Among all the good news recently about vaccines for Covid-19 rolling out in the near future, there remain a number of unanswered questions for the live music industry and the professionals that work in it.
Let’s be honest, we are all thrilled to see some brightness at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a very long tunnel and it will still be some time before we all emerge blinking into the sunlight. Even when the vaccine is finally administered it would be foolish and naïve to think all our problems will be instantly swept away.
I believe that there needs to be some international consensus around what a vaccine actually means, in the context of how we are going to live our lives as an international community.
It’s clear that different countries are going to view the benefits of a vaccine differently, but the general thinking is that vaccinations will not be administered to 100% of the population straight away. Instead, they will be administered to the most vulnerable based on a sliding scale of need, which means that it may be some time before we reach a level of inoculation whereby ‘normal’ life can resume. So, what does this mean in the context of not just crossing borders but in terms of establishing an accepted international consensus for how the rest of us live our lives around a vaccine strategy? And if we can find that consensus, could that help us get international travel up and running again?
Individual countries may go a long way towards solving their domestic Covid-19 problem initially, but this may in turn mean increased caution over the opening of their borders as concerns are raised about the threat of importing further problems. We may encounter a situation where large-scale events can go ahead within certain countries, but where artists cannot enter those countries. Conversely, there may be prohibitive restrictions upon artists leaving said countries, making the very concept of touring wholly unviable.
It is the view of many in our sector that governments around the world have been very myopic and inward-facing in their response to the pandemic. This is only natural, of course – this has been a hugely complex and unprecedented threat to public health — but the isolationist stance adopted by many nations has meant the bigger global picture has been neglected. The very lifeblood of the live industry relies on a global consensus and cooperation.
I fear that domestic naval gazing, political expediency and a lack of real leadership from the world’s most influential countries has prevented us from applying constructive, joined-up thinking when trying to find solutions to these challenges.
Putting aside the international efforts that led to the incredibly fast development of vaccines , which is of course to be applauded, the inconsistent, arbitrary and bewildering patchwork of travel bans around the world has wreaked havoc on industries that rely on the ability to cross borders.
This is not just a problem for live music – the very same issues are damaging tourism, aviation, education, health, and many other areas which are so important to the global economy.
Take, for example, the United States, which is the worst affected country in the world in terms of infection rates and deaths from Covid-19, as well as being a territory that plays a major role in international touring. If the virus is not brought under control in the US within a reasonable timeframe it could be catastrophic for the live music sector, as Americans continue have their travel restricted and restrict the travel of others.
The U.S. is a perfect example of a country whose leader’s personal agenda has entirely dominated, diverting attention away from an effective response to the pandemic. What guidance the World Health Organization tried to offer throughout the pandemic was constantly and deliberately undermined by that leadership throughout the last year. My hope now is that with a more positive presence in White House from January, the United States can start to resume its position as a world leader again and help develop that international consensus that I believe we all need in order to open up the sectors which rely on international travel.
Another great market to observe as a marker for progress is Australia. A smaller but still important touring market, they imposed some very strict restrictions on their citizens in response to the pandemic, but as a result look now to be in very good shape internally and so in turn may rightly be very cautious about opening their borders to the likes of the U.S., U.K., and Europe.
Until we can start staging viable tours in or from those countries and relax the restrictions or quarantine periods and on hiring crew from affected places, we cannot claim to have solved the problem.
So, with that in mind, how can we ensure that all of the hard work to date — the venue campaigns, the furlough schemes, the fundraising, the campaigning for freelance workers — is really done justice as we emerge from these challenges?
In reality, until international and restriction-free travel is opened back up again, wholesale ‘touring’ as we know it is simply not going to be possible in any meaningful way. As a result, a lot of the freelance workers, venues and other infrastructure will not benefit from the commercial ecosystem that comes with it.
What we need now above all else is clear-eyed, international leadership. To achieve this we, as an industry and as an international community, need to become more collaborative. We must compel our leaders to establish an international effort to look at these problems as things that affect all of us and find safe, pragmatic ways of opening borders.
Nobody wants to add to the existing issues of infection but as vaccinations roll out and we start to emerge from beneath this cloud we must start being brave and forward-thinking about how we approach restarting these interdependent parts of the worldwide economy
And that means all of us in our global community.
This op-ed originally appeared on Music Business Worldwide. Ollier’s achievements in the live business include booking Ed Sheeran’s record-breaking Divide tour, the highest-grossing tour ($776m in ticket sales) in history. Ollier recently left CAA, along with his artist client base, to found his own company, One Fiinix Live, based in London.