Music business and lockdown—has the industry gone digital?
For most musicians, concerts and festivals are the basis of their success, and of course also a basis for regular income. While classic CDs are hardly ever sold these days, concerts (at least before Corona) were a good source of income. And not only for big musicians, but also for smaller bands as an opening act, or aspiring singer-songwriters and solo artists. The stage was where they could grow. And then the pandemic came and emptied the stages for a while. What has changed as a result of the pandemic? Will concerts ever be the same as before? Let’s take a closer look at the topic:
The pandemic has been a huge blow to musicians at all levels—big stars and smaller acts, alike. Appearances were nearly unthinkable for more than a year. Street music was even banned in many regions. What was out of the question many years ago has now become a bitter reality for many musicians. Digital projects, donations and replacement events were supposed to make up for the losses in some way, but they were by no means a substitute. In addition to the financial loss, most of them lacked the ability to interact live with their fans and replicate the uniquely special feeling of a live concert.
Not only were the general worldwide measures to contain the virus problematic for musicians, but regional policies were as well. What was allowed in one city was completely unthinkable in another area in Germany. This created confusion, despair, and anger. For a long time, even small concerts were banned without exception, while up to 25,000 people were allowed to be in football stadiums. Initially online concerts and picnic events seemed like a fine compromise, but it’s clear that these restrictions have caused permanent damage to the entire music industry.
Especially in times of closed clubs and concert locations, concerts on digital platforms or even concerts on Instagram TV, for example, became increasingly popular. Even if experiencing music live, with friends is of course something completely different. Offers such as the Online-disco.club have therefore developed as a new place-to-be for music enthusiasts during the pandemic. However, they have not proven themselves in the long term. The live character and the shared in-person experience simply can’t be reproduced online. Nevertheless, these digital solutions offer a good interim solution.
In 2021 life slowly came back to the music scene, and with it came live events. These were, however, held under special conditions so as not to expose artists and guests to any health risks. While there were clear limits to the capacity at some outdoor events, access to others was only granted to those who had been vaccinated, recovered, or tested according to the 3G rule. Even experiments, for example with a mask requirement inside an event hall, were carried out in order to gain scientific knowledge.
On this basis it was partly possible to hold concerts in front of hundreds or thousands of people again. For the gigantic festivals such as the Wacken Open Air or Rock am Ring, the scientifically supported implementation has not been an option so far.
The existing regulations will probably remain in place until the end of 2021 and probably also for the start of the coming year. In fact, this means that large events are not yet possible without a limit to the number of participants and prerequisites for participation. According to the current status, each federal state defines its own maximum occupancy, which is based on the percentage and a given total number. In this way, social distancing and the like should continue to be guaranteed.
However, we are confident that under 2G (recovered or vaccinated) conditions, in some areas of Germany, indoor events are again possible without extra restrictions. Even if the 2G concept brings additional hurdles with it, it creates an opportunity for many musicians to be able to pursue their passion again without restriction. For example, concerts that have been postponed can be rescheduled, and tours that have been canceled can also be rescheduled.
Anyone who looks at the pandemic rules outside of their own national borders is usually even more confused than before. This is simply due to the fact that each country has its own rules in the field of culture, which means that concerts are possible in some places, but even private meetings are still restricted in other places. Above all, the Asian countries have quickly found their way back to normal, but they’re also quick seal off individual areas at the first signs of spread.
Other states like Great Britain, however, rely on a symbolic “Freedom Day.” On this day, all state measures will be abolished at short notice, which means that concerts, events and other musical events will be possible. While pictures of big festivals were quickly making the rounds, life there, too, is starting to take off again rather leisurely. Compared to the current situation in Germany, much more is possible elsewhere, at least from a cultural point of view. So far it has hardly been possible to assess which concept is better in the long term.
However, no major leaps are expected, especially for 2021. While sales in the music and event industry for performances have already slumped by more than 80% in 2020, this will probably be even more serious for 2021. This is simply because all 12 months of this year saw precautions worldwide, vs the relatively normal beginning of 2020. In 2022, however, we hope the music industry can collectively breathe a sigh of relief.
Even if many of the previous standards can of course be restored in the future, this does not apply to all areas. The pandemic has inevitably led to a whole new awareness among many people, which will not leave the music industry unaffected.
As long as the federal and state governments can continue to determine what is happening through ordinances, there is still a long way to go before a “new normal” is achieved. You can even go as far as to say: It will never be the same as it used to be. Nevertheless, musicians should be able to look forward to nearly-carefree live experiences with their fans again next year. However, requirements such as vaccinations or tests are the cornerstones of making this concept a reality. Only in this way can mutations and other unforeseeable developments remain avoidable or at least controllable.
If the rules to contain the virus are completely abolished in the course of 2022, large festivals and concerts will also be possible again. Even if not everyone will like the atmosphere with over 50,000 people dancing and breathing in close proximity, the demand is probably exceptionally high due to the multi-year interruption. For many musicians, this could be the ticket to a new beginning or a big boost for their music career.
It is questionable whether the music industry will “normalize” immediately after all measures are lifted. In Germany in particular, the pandemic has also left its mark on society and created completely new social norms. We look forward to next year and are excited to see what will be possible again for us musicians. If you would like to exchange ideas with other musicians on this extremely sensitive topic, take a look at mukken's community page.
Originally published on December 15, 2021, updated on December 19, 2021