Adapting is the name of the game. With theaters and concert halls closed again in many global locations to stop the spread of covid-19, artists are instead turning to the internet, streaming concerts to allow fans to enjoy their music in a new way. These live performances, which may once have been free, are now vying to become a new revenue stream for the struggling industry.
From Dua Lipa, Gorillaz and Jessie J to Liam Gallagher, Major Lazer and Metallica, all kinds of acts are getting in on the game, organizing exclusive performances that music fans can watch live from the comfort of their homes. Many artists already tested the water during spring's lockdowns, although without investing too much in the production of these makeshift livestream performances. Music fans may still remember a laid-back John Legend tinkling the ivories in a bathrobe, or Alessia Cara embarking on an acoustic set in her bathroom for the MTV "Unplugged at Home" series.
After a few weeks of random and impromptu performances, these virtual gigs upped their game and started being streamed from more prestigious locations, such as London's Alexandra Palace, The Roxy club in Los Angeles and even the V&A Museum. Add high-quality lighting, multiple and varied camera angles, sometimes even special effects, and these once free concerts suddenly morphed into exclusive pay-per-view events.
The cost of technology
Ticket prices vary, although they're often around the US$15 mark. While Dua Lipa promises to take fans on a "kaleidoscope, rocket-filled, journey through time" to discover her latest album for $15-20, Billie Eilish charged up to $30 for livestream tickets to her global virtual concert, "Where Do We Go? The Livestream," broadcast October 24 from Los Angeles. For their money, fans of the iconoclastic singer were given access to the livestream, and could rewatch for up to 24 hours, as well as reductions on merchandise.
But that's nothing compared to the $100 tickets that fans of Jason Isbell snapped up in July to watch a live performance by the folk singer, followed by a Q&A session. The start-up Topeka even cashed in on the interactive experience by proposing a recorded version of Isbell's event for $25.
At a time when livestream gigs are increasingly ubiquitous, music industry pros hope that the enthusiasm for virtual concerts will give a boost to the struggling sector, for which live shows and world tours are a key source of revenue. In fact, revenue from live music stood at some $26 billion in 2017, according to data from Goldman Sachs, or 42% of turnover in the sector.
An increasingly diverse offer
But, as the music industry learned to its expense with the onset of streaming, it can be hard to convince consumers to pay for something they once got for free. Especially so in a highly competitive ecosystem where independent artists, concert production companies and tech giants are all vying for music fans' attention -- and ideally their money.
December 5, virtual gig-goers will have the choice between an online show by the band Evanescence, ahead of the release of their new album "The Bitter Truth," a virtual Darlene Love Christmas show, and a livestream performance by Liam Gallagher "Down by the River Thames" in London. It's a tough choice from a musical point of view.
As well as being spoiled for choice as the offer diversifies, certain music fans face the fear of not being tech savvy enough to enjoy livestream gigs. "A rock band with a slightly older audience, those audiences are less rabid from an online engagement perspective," Steve Bursky, the founder of Foundations Music told the New York Times . The management company's clients include Foy Vance, Young the Giant and Lauv.
Conscious of this concern, platforms and artists are reaching out with various tutorials and other explanations to get fans onboard. The aim is to invest in high-quality online gigs in order to bring livestream events into the mainstream. And it seems like these efforts are starting to bear fruit, since 28% of Americans said they would pay to watch an online concert, according to a report from Nielsen Music/MCR Data. "Livestreaming is a new genre, a new form of entertainment. It is not ephemeral. People will doubt it -- but I believe that it will stay and be a complementary form of entertainment that will compete with playlists and videos and live shows," Fabrice Sergent, cofounder of Bandsintown, told Rolling Stone .