While New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton singled out “rap artists who are basically thugs” as the cause for Wednesday night’s shooting during a T.I. concert that left one man dead and three people injured, safety at live-music venues at its core is a logistical problem that transcends any musical or cultural issue: How did someone with a gun get into the building?
“The fact of the matter is that last night’s shooting took place in a location where a man had a beef and a gun,” says Steve Adelman, VP of the Event Safety Alliance and head of Adelman Law Group. “That’s obviously not specific to a genre of music, location of the club or much of anything else. It could have happened anywhere where those two criteria exist, including an elementary school, a movie theater or a military base.”
The threat is “hardly specific to a genre of music,” Adelman adds. “I suppose you could argue for a loose correlation, but I just listed three examples that disprove that as an exclusive correlation. In other words, it’s not a meaningful correlation.”
Across the live-music industry, for ticketed events, access and security are tight at all doors front-of-house, regardless of genre. Yet there seems to be an unofficial assumption that anyone with backstage access is a good guy. A metal detector can detect guns or knives only if they’re actually in use, and there are conflicting reports about whether metal detectors were used during Wednesday night’s show.
Historically, violence at rap shows often occurs in areas where artists and their entourages enter discreetly, such as backstage, VIP areas, green rooms or at off-site afterparties; this may have been the case at Irving Plaza on Wednesday, since talent and crew frequently use the building’s smaller entrance on East 15th Street rather than its front doors. Given these areas are relatively exclusive, security is tight as far as access (one must have the proper laminate or sticker), but lax on metal detectors and pat-downs. From the smallest club to the highest-capacity stadiums and festivals, too often “whatever wants to walk in through the back door walks in through the back door,” observes Peter Tempkins, managing director, entertainment, for HUB International, a leading insurance brokerage firm covering the live business.
Most security pros would like to see more metal detectors at shows, period. “The use of metal detectors helps tremendously, especially backstage,” says Cory Meredith, president and founder of Staff Pro, one of the largest security and crowd management firms in the U.S. Meredith also recommends police presence, with armed security at all doors, especially the back entrance.
From a risk-management perspective, metal detectors are a risk mitigator. “One of the risk-management tools we advise our clients on is that it is important to use metal detectors on all points of ingress, including the artist entrance,” says Paul Bassman, owner of entertainment insurance firm Ascend Insurance Brokerage. “I don’t know if this was the case in this situation, however. If it wasn’t, the gun could have easily come in from one of the performers, their crew or one of their guests.”
Adelman says all public facilities should take steps to address “reasonably foreseeable” safety risks. “If that means guns, then metal detectors or careful pat-downs by trained security guards seem pretty reasonable,” he says. “If the bigger threat is overconsumption of alcohol, for example, then magnetometers are wrong, and bag checks and pat-downs are very important.”
Even a visual or a physical check can make an area less open to violence. Metal detectors can catch plenty, but “to me, it’s more important that bags get looked at, that people get patted down,” says Tempkins. “Open up the jacket and spin around, thank you very much. If you knew no matter where you walked in that you were going to get checked, you’d leave the gun at home.”
Unfortunately, incidents like what occurred at Irving Plaza could serve to support the notion that being armed is prudent. What happens in entertainment is reflective of what is going on in America and, culturally, packing heat is simply a matter of self-defense for many. “The performers’ entourage are usually the problem,” Meredith says, “and some bodyguards, and the artist themselves, feel they have to carry weapons.”
Violence of any sort is rare at live events, given that millions of people around the world assemble every day in the name of hearing live music. If there is a disconnect between perception and reality as to just how dangerous hip-hop shows actually are, those in the industry who make their living on assessing risk view hip-hop shows as risky business.
“In general, rap [and] hip-hop shows are looked upon as riskier from an insurance perspective,” says Bassman. (Bassman was indirectly involved in an infamous music-related shooting himself more than a decade ago — at a metal show. In his previous career, Bassman was manager of Damageplan, the hard rock powerhouse led by “Dimebag” Darrell Abbot, who was among four killed by a deranged gunman while performing at a club in Columbus, Ohio, back in 2004.)
Still, strictly from a business perspective, those looking to insure a rap-only show may be in for some sticker shock — a state of affairs that the Irving Plaza incident will only reinforce. At a festival or venue that hosts multiple genres, adding hip-hop to the mix can significantly increase insurance costs. “Some carriers outright exclude [hip-hop shows] from coverage, while others will allow for these shows, as long as there is a mix of pop, indie rock and other genres of music that the promoter or venue produces on an annual basis,” Bassman explains. “Either way, if a promoter or venue regularly produces hip-hop shows, the rates will be higher than most other genres.”
In a post-Bataclan world, promoters, venue managers and security professionals must be well-versed on acts that are performing, which extends from the traits of a given genre and its fans down to such details as checking Twitter feeds and being up-to-date on whatever beefs may be going on between acts on given bill — and adjusting security accordingly. “Every venue has to evaluate who they think is going to be in the building and how tight security has to be,” says entertainment attorney Ed McPherson. “Once the necessary threat level has been determined — usually based on the artist — security has to be trained to strictly adhere to that protocol, with no exceptions made, not even for the artist, which, I know, is very difficult to do.”
While he admits they may not like it, “artists and their entourages have to be sensitive to these issues and cooperate fully,” McPherson asserts. “But security [personnel] has to be trained, and they have to be tight.”
As a representative for the band Great White following the Station fire in East Warwick, Rhode Island, that killed 100 people in 2003, McPherson has seen the industry react (or not) to tragedy. Just as improving fire safety at clubs is expensive, upping security, including metal detectors, is expensive — “and already outrageous ticket prices are only going to increase,” McPherson says. “However, that is a price that we all have to pay for safety these days, and not just at music venues.”
As for Wednesday night’s shooting being an indictment on the relative safety of rap concerts, the Event Safety Alliance “doesn’t believe that genres of music are dangerous,” Adelman says. “Rather, it’s certain behavior that is dangerous and would be dangerous regardless of where it takes place.”
Adelman says his association seeks to provide guidance running safe events. “But, to be clear, there was nothing about last night’s event that was dangerous because of the nature of the show or its location,” he notes. “It became dangerous because there was a man who was allowed backstage who had a beef and a gun.”