The Future of Live Music and Streaming Concerts after COVID-19

Back in March, the music industry was left in complete disarray, with concerts and festivals being canceled in the blink of an eye due to COVID-19 induced shutdowns. In response to the shuttering of music venues worldwide, the most apparent solution to the absence of physical space was transforming live performances into digital ones. Artists can still perform to a socially distanced audience and may minimize costs by reducing the number of staff needed to facilitate such an event, such as bartenders and security. However, one should not expect this format to fill the void left by live music tours and performances, and digital shows need to be evaluated independently on their own merits.

Ticketed live streaming performances existed for years before COVID-19: the Hollywood-based company Stageit has offered digital concerts since 2009, with acts such as Sara Bareilles and Jimmy Buffett performing on their site well before 2020.[1]“Live Performances: A Front Row Seat to a Backstage Experience. ™.” StageIt, 2020, www.stageit.com/. Despite some articles to the contrary, these performances have not proven to be a complete replacement for live concerts. While Stageit shows have the potential to reach more people than a standard live show as there are no limits on seating, patrons are less willing to shell out the cost of a typical concert ticket for a virtual one capping the benefits of having these larger audiences (more on that later). While BTS made headlines for raking in an impressive $20,000,000 during a single online show with over 700,000 paid attendees, this figure pales compared to the nearly $117,000,000 they made over a 20 date tour in 2019.[2]Frankenberg, Eric. “BTS Finish Love Yourself: Speak Yourself Tour With $117 Million.” Billboard, Billboard Magazine, 14 Nov. 2019, http://tiny.cc/qt67tz.[3]Millman, Ethan. “BTS Just Proved That Paid Livestreaming Is Here to Stay.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 16 June 2020, http://tiny.cc/rt67tz. 

These events have increased precipitously in frequency over the last several months, but they are an unviable long-term replacement to in-person concerts. As with most digital media, these performances will perpetually be subject to leaks and pirating, a factor that dissuades many from paying for a show they can find online later for free. This predicament is eerily similar to the problems of pirating around 20 years ago in the digital download era. Rips of songs from the radio had been around for years, but the low sound quality of recorded copies minimized their threat to the recording industry. The same is true of videos of concerts posted on YouTube. However, live-streamed shows are mass-distributed professional quality video and audio recordings, which inevitably can be ripped and shared with others on the internet who did not pay for admission.

Streamed concerts also fall short compared to live music performances as musicians draw their energy from crowds of people, which is more difficult in a digital setting. Ultimately, this results in a show that is less fulfilling for the artist and the fans. While there have certainly been lucrative live streaming shows, the most successful have often been charitable, which is not sustainable for smaller name musicians that rely on live shows to survive. Larger, A-List artists cannot reasonably be expected to perform charity shows to uplift and sustain smaller musicians and businesses indefinitely either. It will be imperative sooner rather than later for these groups to self-sustain without constant assistance from more famous musicians.

Dua Lipa and Angéle perform “Fever” at Studio 2054; Image Courtesy of DIY

Of the deluge of live-streamed concerts this year, Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054 show set the bar for how these productions can succeed. Lipa did not try to recreate a tour via streaming. Instead, the performance was more akin to an award show, with high production value and numerous celebrity guests like FKA Twigs, Elton John, and Kylie Minogue. No artist could coordinate having so many fellow musicians of their caliber accompanying them on dozens of tour dates, but for a one-off show, it’s more feasible. This format is a particularly excellent way to reach out to fans in non-Western countries that often get skipped over in “world tours.” Lipa created an event, not a tour, and that should be the goal for how these shows work: they can augment live tours instead of substituting them. Lipa was rewarded for her ingenuity; she sold 263,264 tickets worldwide for the event, with an estimated viewership of 5,000,000.[4]Kenneally, Cerys. “Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054 Event Breaks Global Livestream Record with over Five Millions Views.” The Line of Best Fit, 1 Dec. 2020, … Continue reading Musicians, particularly pop musicians, should continue to take advantage of these streamed shows in the future.

Looking beyond the artist’s perspective, this scheme can complement the booming music festival industry. One needs to look no further than the show provided by Austin City Limits (ACL) Festival 2020. Despite the in-person festival being canceled this October, C3 Presents, and the Austin Parks Foundation put together a live stream of previous highlight performances to view live on YouTube. Other live streaming events highlight the “at home” or special intimacy of the occasion. Still, this live stream was a way for fans to reminisce on previous years and experiences as an escapist fantasy. ACL put together many merchandise items for the occasion as well, which have all sold out according to their website, including an at-home festival kit complete with blankets, koozies, and flags to amplify the experience.[5]“New Goods.” ACL Music Festival, C3 Presents, 2020, http://tiny.cc/st67tz. This was a brilliant way for the festival to not simply minimize their losses from canceling 2020’s festivities but also further profit off prior lineups. 

With all of the above considered, we should be optimistic about live streaming’s potential to cushion the blow from COVID-19 and the return of live music in the future. That being said, the music industry would be remiss to fall back into traditional patterns and ignore the potential of live-streamed concerts. Touring and streamed shows should not be seen as opposing forces but rather harmonious ones that can support and uplift each other and the musicians that perform on them.

References

1 “Live Performances: A Front Row Seat to a Backstage Experience. ™.” StageIt, 2020, www.stageit.com/.
2 Frankenberg, Eric. “BTS Finish Love Yourself: Speak Yourself Tour With $117 Million.” Billboard, Billboard Magazine, 14 Nov. 2019, http://tiny.cc/qt67tz.
3 Millman, Ethan. “BTS Just Proved That Paid Livestreaming Is Here to Stay.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 16 June 2020, http://tiny.cc/rt67tz. 
4 Kenneally, Cerys. “Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054 Event Breaks Global Livestream Record with over Five Millions Views.” The Line of Best Fit, 1 Dec. 2020, www.thelineofbestfit.com/news/latest-news/dua-lipas-studio-2054-breaks-global-livestream-record-over-5-million-views.
5 “New Goods.” ACL Music Festival, C3 Presents, 2020, http://tiny.cc/st67tz.

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