by | Jul 4, 2020 | Uncategorized

Now that bars and pubs are re-opening, does this mean a return to live music? Sadly not – let’s rewind a couple of months. 

The biggest impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the music industry is without a doubt, live music.  

What have bands been doing instead of playing gigs, where has it left us and where do we go from here? No-one’s really quite sure yet, but true to form the creative industry people are using their imagination and striving to adapt as best they can. With current social media trends for a steady stream of content, bands and promoters were pretty quick off the mark to keep fan engagement up. 

It didn’t take long for people to start streaming from home; from Instagram and Facebook to YouTube and even gamers’ favourite, ‘Twitch’ (turns out it streams well and the sounds really good!).

These individual sets soon morphed into festivals, compilations over afternoons and evenings featuring various artists. Balcony online festivals were a great early example of multiple promotors pulling together, each hosting a ‘stage’. In fact, they’re still going strong and raising money for good causes along the way. 

These online ‘gigs’ were more suited to groups with a front person, that were singer/guitarists meaning that the other members would be left out, particularly the poor drummers – though Euan from Birmingham’s The Novus has to be an exception. 

Fortunately for us, some bands conveniently live together. Friends of the Boogaloo, The Gulps, were soon beaming full-band sets from their Kentish Town basement. Another was Calva Louise, having had their European tour supporting Highly Suspect sadly cut short. Seizing the opportunity they were soon taking things to a new level by adapting their normally frantic, fuzzy, punk-pop songs to become a home-acoustic feel, but still retained all their character. You can check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/1034797853241313/videos/250234336289984/?__so__=channel_tab&__rv__=all_videos_card  

Not to be left out, others were soon putting together full-band sets by playing their individual parts from their respective homes, then spliced the footage together thanks to software such as OBS. People were using new skills and discovering new technologies to keep their music alive and it felt exciting. 

An early adopter of these split-screen home videos, a format that’s now synonymous with lockdown, were Happymess with this lovely rendition of their song Over The Seasons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUK13uNER4Y&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1nKivb3GivhAlv6iYSrqKWtwhZHJXPblbrOfCdhvvFHXDV9tp30HUaQ-A 

In recent weeks though restrictions were finally being lifted so bands could start re-uniting all over the country. Government guidelines meant that with the right precautions, people were able to get together, practice rooms were opening and bands with dedicated spaces were able to practice. One band that didn’t waste any time in doing this, were London’s False Heads who happen to have a shipping container they practice in. There was a lot of frustration for these guys, as they had their debut album launch and a trip to New York and SXSW ruined by the pandemic, but rather than dwell on it they’ve cracked straight on with writing a follow-up.

The next logical step is the imminent arrival of live broadcasts from practice rooms and other creative studios. Restrictions have now been eased enough so that in the right space, and with care, we can expect a pretty high standard of production to appear soon – watch this space Jools Holland. 

But still, there’s something missing – the audience. No matter how good the stream coming into our homes is, we all miss the physical presence of being in a room with other people enjoying live music.  

I don’t need to tell you how good it feels to be shoulder-to-shoulder with friends, strangers and fellow music lovers enjoying the shared experience.

This whole phenomenon we’re going through has taught us more than ever that in an increasingly digital world we thrive off social interaction and the energy live music brings. We also know that bands like to play live. Until they play in front of an audience they feel almost incomplete. It’s the thing they dream of when they start out, and once that they’ve done it, it’s like an addiction for a lot of musicians, which simply isn’t fulfilled when performing to a phone camera in a bedroom. 

Recently, it feels like online gig fatigue has set in. Maybe audiences are bored of seeing people singing and playing acoustic guitars sat on a bed, where once bands reuniting on split screens was creative and inventive now it’s becoming somewhat, ‘been there, done that.’

But what are the options do we have? Government restrictions still mean that music venues can’t operate as they once did. Even with the social distancing aspect, within a venue there are limitations around things like singing, by both the band and the crowd, because of the danger of aerosol particles. A recent survey by the Music Venue Trust said that only 36% of those surveyed would be happy to return to venues, so even with the best intentions, there’s a lack of audience trust at the moment. 

Of course, there are VR gigs, but they’ve been around for a while and have never took off. The idea of a test certificate showing you’ve recently been tested negative is being floated around, although this comes with its own problems as you’d need constant testing, an efficient track and trace app and then what if you catch the virus just before the gig, do you get a refund?

Then there’s the ridiculous, but by far my favourite – individual bubbles for the band and audience as demonstrated recently by The Flaming Lips – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUCzn_eMFF4 

Unfortunately, until a vaccine comes along, we may have a long wait to truly experience live music as it should be. In the meantime, our music venues are in trouble. You may have seen the hashtag #letthemusicplay recently. Without the financial input from a steady flow of customers, there’s a lot of venues, particularly at the grassroots, in danger of closing permanently.

Sadly, the government is showing no sign of taking steps to help out so please, while we’re working out the best solution, support in any way you can, whether financially by donating to the Music Venue Trust, or directly to your favourite small venue or, at the very least, by writing to your MP. This short video by MVT’s CEO Mark Davyd is a great guide on how to do this: https://www.facebook.com/201418973398831/videos/985378331897177/?__so__=channel_tab&__rv__=all_videos_card 

Stay safe and we look forward to seeing you all at a live music event again one day.