Dear concert venues,
Performing arts organizations need your help.
A global pandemic has forced us to cancel our spring concerts and beyond. Concert revenue makes up a significant portion of our income and, without it, we fear that it could have a devastating financial impact on our organizations.
To make up for this loss, many of us are restructuring our business models and experimenting with various types of events to bring in new sources of revenue. We're trying everything from virtual choirs to livestream events to, yes, even some in-person activities and events.
We're also looking ahead. We typically plan up to one or two years out from a live performance. We're holding out hope that at some point during that time period, performance venues and our organizations will be allowed to reopen, and we'd like the opportunity to begin planning for that scenario.
But here's our challenge:
Right now, we're not getting a lot of information from concert venues, and understandably so.
We certainly don't expect venues to have all of the answers — we are, after all, living in a new and unpredictable world. And we know that you are facing your own challenges as well. But we do hope to speak with you and work together to map out what the future looks like for both our organizations. Planning for the future and generating revenue are beneficial to everyone.
Here are a few reasons we should have a conversation:
- Longevity and retention. We've had a long-standing relationship together, and we consider ourselves trusted partners. Fostering that relationship and continuing the partnership are important to us.
- Revenue. We're ready and willing to provide you with concert revenue this year and beyond.
- Brand impact. Together, we could be on the forefront of ensuring the success of performing arts in a global pandemic.
- Stronger together. We'll learn a lot in this process, and we'll likely both come out of this stronger than ever before.
So, what do you say? Can we work together on this? If so, read on!
What Performing Arts Organizations Need From Concert Venues
We realize that concert venues are facing new challenges, and we want to help support you in any way we can. Please continue to share information with us directly so that we can work to overcome these challenges.
In the meantime, we've thought through a few things that we could use your help with:
Allow Future Bookings with Flexible Cancellation Policies
To start, we would love to reserve some dates with your venue for future performances (for planning post-pandemic). Really, we would love to give you money! But, with COVID-19 on the loose, neither of us know whether those bookings will actually come to fruition. Even if we project out one year, there's no guarantee that the situation will be better by then.
To help manage this uncertainty, please consider putting more flexible cancellation policies in place. These cancellation policies can protect both your organization and ours from any COVID-19-related emergencies. They might include more flexibility on acceptable reasons to cancel, more leniency with cancellation time requirements, and, perhaps, even fully refundable or waived deposits.
We know that you have staff to pay and that you probably don't want to spend time planning an event that may not happen. (Trust us, we don't either!) To help minimize these challenges, consider implementing a "book but no planning policy." Allow us to reserve dates, but you decide when you and your team can actively start working on the performance logistics. If you decide that you can't begin work on logistics until 1-2 months out from the performance, we're flexible and willing to work with you.
But, most importantly, please consider allowing us the option to reserve future dates now. This will, at the bare minimum, help us return to some normalcy, provide us comfort, and give us all a goal to work towards.
Put a Plan in Place for Socially Distanced Concerts
When we return to standard in-person performances, we're going to want our ticket buyers to feel safe. Together, your venue and our organization can work together to properly determine and communicate the precautions we are taking to keep them safe.
Here's a starting list of considerations for socially-distanced concerts at your venue:
- How will our concert box office and check-in procedures change in a socially-distant world? Will we still offer any door sales or in-person transactions?
- How will the lobby management change? What types of precautions should we put in place for crowd control?
- What safety precautions should we put in place for mass gatherings - will we want to supply hand sanitizer, face masks, etc.? Could you speak with an HVAC engineer and investigate better ventilation systems and equipment?
- How will our house management change? Will we implement capacity limits for the house? Will we have additional sanitation measures for the seats? Will our ushers and staff be trained in safety protocols? Could the house open earlier to allow for staggered check-in times?
- How will backstage and stage management change? Will we have capacity limits on stage? Will we have more warm-up and rehearsal rooms available?
- Will the bathroom situation change? What sanitation measures should we put in place for the bathrooms? Are you considering a no-bathroom situation, and, if so, does this mean we should consider shorter programs with no intermissions?
At the end of this article, we've included some venue reopening guides to help get the conversations started. Let's start having these conversations together now so we can come up with a great plan for socially-distanced concerts, keeping all parties comfortable and safe!
Allow Us to Host Re-Envisioned In-Person Events
Don't worry, none of us are really in the position right now to go back to hosting concerts in our standard format. Believe me, we don't have near-term plans for any type of large-scale concert with a full house.
But we are currently re-envisioning what in-person choral events might look like. And we may need space for these events.
We may be planning on doing a recording session with small ensembles. We may need space for in-person sectionals. We may be planning to do a livestream concert with no live audience. We may want to get a video of our conductor conducting in a concert hall for a virtual choir video. Or perhaps, we may want to try a socially distanced concert once the time is right.
Bottom line: some of our organizations still need space, we still need venues, and we still need you.
If your venue is in an area where reopenings are happening, your local experts deem it safe to gather again in-person (with whatever restrictions there might be), AND you are interested in reopening, then let's talk. Let's see what types of events we can create together!
Consider Lowering Your Rental Fees
The pandemic has already had a massive impact on the economic state of the arts world. At the time of writing this, there's been $9.1 billion impact on the arts and cultural sectors in the United States.
Arts organizations have minimal revenue coming in right now, and we're going to be struggling financially for a while. In addition, with socially-distanced concerts, it seems likely that we won't be able to sell as many tickets as before, which will also hurt the amount of revenue we'll be able to bring in.
At the same time, we understand that you're hurting, too. That's one reason we want to bring our business to you!
We'd love to work with you to renegotiate some of your rental fees so that both parties feel like they can be successful in the coming year.
Here are a couple specific line items that we would love to renegotiate:
- Base rental fees. Since we'll likely be selling fewer seats, the value of the space has gone down. While capacity limits are in place, consider lowering the base rental fees to make up for that. Some organizations may be hosting re-envisioned events such as a livestream performance without an audience. Consider how the base rental fee may change in these instances as well.
- Room rental fees. With social distancing measures in place, we'll likely need more rehearsal/dressing rooms for our musicians. Please consider allowing us the use of more rooms without any additional fees.
- Box office fees. With box offices changing to a touchless model, we'd love to renegotiate your box office fees. If you've required the use of your box office in the past, consider whether we would be allowed to use a third-party e-ticketing solution that the box office won't require your staff involved in any in-person transactions. Or consider reducing your box office fees to reflect your reduced staffing.
- Additional livestream/recording/sound fees. We're pretty confident that performing arts organizations are going to be learning a lot about livestreaming in the next year. We absolutely want to pay your engineers and staff, but if there are additional fees for livestreaming that the venue tacks on only for additional revenue, consider helping us out in this area as you are able.
- Stage equipment fees. For socially distanced performances, we're likely going to need more space for our singers and musicians on stage which probably means needing things like stage extensions. We might need other equipment on stage for social distancing purposes such as different sound equipment to allow us to hear each other from a distance. Consider cutting us a break on these line items when possible.
We absolutely want to make sure that your operating costs are covered, that your staff are appropriately paid, and that you are able to make some revenue. But, while the pandemic takes its toll on arts organizations, we're asking to work together to find a good revenue balance that helps both parties.
Please Talk to Us
We've rented your concert hall for years, we've built a relationship with you, we're mutual partners. Please communicate with us.
We don't expect you and your staff to have all of the details ironed out. But we would love to know what's on your mind. What are you thinking you might do? We know this will change over time, but any information (really, any information) can help us plan.
If you communicate with us, who knows what we can achieve together in the years ahead!
Resources for Performing Arts Venues
- Event Safety Alliance Guide
- Guide to Reopening Theatrical Venues
- A Season Planning Guide for 2020-2021 (for Performing Arts Organizations)
- How COVID-19 is Impacting Intentions to Visit Cultural Entities
- Mask Up: Here Are The Safety Measures Visitors Want
- CDC Guidelines Large Events
- CDC Guidelines for Gatherings and Community Events
Thank you so much for taking the time to listen. We want to hear about your needs and challenges, too. If you are affiliated with a concert venue, let us know what types of challenges you are facing and what you need from performing arts organizations in the comments below.
Tori Cook is the former Director of Sales & Marketing at Chorus Connection. She sings with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and is a board member of the Greater Boston Choral Consortium. In a past life, she was the Music Director of the Harborlight Show Chorus and President of Chorus pro Musica in Boston. When not making music, she daydreams about adopting a golden retriever puppy and scuba diving to exotic locations around the world.