There are few industries and disciplines more susceptible to change than that of music, which has endured sudden, significant shifts in technology, audience engagement and cultural standing over the last quarter century.
When the pandemic hit, it accelerated change for many, often faced with stark binary decisions at the drop of a hat, professionally and personally. An entire, massive sector of the industry simply wasn’t operational for most of a calendar year, and is only now re-engaging slowly during what would be peak season in most of the world.
Outside of the highest tiers of success and wealth in the industry, those who managed to weather this latest, perhaps most devastating of storms largely did so by taking their entire artistic platform, and business, digital and direct-to-consumer. Livestreams became the bread and butter – everything from all-star cover bands with everyone playing in separate locations, to empty venue concerts and even music tutoring. The only proverbial ‘middle man’ became the digital platform of engagement. The question is, will this become a permanent fixture in the ever-fluctuating, so-called new normal?
I imagine, while missing the visceral thrill of performing directly in front of punters, that a lot of artists didn’t miss the bullshit that comes with it. The hassles, risks and sheer draining grind of long tours. The political machinations and considerations of the live music game, at all levels. The toll on self and relationships, both within multi-person acts and around them.
There is a good chance that a lot of artists, even quite successful and established ones, have made more money on the likes of Twitch, YouTube and other methods of engagement than they may on an album or touring cycle. They do so at a much lower cost, both operationally and personally. Will this mean them touring less now? I have a suspicion we may see a return to more regional or coastal styles of touring, and the amount of bands doing world or even continental tours will decrease significantly.
With everyone including touring artists doing most of whatever work they can get from home for most of the last two years, I doubt as many will be leaping at the prospect of the album/tour/album loop as in days past, and we may see smaller tours with tighter routing as a result. That, and a trend towards shorter formats of recorded material, given the return of the popularity of EPs in music over the last decade, and the ease and frequency with which artists can now crank out singles and collaborations independent of full LPs.
The live music experience in the 2010’s, much like the studio one in the 2000’s, has experienced a major cultural and economic shift in terms of value. The resale market, often endorsed and protected by idiotic conservative governments like the current Ontario administration, has turned the live event experience at mid range and high end venues into a rather classist experience. Now only those with the ability to afford jacked-up resale or VIP tickets (or the ability and luck to get them IMMEDIATELY at the time of onsale) get the seats they want, if any.
Of course this means passionate fans lose their spot to obnoxious yuppie dipshits, who will spend a good chunk of the show blocking someone else’s view with their phone for garbage footage that few, if any, will watch. It will be the same people who likely get heavily inebriated and act like total imbeciles, the whole exercise a spectacle to chronicle and show off later to their friends on another soon to be forgotten social media post, while those around them who came to enjoy the real spectacle AS IT OCCURS get their hard earned dollars wasted. The only silver lining is that these obnoxious wankers almost invariably write themselves off halfway through the show and disappear completely, perhaps even opening up a spot you can take.
This is what arena and seated club or concert hall shows have mostly been for me over the last several years, so the smaller gigs are where it’s at. But how many of the non-local ones will be possible in a post-covid world? Is it going to mean that touring in general, beyond the initial boom of re-openings, is a scarcer prospect? Will ticket prices and the scalper market drop off in an effort to appeal to consumers, many of whom have lost much of their expendable income? Or will the trend towards live entertainment classism, and the inevitable trashy behaviour of the people it supports, continue to take more and more precedence?
Covid is hardly the first, maybe not even the worst major economic and operational threat music has faced. In this century alone, it has been financially gutted by piracy and the switch to a much less lucrative streaming format, as record labels die by the dozen or are absorbed. It has survived an aggressive and concentrated attack by the mainstream on anything that hasn’t been willing to assimilate or be driven out, half of the pie no longer being enough for greedy sociopaths controlling the upper echelons of the industry.
It will adapt, evolve and survive as it always has, and is usually amongst one of the first mediums. But what does that survival, let alone success, look like? Who and how many will it be available to? Attention spans are getting shorter, and music had already had to adjust excessively to that (though some. genres are certainly guilty of perpetuating it) – will EPs become the default over LPs?
On the fringes, the counterculture genres and subgenres have been largely forced out of increasingly homogenized and gentrified big cities, losing plenty of venues both to covid and before it. One would imagine a return of metal, punk, alternative and other rock based styles to their traditional breeding grounds of industrial and college towns, where people can actually afford to live AND be in a band.
The outsiders are getting pushed further outside, but it’s not the first time – think of what San Francisco was in the 60’s and 80’s, then look at it now. But what at first may seem like exile often becomes liberation…