Latin

Piso 21 & More Talk the Challenge of 'Touring in a Post-COVID World' at Latin Music Week

“The last 18 months have been surreal,” Bruno del Granado said as he opened the "Touring in a Post-COVID World" panel at Billboard Latin Music Week on Wednesday (Sept. 22).

Del Granado, agent at entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency and the panel's moderator, was joined by Nelson Albareda (Loud and Live), Alfredo Alonso (Bizarro Live Entertainment) and Piso 21’s David Escobar and Pablo Mejia in conversation about the current situation as artists resume touring preparations following a drastic hiatus due to the pandemic.

“In March 2020 everything looked great, and everything paused abruptly,” del Granado said. “The overall touring scenery suffered greatly as artists and festivals were forced to postpone tour dates with no clear front of a comeback. As things return to an unusual normality, Latin artists have been the first ones to announce their return dates. Where do we go from here?”

Nelson Albareda, president and CEO at Loud and Live, was the first to take the mic: “COVID might have changed touring, but I have to reinforce that the live-event experience has not been replaced. We’ve seen a huge pent-up demand for tours happening, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in 2023 because of the amount of shows happening in 2022. Consumers are anxious, sales are back, there’s going be a big demand for live shows. Artists are dying to reconnect with their fans. We need to focus on evolving post-COVID and making it a bigger experience for the fan.”

Here are some takeaways from the panel:

How are you dealing with all the mandate protocols in the U.S. when putting a tour together?

Albareda said: “We have learned to react quick and take one day at a time. It's tough to route a tour when you don’t know what’s happening in each market. Vaccination is key as well as constant COVID tests. We are dealing with having an ‘A’ act, a ‘B’ act, and a ‘C’ act on a tour, putting artists in a bubble, which is unfortunate, but we must be extra precautious. Backstage protocols, like having an entourage, are not happening anymore. The show must go on.”

The U.S. is open, South America is not. What is the timeline for Chile and the rest of the market to open?

“Sorry for those of you who don’t speak Spanish, but prefer to speak in mother’s native tongue,” laughed Alfredo Alonso. The Chilean promoter, producer, musician and publicist with 25 years of entertainment experience is a partner and director at Bizarro Live Entertainment in South America and has been the artistic director and executive producer for the Viña del Mar Festival since 2019. “It’s been complicated in South America; we have different realities. Chile is about 80% vaccinated but it’s not what’s happening in all countries. With our closed borders, artists haven’t been able to come. There’s a fight to open venues and pull this through. We are used to rotating artists, but as everything opens, major artists will want to come back, and that will create a disadvantage for the developing artists. The good side to this is that artists have had time to compose, to write and create great material. Things are changing, though, Argentina just announced they are 100% capacity, in Chile we can work with 50% capacity. But Perú, Bolivia, Ecuador face a different scenario, and as we know, artists will not come down just for one country. But we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."

When will Viña return? This festival is key and the main platform for artists in Latin America.

“Viña spans 60 years of existence,” Alonso added. “We've done it around earthquakes and every obstacle you can think of, but this pandemic canceled the festival, and we are looking at perhaps a second year without it. It’s been tough for the market, but we are hopeful that the borders will open, and the festival can resume.”

How did the pandemic affect Piso 21’s David Escobar and Pablo Mejia?

"At a professional level, after a couple of months, we realized we had a house and that we were spending so much time in it," David "Dim" Escobar said. "We’re workaholics. We started reaching out to different composers and producers via Zoom, becoming more proactive. We realized our crew was lacking concert opportunities, so we looked for tools for our musicians, technicians to become virtual teachers. Everything changed as you stepped out of the house. Now you must think about the COVID test before you travel and protocols at airports. Everything has changed."

"We transitioned from being five days at home to being all year long. This affected everybody at a psychological level, but our technicians are the most affected, not just economically but emotionally," Pablo "Pablito" Mejia added. "There is also something that’s not being touched and that is the presence of a song during a concert promotion. Promoters oversee a song promotion around a city during a six-month period, so the public becomes aware of your music through posters and those who know your catalog want to delve deeper. Where there are concerts, there’s promotion, and the lack of the former has affected us tremendously."

The big news last week was Live Nation acquiring 51% of Ocesa, how does that affect your business now?

Albareda: "With all due respect to Live Nation and Ocesa, I believe that no concentration of an industry is good, let alone a monopoly. Ocesa changes substantially for the Latin industry. Mexico is the second-biggest market in the world from a ticket sales point of view. Our music is now global so for us, the independent promoters, we need to figure out how to unite to continue growing the industry. With this new venture, there will be more competition. I hope it will be a justified one. Promoters nowadays are becoming labels, working in conjunction with the artists. We could win Live Nation; the funds will always be there. The artist needs to be aware of who will work their project with love."

Alonso: "We are different schools. We used to say that over 90% in Latin America speak Spanish, so we focused on giving production value to Spanish-speaking bands. When Live Nation focused on the big tours, we went the other route. I’m grateful to share this panel with Piso 21, as we started with them from the beginning, increasing their development through Maluma shows, from performing one song to being in front of a 100,000 audience. We have a small advantage gap against big companies like Live Nation."

What is the plan to tour and promote El Amor En Los Tiempos del Perreo?

Pablito: "We must adapt to the markets and assume the challenges between artists and promoters because there are places where the venues are not at 100% capacity still. People don’t plan six months ahead anymore; they are looking at next week. We must pay attention to all those details; we must become more creative. Perhaps we’ll face restriction through summer 2022."

Did you enjoy livestreaming?

Dim: "We agreed to do them but felt as somewhat of an obligation. That famous joke ‘applause is the food of an artist' is just right. There’s no motivation without the audience applause, it’s a completely different effect. We did them mostly to give our technicians work, but without adrenaline there’s nothing."

The 2021 Latin Music Week will take place from Sept. 20 to 25 at the Faena Forum in Miami and coincides with the 2021 Billboard Latin Music Awards broadcasting live via Telemundo on Sept. 23. See the list of finalists here.

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