The audience gathered for “Golden Era 2.0: How The Concert Business Comes Back & What It Looks Like,” the jam-packed panel that kicked off Pollstar Live! on Wednesday at Los Angeles’ Beverly Hilton, was lucky to have several of the live business’ most influential figures before them.
Not because of coronavirus-related restrictions on gatherings, which were lifted statewide in California just a day prior, but because of how rapidly the industry is getting back to work.
“If we were three weeks from now, everybody would be too busy to come out,” said moderator Ray Waddell, president of media and conferences at Oak View Group, at the start of the panel, which featured Live Nation’s Arthur Fogel, Wasserman Music’s Marty Diamond, CAA’s Jenna Adler, Patriot Management’s Ron Lafitte and – after a brief delay – London Entertainment’s Dre London.
“We’re back outside!” London said moments after joining the panel some 20 minutes after it started, encouraging the audience to give itself a round of applause for congregating. “Listen, guys, I was so used to Zoom meetings, I woke up, I was like, ‘Oh, shit!’ I thought I was just rolling out of bed!”
As he tends to do, London stole the show despite his tardiness, revealing how he plans to recapture the momentum of his marquee client Post Malone, who was among the hottest new artists when the pandemic halted the live industry in March 2020. Post has touring plans in the works for 2022 – even if, according to London, the Grammy-nominated rapper “doesn’t even know his tour dates” yet – and plans to stage the third iteration of his Dallas-based Posty Fest this October.
Post, of course, is a newcomer relative to the revered stars represented by Laffitte (Pharrell Williams, Backstreet Boys), Fogel (U2, Lady Gaga), Diamond (Coldplay, Ed Sheeran) and Adler (Green Day, Jennifer Lopez), and each panelist offered valuable insights about how the industry’s biggest names will usher in what could, as the panel’s title suggests, be another golden era for live entertainment.
“The truth is, our industry has been on an incredible growth pattern for many, many years,” Fogel said. “I really think that despite the time out we have all endured that it will pick up where it left off and continue that incredible growth over the next decade.”
Naturally, the early part of the discussion revolved around the unforgettable days in March 2020 when the live industry shut down. Laffitte shared the particularly harrowing story of Backstreet Boys, who were touring South America as the pandemic took hold globally, and had to navigate the complex questions about whether to call off dates – not to mention how to get back home before borders closed.
“On Friday night, the local promoter [in Rio de Janeiro] called and said, ‘I gotta get your band onstage 30 minutes early, because the mayor’s going to allow us to go onstage and if we wait an hour, we’re going to lose the show,'” Laffitte recounted.
The show took place, but turned out to be Backstreet Boys’ last.
“Saturday was a day off and Sunday was the final show of the tour, we were supposed to play a soccer stadium in São Paulo,” Laffitte continued. “By the time I woke up on Saturday morning, the social narrative had changed so dramatically that we recognized that we had to cancel Sunday. We had to cancel Sunday, get them out of the country safely and then contemplate everything that was in place going forward … without any sense of what was happening next.”
Backstreet Boys opted early on to sit out 2021 and hit the road again in 2022.
“Building a production in the best of times takes time,” said Laffitte, detailing the expenses associated with global touring at the stadium and arena levels, and the grave financial consequences of investing in such tours only to have them called off. “There are so many unanswered questions that, in some cases, the best advice is, “Let’s press pause. Let’s secure the best dates for next year. In the case of the Backstreet Boys, we were far enough ahead of it that we wound up getting better dates in ’22 – you know, the Saturday night in the bigger amphitheater, better gross opportunity.”
Like Post, Wasserman client Billie Eilish was among the hottest new touring acts at the start of the pandemic and, like Backstreet Boys, she was on tour when the pandemic struck. Eilish had completed three dates of her buzzy arena tour – her first since sweeping the Big Four awards at the Grammys in February 2020 – and postponed then ultimately canceled the trek, opting to book a new run tied to a new album in early 2022, accompanied by several festival plays in summer and fall 2021. While Diamond shared the panel’s general enthusiasm for the return of the live business, he cautioned that promoters and agents should take be careful as the industry ramps back up to avoid overwhelming consumers.
“Where we end up, in normal times, staggering onsale times, staggering onsale dates, we’re finding people that are dumping onsales right on top of one another,” Diamond said. “We have to remember that for the last 14 to 16 months, the extent of people’s lives is Amazon boxes turning up at their door, and now they’ve got 15 concerts at their doorstep and they’re trying to figure out how to navigate them. … We just have to really take a measured approach to all of this, otherwise people could really hurt one another.”
Unlike Eilish’s trek, the biggest tour Adler was working on at the start of the pandemic – the “Hella Mega” triple bill of Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer, which was set to hit stadiums in summer 2020 – postponed but didn’t cancel. The lack of cancellation owes itself, in large part, to the decision by Adler and the rest of the tour’s architects to move forward in 2021, rather than kicking the can down the road to 2022.
“We were playing a high-stakes poker game this past May, because we had to reannounce or move to 2022,” Adler said. “[It] was a decision that we all really had to collectively and thoughtfully think through, not just with safety concerns, but just financial. Unlike Marty and Ron’s artists, we decided to go for ’21. … We are at 100% [capacity] in most of these stadiums now.”
The panel then turned to insurance and risk-sharing, key topics as the industry revs back up despite the – albeit slim – possibility of additional coronavirus-related disruptions to live entertainment.
“We renegotiated the whole deal,” said Laffitte, revealing how Backstreet Boys has approached future touring arrangements. “Both Live Nation and Backstreet Boys agreed to split the risk. There’s more upside for the Backstreet Boys. … We’re all in this together. To the extent that you can make collective decisions, share risk, share upside, try to pick the right nights to play the right venues.”
Wondering aloud whether Japan will be reopen to travel in early 2022, Laffitte explained that global touring in the near-term is still uncertain, with Adler echoing his sentiment in relation to the U.K.’s Reading and Leeds festivals, scheduled for this August.
“We gotta be prepared and be ready for anything,” said London, reminding the audience that Post is booked to headline the U.K. events. “This is the time when all of us are going to see that insurance companies have to do their jobs and not just take money.”
Artist development was also a key talking point, as Diamond and London discussed the gross potential – or lack thereof – of musicians who broke out during the pandemic without touring.
“The stuff at the top is going to be in a pretty good place,” Diamond said. “The interesting thing is figuring out all the developing stuff and all these kids that have sat in their bedrooms creating over the last 14 to 16 months who are looking at numbers on TikTok, looking at numbers on Instagram and looking at what’s going on on YouTube but they actually have no concept – and none of us really do – of what is the true engagement.”
London recalled a recent conversation with Wasserman client Jack Harlow where the 23-year-old rapper, whose anthem “What’s Poppin” was among the biggest hits of the pandemic, expressed confusion when London asked if he was ready for the experience of performing to massive audiences.
“You can’t tell the engagement yet until you, unfortunately, put the show onsale and see if the connective tissue is there,” Diamond said. “The numbers are amazing and some of them are staggering but they don’t mean someone’s putting their hand in their pocket and taking out money to buy a ticket.”
While the touring potential of emerging artists remains to be seen, plenty of the clients represented by Wednesday’s panelists will dominate the touring world as it comes back online, from “Hella Mega” in ’21 to Post and Eilish in ’22 to, presumably, some of the artists Fogel works with, though the Live Nation executive was coy about specifics. Diamond said he’s “knee-deep” in planning tours for Coldplay and Sheeran, who grossed a combined $16.5 billion in the 2010s.
“We were in a golden era, and I think we’re about to move into another one,” Diamond concluded. “There’s a whole new group of superstars, Ed just being one of many. I’m just looking forward to getting going again.”