Updated: Jun 18
Picture this: It’s October 2019. The lights go down, and cheers erupt from every inch of the concert venue as the performer enters the stage. Clapping, hollers, whistling all jumbled together into a buzz, and anticipation for the performance to begin. Every free space in the venue is filled with people nearly on top of each other, close enough to feel someone’s breath on your neck, to overhear conversations, to feel the heat forming from the crowd. For a sold-out show, this environment is normal, expected even.
But that was in 2019. 2020 is a whole different animal. And every genre of music has suddenly faced the shocking shutdown of events they used to not only make money but to build connections. All of that has been snatched away due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While it most certainly was for good reason, many musicians have had to wonder, what comes next for us? How do we adapt and survive?
Here are a few ways we’ve found that musicians have been surviving.
Going Live – From Home
Unless you’ve been avoiding social media during the pandemic, you’ve probably seen artists going live. Whether it’s on Instagram, Facebook, Twitch, or another streaming service, musicians have been interacting with their fans more than ever. Spring and summer are the biggest seasons for concerts, especially festivals. To have all of it put on hold, some artists have felt lost.
Tours have been canceled/postponed, festivals like Pitchfork and Bunbury have been moved to 2021, and pretty much any in-person live shows aren’t possible. For musicians who rely on touring to make most of their revenue, they’re put in a very difficult spot.
But we are a resilient species. Musicians have made the best of their situations and began taking to the internet to continue sharing their music. Artists need their spirits lifted just as much as viewers, and the new intimate live streaming is the closest thing both sides have to the real thing right now. It gives fans a window into the artists they know and love in an environment they may not have ever gotten to see, and the artists are given a chance to continue their livelihood from home for others to appreciate.
While some are just doing it to keep a close bond with their fans, others are doing it for great causes. Elton John, for example, hosted a benefit concert with iHeart Radio along with other artists like Billie Joe Armstrong and Dave Grohl performing from their respective homes to raise money for coronavirus relief. Pop-punk band, All Time Low hosted an online benefit concert where all the proceeds went to their touring crew who are out of work since touring has come to a halt in the last three months. Even if the artists aren’t making money, they’re still encouraging fans to donate to relief efforts if they can, using their platforms for good like Ben Gabbard from Death Cab for Cutie.
“I think we’re learning, while people might not have a lot of money right now, if you have 10,000 people watching a livestream and everybody gives an average of one dollar, that’s $10,000,” Gibbard said. Even when musicians are struggling, they’re showing just how big their hearts are in these uncertain times.
Exclusive Live Streams
To help generate an income in a time where publicity like interviews and nationwide touring are off the table, some artists have taken to streaming platforms to make back some of the money they’ve lost. Platforms like Twitch and StageIt have seen a spike in their numbers since stay-at-home orders were issued. These sites support subscriptions and donations, two things that aren’t offered or carry less meaning on conventional social media apps like Instagram and Facebook. While more fans may be on the latter, musicians have a better chance of monetizing their performances on the streaming sites. According to a study by the Music Industry Research Association, the average US musician has three sources of income, the highest source being live performances. Some artists have gone as far as creating live stream schedules for people to tune into. While it may not make them as money as ticket sales for live shows, it’s a cushion to help them survive until live shows are safe again.
In a time where people are barely leaving the house and some people, like musicians, are out of work, this form of survival isn’t the strongest. However, something is better than nothing. Bands like post-hardcore band Secrets have started to create merchandise that is only available in a limited amount to create a sense of exclusivity while still making some profit. Even more so than that, this business model is smart because it keeps them from making too many shirts that just sit in a warehouse. Only what is needed is made. It looks like a lot of musicians are looking for ways to cut costs in the same way or providing an incentive for fans to purchase merchandise. One popular trend is offering a free face mask with any purchase. While some fans have scoffed at deals like that, claiming bands are profiting off the pandemic, others are applauding the band for providing materials while still turning a profit in these difficult times.
While most venues and festivals have been stuck with little to no solutions to making money, some have gotten creative in the ways that they’re sharing music. With tours getting canceled and thousands of fans missing out on seeing their favorite artists live, the Philadelphia band, Courier Club, decided to create a virtual music festival on the server of the popular game, Minecraft. They built stages, had merch tables with hyperlinks set up to go to the merch stores, and dozens of artists playing pre-recorded sets as their avatars on a set schedule. It was something truly special, and they aren’t the only ones. Other artists have joined the game server concert trend, playing on Minecraft or “touring” on Fortnite like Travis Scott.
So, Now What?
While musicians are doing their best to survive, there’s a chance these restrictions could last all the way into 2021. If that’s the case, musicians will need more ways of obtaining revenue. Here are a few ideas we’ve found.
Join platforms like Cameo where fans can buy requests for short videos from the artists.
Offer special incentives if merch is bought like a five-minute one-on-one call with the singer or access to an exclusive live stream.
Start a Patreon. This is a great way for fans to support the artist while still getting certain benefits based on how much is donated per month. For example, the band The Word Alive has multiple tiers, one of which features a signed birthday card from the band, a social media shout-out, and early access to new music videos, podcasts, etc. Musicians can ask for as little or as much as they want for the month, but even 150 fans spending $5 a month for these benefits could really help keep a band afloat in these uncertain times.
Online music lessons. Why not put those skills to use in a time when playing ticketed shows isn’t an easy option? In quarantine, many people are looking for new hobbies, including learning how to play an instrument.
While musicians have faced a lot of losses from the stay-at-home orders, they are doing their best to thrive as best they can. Above all else, it seems their connections with their fans have remained as strong as ever, and that in itself is a huge win. Will live shows be the same after this? Will artists turn to monetize live streams over in-person live shows? Only time will tell.
Writer: Kristen Petronio