– Pollstar Live! 2022
Jonathan Azu, Omar Al-joulani, Jeffrey Azoff, Cristina Baxter, Marty Diamond and Samantha Kirby-Yoh appear on the Pollstar Live! panel “Is This What They Meant By Roaring ’20s?”
Jonathan Azu, Culture Collective
Omar Al-joulani, Live Nation Concerts
Jeffrey Azoff, Full Stop Management
Cristina Baxter, WME
Marty Diamond, Wasserman Music
Samantha Kirby-Yoh, UTA
If nothing else came out of the COVID pandemic and resultant tour shutdowns, one thing seems certain: people are a lot more chill.
Wasserman Music’s Marty Diamond had his nails painted in honor of Harry Styles. Full Stop Management’s Jeffrey Azoff says he’s becoming the “poster boy for optimism.” And WME Partner Cristina Baxter says she’ll “never take concerts for granted again.”
Despite the frustrations of the last year thanks to false starts and backtracking thanks to Delta and Omicron variants, silver linings abound. As moderator Jonathan Azu of Culture Collective put it, “If 2021 was about shutting down, 2022 is about coming back.”
Live Nation Concerts’ Omar Al-joulani explained that it isn’t quite that simple. “Last summer things were calmer, then Delta hit and we had to adapt to different policies. There’s local jurisdictions to deal with. But right now, we’re not spending a lot of time thinking about COVID policy but getting everyone on the road and getting it right. We are all looking forward in two week segments; there’s a lot of different pieces that go into it.”
The challenges in the last were certainly daunting. From inconsistent COVID protocols and policies from region to region – and, globally, country to country – “it was such a trauma just getting to the stage,” United Talent Agency’s Samantha Kirby-Yoh said. “There is the emotional risk and then there’s the financial risk. We’re still in the two-week thing. But the fans have been great. We want to do these shows, we want to inspire you. Come if you feel ready to come back. If they come out once, they’ll come out more.
“It’s exciting coming back,” she added. “ We’ve seen the counts come back up, people are coming back to shows, and there is connectivity to fans. Come. we are here. It’s your choice.”
Azoff said he found rising to the challenges “incredibly rewarding.” Flexibility was paramount, and everyone from promoters to agents to building managers were working together to keep the business running.
“We went on tour [with Harry Styles] and it was like, everybody get your shot – it’s all good. Then Delta happened and I said, “I’m so sorry.” But all credit to Harry Styles and our team. We put some really difficult pieces in place, and I’m sure there were building managers mad at me. But everyone was amazing. But we don’t want to tour like that.”
Ultimately, when it comes to transparency, the most important communication is that between artist and fan.
“The connectivity with fans is really important,” Diamond said. “The connection between artist and audience has changed dramatically. Their trusted source is the artist they’re a fan of.”
WME’s Baxter concurred. “You have to trust that your fans can handle all the information and you have to act with honesty and transparency. The protocols change. They may buy a ticket one day and then not be able to come back when the show comes around.
“Kygo played Red Rocks last year and we sold it out in three minutes,” Baxter continued. “For people, it was the first show back, also the first time fans saw their friends. There has to be clear messaging about mask mandates. You must protect that relationship between artists and their fans at all costs.”
She, like many since last summer, marked Lollapalooza as “the real moment we realized we were back, shows were safe and fans were excited. There were a lot of lessons learned.”
Diamond said, “Harry was kind of a seismic moment for us. Billie [Eilish], Kacey [Musgraves] went out top of the year and there’s a wave of artists going back now. It says a lot about who we are. There’s really good teams, and we’re all in the same game.”
For Azoff, 2022 is about making an attitude adjustment.
“I’m going to leave the bad attitude in 2021,” he said, laughing, before getting serious. “There was a dark time. “When are we ever going to tour again? I’m personally going to be more optimistic. I may be the poster child … I knew if we can get through this as an industry together, we’d be all right. Fans have been incredibly patient with us. They knew we were human, and we need to take this into account for the fans as much as we can. We need to do our best to regulate ticket prices; everything is getting more expensive. A lot of us can’t even get trucks right now. I don’t want to put that on the fans. Let’s not shove the cost on them as well.”
But above all? Azoff says, “Be happy. It solves everything!”