The live music industry has been hit hard by the pandemic as venues remain closed for the foreseeable and restrictions remain in place.
With leading music festivals like Glastonbury and Coachella now cancelled for a second consecutive year, it looks unlikely that the live music scene will return to normal anytime soon.
Digital spaces have allowed artists to continue to reach audiences globally through live streams and virtual concerts but is there a future in online music performances or will the virtual music event become merely a thing of the pandemic past?
Although the immerse experience of an online event is arguably not the same as in-person, the accessibility of live streamed shows means new possibilities for fans.
Financial barriers, disability and health can often be an obstacle to attending live events in person.
Shanon, 29, from Devon says that she cannot attend concerts in person due to her disability and hopes virtual events are here to stay:
“Before the pandemic, I’d only seen concerts on Netflix and shaky videos from people’s phones. I have a medical condition which means I can’t be around strobe lights.
I finally got to attend, albeit virtually, my first concert in June and since then, I’ve been enjoying more events online. I really hope that they continue to have live music online because it’s the only way I can get to experience it.”
Shortly before the pandemic reached the UK, Ticketmaster launched a new system to help support disabled fans in booking tickets.
It replaced premium rate help lines for those with accessibility requirements and allows fans to submit details of their disability onto their online profile for ease of booking tickets.
Ticketmaster’s Managing Director, Andrew Parsons, told the BBC: “Fundamentally, all fans deserve equal access to live entertainment”.
Whilst it’s a step in the right direction, Shanon says that she finds it frustrating that “events were only put online when there was demand from able-bodied people”. She added:
“Maybe if the introduction of virtual events has shown us anything over the pandemic, it’s how easy it is to put things in place to help people with disability and health conditions.
People with disability have been fighting for more online events for years but our voices were never heard”.
British festivals produce about 23,500 tonnes of waste every year and festival-goer travel makes up 80 percent of the average festival’s total known CO2e emissions.
Live music generates 405,000 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions in the UK every year with fans travelling to gigs, moving sets between venues and even the production of merchandise.
In 2019, Coldplay announced that they were pausing touring due to concerns over the environmental impact of live music events.
The band promised that their next tour would be as carbon neutral as possible with no single use plastic and solar powered lighting.
Coldplay soon became pioneers in the virtual music event industry by opting for live-streamed concerts instead of world-wide touring.
The basic live-streamed performance is possibly as carbon neutral as a music event can be but perhaps it’s only a viable option for the most well-known bands.
Arguably, those with a large following can rely on a fanbase to support their online ventures but artists looking for exposure may struggle to be seen in an online world.
Opening Up Possibilities
“There’s an element of spontaneity which comes with live streamed events,” says avid gig-goer Meghan, 24, from South London.
“I don’t have to do the mad rush to get good tickets, I don’t have to commit months (and sometimes, years) ahead to going to a concert and book time off work. I can just click a button when I feel like it and watch something that very night, from the comfort of my own home”.
The possibilities also appear to be endless for pop stars when it comes to virtual concerts. Long gone are the early days of lockdown when the likes of Liam Gallagher and Sophie Ellis-Bextor performed from their kitchens to virtual audiences.
In November, pop sensation Dua Lipa live-streamed a ‘multi-dimensional’ concert from a warehouse in East London, with custom-built sets, which include “surreal TV shows, roller discos, ecstatic raves, trashy hang outs, voguing ballrooms and diva style dressing rooms” and accompanied by skaters, aerialists and acrobats.
In an interview with The South China Morning Post, Dua Lipa said “there’s only so much you can do in an arena”.
Tonny Rigg, a music industry professional and educator affiliated with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), believes that Covid-19 has highlighted new potential for music performance:
“People who can come up with innovative solutions at this time could gain real advantage moving forward. The technologies we currently have access to hold greater potential to do a lot more than they are currently being used for.
The challenges thrown up by the current predicament will no doubt serve as a catalyst for artists, music business, and consumers to re-evaluate how live music is performed, monetised and experienced.”
So, will be there still be a place for virtual concerts post lockdown?
It seems there’s a strong case to be argued for online music events in some capacity to continue post lockdown since an online platform offers accessibility, potential for sustainability and limitless creativity.
Certainly, there’s no denying that our appetite for human contact post pandemic will spark huge demand for live concerts but perhaps some virtual events will continue to exist side-by-side with real-life performances within the digital world full of creative possibility.