As COVID-19 continues to spread, so too does its effect on the arts. One of the heaviest casualties has been the music industry, with live-gig fans finding themselves unable to attend concerts and experiencing delays in new music. But is the fat lady singing just yet or do the artists and bands we know, love, and miss, have a plan up their rock ‘n’ roll sleeves? Let’s have a look at how the music industry is adapting to the ‘new normal’.
With CDs having been left in the dust in favour of streaming, digital sales of singles and albums now account for around 80% of the entire revenue for the music industry. For bigger and established bands, this doesn’t mean too much – most of their fans have been able to download or stream new releases during lockdown without a problem. For up-and-coming bands and those looking for a break, the global pandemic has proved a major obstacle.
However, a 21st Century version of the grass-roots method of promoting bands might provide the safety net that the new kids on the block are looking for. Sites such as Bandcamp, Pandora and Jamendo are providing digital platforms that give audiences access to artists that may not otherwise get the airing they both deserve and need. If you want to add some new blood to your music collection, they’re well worth checking out.
With social distancing a priority in the fight against coronavirus, swathes of gig-goers have been left frustrated and disappointed at postponed and cancelled concerts. The two-metre rule provides a further problem, quashing the idea of big gigs and festivals. So, what’s the answer?
The truth is that, at the time of writing, no-one really knows. However, even after just a few months of lockdown, there are already signs that bands and their fans are ready to put something new into place.
At a basic level, you’ll find local artists playing parks and bandstands, to crowds of people kept safe within socially-distanced circles painted onto grass. However, for those who want the thrills and spills of a huge, people-peppered concert, this might not be enough.
According to NME, there’s been an upsurge in interest in a ground-breaking “thermal imaging fever screening system,” which could help to keep those who haven’t been exposed to the virus safe from those who may be displaying symptoms. It’s also likely that hand-sanitiser and facemasks are going to become de rigeur.
However, as far as seeing your favourite act goes, there may be an upside to the coin. With the virus hampering travel and social distance, industry experts are anticipating more established acts dispensing with the belts and braces and stripping back. This means that, instead of seeing U2 or the Rolling Stones backed by sprawling horn sections or enormous orchestras, you’ll get your band, on stage, playing just as you first heard them. (Music Week).
As the net tightens on gigs, bands are going to have to find other ways to engage with their fans. The odd promotional email, merchandise missive or video release just isn’t going to cut the mustard.
As streaming delivers more and more to our doorsteps, the probability is that bands are likely to use digital platforms, more and more, to give their fans a chance to interact with them. Livestreaming offers music diehards the chance to see specially-arranged concerts and even indulge in that rarity: the Q&A.
Although it’s comparatively early days for the ‘new normal’, artists such as Coldplay, John Legend and Taylor Swift are collaborating on ‘Together at Home’ gigs, which not only give their followers a chance to hear their classics and new releases, but also offer a sneak-peak inside their homes, with the likes of YouTube and Twitch as the favoured platforms.
While livestreaming might not give the full ‘I was there’ feeling of a live event, it does compensate with the sense that your favourite band is playing for you, and you alone.
The good news for festival fans is that festivals don’t want to shut up shop. Festivals are where promoters, bookers, stage crew, festival staff and bands all make a sizeable wedge. In number terms, the UK festival scene is worth around £4billion to the UK’s economy. However, you can’t fight a virus with figures.
With crystal balls currently appearing a little foggy, the immediate future for festivals looks uncertain. What we know, however, is that there’s a lot of cash at stake.
Current wisdom suggests that festivals could still go ahead, but on a much smaller scale. With social distancing rules governing how we interact, you’re unlikely to find yourself rubbing shoulders with the metalhead next door, while trying to watch Airbourne in full flow. Instead, we could find that festivals scale themselves down to cater for a new kind of gig.
Proposals are also considering concerts where fans are grouped together in socially-approved ‘bubbles’ and screened. For those who don’t like big crowds, this gives an opportunity to see new and established bands in a far more intimate setting.
The concern for fans is that, if audience numbers are being forced down, then ticket prices are likely to be forced up. While there might be some truth in this, there’s also the question of credibility. Just as consumers have been keeping an eye on high street stores to see which ones have treated their staff well during the pandemic, live music fans are likely to be watching to see which ones keep them in mind. Just as there are VIP packages available for gigs, the chances are that there will be fan-friendly tickets available to those who can’t afford the bells and whistles to be able to see a band against a festival backdrop.
Without doubt, the coronavirus has presented the biggest challenge to live music in living memory. However, it may also have shone a much-needed light on its flaws, with which we’ve been living for so long. For fans, it’s the likes of inflated ticket prices for festivals and gigs and the eternal problem of touts. For artists, the unfair balance between airtime for ‘heritage acts’ and new kids on the block is cutting off a lot of emerging music at its roots.
The only thing that’s guaranteed is that things will have to change. While there is a still a demand for live concerts, the music industry will have to factor in the needs and wants of music fans, which could, ultimately, work in their favour.