Building Back Live: It Takes An Ecosystem
In Pictures Ltd. / Corbis / Getty Images – Ecosystem
TEAMWORK: Roadies, seen here working with U2’s Zooropa European tour in 1993, as independent contractors have yet to receive long-term aid as they await the return of business.
Robert F.X. Sillerman faced a packed ballroom during the Concert Industry Consortium (the precursor to Pollstar Live!) at L.A.’s Century Plaza Hotel in February 1999 and bluntly told the crowd, “In the words of Godzilla, size is good. Size matters.”
Perhaps as notable as the sea change in the way the concert business operated wrought by SFX is that there was no such thing as an “independent concert promoter” prior to Sillerman’s emergence. They were all independent.
Twenty years later comes COVID, and everyone’s mettle has been sorely tested. The passage of stimulus funding and its $15 billion for entertainment, independent venues and their allied agents, promoters and managers, is certainly to be celebrated. But it must be acknowledged that the funding, while welcome, is not all-inclusive of the entire ecosystem of the concert industry.
There were winners and losers – independent contractors like tour managers and production crews still fend for themselves (and have limited PPP). Global companies like Live Nation and AEG also do not benefit from Save Our Stages legislation included in the recent stimulus package.
Fireplay CEO Nick Whitehouse tells Pollstar (stay tuned for full Guest Post), “Washington must do more than what was passed … in December, which only extends some support for workers through March, and does nothing to meet the uniquely devastating impacts facing live events personnel. We may have saved our stages, but we haven’t saved the individual workers who help those stages come to life.”
It’s important, then, to remember just how interdependent segments of the broader entertainment ecosystem are. Independent venues, promoters and agents play key roles in artist development, building fanbases. And when the artist and their teams are ready, they can work with majors down the road who can take their careers to the next level. The majors are also able to provide marketing and other support to build those acts further – benefiting not only the artist, but the all-important fans. The production teams, tour managers, and roadies are all indispensable parts of the equation: without them, the touring shows don’t happen. An example is Billie Eilish, whose much-anticipated 2020-21 “Where Do We Go” arena tour fell victim, as did so many others, to the touring shutdown caused by the pandemic.
Her earliest headlining shows, performed in April 2018 and promoted by venues and local promoters like Terminal West in Atlanta, Lincoln Hall in Chicago and First Avenue in Minneapolis all sold fewer than 1,000 tickets, but were sellouts regardless and helped develop the all-important word of mouth among fans in addition to her undeniable talent and the hard work of her team at every level.
Dan Steinberg, co-founder of Emporium Presents, has a view from both the indie and major promoter worlds. “Coming from being an indie and then joining Live Nation, I’ve seen first-hand how players small and large come together to form the music scene of our industry. Jason [Zink] and I hustled to build Emporium, and then partnering with Live Nation gave us even more opportunity and flexibility to grow. The industry needs players of all sizes to support artists of all sizes and fans from every walk of life. That’s the only way we’ll continue to have the live music experience we all know and love.”