This time two years ago the prospect of 50,000 huddled together in a field watching music felt like a faraway fantasy.
Fast forward to 2022 and events giant AEG Presents is gearing up for a summer bounceback of gigs and festivals.
AEG CEO of European Festivals, and mastermind of Hyde Park’s British Summer Time (BST) and Victoria Park’s All Points East, Jim King told City A.M. that live music – worth around £6bn to the UK economy pre-pandemic – is well and truly back in business.
BST is gearing up for its most successful year yet, selling around half a million tickets to watch Elton John, The Rolling Stones and Eagles to name but a few.
There is also a 50 per cent boost in sponsorship this year compared to 2019, with fresh partnerships with American Express and crypto giant Luna for All Point’s East.
“Looking at sponsorship, there is no way anyone could say there looked like any problems or challenges in the industry. The appetite is there from the wider economy to feed into the industry, and the fans are also buying into it”, King said.
Nonetheless, this mighty comeback has not come without difficulties.
As it stands, the key issues plaguing live music are the oversupply of content and the lack of resources to pull them off.
Talent has been particularly hard-hit. Not only were many people forced to leave the sector when opportunities dried up, but there has also been the challenge of luring them back.
Many live music specialists were seduced by the booming film and TV industry, which offered more stability thanks to the highly successful government ‘Restart Scheme’.
The problem also seeps down to more casual workers, like bar and security staff.
“In lockdown, people were forced to find work elsewhere, and the explosion of the gig economy and delivery businesses played a huge role in this”, King said.
“A lot of people spent two years working these jobs for the likes of Amazon or food delivery, so enticing them to come back to music halls, theatres and festivals is not easy.”
This is problematic for an industry that contributes £1.75bn to the UK economy, according to the DCMS last year.
Supply chain woes
For King, even the big dogs like AEG, which also organise California’s iconic Coachella, have suffered the “delayed repercussions” of supply chain woes.
Although the large majority of equipment is technically available, over demand for stage gear as a result of Covid-19 rescheduled shows has put increasing pressure on organisers and costs.
Whilst some of these challenges were offset by the furlough scheme and government’s VAT reduction, King’s main criticism was that the tax break in particular could have lasted longer.
This is something that UK Music chief Jamie Njoku-Goodwin also called for back in March, writing to the Chancellor about the “hugely damaging” impact of VAT hikes on gig goers.
And it’s not just Covid that’s causing organisers’ headaches; throw in the complexity of Brexit red tape and travel uncertainty and you’ve got the recipe for disaster for organisers, with margins inevitably shrinking.
Whilst the UK is still trying to improve the post-Brexit landscape for touring artists, as well as the burdens of bureaucracy, the resounding message is that there seems to be a long way to go.
Having started his own career as an indie music promoter, “counting £100 profit on mum and dad’s kitchen table after renting out music halls at school”, King praised the ongoing “resourcefulness” of music fans, artists and organisers.
So, even as the cost of living crunches and prices rocket, there seems to be no sign yet of Brits giving up on their blowout weekends.