• Donny Willis

Can Artists Return to Expensive In-Person TV Tapings When the Pandemic Ends?

Artists now have a bargaining weapon in the form of remotely shot shows, which could last far beyond COVID-19.

Adrian L. Miller has been arranging for his clients, such as R&B singer-songwriter Mereba and jazzy instrumentalist Cassowary, to play on squeaky clean private stages with minimal personnel and musicians, for most of the past year. Then he realized something: creating bare-bones remote performances and broadcasting them as livestreams, funded productions, and TV performances is reasonably inexpensive.

Why not proceed in this manner after the pandemic is over?

"It's a waste of everyone's resources to travel into one city to perform one song. It's difficult for me to comprehend that "Miller, who also manages Poo Bear, Justin Bieber's longtime producer, and has collaborated with Anderson.Paak for years, says "I hope everybody shares my sentiments. There is no law prohibiting artists from submitting their work for display."

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted concerts as a major source of income, but Miller and other artist representatives see a "silver lining" once the outbreak is over. For decades, performers have flown to New York or Los Angeles on their own dime to appear on shows like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live for comparatively low fees but high promotional value. They've remained at home for the past year, recording these performances in remote studios. Dolly Parton taped all of her television appearances to promote her holiday album, including the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Rockefeller Center tree lighting, and her appearance on The Tonight Show late last year. - from her Nashville-based studios. "It saves a lot of money," her boss, Danny Nozell, says. "That will certainly be a choice in the future."

"You could do the same song five times, change clothes five times, have it for various TV shows — one in France, one in London, and have the audio to send to many radio stations — and never have to leave L.A.," says Peter Katsis, who represents Bush, Morrissey, and Fever 333. "A two-week promotional tour will possibly be completed in one day's work."

Sending an artist to a late-night set for a one-off show will cost $50,000 to $60,000, according to Katsis and other managers, while making one near home costs about $15,000. For years, record companies have subsidized artists' promotional costs: "If you have a lot of people on stage, a million performers, a big band, that's super-expensive." Being on TV doesn't come cheap, according to a late-night source. “That is picked up by the label.” "The label is fighting back," says Bob McLynn, manager of Sia, Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and other artists.

"It's prohibitively expensive to fly a band in to do Fallon," he says. "When you can do it in the studio, it obviously saves us a lot of money — and it saves us a lot of time because we don't have to drive."

For struggling rehearsal studios, remotely shot promotional appearances for television have become a lifeline. While some companies, such as the iconic 32-year-old West L.A. Studios, were forced to close indefinitely when the pandemic canceled worldwide tours, others, such as Third Encore, rapidly shifted their focus from pre-tour rehearsals to providing studio space, audio-visual equipment, and production personnel for livestreams and other remote performances.

"Once [late-night shows] stopped doing audiences and live performances in studio, things started picking up," says John Hoik, the studio's office manager. "For various shows and locations, we'll have artists shoot the same song three or four times."

The union fees from remote performances, which are typically three or four hundred dollars per musician, according to Hoik and Joseph DeAngelis, CEO of Musicians Choice Studios in Los Angeles and other California locations, make up a fraction of their regular tour-rehearsal business.

"It helps a bit," DeAngelis says, "but it's just pennies on the dollar."

Late-night shows, predictably, are uninterested in artists' cost-cutting plans to avoid their stages until the vaccinations kick in and live audiences return. Many performers do more than just perform a song or two; they also take part in comedy sketches like Jimmy Kimmel Live"Mean !'s Tweets" and do live interviews with the hosts. Hundreds of fans will jam into supported outdoor-stage spaces in New York City or Los Angeles, creating exposure and social-media material, and the green-room experience is a luxurious break from touring.

The Late Late Show with James Corden producer Diana Miller says, "We'll get back to in-studio shows as soon as humanly possible." "Just because something is simple does not mean it is better. “Efficiency isn't always synonymous with good television.”

Prior to the pandemic, the show almost always turned down offers from musicians to play remotely, such as if a well-known band was performing elsewhere, and Miller doesn't expect that to change now. "I don't think it'll ever be our first option or goal, and I doubt we'd even try."

Chris Woltman, the manager of twenty-one pilots who appeared on The Tonight Show from different locations last May, suggests that an act who can't get to Los Angeles or New York work remotely as a "backup plan." But he agrees with Miller from The Late Late Show. “Everyone would want to get back to living,” he predicts. “Those late-night shows, and the magic of having an audience in the room, that's a difficult thing to capture on video."

Still, in the last year, the proliferation of livestreams and remotely recorded performances has given artists a bargaining weapon that could last far beyond COVID-19. If a late-night show wants to book a big star with a hot new release but the star doesn't want to disrupt his or her tour to fly in and out of New York over the course of 24 hours, the show may find itself with no negotiating power.

"There's no way you can make Beyonce move," Miller says.