It goes without saying that 2020 was a nightmare for the live side of the biz. Agents, promoters, artists and their crews were devastated by the pandemic. One interesting sidebar to this unfortunate year: Most top attorneys didn’t take quite so big a haircut as might have been expected.

Attorney fees on the live side were depressed slightly in 2020, but by the time the shit completely hit the fan, many of the bigger acts had been paid their giant guarantees for festival or stadium dates. So it wasn’t a wash for the artists, managers, agents, business managers and attorneys who partake of the live income stream. Many of those dollars will have gone to paying for tours that will take place this year. But if the live side doesn’t get up and running soon and 2021 is a bust—thanks to the COVID surge and vaccination speed bumps—things will get ugly indeed.

In any case, it's worth noting how variable attorney compensation can be from the live side. There’s nothing as straightforward as the 15-20% that managers typically collect after deducting production and opening-act costs. Most agents don’t want to get involved in that accounting and take their commission off the gross, typically 10%. And if it’s a mammoth tour with only Live Nation or AEG involved, a reduced commission is not unheard of.

Lawyers’ fees aren’t as clear-cut. It depends on how much heavy lifting they’re tasked with, and how involved the manager, agent and/or biz manager are. If a stadium act without a big-time manager makes a huge deal with Live Nation or AEG involving a reduced agent commission or with no agent involved, the attorney and business manager bear greater responsibility; in addition to the deal with the promoter, there are opening acts, fleets of trucks, crew, sound, lights, catering and more to be handled.

Most arena-level acts—unless they’re replaying multiple arenas and smaller-cap venues—are netting 25-35% of the gross after commission and production costs. Clever routing and reduction of overhead by savvy artists and managers can increase that net by 10-15%, so the range is closer to 25-50%. Of course some top acts will, in the name of "quality of life,” have to absorb the costs of private jets and suites at the Four Seasons.

2020, therefore, wasn’t a disaster for the top attorneys in the business. You won’t hear Allen Grubman, Kenny Meiselas, John Branca, David Lande, Don Passman, Joel Katz (now reportedly retiring), Jess Rosen, Theo Sedlmayr and teams singing the blues too loudly, as their firms were slammed all year making branding, catalog, label, production and other deals. This added up to a lot of billable hours and created strong results for attorneys whose earnings are usually based on eating what they kill; even with income generally down from 2019, these lawyers saw a lot of black ink. Eric Greenspan, Aaron Rosenberg, Dina LaPolt, Peter Paterno, Peter Lewit, Steven Shapiro, Deb White, Doug Davis, Damien Granderson and other key barristers with A-list clients have also claimed to be busier than ever during the pandemic.

Last year may not have hit 2019’s numbers, but it was nowhere near as bad as it looked when COVID ballooned in March 2020. 2021 remains an unknown for players who make their living from the live side, but hope and optimism remain the watchwords—at least for now.