Australia’s once-hot live music market is in a state of deep-freeze. It’s bad, and for artists and industry professionals, the frostbite will only get worse.

Handouts will help, but the panacea, many say, lies in vaccinations.

Those mass, sweeping vaccinations where the national population reaches herd immunity, a figure that experts put at 80-90% of the population.

The two largest live music companies on the planet have a plan.

In the United States, where vaccination rates easily eclipse those in Australia and New Zealand, Live Nation and AEG Live have drawn a line in the sand.

On one side, get vaccinated or tested and get into the show. On the other side, no pass.

Earlier this month, Live Nation announced that, starting October 4, artists and audiences will require proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID test to be admitted to its venues and festivals.

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Coachella

According to Variety, which obtained the group’s “best practices” document, all LN employees in the U.S. must “be vaccinated to enter one of our events, venues or offices – with limited exceptions as may be required by law,” reads its .

For those shows at venues not fully owned by LN, the decision would be made by the artists’ teams.

LN pioneered a strategy with Lollapalooza, which saw over 90% of attendees show up vaccinated. Now, Live Nation in the U.S. is working to get as many shows as possible on this model, sources say.

Earlier, AEG Presents, which operates Coachella, Stagecoach and many other events, tours and venues, announced its very own no-vax, no-entry policy, also to kick off in October.

“We have come to the conclusion that, as a market leader, it was up to us to take a real stand on vaccination status,” comments Jay Marciano, COO of AEG and chairman-CEO of AEG Presents.

It’s only a matter of time before Australia’s botched vaccine rollout gets on track.

Will Australia’s live music industry follows the lead, and take a hard line on vaxes and tests?

TIO tapped several of Australia’s leading live music players for a glimpse at what the future holds.

Stephen Wade

TIO: Vaccinations seem to be the only way out of this mess. Will your organisation consider following suit, and require all attendees at shows to be fully vaccinated?

Stephen Wade, CEO Select Music Agency and Chair ALMBC: Vaccinating our country is without a doubt one of the key strategies to getting out of the quagmire we find ourselves in but it’s not the only solution.

We, as an industry collectively, have to be very wary of the messaging that is coming from the recommendations of the Doherty report that suggest things will return to normal at a vaccination rate of 80%. They won’t.

There will still be considerable restrictions in place around both indoor and outdoor live events.

We (the ALMBC) have been reviewing the work being done in Europe that specifically addresses the use of masks in combination with vaccination and negative testing certification that is allowing concerts and shows to occur without the requirement of social distancing.

We would urge the industry to keep a close eye on that as we’re an industry that is designed to bring people together. While those restrictions continue to dictate how we operate then the economy of scale can’t be reached by our industry and will require more support from both State and Federal Governments.

As to vax passports and the like, we have a broad membership so for some this will be mandatory and we support that; for some it will be a combination of strategies and we support that; we won’t support anti-vax activity and will promote a move towards 100% vaccination of the country as a strategy of getting back to work.

Michael Chugg
Michael Chugg

Michael Chugg, Executive Chairman, Chugg Entertainment: We need people vaccinated. But it’s too early to talk about vax passports while four states are in lockdown or part lockdown.

Rod Pilbeam, COO, ASM Global:  At ASM Global, the safety of our patrons, performers, staff and all other participants is a primary concern.

Consequently we will consider all strategies that assist with delivering such outcomes, including for health safety.

The health advice that we are reviewing constantly, suggests that there is an appreciable lowering of risk in people who are vaccinated although it does not guarantee that there will be no transmission of the COVID infection.

However, we also understand that the rate of hospitalisation and severe reaction to the virus is expected to be greatly reduced. We are strongly recommending that all our staff and those in the communities we serve get vaccinated as a matter of priority.

We are waiting to see how the federal and state governments in Australia move on this issue of vaccination requirement for attendance in workplaces, entertainment venues etc. because current Australian law does not allow discrimination on the basis of COVID vaccination.

At the same time, in case there is a change to this in the states in which we operate venues, we are exploring the potential ways that those who meet the requirements can indisputably prove their status with a minimum of fuss and delay whilst protecting the privacy of their confidential health information.

Dion Brant, COO, Frontier Touring: It’s clear that vaccinations are going to be vital to re-opening the live industry however at our current vaccination point it still feels a bit early for any decisions to be made in this area.

Roger Field, President of Live Nation Asia Pacific: All over the world, showing proof of COVID vaccination or negative test is proving to be an effective way at getting fans safely back to large scale events.

In Australia, when the timing is right, we need to work with government to explore and trial these kinds of initiatives as a way to get shows back on the road.

Roger Field
Roger Field

Geoff Jones, CEO of TEG and Co-Chair LEIF: The vaccine rollout is only way out of this for our country and our industry.

We are not sure what is being proposed in the U.S. will work in Australia but TEG will strongly continue to advocate that everyone needs to get the vaccine and that we need as a country to develop a digital vaccine passport that we think the Federal Government are leading on and should continue to lead.

What more can be done right now to help the live ecosystem? Obviously, $20 million extra for Support Act helps but it’s a drop in the ocean.

Wade: Well done on the government for making those funds available to Support Act. We commend that and it is a good vehicle for getting support to live music workers and those falling through the cracks quickly.

It’s essential that we have that safety net. But we need so much more to happen.

We support both a wage subsidy and direct support to businesses. We’ve seen some very interesting packages that have gone to the other industry sectors who parallel our pain in some ways.

The obvious comparisons are tourism and aviation but also the independent cinemas shows some great initiative by the government in responding to this crisis and make no bones about it – we are in crisis!

Because of that, we need a rescue package of some sort and strategies — waive BAS, payroll, rent relief — that also supports the businesses who employ our live music workers so they can retain them and not lose them to other industries who haven’t been hit as hard.

And we need a roadmap out that foreshadows further possible geo-lockdowns and hot spots and recognises that our industry is a national one that needs to cross borders so addressing both interstate travel and capacity issues that in harmony across every State and Territory is a big goal for the ALMBC.

In tandem with that we also support calls for a national insurance scheme and would further support the distribution of the remaining RISE funds on the condition that the money is made available to all parties in the ecosystem on approval of the grant – the trickle down only works when gigs happen and as we all know, no one gets paid in our industry until the show happens – so we need to change that.

Chugg: We need more government support for all levels of the industry and a clearer vision of what roadcrew, contractors, technicians, producers , engineers and others need to do to access funds.

Rod Pilbeam

Pilbeam: A return of JobKeeper would assist, without impractical changes that limit access to the extent that the whole purpose is supplanted.

However, the biggest challenge is that JobKeeper did not deliver for many of the self-employed free-lancers who make this industry work, particularly performers and technical staff. The casual jobs that they might have taken in the past are also closed so many of them have been forced into other industries.

Some of our techies are now driving trucks. We hear of performers enjoying a more reliable income in real estate sales. As Wes Enoch said on Monday evening at HOTA on the Gold Coast, there is an exodus of experience and expertise from the industry. This will prove difficult to replace and will see entertainment and the arts impacted for a generation.

Industry representative groups have recently called on the federal government to initiate an insurance scheme to cover the loss of events whether cancellations or postponements through government-enforced COVID restrictions, in order to provide confidence for promoters and producers to wade back into the very expensive proposition of mounting events.

There has been some funding via an events grants scheme that has seen some reasonable sums handed to a number of promoters/producers. An extension of this to support a broader range of activities is necessary at both the small and the larger ends of the market.

Jones: The industry is in dire straits. We acknowledge the Federal Government for its additional $20 million injection into Support Act need but we need more financial support to keep businesses afloat as we cannot do our jobs as things stand and our businesses are falling through the cracks.

Geoff Jones
Geoff Jones

Brant: It looks like our industry will face uncertainty and challenges for some time to come yet.  

Firstly, to come back sooner we need support to underwrite the risks we are being asked to take. There are variations of programs in WA, NSW and Victoria that provide some compensation payments if events are directly impacted by a lock down.  

They are welcome but inconsistent and mostly miss the key point that we are a national business trying to operate across state borders.  

A NSW-based artist that missed a show in Brisbane this week is not missing the show because of a Brisbane lockdown, they are missing it because they can’t travel from NSW. 

There is no compensation for the marketing money spent or the cancellation fees.  They are lost. 

We need insurance or an underwriting program that covers risk nationally.  Without it the smartest business decision would be to just shut up shop until the situation is more stable. 

Secondly, all of the signs say that when we do come back we will come back hard.  We will be filling stadiums, arenas and theatres across the country, which in turn will bring people back into cities and have flow on effects across the economy. 

But we have to be here and we have to have all of our talented and skilled team to make it happen. 

Our business is impacted by both border controls and restrictions – we are down 90% or more. 

We need government wage support to keep skills in our industry.  If we can’t get it, we risk not being able to roar back out of COVID and provide that stimulus to the wider economy.