The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect on the music industry short-term. Live music revenue, which was predicted to generate almost £30bn for the industry in 2020, is set to take a 75 per cent hit globally. Small- and mid-sized venues are having to head back to the drawing board to develop new ways to cover their overheads, and artists and management are feeling the hole in their income widen with each cancelled show.
This month has been monumental for the UK music industry. Thanks to initiatives such as #LetTheMusicPlay, and a nationwide push to raise awareness of our slowly suffocating arts and heritage sectors, the government has stepped in with an injection of capital to the tune of £1.57bn. And with Boris Johnson’s latest announcement, larger venues could begin to see progress towards opening up their doors for audiences again as early as autumn.
But the future of the industry across the globe remains uncertain. As is evident to any fan, so much of our relationship with music and the scenes we love depends on social interaction and sharing a space together, an experience which will be hindered until the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control.
What endures for now, is a shared desire to see the music industry, and live music in particular, repaired and restored.
To speculate on the future of the music industry at large we have pulled together insights from figures across the sector, providing a snapshot of the situation as they see it now. Each of these experts have seen their base of operations impacted by the cataclysmic, but in some ways catalytic, events of 2020 so far.
Their views are at once pragmatic, passionate and reverent for an industry which is more than a product, and an integral part of our society and identity. No keystone of music is left unturned: from revolutions in streaming to the uncertain but exciting future of live music, licensing and fan interaction.
Will Evans, CEO at Spitfire Audio, believes a post-pandemic world will provide new opportunities for talent from outside major metropolitan centres looking to enter the music sector:
“I think there’ll be greater opportunities to plug-into talented people who want to work in music, and who will do a great job, but aren’t interested in being in a major city. I’ve seen a lot of migration over the years where the promise of a higher quality of living has won over a number of brilliant music industry employees.”
Carlotta de Ninni, CEO at The Creative Passport, believes this period of upheaval will herald a second digital wave – as was experienced when music streaming was first coming to prominence – causing a sea-change in the way we consume live music:
“We are experiencing a second digital wave. The first happened with the transition from physical records to downloads and streaming. Now it’s the turn of the live and concert sector.
“New technologies, from 5G to VR and the intersection between gaming and live performances, are really fuelling new opportunities and creating new business models for virtual concerts and experiences.
“What we must ensure is that these new business models and revenue streams will be fair and remunerative not only for industry players, but also and especially for the music makers themselves.”
Pascal de Mul, CEO of Exit Live, shares the view that COVID-19 presents an opportunity to clean house in an industry which, in its current form, does not adequately serve the artists, fans and the relationship between the two parties:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted problems that were already apparent in the music industry and rapidly accelerated changes that were long overdue.
“An individual may listen to 150 hours of music per month via their subscription, including hours of playlists curated by others. This has totally diluted the connection with individual artists and bands. The subscription fee is also spread so thinly across so many music producers that most artists are underpaid.
“We believe that the fallout of COVID-19 has helped rekindle an appreciation of live music and for reconnecting with artists on a more personal level. We see a bright future where fans are able to access unique live performances which were previously inaccessible to them and where artists receive a fair income stream for their live music recordings.
“We are very hopeful. The love of music cannot be tamed. Live music will find a way.”
Paul Sampson, CEO at Lickd, takes the view that artists will feel the personal and physical benefit post-pandemic, as fans shift their expectations for the live music experience and the toll it takes on performers:
“Beyond COVID-19 virtual events will remain popular and become more common-place. Not only do they free artists from the constraints of ticket limitations and the physical exhaustion of global touring but, as the tech improves, artists will be able to perform as reality-bending extensions of themselves. I predict we’ll see more and more collaboration between the gaming and music industries over the coming years.”
John Funge, CEO at The Music Fund, takes a more hardline stance on the growth of virtual gigs, putting the nascent format in direct competition with the live experience:
“Many artists don’t enjoy touring, and being on the road is not something they look forward to. They tour because it is a way to grow the fan base and make money outside of streaming. But if technology can make fans spend online, and connect with artists directly, why tour?
“The cost of running an online concert is much lower, which leads to interesting new possibilities. For example, we’ve seen many artists use online concerts to raise money for a cause. For artists with a large fan base, they can host an Instagram live show from their living room and can easily raise tens of thousands of dollars. This was unthinkable in the physical world.”
Susie Meszaros, violist of the Chilingirian String Quartet, turns her focus to the safety and social element at the heart of live performance, particularly in the classical space:
“Classical chamber music concerts are by definition intimate. We play on acoustic instruments to audiences of a few hundred people at most, in a variety of venues ranging from city concert halls to tiny rural churches. The proximity of performer to audience is a vital part of that special atmosphere and experience.
“So here we are now, barred from sharing the same space and surroundings with our listeners. Some performances are taking place in empty concert halls and being live-streamed to paying audiences, such as the Wigmore Hall concerts. Some performances to greatly reduced and distanced audiences secure sponsorship for the seats that can’t be used.
“But for the vast majority of musicians who tour around smaller venues it has put a complete halt to their livelihoods. Musicians valiantly and imaginatively organise online performances, but without the clout of well established concert promoters this is simply not financially viable.”
To close, Christian Henson, Composer and co-founder of Spitfire Audio, encapsulates the emotional argument for live music, a pursuit we must fight to preserve:
“If there’s one thing that COVID-19 has reaffirmed for me is that music isn’t an industry, it isn’t a luxury item, or something you add to your cart before checkout. It isn’t a choice, or lifestyle purchase, a fashion item nor indeed an accessory to life.
“Music is a fundamental human need and no matter what hardship befalls us, what adversity we face, the need to make and listen to music will never ever cease.
“I hope in these difficult months ahead we can act and behave as a family and support each other whilst our businesses naturally transform. The businesses we create to monetise music will always have to change and mutate, but in direct contradiction of Mr. Don Maclean – the music itself will never die.”
Header image – TERROR by Graham Berry