Attempts by Live Nation to change its agreements with artists for concerts and festivals in 2021 have sparked a big row in the US which shows little sign of abating, even as the company began to row back from some of the controversial changes.
A memo sent to talent agencies had suggested that “unprecedented times” required pay cuts “adjusted downward 20% from 2020 levels”; paying artists 25% of the guarantee if a festival was cancelled due to poor ticket sales rather than 100%; and a cancellation fee of “two times the artist’s fee” if the artist cancelled a festival appearance. Unsurprisingly, agents were not happy.
This week, three organisations – the Artist Rights Alliance, Center for Digital Democracy, and Future of Music Coalition – have written to the US Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law calling for an investigation of the “abusive 2021 performance terms, which would unfairly cut artist fees and shift the risk of pandemic cancellations to performers”, suggesting that in many areas, artists have “no practical alternatives to Live Nation facilities” to play.
At this point, however, it’s looking increasingly likely that the memo was more an opening salvo in negotiations, rather than take-it-or-leave-it terms. This Pollstar interview with Charles Attal, co-president of Live Nation subsidiary C3 Presents, saw him describe the memo as a “stale document”; that the language around cancellations “in retrospect, should not have been in there”; and in response to the artist pushback claims that “we’ve heard them loud and clear, we’ve revised it, we’ve gotten through it with them, and we’re already booking shows, with confirmed acts for 2021”.
A storm in a teacup, then? Maybe not. The live-music shutdown in 2020 has been brutal for artists, promoters and venues alike, and while there will be concerts and festivals in 2021, their scale and social distancing restrictions, not to mention the willingness of fans to return, remain unclear. Lower fees to get the live business back on its feet are one thing, but when it comes to liabilities and cancellations, there is clearly more serious haggling to be done.