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NEAR TRUTHS:
THE COMING FIGHT

WE SHALL FIGHT THEM ON THE BEACHES: Today, right now, is the greatest crisis of our lifetime.

This is a once-in-a century event, reminding us of what so many of our forebears faced in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19—and how many of that same generation died or suffered terrible wounds in World War I.

How many American, Canadian and English personnel returned from the battlefields of Northern France only to face a daunting new struggle a decade later in the Great Depression?

How many of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents toiled through the 1930s worried about jobs and putting food on the table? Few of us came from old money, which would have made it possible to float above the tide of poverty and struggle.

THE NEW BLITZ: 20th-century Anglo-Americans of that post-WW1/Great Depression generation confronted a crisis that in many ways resembles the one we’re staring at today. Shortages and privation were the order of the day at home as supply chains buckled under the weight of the conflict. Londoners famously sheltered in place during the blitz—and were cautioned against lighting so much as a match after dark for fear of providing a target for Nazi bombers.

But who are the Churchills, the Roosevelts, the Montgomerys and Eisenhowers, the Pattons, Bradleys, MacArthurs, Nimitzes and the rest of the best and brightest to lead us in our darkest hour?

Leadership certainly isn’t coming from the White House, where our infantile emperor dawdles and preens amid the crisis, concerned only about adulation and re-election. (The ghosting and malevolence we now see at the federal level is reminiscent of the Vietnam era, when our leaders obscured from us the futility and terrible cost of that quagmire.) But state leaders are rising to the challenge, notably governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Gavin Newsom.

And we are seeing extraordinary resolve and commitment from doctors, nurses, orderlies and everyone else holding our besieged health-care system together. These brave, selfless humanitarians—including tens of thousands of volunteer professionals, from med students to retirees, rising to the call—don’t even have the basic gear they need. Think, too, of the employees at your local market, who stock shelves endlessly, punch register keys until their vision blurs and bag up acres of groceries for panicked customers, then stagger home to bed. These are among our heroes on the frontlines today.

THE WORLD STAGE: One of the most important economic engines of our industry is being devastated by this global event. The touring business, which has generated tens of billions of dollars to support artists, managers, agents, lawyers and concert promoters, is also the economic lifeline for countless other professionals: road and construction crews, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, as well as those who work in the arenas, preparing food and taking tickets. Consider the manpower required to make Coachella or Glastonbury function every year and all the families fed by those workers. And consider all the indie bands whose livelihoods come almost exclusively from touring. When that is taken away from them, what recourse do they have? The reach of the live business is enormous, and it’s mind-boggling to ponder how many lives will be uprooted by this pandemic.

THE HOME FRONT: The MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund and its participating donors, including Amazon Music, SiriusXM/Pandora, Spotify, Facebook, Tidal, YouTube Music and the Michael Jackson Estate, have pledged to distribute millions of dollars to those most in need across the music community. Nashville’s Music Health Alliance, the CAA Foundation and Rihanna’s CLF, among other organizations, have also answered the call. These ground-level philanthropic efforts will alleviate some of the suffering. Concurrently, at the federal level, the CARES Act contains provisions that will benefit struggling music-makers. That’s a start.

It’s imperative that we support those who will lose their jobs. We need to help them survive as best we can, knowing that we’re all going to suffer some economic hardship. Most of all, we have to stay in place and do whatever else we can do to limit the spread of this disease. WTF is wrong with these states—like Florida and its stunningly shortsighted governor, Ron DeSantis—that keep their beaches open? WTF is up with these kids who ignore everything that’s going on so they can party at Spring Break? Bring in the National Guard and shut this shit down—we’re at war. No more dithering and gaslighting from our cowardly leader, whose lies and ignorance are more lethal than the virus.

THE GROUND ATTACK: The poets of this generation, like the great artists who roused former generations in times of trouble and despair, can spark the consciences and fire the imaginations of vast global audiences. Their voices have never been more important than they are at this crucial moment. The arrival of a major new release, from both a commercial and an artistic standpoint, brings a sizable morale boost to the biz in these turbulent times. We earn our bread—and give our lives greater meaning—by helping those voices get heard.

The Weeknd’s new album is a creative triumph and a streaming juggernaut—and a stirring reminder of what great music can do to lift us all up. This is especially needful at present, when many other acts are said to be considering bumping their new releases due to the postponement of their tours—since the release of a new album is one of the major drivers of selling seats, where all their big cake comes from.

With so much at stake, many artists and their teams are now seriously contemplating a Plan B. That is, if your supersized tour on-sale was disappointing, you could cancel/postpone and blame the pandemic—then regroup, plan to release new music in 2021 and have another go.

Big cuts in personnel and salary at Paradigm, UTA and WME reflect the state of play, though Paradigm’s abrupt firings and peremptory halving of salaries was particularly upsetting. Paradigm could face a financial crisis within 90 days; WME, still staggering from its failed IPO, is also in dangerous waters. It’s worth noting that both UTA and WME announced that their chief execs would refrain from taking salaries for the time being.

The pandemic’s effect on the biz is enormous, and it’s changing the shape of deals. Not only are the sizes of deals for new artists returning to earth somewhat, but artists’ need for cash in a “gig-less economy” has temporarily altered the power dynamic in negotiations as rights holders gain new leverage with respect to terms. As the pandemic progresses, are most parties deciding to “put a pin in it” in terms of major-artist deals involving tens of millions?

For the time being, the major labels, publishers and top managers on both sides of the Atlantic, hunkered down in home offices, are in beast mode, preparing for battle. The CEOs of these companies—Type A executives accustomed to engaging in survival of the fittest—are our best and brightest. They’re so formidable that we expect them to rise to the occasion when the game is on the line. Now, more than ever, we’re counting on them to deliver.

THE COMING FIGHT: This is our test, our moment. We can—and will—beat this. We will, as a nation and as a global community, be back—in six months or a year, or maybe two. We’ve overcome adversity before. We’ve brought our industry back from all manner of destruction. We must prepare to do so again. Now is our time.

Let’s do this.

 

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