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Calm Down, Everyone, That Leaked Live Nation Memo About Reduced Artist Pay Only Applies to *Festivals*… But the Reality is Even Worse

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Live Nation were back in the headlines yesterday after a leaked memo from the event promoter mega-force to talent agencies suggested that the company is trying to shift the fiscal burden they’ve suffered under the coronavirus pandemic onto artists. New policies outlined in the memo included reducing artist guarantees by 20% from their 2020 level, drastically cutting artist guarantees if an event undersells, requiring artists to have their own cancellation insurance, requiring artists to forfeit their pay if a show is cancelled due to a force majeure event like, y’know, a pandemic, and, nuttiest of all, requiring artists who cancel to pay Live Nation twice their guarantee.

Understandably, this news pissed off some very notable metal musicians who, although not exactly “underground,” are certainly not mega-rockstars, either — in other words, they’re working musicians, and these kinds of policies would hurt them, and hurt them badly.

But here’s the thing: what everyone publication missed, including this one, is that those stipulations applied only to festivals… y’know, a word mentioned no fewer than 11 times in the memo. Big festivals, such as Coachella and the like. (In defense of those of us who did miss this important detail, the memo isn’t especially well-written; the word “festival” doesn’t show up for three paragraphs, and then only after the reduction of artist guarantees has already been discussed. Honestly if a reliable industry source hadn’t told MetalSucks that the memo’s proposals were only for festival shows, we still wouldn’t be 100% sure that there was the case.)

That hasn’t stopped a whole bunch of metal bands from freaking out over their perceived pay cuts, though. Writing on social media, guitarist Gary Holt (Exodus, Slayer) said:

“So live nation has decided life has been hard on them, so now they’re gonna pay artist 20 percent less, only pay 25% when a promoter cancels, versus the usual 100%, but if you cancel they want double your guarantee back. And 30% of your merch to go with it. This could be the final nail in the rock and metal coffin. That lost 20 percent now comes out of a bands merch, which they take a bigger cut of. Satan forbid you have to cancel a show due to illness. Swipe to see how much these people made last year and see if your heart bleeds for their lost revenue. Saw this posted by @robbflynn after reading it on @loudwire so I thought I’d check their finances. Lame.”

This lead to similarly disgruntled replies from such notable musicians as Scott Ian (Anthrax), Eric Peterson (Testament), Mark Menghi (Metal Alliance), and Sick of It All. Holt also explained to fans why touring without Live Nation would be more or less impossible.

But here’s the thing! The reality is actually much worse. Sure, that 20% pay cut on festival dates is gonna suck, as those shows typically “anchor” tours with big paydays, thereby subsidizing losses elsewhere (smaller cities, for exampe). But that 20% cut will pale in comparison to what’s coming for the rest of these bands’ tours.

A number of booking agents, show promoters and artists MetalSucks has spoken to have confirmed that bands playing clubs and theaters on their own headline dates, like Anthrax and Exodus, will be asked to take door deals going forward. Instead of being offered a set amount of money (a “guarantee”) to play a show, they’ll get a percentage of every ticket sold. While that might sound fair on the surface, it makes it impossible for bands to budget tours in advance — What kind of stage production can they bring? What type of touring vehicle? How many stage hands? — which makes it incredibly difficult to figure out whether a tour will be worth doing, from a financial perspective. Bands at that level can’t be asked to go out on the road without some reasonable expectation of how their expenses and potential reward will balance out against one another.

And yet… most bands we’ve spoken to personally — like Machine Head and Periphery — understand the reality, and don’t fault promoters like Live Nation for asking artists to share in the risk. They get that the future of live shows is simply too uncertain for bands to expect the same financial structure they enjoyed previously.

It’s one of those things where we’re just gonna have to see how it shakes out. It’s gonna be years before things get back to “normal.”

Amongst the proposals made in the Live Nation memo as they related to festivals:

  • Artist guarantees will be adjusted downward 20% from 2020 levels.
  • Artists are required to have their its own cancellation insurance, because…
  • Live Nation will NOT pat the artists its fee if an event is canceled due to an event of force majeure “including a pandemic similar to COVID-19.”
  • If a show is cancelled due to poor ticket sales, the artist will receive 25% of their guarantee, NOT the full 100% they are usually paid (which is why they’re called “guarantees,” duh).
  • If the artist cancels the show, they have to pay Live Nation twice the amount of their fee.
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