The live music industry is indefinitely on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic as concert halls and similar venues are closed, and this has led to the suffering of thousands of artists and crew members around the world.
A survey of nearly 2,000 music professionals by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA)—a recently established advocacy group for music venue owners and promoters—shows that 90 percent of independent venues in the United States is expected to close in the next few months if there’s no additional aid. The situation is almost the same in other countries.
“Many have turned to live streams, which is one of the only ways fans can get any semblance of a ‘live’ show. While imperfect, the streams have helped to buoy artists’ income, as they are losing out on profits from ticket and merchandise sales,” Yahoo News 360 wrote in a recent report.
It quoted the events giant Live Nation as saying that it had a loss of $588 million in the last quarter, compared to a profit of $176 million in the previous year.
The report adds that some venues and artists have found success with outside events while others have faced local government crackdowns. “Some companies, such as Spotify, are developing new features aimed at audiences who want live streams.”
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With the coronavirus showing no signs of bowing out of our lives, the question is whether the live music industry will survive the ongoing crisis or not.
Some excerpts say that even when tours do return, it will take months to schedule and plan and artists are unlikely to go on a tour until the virus is brought under control.
“Skeptics also argue that musicians now have to compete with internet stars, who are more skilled at sustaining a virtual fanbase. Plus, without the chance to perform small concerts, early-career musicians trying to catch a break will have to find other ways to draw fans, they argue,” Yahoo News 360 says.
The report also highlights the difference in the perceived value of a live show and a live stream, quoting analysts as saying that fans may not want to pay the same price for a link to a Zoom call as for a seat in a stadium.
“But optimists say the music industry will find a way, especially as people turn to songs to cope. That said, they also agree that change is needed to keep the industry alive. The profitability structure has been turned upside down. Some believe companies will be forced to consolidate further. Fans might have to pay artists more, or artists will have to perform more frequently, they say.”
Yahoo News 360 adds that indie performers could thrive in the digital era as they may be able to sidestep labels and sell directly to fans.
There is also the possibility that live-streaming—which allows fans to watch from any place at any time—grows in popularity, even after COVID-19, it noted.
Here are some insights from industry professionals compiled by Yahoo News 360:
Fans might not want to pay the same price for online and live shows
“My primary worry for our artists is a financial one. I am still not sure that fans are ready to pay to watch artists perform online anywhere near the level that they do for actual live shows.” — Seth Hubbard to Vox
There is going to be a competition between musicians and internet stars
“Our new era of ‘live’ performance requires something not exactly like cinema, not quite like television, but something more like the internet. Traditional entertainers now feel in direct competition with internet stars, who are preternaturally skilled at performing one-sided conversations to unfeeling camera lenses, then riding waves of online reactions that spin-off in unexpected directions.” — Amanda Hess, New York Times
Compared to other entertainment industries, live music will need more time to fully return
“It will take at least four months for touring to be scheduled and for all the venues to be able to have a calendar because it is such an intricate process. … Artists are not going to get on a bus until there is some type of uniformity across the country for when they can play because you can’t go to one state and then drive through six other states where you can’t play there just to get to the eighth state.” — Audrey Fix Schaefer to Variety
Getting a break will be difficult for small, independent artists
“If artists don’t have small venues to play, there’s a whole ecosystem that will be disrupted. You don’t go from nothing to Madison Square Garden. … And if those smaller live venues can’t survive, there’s going to be no way for artists to build their careers and develop.” — Heather Lubov to Cheddar
The industry will be forced to consolidate
“COVID-19 has put a strain on the music industry, entrepreneurs and investors, and consolidation may provide relief, even opportunity and potential gains, for some.” — Brian Penick, Forbes
The industry is resilient, and its absence will be felt
“The entertainment business is amazingly resilient; even in economic downturns, people look to music to make them feel better.” — Donna Westmoreland to Washingtonian
Live-stream shows will gain more popularity and become mainstream
“Given the tremendous popularity of these shows, we are seeing the potential for live-streaming to become an additional long-term component of our concert business, allowing fans in other cities, or those who can’t attend, to enjoy the concert as well.” — Michael Rapino to HuffPost
Profitability structures will change, forcing musicians to do more shows
“Touring musicians might have to play two to three times as many performances to make the same amount of money as a single pre-COVID-19 show.” — Shan Dan Horan, Alt Press
Indie music will thrive as artists sell directly to fans
“Overall, the pandemic has accelerated the music industry’s trend toward artists doing it themselves: whether ‘it’ means recording music, streaming sessions, or selling merch. With major labels’ business models severely disrupted, and some big releases postponed, indie labels have seen a surge.” — Jay Gabler, The Current