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A health passport to live music.

As we all know, live music is on life support.  No one is touring and no one is playing live and the 1700 or so small music venues in the US are facing closure.  Venues around the word are in the same jam – no music, no fans, no money, no future. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel; at least two companies have announced they are ready to seek FDA emergency authorization to manufacture and distribute a vaccine for Covid19.  Plus, Federal regulators have cleared the first fully at-home test for Covid-19.

This means that two of the building blocks for restarting music venues will soon be in place to ensure that live events can be produced safely:  rapid home testing and an effective vaccine. There are many, many questions still to answered and details to be sorted out, but this is good news for companies like AEG and Ticketmaster. There is a path to safely restarting touring and concerts next year.

But what does it mean for fans and small venues? 

Basically, fans have to get a health passport and put data on it from a negative coronavirus test or a vaccination. Your health passport will be linked to an all-digital ticketing process now being developed by Ticketmaster.  Your smartphone will be your ticket – it will contain a Q-code read at the venue gate and biometrically linked to you so it can’t be given to someone else or stolen.  When you check into an event, the Q-code will download data from your health passport and if you have verification of a vaccine or a negative test result within the required time limits – 24 to 72 hours, depending on the state – you will be allowed in.

The beauty of this is that you  – and the producers and venue operators and country health officers – will know that everyone in the venue is Covid-free because they had used their health passport to get in, just like you did.  Presumably, staff, bands and vendors will also check in with a health passport.  This would eliminate the need for masks and social distancing inside the venue, but that level of detail has not been reached yet.

So how will fans get health passports?  From third-party vendors, of which there are many including IBM.   There is no indication of what this will cost in time and money, but it likely won’t be free.  And fans will have to get tested or vaccinated on their own and ensure that the results get added to their health passport account – possibly another opportunity for a fee or a screw-up.

 A lot of questions are yet to be answered. 

 Do fans buy tickets before or after they update their passports?  If they buy tickets first and the get tested and the test is positive or they can’t get a vaccination in time, do they get a refund and will there be a  refund fee?  And what about the privacy of their medical data?  What information will be the passport companies require on the passports and how will that be guarded to meet HIPPA requirements?  All answers TBD.

The important question for me is how will this work for small venues?  Ticketmaster is developing the digital ticket app/software that will link with the health passport and credentials for a given concert, which takes care of large venues and those operated by LiveNation.  Other companies are in test trials for sports stadiums now. But will these systems be available to small venues and at what cost?    Will venues have to install scanners at the door and turn away people who show up without a passport or no coronavirus-free data on their passport?  Angry people. Again, answers TBD.

There may be help on the horizon for the small clubs and big venues alike.  A new company called reBuild20, founded by four young women with deep experience in music and event production and management, has been launched to provide the planning and steps needed to follow through on live music production that meets health protocols. It is likely many more such companies a will come on line soon, holding costs down for slim-margin small venues.

But all of this may be easier said than done.  Several industries have to develop technology and then mesh it seamlessly so fans understand what they need to do, bands understand what they need to do, venues are geared up and it all works every step of the way.  The nightmare of thousands of fans showing up for a stadium concert and finding their health passport does not have the needed data or the scanners can’t read it or any one of a dozen other things go wrong is not farfetched.  Murphy’s Law loves new technologies (if something can go wrong, it will go wrong).

But as these digital and human systems move ahead the process will shake out to an acceptable level of errors (think your cellphone and dropped calls).  The important thing is that there is a pathway to live music and you will be able to get a passport to make the trip.   When will all this happen?  Hard to say at this point but everyone involved is anxious to launch it as soon as possible next year – time is money and the music industry has lost a lot of both.   Looks like the health passports can make some of it back.

Patrick O’Heffernan, Host, Music Sin Fronteras



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About Patrick O'Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras (485 Articles)
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist based in Mexico, with a global following. He focuses on music in English and Spanish that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America, especially Mexico like cumbia, banda, son jarocho, and mariachi. He is also edits a local news website and is a subeditor of a local Spanish language newspaper. Check out his weekly column Music Sin Frontera on Sunday nights.

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