Music

With gigs cancelled and venues closed, artists are turning to playing online

Streamed gigs are filling the void created by coronavirus, but they reveal the precarity of the live music industry.

Kirsty Merryn

With the cancellations and postponements of major festivals like SXSW and Coachella, not to mention venues closing and independent artists pulling tours, the music industry is immediately bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.

For many, the financial implications are dire. With streaming eating into income traditionally made from album sales, touring is the predominant way artists – particularly independent ones – can make a living.

Folk singer Kirsty Merryn (pictured) had a UK tour scheduled this month to promote her new album Our Bright Night, but has had to cancel several gigs. “I’m probably looking at losing conservatively £2k for cancelled shows,” she told us. “Most of the venues I work with are small / family owned and they will be taking as much of a hit as me, but they are all very understanding and as worried about it as I am.”

There’s a temptation under normal circumstances to guard knowledge, but I think all that’s changing, certainly amongst creatives

Faced with little alternative, some bands and artists are replacing their touring schedule with online gigs. BBC Music Introducing and the British Music Embassy are hosting two closed-door studio sessions in London today and tomorrow, featuring bands who were planning on making the trip to Austin for SXSW, with the resulting sets due to be broadcast this weekend. Kirsty too told us she’s considering doing online shows. “I think it’s probably the only thing that really makes sense.”

It’s an idea that seems to be spreading. Singer/songwriter Polly Paulusma already hosts a weekly online gig from her garden shed to her Patreon subscribers, but last week published a video offering tips on how other musicians could set up their own. “I’ve had loads of feedback,” she told us, “There seems to be a general desire to share knowledge and not to be cagey. There’s a temptation under normal circumstances to guard knowledge, but I think all that’s changing, certainly amongst creatives. There’s a recognition of the difficulties, and real solidarity.”

The pandemic has revealed just how precarious the music industry is. Stats published in early March by the Music Venue Trust based on a survey of grassroots venue members across the UK found that 40.1 per cent of them had already noticed identifiable downturn in gross income, while 37.7 per cent had noticed more fans buying tickets but not coming to gigs, and 19.1 per cent had seen shows cancelled outright.

In Malcolm Jack’s column in this week’s magazine, available now from your local vendor, he talks about how the industry was already gilding itself for the effects of Brexit, and how the Musicians’ Union is calling on the Government to back a Musicians’ Passport for working in the EU once the transition period comes to an end in January 2021.

In the case of coronavirus, it’s been left to the artists themselves to think of ways to keep the show on the road. If that means online gigs are to become the norm for the next couple of months, buying a ticket may be the thing you need to do to ensure artists can get back to actual gigs in the future.

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