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NEAR TRUTHS:
FROM HERE TO '22

A STEEP CLIMB TO DAYLIGHT: Despite the hope that was nurtured last year, 2021 is going to be a rough ride for the live sector.

With terrible COVID surges and a slower-than-expected rollout of vaccines, the concert business will have to proceed with baby steps for the time being. At best, most insiders feel, touring will make a gradual return, enough to begin the process of recovery from the 2020 shutdown but not sufficient to offset it.

Artists, managers, agents, promoters, attorneys and others involved in the process are nonetheless committed to doing everything possible to get things in motion and save the business. The belief is that while 2021 will offer only marginal gains, it will set the stage—so to speak—for a phenomenal return in 2022. Indeed, the feeling among key players is that the summer of ’22 could be the biggest in the history of touring, as pent-up demand can finally be met. Visualize one sold-out stadium show after another, with post-pandemic confidence and thirst for communal celebration driving a brand-new boom.

TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT: But in order to get there, it is widely agreed, everyone is going to have to take a haircut. There will be some money, but not boffo money. Terms will be less favorable and guarantees less lavish. For now, the task is to join forces to get acts on the road and earning again, wherever it’s feasible and reasonably safe to do so.

Guarantees are said to have been lowered across the board at certain high-profile festivals, such as Coachella, Lollapalooza and Glastonbury, while some smaller ones that depend more on headliners have been more flexible. It’s understood that promoters (who’ve lost untold millions during the shutdown) cannot assume all risk in this uncertain climate.

That said, with priority for headlining slots in 2021 going largely to performers whose planned 2020 festival appearances were cancelled, a huge backlog has formed. The acts seeking the few available festival slots, and those that have confirmed the move to the same slot in 2021, are therefore subject to such less-than-friendly terms as reduced guarantees and even attempts to claim monetary penalties if certain conditions are not met, broadcast rights not granted or higher-than-usual merch splits not agreed to. But all participants are being urged to move ahead nonetheless, to get things rolling.

We’re told by agency sources that Michael Rapino’s Live Nation, Jay Marciano’s AEG and the other top promoters are still sorting out their contracts with reps from CAA, WME, Paradigm, UTA and other agencies. Indie promoters and events are said to have begun circulating theirs. We understand the latter typically include what some artist reps consider very lopsided terms, which are nonetheless vital to covering the losses of the last year and will help to offset some of the risks of the coming year.

Another strategy, currently being floated by Lollaplaooza, for one, is a 25% cut to guarantees across the board, with bonuses if certain attendance numbers are met. If an act—no matter how big—declines the terms or the offer, they say they’ll move on.

It's certainly now a promoters’ market, given the mad competition for slots in an uncertain world. Promoters lost a mountain of money last year and don’t yet know when the various territories they tour will fully reopen. Given the uncertainties of 2021, some of these promoters are trying to share some risk with the acts.

NEXT STEPS: Artists who were poised for their first-ever arena tours when COVID struck may face some challenging decisions. After this long a delay, does it make sense to try to resume those long-postponed arena dates, or is it more advisable to return to sheds until business really heats up again?

For other artists, though, it would seem the shutdown has only heightened anticipation. Dua Lipa is widely considered to be the preeminent pop act in this regard, and biz watchers think her next tour is likely to be a blockbuster.

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