Many Organizers will not survive this

Covid-19 has hit the event industry hard.
There are several solutions to keep these businesses alive, but they seem to be not as effective as hoped for.

Text and graphics by Paulina Skrobanek – Videos by Johanna Steinlen

Organizers: not as famous as the artists, but equally important for any kind of event. The restrictions due to Covid-19 hit them hard as the ban on big events not only left them without income but ruined their work of the last months. Kassandra Schwarz, co-organizer of the festival ‘Mediaval’ in Selb, Germany, said in the beginning of June: “We need a cancellation from a higher authority so that the contracts that have already been concluded since the beginning of this year or the end of last year become invalid due to force majeure.” Shortly after the interview, their festival got canceled. It was not surprising that organizers were rather pessimistic about the future.

Not a bright Future

Organizer Marc Pesch from Germany gave a gloomy prognosis as well: “Most of the organizers have nothing to do, and just sit there. The work is paralyzed, and I claim that at the moment there is no prospect that it will get better again sometime.” At the End of May, the German government only planned the restrictions for big events until August 31. This was recently extended to October 31. Pesch continued: “I know cities and communities that have already canceled the carnival next year”. E.g. the Rhineland carnival cooperation has canceled its gala, a carnival society in Mannheim has canceled its meetings and the cities Mindelheim and Werne canceled all carnival events. Martin Forssman from Sweden, the organizer of the festival ‘Sweden Rock’, was glad that his festival is doing well financially despite the Covid-19 pandemic. But he saw many other organizers struggling. It was therefore not surprising that in recent months an extremely large number of people from areas relevant to the event industry, e.g. musicians, organizers, sound engineers and camera technologists, suddenly registered as job seekers. 

An immense but sudden Rise

This chart illustrates the increase of job-seekers.

The diagram contains numbers from the German employment agency and shows how many organizers, camera technologists and sound engineers have reported themselves as job seekers in Germany in recent months. Therefore, they were not unemployed, but the money they earned was not enough for a living. In the first three months of the years 2019 and 2020, the numbers of job-seekers were constantly low. The highest number in the first three months of 2020 was in March: 36 reported themselves as job-seekers. Then, in April 2020, the number increased rapidly. The number of job-seeking people behind the scenes climbed from 36 in March up to 628 in April and up to 814 in May. Considering monthly fluctuations up to this point, which mostly did not even include ten people, this was an immense increase as well. However, the data only shows how many applications for basic income support were submitted, not whether they were approved. The numbers of job-seekers expanded even further considering all the people who sought a job for less than two months — not only for less than one month. If they are included, 1,606 organizers, camera technologists and sound engineers were looking for a job for up to two months. This data shows that the people rely longer on basic income support.

Losses and Restrictions — but Creativity

These numbers were not surprising. The Swedish organizer Martin Forssman said about the music industry in general: „We have zero income for 2020. Well, maybe some small incomes from merch sales.“ As the festival ‘Sweden Rock’ was still doing quite well financially, he did not want to ask for donations. Philipp Schmid, the organizer of the festival ‘Taktraum’ in Ingolstadt, Germany, was in a similar situation: “It’s sad that our favorite, the festival, does not work out at all, but it is worse that the company makes no money this year, at least until winter.” 2020 will not become an economically successful year anymore. It will rather be a year of losses and restrictions. Nevertheless, the industry came up with several ideas to overcome the corona crisis.

Drive-in Concerts as a Solution

As people still wanted to experience something during the period of corona restrictions, the drive-in concerts might not have been a solution only for Germany, but for many countries all over the world. People could watch artists performing live on stage while staying in their car. Keeping the distance prevented the spread of Covid-19. Organizer Marc Pesch reported that sometimes the people in the cars took their windows down and waved with lightsticks in the direction of the stage. “The people are really emotionally moved by what they are simply experiencing because it is a great community happening”, explained Pesch. “The reviews from the last weekend were great, people were thrilled.” Yet, drive-in concerts were still different from normal concerts but there were some more differences to the usual.

Because the music was played over the own car radio instead of large speakers, the concert needed an FM transmitter, the usual radio transmitter, and the corresponding radiofrequency. Therefore, the frequency must have been applied for at the Federal Network Agency. Sandro Heinemann, an organizer at the event agency ‘Rheinevents’ from Bonn, Germany, said: “To get an FM frequency with a transmitter like this is not as easy as you think”. Tobias Schneider, head of the cultural office in Dachau in Germany, organized the ‘Dachauer Musik Sommer’, a festival with many different music events. He explained: “The demand for FM transmitters and frequencies has suddenly been very high since April and the stations are scarce in Germany. This was not a big issue until now.” A technical company bought the transmitter for the festival. 

Moreover, big LED walls were necessary. They should ensure that cars in a few hundred meters distance could still see the artists. “Drive-in concerts are expensive, especially if working with LED walls. We almost have half a television studio to bring the pictures on the screen for the back row”, said Heinemann. “We have seven people who are constantly handling video and light, cameramen doing cut and lights. Usually, we do not need them for normal concerts unless they are very big.” 

Parking attendants were also important to ensure that every car has a good view of the stage or the LED walls. It will be a big challenge for organizers to divide the available space for as many cars as possible. Also, the gastronomy was different, offering no food or drink stands for concert guests. At some concerts food was delivered directly to the car or people brought their own snacks. Therefore, fewer people were working compared to usual concerts.

Another essential point during Covid-19 is a hygienic concept for the whole event, e.g. contactless ticketing and admission control. The tickets were scanned through the car window and had to be printed at home as there was no box office. Furthermore, the sanitary facilities had to be big enough to comply with the hygiene concept. “Before you release this, you have to have everything in detail”, explained Philipp Schmid.

Seems like drive-in concerts could create at least some jobs in Germany, even if they can not replace the jobs at a normal concert. “I believe those technicians who work for us are not doing so badly. Of course, we do not pay the daily rates that are paid in a normal summer season but with a Corona smear”, explained Sandro Heinemann. He claimed that all technicians who work for his business currently had a job and the service companies had an income to cover their costs. “Overall, it is a good balance that we employ just as many people as for usual concerts. At the moment, 39 people are working actively with us, not all of them full-time of course, but at least all of them are involved in some way.” 

Not a Solution for Everyone

But why did the number of job-seekers in the event industry increase so much? Drive-in concerts are accompanied by some problems. As people had to stay in their cars, fewer could come to the concert. So, drive-in concerts only yielded a fraction of what the usual ones would have. Additionally, drive-in concerts only supported more popular artists. „It makes no sense to organize a drive-in concert for example for an artist who cannot charge more than five euros for admission“, claimed organizer Marc Pesch. The approach of the ‘Dachauer Musik Sommer’ contributed to lesser-known artists. Tobias Schneider said: “We are a municipal institution as a cultural office. We do not have to make a profit and we have a budget available. So, we can use that now to host a drive-in concert.”

Unfortunately, not every event could be organized as a drive-in concert. “The problem is that there are usually maybe about 100 events a day in every city. Right now, there are just two or three at some drive-in location. The multitude of people who normally live from art and culture in some way or another cannot be covered”, said organizer Sandro Heinemann. There was no solution for his festival ‘Taktraum’, claimed Philipp Schmid: “It is about the design of the area and about meeting people again who used to live in Ingolstadt but are now scattered all over Germany. It’s like Christmas or Easter, to meet each other and stroll across the square. The flair is just missing.”

The missing festival atmosphere, the lower number of events, the lack of profitability for small artists and the low profit in general, might have been some of the reasons why drive-in concerts were not the right solution for everybody. But the businesses that cannot organize drive-in concerts have to pay their bills, too. 

“As a self-employed musician, you must insure yourself, you usually have to run a van, maybe a small warehouse, a rehearsal room. These are enormous costs”, said Marc Pesch. Organizer Philipp Schmid considered promotional loans to be very important. His concern was how to survive over the next year, as his business had fixed costs for the year. He had to pay for a manager and a warehouse. The whole infrastructure caused expenses over the whole year, but the events which bring in money were only in summer. “Therefore, we can only estimate next year how big the financial imbalance will be”, said Schmid. 

Federal Support

This imbalance might be compensated a bit by federal support. In Germany, people who no longer earned enough to secure their living or whose business would have had financial troubles due to Covid-19 received support.

To prevent unemployment, federal support in Germany did not seem to be sufficient. “The damage in the event business is so big, so I think the federal help can never cover everything, that the situation will be as if Covid-19 never happened. Many people will still be unemployed and many businesses will go bankrupt”, said Johannes Ulbricht, the legal adviser of the BDKV, the federal association of the concert and event management in Germany. He said, With federal support, the worst can be prevented. “But before one can assess them, he needs to know how high they will be”, Ulbricht adds.

Support Measures in Detail

This graphic shows the federal support and other aids in detail which are also aimed at artists and organizers.

The financial support from the federal government in Germany began with an instant aid until May and was added with bridging aid until August. As shown in the graphic, they were quite similar. Both should have helped to cover current expenses, e.g. rent for music-rooms or warehouses. Depending on the number of employees, self-employed people with small businesses could up to 15,000 euros for three months. Businesses that have applied for instant aid and still had massive economical difficulties could also apply for the bridging aid. But both supports did not include the cost of living. Moreover, access to basic income support was facilitated. There was no asset check in the first months and no rent limit. The basic income support paid for health and nursing insurance, for housing costs and supplies money for the costs of living. A single grown-up received 432 euros. The number of children and other people living in the same household could influence the amount. This financial support was for the costs of living: for food, clothing, personal hygiene, household goods, household energy (excluding heating and hot water), and for participation in social and cultural life. Someone could earn a hundred euros per month and still got the whole support. If the earnings increased, the supportive money got less. E.g. if one earned 200 euros, 100 euros are “free”. The other 100 euros are rated with 80 percent, this means 80 euros. These 80 percent, were withdrawn from the basic income support. But many critics are claiming the basic income support, that should secure the minimum subsistence level, was not enough especially for social and cultural life. Further support was offered, e.g. from the federal states, from the German Author Society for Works of Music or by special loans from the credit institution for economic reconstruction, a federal bank. „We can all be glad that we are living in a welfare state like Germany.

Karma has blessed us with a good birthright here but the help is still not decisive for us“,said Philipp Schmid about the financial support from the government. Sandro Heinemann is also happy about the measures in Germany: “This is incredibly amazing.” Nevertheless, the perspective of the event industry is everything but amazing. The future of the music and concert industry is not secure despite financial support. It is not sure, when and how this industry can go back to the way things were before.

An insecure Future

Instead of paralyzing the industry, Sandro Heinemann said it needs more courage: “It would be great if we can get the events back to normal as soon as possible. How realistic that is, is for others to judge. Speaking for my experience, it would help if the municipalities were perhaps a little more courageous, and perhaps allow a little more leeway now and then with creative and new concepts.”

Officially big events will be prohibited in Germany until October 31. But the federal states will be allowed to make some own decisions as the prohibition will only refer to events that will not allow contact tracking and compliance of hygienic rules. They will also make their own decisions concerning the reopening of public life depending on the regional infection rates. Additionally, they will decide on what framework smaller public or private events can take place. Hygiene and spacing rules will always have to be observed. But everyone can contribute to lower the infection rates and by that raising the possibility of loosening.