The landscape of live music during Covid-19

The Arts have always been the thing we turn to when the mind needs an escape. Whether it’s music, tv, books or films, we need the Arts more than ever during this pandemic. However the creative industries are going to suffer in the longer term due to the Covid-19 crisis. Social distancing will be with us for the foreseeable future. With that comes the question; how can we enjoy live music in post-lockdown life?

Today we will examine the world of music in the ever unpredictable year that is 2020.

Live music contribution to Irish economy

According to a 2017 report, live entertainment on the island of Ireland generates €1.7bn annually and provides approximately 11,300 jobs. There is a spin-off effect from music and in particular live music. It creates jobs for production crew, music venue staff, sound engineers, music photographers, lighting technicians, tour managers, riggers, pyrotechnic staff, site crew and safety officers to name but a few. 

Festivals are extremely popular on our little island. They bookmark the beginning and end of our summers.  In 2019 there were over 50 festivals, outdoor music events and concert series taking place across the country! Each of these events has a spin-off effect to the local economies also. Ireland is renowned across the world for its ability to punch above its weight when it comes to talent in the Arts, especially when it comes to our musicians!

Government and Industry support

Back in March, the Irish government announced its relief package to the Arts sector in light of the Covid-19 lockdown. It was revealed that awards would be provided for artists to create “new and original” work, which would be made available on the internet for free. This was largely criticised by the industry who claimed that it was insulting and devalued their work. 

An Irish Music Industry Covid-19 emergency relief fund was established in April thanks to collaboration between Ireland’s Music Industry Representative Bodies. The relief fund stated it would contribute €750 to musicians who have been severely financially impacted by lockdown measures, in particular the ban on mass gatherings.   

Last week Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that a further €25 million would be allocated to the Arts support package. This has gone some way towards easing the concerns of those in employment in the wider Arts sector. Disappointingly, this does not tackle the issue of loss of employment to live music event staff. These people have had to rely on the Covid-19 payment throughout lockdown.

“EPIC” Lobbying

EPIC (Event Production Industry Covid-19 Working Group) is a lobby group which was recently formed for workers in the live music event industry. They describe their purpose as follows:

“We represent 3,500 (full time) and 15,000 (part time) skilled event industry workers. In response to the crisis in the live event industry, created by the Covid-19 pandemic, this working group was elected, to represent the interests and concerns of the individuals and business involved in producing live events and performance.”

EPIC is calling on the government to extend the Covid-19 Payment, and Wage Subsidy for Event and Arts workers. They propose it be extended until the time comes that mass gatherings can safely take place in Ireland, without the need for social distancing. They are also appealing for grant support of 20% of 2018 turnover, for small and medium enterprises in this sector. The aim of this grant would be to assist SME’s in the payment of rent and bank loans.

Live music is the money maker 

Although we may feel that we are helping our favourite musical artist by streaming their tracks, the grim reality is that streaming doesn’t generate substantial revenue for artists. For example in 2020 an artist can expect to make $0.0018 per stream on Spotify. Therefore 1,000 streams will generate $1.80 for the musician.

Streaming undoubtedly plays a role in getting radio-play, raising the profile of an artist and helping to get booked for gigs. However it is live music that earns musicians a living. Musicians and live event staff have lost their livelihood as a result of the restrictions on mass gatherings. 

Live music venues across the country have had to close and as a result huge amounts of people are out of work. The lights have been turned off everywhere, no matter the size or location of the venue. Whether it’s the 3Arena in Dublin, the INEC in Killarney or the Roisín Dubh in Galway; all were forced to close in March.

Fans holding on to the hope of summer festivals became increasingly nervous as cancellations and postponement of concerts kept being announced since March. As the weeks of lockdown slipped by, it became clear that music festivals could not be held this summer. With that came more disappointment for music fans. Most importantly this also means no livelihood for thousands of people this summer. 

How are artists responding

A lot of us forget that many bands have also had to socially distance themselves from each other. Apparently your favourite band doesn’t all live under the same roof – who knew?! This in itself has made life more difficult for bands who scrambled to figure out how they could still write, record and perform together using Skype and Zoom rather than being together in the one place. 

Live performances on Instagram Stories and Facebook Live were a fun, new novelty in the early days of lockdown. Many acts realised that they wouldn’t be able to perform directly to fans for the foreseeable future and doing so virtually became the next best option.

Artists all across the island of Ireland have flexed their creative muscles and have been playing a blinder during lockdown. They have been inspired to write new music. Many artists challenged fans to record clips of themselves which will then be featured in their official music video! Beyond that, many artists found ways to use their talents to help deserving charities. There has been a wonderful display of community spirit arising from musicians and fans alike during lockdown. It has certainly helped to lift the spirits of the nation.

Homegrown heroes

It’s been a busy time! Here’s a tiny proportion of the highlights. 

  • The Coronas made us chuckle when they took to Twitter to ask for advice from the similarly unfortunately named beer brand.

  • Ebunoluwa and The BallyBoyz teamed up to create this powerful and thought-provoking video. “Where ye from” includes both a striking spoken word piece and a mural.

  • Imelda May also released the moving spoken word piece in light of Black Lives Matter.

  • An incredible collaboration of female artists known as Irish Women in Harmony, have recorded a cover of Dreams by the Cranberries in aid of SafeIreland. It was  released on 18 June 2020.
  • Music magazine Hot Press has been promoting the best new and emerging talent with a series of live events. The Y&E Series has forty young and emerging acts join Hot Press on Instagram for a special live performance. That’s 40 paid gigs to 40 acts over 40 consecutive nights. 

Unfortunately artists that had been scheduled to take their new music on tour in the spring and summer months are now left staring at an empty calendar. No gigs. No festivals. 

Thankfully many musicians have not let this discourage them and are releasing their music nevertheless! For this, us music fans are truly grateful! A tiny taster of the masses of new releases include: 

Jafaris

James Vincent McMorrow

 Pillow Queens

Tebi Rex

Hudson Taylor

Denise Chaila

The new live experience

Social distancing at gigs has already been trialed at some venues around the world. One example of this kind of concert experience was that of Travis McCready’s performance in Arkansas. Small groups of attendees sat apart in “fan pods”, with significant empty space in the venue between each group. Everyone was required to wear a face mask. The music venue, which normally holds 1,100 people, made just 239 tickets available for purchase. The venue did not make a profit on the gig and isn’t planning another gig until August at the earliest.

It’s a stark contrast to packed out venues which we’re used to seeing. One has to wonder if there is any atmosphere or sense of fun at an event with such a small number of attendees? Or whether this is financially viable for venues, musicians, staff etc? Whether or not this becomes the temporary live music experience going forward remains to be seen.

Drive-in

“Drive-in” concerts are an alternative solution to the social distance problem which have become popular across Europe. Gavin James recently announced that he would be doing a tour of social distanced drive-in gigs in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Kilkenny. Hermitage Green and Aslan have also been added to the Live at the Drive series of concerts, with Aslan set to play Leopardstown Racecourse.

Organisers will ensure audience compliance with public health advice at the concerts. The gigs are strictly alcohol-free and attendees can only exit their cars to visit the toilet (emergencies only!). How do the gig-goers hear the tunes from their cars, I hear you ask? The gigs will have a concert level PA system for those who want to wind their car windows down and enjoy the music. Alternatively an FM bandwidth is also provided which allows fans to tune in to the event via their car radios!

The reaction to the unconventional concerts has been somewhat mixed. Many people question the financial viability of the initiative, while others just don’t think it sounds like much fun. It’s also unclear what the drive-in gig etiquette will be for the shows. Is it acceptable for fans to beep their horns instead of clapping along or put their window wipers on instead of waving their hands in the air?! With more acts set to be announced, you can find out more here.

Digital festivals

The enormously popular Belgian electronic dance music festival “Tomorrowland” was due to take place over two weekends in July. The festival is postponed until July 2021. Nevertheless the organisers have decided to host  a digital festival called “Around the World” on July 25 and 26.

What is in store for the digital festival-goer? 

The Digital Festival is a unique online pay-per-view experience of 10 hours per day with a focus on music and entertainment. Visitors will experience the festival in an interactive way. Guided by a magical 3D map, you can discover unseen stages and an endless list of surprises. There will also be a wide array of activities, webinars, workshops, games and other interactive entertainment to choose from.”

The heavyweight acts that fans have come to expect from Tomorrowland have been announced. It includes the likes of Paul Kalkbrenner, Robin Schulz and Armin van Buuren. There are a range of package options available.

For example the Home Party Package Gold & Ultimate Sound package includes the limited edition Tomorrowland speaker (Tomorrowland x JBL Flip 5 Speaker for the value of €130). Also included are exclusive bracelets, Tomorrowland and Red Bull LED cups, LED sticks and confetti poppers, an official flag and more. 

The ultimate living room festival experience will set you back €290.00, excluding shipping costs. However a range of ticket options are being provided, starting from €12.50 and are now available for purchase.

Virtual festivals

“Electric Blockaloo” will take place in Minecraft from 25 to 28 June. Yes, you read that correctly! The virtual open world video game will be the venue for a virtual music festival. There are a staggering 960 performers on the line up. Some of these including DJ giants Galantis, MK and Steve Aoki. Paris Hilton is even listed on the enormous line-up. Yes, you also read that correctly! 

Rave Music are the producers and organisers of the festival. They are partnering with the streaming platform Mixcloud to ensure artists are paid properly for participating at Electric Blockaloo. Upon entering the festival, attendees can roam the festival grounds, with the ability to jump from stage to stage at their own pace. Speaking of stages, there are over 65 of them which have been specially curated by the artists themselves. Attendees can even design their own festival outfit for their avatar! To find out more and to buy tickets click here.

Live music crew

You can support your favourite artist by buying their merchandise.  Gigging artists in Ireland are now relying heavily on their merchandise sales as a main source of income. If you are buying merch you should buy it directly from the artist’s own website.

While artist’s merchandise provides cash to the musician, how can we support the behind-the-scenes crew? Mullingar band The Blizzards have joined up with EVNTZapp on an initiative called #WeAreTheSupportAct. The aim of the initiative is to support people in the live music industry who have lost their income due to the pandemic. All of the festivals, tours and events that were either cancelled or postponed represent thousands of Irish Event Industry crew who have lost their livelihoods. 

#WeAreTheSupportAct is selling T-shirts and hoodies with “Support Crew” branding. 

100% of profits from Crew merchandise will go to a fund that will be managed and distributed by AIST (Association of Irish Stage Technicians). The fund will be available to members and non members who work in any crew related role in the Irish Event Industry.

Lockdown lifts

Last Friday the Department of The Taoiseach revealed the updated Phase 3 of Ireland’s Roadmap for recovery. This includes the reopening of theatres, concert halls and music venues (excluding nightclubs and discos) from 29 June. Leo Varadkar noted that the advice with regard to mass gatherings of people has been updated:

  1. Indoor gatherings of up to 50 people when conducted in line with public health advice are permissible.
  2. Outdoor gatherings of up to 200 people when conducted in line with public health advice are permissible.

 Pubs and bars can reopen from 20 July, as per Phase 4 of Ireland’s Roadmap for recovery subject to Government approval. It’s also worth noting that gatherings conducted in line with public health advice of up to 100 people indoors and 500 people outdoors will be permitted from 20 July.

This means that live music could be on the horizon for gig-goers sooner than initially anticipated. A number of financial decisions and practicality issues will have to be faced when the live music industry tries to re-emerge from lockdown. Measures such as temperature checks, social distancing, frequent bathroom cleaning, and safe queuing for bars and bathrooms will need to be considered. Sadly large festivals and arenas will clearly still be unable to host concerts in line with the latest measures.

“Minding Creative Minds”

We, the audience, place high expectations on musicians to create music during a global pandemic. It needs to be remembered that their careers have been turned upside down. We also need to bear in mind that live music is going to be one of the last things to re-emerge from lockdown. Everyone in the live event industry is being asked to wait out the storm, which has no defined end in sight. Thankfully Minding Creative Mindsis an online resource available for everyone in the Irish music industry. They offer a range of support and welfare services to help people cope during this uncertain period. 

The encore

Nothing can quite compare to singing your favourite song in unison with friends and strangers alike. Feeling the sound vibrations under your feet. Standing shoulder to shoulder in the crowd. Experiencing the unique buzz that comes with a live performance and having that unique interaction with the artists on stage.

Although we may not be able to enjoy music the way we used to, who is ready to embrace the new (and unusual) ways?

Are you excited by the idea of a drive-in concert, a ‘socially distanced gig’ or a virtual festival? When the day eventually comes that we can safely attend a gig again, I know one thing for sure; I’m going to be right up there in the front row! I’ll save you a space!

About the author

Fiona Clancy

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