CMW: How the Concert Industry Is Beginning To Open Up

The first Virtual Canadian Music Week, May 18-21, attracted 2100 conference attendees, and some 60,000 visitors to the free music festival, according to figures provided by CMW.  Booked from Toronto, the Music Summit took place via the online platform Hopin. Many of the 70 panels, workshops and keynotes were pre-recorded, but often the speakers would return for a Q&A portion.

More than 300 speakers — including Debra Rathwell, Chris Blackwell, Desmond Child, Dallas Austin, Timbaland, Nile Rodgers, Merck Mercuriadis, Wendy Ong, Carianne Marshall, Allen Kovac,  Annabella Coldrick, Bob Lefsetz, Kevin Liles, Jennifer Mitchell, Michael Chugg, and Buffy Sainte-Marie — participated, their sessions now on-demand for pro delegates.

"Putting on a fully virtual event was a huge experiment, and we're really pleased that it was even more successful than we anticipated,” CMW president Neill Dixon told FYI Music News. “We came up with a solution for our virtual festival that hadn't been done before and the feedback we've received has been very encouraging.

“While we're anticipating being able to return to a live event for 2022, there have been many valuable lessons learned that we'll take with us for all our future events."

The topics, as usual, were varied, covering such staples as radio, songwriting, producing, management, indie labels, and publishing to newer topics like mental health, diversity, TikTok, and NFTs. There were also some insightful career retrospective chats with such veterans as Rathwell, Blackwell, Kovac, Ong, and Timbaland.

Out of all the discussions, no topic was more important than how the live touring industry will get back to business in Canada. With the border to the U.S. still closed, and vaccination penetration so much further ahead there, we enviously watch shows, tours and festivals announced for this summer — like Lollapalooza in Chicago July 29-Aug. 1 — while Canada’s summer concert season is a no-go, except for drive-ins, balcony shows and other creative workarounds.

There were a handful of CMW panels that addressed the where, when and how, starting with the State of the Industry, then more specific discussions like Global Promoter Super Session: The Return of Live; and Return to the Box Office: Safety Protocols, ‘Vaccine Passports’, and Whatever Else It Takes.

As we sit in Canada in various stages of lockdowns and re-opening with restrictions, vaccines finally rolling out more rapidly, second doses starting for some, other countries are opening up — from concerts in pandemic-contained New Zealand and Australia to the 5000-person maskless concert experiment in Liverpool, UK, earlier this month (only negative-test people were allowed to attend, if they agreed to be tested again five days later), but many of the “hows” are still up in the air.

State of the Industry panelist Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association, said she now “sit[s] on an international group with live music associations from around the world, learning from each other and sharing reopening plans and putting those in front of individual governments.”

In Canada, shows have already gone on sale for the fall, including Genesis at arenas and Lemonheads at the club level. Many of us see tour announcements and headlines elsewhere and think it’s business as usual, but that’s not the reality.

In simple terms, “You need to get [fully] vaccinated so that we can get people back in seats, so that the venues can all reopen, especially the larger venues,” said Mitch Glazier, chairman & CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on the same panel as Benjamin.

“We're still a little way out from opening up the larger venues. We get emails every day from smaller venues, continually opening in different States on a rolling basis. I would say, by the end of the year, we will have a large number of small and medium sized venues open. The larger venues may take a little bit longer. But we're well on our way. And people are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

“Most are following CDC guidance, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which for vaccinated people has lifted the mask requirement,” Glazier continued. “I think the key for venues, as they roll forward — who right now are requiring a certificate of vaccination for many shows before people are allowed to come in —  we'll be looking to see how those numbers increase towards herd immunity. Just still going to take a while.”

As of May 13, the CDC lifted guidelines for (fully) vaccinated people, no longer requiring a mask or physical distancing “in any setting,” but adding this important caveat: “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” “They’re still very crowded environments, the music festivals,” Glazier added. “I suspect that some people will still want to wear masks, even if they're vaccinated as we move forward. But the guidelines that are out there are pretty positive right now for moving forward.”

At the start of the panel Return to the Box Office: Safety Protocols, ‘Vaccine Passports’, and Whatever Else It Takes, Helena Kosinski, vice-president of global for MRC Data, went through a report.

Among the statistics, 31% of respondents said they’re willing to attend future events with 500-plus people (down 20% since the beginning of the pandemic) and 29% are willing to go to a live event less than a month after receiving the vaccine (up 38%). The top 3 factors that will make them feel comfortable attending a live event are: 66% said if it’s an outdoor venue, 64% if attendees wear masks, and 62% if there are temperature checks. Fifty-eight percent said they are likely to attend if proof of vaccination is required.

In Australia, which has been the envy of the world the way they handled the pandemic, it’s actually not business as usual. On the Global Promoter Super Session: The Return of Live panel, veteran Australian concert promoter Michael Chugg (Chugg Entertainment) said, “We don't know when our international borders are going to open. With the Australian artists that we’re able to work at the moment, you're faced with six states that all have different rules and regulations. In some states, everybody has to be seated, whether it's indoors or outdoors; indoors, they’re only letting in 30% capacity. And outdoors they're letting in 50% capacity.

“In some places you have to wear masks, in some states you have to sit two meters apart, and in other states, they're sitting on top of each other. And depending on the band, half an hour into the show, they’re all moshing and dancing, and they’re letting it go in some places, and then a week later, they bring in a heavier regulation, and then you get a couple of Covid cases and they shut the borders.”

There are new costs, he said, whether it’s added security for limiting the number of people at the bar or even to the toilets - "Everything is impacting the shows.”

Also on the same Global panel, Southwest-area concert promoter Danny Zelisko put it this way: “In some cases, you’ve got situations here in the States where nobody’s telling anybody anything, and hopefully those people who aren’t hearing anything are smart enough to know that anything doesn’t go. You have to have some parameters, rules and so forth, for the shows to come off safely.

“The bottom line is everybody already knows how to come to concerts; the only thing they don’t know about is in a post-pandemic or during it -  ‘Am I wearing a mask?’ ‘Do I have to stay apart from people?’ And then, depending on which venue you go to, indoors, outdoors, doesn’t seem to matter, some people aren’t enforcing things and other people are.

“So, I don’t know if that’s going to get in the way yet of the attendance and the attendees and how they’ll go to shows. I think a lot of people out there will want to know what to expect when they get somewhere and want to know that before they buy a ticket to a show.”

– To watch any and all, Pro Pass holders can use the on-demand link.

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