What’s The Future Of Live Music And When Will It Be Back?
Updated: Mar 16, 2021
On March 12, 2020, I went to see a show at World Cafe Live. It was two bands I wasn’t really familiar with, but William Wild’s PR agent asked me to cover the show. Since I’m always up for checking out new artists, we headed into the city on a Thursday night and enjoyed live music.
The last live show I saw was back in March when I saw William Wild at World Cafe Live. I had no idea it would be 6 months later with no live music and none in sight.
At the time of the show, coronavirus had barely entered our vocabulary. We all knew it was a new virus that was spreading quickly, but there was still a lot of conflicting information out there. Some people said it was just a bad version of the flu. Others said that they had it and didn’t have any symptoms at all.
It was also starting to become clear that certain things were probably going to have to be put on hold – at least for a while. In fact, that March 12th show was the opening date of the tour for both bands. By the end of the show, we found out that the rest of their tour was already canceled. It would end up being the first and last show of the tour for both bands. You can read more about the show here.
Here we are six months later, and I haven’t been to another live show since. In a normal year, I would see at least 50 concerts. This year, I’m lucky that I got to see some shows at the beginning of the year.
In mid-February, we spent a weekend in NYC seeing one of our favorite bands – Ripe. We had no idea that a month later we’d all be in the midst of a global pandemic.
Those of us that love live music are missing it greatly. And those that depend on live music to pay the bills, are struggling badly.
When will it end? What will live music look like going forward? I don’t think anyone knows those answers, but I thought I would share some of my thoughts. Keep reading!
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HOW DID WE GET HERE???
While there is a lot we still don’t know about Covid-19, one thing we do know for sure – it spreads. It spreads rapidly. And the way it spreads is through the air from person to person. That means that when people are in close proximity and talking/singing/coughing/sneezing around each other, it’s a recipe for disaster.
And what do we know about concerts? They are typically events where a lot of people get really close together and talk and sing.
Shortly after that March 12th concert I attended, the U.S. started shutting down. Here in the Philadelphia area, we were basically told to stay in our homes and not go out except for essentials like getting groceries.
At first, I thought this would last a couple of weeks. My spring concerts were clearly not going to happen, but there was hope for the summer.
As March turned into April, I started to think that my early summer concerts weren’t going to happen, but there was no way things weren’t going to be better by September. I still had hope we would be making our trip to the Gorge to see Dave Matthews Band. Maybe we would even get lucky and sneak that Red Rocks trip in at the end of July to see Ripe and Dispatch.
But as April turned into May and much of the country was still on shut down, it started to be very clear – 2020 was canceled.
THE CANCELLATION PROCESS BEGINS
As more and more artists started canceling their tours, it became more and more clear that shows weren’t going to happen for a while. Some bands tried to hold out hope and re-scheduled shows for late summer/early fall. Other bands took the approach of just canceling and re-scheduling their entire tours for 2021. Still other bands just canceled with no new tour dates.
This led to a nightmare for those of us that had tickets to shows, and an even bigger nightmare for ticket companies and venues. Do you hold onto your tickets and hope you can make the re-scheduled date, or do you ask for a refund? What if the new date doesn’t work? And if you were planning to travel for any shows, there was the whole additional aspect of canceling travel arrangements.
Now let me say that I know that a whole lot of things that are way more important than going to see a concert have also been canceled – weddings, graduations, proms, etc. The list goes on and on. Not being able to see the shows I planned to see this year are way down at the bottom of the priority list.
But here we are 6 months later, and we are still no closer to knowing when, if ever, shows will be back the way we are used to seeing them.
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
Having no live music is hard for those of us that are fans. But the people that are really struggling are the artists and the people that support them. Let’s take a look at the effects of no live music.
THE MEGA SHOWS
Let’s be honest. Nobody feels sorry for the big artists right now. None of the Rolling Stones are going bankrupt because their 2020 tour got canceled (although we should all hold our collective breath that shows are back before they are too old to tour again).
I am also going to guess that many of these artists are able to support a core group of people that work for them. However, it takes hundreds of people to put on a huge tour, and all of those people are currently without work. That includes the people that work at the venues themselves.
THE SMALL SHOWS
This is probably the part of the industry that has been hit the hardest. Bands that play small to medium shows are very dependent on tours to generate their revenue. In today’s world of streaming music, they make very little from their actual music – it’s all about the touring.
Some of these artists have gotten very creative with live streams and other ways of generating money “virtually”, but in most cases, it likely doesn’t come anywhere close to what they would generate on a tour.
And then we have the very real threat to small, independent music venues. Without shows, they have no way to generate money. Many of these venues have already closed, and many more will close before this is all over. The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), is working hard to get financial support for these venues, but it’s slow in coming and may not be enough.
NOW APPEARING AT YOUR LOCAL BAR
And then you have that group of artists who play night after night in local restaurants, clubs and bars. While some of this work has returned, it’s very limited. Most places are limited to a fraction of their normal capacity and some are limited to having outdoor seating only. States have put all sorts of rules in place, like not allowing venues to sell tickets or promote an event.
And since most restaurants and bars are struggling financially, they probably don’t have the money to spend on hiring a musician to play.
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
I honestly wish I knew the answer to that question. I feel like there is a false sense of hope out there that this is just “2020” and everything will be better in 2021. I really hope that’s true.
But without a vaccine or a huge decline in the spread of the virus or some miracle that makes it all go away, I don’t see us going back to the “old way” of having shows any time soon. We can’t be crammed into a venue shoulder to shoulder.
There has been some experimenting with having live shows. Bands have done live streams in empty venues. Drive-in shows have become popular. And some outdoor venues have done shows with limited capacity so people can be spread out.
But can those types of shows last? It seems hard to believe they are profitable. And to make them profitable, will most of us get priced out of tickets? What about determining who can go? Red Rocks just announced a 5-night stand of shows by Nathaniel Rateliff, with only 175 attendees per night. In order to have a chance at a ticket you have to win a lottery. So a few get to go, and the rest of us stay home.
WHEN WILL LIVE SHOWS BE BACK?
So we come full circle and ask the question – when will this end? The truth is no one knows. Right now, all we can do is hold onto those tickets for 2021 and hope for the best.
In the meantime, I’ll be staying home as much as possible and wearing my mask to do my part to slow down the spread. And I hope I get to see you all at a show – soon!
How are you getting through with no live music? What do you think the future of live music will be? Let us know! Comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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