Concerts have been canceled until further notice due to the COVID-19 crisis, but musicians are leveraging digital platforms to stream performances to stay connected with listeners and earn a little profit, according to Gary Dinges of USA Today, an internationally-distributed American daily middle-market newspaper. However, some veterans in the industry noted that it is not a viable long-term replacement for live events. Dave Brooks, Billboard's senior director of touring and live, stated, “I think streaming performances will become their own category of what artists offer their fans."
James Moody, who aided in the founding of Transmission Events, affirmed this, commenting that there is no way for digital events to mirror the smell, the energy, and the feeling of being in a live music event. Moody perceived streaming to be “an adjunct or digital add-on” to one’s physical ticket purchase. But he acknowledged the questions about blending streaming performances and live events in the long run.
Canadians’ Perception of Live Music Events During the Pandemic
Commissioned by national association Music Canada, Abacus Data, a market research company, found that 35% of Canadians have been listening to more music than before the pandemic started. 31% said they are watching more video content from musicians online than before and another 31% reported watching more music videos than before. Further, 24% reported watching more recorded live concerts than before.
The positive impacts of music were the following: relieving stress (78%), discovering new artists during the pandemic (43%), and finding a lot of new content online about music and musicians they love (55%). On the other hand, 19% of Canadians said that a live music event they were planning to attend had been postponed while 20% said a live music event had been canceled due to the pandemic.
For Canadians who are “live music lovers” or those who regularly attend live music concerts or events before the pandemic (26%), the impacts of the crisis on their plans had been significant. 39% said live music events had been postponed while 43% said the events were canceled. For these individuals, live music is a significant part of their lives, particularly the experience and social aspects of live music events. With that, 58% said the cancellations made them feel worse about the pandemic.
However, they are reluctant to attend live music events for quite some time, with 33% reporting they would feel comfortable going to a pub or bar for live music in six months’ time or more. 41% would feel comfortable attending a concert in a small venue in the same time frame. 43% said they would feel comfortable going to a concert in a large venue or a music festival in six months or more.
A smaller percentage said they would probably never feel comfortable going to a bar/pub for live music (24%), a concert in a small venue (21%), a concert held a large venue (26%), and a music festival (25%). A larger proportion of Canadians said they would probably never feel comfortable going to a concert in the US (50% versus 32% of those who answered six months or more).
When asked how likely they are to go to a concert if a COVID-19 vaccine is not found and if concert venues and local bars reduced the number of people to allow more social distancing, 31% said they would be certain not to go, with 28% stating they are much less likely or somewhat less likely to go. Only 4% were certain to go, with 26% reporting they were more likely to go or might consider going. For those who are most likely to attend, 42% said they are certain not to go or less likely to go even if the venue reduced the number of people.
Presently, Canadians are replacing live music events with digital ones as 30% watched a live music show on Facebook or other platforms. 70% had been satisfied with the overall experience; however, 79% admitted that while digital experiences are a decent stand-in, they cannot replace their live counterparts.
How Are Music Artists Adjusting to the New Normal?
A performer like Taylor Swift or anyone of her caliber can charge listeners for exclusive online access, akin to how performers do in-person VIP encounters while touring regularly. Brooks argued that only a few musicians, particularly smaller, regional acts, could stream their performances exclusively on platforms to aid in their success.
Fans could be charged for a monthly fee for unlimited access to the streams or purchase passes to individual shows. When musicians decide to stream their performances, they have to be creative to succeed, stated Walter Kinzie, CEO of Encore Live. He added, “Content must be relevant, entertaining and useful enough to draw people to join in from their computers, and keep them engaged throughout.”
For other artists, streaming will serve as an alternative way of connecting with fans along with concerts, social media engagement, and meet-and-greets. Chances are, there will be a small group of musicians who will find out how to earn more profit from streaming while a smaller group will stop touring and transition to streaming, Brooks explained. This will be popular for artists as concerts are costly and will require them to be on the road for extended periods.
What Will be the State of Live Concerts?
Travis Rieder, assistant director of education initiatives and research scholar at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, said, “Attending a Beyonce concert? I can't imagine that happening until we have a vaccine," quoted Dinges. Dinges said venues used by prominent touring acts like Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, and Jonas Brothers often reach over 20,000 people, making contact tracing impossible if a participant contracts COVID-19.
Presently, music industry professionals ranging from bookers to security personnel are brainstorming for best practices to get musicians back on stage. In the short run, hand washing and sanitizer stations are some of the precautions people should take, as well as requiring fans to wear masks and undergo temperature checks at gates, conjectured Karly Tuckness, co-founder of Four Leaf Productions.
Depending on the type of event, health precautions and security will differ, said Scott Davidson, president of Code 4 Event Management and Emergency Services. For example, “A tightly controlled movie night in the park has a very different epidemiological risk profile than an EDM music festival in the same location," he added.
Attendees may also be requested at some events to register to help with contact tracing initiatives. However, while many people crave the live experience of concerts, online viewing could be the new norm for 10% of concert attendees, speculated Kevin Lyman, founder of the Vans Warped Tour. He commented, “I believe that some are carving out a niche and will prosper post-COVID-19.”
Streaming may gain more traction for both fans and musicians. Artists can utilize streaming as another way of connecting with fans, while others can exclusively stream their performances to achieve success. Holding live concerts may be risky as it could make contact tracing efforts harder. For now, artists and fans have to adjust to the new normal until a vaccine is found.