COVID-19 or Not, the Show Must Go OnBy Alejandro Salas | Tue, 04/14/2020 - 11:47
The music business has lost part of its voice. Many industries have been hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, but among the first ones that felt the blow was the entertainment sector. Governments across the world urged citizens to avoid crowded places to stop the virus from spreading and what is a concert if not a gathering of people all scrambling to see their favorite artist. Long-awaited events, concerts and festivals have been cancelled or postponed without a clear date of return. According to Viberate and its tracking website SickFestivals, over 300 festivals have been silenced so far, including Coachella, Glastonbury, Tomorrowland Winter and Lollapalooza in both Brazil and Argentina.
The Music Industry Research Association and the Princeton University Survey Research Center, in partnership with MusiCares, released a study based on a survey of 1,227 musicians in the US that shows that the most common source of income for musicians is live performances. Without any events allowed, the livelihood of many artists is now threatened. “I think people often only see the glamorous side of the music business, forgetting that musicians, studios and engineers usually live at the bottom of the supply chain and are often living hand-to-mouth,” said Olga FitzRoy, Executive Director of the UK’s Music Producers Guild in an interview with Forbes. “Musicians – whether they work in theatre, teaching, orchestras or gig-playing – will feel the full financial force of this global disaster,” Horace Trubridge, General Secretary of the UK’s Musicians’ Union, told Forbes.
Artists are not alone in this mess, it seems. Various companies involved in the music business are creating funds to help musicians that are normally living paycheck to paycheck. Sony, for example, launched a US$100 million COVID-19 relief fund with three main goals: “assistance for those individuals engaged in frontline medical and first responder efforts to fight the virus, support for children and educators who must now work remotely and support for members of the creative community in the entertainment industry, which has been greatly impacted by the spread of the virus,” according to the company’s release. Universal Music Group (UMG), on the other hand, implemented measures "such as interest-free royalty advances and fee waivers," according to the company's website. UMG is also providing financial support to initiatives such as the MusiCares’ COVID-19 Relief Fund and Help Musicians UK and is helping artists find other ways to reach their audience.
Spotify, meanwhile, launched the Spotify COVID-19 Music Relief project, which helps artists find financial relief through organizations like MusiCares, PRS Foundation and Help Musicians, plus offering a contribution of up to US$10 million that will match any donations that are made via the Spotify COVID-19 Music Relief. The company is also working on a new feature that will allow artists to direct listeners to their own fundraising platforms, so they can receive direct donations more easily. Apple is also making a US$59 million advance fund for independent labels and distributors, which the company hopes will be used to pay artists and maintain operations.
Musicians are not sitting idle while the crisis takes them, either. Many of them are taking to social media to find some sort of connection with their fans. Livestreams are now a common thing in Facebook and Instagram, which also give artists the opportunity to make some cash from the number of views they get. However, even in the digital world there are some venues more profitable than others, especially for indie artists. Twitch has now become a good source of income for many of them, as it offers easier ways to generate cash. “There are a ton of artists that are not going to be okay for the next six months without touring who are trying to get into Twitch streaming right now to make an income to survive,” musician and Twitch streamer Ducky told The Verge.
Social media cannot match live gigs in terms of revenue, however, which means that besides scheduling digital tours, artists still rely on donations, streaming revenues and support from their fans. Still, the importance of digital platforms for the music business has become evident and will most likely become part of the new normal in a post-COVID-19 world. “Could I live off of what I am making on Twitch right now? Absolutely not. But I think live-streaming will be a crucial part of being a musician or an entertainer,” electronic artist Jauz told The Verge.
“Music is one of the few certainties we can rely on to provide happiness and relief in tumultuous times,” said Trubridge. With so many artists online, it is now difficult to keep track of all the livestreams and events happening around the world. Companies like UMG are sharing calendars with their artists’ activities including showcases, live sessions and even cooking and makeup classes. There are also collective efforts to raise money for artists, entertain millions at home and even donate to the healthcare professionals putting their lives at risk. Some examples include The Orchard’s Stay at Home Festival on Instagram in the US, Fight for the Future’s Stay at Home, the Carentena Fest in Spain and the United We Stream initiative that seeks to save Berlin’s club culture.
Even the World Health Organization (WHO) is actively supporting music efforts during the pandemic. In collaboration with Global Citizen, WHO has launched the Together At Home initiative, a series of livestreaming events curated by Lady Gaga that are part of a global campaign to celebrate healthcare workers and raise funds to combat the pandemic. Together At Home includes #SolidaritySessions, performances by artists and entertainment influencers; #SolidarityShows, a collaborative effort where artists from all disciplines can come together to express their thoughts on the current situation through their own interpretation and the One World: Together At Home concert, which will be live on Saturday, April 18.
“We are all so very grateful to all of the healthcare professionals across the country and around the world, who are on the frontlines during COVID-19. What you are doing is putting yourselves in harm’s way to help the world and we all salute you,” said Lady Gaga about the Together At Home initiative, which will also feature “stories of healthcare heroes, as well as messages of gratitude and appreciation from those who they have treated,” according to Global Citizen.