With the live music business shuttered for an indefinite period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, industry figures are increasingly wondering if small live promoters can weather the storm.
Gregg Perloff, CEO of Another Planet Entertainment — which puts on festivals like Outside Lands, presents shows at the Chase Center, and calls itself the largest independent concert promoter in the country — resents such speculation. While he acknowledges that there could be drop off among some of the smaller regional promoters, the music executive doesn’t think the industry will consolidate to just the twin giants AEG and Live Nation. “I believe just the opposite,” Perloff tells Rolling Stone. “There will be a great deal of opportunity when this crisis is over. Some people have it all wrong for the future.”
So far, Perloff says, Another Planet has avoided layoffs and pay cuts for its staff, and he’s confident the company is in a strong position to take on the upcoming challenges. Perloff says he’d already been approached on the possibility of handling national tours, though he declined to name the groups with which he has spoken.
Headquartered in San Francisco — an early hot spot of the virus that has since begun to flatten the curve thanks to social distancing measures, according to case data — Another Planet’s business was affected quick and early. The company canceled or postponed all its shows through June, and Perloff says it’s a waiting game to determine shows deeper into the summer. Outside Lands, a signature event, is still slated for August 7-9th. But with no clear timeline of when mass gatherings will be allowed back into play, there’s no guarantee that date will stick. Perloff spoke to Rolling Stone about the basis for his optimism.
Tell me about what the last few weeks have been like on your end.
We’ve had to reschedule a number of shows for the fall. I think the earliest show that wasn’t scheduled right now is the third week of August, but that could change tomorrow, you know, depending on what’s going on. You’ve got to be able to move quickly and make changes right away. The concert industry is not like a store which could open right away. It takes a while. As Allen Scott would say, it takes a while for concerts to gear up, you have to advertise them, plan them. Every company is making different decisions right now.
“We don’t think we’ll have any new information until around May 4 or May 5. At that point it becomes, ‘Is July safe? Is August safe?’
What was it like having to handle all these en masse reschedules so quickly?
San Francisco and the Bay Area — we were ahead of the curve. We run the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, which is owned by the city of San Francisco. They asked us to close the building and not do any events. At the same time, the Warriors were still playing basketball games at the new arena and we had Tame Impala coming out. The city decided to shut down literally the day before our Tame Impala show, before the Warriors — everything was hitting day after day. First it was “close the building,” then it was “shows can’t play,” then it was “stay at home for everyone in the Bay Area.” It came very quickly.
At that point we realized none of the shows were going to play. We had somewhere between 100 and 120 shows on sale. We were going to have to postpone or cancel 80 percent of them. When we worked out of our houses, we had to reset these shows, let the public know and change the marketing. It was really quite intense for several weeks. We’re waiting to see what the feeling is in July. We don’t think we’ll have any new information until around May 4 or May 5. At that point it becomes, “Is July safe? Is August safe?”
Then the issue of a lot of the bigger tours play in the fall. What seems to be happening right now is a lot of people are just waiting until 2021. Two or three weeks ago, it looked like the fall was just going to be absolutely crazy, that everything in the spring was just going to get layered on top of shows in the fall. That became pretty chaotic because there were just too many shows. Whenever you have too many shows the same night, someone’s going to lose. In these next couple weeks, we’re going to find out what these larger arena and stadium tours are going to do. And I think there will be an awful lot of theater shows in the fall assuming things go the way the health officials think they’ll go.
What were the discussions like with the Mayor’s office?
We have a very good relationship with the city. We run one of the major buildings in town, we do a tremendous amount of work around the city, whether it’s the Giants ballpark or Chase Center. The powers that be are very human, very progressive and they kept us in the loop. They told us ahead of time what their meetings are like, whether it was in terms of health, with the office of economic development. We are fortunate to work in a city like this, where you have an idea of what’s going on and what’s happening next.
Right now, all we know, two things are happening. Shelter in place is going through May 3 (in the Bay Area), and it’s working in California. People here seem to really understand what’s going on — it’s disappointing in places like Florida, Texas and Tennessee, they don’t seem to understand the concepts of being in this together.
“We believe in the live concert business and that people will go out in droves and find the money to go to shows when concerts pick up again… For all I know, we may go into the national touring business if other people leave an opening.”
There’s never been anything like this before in the live music industry. How do you handle it when it’s so new?
We’ve dealt with 9/11, we’ve dealt with the San Francisco earthquake, but what makes this so different, aside from the fact that it affects so many people, is that you don’t have a start date and an end date. Everything is up in the air. That causes a lot of stress for people. They don’t know what their lives are going to be like in two, four or six months. They don’t know whether they’ll have a job or what the economy will be.
Our company is still very optimistic. We believe in the live concert business and that people will go out in droves and find the money to go to shows when concerts pick up again. I think a lot of companies are taking a let’s wait and see attitude, and a lot of companies are trying to look at asking artists to take less and change deals. Artists have lost a tremendous amount of money not being able to be on the road. Some people are looking for deals and want to minimize risk.
We’re taking the exact opposite view. For all I know, we may go into the national touring business if other people leave an opening. We’ve been a regional promoter for quite a while, but we’ve done several national tours and international tours. There’ll be a lot of changes and I think everybody will be looking at different opportunities.
So is the plan to get bigger later if there’s going be a need if other promoters drop off?
If this were baseball — you’re asking me something in the second inning of a nine-inning game. Anything I can say today, or most things I would say today, would change in a week or two weeks. I’m trying to give you as accurate appraisals as I can. But I’ll give you a cliché. We want to turn lemons into lemonade, and we believe there will be tremendous opportunity within the live business.
For Outside Lands, you’re a bit more on the cusp since it’s later in the summer. You’ve got much more time than other festivals did, how do you plan?
We won’t do a festival unless we feel comfortable and the public feels comfortable doing it. Things are changing so rapidly. We’re only looking to do shows when it’s time to start doing shows. I think it’ll be years before people feel normal again. We do Outside Lands in a public park within the city, and we’d need approvals from all the powers that be, but we don’t know how people will react. I’m telling you I think when given the opportunity, people will react in a very positive way.
What conversations have you had about how to plan accordingly if you need to move the festival around?
We’ve had many conversations, but right at the moment, we’re really planning on going with the dates where it’s set. If our festival were in June I would obviously be telling you we’ve got to move it. If it were in November, you wouldn’t be asking me the question. By being the second week of August, I’d be lying to you if it wasn’t a thought. Right now, the way it appears, we have to wait and see whether it will stay on that date or not.
You said it’s not true that only Live Nation and AEG can survive, but surely it’s fair to say plenty of smaller promoters will struggle or drop off.
But there will be new companies. There’s going to be a lot of available real estate, there’s a lot that can happen. We’re just so early in the crisis you have to watch it play out. You have to get up earlier than the next guy and work later and harder. There are people saying 40% of the restaurants in this country will go out of business. You can hear that statistic, and it’s awful. But you may have people saying “here’s my opportunity, I always wanted to get into the restaurant business.”
Can promoters operate the same way once this pandemic ends? How different do you see yourselves being after the virus finally subsides.
The one thing I can virtually guarantee is that whatever happens, it won’t be the same. Companies are going to have to be flexible and move with the times and seize the opportunity.