‘This Is A Genuine Zero-Hour Event For Us All’: Q’s With Paradigm Talent Agency’s Geoff Meall

Geoff Meall
– Geoff Meall
Agent at Paradigm Agency

Booking shows, whether concert tours or festival slots, is a 24/7 business in the quietest of times. With the fear of Coronavirus bringing the entire industry to a halt in most parts of the world, and everybody involved trying to reschedule for later in the year, there’s hardly enough dates and venues available.

Pollstar reached out to Geoff Meall, agent at Paradigm Talent Agency in London, UK, to talk about the current reality of his business.
Pollstar: What does your day look like these days? Are you working from the office or home?
Geoff Meall: I’m personally sitting staring at my garden, so I am working at home. We currently left the office open with a voluntary policy. If anyone wants to go in, they’re free to go in.
There’s been a handful of people doing that since the start of this week. We suspect that we’ll probably get instructed at some stage to close the office completely in the next day or so. We’re giving everybody the option to work from home.
We spent a lot of last week ensuring that everyone’s systems were up to date, and everyone had the right access to the servers. Our poor IT department were quite stressed and overworked.
Are you having as may phone calls for new tours as you have for rescheduling tours? 
It’s trying to work all of this out. It’s basically dealing with all our management clients about what is happening with touring. As crazy as it sounds, we’re still getting rid of some stuff that was [planned] for next week.
Obviously April, May, June, July, August, September all have different levels of urgency about them, obviously every territory has a different level of urgency about it.
Probably the most tricky part for all of us, and I’m sure this goes for everyone in all the other offices as well, is artists touring from overseas. It’s proving difficult to give full recommendations to people when different territories have different rules in place. 
Some places have banned happenings of certain capacities, some have banned other capacities, some have banned things until the end of March, some until the end if April, things like that.
Last time we spoke about the reality of booking shows, it was already madness out there because so many artists are touring. How tough is it to refit shows into an already tight window?
I think nobody with a modicum of sense and knowledge of what’s going to happen is realistically scheduling anything for anything earlier than September. 
Obviously that September to December window is usually a very busy touring period already. It’s now being bombarded with tours from March, April, May, trying to move into that period. Availabilities are the scarcest they’ve ever been.
Who’s moving quickest is kind of winning at the moment. It’s an ever-changing situation, really.
I was telling you how difficult and how much hard work this summer was for booking. We’re now doing twice the work on it, because we’re obviously unpicking parts of it and rebooking parts of it, and also, in some cases, not getting paid for the work as well, which is probably the most frustrating part. 
What happens in case of shows that can’t be rescheduled?
The dates that don’t happen, nobody gets paid on them. Where it’s rescheduled at least there’s opportunity to make money back, but cancellations take work as well.
We have to ensure that all the messaging is right, that everyone’s repaid, the fans get their money back, we’re involved in all of that.
From your conversations, are most events insured against this virus?
Some companies have insurance, the level of insurance, and the way they’re getting paid out is, again, down to what individual government statements are being made. In the UK, so far, it’s only a “recommendation” to not go to pubs and clubs. That definitely changes the insurance position, compared to France, where there’s an outright ban on people going. 
Seeing that this is caused by a global, viral respiratory disease, the insurance companies were obviously very quick to include it in its terms of exclusion.
What makes you confident that things will be back to normal by September?
I say “confident” in inverted commas. Looking at the graphs the scientists in the UK were showing, the modelling seems to think that there will be a rise and then a fall off. If we’re lucky, it’ll start falling rapidly in May, if we’re not lucky it’ll fall less rapidly in June, July, August. 
By the time September comes, the virus should be at [containable] levels that will allow us to get back to a modicum of business.
Plus, the other thought is, the world economies can’t have everybody on lockdown for the next seven months of our lives, because we’re not going to have food, we’re not going to have any medicines. You have to take those things into account as well.
The ultra optimist will say, potentially we’ll get things going in May and June, the more pessimistic person will say, hopefully July, August, almost certainly September. 
I’d love to be proved wrong, and we’re all back in May. That would be the greatest thing for all our businesses.
What will be the most important factor in the coming days and weeks in order to get out of this crisis as well as possible?
We just have to wait for the scientists and the experts to get the disease to a controlled level that’ll make us feel we can go back to normality. Hopefully the measures that countries have been taking over the last couple of weeks will prove to get the virus under control.
None of us have lived through this before, so everything is a new and novel learning experience for everyone in our industry.
Is it all comparable to SARS in 2002/2003?
That was predominantly restricted to China and a couple of East Asian territories, and of course in 2002 the global touring business and the Chinese touring business was nothing like it is today, so it’s not really comparable.
This is a genuine zero-hour event for us all.