by Robert Flis / April 12, 2020
2020 is a rough year for the music industry, to say the least. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down virtually every concert and festival planned until the end of the summer, leaving bands, artists, promoters and everyone else working in the industry wondering what the landscape will look like once life begins returning to normal. Will it be possible to reschedule events this fall? Will people still want to come out, or even have the financial resources to buy tickets?
There are many questions and few concrete answers, but we were fortunate enough to have a conversation with one of Canada’s top festival promoters, Alex Martel, at our Rockalypse Music Workshops and asked him how he is dealing with the challenges that the Coronavirus is presenting to the music industry, as well as his outlook on what the future might hold moving forward.
Alex founded Rockfest in 2005 at the age of 17. Since its humble beginnings, the festival has become the largest of its kind in Canada and one of the biggest in North America. Alex is also the singer of the band Deadly Apples which was forced to cancel tour dates because of COVID-19.
Here are some questions Alex answered for us during our online workshop yesterday.
What do you think will happen to industry professionals because of this pandemic?
It’s different for everyone - festivals, venues, big or small promoters - we’re all on the same boat, but our challenges are different. A festival that has already announced that tickets have gone on sale, at least has some ticket sales, and lots of festivals are giving fans the option to keep their tickets for the following year, so at least they get cash flow to work with. Other festivals like us, had not made the announcement and tickets hadn’t even gone on sale yet, so we have 0 revenue, and that’s a different challenge. So it’s a case by case situation.
How will the industry evolve? Do you think people will be more likely to go to shows or will it be a challenge?
It’s the question we’re all asking ourselves - are people going to have the money, as many have lost their jobs? Will people be scared of big crowds? My personal theory is that it’s going to depend on the type of crowd. Family-oriented festivals that have kids and elderly people - I think this crowd will be more cautious. The punk/metal crowd I think is just going to be like “f*** this” and jump into the mosh pit. But that’s my opinion and it probably should be a question to ask the fans.
Do you think this virus is going to be a forever game-changer in the industry?
Even big companies like Live Nation are hurt, and they have so much money. Where I think it’s going to change, is that many small promoters will disappear. These are the promoters who don’t have the resources to face this crisis. Many promoters sold tickets through ticketing companies who froze the money and won’t release it until they know what will happen. These promoters also made deposits to agencies who are holding onto these amounts. So basically, all their money/cash flow is frozen and the only way to make money is to sell tickets, but no one is buying now. Even if they wanted to confirm bands, the agents are still asking for deposits and some agents are asking for even larger deposits. They are cautious knowing that the events could be cancelled, overall making the situation nearly impossible for the small promoters. In the end, it will make the big players even more powerful.
What have you been up to during this period of social isolation?
I’ve been busier than before all this happened. For festivals, this is a massive crisis and I’ve been in crisis mode non-stop trying to figure out what to do, talking to people in the industry here in Quebec and also elsewhere in the world, trying to gather as much information as possible. The hard part is that everything is changing every single day, and we have to keep up. The government keeps announcing new programs and we have to keep up with that as well. The tourism industry in Quebec announced that festivals that were meant to receive grants will still receive their grants, and this represents a massive help. The issue is that most of the smaller festivals may get $10K grants, but many have spent way more than that already. The way grants work, is that you have to do your event 3 years in a row in order to be eligible for one. In my case with Montebello Rock, this was supposed to be our second year, so we are not yet eligible.
While many of us are dealing with a certain level of uncertainty and stress right now, there are still many things we can do to make the best of this situation. “This is the best time to write your album. Use that time to do that,” said Martel. “Lots of bands are streaming shows, companies are developing platforms where bands can collect donations during a live-stream performance like Facebook Canada & NAC. "Whether you’re a musician, promoter or any other industry professional, it’s important to look at this not just as a time of challenge, but as a time of opportunity."
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