The recent terrorist attack at Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester, England, was one too many. It felled 22. A year and a half earlier, 89 were killed at the Eagles of Death Metal show inside the Batacian Theatre in Paris, France. The live music sector is understandably rattled. Large congregations of adulating and casual music fans have become the ideal soft target for criminal minds. They afford perpetrators the possibility of extracting maximum casualties with least amount of effort. This is frightening.
Not too long ago, the main safety concerns at festivals and concerts were issues related to stage construction, overcrowding, and, possibly, a fire. Criminal and murderous intent by a single individual or a group at a show was not something that was thought of as the first priority in security planning. Now, the intent and premeditation of terrorists has become a game changer, and the global reach of terror makes this a worldwide security problem in the West. The paradigm that deals with safety issues at concerts is being rewritten.
Traditional security measures help. Bag checks, bag size restrictions, metal detectors, pat-downs, and frequent patrol by security guards have to continue. But terrorists prepare their intelligence ahead, so thinking outside the box is key. At the Ariana Grande concert the attack occurred as large crowds left the main venue, in a place where security was largely absent. Besides, the same types of security procedures cannot realistically be applied at all venues: dealing with a hundred music fans is different to a thousand. This also begs the question of the degree of effort involved in one and the other case. Will security in smaller sites be sacrificed for the greater good of protecting mid to large size venues?
While artists and most stadium/arena venues profit greatly from live shows, many small venues struggle staying afloat. London alone has closed more than one third of its “grassroots” venues since 2007. Big security spending there is likely an afterthought. Taking care of rising rents, urban developments’ ‘gentrification’ costs, and stopping self-made noise pollution are prime concerns. Lobbying for government funding, even it were available, is likely a lengthy process of uncertain results, and only possible where local authorities are strong financially – not a way out for off-beat locations. Small venues do not generate the revenue to attract top talent, which makes it harder to justify raising ticket prices to finance potential security threats. Another issue is that there is bad press already about high-ticket prices. For instance, a nine per cent rise of live music receipts in the UK last years was blamed on more expensive tickets.1
Besides, there are a host of measures being practiced in larger venues (those that, say, take over 2,000 people) that could not make smaller ones safer. Police and federal agencies often provide canine explosive detection teams on big locations and afford a measure of protection that no small venue could realistically get. Dogs can sniff out explosives in backpacks, purses, or construction materials; so-called Vapor Wake dogs can even detect body worn explosives on moving targets, following scent particles left behind. If there is an exchange of payment for such a service by the concert promoter, the small venue owner would likely not afford it even if the service were available.
For mid-size and larger venues, the stricture of economics also applies. The random nature of terror attacks makes it a rare event — which makes it harder to justify entertaining higher fixed costs to contain the problem. In any case, those costs would bring profits down. This would shift the supply curve of live music by concert promoters to the left, meeting its new equilibrium point with the demand curve for live music at a higher ticket price and a reduced attendance.
So the threat of terrorism is not an easy fix. Much is at stake for the business, especially as the significance of the live music sector grows for musicians.
Another factor to consider is that better prevention is likely to lead, generally, to trade-offs with privacy, and, more particularly, a different experience at the concert.
Regarding the first point, fans may ultimately have to accept open intelligence about them being shared across different law enforcement agencies, as such agencies co-operate more against terrorism. Ticketing databases could come up under scrutiny by the authorities and musical tastes might be scrutinized. This Orwellian projection may seem far off. Yet the biggest potential threat to concert attendances is the fear that these attacks will continue. Days after the Manchester bombing, a Dead and Company show was stopped mid song due to an “unfounded” bomb threat.2 A week or so later, 80,000 people were evacuated at Germany’s Rock am Ring festival in response to another terror warning.3 Data shows that immediately after the Bataclan attacks there was an 80% drop in concert attendance, although audiences later picked up.
Regarding the second point, it is obvious that increasing security protocols in a live music setting runs the risk of detracting from the integrity of the event. Chris Robinette, CEO of Prevent Advisors, a security-consulting firm for live music, wishes “to harden these venues without ruining the fan experience.”4 This could be easier said than done, especially if there is recidivism. Long lines at airport security are acceptable because the act of flying is relatively safe. Moreover, flying is tied to business needs, where we may have no choice but to go, or to pleasure, where the payback is not the flight itself but the final destination. A live music event is contained in time and space and may not be perceived as safe as plane travel. Moreover, the security arrangements there cannot be disproportionate relative to the time spent at the concert.
Taking no security precautions at concerts is not an option. It would be counterproductive and drive audiences away. There would also be huge liability issues for concert promotes. Security is necessary. On the other hand, it is also costly, may affect the listener’s experience, and bring up privacy concerns (for instance, with the proliferation of video monitors). Ticket prices are bound to become more expensive. But so are those of other mass gatherings, including most forms of spectator sports, for they face the same threat. It is true that no one can insure against brazen attacks of the Manchester or Bataclan type in the future. But this would be saying that inaction is as good as the alternative – and this would clearly be wrong.
By Tess Anketell and Olivia Woodland
- Music & Copyright Newsletter 21 June 2017
- “Bataclan Terror Attack Anniversary: Club Owners, Security Experts & Music Fans on How We Live Now.” Billboard. N.p., 11 Nov. 2016. Web. 17 June 2017.
- Borger, Julian, Paul Scruton, Cath Levett, Paul Torpey, and Simon Jeffery. “The Men Who Attacked Paris: Profile of a Terror Cell.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, n.d. Web. 13 June 2017.
- “Details Emerge About Ariana Grande Concert Bomber, Three More Arrests Made.” Billboard. N.p., 24 May 2017. Web. 13 June 2017.
- Farmer, Ben. “Who Is Salah Abdeslam and Who Were the Paris Terrorists? Everything We Know about the Isil Attackers.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 18 Mar. 2016. Web. 15 June 2017.
- “Germany’s Rock Am Ring Festival Evacuated Over Terrorist Threats.” Billboard. N.p., 02 June 2017. Web. 20 June 2017.
- “Hollywood Bowl Confirms Bomb Threat During Dead & Company Show.” Billboard. N.p., 01 June 2017. Web. 19 June 2017.
- “Manchester Attack: Who Was Salman Abedi?” BBC News. BBC, 12 June 2017. Web. 22 June 2017.
- “One Love Manchester: Ariana Grande Calls Benefit Concert ‘The Medicine the World Needs,’ Justin Bieber Pays Emotional Tribute to Victims.” Billboard. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 June 2017.
- Ovum. “Live.” Music & Copyright Newsletter 21 June 2017 (21 June 2017): 51-53. Print.
- “Parisians ‘Culturally Resist’ as Post-Attack Live Business Rebounds Across France.” Billboard. N.p., 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 15 June 2017.
- Romero, Andrea. “Topic: Live Music.” Www.statista.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 June 2017.
- “Vapor Wake.” AMK9. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 June 2017.
- “What Happened at the Bataclan?” BBC News. BBC, 09 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 June 2017.