The Global Entertainment and Media Outlook report estimated that the global live music industry would be worth $107 billion in 2020. That was in 2019. 2020 is a very different picture. Live music as we know it is probably dead, but it’s not all bad news.
Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have wiped at least $2.8 billion in ticket sales already, and $5 billion could be lost if there are no shows until the fall as per Pollstar. Most government guidance says that live gigs and concerts will be the last to reopen. In a roundtable discussion with The New York Times, health experts predicted that fall 2021 was a realistic target.
If events are pushed back until next year, it could have a knock-on effect on the wider economy, hampering recovery efforts. This is because it’s not just ticket sales and artists that lose out; venues, caterers and hospitality establishments suffer as well.
Venues in Danger
Music Venue Trust predicts that 556 venues in the UK are at risk of closure due to the pandemic. In an interview with the Sussex Express, CEO Mark Davyd said “we need to save our venues. And we need to do it now.” The charity has launched a #saveourvenues campaign, that will help raise funds for venues in danger.
“Without these independent venues, the live music scene in the UK will die. These grassroots venues play a crucial role in the development of British music, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and their performance skills.”
Mark Davyd, Music Venue Trust CEO
The campaign asks artists to live stream performances, with funds being donated from that performance to the artist’s chosen venue. “Each venue will have its own fundraising page with a clear target of the funds it needs to raise to stay afloat throughout this difficult period. Once a target is reached any excess revenue will go to the central #saveourvenues fund to help the wider grassroots music venue community,” Davyd said.
Dried up Income
To help people cope with the quarantine, artists like Liam Gallagher, Pink and Rick Astley have been offering free concerts online. It’s not an option for everyone though. The Musicians Union estimated that £21 million worth of work has been lost in the UK since the lockdown began. Without live gigs, smaller artists have almost no income, especially since monetising live streaming is a major challenge.
Instagram currently doesn’t offer a monetisation option, and making money off YouTube requires millions of views. Similarly, if you don’t rack up millions of streams on Apple Music, Spotify or Amazon, chances are you aren’t going to earn anything considerable.
Their issues have been compounded by the slow government response. In Germany, France and the Netherlands, musicians have been covered by the government’s funds for freelancers. It hasn’t been smooth sailing though, there have been massive delays in receiving the money. “Nobody I know who is a musician has a pension, I hate to say,” John Mitchell, a musician and producer told Euronews. “We’re all seat of the pants, hand to mouth, we live that kind of existence. I really do worry about people I know.” The situation is similar in the UK, which was slower to roll out a fund for freelancers.
Encore, the UK’s largest music booking platform, has launched Personalised Music Messages. The service enables customers to purchase a bespoke music video (for £15) from a musician to send to a loved one. The pivot was critical for a company who relied on organising gigs and live events. “Personalised Music Messages is a new marketing channel and source of income we’ve built in collaboration with our musicians to help them put their incredible creativity to use during this time. But it’s not just about helping musicians. People need connection more than ever, and being able to purchase a unique music video and share it with a friend and family member is a great way to show them you care,” CEO James McAuley said. Encore is just one of the many companies aiming to pivot in these trying times.
Whether it’s the need to earn, or just to help others, virtual gigs have now become the norm. While established artists have taken to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for free shows, smaller artists are still banking on the goodwill of fans. Many have added virtual tip jars, with links to PayPal so that listeners can donate. While traditionally streaming hasn’t been the primary source of income, artists have had to pivot with the changing times.
For over a decade, Evan Lowenstien has been pitching Stageit, a digital alternative to physical music venues. Artists could play from home, and earn from each performance. However, it never really took off, and in late 2019, Lowenstien told Bloomberg he considered shutting the business. In a dramatic twist of luck, Stageit has suddenly become the go-to option for thousands of musicians. In February this year, the company brought in more than $1 million in revenue, double what it made in 2019.
Now, new artists are signing up every day, and Lowenstein have even received some offers to buy the company. Because viewers need to pay for ‘tickets’ to access the shows, and artists now keep 80% of the ticket price and tips, Stageit has become a popular venue for many musicians. “Like everything from time, location, price and how many people you want to let into a show, you’re creating it,” Lowenstein told Variety. “Do you want to do a set price or a pay-what-you-can? There’s a tip jar too. At first, musicians freaked out…but it’s another way for your fans to show their appreciation.”
Unlike Instagram or Facebook, Stageit offers a different experience. Artists can decide how much to charge, and they can also limit the number of viewers for a show if they want to. More importantly, the gigs aren’t available anywhere once the show is over. “You’re not replacing the concert experience with Stageit; this is different and unique,” he added.
Digital marketing expert Rohit Jaykaran believes “Paid Live Concert Streaming is going to be a booming sector starting from this year.” In an article, he equated at-home gigs to live sports. “While the stadium gives you the opportunity to live the moment, the TV coverage enables you to never miss a moment… You could argue that the stadium experience and the TV experience are now actually completely different products. The TV product, however, has the opportunity to scale far beyond the limited capacity of the stadium.”
Live music as we know it is definitely dead. Whether it takes six months or two years, when concerts do resume they won’t have as much appeal, especially if alternatives like Stageit offer a safer, cleaner experience. The old business model may have served the industry for nearly a century, but it won’t carry it forward.
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