Updated: Jan 31, 2021
2020 has been a hard year for everyone. Many businesses and industries have dealt with struggles due to the effects of Covid-19, but the music industry is one that has been hit especially hard.
Due to the pandemic, live music events and concerts are impossible to put on safely. So many music fans are missing live music right now and looking forward to its return, but the need for this industry to stay healthy is important not only because of audience disappointment, but because the cancellation of all these live music performances has caused artists, crews, venues, and anyone with a career that relies on touring or live performance to be out of a job.
All levels of venues and artists have felt the devastating effects of this pandemic, but smaller indie artists, their crews, and venues are being threatened to shut down because of the inability to make efficient revenue. According to the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), up to 90% of Indie music venues could disappear without federal intervention. NIVA and organizations like it have been lobbying intensely for the passage of legislation like the Our Stages Act, which would bring relief and financial assistance to struggling institutions within the live music industry. With limited ways to bring in revenue and little to no relief funds available, venues are starting to have no choice but to shut down, and artists, who often make the bulk of their income from performing have lost the opportunity to tour.
Getting Creative in Ways to Continue Live Music
Because of these struggles, many artists all around the world who are able have stepped up to try and help this situation all they can. Singer Niall Horan recently put on a virtual show at the Royal Albert Hall where he donated the proceeds to the We Need Crew relief fund, and gave salaries to the crew members that were supposed to tour with him all year. “I know that live events are something we all miss and until we are able to return I wanted to highlight the incredible people who work in touring that make those events possible and whose livelihoods have been severely affected.” Horan said in a statement.
Many artists have done the same, and for mainstream artists who are able, putting on a charity show like this one is mutually beneficial in the way that the artists get to showcase their music, and give back in order to help keep the live music industry afloat during these times.
Many people are wondering what the future of live music is gonna look like in the next couple of years. In order to adjust to these constant challenges, many venues and artists have tried to get creative in ways to bring back live music in some form by creating new opportunities to perform while we are under Covid-19 restrictions.
So far in this pandemic, a few ways that people in the industry have adjusted live performance for covid restrictions are through the organisation of drive-in concerts as well as outdoor, socially distant concerts. In an NPR article titled How Live Music is Coping, and What the Near Future will Bring written by John Paul Titlow, they talked about how a Sun Kil Moon show in Big Sur, California that was able to safely take place in July “employed social distancing, temperature checks and limited venue capacity”.
Another example of how musicians have created different opportunities for performance that they spoke about in this article was shown when some musicians formed an impromptu group led by guitarist and singer Pat Finnerty to put on a last minute show on the roof of the ‘Johnny Brenda’s’ venue and played covers of various artists. Locals gathered around wearing masks while socially distancing and cars honked as they passed, all of them excited to hear live music again. Marey McNamara, a talent buyer at Johnny Brenda’s who helped put the show together had told NPR “[she] was happy with the way people were all masked up and being respectful of those around them. It even sounded good, which [she] was surprised about.” With this situation where social distancing and safety rules were followed, and a concert like this proved to work out, people can be given some hope for the near future amongst all of the challenges and disappointments that the industry has faced.
Audiences have seen creative adjustment from many artists who have put on virtual shows in order to connect with their audience and perform their music through livestream concerts and events in replacement to the touring and gigs that they would usually do to promote their music. Artists like Morgan Wallen, Justin Beiber, Liam Payne, Dua Lipa, Melanie Martinez, Liam Galleger, and Lindsay Buckingham, to name a few, have taken part in this new reality of what live performances have to be like due to the guidelines that must be followed in our society right now.
Will the Current Adjustments Work Long Term?
Things like socially distant outdoor concerts or livestream shows seem to be some of the only successful ways so far created to have any form of live music at this time. But is this really maintainable for these institutions and artists to keep up for much longer the way they are? This is an important question to consider when trying to make a plan for the live music industry in the upcoming years and predicting what it might look like in a post-pandemic society.
Andrew Hampp, the founder of the music marketing company consultancy 1803 LLC made an important point in the Los Angeles Times article titled Concert Tours Are on Hold. But Sponsored Livestreams Can Save Musicians’ Paychecks by August Brown when he said that sponsored streaming was “more triage versus a long term replacement” for touring, and explained how “no one is going to pay to watch Chris Martin play a pixelated concert on his keyboard. But if you can see something like Erykah Badu in the dome she built, yeah, I’ll pay $5 to see that show. That's where it becomes truly supplemental.”
The amount of money that these artists, venues, and crews are making in virtual events as they are being done right now, is not enough to maintain permanently without an adjusted or revised approach. Also, many venues do not have the privilege of being able to hold socially distant, outdoor concerts because of restrictions due to their location or type of venue. In the NPR article titled How Live Music is Coping, and What the Near Future will Bring, John Paul Titlow explains how due to the unsafe situation in urban areas, “the city’s music venues are likely to remain silent until a vaccine is introduced, if not months later.” Having restrictions in capacity is not maintainable long term because with the cut back in revenue that would occur due to the limited capacity. Many of the venues would not be making enough money to keep the venue running along with paying the artist and crew the appropriate salary. These challenges prove how a lot of these temporary solutions may not work with the situations of which the industry gets most of their income from without changing the way that the music industry functions today.
Planning for the Future
There is so much that people don't know about the future. The constantly changing restrictions and situations make it almost impossible to plan or predict the future state or recovery of live music in the next few years. However, there are many people attempting to create plans on how to begin the process of bringing the industry back to a somewhat normal state.
According to the Billboard article How Ticketmaster Plans to Check Your Vaccine Status For Concerts by Dave Brooks, Ticketmaster has been starting to create a plan for post-pandemic safety precautions using smartphones as a tool to verify vaccination status or track weather a person has tested negative for coronavirus within 24 to 72 hours before the show. Mark Yovich, the president of ticketmaster, told Billboard, “We’re already seeing many third-party healthcare providers prepare to handle the vetting-weather that is getting a vaccine, taking a test, or ther methods of review and approval-which could then be linked via digital ticket so everyone entering the event is verified.” Although having a concrete plan for the future is near to impossible right now with all of the unknowns, it is a relief to know that there are ideas and potential plans being discussed on how to make live music safe in the upcoming years.
A New Normal?
In the next few months and years, the live music industry will have to figure out if it is gonna be time to accept and embrace a new normal of what live performance will have to be like from now on or at least a while. If the industry cannot return to the way live music was before, people can at least consider this an opportunity to rebuild an industry that is more resilient and versatile because of the new digital techniques that they have been forced to learn and create because of this pandemic.
By dealing with these challenges, people will be able to continue developing new ways for musicians to express their art to their audience that may make the industry stronger in the end. John Paul Titlow describes Dry Hurst’s possible idea for a way venues can function while living in a society with covid restrictions in his NPR article How Live Music is Coping, and What the Near Future will Bring, saying, “DIY music spaces and medium sized venues could build deeper digital communities and experiment with support models like membership and subscriptions. Something like Patreon, but for places” Dye told NPR that “[his] hope is that over the next year, we’ll start moving away from a reactive space into that more generative space” and that he wants to figure out “what could be built that would be more resilient in case something like this happens again.” Only time will tell what live music will be like in the upcoming years as we enter this new era for the industry.
This year has been a struggle for us all, but music fans can look back and be proud of what was able to come out of our struggles this past year. A lot was cancelled, but there were also several things created that would have never happened if it weren't for quarantine. Artists have come up with ways to connect with their audiences and fanbases like never before, the #togetherathome concert series connected artists with their audiences and created content free of charge for people, and artists were able to create art and write/release things that they never would have been able to if it wasn't for coronavirus.
The next couple months and years are so up in the air right now as for what the music industry might look and function like, but people can be confident that there is hope for a future of live music, no matter what that looks like, because of the incredible and creative minds that the music industry is packed full of.