Artists playing Live Nation festivals can expect to be paid as much for 2021 festival performances as they were in 2019, according to Charles Attal, co-president of Live Nation subsidiary C3 Presents, which oversees U.S. festivals and produces live events globally.
Attal spoke with Pollstar amid the negative fallout from a memo Live Nation sent to agencies last week regarding deal points for booking artists at festivals – and only festivals – in 2021. The memo, which Attal described as a “stale document,” created a stir for its references to such deal points as 20% lower guarantees, strict streaming requirements, insurance fees and a cancellation policy that would require the artist to pay Live Nation double the artist fee if they fail to perform.
The language around cancellations in particular has been excised from all agreements, according to Attal, and “in retrospect, should not have been in there,” he said. “We’re not going to jam any artists. It doesn’t need to be in the deal terms, and hopefully we don’t have to deal with it.”
In general, Attal said, the memo was just the beginning of a conversation around booking talent for 2021 festivals, a segment of live entertainment that has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 cancellations due to their heavy investment requirements and a destination status that led to refund requests much higher than those seen for concerts in general.
Much of the negative reaction has come in variations of the theme of “Live Nation is nothing without the artists,” a sentiment that Attal does not dispute. “The artists are the center of everything we do,” Attal said.
Attal pointed to “clawback” provisions in contracts that allow artists to get paid more when festivals succeed, a clause he believes will kick in for 2021 providing festivals get back to full capacity. In such cases, “artists will get [paid] the same amount as they did in 2019, because all indicators I see are moving in a really strong direction,” Attal said, adding that on-sales for 2021 festivals have been “very strong” and he believes festivals will return to prominence next year. He also noted that, “Live Nation will always be the artist-friendly company.”
Even so, with the prospect of higher expenses to counter pandemic concerns, the potential of diminished capacities due to social distancing guidelines and the likelihood of an economy that will still be reeling, festivals and live entertainment in general face an uphill battle. Attal said that artists will be taken care of fairly and are at the core of Live Nation’s festival portfolio philosophy.
“First and foremost, our job is to work for the artists, to branch into new territories, bring new business development to up-and-coming acts, and showcases for headliners to perform for huge, diverse audiences and develop new fans,” Attal said. “These [festivals] take years to develop, and that’s our job. We are here to work for the artist. That’s it. We’ve been doing this for years, and it would be impossible without our great relationships with the artists.”
Still, the memo created a firestorm in an already rattled industry, with stakeholders who spoke with Pollstar (none on the record) taking issue with the tone of the memo and calling it less than artist-friendly. Attal said much of those concerns have already been addressed: “Our relations and negotiations can never be boiled down to one, single one-way document, that’s not reality.”
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the artists,” he said. “We’ve heard them loud and clear, we’ve revised it, we’ve gotten through it with them, and we’re already booking shows, with confirmed acts for 2021.”
The memo was sent out to begin conversations around booking festivals for 2021, which would normally have been well underway by now but have been stymied by the uncertainty so prevalent in this hammered business. The release of the memo and the media-induced fan and industry furor that followed created a house fire for Attal and Live Nation. “That document is really irrelevant,” Attal said. “We’re all working together, we’re never jamming anything down anybody’s throat and the revisions are coming from the artists directly.”
Much of the language in the memo is not new, particularly that regarding merch deals and streaming. The latter looms more critical in the current environment, considering the potential for some fans to sit out a festival due to illness or capacity limitations. “If one of our shows is at 50% capacity for social distancing, and a fan has to stay home to watch it, I think it’s great for the band to be able to have the fans see their show,” Attal pointed out.
Concerning insurance, the C3 exec said they’re “working through that, it will take a few months to figure out. Premiums have gone up and we’re dealing with it.” He went on to say they’ll “make sure the artist is happy and taken care of.”
Despite the reaction to the memo, Attal said in general there is a lot of cooperation and united effort in the industry right now. “I can’t speak for the whole industry, but everybody we’re talking to at C3 is really getting along well and over-communicating with artists and managers, the agents have been good, and everybody knows we have to work together to get out of where we are now,” he said. “We’re all trying to get back to work, that’s it. We want people to have their jobs back, we want to get artists back on the road, we want to get going, people want to see music, and the indicators are good.”
Sadly, it appears the conversation revolved almost entirely around 2021 and the likelihood of any major destination festival for this year seems dim. Long-term, “the festivals will continue to be a win for artists, no matter what conditions we’re operating in, and we’ll adjust and always work to take care of the artist. We’re offering fans refunds of festivals, we’re letting artists keep their deposits until next year, and we expect to pay artists 100% with the clawback, because demand seems to be strong.”
Demand may be strong, but uncertainty still prevails, and negotiations around 2021 will likely continue as the situation changes. “We don’t know when we’re coming back. All indicators are strong, but we don’t have dates, we don’t have capacities, we don’t know what the social distancing guidelines are, they change from city to city, country to country,” Attal said. “That’s just where we are right now. We don’t know what our ticket prices are going to be, we don’t know what the economy is going to look like, so everything is on the table to be adjusted.”
As for the now-infamous memo, Attal called it, “the normal back and forth that has gone on since the beginning of rock ’n roll,” Attal concluded. “That’s why you have red pencils.”