The effects of COVID-19 on the music industry
While the disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on health care systems and economies around the world continue to be the topic du jour, its lesser-known effects on the music industry are no less acute. Around the world, major music festivals, concerts, gigs, theatrical performances and musicals have all disappeared into a puff of smoke as self-quarantines continue to dominate the lives of billions of people across the globe.
How musicians are adjusting
This has forced performers to come up with alternative ways to connect with their audiences. So far, however, none have accomplished this feat with as much of a larger-than-life flair as American rapper Travis Scott; he hosted a series of virtual concerts over the past weekend inside the wildly popular online video game, Fortnite. Players witnessed a unique spectacle as a digitized 200-foot tall version of the rapper stomped through their game space while performing his hit songs and premiering a new one (“The Scotts”). The first concert, which took place on Thursday, April 23rd, was viewed by 12.3 million players, setting a new record for an in-game event.
While not as outlandish in their execution, other artists have also made crafty adjustments to their live performance offerings to accommodate the mass adoption of the stay-at-home lifestyle. So far many are maneuvering these adjustments with aplomb, turning to the Live function on their Facebook pages, YouTube channels, Twitch and Instagram accounts, and websites en masse to perform for virtual audiences, more often than not for free. Others have also launched their own live-streaming platforms where they give regular shows. But this move to the digital realm does not solely apply to singular performances, several music festivals, sporting a sizable amount of artists on their roster, are also being live-streamed as an ad hoc solution to give live music lovers their fix under the circumstances.
Entertainment companies have been quick to act
Certain entertainment companies have also switched tact and launched concert streaming services. A K-pop concert event organized this past Sunday, April 26th, in South Korea became a telling case for just how lucrative this business model can be. Fans from all over the world tuned in to watch a live concert by K-pop group SuperM as they performed to an empty concert venue but a packed digital audience of 75.000 paid viewers from 109 countries. This concert was organized on the Beyond Live concert streaming service, a brainchild of the South Korean entertainment and media companies SM Entertainment and Naver.
This concert streaming event earned upwards of $2 million USD from virtual tickets. To put that into perspective, a recent concert given by SuperM this past February at a packed venue in Los Angeles generated half that amount in physical ticket sales. However, it must also be taken into consideration that virtual concerts do not have the same limitations that physical concerts do; most can only hold an average of 10.000 people per popular K-pop group. But the shortcoming of the latter also highlights the strength of the former as a profitable tool to drive the concert business.
Minor bumps on the road
But while the SuperM concert did draw in many paying fans, many more felt irked by the prospect of taking money out of their already dwindling savings to spend on a digital concert while there are a plethora of free entertainment options floating around on the web. This also led to the inevitable issue of illegal streaming, of which the perpetrators, not so helpfully, are also hard to track and penalize.
This issue also brings us full circle to the Travis Scott Fortnite performance: While 12.3 million players watched the event in-game, over 3 million non-players also viewed it on streaming platforms like YouTube.
The implications of these virtual music events
It goes without saying that the COVID-19 crisis has washed over our ways of life like a proverbial tsunami, but the resultant adjustments in live performances may also be sparking a game-changing development in the music industry that is unfolding before our very eyes.
Just like the advent of Napster changed our attitude towards music consumption and eventually paved the way for our present-day torrid love affair with music streaming platforms like Spotify and Soundcloud, so too virtual concerts may be changing public opinion about what constitutes a rewarding concert experience. Only at a faster rate.