Bob Lefsetz is the author of “The Lefsetz Letter,” where he addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself. Bob’s insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music’s American division and consultancies to major labels. “The Lefsetz Letter” has been publishing for over 25 years and the following is an adapted article that comes from that publication. Posted with author's permission.
"Every show has to play. If a band member, even a member of the entourage, gets infected with Covid-19, it’s a disaster.
Not everyone understands touring, after all most don'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.
The bottom line is these acts that barnstorm across the country, from arena to arena is not simply four people 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. The common belief is that an 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 down.
This is the dance that’s being done now. Acts have gone on the road and encountered this, even Kiss and the Doobie Brothers had to shut down, as well as other performers too.
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 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.
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 the virus. They don’t want to risk their lives for a couple 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 of returning.
And these people staying home, writing off the cost of tickets, tend to be older. So acts that appeal to this demographic are taking 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 often show up. Except maybe for those older in the demographic 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. So they’ll show up. Then again, do the acts want to tour everywhere these people are? There are already acts avoiding certain states. The more unvaccinated, the more the vaccinated population 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 but 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 merchandise tables. So what is going to happen?
COVID infection rates might get worse as the temperature drops. This is complicated. But the more you're 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 vaccinated 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."