New York, NY (March 13, 2020)—The expanding threat of the coronavirus pandemic has brought the live sound industry to a standstill as Live Nation, AEG and other music industry entities have enacted a touring shut down according to reports. While the necessary move will help control the virus’ spread, the impact will be felt across the live sound industry on many levels.
Live Nation, AEG, CAA, WME, Paradigm and UTA issued a statement on Thursday, March 12, noting, “At this time, we collectively recommend large scale events through the end of March be postponed. This recommendation is specific to the US and countries deemed level 3 by the CDC. We continue to support that small-scale events in these regions follow guidance set by their local government officials. We feel fortunate to have the flexibility to reschedule concerts, festivals, and live events as needed, and look forward to connecting fans with all their favorite artists and live entertainment soon.”
The statement came as increasing numbers of states and cities are prohibiting large gatherings that could potentially bolster the coronavirus’ spread. In New York, Governor Cuomo announced Thursday that events that would draw more than 500 people were prohibited for the time being and that smaller venues were now instructed to not host audiences of more than half their capacity. Similar ordinances are quickly being established around the country, which in turn would make touring virtually impossible at all levels.
The impact of the touring shut down on the live production industry is still being assessed, but for many audio pros—from those supporting large-scale projects like tours, conventions and corporate meetings, down to regional and mon-and-pop audio providers tackling local events, weddings and the like—the capacity decrees, while widely accepted as necessary, amount to an industry-wide work-stoppage with no solid end date in sight.
“[The event production industry’s] biggest potential tragedy with the disruption in front of us, is the number of people who are now out of work—and the ancillary effects of those people being out of work,” said Jim Digby, founder of the Event Safety Alliance. A touring and production manager, Digby has worked with Meghan Trainor, Linkin Park, Bon Jovi, Backstreet Boys and others across a 30-year career.
“Those who support the artists on stage are typically, by and large, independent employees who are working check-to-check and gig-to-gig,” said Digby. “There may be an ability for the big vendors to sustain themselves because they hopefully have been smart about their financial planning. However, the humans who put the shows on are likely to not have done any ‘pandemic contingency planning.’ Most of us, I think, were thinking last fall ‘I hope I banked enough money that I can survive three to six months until I get to the next tour.’ But think about those folks who were planning to hop on the tour bus and go out with, say, Pearl Jam or another artist, who had said goodbye to their families. They were ready to hit the road, they had buckled up all their business affairs at home and were planning to make the revenue necessary for March, April, May, June, July. That tour is now shuttered for an indefinite period of time.
“Those humans still have to eat, they still have to have a heartbeat, they still have to love, they still have to provide. That’s a pressing problem right now, that issue at hand. And what does that do to mental health? What does that do to our ability to be great family members or great friends, worrying about where the next meal comes from? That’s the thing that concerns me and concerns the ESA at the moment, and these are the questions I think we need to be asking and the direction from responses that we need to be taking.”
For now, many national tours have postponed spring dates. Billie Eilish’s production postponed March dates indefinitely, while country duo Dan + Shay has tacked its spring arena dates on to the front of a fall tour leg. Alice Cooper announced this morning that rather than axe his spring tour altogether, it will be turned into a fall production, with rescheduled dates to be announced soon.
Regardless, hundreds of acts—and the audio professionals and entities that support them—are now faced with a touring shut down and reinventing their 2020 on the fly. As an engineer whose arena tour suddenly went on hiatus yesterday told Pro Sound News, “Right now, it’s honestly one of the saddest vibes I’ve seen in a very long time.”