‘Impossible’ for touring and festival industry to recover

Closed for two years due to COVID-19, festivals like Coachella and Stagecoach are finally making a comeback – but the return of live events comes with a new set of hurdles as labor shortages , supply chain backlogs and rising costs are rocking an industry that is in full recovery.

“We have lost more than half of our staff to other industries,” said Daniel Nickleski, chief operating officer of festival, concert and event production company Sound Works Production, based in the United States. ‘Illinois.

The executive explained that the pandemic-induced shutdowns were a blow because the company, which was founded in 2007, has consistently outperformed even during economic downturns.

“We thought we were always going to be here…we came through the recession in 2007, and we thrived through it, because people always wanted to go out and see a concert to take their minds off what was going on,” he said.

But when COVID hit, “it was like the government pretty much said, ‘No, you can’t do your job.’ We lost a lot of people because of that.”

Lack of manpower, supply chain shortages and rising costs plague live events and production companies

As things started to bounce back in the summer of 2021 (before the Delta and Omicron variants disrupted operations), Nickleski explained that equipment was suddenly impossible to find.

“Trucking was big business. A lot of us sold trucks or got rid of leases on trucks because why would we pay not to use them?”

But when the company looked to buy out, the inventory wasn’t there — not even for rentals.

“The business is gone. To this day, you still can’t get a truck. The last time I was quoted was two years ago,” Nickleski said. “It’s something we’ve never dealt with before.”

Trucking has proven to be a lucrative business alternative throughout the pandemic, with Amazon (AMZN) ramping up deliveries, but supply chain issues have created serious bottlenecks.

Experts say supply chain disruptions will not be resolved this year.

We have lost more than half of our staff to other industries…Daniel Nickleski, COO of Sound Works Production, on the impact of the pandemic

Today Nickleski revealed that things are “coming back strong” and the aim is to “invest heavily” in the business again in order to get back to pre-pandemic levels.

Yet Sound Works lacks the equipment to meet demand as, coupled with supply chain headwinds, chip shortages have made it incredibly difficult to build audio, video and lighting equipment. .

“The shortage of chips is probably one of the biggest supply chain issues we see. It also impacts the shortage of labor that cannot keep up with supply and demand right now. , because it all kind of opened up at once,” Nickleski says.

He added: “It makes it impossible to plan a busy season right now.”

In 2019, Sound Works held about two dozen events per week. Now, Nickleski said, the company is lucky to accomplish five or six.

As the company tries to bring workers back, the executive explained that “a big part of the problem is that new people aren’t being trained.”

Festival, concert and live event production companies are struggling to keep up with demand due to labor shortages and supply chain bottlenecks

Festival, concert and live event production companies are struggling to keep up with demand due to labor shortages and supply chain bottlenecks

Rising costs

Other production companies are experiencing similar pressure points.

“There’s a shortage of experienced tour technicians, experienced show technicians – that’s probably the number one challenge,” said Craig Mitchell, managing director of LMG Touring & Entertainment, which provides video, audio, entertainment and entertainment. lighting and LEDs for tours, concerts and festivals. Across the country.

LMG, which has produced arena tours for renowned artists from Lindsey Stirling to J. Cole, has created several educational programs to train new workers.

Still, Mitchell – who says it’s more important than ever to ensure workers have a good experience – told Yahoo Finance the process is “ongoing”.

Impossible to predict a busy season right now…Daniel Nickleski, COO of Sound Works Production, on labor and supply chain challenges

Compensating for the lack of manpower means that work that used to be done by 100 people now has to be done by just 20 people.

It also means that the cost of labor has increased significantly, resulting in overhead costs for customers.

“It’s a very physical job with a very unique skill set, and the technical side of the business has only gotten more complex,” Mitchell explained. He added that it takes a “unique personality” to adapt to the fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyle the industry demands.

Besides labor, the industry has also seen price increases for freight and trucking, exasperated by exorbitant gasoline prices.

Iowa-based independent trucker Michael Whitaker told Yahoo Finance that it cost him $600 or $700 to fill his truck’s gas tank at the start of the year. Now it’s paying around $1,000 as diesel averages recently hit their highest level since 1994 in mid-March.

“The tourism industry, in particular, has been significantly impacted by freight costs – particularly over the past two weeks with rising fuel prices,” noted LMG’s Mitchell.

Not only that, but “there is a shortage of tourist buses. More importantly, there is a shortage of tourist bus drivers and tourist truck operators. So even if the trucks are available, the drivers might not be. And that’s a big part of our business,” he continued.

Protective flight cases for professional concert equipment.

Protective flight cases for professional concert equipment.

In the future, the live event space may change forever as the virtual world blends into reality.

“The trends we’re seeing now are how to be more efficient, how to do more with less crew, how to make technology enable things that weren’t possible before,” Mitchell said.

“As technology advances, we will see a mixture of virtual life and real life,” he predicted.

For now, however, it is estimated that more than 125,000 spectators will attend the sold-out Coachella festival each day, which is expected to run for two weekends, April 15-17 and April 22-24, 2022.

Stagecoach, taking place the following weekend (April 29-May 1), has a capacity of over 75,000.

None of the events will require vaccinations, testing or COVID-19 masks, in accordance with local guidelines.

How’s that for getting back to “normal”?

Alexandra is a senior entertainment and food reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193

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