There is no reason to expect live music to return (at the earliest) by the summer, so the industry remains in limbo. There have been few hints towards any kind of federal bailout for the industry; in fact, the government’s consideration of live music has been limited to finger-wagging
at Ticketmaster’s greedy ticketing refund policies. (Live Nation did attempt to improve its return policy
slightly.) With reports showing people struggling to acquire small business loans and unemployment systems across the country overwhelmed, there’s little positive news in this space for fans or venues owners and staff. That’s why there’s been a rush to hope that live streaming could offer some relief. Yet, so far, there’s been very little concrete evidence that live streaming can represent a substantive replacement for live music. Instead, it’s offering a way for communities to reconnect, enjoy some music, and perhaps think through what will happen post-Pandemic.
(Sidenote: I don’t want to dwell too heavily on live streaming, because Shawn Reynaldo
and Mat Dryhurst over the last few weeks covered many of the pitfalls of relying too much on the endeavor. Perhaps I’ll address the topic more in-depth another week, but I didn’t want to leave this stone completely unturned.)
A question I’ve considered over the last month isn’t so much when
venues are going to open again, but what will happen when they do open? Will capacity be limited, like we’re already seeing in certain retail sectors? Temperatures taken at the door? Increased cleanliness? Joe Weisenthal, an editor at Bloomberg, mentioned
an outline written
by the CEO of Wynn Resorts about what it’ll take to reopen some casinos in Las Vegas. What was fairly clear is that the owner desires government cooperation, but
the expectations of higher cleaning and safety standards would likely require increases in staffing. This is to say that returning to even a limited capacity operation, which I’ll say this outline is fast-tracking, involves more than simply flipping a switch, as often implied by many state and federal leaders.
This kicked off thoughts about the social contract between fans, music venues, performers, and all the workers involved in these kinds of spaces. I’ll admit this is something I struggled to articulate when I wrote Nu-Music: A Gig Economy Solution,
in which I proposed a better
way to organize live music. I’ve been heartened by the work of places like Nowadays
, which, beyond still organizing virtual panels and shows, continue to be fairly open about the venue’s future. This feels markedly different from the behavior of companies like Live Nation and AEG, which are dragging their feet to simply offer their customers refunds on what are likely to be cancelled concerts. In New York City, in particular, there appears to be regular communication between various venues
, and even nationally there is a drive for venues
to speak with a collective voice to stand up to the challenge of the moment.
The prospect of large-scale events with fans returning this year continues to shrink day by day, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a vision of the future. When small businesses return it should not only be with the health and safety of ticket-holders in mind, but with the venue staff either unionized or with far more decision-making power in how venues and spaces operate. We’re already seeing that those workers deemed “essential” are catching coronavirus more often, and there’s no reason that the music industry should repeat the horrific practices of companies like Amazon or Target.
Pollstar reported that the concert industry is on track to lose billions of dollars
if this pause in live music continues. That reality, along with the fact extensive travel is likely to be limited over the next year, would point towards a forced return to the local for music venues. What that “new local” will look like will vary community to community, but as Nowadays co-founder Eamon Harkin hinted at on a live stream earlier this week, this is a moment that could allow deeper reflection on what communities want out of these spaces in the future. Far be it from me to find the silver lining during a thunderstorm, but the future of live music is likely to be much
smaller in scope than it’s been in decades. This opens up the opportunity to see if it’s possible for spaces that hinge so much on advertising, environmentally destructive festivals, and uneven artist and staff compensation to change for the better. Okay, I did try to land that cheerful ending!