Nineteen-year live events veteran Aryn Bryant has already made the decision to pivot to another field. Bryant tells Billboard she caught the "live event bug" after securing a job at Clear Channel Entertainment in 2001. Due to notoriously long hours and often low pay, she says the industry tends to weed out those who aren't passionate about the work pretty quickly. Bryant believes it's that passion that may now be leading many unemployed live event workers to be blinded to the realities of the touring shutdown. "People are so super into it that they're gonna hang on longer than is good for them," she says.
Bryant, who went on to work in a variety of marketing roles at Clear Channel, which became Live Nation, and Feld Entertainment, left her most recent job working for the Harlem Globetrotters in February 2019 to get her executive MBA from Tulane University. The plan, she says, was to use the degree to "level up" as a live events marketing executive. Then the coronavirus hit. By the time she graduated last month, she says the industry had been "decimated." She has now decided to work in brand marketing.
"I can't go back into live events.... There's nowhere to go now," Bryant says. "But even if I wanted to wait it out, the industry is going to have shrunk. Even when they start hiring again, which will happen ... there's gonna be a lot of people fighting for very few jobs for a long time."
The realities of a COVID-19 vaccine are still unclear and there's no certainty how concerts will return on a wide-scale when they start to do so. If it's with capacity restrictions or other safety measures, as some part of the country has begun doing already, profits will be lower and costs will be higher. That means salaries could take a hit too and employers will need to evaluate what value returning or prospective staff members bring to the job. In the interim, Bryant predicts many long-term live events professionals will have left the industry altogether for better-paying, albeit possibly less-fulfilling, jobs, while newcomers may be driven away as well. "You're gonna have people who are working in a job they're not ultimately passionate about," she says, "[and] also the industry is going to lose all this knowledge."
Serona Elton, an associate professor, director of the music business & entertainment industries program and associate dean of administration at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, isn't so sure. At this point, she sees little risk of a wide-scale, long-term migration away from the industry.
"For the people that work on the live side, it has to be the case that they, at this stage, are starting to look for other sources of income. And surely they will look outside of the music industry to see what else there is," says Elton, who has worked in executive roles at EMI and Warner Music Group and previously produced the Miami Music Festival. "But that doesn't mean that they have left the industry so much as they're taking sort of a forced hiatus from it."
She continues, "For something that seems quite temporary in the landscape of your entire career, I don't think there's going to be a brain drain that doesn't come back," she says. "If you told me, 'Now it's five years,' I'd say OK. Now people start saying, 'I don't know about this.'"