[Editors Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]
Nothing like 2020 has been usual for the world, and the music industry hasn’t been an exception. By now, we’ve all grown accustomed to the mass cancelation of in-person events like festivals, shows at venues, and even local open-mic nights, but it’s important to remember just how shocking it felt back in the spring. If things go as well as we hope they will, people will be able to gather safely in 2021, and musicians can get back on stage where they belong. A lot of things from this year will be seen as temporary fads developed to get us through what was arguably the roughest time in modern history. Live-streaming concerts, however, won’t be one of them.
The ease and reach of live-streams is key to their staying power.
As live-streamed concerts became more and more essential this year for music fans and artists alike, they became a flash point for influential musicians like Dave Grohl. The frustration is completely understandable. In an instant, the livelihoods of countless professional musicians, sound engineers, booking agents, and show promoters disappeared indefinitely. Between the inherent physical distance and major sound issues often associated with live-streams, some artists took a quick look at digital show formats and shook their heads. But at the same time, countless others took their concerts online and found varying degrees of success, whether in the form of consistent income, an increase of fans, or the ability to play in front of existing audiences who never would’ve been able to attend a show in person.
The first and most important argument for why live-streams aren’t likely to go anywhere after the pandemic ends the world adjusts to a new normal is that these digital music experiences aren’t suitable replacements for in-person shows. They’re completely different experiences with their own strengths and drawbacks. Music fans across the world spent the better part of an entire year engaging with their favorite artists in ways they couldn’t have in person at conventional concerts, like interacting directly with musicians through questions and comments. Barriers like physical distance, age, ticket prices, and even music-loving parents not being able to leave the house because of young kids were lifted in 2020 because of live-streams.
Nothing can or ever will replace the thrill and important meaning of seeing musicians perform in person. However, that doesn’t mean that live-streams didn’t fill an important gap in music in 2020 and that they won’t continue to do so. Before this year, many music fans and artists didn’t bother to consider seeing or performing digital concerts. But now that huge swaths of the music-loving world have been introduced to them, they’re bound to become a crucial part of the music-fan relationship moving forward. Whether you choose to view them as supplements for normal shows or as a convenient albeit incomplete substitute for touring, you’ll miss out on a relatively easy way to connect with listeners around the world without prioritizing live-streams into your music career.
How developing artists can leverage live-streams in the post-pandemic world.
We’re (hopefully) getting to a place where vaccines can allow the crucial live event part of the music industry to get back to normal again starting sometime in 2021. Slowly but surely, outdoor music festivals, intimate venue concerts, and everything in between will eventually become a safe and reliable part of music again in the ways both artists and fans desperately need.
Live-streams will transition from their ill-fitting role as impromptu substitutes for in-person music experiences to take on a variety of different and important functions. From teasing a few new songs to get fans excited about a big upcoming in-person show or album release to connecting with audiences you never would’ve played for in person, digital show formats are going to be powerful tools for independent artists moving forward. There’s a huge amount of financial investment and risk associated with developing artists who are venturing out on tour for the first time. While nailing down the audio and tech side of things for live digital concerts can be tricky at first, they’re far easier and cheaper to pull off than going on tour for a month as an unknown band. Between the affordability, convenience, and reach of live-streams, unestablished artists have every incentive to experiment with them moving forward.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean you should plan on playing nothing but live-streams from now on. The promotional power of digital show formats will pay off the most for developing artists who prioritize winning over audiences through performing conventional local shows and tours. In other words, live-streams will be one important part of the identities of well rounded artists moving forward alongside releasing music consistently and connecting to listeners through live shows. Artists will find the most value with live-streams by revealing their unique personalities and engaging with fans directly. Playing on stage at a conventional show doesn’t give you the opportunity to speak with fans, let the audience determine your set list, or talk in-depth about what your songs really mean. Taking advantage of the conversational aspect of live-streams will help you deepen your relationships with fans.
It might not feel natural to play in front of a camera compared to getting up on stage in front of a live audience. But with digital show formats likely to stick around indefinitely, they’re worth adjusting to and embracing.