums released between 1969 and 1990.

There was $55 million raised.

This approach became something like the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) phenomenon that is now all the range especially in tech circles, as variants were created for James Brown and others. (One would have thought that the King of Soul could simply mint is own money, but alas. . . ).

Bowie bonds came to mind as the management company for BTS, Big Hit, went public on the Korean stock exchange and had an immediate valuation of initially $7.6-billion, which then dropped to about $4-billion, and while the number is probably something entirely different right now, odds are that unless something completely unexpected happens to the seven-member band that has been performing since 2010, odds are Big Hit will continue to be a big hit, as the members of the band are undoubtedly fungible.

The thing about music that isn’t often taken into account is the fact that it is the “music industry,” just like, say, the “auto industry.”

The $55-million of Bowie 1997 would be worth about $89 million today.

Or $3,911,000,000 short of Big Hit.

Continue reading Random Notes