Carry on Touring – Real People, Real Lives, Real Jobs
Mike Godden, Sound Engineer, Production Manager & Managing Director of MG Event and Sound Ltd. 12/02/2021
It’s just after 1AM, the day started seventeen and a half hours ago at 07.30 with soundchecks, the awards ceremony at the London Hilton Metropole has wound down and at last, a chance to chill. So, I head into the bar and pick up a conversation with the CTO of an international telecoms who I have worked with a few times on events, we catch up about the world and family life. A few months later, after the summer of fields, festivals and miles of muddy cable are well behind us, Chris, one of our freelance crew and I pull our well loaded van and its trailer to the side of the road in a random German village to look at a windmill!
We are on-route between a week-long corporate conference in Berlin to another B2B conference in Munich both of which are so dull I can’t remember what they were about, but I remember the Windmill and the snowy drive! As always the ferry to the UK has various other British vans clearly en-route home from gigs and exhibitions across Europe. The next thing in the diary is a large Christmas Party, the sort with a budget which allows for the after-dinner entertainment to be a chart-topping band, for which we are putting in the sound. This is the industry I have spent the last two decades or more in. Its’ a living I love because, while hard work, it’s also great fun at times, and immensely satisfying.
My business like many in the industry is not massive. I started out on my own as a freelance sound engineer in 2004. Sixteen years later in March 2020 the business employs five. I now spend most of my time on production management while others run the kit. We have a reasonably full diary, some long standing clients and some totally new. 2020 is looking to be our best year ever, despite my concerns regarding BREXIT and the impact on work in Europe. Hopefully, the government will negotiate a deal that will allow us to continue the jobs we do in the EU, but fortunatly we are busy with UK based work as well. Then COVID-19 hits, restrictions on mass gatherings are put in place and over the next three days we have over £100,000 worth of work cancelled, that’s a lot for a small business. Planning and thinking on our feet is what we do, over the next few days we crunch the numbers, look at the assets and try to work out when money will come in for the installation projects we have on the horizon, the only work we can fall back on, work which normally makes up around 30% of turnover. Within a couple of weeks, the warehouse is mothballed, staff are furloughed and I am desperately trying to get word back from the Bank about a loan to tide us over, welcome to 2020!
The UK events industry has a great reputation. Without exception, on international work, as a British event professional I walk onto site and get the same response from counterparts across the globe: “You are very good at what you do, I have worked with X from the UK they were really good to”. This reputation enables us to keep clients for years and service their events across the globe, easy in the EU, harder and less profitable in the US and Far East. The current double impact of the COVID pandemic and the effective no deal BREXIT is that our industry is facing a set of circumstances, totally outside of our control which see that industry on the brink. COVID is awful but is out of everyone’s control, I know all about risk planning, we do it for every event we run and while painful lockdowns make sense. BREXIT on the other hand feels like purposeful vandalism. Some event support companies are very specialist compared to us, we are slightly broader and have built a reasonable level of diversity. We do not just do music events but also conferences, exhibitions, outdoor events as well as a side of the business that designs supplies and installs permanent AV systems.
This has made the business robust and helped us cope with the 2008 banking crash, but when over the course of 3 days in March 2020 we had our entire pre booked events diary cancelled, that was something else. A re-focus on installations is for now helping us limp along. Ongoing conversations with a variety of clients about when and how events may be able to happen again gives us hope that later in 2021 or certainly in 2022 events will start to return. We still have all our staff but with COVID far from over and this years’ spring and summer events starting to postpone till 2022, making the best we can of all work is going to be key to survival. I hope we will get through this without losing any of a great team.
While Europe is not our only work, possibly around 10% of turn over, year in year out, the loss of the ability to easily work and travel across the EU is a significant blow and will certainly not help us recover from COVID. We have work booked for the Autumn which previously would have been as easy to do as if in the UK. Our flexibility and in-house kit have allowed us to service events in the EU both well and efficiently. The added time for trucking; carnets for the 500 or so individual items in the van and complications about where we can and cannot work just add another level of cost. The reality is that the most efficient thing for our clients to do now in the EU is almost certainly for us to do no more than design, manage and to subcontract all crew and kit to a local supplier just as we do further afield. This approach gets the job done, ensures a happy client but the income for us has probably dropped by about 70%. Colin my fellow director has a couple of long-standing international artists he works with in the UK and when they tour Europe. That has now become a lot more complicated as well and certainly makes him more expensive for them to use and puts another revenue stream in question.
In a year where we have seen 70% of our work evaporate, we are now facing the possibility that a proportion of that work will never return due to BREXIT, it’s just another blow we did not need. We will continue to focus on diversity of work in the hope that we don’t have to lay anyone off. I know that this diversity has saved us from COVID and that same diversity will soften the impact of BREXIT on us. But! BREXIT is not caused by a virus that was not seen coming but by the fact that at various points along the line people lost sight of the fact that the ability to travel and work in Europe is key to the UK events industry. An Industry that through the efforts of many companies like ours is worth billions to the UK economy.
We will not stop the fight to get a meaningful deal for our sector! We will continue this fight not just for ourselves but also our colleagues for whom touring Europe is 90% of their work. The artists and other clients we work closely with to make events what they are; The hundreds of other small events companies who like us have for a couple of decades crisscrossed the EU in vans & trucks supporting other conferences and exhibitions; Freelancers we all use and for those in our UK supply chain who may not even realise that a part of what they do is paid for by the UK events industries work across the EU.
Managing Director – MG Event & Sound Ltd
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