Are “Socially Distanced” Concerts the Future of Live Music?

May 21, 2020

The destruction COVID-19 has unleashed upon the globe is unprecedented. Pretty much no country has been spared and no industry has been left unaffected. As for the music world, live concerts became the biggest casualty when lockdowns were initiated everywhere in March, 2020.

This was nothing less than a catastrophe for musicians. Stage performances have always been a major source of revenue for artists but that has virtually dried up in the past several weeks. As a result, many are facing a battle to stay afloat. However, with the industry trying to adapt to what seems to have become the new normal (at least for now), there is reason to be optimistic about the future.    

Searching for Viable Alternatives

Given the hand that has been dealt to them in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, singers and musicians around the world have had to improvise. And they certainly deserve a pat on the back for trying to make the best of a bad situation. Right now, the Internet is full of live streams where artists interact with their fans, perform in front of the camera and share exciting footage of old concert performances. All this is done from within their own homes.

However, with authorities starting to ease some social distancing restrictions recently, the future of live music has been put under the microscope. There’s an interesting conversation going on with regards to its eventual return.   

The Experiment with “Socially Distanced” Concerts

As the lockdowns are relaxed in various places, live concerts have made a comeback of sorts. Towards the end of April, the Danish government gave the green light to a drive-in concert in Aarhus, the country’s second most populous city.

Public response was one of eagerness and enthusiasm with 500 tickets being sold in a few minutes. The event featuring Danish singer and songwriter Mads Langer went off without a hitch and its apparent success led to the scheduling of more drive-in concerts in the coming weeks.

Closer to home, Missouri Governor Mike Parson recently allowed live events to resume in the Show-Me State. But, it was in Arkansas that Americans got the first taste of a “socially distanced concert.” On May 18, 2020, country-rock artist Travis McCready took the stage at the indoor live music venue Temple Live in Fort Smith to entertain a limited audience sat in “fan pods.”

Set up at a distance of six feet from one another, these fan pods reduced the capacity of the place from 1,100 seats to just 229. The attendees also had their temperatures checked upon arrival while wearing face masks was mandatory for everyone. With regards to hygiene, the venue staff utilized fog sprayers to counter the spread of germs before and after McCready’s solo acoustic performance.

Socially Distanced Concerts: A Sustainable Option in the Age of COVID-19?

Over the next few weeks, Americans can expect more live events to be staged with such protocols in place. But are these “socially distanced concerts” a viable alternative until normal service resumes? Could they be considered the future of the live music business, at least until normal service resumes?

On the one side, there is public frustration and the inevitable economic pressure that may end up forcing a premature return to “things as they were.” However, medical experts have strongly advised against resuming full-fledged concerts or other such public events at least until 2021.

But, that is an agonizingly long wait for musicians, many of whom rely heavily on concert revenue to get by. Nevertheless, as long as the coronavirus pandemic is out there, care and vigilance has to be exhibited. Some sort of balance needs to be struck which can optimize public activities without risking an exponential spread of the plague.

Of course, this is easier said than done but methods such as “socially distanced concerts” are worth a try. To that end, ticket prices may have to be revised at venues around the country and difficulties will inevitably arise.

The return of live music would certainly be welcome, even if the limited numbers mean that the atmosphere around venues won’t be the same. In such circumstances, fans would be justified in paying less for their passes. As for the artists, there is a real concern of financial viability. If venues operate at 20% capacity, it remains to be seen whether tours, gigs and residencies would be feasible.

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