The past year has wreaked havoc on the music industry. The ban on mass gatherings (or, in fact, any gatherings) has made concerts, which account for 50% of total music industry revenue, all but impossible. Artists have seen their income fall through the floor along with the thousands of people working in the industry, from sound technicians and stage designers to security teams and haulage companies. In May 2020, the World Economic Forum estimated that a 6-month lockdown would cost the industry more than $10bn in sponsorship- the announcement of a third national lockdown in January 2021 has cast serious doubt over the survival of most music-oriented businesses and freelancers.
Even online music streaming, which presumably would benefit from people being confined to their homes, has suffered. Spotify witnessed a 7-9% reduction in streaming in 2020. This can be explained in part by behavioural shifts during lockdown. People were no longer plugging in to block out that screaming baby on the plane or to escape the sweaty, overcrowded commuter train. Nor were they pumping themselves up during a big gym session. For many with mounting financial pressures, subscription services were a luxury they simply couldn’t afford.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. A housebound Europe has forced artists to respond creatively, engaging their fans in unexpected ways. Livestreams, for example, have become an important medium for artists to communicate with their fans. While this phenomenon is certainly not new, the pandemic has drastically expanded available and willing audiences. Streams may be a pale imitation of live concerts, but they nevertheless possess a certain charm. Producers have gone the extra mile to make their content constantly engaging and to stand out against growing online competition: Travis Scott, performing live on the online shooter Fortnite, drew 12 million viewers in a visually unique set. Bicep, performing in the Saatchi gallery, combined psychedelic visuals over live remixes of their new album, “Isles”. In this way, producers have been able to showcase new content or tease fans with snippets of unreleased tracks. Like Chase & Status, other artists have preferred to stay elusive over lockdown, occasionally hinting at a new album but refusing to divulge much more. For them, it seems, it makes sense to delay releases until the ban on mass gatherings is lifted: their high-energy dance music is at its best when played to thousands of excited fans over a thunderous sound system, playing them on a UE Boom in an empty sitting room would simply ruin the magic. Their silence is heightening anticipation for their performances this summer, which will be crammed full of 2 years’ worth of unreleased, never-before-heard content.
Another surprising phenomenon benefiting the industry is the high sales of instruments and music gear. Most people have used their unprecedented free time to learn new skills: what better way to whittle down the seemingly endless hours than with some self-improvement? I complied with this trend: I always wanted to learn to DJ but had never had the time, confidence, or know-how to start. When my (very) basic decks arrived in the post, the devil on my shoulder reminded me of all the things I could’ve bought with the considerable amount of money. I couldn’t see past the intimidating array of knobs, wheels, and flashing buttons, more reminiscent of a Space-rocket panel than a device to mix music. After the first week, I was ready to send them back: I could hardly work out how to turn them on, let alone make a pleasant sound, and I would avoid playing songs I liked for fear of butchering them. A year (and countless hours of brain-rattling practice) later, this has become my favourite hobby. A more musically engaged public can only be a good thing for the industry. Not only does it provide a valuable revenue stream for artists and music soft/hardware producers. It also inspires much greater respect for musicians and appreciation for the enormous technical and musical difficulty that professional DJs and producers overcome seemingly effortlessly.
The music industry has suffered terribly during COVID-19. But constant adaptation and innovation have given it a vital lifeline to cling to until summer. Even then, latent fear of the virus will make rebuilding consumer confidence in the live music sector will be a severe struggle. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, shining very brightly indeed. If all goes to plan, the 21st of June will truly be a night to remember.