I grew up in Miami, Florida, which meant living through countless hurricanes. Each one brought a level of chaos and disruption, but they mostly affected only our corner of the world. This, however, is something different. Unlike any natural disaster, this is the first time in my life I’ve witnessed something that everyone, regardless of location, has had to cope with at once. No person, industry or area of daily life has been left untouched by what’s going on right now.
COVID has impacted every aspect of our lives: we can’t go out with friends, grab dinner, or just swing by our favorite coffee shop. And while our social norms have been uniquely affected, it’s our working lives that have seen the greatest disruption.
This virus, and the economic standstill it has brought, has wreaked havoc on so many industries. The food service industry, for example, has been hit hard. Many brick and mortar locations have closed up, and some have laid off their entire staff. Yet most restaurants have shown resilience, fighting to stay alive through the massive setbacks. Between offering curbside pickup options, embracing delivery only, and even selling liquor to-go, they’re finding ways to adapt and innovate.
But some of us aren’t that fortunate. Myself and my team at MEPTIK live in the world of live events and entertainment. Everything we do is based around locations, gatherings, events, and shows — and those have vanished.
My entire career thus far has consisted of putting on shows. I was thrown into this world from my first day out of college — living out of a suitcase, sleeping on a bus, and loading and unloading semi-trucks each day to put on incredible events. It’s a life I never expected, but one I learned to love.
There is a special kind of magic that lives in creating shared moments in time, and putting those moments together for people has never grown old. The hours are crazy and travel is a must, but knowing that we are creating new experiences for those around us always makes it worth it.
And I think you see where this is going — with every event canceled for the foreseeable future, there’s no industry left. Concert tours, conferences, sporting events, corporate meetings and many more have all shuttered. They all rely on a place, a time, and crews of people behind the scenes planning for months on end who travel, set them up, and see them through.
The people who put on your favorite shows do it because they love it. I can attest.
The people who put on your favorite shows do it because they love it. I can attest. It’s a life lived in the shadows: thankless, unseen, and hidden away in a wardrobe full of black. We all do it because there is a passion to build these experiences.
And what many don’t realize is how large this ecosystem is. It’s not just comprised of roadies, it’s much, much larger:
- The arenas and stadiums who employ office staff, security, technical, and many more…all the way through to concessions.
- The trucking, shipping, and logistics required to move equipment around daily.
- The travel and lodging industries, which are deeply intertwined with live events. Crews of people are driven around on tour buses, fly major airlines daily and stay in hotels each night in-between.
- The production vendors who supply all of the equipment to make these events happen.
- The artists, speakers, hosts, and all of the on-stage talent, as well as the promoters, event organizers, and their logistics teams.
- Those that design the shows themselves — individuals, studios, agencies and more.
I think you get the idea — the impact on our industry, and the other industries intertwined with ours, is far, wide, and deep.
While we’re all working from home adapting to this ‘new normal’— the real question we’re all asking is, “When will we return to any semblance of what normal used to be?”
But, you see, our normal isn’t everyone else’s normal. It won’t return when cities begin to reopen. We can’t just restart this beast of a process overnight. Most events you’ve been to — music festivals, concert tours, conferences — take anywhere from months to years to plan and coordinate.
More importantly, there’s the question of, “When will it be safe to gather?” No one, and rightfully so, will want to be the first to take on the liability of risking attendees’ health and safety to put on events. Furthermore, who gives the ‘all-clear’ for events to gather at all? Will it be for each city or state to decide? The federal government? The industry itself?
The not knowing is hard. Not knowing when or how our industry will restart. Processing this is a lot. Days, much less weeks, are roller coasters of emotions. Waking up early each day makes me feel like we’ve got this, but by lunch time, it’s a downhill slide into the grave reality that this is really hard.
During this season, our industry can’t easily pivot to make ends meet. We can’t offer curbside pickup. We don’t have the ability to just reopen a smaller event. We can’t put on a concert tour. Like we have so many times before at shows, wearing all black and working behind the scenes, we now sit, again, in the shadows.
“Each day I discover that few people understand that live entertainment production firms and their people are sitting at zero income.”
So what do we do for today? I think, in the interim, there are a few things. The first of which is to rest. Our industry is used to grueling travel schedules, long hours and late nights. This will be one of the few opportunities where we have no option but to take a break and actually sleep in our own beds.
The second is to communicate. There are so many of us out of work, many of whom are alone. Reach out to your friends, your colleagues, that one person you always wished you had time to call. Check in on someone with a simple text if that’s all you have time for.
The third is to create. I saw a colleague on Facebook put it best, stating that post-virus, society will enter into a creative renaissance. I agree. During these times, we should all push ourselves technically, creatively, and intellectually. My team has already blown me away with their R&D and creative development in the past month, pushing new ideas and iterating new visual concepts.
Finally, make your voices known. Those in our industry have always been a quiet bunch. We enjoy being behind-the-scenes, but now is not the time to remain in the shadows. Let your political leaders know that we’re here, and we’ve been affected — via Twitter, Facebook, Insta, email, all of the above. Talk to your friends and your colleagues; don’t live in this alone. You might be at home by yourself, but you’re never alone.
We will get through this. It might take longer than we hope for, but I know that someday we’ll be creating those magical moments again…because the show must always go on.
We’re keeping tabs on what’s next for the live events industry. To learn more, click here: https://www.meptik.com/industryupdates