Reggae Artistes and Live Nation’s new rules
Reggae artiste Freddie McGregor says the music world was blindsided by some of the contents of a recent letter to agents from leading global concert promoter Live Nation. The missive outlines the new post-COVID-19 reality, which will see performers taking on more of the risks associated with show business while receiving less pay. “I think the entire music world was caught by surprise with this sudden news from them, so we await word from the bigger acts who have been signed up to these giants because whatever route they, the major artistes, choose will have an impact on what happens to us, the smaller artistes,” McGregor told The Gleaner.
Among the big acts would be heavy hitters like The Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Queen. On social media, there is ongoing conversation that these top acts should boycott Live Nation in support of smaller acts. “I’m not worried about massive artistes; they’ll be just fine! I’m worried about how this looks for up-and-coming artistes, where income from festivals helps you stay afloat and enables you to grow,” musician Damian Keyes said in a YouTube video chat, the topic of which was ‘Live Nation has just changed the music industry forever’.
In a June 17 article, Billboard stated, “A memo to agents outlines sweeping changes that dramatically shift the balance of power back to promoters in the post-pandemic world,” noting that the COVID-19 crisis saw Live Nation racking up billions in losses. According to their financials, in 2019, Live Nation generated a total of US$11.55 billion in revenue, up from US$10.79 billion a year earlier.
Booking agent Jerome Hamilton told The Gleaner that some of the changes are understandable and pointed out that contracts are negotiable, based on the power of the artiste. Hamilton, who has international dancehall star Sean Paul on his roster, mentioned that it would be the ‘bigger-name’ reggae acts who would be directly affected. “Live Nation has been operating on a straight business model, and now that model has been shattered. There are now doubts about money — when and how it will be made. The part of the memo that I see as a standout is the paying back of double the fee if an artiste cannot attend a concert. I have never seen that on any Live Nation contract before,” he shared. The industry norm, he said, would be for the artiste to return in full whatever money had been paid over by the promoter.
McGregor explained why more reggae artistes would be affected: “These new rules will definitely affect us in a negative way because we constantly use venues owned by them (Live Nation), so the same procedures will be applied to us.” Live Nation has a presence in over 200 venues across North America and owns more than 25 per cent of UK festivals with higher than 5,000 capacity.
Hamilton also sounded a general warning. He stated that with show business becoming more costly and more risky, some companies are hibernating or are remodelling themselves and coming back smaller. “Show business has to get a critical mass for it to be worthwhile, and with venues having to reduce the number of patrons and supply more inputs, entertainment is going to be less attractive. A lot of independent promoters will have to make a decision about whether or not they want to remain promoters,” he said.
McGregor concluded, “One thing is sure: where there’s a will, there’s got to be a way, and if God is for us, who can be against us?”
Pre-COVID, Michael Rapino, president and chief executive officer of Live Nation, shared the company’s 2020 outlook. “In summary, 2019 was another strong year for Live Nation – building our global concerts business and driving growth in our high-margin venue, sponsorship, and ticketing businesses. Looking at 2020, we believe that our double-digit fan and show count growth so far this year against a backdrop of very high artiste activity across all venue types and markets sets up our flywheel to deliver another year of strong global growth.”