In an article about COVID-19 and the music industry, an illustration by Yao Jian of someone with a keyboard and microphone
The music industry is look a lot different these days. (Illustration by Yao Jian, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

Adapting to COVID-19, the Music Industry Finds Success in Livestreams

Virtual concerts are proving popular as major players in the musical world work hard to find new ways to engage their fans despite the need for social distancing.

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In an article about COVID-19 and the music industry, an illustration by Yao Jian of someone with a keyboard and microphone

Virtual concerts are proving popular as major players in the musical world work hard to find new ways to engage their fans despite the need for social distancing.

After the United States declared a state of national emergency on March 13, 2020, the international music industry has taken devastating hit after hit. The subsequent cancellation of concerts, festivals and conventions has put many music labels and media companies in deep trouble.

Pre-COVID-19, the live music industry was on the rise as the festival scene gained popularity. Gatherings like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Electric Daisy Carnival were making record ticket sales, their headliners being among some of the most well-known artists in the world.

Some media companies experienced up to a 10% increase in live ticket sales in February, leading many to project 2020 as an unusually profitable year. The development of COVID-19 was simply an afterthought to unaffected Americans as it began to spread internationally.

In late February, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States, and as the number of cases began to reach an alarming high in early March, artists were forced to cancel their upcoming performances. Where the music industry once thrived, the coronavirus brought the market to a screeching halt.

Many were hopeful that these performances would soon resume as normal, but some experts predict that this hiatus may last until the fall of 2021. Some large music festivals have made the choice to postpone their events until the fall of 2020, although others, such as Ultra Music Festival and South by Southwest, were quick to cancel their 2020 festivals altogether.

In an unfortunate turn of events, Coachella and Stagecoach made the move to cancel their events as of June 10, further devastating live music fans. Despite the pessimistic fall 2021 prediction, Goldenvoice, the company that puts on both festivals, is still debating whether or not to stay safe or to put on limited festivals in spring 2021.

Following this flood of announcements, festivalgoers have demanded refunds, leaving many companies reeling to find a way to recoup their losses. Live Nation Entertainment alone experienced a stock price drop of more than 61% between Feb. 19 and March 19, a rate that continues to decline.

While record labels, individual artists and the music industry as a whole have been affected by the pandemic, this has not stopped them from appeasing their fans.

Despite the current state of the market, musical artists The Weeknd, Dua Lipa and Childish Gambino released hit albums shortly after the stay-at-home order was given. The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and Dua Lipa’s “Physical” climbed to the top three of American charts in April, proving that while the music industry may be suffering from significant losses, the music scene will find ways to persevere.

Although many artists chose to postpone their album releases due to the virus, others are using this as a time to spur creativity and reflect. Run the Jewels and Two Door Cinema Club both released albums earlier this week, and countless others now have albums in the works that they would not have had the time to focus on otherwise.

Other major players in the music industry took it one step further in order to continue doing what they love while following social-distancing guidelines. Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard was one of the first artists to adjust their performances to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions via intimate livestreams to fans.

It didn’t take long for others to make the move to virtual concerts and sets. Leading artists John Legend, Skrillex, Coldplay and many more have been hosting livestreams for their fans, at times racking up more viewers digitally than they ever would have had the opportunity to during their live performances.

An unforeseen development in the music industry, these livestreams quickly became a vessel through which music lovers were able to take advantage of the opportunity to experience their favorite artists in a new way. Musical livestreams have become an international quarantine pastime for millions of fans who log on to platforms like Twitch, YouTube and Instagram Live.

Inspired by these artists, live music event companies saw this as an opportunity to put together virtual festivals. Both Goldenvoice and Live Nation streamed limited lineups for Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival in order to make up for cancellations, much to the delight of festivalgoers everywhere.

It wasn’t long until media companies began curating music festivals purely for the purpose of being streamed online. For example, Brownies and Lemonade’s virtual festival Digital Mirage attracted millions of viewers across the globe. Suddenly, viewing live music had become as simple as putting on pajamas, opening your laptop and tuning in from the comfort of your own home.

An unexpected benefit of these livestreamed festivals is the opportunity for smaller artists to “be discovered” as they perform in limited festival lineups. Festivalgoers usually have a wide variety of artists to choose from when attending, ultimately making it harder to discover new music with the risk of missing their favorite artist perform.

Virtual festivals expose viewers to artists they would have had to miss during live festivals. Livestreams have started to put many previously unknown artists, record labels and production companies on the radar across the nation.

In the face of millions of dollars in losses as festivals are postponed or cancelled and tours are stopped in their tracks, the music industry has still found ways to interact with consumers and spread awareness. While fans everywhere have suffered losses themselves, the community stands in solidarity, hoping for the quick development of a vaccine and the opportunity to attend live events in the near future.

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