The summer concert schedule doesn’t look quite like everyone expected. The warm weather usually means touring artists and major festivals with packed crowds of strangers. However, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, event organisers have been forced to cancel or postpone virtually every large social gathering centred around music.
In an industry linked to live experiences and full audiences, concert cancellations represent a loss of a key revenue stream. The cancellations are particularly difficult for smaller artists, as they lose not only their main source of revenue, but also the chance to increase their exposure and gain new fans. Artists have called for Spotify to triple its royalty rates to help cover the lost concert revenue.
Ticketing vendors now face thousands of refund requests due to the mass cancellations. While most postponed event tickets transfer over to the rescheduled date, many fans have found it difficult to receive refunds for concerts that are indefinitely postponed. Sales platform Ticketmaster faces a class-action lawsuit over failure to issue refunds for events cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the disappointing cancellations, artists continue to perform and connect with fans in creative ways.
Instagram Live has been especially popular during social distancing. In May, a new record for the most watched Instagram Live broadcast was set at three million viewers. The live streams vary in content and length. Artists use the platform to host casual mini concerts, preview upcoming music, compare beats with other artists, engage with fans, and more.
In addition to social media, video games have acted as a stage for artists to perform. Travis Scott held a virtual “Astronomical” concert in Fortnite with multiple tour dates and showtimes to accommodate fans across the world. The event even included the premiere of a new collaboration with Kid Cudi. More than 27 million unique viewers participated across the five shows. Diplo also hosted a Fortnite event featuring Young Thug and Noah Cyrus.
Live streaming presents an alternative for artists who planned in-person tours. After dropping his The New Toronto 3 mixtape earlier this year, Tory Lanez held his Social Distancing Tour on YouTube in May. During the free live streamed performance, fans were able to communicate with Lanez, request songs, and donate to COVID-19 relief efforts.
The Chicago music festival Lollapalooza is also taking advantage of live streaming. Instead of an in-person festival, a four-day live stream will take place on the original planned dates. In addition to new acts yet to be announced, the live stream will include past performances and exclusive footage.
Despite the physical separation, music continues to connect people around the world. In April, a variety of artists participated in the international broadcast One World: Together At Home with Global Citizen and the World Health Organization (WHO). The broadcast aimed to support frontline health workers and unite the world against COVID-19. Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones were amongst the famous line-up of performers.
Although watching a performance on a phone or laptop does not match the in-person experience of a concert, the creativity of artists and organisers is admirable in these uncertain times. It’s hard to imagine feeling comfortable in a crowd of hundreds of strangers anytime soon, but hopefully we’ll be able to return to some sort of normal concert experience when it is safe.