The lockdown measures imposed on society as a whole due to COVID-19 have had a disproportionate impact on some industries, most notably the entertainment sector. The music industry has felt the full force of the restrictions; tours have been cancelled and a whole festival season has been virtually wiped out leaving bands and venues high and dry. To make matters worse, there is currently no indication when bands will be able to get together to practice, let alone perform in a packed venue.
Some artists have taken to streaming performances on social media and there is a growing debate about whether they should be charging. This is a double edged sword and one which bands, especially emerging bands, need to consider carefully. On the one hand, there should be a value attached to their work, whilst on the other, charging probably won’t attract new viewers to the stream. As the restrictions look set to stay in place for a while yet, artists may need to look at finding a balance between the two; a regular open live stream with the option of a paid stream with exclusive content. Yes, there are those who will wait for the content to appear on the free stream, but there are also fans who will happily pay for the added extras. Each band will need to find their own balance; there is no right or wrong.
Along with merch sales, this may just be enough to help bands tick over until they’re able to get back out on the road. But even then, the live scene is going to take a substantial hit. All signs (as of writing) are suggesting that social distancing measures may need to be in place until early next year, or possibly even longer; how will bands and venues survive in the longer term? The logistics of touring could mean that your favourite band might not be able to tour for some time yet, capacity restrictions could mean shows are no longer viable in terms of ticket and merch revenue.
One solution would be one off shows which comply with government regulations, which are also streamed live to a paying online audience. Watching a gig online is no substitute for actually being in the room, but a compromise is far better than losing something altogether. A standard 3 band bill would offer the same opportunities as they have done previously, allowing bands to reach a new audience and extend their fanbase. Not only is this model achievable as it requires very little additional kit, it can be scaled up or down to take into account any changes to guidelines or localised lockdowns.
And the best thing with this model is it needn’t stop when the world returns to the pre-COVID norm; offering a paid live stream to a show would make them accessible to everyone, overcoming the hurdles many with illnesses and disabilities need to navigate in order to enjoy live music.
There will also need to be a new way of hosting gigs to support the scene through this difficult time and shows may look different for a while. Not only will venues have to work around possible social distancing requirements, they will have to reassess every aspect of a show; from the queue at the door, pinch points, how people access the cloakroom, the bar and the toilets, all the way through to the way kit is used/shared/changed over; sharing microphones will probably not be a good idea. All of these will also impact a venue’s ability to safely put on a show.
But whatever the future of gigging looks like in reality, the live music scene will need financial support which far exceeds what the government are likely to offer and we need to explore other options to help or risk losing something we all love.