Recognition of the live crew

Moderated by Malle Kaas, Live Sound engineer and CEO of Women In Live Music

Panel guests were:
Lotje Horvers, Tour Manager and Co-Founder of Backstage Pass

Emma Hestbæk, Promoter @Smash!Bang!Pow

Johanna Beckmann, Sr. Creative Curator & Promoter @FKP Scorpio

Recognition of the live crewa sum up of the panel:
It shouldn’t be a secret to anyone that the live music industry has been battling a brave fight in 2022.
The budgets were all different, the costs for staff went up, the costs for gear went up, and there was a lack of basically everything in many places.
In addition, despite the amount of productions tripling, around 25 % of staff backstage were missing. Many either moved to other positions, cut down on their obligations or had completely left the industry.
It sounds like an industry in imbalance, and perhaps it is. However, if there is anything we as a crew are experts on in this industry, it is how to make the show happen no matter what; even when it seems impossible and under seemingly inhumane conditions. And that was how it was in many situations in 2022: a distinct lack of qualified and competent crew and gear. Including productions that were struggling with an increase for the extra costs on more or less everything. All of this in addition to the absence of a larger audience in many places.
The war in Ukraine and the consequences weren’t making the circumstances better, not to mention Brexit

The panel from left: Lotje Horvers (NL), Emma Hestbæk (DK) & Johanna Beckmann (SE)

So this was the status when the WILM panel started the discussion of ‘Recognition on the live crew’. A discussion on how it looks nowadays backstage in the live music industry.

There is no doubt that there is a big love to live music all the way around. It’s only natural for the human being to create and perform and to enjoy. Just look at the tradition for festivals that has existed for hundreds of years.
But how does it look for the future of the live music industry, the many festivals, venues and the touring life? We are probably looking into a 2023 that will look like 2022 to a high degree which many have already started to fear.
In 2022 we saw tripling in productions around the globe: those that had been postponed, the new initiatives and those supposed to happen anyway. However, we also saw many act’s, festivals etc. that closed down. It was also mentioned in the panel that many artists have been touring for 14-18 months straight and probably need a break this year. So in a way we will perhaps be looking into a more reasonable number of productions. And as one in the audience commented: It would help the situation if the different promoters would communicate more efficiently with each other to aim for a better balance in the number and execution of productions.

Nevertheless, it is still needed to address the difficult challenges from the past couple of years. Keywords to solutions for some of the issues the backstage industry were struggling with could be: more education and investment in a more sustainable crew all the way around. Especially as lack of knowledge and expertise has been crucial for the entire backstage: Production, Logistic and Technique. However, more data on the crew/backstage part would also be relevant in the form of more surveys, campaigns and sharing outcomes of discussions like this at the Eurosonic in order to develop a better, more coherent industry. In Lititz, USA some of the giants in the touring world gathered 6,000 industry people together at a conference to discuss ‘How To Leave the Industry Better Than We Found It’. An initiative that perhaps could be interesting to bring to Europe as well.
We need to be better at criticising, and we need to be better at ‘risk assessment’ when it comes to our own industry! To look deeper into business continuity management is probably a necessity that would be helpful to many over the next couple of years. But again: An exchange of knowledge on how we can be better will be essential to the lot.

The very live audience with many good questions and comments

Which brings us to another topic that was pointed out at the panel: It would be healthy with more recognition of the backstage area from the rest of the culture sector. It became clear during the pandemic that this area is like an appendix of the music industry that is overlooked from the rest. This needs to change, and a small step could be if the artist management would start identifying the crew to their artist and the importance of the crew. This way we can get closer to a more inclusive and sustainable live music industry as we are all aiming for the same goal: The good show.
However, it is not only the artists who need a better introduction to the backstage area. It was also very clear during the pandemic that the European politicians had no idea of the impact of the backstage area. That this industry is a bigger business than the European car industry and has a bigger turnover than the airline industry. It is still needed to follow up on the education of the politicians.
We are missing the European governments acknowledgement that the live music industry will be facing another challenging year with higher production costs and low staff availability and missing audience. Especially in the last category it is needed that the respective governments make a contribution. An increase in ticket costs is not a solution due to the cost-of-living crisis many people experience momentarily.

Another issue we need to look at……

But we as the crew behind the artists and events will also need to be better at making aware of ourselves: The issues we are struggling with, our working conditions or when sh** hits the fan and has an influence on our mental and physical health. We should also be better at categorising ourselves, so it becomes easier to identify who is doing what – and who is hiring who?!

We are probably looking into another busy gig-festival-event-touring year, and in the panel we agreed 100% that it should be okay to say ‘I am not okay’ and then have a break. Hereby a request to our many crew-colleagues when it starts to jam up again out there on the road

All the best

We can highly recommend to read IQ magazine’s report on the European Festivals
A Big Thank you to Eurosonic Festival for having us – a special thank you to Ruud Behrens, Marcel Albers and the rest of the team behind ESNS Conference