The COVID-19 pandemic has shut off concerts as a key source of revenue, but when it’s over, Miller and other artist reps see what he calls a “silver lining.” For decades, artists have spent their own money flying to New York or Los Angeles to perform for relatively low fees but high promotional value on shows like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live. Over the past year, however, they’ve stayed home and captured these performances at remote studios. Dolly Parton recorded all her TV appearances to promote her holiday album — Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Rockefeller Center tree-lighting and The Tonight Show late last year — from her remote studios in Nashville. “It saves a lot of costs,” says Danny Nozell, her manager. “In the future, that’s definitely going to be an option.”
“You could do the same song five times, and change clothes five times, and have it for different TV shows — one in France, one in London, and have the audio to give to several radio stations — and never have to leave L.A.,” adds Peter Katsis, who manages Bush, Morrissey and Fever 333. “One day’s work could probably take up a two-week promotional tour.”
Katsis and other managers estimate sending an artist to a late-night set for a one-off performance can cost $50,000 to $60,000, while producing one near home is roughly $15,000. For years, labels have fronted artists the costs for promotional reasons: “If you have a ton of people on stage, a million dancers, a huge band, that’s super-expensive. It is not cheap to be on TV,” says a late-night source. “The label picks that up.” But in recent years, says Bob McLynn, manager of Sia, Green Day, Fall Out Boy and others, “The label’s pushing back.”
“The cost of flying a band in to do Fallon, it’s very cost-prohibitive,” he adds. “When you can do it in the studio, it obviously saves us a lot of money — and the time not having to travel.”
Remotely filmed promotional appearances for TV have been a lifeline to struggling rehearsal studios. While some businesses — such as the popular 32-year-old West L.A. Studios — were forced to shut down permanently when the pandemic canceled tours around the world, others like Third Encore pivoted quickly from emphasizing pre-tour rehearsals to providing studio space, audio-visual equipment and production staff for livestreams and other remote performances.
“Once [late-night shows] stopped doing audiences and live performances in studio, things started picking up, as far as getting bookings to shoot videos,” says John Hoik, the studio’s office manager. “We’ll have artists shoot the same song three or four different ways for different shows and locations.”
Hoik and Joseph DeAngelis, CEO of Musicians Choice Studios in L.A. and other California locations, say the union fees from remote performances, which are usually three or four hundred dollars per musician, make up just a fraction of their usual tour-rehearsal business.
“A little of that helps,” DeAngelis adds, “but it’s just pennies on the dollar.”
Not surprisingly, late-night shows are unenthusiastic about artists’ cost-saving plans to avoid their stages after the vaccines kick in and live audiences return. Many performers don’t just play a song or two, they participate in comedy sketches like “Mean Tweets” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and do live interviews with the hosts. Plus, the stages are iconic, hundreds of fans can jam into sponsored outdoor-stage spaces in New York City or Los Angeles, generating publicity and social-media content, and the green-room experience is a luxurious break from touring.
“We’ll get back to in-studio performances as soon as humanly possible,” says Diana Miller, producer of The Late Late Show with James Corden. “What’s easy doesn’t mean it’s better. Efficiency isn’t necessarily good television.”
Pre-pandemic, the show almost always declined artists’ requests to perform remotely, like if a prominent band was overseas, and Miller doesn’t expect that to change. “I don’t think it’ll ever be our preference or priority, and I don’t think we’d even do it.”
Chris Woltman, manager of twenty one pilots, which performed from separate locations on The Tonight Show last May, suggests an act who can’t get to Los Angeles or New York might perform remotely as a “backup plan.” But he agrees with The Late Late Show’s Miller. “Everybody’s going to want to get back to live,” he says. “Those late-night shows, and the magic of an audience sitting in the room, that’s a tough thing to replicate on a filmed moment.”
Still, the rise of livestreams and remotely filmed performances over the past year has given artists a negotiating tool that could last well after COVID-19. If a late-night show wants to book a major star with a hot new release, and that star doesn’t want to interrupt a tour to helicopter in and out of New York over 24 hours, the show might find itself with no negotiating leverage.
“There’s no way,” Miller says, “you can make Beyonce move.”