Touring Snapshot

Every show has to play. If a band member, even a member of the entourage, gets infected with Covid-19 it’s a disaster.

Don’t expect the hoi polloi to understand touring, after all they can’t understand ticketing, not even the government can understand ticketing, the public thinks that Ticketmaster gets all the fees and the scalpers are such good lobbyists that elected officials end up with a skewed vision of the landscape and no regulations are put into place. But it gets even more complicated, in many cases promoters are in bed with the secondary market, offloading a chunk of tickets reduces their risk. Confused yet?

So the bottom line is these acts that barnstorm across the country, from arena to arena…it’s not four guys in a station wagon. It’s trucks, carrying production, never mind other infrastructure, both physical and human. It’s a business. So, you spend a lot to make a lot. Now more than ever. Belief is the audience won’t put up with a show that’s only four guys on stage and that’s it, that at these ticket prices people expect, demand production, I’m not sure that is true, but that’s the standard of the industry, that’s the way it is. So, the numbers are big. Let’s say you play twenty dates. At best only the last five are profitable. The previous fifteen, even if they all sell out, are all about recovering costs.

Don’t feel too bad for the acts, the percentage looks bad on the surface, but those last five dates can be EXTREMELY profitable. But if you have to cancel a few of the twenty for Covid reasons, you’re screwed.

This is the dance that’s being done now. Especially since acts have gone on the road and encountered this, Kiss and the Doobie Brothers had to shut down, and other performers too. For those acts now on the sidelines, getting ready to go…

So you think the business is back, but the truth is it’s still in flux.

But one thing is for sure, the acts that are out there, the big ones, have Covid protocols that will blow your mind. Bottom line, you may work for the band and be unable to see them perform. You’ve got to stay in the bubble. To make sure the tour can go on, that there are no blips on the radar screen.

The truth is everybody needs the money, but some need it more than others. Meaning there are acts that do less than arena business, who are willing to take the risk, otherwise they’re going to go broke. But not all of them. I was speaking to a musician who pulled his tour because it was just too dangerous, he played a couple of dates and then went home. Then again, the next dates on the schedule were in the southeast, he didn’t want to play Russian Roulette.

And then there are the no-shows.

This is a phenomenon previously unseen at this level. People who bought tickets but just won’t show up, because they’re afraid of getting Covid. They don’t want to risk their lives for a couple of hundred bucks. The truth is almost nobody wanted their money back from shows canceled in 2020, they held on to their tickets, but now that the dates are playing…some are unsure.

And these people staying home, writing off the cost of tickets, tend to be older. So acts that appeal to this demo take a higher risk in business. Does it make sense to put up a tour now?

What we do know is the fifteen to forty year olds will all show up. Except maybe for those older in the demo who have kids and are afraid of getting Covid and infecting them. This generation feels invulnerable, they believe they won’t get infected and if they do they’ll live through it, willy-nilly. So they’ll show up. Then again, do the acts want to tour everywhere these people are? Already there are acts avoiding certain states. The more unvaccinated, the more the vaccinated are wary of going.

But it gets even worse. It’s not only restaurants that can’t get help, this is happening in touring too. Sometimes despite being hired, workers just don’t show up. And the workers are in control, you can say you’re going to fire them because the truth is you’re begging them to come at all.

So at some gigs the concession stands can’t be fully open. There are fewer merch tables. It’s kinda like Brexit, the surface issues are obvious, you think you’re immune to the consequences, and then you wake up and you realize you’re caught in the quagmire too.

So what is going to happen?

So, Covid infection rates should get worse as the temperature drops. This is complicated. But the more your indoors, the higher the odds of infection. That’s one of the reasons the south was hit so hard this summer, because it’s so hot and they all retreated inside into the air conditioning.

But will the tours be impacted, will they stop?

Well like I said, the performers are creating leakproof bubbles. Because no one can get infected, it ruins the economics of the whole tour.

As for checking vaccination status…

That varies from gig to gig. I hear constantly from people who say their vaccine card was only barely checked, if at all. They flash their phone, the ticket taker barely glances and they’re in. Then I know other shows where the promoter hires a whole new team just to check vaccination status, even asks patrons to show their driver’s license to cross-check the information.

Now you can’t even do that in every market. Hell, if Texans are beating up the hostess at a restaurant in New York for asking their vaccination status, imagine what it would be like at a gig, where someone has already committed, already paid for their ticket.

Bottom line, the touring business is going to an all vaxxed model, there’s just too much at risk. It’s not a matter of politics, it’s a matter of economics. Furthermore, promoters have the right to do this. Then again, never underestimate the long arm of the law to get involved but…the bottom line is most governments want shows to play, for their economic reasons, it brings money into the community.

No one can state definitively how it will play out, but these are the issues.

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